The Emancipation of Domesticity

Woman is a trimmer; and it is a generous, dangerous and romantic trade. – The Emancipation of Domesticity, What’s Wrong With the World, G.K. Chesterton

I have always kept a daily journal.  Not in the sense of a personal diary (I have several of those!), but in the sense of what a daily journal was supposed to be to generations of homemakers: an accounting of and task list of her daily homemaking and relationship caring activities. From early pioneers to Victorian women, a daily journal was the progress chart of her home and family.  It was her monument to female freedom.

Today as I look at my “To do list”, I find there is almost very little freedom unless I fight for it.  And by that I mean the freedom to take care of my home, to cook a meal as it is meant to be and not hurry through the preparation as if it was a drudge but to enjoy doing it as if someone from a business was not looking over my shoulder trying to account for every moment of my “productivity”.  There is hardly much room for loving care when “productivity” is the aim of life. A cranked out microwaved meal is hardly on par with one where chopping fresh ingredients is part of the artful exercise.  A masterpiece is never brought about by “productivity” it is brought about careful loving strokes of the brush, allowing a pentimento here and there.   Without this considered approach, there is hardly room left to discover my own true and lasting excellence and the real freedom that affords. Life becomes a factory and I the worker chained, cranking out to the fearful drum of deadlines while missing out on the lifelines along a woman’s journey.  That is the crux of the argument of the emancipation of domesticity for the woman that G. K. was talking about. He makes a credible case for the incredibly vital position woman was filling at home if only an unobservant man would  become an observant one.  She had the freedom outside the factory (including the modern incarnations of that title) to build great things right where she was, if she was allowed to be what God had made her to be: a helper.  And what a vast collection of occupations is housed in that one slight word!

The shortest way of summarizing the position is to say that woman stands for the idea of Sanity; that intellectual home to which the mind must return after every excursion on extravagance….truth is that woman always varies, and that is exactly why we always trust her. To correct every adventure and extravagance with its antidote in common-sense is not (as the moderns seem to think) to be in the position of a spy or a slave. It is to be in the position of Aristotle or (at the lowest) Herbert Spencer, to be a universal morality, a complete system of thought. The slave flatters; the complete moralist rebukes. It is, in short, to be a Trimmer in the true sense of that honorable term; which for some reason or other is always used in a sense exactly opposite to its own. It seems really to be supposed that a Trimmer means a cowardly person who always goes over to the stronger side. It really means a highly chivalrous person who always goes over to the weaker side; like one who trims a boat by sitting where there are few people seated. Woman is a trimmer; and it is a generous, dangerous and romantic trade.(1)

“…a dangerous and romantic trade” could not have been a phrase written by any one other than a man full of respect for the far-reaching capabilities of woman.  Reading Chesterton’s argument that woman had far more  power in the home to be her greater self while making (not defrosting) zucchini pancakes with sour cream and steamed broccoli makes me long to fight and take back what has been lost.  It makes me re-look at how we got here in a regretful timeline.  Oh, I’m not saying that there was a perfect history (there never has been that!) but what I am beginning to realize is that what we have done in trying to achieve what men have achieved, the way they have achieved it, has given away the freedom we already had in our hands in trade for a poor solution to a very real problem.

It’s time to re-form the line.

(1) The Emancipation of Domesticity, What’s Wrong With the World, G. K. Chesterton,


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