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September 2, 2006

To Hell with All That

(Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife)
Caitlin Flanagan – ISBN-13 – 978-0316756879

Everybody ought to read this little treasure. Flanagan’s insights and interpretations of the modern conundrum are fascinating—and “right on.” She explores sexless marriages, housework (loathsome?), nannies/maids (a nuisance as well as a lifesaver?), what pretends to be modern family life, the anti-clutter movement, child raising, gardening, cooking and the misapplication of time.

Amongst her observations, which will certainly be challenged by some feminists, is that we are desperate to recapture the 50’s home life without recognizing what is needed or even questioning what is wrong.

We have regimented our lives to the business model, spend hours scheduling and being present at kids activities, attending often useless meetings, etc. We seldom eat together, have little family time, used to leave work at the office, but with “go to my PC” we now can’t. For myriad couples child-care is sole purpose of marriage. They labor over sharing the great burden of child rearing, which we have elevated to a dauntingly complex enterprise. Only the best of everything, from nursery school on. We labor for a lifetime for uncertain goals, and are more exhausted than pleased. Humorously, she reminds that a nymphomaniac is a person who has more sex than you, as an overscheduled child is one enrolled in more classes than yours.

Our mentors hold, preposterously, that the wholesome effects of a family dinner can be crammed into a once-a-week event; a family life of dramatically lowered expectations. For life to mimic the postwar ideal, she reminds, would require that we revive the cultural traditions which created it: the one income family, the middle class tendency toward frugality and an understanding that the children’s future likely won’t include elite colleges and stratospheric professional success.

She briefly discusses, and pans, books such as I Don’t Know How She Does it, The Bitch in the House, etc. and notes that Real Simple, ostensibly oriented to de-cluttering your life, advocates getting rid of junk in order to buy more. In reality, it’s a magazine about shopping.

As for Hollywood, it’s current “double obsession” is thorny, what with lionizing the servicemen of the Greatest Generation while demonizing the fifties husbands. The same people! She also notes that "Rosie the Riveter" was actually happy to return home after the war. Most women's goal was to be a homemaker. That's not what were taught nowadays!

She adores Irma Bombeck whose successes were wrought by discussing real problems in a humorous way. She has a particularly interesting take on Martha Stewart’s success, noting that her magazines simply remind women of how it could be. Perplexed journalists have spent 25 years missing Stewart’s incredible style; that, and what feminists missed when demonizing housework: the fact that women have a deep emotional connection to housekeeping.

In the 50’s and 60’s girls took home economics while boys took shop. All were better prepared for married life. For yucks, watch yuppie homemakers squirm when anything goes wrong, as they lavish a fortune on getting it fixed . . . or see them labor to find something like a “designer closet organizer” to improve things (to store more stuff!) They can’t find what they’re looking for because they don’t know what they’ve lost.

Her exposition on nannies is particularly good, using Mary Poppins as a prototype. Disney introduced America to the traditional English nanny while simultaneously warning us never to get one. American mothers heeded the advice for thirty years. Then they forgot.

“Perhaps only those of us old enough to have grown up in houses in which the old ways were observed . . . know what is missing.” What’s missing is the one thing which can’t be bought: the presence of someone who cares deeply and principally about the home and the people who live in it; one willing to spend a considerable portion of each day thinking about it. After all, a home is a tiny state, and mom used to be its sovereign. While either Mom or Dad could do this, experience teaches that women are more connected than men to the requirements.

Posted by respeto at September 2, 2006 3:14 PM