The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities

By Dolores Hayden | Go to book overview

14 Feminist Politics and Domestic Life

Women versus Men

In the 1960s and 1970s, millions of women in America challenged domestic conventions within their own homes, protesting the sexual division of household labor and demanding that men participate in "woman's work."

"When's dinner?" inquired a hungry man.

"Whenever you fix it," might have been the tart reply.

"Honey, bring some milk for the coffee."

"It's in the refrigerator."

"Sweetheart, don't you think the bathtub needs scrubbing?"

"Here's the cleanser."

"Dear, why is Susie crying?"

"I don't know and I'm late for my meeting. I'll be back about eleven."

Fired by articles like Pat Mainardi's call to action, "The Politics of Housework," and supported by the other members of small consciousness-raising groups, women, especially middle-class women in their twenties and thirties, revolted against traditional domestic roles. 1 Some of them won their lovers and husbands over to the cause. After all, what man wanted to be called a "pig" whose role was to get the house dirty and never clean it up?

Guilty men began doing a share of the shopping, the child care, and the cooking necessary to keep newly "liberated" households running. Sons were trained to do domestic chores, daughters taught to resist them. Parents scrutinized children's literature and television programs for too many illustrations of mothers in aprons, which might refute the new images of shared domesticity. Popular magazines published marriage contracts which specified the distribution of domestic responsibilities between husband and wife and reported the battles for "fifty-fifty" sharing in endless detail. 2 Major newspapers gave "lifestyle" coverage to rural and urban communes where new roles were tried and to couples with unusual household arrangements. Home life was forever changed, some feminists thought. They believed that they had reversed the gender discrimination of centuries by forcing and cajoling men into sharing domestic work with them.

Yet the changes in home life were more complex. Some men began sharing domestic work. Others deserted their families or got divorced. Although the two-worker couple became the predominant family type, the single-parent family became the fastest increasing family type, followed by the adult living alone. Reported incidents of violence against women, including wifebattering and rape, increased. Incest began to be discussed as a common family problem, along with male alcoholism and female dependence on tranquilizers and other drugs. If partriarchal control of home life was breaking down in the 1970s, it was not happening without terrible struggle.


Women versus Women

Then the pie and cake morns began marching, ranks of smiling women carrying homemade pies and cakes, wearing pastel

-291-

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