In junior high and high school, I led a double life. Early on I had been labeled book-smart and treated accordingly, placed in the “advanced classes” with all sorts of passes and privileges. I did truly enjoy some academic subjects, namely English and foreign languages. But I felt a little embarrassed about that, as those weren’t considered “cool” subjects.
The people I idolized — OK, let’s be honest, the boys I idolized, because for the most part back then I didn’t really idolize anyone of my own sex — were all hardcore intellectual in what I considered the “hard” subjects. The ones that required a person to learn and retain a lot of facts or formulas. Math, sciences, history.
But I had an even deeper secret. Even more than English and foreign languages, my real favorite subjects were art, and … Home Ec. My love for these subjects was tempered by the shame I felt at loving them. They were for “less smart people,” according to beliefs I had absorbed from the world around me.
My mother was a fulltime homemaker. She worked outside the home at times but mainly stayed home to raise us. Back then I didn’t really respect “homemaker” as an occupation, though I didn’t understand why at the time. I didn’t respect homemaker for the same reason I didn’t respect myself for Home Ec being my favorite subject — though I didn’t understand any of that at the time.
I loved sewing. One skirt I made in seventh-grade Home Ec class stayed in my wardrobe til my late 20s.
Prone to depression and anxiety from the time I was small, I experienced a vacation from my troubled mind by working with my hands. Even much later, after I got help and learned how to operate my mind deliberately, I never lost my love of hand-work. To this day (even though I’ve learned tools for navigating my emotions and harnessing them for the good, and use those tools every day), when my mind starts to get to me I still experience a huge boost in mental wellbeing the minute I pick up a needle and thread, or a paintbrush.
I went to college, got on the mainstream white-collar career track, stayed on it for the first decade or so of my working life.
It wasn’t until 2012, when I spent a few months living and working on a farm in Texas, that I got a taste of doing home ec fulltime. My main duties consisted of cooking, managing flows, and keeping an eye on things, and helping to promote my friends’ farm. I felt like every bit of knowledge I had, every cell of my body and brain, was relevant and needed. At that time I realized why my Mom had chosen to be a homemaker. And I came to understand and respect why Home Ec had been my favorite subject. And art — the two are intertwined for me.
And now I come across this brilliant article shared by a fellow permie in the Transformative Adventures group. I had somehow never heard of Federica or the movement to pay women for domestic labor.
Her insights about labor and pesonal fulfillment and societal wellbeing strike a deep chord in me.
• The Lockdown Showed How the Economy Exploits Women. She Already Knew. (Article about Silvia Federici and the idea that domestic work is unwaged labor; by Jordan Kisner in New York Times, Feb 17, 2021): “Federici is a longtime advocate of the idea that domestic work is unwaged labor and was a founder of the Wages for Housework movement in the early 1970s. It is a form of gendered economic oppression, she argues, and an exploitation upon which all of capitalism rests. … These ideas weren’t exactly obscure before the pandemic. But mainstream feminism — not to mention mainstream economics or politics — has mostly ignored domestic labor. Instead, it has measured women’s empowerment by their presence and influence in the workplace, which is attained by outsourcing housework and child care to less economically advantaged women for a low wage. Even so, women remain mired in housework. It’s common now to hear the term “the second shift” (coined in 1989 by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild), which describes how the work of maintaining a home and caring for children still falls disproportionately to women, even if they have full-time jobs and pay for help. What’s more, people who are paid to do domestic labor or care work (like elder care or house cleaning) are, as a group, badly compensated and denied workplace protections or benefits. These jobs are held mostly by women of color and immigrants. … ‘You cannot make good policy if the single largest sector of your nation’s economy is not visible … You can’t presume to know where the needs are.’ … How might this year have looked different had the work we do to care for one another, ourselves and the world around us been valued at a premium?”
• The Weaving Women of the Bauhaus Have Inspired Generations of Textile Artists (Alexxa Gotthardt; in Artsy.net): Relegated by sexism to the fiber arts department, these women artists took their craft to phenomenal heights, and wove themselves a supportive community as well. “Despite the limitations imposed on them, artists like Gunta Stölzl, Anni Albers, and Marli Ehrman made the weaving workshop not only the Bauhaus’s most commercially successful sector, but also one of its most collaborative and audaciously experimental.”
What a lovely & informative article – thank you Denise Miller for sharing!