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April 30, 2009


Jo, I think this is so beautifully said. Brava. I feel the same way about making a home, although mostly I feel like I suck at it.

i just lurv you jo. you make me laugh every damn time, and that a gift in itself; that you do it while saying really important, smart things, wowza!

just wait til the chilins are in school, or big enough to occupy themselves (if you decide to homeschool) -- that's when you really get to sink your teeth into both the housework and the homemaking. not to say you should wish this time away -- not at all, suck the marrow right out of your kids' childhoods, i say. but personally, i find this time in my life, when my kids are older and everyone asks, "when are you going to get a job" (and i try hard not to say something really rude) -- i find this time in my life so incredibly sweet.

you rock the house.

I totally agree! (Well, mostly. I'm not a radical feminist, but rather a radical feminine-ist.) I figure that my job may not earn money, but the money that I save is like a second income. I grow and preserve a large portion of our food. I make things from scratch wherever possible. I look out for our health with nutrition and homemade medicine. I reuse and learn to "creatively do without". I have plenty of work to do at home and I'm happy to stay here and do it!

i agree with a lot of what you say...especially the difference between housework and homemaking. what drives me nuts is when my husbands tries/acts like he has a right to be a part of the homemaking when he does little of the housework. if i'm doing the laundry, cooking, cleaning, childcare from wake up to bedtime, etc., plus paying bills, scheduling appointments, financial planning, errand running, etc., then damn it, i should get to hang a picture on the wall or pick a paint color out myself. he mows the lawn and waits as long as possible between cuttings. sometimes he'll unload the dishwasher, and if he's feeling really crazy, he'll load it, but only his dishes. argh!

homemaking feels like a reward for doing the housework. housework is the tedium, the day to day that must get done lest we live among cockroaches, trash heaps, and mouldy food. homemaking is the stuff that gives you the warm fuzzies, that you are caring for the soul of your house and your family. it's the whip cream and cherry on top of the housework sundae, that is if you could compare scrubbing toilets to ice cream...

When I was partnered, it was interesting to see how the division of chores evolved, since we were both guys. Over all things still probably got divided according to traditional gender roles, with me taking on more of the women's work because I liked it and had more experience at it (cooking especially). But I always had the boy card to pull if I thought he was coasting a bit too much (which to be fair, didn't happen often). However it made me realize how easy it would be for a guy to weasel out of splitting the chores because he just didn't know how to do something, or could credibly claim he didn't. But as Marta says in her post, guys are missing out; if we don't learn to do the housework stuff, we don't come to find the satisfaction inherent in the homemaking.

Neither my husband, nor I particularly enjoy housework, but we both enjoy homemaking albeit with a rather traditional gender breakdown. For example, I plan/plant the garden, research/shop for/preserve the food. He maintains the compost piles, builds/fixes whatever needs it, and deals with unwanted bugs/rats. I also tend to be "the instigator" - i.e., he would never say "I was thinking about getting some chickens" but he will build the chicken coop.

One thing we have been very careful about is making sure that each of us can do the other's typical jobs. A couple of years ago the husband of one of our acquaintances was killed in a car accident leaving her with four young children. One of the things that the tragedy made me think about was how one of us might cope if left to fend for ourselves. To that end, I recently fixed the tire on a wheelbarrow and the husband baked a cake (and a fine cake it was!).

Love this post. Yes! Homemaking and housework are not the same. Love homemaking. Housework? Not so much. My hubby and I have fairly traditional division of labor - although he does kitchen duty each evening while I'm showering the kids, and I have taken over the lawn mowing and most of the yard work. I'm still working on getting equal "free" time, i.e. he goes for looooong bike rides and I go for an hour walk. Lots of food for thought here.

Thank you, Jo. I can't say how nice it is to hear someone say this stuff. My husband and I are currently saving desperately for a house and (I hate to admit it) hoping prices drop a little further here in Southern California so that we can afford a mortgage on only his salary (or -ies, actually) once we start our family. And yet while he's been fairly supportive, I have a certain amount of guilt (not to mention fear) because of the societal assumption that I will not be doing "real" work. As it stands, I'll probably still have to pick up freelance or contract opportunities, so housework and childcare might be all I have time for.

But my mother was a homemaker, and a good one - she made and preserved food for our family, raised chickens and goats at times, sewed clothes, and of course parented like a mofo until we were in school, at which point she went back to work part time so we could afford to go to Disneyland once in a while :P. I feel rather suited myself to homemaking, although I don't necessarily have an affinity for the same things my mom did. But I feel like I have to couch our plans for me to quit work with all kinds of qualifiers because when I say "I want to stay home with the kids," I think a lot of people hear "I want to sit on my ass watching soap operas and letting my brain atrophy." Why don't people understand that parenting and homemaking (and that word still makes me cringe, it's become so stigmatized) are valuable employments? A person (still usually a woman, but that's a whole other comment) can get paid to take care of children, clean someone else's house, organize their lives, make their food or clothes, or landscape their garden. Why, then, can't I get respect for wanting to spend my days doing the same things, instead of getting told I'm wasting my degree by opting out?

