I am not big on New Year’s resolutions, but this year I have vowed to change one of my habits. I have always been house-proud and love using my artistic flair to decorate my home in beauty. I have had a cleaning lady most of the time for many years, so my homes have been relatively clean. The living room and dining room have always been ready to receive guests. But I didn’t always do the dishes or clean the surfaces in the kitchen right away, clothes I had worn often sat on chairs before I hung them up, and I didn’t make the bed every day.
Now that I think about it, this habit goes back to my childhood and teen-age years, when my not picking up things in my bedroom was a bone of contention between me and my mother. Joyce Zonana wrote recently about how she rejected her mother’s role as homemaker and “dutiful” wife when she was young. Only now during the Covid crisis, she writes, is she beginning to enjoy the traditional women’s work of cooking regularly and knitting.
When I was a teen-ager, I sewed all of my clothes (both because we didn’t have a lot of money and because, as I was very tall and very skinny, most ready-made clothes didn’t fit). I was a second mother to my baby brother. For me, those were the fun parts of women’s work. But I hated washing dishes and cleaning the house, and I did not learn how to cook. I suppose I recoiled from the repetitiveness of those tasks. I was also aware that my father ruled the roost, and though I would never have criticized him, I knew that one of my mother’s jobs was to please him. Laura Montoya’s meditation on her grandmother’s life in a recent blog reminds us that the failure of homemakers to meet their husbands needs or wants can lead to violence.
When I went away to college, I learned to disparage all of women’s work, including the parts of it I had loved. I was taught that the “life of the mind” was the highest pursuit and that the “life of the body” was secondary. I now see this aspect of university culture as brainwashing of the highest order.
As readers who have been following my blogs know, I moved from a house in Lesbos to an apartment in Crete this past summer. For the first time, I have an open-plan living room, dining room, and kitchen. This means that rather than being hidden away, unwashed dishes are visible from the living and entertaining spaces. My bedroom and dressing room are on view from the hallway that leads to the bathrooms.
So, I am now making the bed every day, hanging up my clothes, and washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchens surfaces at once. I find that I am very much enjoying having my living space spic-and-span. I don’t hate doing the work as I once might have, because I have time to do it, and I find my home to be more beautiful and restful when there is a place for everything and everything is in its place. As I do this work, I honor and respect the work of my mother, our mothers, and Hestia, the Goddess of hearth and home.
But it does take a lot of time to do this work every day, many times a day. If I were working full-time at a stressful job, would I have time for all of this home-work as well? And if I didn’t have a cleaning lady, this work would require much more of my time.
Though like Joyce, I am learning to respect women’s traditional work more than I once did, I would not want to be restricted to it. Nor would I want to be dependent on someone else because the work that I was doing is not paid.
As we come to value women’s work, we also to recognize the need to transform the conditions under which it is done in the modern world. Second wave feminists spoke about reducing work hours for both women and men, so that there would be time to work both outside and inside the home. This has happened in Sweden. But in the United States, working hours outside the home have increased for most people in recent decades, and many find they must work second jobs in order to make ends meet. Though men are helping out around the home more than they used to, most women are still burdened with a double day of work.
Learning to honor Hestia reminds us that there is a great deal of restructuring of the conditions of work inside and outside the home that needs to be done. This includes raising the wages of those who cannot make ends meet while cutting the inflated wages of those at the top and reducing working hours for everyone, so that a balance can be reached between work in the home and outside of it. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done when Wall Street and the one per cent rule.
Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator who lives in Heraklion, Crete. Carol’s recent book is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.
Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.