Another Bow to Hestia by Carol P. Christ


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.



Categories: Ancestors, Embodiment, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, Women and Work

Tags: , , , ,

9 replies

  1. I admit to detesting housework. Any and all of it. It does take too much time besides being excruciatingly boring. I have no wish or need to change the lifestyle. Was hat normally would be the lounge I use as a studio because it is the largest room with the most light. No apologies!

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  2. My big joke is I clean for company, but I do dishes a couple times a day and make my bed because it brings order into my life. When I do clean, I prefer to regard it as a ritual or magical cleanse. it’s lot easier if you’re sweeping the negativity out of your dwelling.

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  3. When I was a young mother I loved to cook – reflecting back I see it was the only vehicle of creativity I allowed myself…

    I regularly did housework which I hated then and now… I do the basics and no more. What I remember best was my father yelling at me to make my bed. Do I make my bed? never – I do have beautiful quilts but some disarray is normal and I am comfortable with it. Clutter annoys me so I think my little cabin looks cleaner than it really is!

    Housework, unless I’m freaked or nesting bores me. I still resent the years I wasted doing stuff that felt so meaningless.

    However, with all that said I know how to create sacred space in my home – during the winter Hestia is always with me – in the morning when I start my woodstove, but especially at night when my animals and I sit on the couch watching the fire in a dimly lit woodland room. Every single night I give thanks for having such a space – in the winter we live in the living room – during the summer we live on the porch – inside and outside are always blending because of having so many windows.

    I love hearing about others experiences with home because creating that space seems important – BUT it isn’t something that women need to be forced to do.

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  4. Tidy up! Good for you! If nothing else, washing dishes occupies our hands for a little while. And, yes, living cleanly, so to speak, does honor Hestia.

    I hope you’re feeling good. What’s your prognosis these days? Bright blessings to all cleaning and sewing hands.

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  5. I’m so glad you are enjoying your new home and are finding a good rhythm of keeping it in a state that makes you happy! You are so right about the importance of changing our cultural attitudes towards work and personal life balance. Almost everyone I know who works, even one job, feels overwhelmed all the time, especially if they have child care duties on top of 50 or more hours of work each week. And for lower income people who may need additional help beyond their jobs, or who may be unable to work or find work, patching together assistance in our fragmented, under-resourced health and human services system is almost a full time job in itself which also impacts the ability to care for themselves and their families. So much work to be done to make progress towards a more equitable and humane society!

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    • The Pandemic & Women’s Work. Economists have long acknowledged that gross domestic product — the most widely accepted measure of economic progress — primarily excludes women’s domestic work, which is vital to the functioning of the global economy. But this huge gap has rarely seemed important in the heavily male-dominated profession of economics. Note Diane Coyle, “Why Did It Take a Pandemic to Show How Much Unpaid Work Women Do? Cleaning the house and taking care of children has real economic value, and women have been doing it for free for too long.” NYT: June 26, 2020. For further considerations see: Eahr Joan. Chapter 112. 2400, Lilith and Eve. ReGenesis Encyclopedia: Synthesis of the Spiritual Dark-Motherline, Integral Research, Labyrinth Learning, and Eco–Thealogy. Part I. Revised Edition II. 2018.
      (RGS.) http://ciis.academia.edu/EJoan

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  6. Thank you for this thoughtful, balanced reflection on perennial questions with evolving answers, both personal and cultural. I enjoy hearing about your relationship with your home.

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  7. I’m sure if you had to work full-time and even raise your kids alone, you would still find time to clean your house. That’s just how most women are. We can take whatever is given to us and make it it’s best!!

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  8. Thanks, Carol, for this personal reflection on so-called “women’s work.” Looking over your post and the comments afterwards, it’s clear that when society doesn’t deal with an issue, then individuals have to cope with it on their own. Feminists have been saying for decades that “the personal is political.” But the political is also personal. One feminist demand that tackles this issue is “wages for housework.” Not my favorite solution, this proposal at least frames the question in a way that has an economic impact. My problem with it is that it turns caring work into something else. The compassion and care that go into childcare, eldercare, etc. get lost as this work just becomes waged labor. I prefer Genevieve Vaughn’s understanding of the problem. She turns it on its head. Instead of saying that “women’s work” should be paid, she suggests that work should be redefined as giving, using women’s nurturing as the prototype. This is her understanding of the “gift economy.” See her book _For-Giving_.

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