My husband really likes his job. Why isn't it ok for me to do what I love, too, just because no one will pay me if I'm doing it only for my own family?

I really appreciate the discussion of this topic as its gotten me thinking about things in new ways; helpful as I continue settling into my new household.

Although the housework and the homemaking duties fall entirely on me, the cat has recently declared war on clutter. I hope to grow into the idea of feeling like this is helpful on his part.

It's definitely, definitely, definitely a vocation.

What you do sounds so awesome. Yeah, that's how life is supposed to be.

I mean, the ideal thing would be that our lives were flexible and had financial security and then either everyone could do it and people could share it halfsies or people could specialize like you do.

The other way is not fully living, in a sense.

That's my 1970s Sweden dream, dude. Who's with me? I think I would not be good at a lot of this but it would make my life richer.

...they make crock pot liners?

Yeah, I should point out that we have a HUUUUUGE amount of privilege working in our favor. Like some flexibility with Sean's workday (although the flip side of that is that most nights he works for a few hours after dinner, as well as a full day).

And yes, akeeyu, they sure do. They're plastic.

Erm, is it wrong that this (and your friends' posts) set me off on a cleaning spree?! You should see how clean my room and Gatito's are now... That still leaves the rest of the house. Ahem.

Anyway, found the housework/homemaking distinction interesting. A and I work similar hours (9-5) and earn similar pay. We have someone do the heavy cleaning once/week and our nanny does laundry during the week, but A does virtually every other housekeeping duty, from cleaning the kitchen to straightening before company comes to taking out the garbage, while I limit myself to excess laundry (there's a lot, shockingly!) We grocery shop together every Saturday morning. He does more than his fair share of childcare, too, I'd say, but that's largely because he generally enjoys Most Favored Parent status.

But the homemaking... that's a different story. I pay the bills, I get Gatito signed up for his classes, decide if/when we're going on vacation and make 90% of the social plans. If we're going to bring snack, turn in appropriate forms, donations, etc., to the school, it's only because I've remembered to do so. (Sadly, this is not often enough.)

I usually think of us as focused on strategic (me) vs. tactical (him), which is very much in line with the differences in our professions, as well.

Ooh! I just realized something!

Since today's cleaning frenzy was out of character for me, the whole time I was doing it, I was nervous that A was going to disapprove of what I'd done-- which toys I'd chosen to put in the closet vs. leave on the shelves, etc. And I was right. He was out with Gatito while I was working and came in and inspected the work with total suspicion! I could tell he was not happy, but I shut him down before he could say anything that would start a fight.

Maybe he unconsciously views housework as his domain and I interfered?!

I've never felt bad for leaving too short a comment before ;)
Cat, galloping made me think and I have a similar problem.
My husband is a pack rat, so as I'm trying to organize lately I find myself worried about what he will think of me moving stuff around and tossing. I'm tossing A LOT. He gets all angry when I ask him the same questions I have been asking myself about "stuff." Like, how long has it been since you used it? If you absolutely had to replace it in the future, could you? Is it worth storing?
I feel like the home is my domain and I'm the only one who ever does the picking up and homemaking. He only sweeps and does occasional dishes. Yet I can't do my job without this battle of wills.
Now, can I please donate that twenty year old G.I. Joe jet?

"Radical" feminist? Really? I like your blog and appreciate your exploration of domestic economy here, but I have to question that nomenclature--unless you're being ironic, of course.

I can appreciate what you're saying. But to me, the fact that I do most of the home-making (planning) is a burden. My husband is willing to help...but help is not the same as partnership. We both have outside jobs, and just one child, but feel flattened by the amount of work running a house/child's life/our interests is. As a woman, I have some traiing in this; he has none, which complicates my abillity to hand off responsibilities.

He is about to jump from outside work to home-based work, but our son will stay in daycare; I have some hope that we too will get some joy out of planning and running our lives again after that transition.

But frankly, I would gladly hand about 99% of it off to a maid with a huge sigh of relief. But hiring a maid is so fraught with political issues for a feminist, I would feel guilty even if I could afford it, unless I paid her really really well.

I have always resented the Martha Stewart ethos, the idea that a woman has so much free time to do everything so painstakingly by hand, using only the finest (expensive) materials. It's like a one-two punch of sexism and capitalism combined, and hypocritical to boot, because you know she's not scrubbing her own toilets.

I guess that's what it comes down to, for me: who notices and scrubs the shit off the toilets? Because that's just drudgery, not glorious in the least.

(I have a whole other rant on how domestic appliances, such as vacuums, were really substandard, until, suddenly, men started doing more of it and then we had Dysons and shit. But I digress).

Why not radical, Susan?

I know I should shun the crock pot liners, but once I found them, I was hooked. I'm a WOHM and I like to make homemade food but a crock pot used on Sunday not cleaned until Wednesday sitting in the sink soaking is about the least-pleasant thing in my kitchen. With the liner, the crock pot is usually cleaned by Tuesday, latest (ok, kidding, Monday).

