Why it’s OK to embrace domesticity and be a feminist

A 1950s housewife at work.

A 1950s housewife at work. - Credit: Archant

Feminists are putting on their pinnies, tugging on their Marigolds and getting back into the kitchen.

According to historian Maggie Andrews, who some years ago wrote a history of the WI, 'feminism and the WI have sort of come together.'

Bits of domesticity have become sexier, much more popular, she says, ' an escape from the horrors of society'. By which she might mean work, which isn't always all it's cracked up be.

Drudgery is drudgery wherever you may do it. At least at home you can take a tea break when you like.

True, the new version of domesticity is a very Cath Kidston version, possibly more about making pretty cup cakes and cutting out your own amusing flower-patterned bunting, rather than getting down and cleaning the loo, letting down the hem on an outgrown school skirt or finding yet another new way with mince.

But it's a start. I've always thought the WI was a very feminist organisation in its way – practical skills and independence of thought always being a good combination. My late sister, always claimed to belong to the provisional wing of the WI.

She had a terrifyingly impressive maths brain but was also a domestic goddess, reckoning that her cooking, cleaning, painting, decorating, veg growing and clothes making was worth far more than any job she could fit in around small children. So she waited until they were in secondary school before finding a job again.

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Until now most feminists have concentrated on the world of work because that's where women were struggling to find their way. Domestic skills were undervalued.

Unless we start appreciating them again soon, they're in danger of dying out. Creating a meal from scratch with basic ingredients and real muddy veg will soon be as dim and distant a memory as weaving your own linen.

Most of us love to live in a well-run home with laundered clothes and appetising food. Many of us want to provide that for those we love, to give them the best chance of a decent life.

So why don't we appreciate the skill and talent in achieving that as much as a job outside? Is a payslip our only way of valuing work or people's worth?

By embracing domesticity – even the cutesie interesting, pretty bits – we are at last recognising that there are other ways of living and contributing to society, other than being a wage slave.

As always, it all comes down to that great feminist slogan – a woman's right to choose.