Sunday, 9 May 2010

On being a housewife

Everything a housewife does, she does alone. All the work in the house is for you to do by yourself. The only time you are with other people is when you have visitors or go visiting yourself. People think sometimes that when women go visiting they are just wasting time. But if they didn't go visiting occasionally, they would go mad from boredom and the feeling of not having anyone to talk to. It's so good to get out among people. The work is the same, day in and day out. ''Even if you died the house would still be there in the morning." Sometimes you get so bored that you have to do something. One woman used to change the furniture around about every two weeks. Other women buy something new for the house or for themselves. There are a million schemes to break the monotony. The daytime radio serials help to pass the time away but nothing changes the isolation and the boredom.

The terrible thing that is always there when you are doing housework is the feeling that you're never finished. When a man works in a factory, he may work hard and long hours. But at a certain time, he punches out and for that day at least, he is finished. Come Friday or Saturday night he is through for one or two days. In the house you are never finished. Not only is there always something to be done, but there is always someone to mess up almost before you are finished. After four or six hours of a thorough housecleaning, the kids will come home and in five minutes the house will be a shambles. Or your husband will dirty all the ashtrays there are in the house. Or it will rain right after you wash the windows. You may be able to control your children or get your husband to be more careful, but that doesn't solve much. The way that the house is set up, neither the husband nor the children have any idea how much effort and real hard work and time have gone into cleaning the house. The way that the house is set up you have no control over the hours of work, the kind of work that you will have to do, and how much work you do. These are what women want to control.

The rest of the family is no part of the house. They just live there. You make the home what it is-a place where they can relax. You make it livable. You make it attractive. You make it comfortable. You keep it clean. And you are the only one who can never completely enjoy it. You always have your eye out for what has to be done. And picking up after people seems to be a never-ending job. You can never relax where you spend most of your time, energy and ability.

Selma Jones, "A Woman's Place" in The Power of Women and the Subversion of Community, first published in 1953


Jolisa said...

Classic; how little things change.

My sanity trick is to consciously invert the relationship between radio and housework: I think of it as my dedicated iPod time for filling my brain with new thoughts and jokes -- and since my hands are free, I might as well use them to smarten up around the place. Silly, perhaps, but it keeps me from rioting, or quitting.

See also Carol Channing on housework from Free to Me You and Me. "Make sure when there's housework to do, that you do it together!"

[Word verification: francylu, the lying dame in a frilly apron who smilingly advertises house-cleaning products on TV]

FrankieB said...

Thank you! This is just what i needed to explain what i couldn't verbalize myself! It's sad to think that this is from the 50's when it's still so true now. Also I just wanna say all those 'house wives' or people who look after the home do an amazing job, one that is incredibly difficult to maintain and I value you.

Sandra - too heavy to stand on a soapbox, but undeterred said...

Great post. So impoartant to see it written down again. I still love Woolf's Room of Ones Own but this post tells the other side, of a homespace without servants.

I would like to see someone articulate the headspace of multi-tasking which comes for so many of us (perhaps all of us mothers at the very least?) as we live outside the home and simultaneously retain responsibility for the home.

AnneE said...

I wrote exactly what you want, Sandra, in Broadsheet magazine no. 50, in June 1977. It was called "Holding Up Half the Sky" and I got a strong response to it then. I'll try to get hold of it and repost it on THM.

Sandra - too heavy to stand on a soapbox, but undeterred said...

Thanks Anne. That would be great.