Friday, September 14, 2007

Am I Liberated?

A few weekends ago, while the children were playing and having a great time, I was cleaning out drawers in my bedroom. I was cleaning out closets. While the children were upstairs watching a movie, I was surfing the intarwebs, looking for ideas for new curtains. My husband called me out on it, telling me how single-minded I can be when I'm working on a project. And that the single-mindedness, especially when it relates to window treatments, makes me lousy company. (Oh, and yes, because you asked, I did find the solution to my window covering issues. I can't wait.)

Giving myself over to this domain, the traditionally-female sphere of house and home, is something that I do in cycles, complete with manias of embroidery, quilting, and knitting. I haven't identified the pattern or frequency (it's not seasonal), nor the stimulus, but something pushes me to obsess about the house every year or two. And obsess I do. It's a little comforting to know I'm not alone in this obsession (maybe it's explained by astrology? nope...just checked and my horoscope today pretty much tells me to get a life: You need to get outside and reconnect with nature in some way. Hiking or gardening would be perfect, but it can be anything that feels right and doesn't require hours of abstract analysis to complete.).

But why do I feel a little guilty about this? Why do I think that I should be doing something more "important"? Is it because I see something lesser, something trivial in "female" domesticity? Now we're back to my women's studies days, the days when I could write a ten-page research paper, complete with footnotes, in three hours, using words I honestly don't know anymore (yes, I found some of my old term papers in all that cleaning and, in reading them, honestly didn't understand them! Because I am apparently killing my brain cells at an amazing pace! Woot!). I can discuss essentialism. I can argue either side. And I can tell you that I always had an intellectual tension with de Beauvoir because her argument against essentialism seemed to me dismissive of the feminine. (See? I can still say smart stuff.) De Beauvoir's insistence that male "transcendence" is superior to female "immanence", in statements like, "The woman who is shut up in immanence endeavors to hold man in that prison also; thus that prison will be confused with the world, and woman will no longer suffer from being confined there: mother, wife, sweetheart are the jailers," just pissed me off in college, and I don't like it any better today. What if I, a "liberated" woman, choose to revel in my immanence? What if transcendence is of no interest to me? Am I imprisoned? I don't feel imprisoned.

What's wrong with the feminine, the immanent? I'll admit upfront that I've not kept up with feminist theory since college, so my reading list only includes titles pre-1992. I remember really, really disliking Camille Paglia when she first hit the scene, telling us that if women had been in charge, we would never have progressed, as a species, to the lofty heights of the Renaissance or Modernism or any of those other things I loved so much in my college days. I disagreed, my twenty-year-old self, secure in the thought that women's softness, our sweetness, our gentleness, was simply enculturation. Camille was saying that if women were in charge we'd still be in mud huts; I countered that if women were in charge, they'd be the same as men, just with different anatomy, and that the roles would simply have reversed, based on who's in power and who's not. (Which meant that I was also guilty of dismissing the feminine, in my certainty that it was no more than a "bad habit" that girls learned as they grew up.)

But I guess that having children and living a few more years in our world has had an effect on my feminism.

These days, I see clearly that girls and boys are not the same. They're sometimes as different as cats and gerbils. But sometimes they're more alike than different. And mothers and fathers are different in how they relate to their children. Women and men are different in the workplace.

I also see that the world of women, the domestic sphere, isn't so bad. We live there, after all. Providing my family with a comfortable, attractive home is a way I demonstrate my love for them. Sometimes it's even a way I express whatever artistic intentions I still have. (And, when people come over and ooh and aah about how pretty, cozy, or whatever other positive adjective they use to describe my house, it feeds my ego a little. And I'm okay with that.) Cooking, cleaning, raising children, changing diapers: it's all hard, honest work. I would never say it's only work to be done by women (fortunately, Craig and I agree on that one), but it's traditionally been in the sphere of women.

Is it unliberated for me to want to make our house a lovely home? Is it unliberated to want window treatments that do what I want them to do (open from the top AND the bottom)? I don't think so. I think it's part of being human, whether female or male. And if knitting and quilting and making dinner and moving furniture makes me happy, then who cares? And seriously, these window treatments are so cool! Let's liberate the windows!


Stacey Greenberg said...

having lived in a mud hut, i can say, it really isn't so bad :)

of all my witty/poignant/etc blog entries, none garnered as many comments, emails, discussion as the one about which sofa to buy!

LaReinaCobre said...

I don't feel guilty about wanting a comfortable home that's pleasing to the senses. But one big problem is sorting out what truly makes me happy from the western tendency to think that adding "more" will make something look better or be better. Because that's where consumerism comes in. Retaining a certain level of aloofness to product marketers is important to me.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this is entirely too simplistic, and certainly it disregards all that good stuff you studied and wrote in college, but just maybe you would sometimes find it helpful to tell yourself, "I like to do X because I (underlined) LIKE to do it. It is MY interest/technique/creativity at work." Because--you are more than feminine/masculine/stereotypes or enculturation. You are you.m

My guess is that you would not tell yourself "How liberal/conservative is this decision? Or how Baptist/Jewish is it? Or how young/old, age appropriate or no, is it? Or how Southern/Northern is it?" IMperhapsunfortunatelynotsoHO, we make most of our decisions as individuals, from some interior place that transcends dichotomies. And it is sometimes comforting to think of yourself as meta dualistic labels. And, I think, more accurate; it helps to explain why we sometimes do things that surprise ourselves.
Just my opinion.

Mom said...

Not to minimalize your serious thoughts, but do you really understand those instructions you linked? I think there is something important that isn't there...

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