Oh, and my husband and I both WOHM and somehow, I was *given* the gift of a cleaning lady coming to clean our home with our mutual messes for Christmas and my birthday. My husband got fighter pilot lessons (I know! I am winner wife.). I loves me some cleaning lady but it seems like we each should receive that since somehow cleaning the house should be both our jobs.

Well, okay, in certain practices no -- I don't oppose political organization, for example, or working for change within the system -- but I do so with the belief that the system is so deeply flawed and built on a fundamentally patriarchal base that we will have to see a really radical overthrowing of said system to see progress.

This Gerda Lerner quote:

""Reforms and legal changes, while ameliorating the condition
of women and an essential part of the process of emancipating
them, will not basically change patriarchy. Such reforms need
to be integrated within a vast cultural revolution in order to
transform patriarchy and thus abolish it."
From "The Creation of Patriarchy", p. 217

...pretty much sums it up for me. So why don't you tell me where you see a disconnect?

That's interesting--I work full time outside the home, but based on your definition, I'm most certainly a "homemaker." I grow a vegetable garden in the summer, and last year started learning how to can produce and make my own cheese. I don't make clothes (never liked sewing much) but have been responsible for almost all the large "domestic" projects around our house, such as xeriscaping our front and back yards; painting inside walls, hanging art and photos, and other home-y stuff like that. I like cooking from scratch (although on weeknights that usually means super-simple meals like miso soup, eggs, or stir fry) and my daughter and I eat dinner together at home 90% of the time (my husband doesn't get home until almost her bedtime, so we only eat together as a threesome on weekends).

Someone else pointed out in the comments that "homemaking" also includes such things as making sure kids get to school with appropriate forms, clothes, snacks, and so on, and that intrigued me too. (God--Week of the Young Child near about KILLED me the other week--we had to bring something extra 4 out of the 5 days, yeesh!) Working full-time outside the home, I don't always feel very "domestic," but thinking about it in this way, I can see that, actually, I am...

Yeah, Anne, I forgot to make the point that homemaking and working outside the home are certainly not incompatible.

jo i'm not so sure i agree with the homemaking/housekeeping distinction, at least as it's evolving in the comments (quite possibly not how you intended it -- i should go back and re-read your essay). it strikes me that folks call anything they enjoy "homemaking" and anything they dislike "housekeeping"? for example, i would far far rather clean toilets than arrange playdates and take care of school paper work; my personal fantasy is not a house cleaner but a social secretary! i think what you were getting at (correct me if i'm wrong) is that the entire gestalt -- the keeping of the big picture in the front of your mind, of which all the details are a part -- that gestalt is "homemaking" -- and most certainly, almost every family does this more or less, no matter if they also work for pay at some other career.

Yes, that's exactly it, Marta -- it's the gestalt. Or, to put it another way, who's the one with the mental inventory of the refrigerator? There's your homemaker, to whatever extent.

Obviously the two things aren't separate, exclusive categories -- homemaking involves some housekeeping, and vice versa. I think it's the overall spirit with which it's tackled that counts. For example, my dad sort of does the absolute minimum of housework, as the need arises -- and since a grimy kitchen floor isn't on his radar, it NEVER gets done. He (and I'm not kidding) was about to *have the bathroom floors replaced* because he thought they were damaged -- they were just really, really dirty. His house is spare, tidy but dusty. He's my mental picture of what happens when there is no homemaking. happening, just some housework.

Oh, and in just re-reading my comment, I can see that it probably came across as more "snippy" than I meant it. Really, I was just trying to communicate that you had made me look at homemaking in a new way, for which I thank you! :-)

jo, i dunno. my radical lesbian feminist card probably expired long ago (though i will admit that back in the day -- the day of the womyn's center and the-masters-tools-will-not-dismantle-the-masters-house, and "hey hey, ho ho, patriarchy has got to go" and "george bush, read my labia, u.s. out of saudi arabia!" -- yeah, back in the day i *was* all that, if i do say so myself. but for what it's worth, coming from a gray-haired, apron-wearing, mini-van driving lame-ass excuse for a has-been radical feminist like me -- you're always welcome in my radical feminist club. 'cause we believe that it's possible to have a radical critique even after you stop waiting for the revolution -- or even believing that a revolution would be a good thing.

Wait, is that last chant a real one?

oh yeah, we chanted that at the march on washington against george h.w. "read my lips, no new taxes" bush's first gulf war. i been around, darlin'.

Amen. I dream of being able to "make a home", but right now I work part time and it's all we can do to make sure that everyone is clean and clothed and fed...

Housing market in the US is quite fragile. You never know when the market might soar up or take a turn for the worse. But staying updated on U.S. housing market news will ensure that you don't miss your chance to cash in or get out while there is still time.


For the last two years I've been stay at home mommy, and for the last several months I've been half-heartedly trying to find a job. I think you've convinced me that I don't want one. You've articulated exactly what I want to do. I want to work by creating my own home, rather than buying it from WalMart.

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