Friday Feminist – Selma James

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

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6 responses to “Friday Feminist – Selma James

  1. 1953? Funny how things haven’t changed – or not so funny really

  2. Fabulous stuff. Still so true for me, for all i’m a feminist blogger. And what a modern title for 1953! Subversion – love it!

  3. I find this Friday feminist a little “woe is me” feeling sorry for herself. “I’m so bored”. Providing entertainment for bored, lonely housewives is pretty low on my list of feminist priorities. In 1953 women had no choice but to be housewives and that is the problem – not that there is something inherently tortuous about being a housewife. I work full-time outside the home and my husband has been a homemaker and stay-at-home dad for most of our marriage (he works part-time now that our daughter is in school). He makes a schedule for himself, has projects, exercises. He plans his days and while I know he can relate to the feeling of cleaning the house only to have my daughter and I immediately mess it up, I don’t think he has ever complained about boredom.

    Women who are not cut out to be homemakers, such as myself, absolutely should not have to do that, of course. However, I think feminist writings such as this one assume that any woman who would choose to be a homemaker is oppressed, miserable, wasting her talents, etc. I think this is insulting to homemakers of both genders and not constructive.

    Note: I should add the caveat that I am aware it is at least partially a defense mechanism for me to react negatively to this piece. The way my life is I am pretty much a 1950’s husband only female (and perhaps a little more involved in raising my child than the average 1950’s husband).

  4. Zowie. Very pithy. Especially the part about the lack of any limits on housework and the lack of control over or even predictability of your own time.

  5. I wonder what she would think of us ‘modern women’ holding down a job and still doing most of the housework?

  6. I’m currently waiting for the irritation levels to rise high enough for me to tackle the kitchen for the second time today. Necessity will force me to put fresh sheets on the bed since the old ones are in the washing hamper now. Selma James’ writing is really resonating with me today.