Two Views on Domesticity Essay
Two Views on Domesticity
In Joan Williams’ book “Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It”, she defines domesticity as “a gender system comprising most centrally of both the particular organization of market work and family work that arose around 1780, and the gender norms that justify, sustain, and reproduce that organization. ” (1) Throughout the book, Williams seeks to redefine the very meaning of domesticity and how it affects both men and women. The author of the article “Gender, Status, and Feeling”, seeks to explain how men and women navigate their emotional minefields and why it affects their respective statuses in society.
While Williams and the author of “Gender, Status, and Feeling” differ on the reasons why women are seen as being on a lower pedestal than men, they both agree that women do a good job of dealing the hand they are dealt, for the most part. It is obvious that Williams’ sympathy lies toward the female half of the population. In the introduction, Williams cites several statistics that shows the reader how women are victimized by the “ideal worker” norm. The author defines an ideal worker as someone who works forty hours a week year round. (2) She goes on to explain how this norm excludes most “mothers of childbearing age.
”(2) One statistic cited states that “… two-thirds (Williams’ emphasis) [of mothers] are not ideal workers even in the minimal sense of working full time full year. ” (2) Another statistic cited states that 93 percent of mothers are excluded from jobs that require “extensive overtime. ” (2) With sobering statistics like these, Williams tries to show that against towering odds, mothers of childbearing age aren’t able to compete in the market workplace with men. Williams unequivocally states that she wants to “democratize access to domesticity.
” (174) She then goes on to state that “a restructuring of market work will give to working class women and women of color greater access to the parental care that remains a widespread social ideal. ” (174) This is an interesting idea because earlier in the book, Williams ripped apart a woman’s book because the author made certain life and career choices that didn’t seem palatable to Williams for some reason. Deborah Fallows, a successful linguist in her own right, went down to part time hours, then quit altogether, when her son was born.
She wrote a book called A Mother’s Work, which described the journey that she took from successful career woman to stay-at-home mom. For some reason, Williams doesn’t believe Fallows would happily give up her career for her son and husband, a high powered White House aide. Williams states: “Thus Fallows presents (author’s emphasis) her decision to stay home as a choice she made to improve her own emotional state… She quit both to avoid negative feelings and to experience positive ones, as leaving gave her more time “to partake of the pleasures of [Tommy’s] company.
” (19) Williams sees Fallows’ choice to stay home as a prime example of how domesticity saturates even the upper levels of society. Williams goes so far as to attack Fallows’ view on child care. On page 32, Williams wonders why Fallows would be against day care in general when her own experience was positive: “It is hard to see why the low quality of child care for the poor explains Fallows’ decision to stay home. ” It seems as if Williams is having a really hard time trying to figure out why an upper class woman like Fallows would give up everything she was working for in order to stay home with her child.
If staying at home with the kids is okay for poor and working class women, why isn’t it okay for a woman like Fallows? On the surface, Williams seems to be fighting for women all across the economic spectrum. However, underneath lies a subtle streak of the same sort of classist attitudes that Williams pins on some feminists later on in her book. With Williams raging against the machine of domesticity, one would think that the author would lash out at the male half of the population. Surprisingly, she doesn’t do this.
Williams feels that men are also the victims of domesticity’s ideas of the ideal worker as well as domesticity’s view in other areas of society. For example, on page 3, Williams explains how women generally lose out when it comes to financial support after divorce: “Mothers marry, marginalize, and then divorce in a system that typically defines women’s and children’s postdivorce entitlements in terms of their basic “needs”, while men’s entitlements reflect the assumption (derived from domesticity) that they “own” their ideal-worker wage. ” In this case, Williams chooses not to point the finger at an easy target (men).
Instead, she blames a system that allows men to keep the vast majority of their earnings while “40 percent of divorced mothers live in poverty. ” (3) Williams even blames domesticity for the lack of parenting prowess on the part of some men. Again, Williams cites some statistics that shows how domesticity changed attitudes on parenting: “One study estimated that an average American father spends twelve minutes a day in solo child care. Another reported that mothers spend about three times as much time as fathers in face-to-face interaction with their children.
