Home is First in a Woman’s Heart: A Reflection on Sunshine Mary’s “Learning Domesticity in a Post-Feminist World”

Sunshine Mary has started a new series about learning the art of domesticity for the contemporary woman.  I say “for the contemporary woman” because, as she points out, many women today did not grow up seeing a model of domestic life. “Domestic life” is more than just having a house and a place to eat, sleep and store your possessions. Domestic life is about building a *home*, a place of harmonious relationships, peace, and nurture.

Two points in her post stood out to me: 1) The argument that women *like* housework in a way that men generally don’t, and 2) That even if men can do housework just as well as women, and women work outside of the home just as well as men, that neither would be as content as they would be if they switched roles. I think both points are golden, and both likely to draw the ire of many a woman who loves her job and hates household chores. As a woman who both enjoys her job quite a lot and also hates chores, I am nevertheless 100% in agreement with Sunshine Mary on these two points. Here’s why:

1) The significance of housework for men and women is not about the specific tasks themselves. Think about men being handy or taking care of the yardwork. My father, for instance, has spent years gradually improving his house. He takes great pains to ensure that everything is in proper working order and continually thinks of ways that it can be improved to be more functional. The house really has gotten better and better over the years. Even though the amount of attention he gives to the house might suggest to some that he likes handyman tasks, I’d argue that it’s not about the tasks themselves—it’s really about the pride that he takes in having a well-maintained, well-functioning house, which he views as a refleciton of himself. Many of us have probably had that one neighbor who is meticulous about his lawn—the seeding, fertilizing, weeding, edging, the landscaping. He seems to always be mowing the grass, planting a shrub, or building a retaining wall. Does this indicate that these men have an abiding love of horticulture? Perhaps they do, but likely they do not. Rather, they care for their lawns in such a way because they know that their houses are a reflection on them, and the outside of the house is the first thing people will see. They want it to look as good as possible and to make a positive impression. I wonder if it’s fair to say that a man who does not take pride in his house is not particularly invested in it (I would love comments about that).

Now, when it comes to women and other tasks such as laundry, cooking and cleaning, I would argue a similar point: It’s not necessarily that women like folding clothes or vacuuming carpets, and maybe not even cooking (though many find that enjoyable in itself). Rather, tackling those tasks with energy is a means to a deeper sense of satisfaction—the satisfaction that comes from having a warm, comfortable home where people feel cared for. No one feels comfortable and cared for when there’s nothing to eat in the kitchen, there’s hair in the bathtub, and they’ve run out of clean underwear. And notice that a warm and comfortable home is not necessarily a spotless home. Some people are so particular about things being just so that they actually make the living space uncomfortable for others. Such traits are about control, not caring. Homemaking is really about focusing on the things that meet the needs of household members.

2) I mentioned that I hated household chores and like my job. So how could I agree that even if men and women switched traditional roles successfully, that neither would be as content? When I say that I dislike chores, I mean that oftentimes, I resent the time it takes to tend to such things that are really so basic when I could be spending time on professional development, writing, reading, singing, at the gym, with friends, etc. I think that many women rationalize the same way. But regardless of how much I wish I could just snap my fingers and everything fall magically into place, I know it won’t; and I also know that if it’s left undone, I will never have peace of mind. I could be accomplishing great things for my employer, traveling to interesting places, and having a great time socializing. But more than anything else, the state of my home, the warmth, comfort, and beauty I’m able to find there has more of an impact on my sense of security and contentment in life than any of those other things. This is not about saying that either women like being at home or they like working outside the home; but rather it’s about order of importance. Home is first is a woman’s heart.

Moreover, studies show that even when men and women have embraced feminist ideas of sameness (under the guise of equality)—most notably when the wife works and the husband stays home with the children—it often adds stress that cannot simply be explained away by societal expectations. Just like I shared above, even when the women have careers, supportive husbands, and know that their children are being taken care of by a caring parent, they remain preoccupied with Home. Men who work and have stay at home wives don’t come home and continue to worry about whether things have been done right while they were gone; but women do. And not only do they remain preoccupied with how things are going at home while they’re away, they also secretly (or not so secretly) tend to see their husbands as less deserving of their respect since they are the breadwinners. But guess what? Men with stay at home wives don’t lose respect for them because of that fact, if they ever deeply respected them at all. If a woman has been fortunate enough and had the good sense to marry a man that is a provider, he will have greater respect for her dedication to their home. Many women who have chosen to stay at home have remarked how much less stressful home life is; but when the men stay at home—even willingly—stress increases. This article from the New York Magazine paints a pretty clear picture: http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/features/n_9495/

There will always be people who read perspectives like Sunshine Mary’s and begin to point out all the exceptions and special situations that they know of, complete with detailed anecdotes. But I would simply point out a helpful maxim—the exception proves the rule.