We do not have to be suspicious of homemaking.
Our talents and aptitudes may afford us opportunities that weren't available to earlier generations of women. But most of us also desire to have a husband, and children, and to create a home for them.
To aspire to professional excellence is viewed as natural, and good. But, somehow, excellence in the home has become an awkward battleground of overdoing vs eschewing.
There are women who pursue excellence in homemaking to a truly staggering degree. Empires have been created around cooking and decorating tips. There are untold numbers of blogs and Instagram accounts devoted to beautifully unrealistic visions of aspirational homemaking. But at the same time, some women fear that to be a proficient homemaker somehow subjugates them.
I require both my boys and my girls to do chores around the house. Both my boys and my girls know how to cook, clean, take out the trash, make beds, and do laundry. But it's my hope that my daughters will grow up with an appreciation for traditionally feminine pursuits, so they are members of a girls' club called Little Women Hospitality Program. It's an offshoot of Little Flowers, aimed at older girls, in which they wear matching shirts and work on learning hospitality skills alongside their friends.
Over the two year program, the girls are introduced to skills including . . . Cooking, Cleaning, Setting and Clearing a Table, Table Manners and Conversation, Preparing a Room for a Guest, Writing Correspondence, Bringing Hospitality to Others, Sewing and Dressing Modestly, Planning a Tea Party, Running a Book Club, Laundry, Care for the Elderly, Personal Cleanliness, Tradition, Art and Beauty, Interior Decorating, Public Speaking, Gardening, and Friendship.
We had our first meeting of year two a couple of weeks ago, and I posted a picture on the blog's Facebook page of the girls learning about how to do laundry.
I was surprised at the lively discussion that ensued. Commenters were split about 90/10, with ninety percent wishing that they'd had a group like this when they were younger, because they felt themselves underprepared for the demands of homemaking, and ten percent REALLY concerned that this was a sexist thing to do to a group of girls. Coincidentally, another discussion about this club popped up on a fellow blogger's personal Facebook page, on the very same day. And some of the comments over there were less charitable. Some of them were CRAZY uncharitable. And really seemed to miss the point.
Lets look at the two main objections voiced in the comments, shall we?
1. Shouldn't girls and boys be taught the same things in the same ways?
Here's the thing: My boys would not enjoy attending a club where they learned homemaking skills. That sounds just awful for them. My daughters do very much enjoy their homemaking club, so they get to do that with their girlfriends while the brothers make paper airplanes and hit each other with sticks outside. (Actually what happened during that meeting.)
The girls enjoy learning these skills in a group environment, with their friends, in matching shirts. They enjoy learning these skills WITHOUT their brothers. My girls enjoy this club. My boys would hate it. It would be terrible for them. That doesn't mean the boys don't learn homemaking skills and that they don't do chores. They do. I'm just acknowledging here that there are better ways to teach my girls and better ways to teach my boys.
For my boys homemaking is a skill they should know so they don't die. For my girls, I hope homemaking is an art they can cultivate, whether or not they also have another career. But also, so they don't die. Which brings me to . . .
2. If girls are taught homemaking, won't they aspire to nothing more?
Remember Andrea in season one of The Walking Dead? The women end up doing the laundry, but she'd rather go hunting, or fight zombies with the boys. I totally get that.
But I want my daughters to learn stuff like this precisely BECAUSE they were not skills I valued as a young woman.
Dosmesticity doesn't come naturally to me, and I'm pretty sure I must have resisted all my mother's attempts to teach me any basic homemaking. I didn't know how to do most rudimentary home ec stuff until after I got married. And it didn't make me a bada$$ feminist . . . it made me pathetic and embarrassed. And dirty.
You will never convince me that withholding skills and information from girls is empowering, or that giving them skills and information is sexist.
Cooking, cleaning, laundry . . . these are IMPORTANT LIFE SKILLS. I hope my daughters will grow up to take pride in their careers (if they have them) and their children (if they have them). But I'm assuming they will also live somewhere, and wear clothing, and eat stuff. I hope that they can also take pride in their ability to do those things well.
That's what I've learned to do. I've been able to find interesting challenges and unexpected joys in homemaking tasks. Sure there's also drudgery. But some of that is good for me too.
I don't expect them to love every second of doing laundry. But maybe they won't like driving. That doesn't mean I'm just going to let them be terrible at it.
Most of these "homemaking" skills, are really just "Catholic" skills, right out of the Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy. None of us is above learning those things, no matter how accomplished we are outside the home.
So, if you're a ten percenter . . . don't be worried about my boys. They're learning most of this stuff too, just in a different format. And don't be worried about my girls, I have every intention of their being able to do laundry AND kick some butt in the event of a zombie apocalypse.
And if you're a ninety percenter . . . it is NOT too late for you to learn this stuff. It wasn't too late for me, and I'm looking forward to the rest of this year of Little Women Hospitality Program, because I figure I've still got plenty to learn. Don't be scared to try stuff, don't be scared to fail. For excellent, practical, accessible information, check out Like Mother, Like Daughter. And/or, start your own Little Women Hospitality Program club. Nothing like trying to teach something to help learn it.
Don't worry that putting some effort into domestic pursuits makes you less empowered. Knowing stuff is good. Just ask G.I Joe.
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