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Domesticity and Femininity

(62 Posts)
ISaySteadyOn Tue 31-Jan-17 11:05:10

I should say right at the off that I struggle to reply to threads I start sometimes because I am dyspraxic and often only have my phone. I usually do read along so I don't disappear.

I've been thinking about this for a while, but this is the first time in that while that I have managed to grab the computer and not my phone. I was reading a book about the history of suburban architecture and interiors (I am a giant nerd) and I had to put it down due to the authors' snide little asides about women's attempts to make their homes prettier or more comfortable by making cushions or firescreens or blankets.

It made me think, there is a lot of underlying contempt for domesticity in general. Why is that? Why is wanting to make your home look and feel nice such a horrible thing to want? Is it because it is usually left to women to do it and anything women do is automatically frivolous and stupid even if it benefits people? Or is there a further underlying contempt for the feminine and domesticity comes under the umbrella of femininity?

I was also thinking about housework threads. It is often made out that housework is really easy and should be no bother to anybody. I don't find that it is and sometimes I feel almost unwomanly that I struggle to learn all the different bits. And does that fall within contempt for domesticity? I don't know. I'm just musing here. Anyone else have thoughts?

YetAnotherSpartacus Tue 31-Jan-17 11:24:48

... not really on topic - but hasn't there been a lot written about the arts and crafts movement, as well as other domestic arts (such as wallpaper design in the 60s and 70s and quilting), that make the point that these are devalued because they are women's activities? I recall Grayson Perry saying very similar about pottery and tapestry.

I'll have to think more about your very interesting deeper questions!

TheCountessofFitzdotterel Tue 31-Jan-17 11:33:13

Yes. It's part of the invisiblising of women's work.

ISaySteadyOn Tue 31-Jan-17 11:33:42

We have gotten into patchwork at our house and I already do needlepoint which is what made me think of it.

Back on phone again so replies may be short or come slowly.

VestalVirgin Tue 31-Jan-17 12:52:27

I think there is a difference between domesticity and femininity as defined today.

In previous times, it made a woman more marriageable if she knew how to spin, sew, knit, et cetera.

Nowadays, those things are not very actively encouraged in women, but looking pretty is, which I think leads to a further erosion of women's self esteem - after all, if you know how to cook a good meal, or make yourself a nice cushion, that is good for your wellbeing AND self-esteem, but looking pretty is very subject to outside factors, and not within the individual's control.

I rather like some of the arts and crafts traditionally done by women, but am not interested in wearing overtly feminine (impractical) clothes. So I feel there is a difference.

Is it because it is usually left to women to do it and anything women do is automatically frivolous and stupid even if it benefits people?

I think that hits the nail on the head.

HelenDenver Tue 31-Jan-17 13:07:06

Yes, you are right.

AllMyBestFriendsAreMetalheads Tue 31-Jan-17 13:26:47

Slightly OT, but I was watching a program once that talked about knitting being a very valued skill and an apprentice knitter would have to learn from a master for years and go and learn from other master knitters as well. And it was very much a male occupation.

It was only after industrialisation and knitting machines that there was no need for professional knitters anymore and it moved into being arts and crafts, which is presumably when it became a 'woman's thing'.

I struggle with housework. I'm great at cleaning stuff, because that was something I had to learn as a waitress and working in kitchens, but I really struggle with general day to day tidiness.

"Is it because it is usually left to women to do it and anything women do is automatically frivolous and stupid even if it benefits people?"

I'm not sure if it's just because women do it, or because it is perceived to be easy and therefore of less value. When the kids were younger, DH used to think that if he was the SAHP, he could easily entertain the children whilst keeping the house spotless and doing all the washing. But there is a big difference between doing it as a one off and doing it almost every day for x+ years. It's the monotony of doing it all that gets to me. And the fact that the housework is never finished, there's always something else.

LassWiTheDelicateAir Tue 31-Jan-17 14:16:19

I rather like some of the arts and crafts traditionally done by women, but am not interested in wearing overtly feminine (impractical) clothes. So I feel there is a difference.

Sneering at anything feminine or femininity doesn't help. Who decides what is practical or that "practical" is the only worthwhile determining feature.

