10 May 2008

Another Hallmark holiday?

So I'm guessing that Mother's Day is one of those things that one has the luxury to appreciate more once the kids are a bit older? And there is that safe nostalgic distance between the present and some of those, shall we say, more memorable moments of one's mothering career?

Anyway. I was thinking that the following from G.K. Chesterton on the "Emancipation of Domesticity" (from What's Wrong with the World) offers a nice Mother's Day perspective, particularly for those of us who haven't quite achieved the nostalgic distance yet. The whole drudgery part seems to go well with what Rebekah posted today, too. I broke it up a bit for easier reading. There's so much more in this segment that's so good; you really must follow the link at the end to read the rest :)

Toward the beginning of the segment, Chesterton asserts, "In other words, there must be in every center of humanity one human being upon a larger plan; one who does not "give her best," but gives her all." Then there's this great section, too long to repeat, about how women are expected to do many things, rather than to excel at just one.

"Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad. The world outside the home was one mass of narrowness, a maze of cramped paths, a madhouse of monomaniacs....I do not deny that women have been wronged and even tortured; but I doubt if they were ever tortured so much as they are tortured now by the absurd modern attempt to make them domestic empresses and competitive clerks at the same time. [And this was decades ago--wonder what he'd have to say nowadays--no doubt he'd be even more emphatic--where's the Chesterton we need for today?!] I do not deny that even under the old tradition women had a harder time than men; that is why we take off our hats. I do not deny that all these various female functions were exasperating; but I say that there was some aim and meaning in keeping them various. I do not pause even to deny that woman was a servant; but at least she was a general servant...

"Babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world. To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren't....our race has thought it worth while to cast this burden on women in order to keep common-sense in the world.

"But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question. For I cannot with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean. When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean.

"To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets cakes. and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness."

More here: definitely worth the read.

So I think this piece is fantastic; kudos to Chesterton's wisdom and wit. He never was a mother, though...and in light of Rebekah's post, I would like to add that though the task is indeed gigantic, it's hard, amidst infinite "This Little Piggy," not to suspect that one's mind is being narrowed in some irreparable way...

Nonetheless: a heartily happy Mother's Day tomorrow to all my fellow Queen Elizabeths and Aristotles of the domestic sphere.


Gauntlets said...

Aristotle of the domestic sphere . . . Good point.

Rebekah said...

teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene

Of all of these, I'd say hygiene is the hardest sell.