” (3) The author then gives a short history lesson on how exactly did domesticity changed the face of parenting for both men and women: … child rearing was considered too important to be left to women, and child-rearing manuals addressed fathers. Men were actively involved, in part because market work and family work were not yet geographically separated, so that fathers generally worked closer to home than most do today… In a society that viewed women as the “weaker vessel,”… it made no sense to delegate children’s health, well-being, and eternal souls to the
exclusive sphere of women. (3) It seems as if Williams is yearning for a simpler time when fathers could take off work for a few moments and read a story to his children. This isn’t a perfect scenario. After all, women were seen as inferior second class citizens who weren’t capable of molding the minds of her children. What Williams is actually wishing for is a time where the ideas of domesticity didn’t interfere with the way that fathers tended to their children. While Joan Williams is sounding a battle cry, the author of the article “Gender, Status, and Feeling” is blowing a whistle.
In the article, the author attempts to explain not only how men and women handle their emotions, but how women use their emotions to navigate a society that still sees them as second class citizens. One thing that Williams and the author article would agree on is that the female half of the population is usually seen as an afterthought in our society. This point would be where the two authors’ viewpoints diverge. First, the author of the article argues that women use their emotions as a means to an end. In a society that doesn’t value a lot of their contributions, some women have found other ways to survive: …
lacking other resources, women make a resource out of feeling and offer it to men as a gift in return for the more material resources they lack. For example, in 1980 only 6 percent of women but 50 percent of men earned over $15,000 a year. (GSF 163) From this passage, one can see that the author feels that women readily adapted to the hand they were dealt. The author doesn’t even seem to think this is a bad thing. They see this manipulation of their emotional palette more as a means of survival. The author even theorizes as to why women are believed to have been born with what Williams calls an “ethic of care”:
As for many others of lower status, it has been in the woman’s interest to be the better actor. As the psychologists would say, the techniques of deep acting have unusually high “secondary” gains. Yet these skills have long been mislabeled “natural”, a part of women’s “being” rather than something of her own making. (GSF 167) Williams would disagree with part of this author’s statement. While the author of the article and Williams both believe that the place of women in society is based on societal beliefs, Williams states in her book that the ideas that domesticity has planted is the sole reason for this.
For example, on page 182, William says that “… women need to be selfless only because they live in a system that marginalizes caregivers. ” In other words, women have no choice but to be selfless caregivers. In her book, Williams does everything she can to fight the societal belief that all women are born with an ethic of care. The author of “Gender, Status, and Feeling”, however, not only thinks that women are born with this innate need to nurture, but that it comes in handy when women become mothers: “… more women at all class levels do unpaid labor of a highly interpersonal sort.
They nurture, manage and befriend children. More “adaptive” and “cooperative”, they address themselves better to the needs of those who are not yet able to adapt and cooperate much themselves. ”(GSF 170) The author of the article uses the example of male and female flight attendants to illustrate how society views men and women in a position of authority. The author reported that when a female flight attendant makes a request of a passenger, the passengers would usually argue with them.
When a male flight attendant was called over to help, the request was usually granted with no problem. Williams claims that most people aren’t able to help this phenomenon: “Thirty years of second-wave feminism have seen many accomplishments, but dislodging the ideology of domesticity is not one of them. Most people, feminists or not, believe some version of domesticity’s descriptions of men and women. ” (193) Williams and the author of “Gender, Status, and Feeling” would disagree about a lot of things. Williams is a head strong feminist whose goal is to change the core beliefs of society.
The author of the article believes that women have used their emotional palettes to adapt to their marginalized role in society and doesn’t say whether this survival tactic should be a thing of the past. One thing that is evident in both Williams’ book and the article is the belief that women throughout history have been resilient in working the hand they are dealt and will continue this tradition as long as society pushes their half to the outermost margins. Works Cited Williams, Joan. Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000 “Gender, Status, and Feeling” (article)