Pallisers Tue 31-Jan-17 14:28:09

In previous times, it made a woman more marriageable if she knew how to spin, sew, knit, et cetera.

Well that marriageability was because a woman with those skills was more likely to be an equal partner in keeping the family fed, clothed, housed.

There is a constant devaluing/denial of the work women do.

ISaySteadyOn Tue 31-Jan-17 15:25:42

I think I would argue also that the practical can be personal. I wear skirts because I absolutely hate the feel of trousers and can't move in them at all whereas skirts are much easier for me. However, I wore uncomfortable trousers for years having internalised the sneering view of feminine trappings that Lass alludes to.

ISaySteadyOn Tue 31-Jan-17 15:28:44

Also, I subscribe to the idea of practical aesthetics. Just because something is practical doesn't mean it can't be pretty. And I think that's where I was trying to get in my OP. There seems to be an idea that trying to make things pretty is somehow less real or snobbish or something. And it is mostly women who try.

TheSmurfsAreHere Tue 31-Jan-17 15:40:59

I think it's a bit more complex than that.
Art and practical aesthetics are actually very male orientated. Look at all the designers etc...
What is devalued is the art and craft. It might be the same object (let's say a tapestry on the wall) but when it's art and crafts and not art as such, it's seen as something done by someone who doesn't have particular talent, usually a bit idle, and with no great value.
Art on the other hand is seen as something with value and needing some particular skill to do it.

And YY we go back to what men do is worth and women do isn't.

TheSmurfsAreHere Tue 31-Jan-17 15:45:04

im following a group onFB about mending and giving a second life to things.
What I'm finding particularly fascinating is that someone a woman reusing bits of material to make a rug is idle, art and craft, maybe useful but not great quality iyswim.

Then when someone usually man is reusing a plastic bottle to make a container and pouring device for bird seeds, then it's not art and craft anymore, it's a DIY project and it's very good and a thoughtful creation.

Maybe the bottom line is that it actually says more about our society than it does about how useful/complex/worth it these objects are iyswim.

rivierliedje Tue 31-Jan-17 17:29:26

I think there's a general trend for things that are done by women to be less valued, because women are less valued.
In most countries doctors are well paid, but in Russia, where doctors are more likely to be women, they're not well paid at all.

The same as how teaching was once a well paid, well respected job and has become less so as the percentage of men has gone down.

PreemptiveSalvageEngineer Wed 01-Feb-17 07:58:13

There used to be loads more in the past, and still a few today, religious sects where you cannot do any work on the Sabbath. Any work. Any wotk . Theyd walk to church because hitching up the buggy was considered work. But people still managed to not starve all day, bsbies were fed and nappies changed. You get where I'm going here...

Elendon Wed 01-Feb-17 08:18:31

When women quilted, knitted and did crochet it was a way of getting together and doing something that occupied the brain whilst at the same time was socialising and passing down wisdom from generation to generation. These are excellent skill sets, mathematical and practical. In those times women were largely excluded from education and university, consequently getting well paid employment.

Now the skill set seems to be how to manage the house and childcare whilst maintaining the well paid employment. Obviously the skills of crafting have disappeared and are seen as hobbies (expensive too).

Xenophile Wed 01-Feb-17 08:27:43

The idea that women's work is of less value persists.

Women have always made pots, but because their pots were used for mundane things like cooking and storing things, they aren't art, men make artistic pots that are used for looking at.

Women have always cooked, but, because it was for the mundane purpose of filling hungry bellies, it was just cooking, men are chefs and make pretty food that you need to stop for a kebab after you've eaten it.

Women have always spun and weaved and made textiles, but again, it was for putting clothes on people backs or making bedding or sacking, men design creations.

Men create art, women paint because they're bored or want to get married.

Society only seems to value the domestic arts if they're done by men. Which is weird.

Elendon Wed 01-Feb-17 08:37:21

I meant to add that they were not only practical and skilled but also beautiful.

Yes, I agree that what a woman does artistically or in a practical way, or both, is often demeaned.

