Ideas

House­keep­ing

Excerpts from a the­sis — THE DOLLSHOUSE AND THE ENCLAVE A Toolk­it by Cat­ja de Haas

April 2021

Housekeeping
House­keep­ing

In the 1970s, as in the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry, main­tain­ing the home was a role main­ly under­tak­en by women. There were, how­ev­er, no longer maids’ rooms in the house. Women were expect­ed to stop their pro­fes­sion­al careers, or aspi­ra­tions, as becom­ing a house­wife was put for­ward as the ulti­mate dream.[i] In real­i­ty, how­ev­er, being a house­wife meant that women had to make their own desires sub­or­di­nate to the wel­fare of chil­dren and hus­band; it meant a retreat from soci­ety. The frus­tra­tion of the house­wife was first voiced in Amer­i­ca by the writer Bet­ty Friedan, in The Fem­i­nine Mys­tique in 1963, after she had inter­viewed women who were house­wives, who told her, inde­pen­dent­ly, how dis­sat­is­fied they were with their lives.[ii] The fem­i­nist soci­ol­o­gist Anne Oak­ley artic­u­lat­ed the lot of the Eng­lish house­wife, work­ing away in the iso­la­tion of her home, a job that was repet­i­tive, bor­ing, under­val­ued and unpaid.[iii]

From the per­spec­tive of a house­wife, it is the lack of con­trol that makes clean­ing and main­tain­ing so frus­trat­ing; the repet­i­tive­ness of the actions. Clothes are washed but become dirty again. Dish­es get used, per­son­al belong­ings get left behind, and food gets eat­en. Every­thing about house­work is fleet­ing and repet­i­tive, with­out a per­ma­nent result or any per­cep­ti­ble, or mate­r­i­al, rewards. House­hold tasks have to be exe­cut­ed over and over again and only lack of main­te­nance is appar­ent in a home.

The repet­i­tive­ness and mind­less­ness of clean­ing, how­ev­er, are turned around in Zen and the Art of House­keep­ing, 2008.[iv] Its author, Lau­ren Cas­sel Brownell, depicts clean­ing, house­keep­ing and moth­er­ing in a holis­tic uni­ty. The process of clean­ing, through its rhythms and rep­e­ti­tions, becomes ther­a­peu­tic accord­ing to Cas­sel Brownell, who likens each clean­ing action to a Zen-con­cept. House­keep­ing becomes a path to enlight­en­ment and empow­ers, rather than destroys, the mind. Cas­sel Brownell leads the life of the sub­ur­ban house­wife; the life depict­ed crit­i­cal­ly in writ­ings and art projects in the 1970s. How­ev­er, Cas­sel Brownell made the con­scious choice to stay home. Before she became a house­wife, she had a full-time job out­side the house, and felt she had no time to care for her home and chil­dren. She then chose to be a house­wife, though did feel the need to share her expe­ri­ences and opin­ions with wider soci­ety and wrote a book about it.[v]

Laundry Landscape
Laun­dry Landscape

The above, how­ev­er, almost echoes the glo­ri­fy­ing role the sis­ters Catharine E. Beech­er and Har­ri­et Beech­er-Stowe ascribed to the house­wife and the sci­en­tif­ic man­age­ment of her tasks in the Amer­i­can Woman’s Home, 1869. The book was an attempt to ele­vate the hon­our and remu­ner­a­tion of domes­tic employ­ment’, as the chief cause of woman’s dis­abil­i­ties and suf­fer­ings’ is that woman are not trained, as men are, for their pecu­liar duties’.[vi] It gave pre­cise descrip­tions, not unlike Zen and the Art of House­keep­ing, of how to clean and how to stay hap­py, as the chap­ter Good Tem­per in the House­keep­er’ sug­gests. Where­as the ear­li­er book bases its advice on Chris­t­ian val­ues, the lat­er bases its wis­dom on Bud­dhist teach­ing. Both under­score the impor­tance of main­tain­ing the home, not only for fam­i­ly, but also for the wider com­mu­ni­ty. Both rely on a sin­gle per­son, the moth­er, to look after the home and its inhabitants.

Laundry
Laun­dry

Sarah Pink, in her book Home Truths: Gen­der, Domes­tic Objects and Every­day Life, 2004, looks at the art of clean­ing and the impact that the prac­tice of clean­ing has on peo­ple. Accord­ing to her, the typ­i­cal house­wife is gen­er­al­ly por­trayed as deeply unhap­py; depen­dent, depressed and obsessed with clean­li­ness.[vii] Even though this stereo­typ­i­cal house­wife is often referred to as a tar­get of scorn by Pink’s infor­mants, nei­ther Pink nor her infor­mants ever actu­al­ly met a house­wife that answered to the descrip­tion giv­en above.[viii] In con­trast, she found that the house­wives she met and those that are men­tioned by her infor­mants are admired for their skills and for their expert knowl­edge of, for exam­ple, laun­dry.[ix] Is the typ­i­cal house­wife now a 1960s ghost? In the draw­ing, three 1960s house­wife ghosts are fea­tured doing laun­dry and tidy­ing up. The land­scape is lit­tered with dirt, laun­dry, fold­ing and sweeping.


[i] This was the case in sev­er­al coun­tries; the Nether­lands, the US, and Britain, but the sub­ur­ban House­wife was pre­dom­i­nant­ly found in the USA.

[ii] Friedan, 1972; Oak­ley, 1976.

[iii] The House­wife, 1974.

[iv] Lau­ren Cas­sel Brownell, 2008.

[v] She also found time to write a book about it.

[vi] Har­ri­et Beech­er Stow, 1869, L 6 – 13 [Kin­dle edi­tion.]. Jacob Cats empha­sised the impor­tance of edu­ca­tion for women in the 17th cen­tu­ry, (De Mare, 2003, pp376-377).

[vii] Pink, 2004, p. 88.

[viii] Idem. p. 88.

[ix] Idem, p. 94.