Friday, June 10, 2022

Miss Judge

I've been thinking a bit about the Cult of Domesticity. The ideals of womanhood have always included dominion over home and hearth, not so much by authority, but more by obligation to feminine roles within society that dictate the allocation of women's energy and resources. Based on this implicit framework, women of the 19th century had a moral responsibility to focus on families, household matters, upholding virtue and exhibiting a well-mannered performance. Historians refer to this as the Cult of Domesticity, or the Culture of True Womanhood. 

Some modern thinkers link the Cult of Domesticity to homecraft, such as culinary arts, crafts, gardening, home decor and childrearing, all of which are certainly worthy pursuits for any gender. TicTok today is chock-full of picklers, urban homesteaders and clothing upcyclers, all of whom harken the frugal and functional nature of COD behaviors. Through the COVID years, countless social media influencers shored-up their digs across the land, constructing outdoor pizza ovens and hyper-decorating laundry rooms. There is a resurgence of homecraft and even a push for bringing DIY game.

I am proud of the younger generations who aren't afraid of starting their own home-based businesses or engaging in lost arts. Etsy, Ravelry and Instagram show many crafters and collectors e-tailing hand-tatted handkerchiefs, homemade herbal remedies from foraged materials and explicit procedures for canning milk. Anyone complaining that the younger generation doesn't want to work is missing the point: they don't want to work for us, Boomer, clocking 40 hours or more a week for the man, shackled to a sub-standard health insurance plan and enemic 401K with a vague promise of future reward if they can survive into their retirement years. The now-vampires demand obedience to a flimsy system that counts on us dying before we can collect our social security payments, a lifetime of eating shit sandwiches our ultimate reward for our efforts. Moghuls rocket to outer space. Both of my parents died before they collected much of their social security. That lesson wasn't lost on me.

My poem "Miss Judge" is part of a Series of Misses, (with catchy titles,) that I submitted for my senior project in 1985. It strikes me that the piece has a kind of cycle to it, much like the COD coming in and out of style. There is external motivation for change, but at what cost? What if I actually enjoy knitting and baking and mothering? Can't I still be a feminist? Does the patriarchy minimize the importance of domestic tasks to shunt women's power? Is anyone sorry about this? My own opinion is that working for the military-industrial-complex (most jobs, right?) robbed me of my health and well-being, buying into a hierarchy that never made sense. Working on my own paid or unpaid projects is so very satisfying and healing that I never want to go back.

Miss Judge
We had it registered for its own good.
We changed all that it had been before.
We had it both neutered and spayed.
We had it plucked and shaved and its skin
painted another color.
We had its claws and whiskers removed and
its wings clipped and its fangs filed.
It had been so long, we'd forgotten what it
But then someone remembered.
And it wasn't so bad.
People liked it.
It came into style.
They became jealous that we had it,
and we became proud of it.
We decided that we loved it, and let it go
back to the way it was.
But then it left us.
And we miss it.
And we're so sorry.
In the mid-90's, I met a work colleague who had come to Vermont in the 70's to live in a commune with her husband. She said that the men used to sit around and smoke cigarettes, bragging about how many jars of tomatoes their wives canned. She'd explained it was just part of the men gaining status through the efforts of their partners, and it didn't feel communal or supportive at all. She'd been divorced for 15 years or so, and was restoring a home with her second husband. I'm not certain she was any more pleased with her most recent lifestyle. It seemed like she was under the burden of a time schedule to get the renovations done, all while working full-time and limiting her other interests in support of a man-initiated project. She loved to cross-country ski. I wonder how many days she got out on the trails.

This past year on the boat, I learned to make terrible wine that gets you shit-faced. I finished an afghan that I started 12 years ago for my son. I knit my daughter a pair of mittens from an intricate pattern, and I made my partner and myself light hats for cold ocean evenings. I even crocheted a bag from nylon fishing line we found on the beach as we made passage from the Bahamas. I cooked tagines and cakes, flatbreads and pizzas. I love these projects, without disdain. While I still remain a pitiful housekeeper and boat cleaner, I do appreciate good food and items I make myself. 

My hot take is that I do what I want. Sometimes I want to do what has been historically expected of my gender, and I want beaucoup kudos for it. I am so glad I have that in my life: my supportive partner, my attentive kiddos and my great friends. Life is good, people. 

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