Friday, 26 December 2008

Friday Feminist - Cicely Hamilton (2)

Cross posted

There are very few women in whom one cannot, now and again, trace the line of cleavage between real and acquired, natural and class, characteristics. The same thing, of course, holds good of men, but in a far less degree since, many vocations being open to them, they tend naturally and on the whole to fall into the class for which temperament and inclinations fit them. A man with a taste for an open air life does not as a rule become a chartered accountant, a student does not take up deep-sea fishing as a suitable profession. But with women the endeavour to approximate to a single type has always been compulsory. It is ridiculous to suppose that nature, who never makes two blades of grass alike, desired to turn out indefinite millions of women all cut to the regulation pattern of wifehood: that is to say, all home-loving, charming, submissive, industrious, unintelligent, tidy, possessed with a desire to please, well-dressed, jealous of their own sex, self-sacrificing, cowardly, filled with a burning desire for maternity, endowed with a talent for cooking, narrowly uninterested in the world outside their own gates. and capable of sinking their own identity and interests in the interests and identity of a husband. I imagine that very few women naturally unite in their single persons these characteristics of the class wife; but, having been relegated from birth upwards to the class wife, they had to set to work, with or against the grain, to acquire some semblance of those that they knew were lacking.

Cicely Hamilton, Marriage as a trade, 1909


Anna said...

Wives are unintelligent and cowardly - ouch! A great example of that phase (some) feminists went through of looking down on women's work rather than challenging the conditions under which it's done.

Having said that, I'm happy not to be the at-home parent in my family!

Deborah said...

I know... but I like the point she's making, that far too many women are (were) forced into wifehood/housewifery through economic necessity. I've got a few more quotes from her work lined up for the next week or two.

Anna said...

It's a very good point, and still salient to some degree. For all our freedom to choose these days, I note that quite a few women I know who are in their late twenties or thirties and don't have a partner and/or kids feel uneasy about it, as if they're not doing what they ought to. And I think that in some areas of the workforce at least women are still regarded as breeders, actual or potential, and therefore less committed to work than men. Of course, there's a world of difference between this and being all but forced into marriage because it's the only 'livelihood' available.

On a slightly related note, my partner inquired about a job recently, and the supervisor warned that he might find that the wages were too crap for a man. Bloody hell!

Deborah said...

I do feel ambivalent about some of her writing, but I also like thinking about feminism as an on-going conversation, not the immortal truth delivered from on high that was true in every detail right from the start.

Of course, I am one of those housewives, these days...

Anna said...

Agreed - I think questioning the value of women's work was an understandable and possibly inevitable part of the development of feminism.

It's worth looking at it in its historical context too - ie some women were just physically and mentally destroyed by the heavy labour of non-automated housework while constantly having babies, many of which died.

It's much easier to assert the value of women's work these days when better standards of living/reduced infant mortality mean the work can (potentially) be more emotionally satisfying.