Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Angel in the House in science fiction

In her post “The persisting problem of what makes a heroine, oursin links to This spaceship needs flowers!, an interesting post by badgerbag:

The fantasy of domesticity and women is that wherever we go, we are the angel in the house. It does help, it civilizes and humanizes, it makes others feel happy, it demonstrates love. But when you start doing that work, you are choosing not to focus on other work. And it is all too convenient for others to praise that domesticity and take a free ride. Other forms of work are not loaded with "demonstrating love". So buying into that whole package of ideas means that you are tying your willingness to provide free labor (often for men) to your essential value as a person, to your "goodness" at human relationships.

Many girls are raised to associate personal decency and self-respectindeed, their sense of femininitywith the neatness, comfortableness, and hospitality of any space they inhabit (however temporarily). The sense of responsibility this fosters often leads not only to women automatically pitching in to do the “shit work” she encounters outside her own home, but also to a sense of proprietary territoriality in which one woman may see another’s working in her kitchen, for instance, as a violation of her space, even if the chore she performs is as lowly as sweeping the floor. As a feminist, I’ve long since come to understand that it’s retrograde to denigrate such work (which includes far more than housework) by that label, since this is necessary work that must be done (over and over and over again). In a world in which feminism no longer needs to exist, everyone will do this work to the extent that they are able and everyone will feel a sense of responsibility for it. (In real life, this can actually happen in households: it may take 25 or 30 years, but it’s not impossible.)

In fictional narratives, of course, it’s more complicated than that, as both oursin’s and badgerbag’s posts discuss.


Susanna J. Sturgis said...

I think it helps to focus not so much on the work (whatever it is) than on who's doing it, and for whom, and what other options do they have. And (by extension) on who's not doing it, and what they're doing instead. And (by still further extension) on what the implications are in whatever society "who" is living in. Taking a one-year term as household manager and resident therapist for a cooperative of feminist activists or artists is not the same as providing the same services indefinitely and for no pay in a household headed by someone who's high up in the Bush administration.

Nancy Jane Moore said...

I've recently realized how very tired I am of the idea that women are the civilizing force in society, that they essentially make men clean up their act. Why the hell can't men live in a civilized manner on their own? You see this sort of thing not only in fiction, but regularly in male-written humor columns, where the writers tell how incompetent they are and how their wife has saved them from a life amid piles of dirty laundry and unpaid taxes. I notice that many male friends of mine use it as an excuse -- they have to do something because their wife insists on it. Even when these men imply respect for their wives when saying this, I am annoyed. Why should it be her job to make sure they do things?
This is obviously one reason why I'm single -- I do not want to "civilize" someone else; it's hard enough to keep up with my own responsibilities and still have time for things that matter to me!
Okay, no more ranting. I also wanted to comment that one of the many things I like about Laurie Marks's Water Logic is that everyone lends a hand with domestic chores.