A recent post on Gifted for Leadership got me thinking about homemaking and the unfair way it’s bandied about in discussions about gender. So I posted these comments on the blog and figured I’d add them here for safekeeping…
[T]here’s a bone I have to pick here…with a larger trend I hear often in the dialogue about what it means to be female.
My grandmother studied for four years at a state college in the 1940’s and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in “Home Economics.” There were probably some similarities between her studies and the types of courses offered in this new “homemaking” program at SBTS. I’m certain she took plenty of cooking classes and sewing classes, etc.
I always admired her for being a college grad in a generation in which it wasn’t as common for women to go to college as it is now. And she was never the type of woman who viewed her role in life as being a “helper” – she was no June Cleaver! Instead, she was an artist. Along with amazing, exotic cooking (I loved her Swedish pickled shrimp), she was an organic gardener before her time, a watercolorist, and sculptor. Further, she was a dyed in the wool, left-wing feminist – I remember regularly seeing her pen checks to the National Organization for Women (and having a long talk with my conservative parents later about why that wasn’t such a good thing.)
So here’s the bone I have to pick with many of the arguments made on either side of the discussion about a woman’s “role” and all that junk: It really bothers me that homemaking is always situated on just one side of this polarized discussion. It’s as if, on one hand, there are the women who love home-making and, oh, by the way, they’re subservient, ultra-conservative, backwards, stuck in a time warp, unenlightened, and slaves to their husbands. And then there are the victorious, enlightened, educated, brave and free women who’ve given housekeeping the swift kick in the rear it deserves and have moved on to bigger and better things.
OK, so I’m just slightly exaggerating here. But I want to make a case for those of us who love and enjoy some of the “arts” of the home and who are simultaneously “liberated” from destructive ideas that stereotype, belittle, or pigeon-hole women. There’s nothing incongruous, for example, with being a career woman who comes home from work and immediately whips up a batch of chocolate cookies (because she likes it). One of the most brilliant, innovative working women I know also happens to sew a good deal of her own clothes (because she likes it). Another woman I know leads a pioneering boutique that sells garments for breast-cancer survivors (she herself is a cancer survivor). And each morning as she gets ready to head out the door for work, she makes a fresh loaf of bread – by hand – because she likes it.
I’ve been inspired by two recent, fabulous books in this arena. The first is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by the acclaimed novelist Barbara Kingsolver. The second is Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson, a brilliant theologian and professor. No one in their right mind would pigeonhole either of these strong, vibrant, admirable women as backwards or unenlightened. While embracing career and education, they’ve both championed the meaningful role “home arts” like gardening, cooking, canning, and even cleaning can play in one’s life.
Some women hate these tasks and that’s fine. Others just resent the assumption that these tasks are “women’s work” – and I generally share that frustration. But when it comes to the way we talk about homemaking, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.