LonnyVonnyWilsonFrickett Wed 01-Feb-17 08:51:55

I think it's partly capitalism that's to blame here (ooh am I finally getting to grips with intersectionality? grin)

The point about women being taught to spin, sew, bake etc making them more marriageable is true but as a pp has said, it's because that work had value in feeding and clothing a family. In the same way as a physically disabled man wouldn't have been marriageable in a rural village. Women and men's roles were incredibly separate but they both had equal value when it came to feeding the family and maintaining the home.

Then capitalism came along and consumerism came with it and the traditional women's work was replaced by machines. We were fed a line that this was freeing us to do other things - men went to work in officies and women's work became immediately devalued (essentially, look pretty, child rear and for goodness sake add a slick of lipstick before your husband comes home).

Of course this removal of the essential work was good in some ways because it freed women to be educated and to join the workforce in other ways. But that rump of wifework refused to go away, so it became even more devalued and something that had to be 'got through' in order to get on with the real work of being a woman (career girl or sahm child-rearer).

All of this is designed to feed capitalism and consumerism - why sew a beautiful cushion yourself when you could work for two hours to raise enough money to buy one?

Sorry, long answer but I find this fascinating.

Datun Wed 01-Feb-17 10:01:38

The point about women being taught to spin, sew, bake etc making them more marriageable is true but as a pp has said, it's because that work had value in feeding and clothing a family.

I'm wondering if there is a subtle difference here. Of course the work had value in terms of making everyone's life easier. But it didn't have status. It still doesn't.

I'm reminded of that cartoon with a woman sitting at home surrounded by undressed children, dirty dishes, unfed dog, clothes and crap everywhere and saying to the shocked man when he comes home from work: "You know you ask me what on earth I do all day at home? Well today I didn't do it."

ISaySteadyOn Wed 01-Feb-17 10:50:21

Datun, I think there you have it. The difference between value and status. They're not mutually exclusive things by any means.

I was thinking about this this morning and I was noticing how things that are necessary are often given low status. For example, I have noticed that when women are talking about how they don't go to baby groups, they often say they don't want to spend their days talking about potty training as though it were a trivial non-thing when the truth is that everyone needs to learn to use facilities and potty training is not actually an easy job.

So then the question becomes why are necessary things given such low status if they are actually of high value?

Datun Wed 01-Feb-17 11:37:43

Is it because they are perceived as easy to do?

I was thinking about cleaners. Everyone who has a cleaner knows the value of that cleaner, it's immense. It's also one of the most low status jobs there is. It's also mostly women.

Likewise carers.

I was trying to think of the male equivalent. A job perceived as easy and therefore low status.

Working on a building site, although manual labour is not perceived as low status. The necessary component, i.e. strength, has high status.

The necessary (or let's say ideal) component of being a carer is compassion. Not perceived as high status.

It's difficult to find equivalents.

Even nursing. Traditionally a female role. There are many more male nurses now, but eyebrows still get raised and people still wonder why they are not a doctor. Or wonder why they picked nursing in the first place. They never question why women pick nursing. That attitude is slowly diminishing, but the fact that it was there in the first place should say something. And funnily enough, I am wondering whether male nurses are viewed as slightly lower status than female ones? Is it because the attributes typically associated with nursing, compassion, nurturing, empathy, etc are viewed 'feminine' and therefore as less somehow.

Butteredpars1ps Wed 01-Feb-17 11:40:16

Interesting topic OP.

My personal feminism mantra is about equal choice. I am able to work in a well paid career, most years earning more than DH. Alternatively I can choose to stay at home.

As it happens, I like cooking and crafting and DH likes gardening and DIY. We follow broadly traditional roles and I don't see this as incompatible with feminism. I have a choice after all and I'm proud that I'm good at these things.

Where I think it becomes more difficult is the extent to which it is genuine free choice and the extent it is socialisation and cultural norms. I am über aware of this through raising daughters. However much I strive to raise my DC equally, I see my DDs receiving different messages to my DS from the world at large.

Butteredpars1ps Wed 01-Feb-17 11:48:49

datun male nurses are more likely to go on to higher paid roles as senior nurses or managers. They are far less likely to remain at the bedside.

Datun Wed 01-Feb-17 11:50:37


I'm not surprised! Is there data on the reasons for that?

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