Monday, February 16, 2009

Domesticity and choice

Again, I've rather belatedly discovered a fad. I saw a couple of references to Jane Brocket's blog, followed them up, and was delighted. Then, when I had the opportunity to purchase a copy of the book that largely derived from the blog, The Gentle Art of Domesticity, I did so. I've found the same pleasure in reading this book that I find in browsing through copies of decorating magazines - in particular, my decorating magazine of choice, World of Interiors.

Jane Brocket

I don't think I confuse the worlds depicted by such magazines, books and blogs with my everyday world. My world is not one where taste is certain, order is absolute (or disorder is charming), flower arrangements are profuse, inspiration lies in the everyday, everything is clean, and there is no sense of chaos or hurry. But I love the escapism of looking at images of such a life, and I think they do cultivate what Jane Brocket calls 'a habit of seeing'.

There are tastes I share with Jane Brocket, judging by her book and blog. I have always liked paintings of domestic interiors and still lifes of domestic objects. I like the way she returns to a squared geometry in presenting the objects in her photos. I love the riot of colour in her blog and book. (Initially I thought I loved the colours even though my tastes were quite different, and then I reminded myself that my spare room is painted Schiaparelli pink with turquoise window trims - a less tasteful version of the colours on the cover of The Gentle Art of Domesticity). I also enjoy what in my childhood was called 'handwork' - and across my life have knitted, woven, patchworked, made decoupage and am now knitting again. And I cook and bake.

There are also differences of taste. I've spent most of my adult life avoiding gardening, though I enjoy the products of others' labour. I hate gaudy lollies. I find fairy cakes a bit boring. And there's an Englishness about Jane Brocket's depiction of her life that raises the hackles of my colonial spirit. I recognise this last comment is totally unjustified as a critique of the book - what else could it be but English? I think what I'm actually reacting to is what I perceive as complacency about the book's englishness. (I hope I'm not about to lose my English friends!).

But, I've enjoyed the book and have allowed myself to escape into the world it creates.

You might think that everything that needs to be said about this blog and book has already been said - in which case you can skip the next paragraphs. But I've been interested to work through my own attitudes. I do wish that Jane Brocket hadn't written the rather defensive introduction in praise of domesticity. I think she creates a false dichotomy between 1970s feminism and the freedom women might feel to practice domestic crafts (a term I prefer to 'arts'). Like many people looking back on feminism, she neglects to realise that feminism was and is not a monolithic set of beliefs, but rather a diverse set of theories and practices that individual women and groups of women adopted, discarded, and re-adapted in trying to make a freer and more meaningful life for themselves.

Personally, I never had difficulty in calling myself a feminist, while cooking, weaving and making slip-covers for my chairs. But I'm immensely glad that I had the opportunity to acquire an education that enabled me to work if I chose to do so in fulfilling jobs, and earn an income. My mother spent her life cooking, sewing, cleaning, and being a carer for others. Most of the time these were not her choices, and while she was extremely competent at these tasks, I doubt they brought her much pleasure. I've been able to choose to knit, sew or bake and to sub-contract to others those domestic tasks I find uninteresting or displeasing. The pleasure I take in domestic tasks is possible because I have choices - choices that are available because of my class, the country I live in, the education I received, the time into which I was born, and the achievements of second-wave feminism.

I'll continue to read Jane Brocket's blog with pleasure, and use her book as another 'way to see'. And I'll continue to recognise my life has been possible because of the achievements of feminism and because I'm very fortunate.

I'm counting my blessings for a second time this week..


jp said...

I too love reading yarnstorm. I think the original thing that captured my attention was her wonderful photos. They are always stunning and engaging.

I have not bought the book, although I have seen it about.

Rose Red said...

I agree with you entirely on this! I know she copped a LOT of flak about the book and the perceived attack on feminism some commentators felt it represented - which I think is a huge shame, because I don't believe that is what she set out to do at all - but it's interesting to hear other people's perspectives because it helps me to challenge or confirm my own views, I guess.

M-H said...

Love this post. Thanks Lyn. I too have no difficulty calling myself a feminist while doing traditional women's work, because I've chosen to do it, but not to do all of it, as you say. We are enormously privileged - a fact which I think sometimes escapes women who don't know where we've come from. I'm still trying to formulate my post on being an older feminist and this helps.

Anonymous said...

I was quite stunned by the amount of flak that flew after her book was published. Perhaps the point some people missed is that much of feminism is about the right to self-determination. As M-H says, to do things because you choose.

My response to people who say I can;t be a feminist if I knit and sew, is to point out that I don't feel I can be a feminist if I outsource making my clothes to women and children in the third world earning a pittance in terrible conditions.

Just out of curiosity, I haven't read the book, but is there anything in it that might point out that blokes may take an interest in the gentle art of domesticity?

Emily said...

Good to hear your views. I think one of the things that STOPPED me reading her blog (which I did for a couple of years) and from wanting the book was that very Englishness you describe - which is perhaps one I enjoy when reading Nancy Mitford and Dorothy Sayers and others of those and earlier periods, but which seems rather self-consciously 'faux' in YArnstorm.

Beautiful pics, and I found myself defending her from domesticity naysayers (who may perhaps have been somewhat orchestrated, however? I certainly think they increased her sales dramatically!) But I can't quite hack her, nonetheless! (Got bored).