Sunday, September 23, 2012

Godless Gluegunning

What does it mean to approach domesticity from a godless mindset?

First of all, I think I need to define what I mean by domesticity.  I’ve taken to using it as a catchall term when talking about everything from housekeeping to crafting.  Any activity that takes care of the home, anything that adds a sense of warmth, anything that adds beauty to the home is domestic.  There are other uses of the word, of course, but for the sake of argument, let’s use this umbrella term as-is.
The fact that I am able to knock this out so quickly on my screen is a culmination of the miraculous gains of generations of hardworking feminists of all genders.  I am the recipient of this legacy, as well as genetic factors that render me a certain color, gender, and presentation.  I can pursue a graduate degree and knit doilies and no one will stop me!
Well, I won’t be knitting since that’s not my thing.  But still, no one is going to force me into “feminine spheres” either directly, or subtly.  I can pick up and put down domestic pursuits and chores as I see fit.  So why do I keep harping on this?  Why do I want to burden my quiet rounds of dishes, laundry, and jewelrymaking with greater import?  Can a headpin just be a headpin?

Why is it important to think of house work and crafting from a godless place? (Because Feminism, that’s why!  Because Skepticism, that’s also why!)

I’d like to start envisioning domesticity and its sub-headers from a godless point of view.  I’m surely not the first to do this, but it’s an important thing to do, so here’s my take.  When you remove the sociocultural programming of religion , the very programming that undergirds what are and are not appropriate pursuits for women, you have to make your own schema.  

Take this as an example.  Since I don’t have to listen to a pastor tell me to obey my husband, sacrifice my own activities for him, and infantilize him by taking care of “mundane” things, I and Mr. Spousalpants can divide chores in an equitable fashion, leaving both of us more time for our creative pursuits.  That brings in the crafting.

Making things requires work.  Drafting, practice, scrapping, restarting, and so on.  You cannot do that if you’re on some Betty Crocker/Lysol Commercial trip.  Any creative activity absolutely requires time and privacy.  These are not historically afforded to women.  You can still see this today, if you (for whatever reason) care to look at pop media.  Every magazine, commercial, billboard clamors for you to take more time out of your life and money from your pocket to fulfill someone else’s need, even if it’s disguised as empowering you. 

 I identify this endless demand as something based in patriarchal ideas which are rooted deep within religion, especially the Abrahamic traditions.  Keep working, keep busy, keep after everyone else…a convenient way to solidify a certain idea of gender roles, an idea that also conveniently props up religious status quo.

So much of this ties in with feminism.  For me, putting feminist principles into action is part and parcel with refusing belief and refusing the catalog of injustices perpetrated for the sake of belief.  I’m not the most rigorous of thinkers, I’m not a trained philosopher or scientist, but I do keep a fairly nice bullshit detector.  Rational inquiry, skepticism, and valiant attempts at clearheadedness are the appropriate tools to dethrone religion and belief from their overly high places in our culture.  These are also the same tools one uses to throw light on entrenched sexism.  Same tools, same ends: identify cultural mechanisms that cause bad shit to happen by shutting brains down and try to jam those mechanisms whenever possible.

So what the hell does any of that have to do with my gluegun or your pliers, or her sculpey?  In some small, subtle way, seizing the time and energy to make something, “high” art or craft, and refusing (among other things) the religiously-informed Calvinist underpinning of US culture – these are radical acts.  And to be Feminist, to be atheist, are incredibly radical acts!

For who-knows-how-long, art and craft were not separate.  Then they were.  “High” art became the province of those with the resources to be trained and practiced and “patron-ized” (and often funded by churches!)  “Craft” became more of a grey area.  Take the 19th century, for instance.  Industrial booms meant more stuff, but also more cash money to get the more stuff.  More people with more things, so more design and décor in more hands.  Who was going to paint all that china and wrap all those silk roses?  Men and women, of course.  But as time wore on, and the idea of separate spheres got popular, the china and the flowers and the baubles and gew gaws *and their making* became more and more “Female”.  Small-A arts and crafts (to differentiate from the similarly named movement) is still female-dominated.  

Barbara Welter’s venerable 1966 article “The Cult of True Womanhood” captures the reification of the “feminine” domestic sphere as contrasted with the “masculine” everywhere else.  Mind you, of course the paradisical view of home life and its attendant feminine activities was literally built on the backs of poor women and women of color.  But the image of the “hearth and home” remains powerful, even for those of us who are acquainted with the dark undercurrents therein.  

Small, relatively modest creative pursuits (such as my jewelrymaking) are troublesome, then.  Crafting as a pastime or business is related to the stringent limits of the past , when there were precious few ways a woman could express herself artistically or earn money by her labor.  Crafting is also related to more positive action, such as reclaiming old media and techniques, reimagining modes of expression, and making an active choice to resist corporately-approved esthetic.  And that’s just the feminism/crafting axis!  

Welter also discusses the ideal of female piety, which was braided into domesticity in the 19th century.  This ideal has changed form in the current century, but strong ties still remain.  Being churched is an example – this status is a shortcut to social respectability in pretty much all of the US.   Outside of mainstream religion, “women’s spirituality” (also a 19th century throwback!) has made heavy inroads into pop culture.  Any time I read “feminine intuition” or “ways of knowing”, or somesuch, all I see are Victorian conduct guides that at once cancel out a woman’s natural intelligence and “gift” her with an illusory set of social superpowers that somehow all revolve around separating the genders yet again.  A silken prison is still a prison.

So can you be domestic without being pious in any fashion?  The answer is a hearty yes, of course.  I do it all the time!  What I would really like to know is if there is a different “blueprint” for godless domesticity.  What do housekeeping, esthetics, design, décor, and handmade mean when you jettison the old scripts?  I don’t really know.  I can only answer for how I do my own thing,  but I’d love to hear from others, of all stripes, on how they do theirs.

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