Feminism and the Domestic Sphere

I love home and family and good friends and good food and warmth and comfort and the leisure to enjoy them.  My greatest pleasure is not traveling to exotic lands or attending cultural events (although I enjoy both) – but sitting at a table surrounded by friends and family enjoying good food and good conversation.  And, as I grow older and children and friends scatter, to my sorrow, this is a pleasure which seems harder and harder to come by. But that is another topic for another day. In this essay, I want to focus on the fact that , as a woman who considers herself to be a feminist, it has always pained me that feminism appears to devalue the domestic sphere by assuming the patriarchal position that only paid work (done by males) has real value;  therefore, only by getting women out of the home and into traditionally male jobs can women achieve value.  This line of reasoning seems to reinforce the idea that women’s work is, indeed, worthless.  When most of us know by personal experience that women’s work enriches life immensely.

I have always valued the domestic sphere.  As a child, I loved coming home to a loving mother and a comfortable home. For a few years, I even had the pleasure of an extended family, with a great aunt and uncle who lived down the street. I practiced the piano at their house and shared my school experiences with them – and felt loved and cared for. Later, when our family fell on hard times and my mother went to work outside our home (much against her will), I hated coming home to a cold, empty house, still smelling of the breakfast we had all wolfed down on our way out the door to work and school.

Years later, when I was a mother, I treasured the few years I had at home with my children. But all too soon, economic pressures also forced me to go to work outside the home and enter the world of the frazzled mother, trying to find reliable, trustworthy childcare so I could concentrate on my work without worrying every minute about my children. But just being separated from my youngest, who at four still required a lot of lap time, was wrenching.

The creation of a comfortable haven which provides both physical and emotional security seems to me to be a very worthwhile  endeavor.  But our society and our economy are doing everything they can to ensure that a stable domestic environment is a luxury which few can afford.  And this is primarily the result of women being forced to work one and sometimes two jobs outside the home because none of the work they do inside the home is deemed to have any economic worth or cultural value.  And before you think I am on a right-wing, kirche, kuche, kinder rant, let me quickly say that I am not recommending that women should be imprisoned in the home, tending the home fires; I am not recommending “a return” to traditional roles. I am merely pointing out that in the loss of the domestic sphere – in the diminishing hours that anyone has available to spend at home – we have lost a lot.


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