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The fire need not blaze like electricity nor boil like boiling water; its point is that it blazes more than water and warms more than light. The wife is like the fire, or to put things in their proper proportion, the fire is like the wife. Like the fire, the woman is expected to cook; not to excel in cooking, but to cook; to cook better than her husband who is earning [their living] by lecturing on botany or breaking stones. Like the fire, the woman is expected to tell tales to the children, not original and artistic tales, but tales–better tales than would probably be told by a first-class cook. Like the fire, the woman is expected to illuminate and ventilate, not by the most startling revelations or the wildest winds of thought, but better than a man can do after breaking stones or lecturing. But she cannot be expected to endure anything like this universal duty if she is also to endure the direct cruelty of competitive or bureaucratic toil. Woman must be a cook, but not a competitive cook; a school-mistress, but not a competitive school-mistress; a house-decorator, but not a competitive house-decorator; a dressmaker, but not a competitive dressmaker. She should not have one trade but twenty hobbies; she, unlike the man, may develop all her second bests. This is what has really been aimed at from the first in what is called the seclusion, or even the oppression, of women. 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 of mass narrowness, a maze of cramped paths, a madhouse of monomaniacs. It was only by partly limiting and protecting the woman that she was able to play at five or six professions and so come almost as near to God as the child when he plays at a hundred trades. But the woman’s professions, unlike the child’s, were all truly and almost terribly fruitful; so tragically real that nothing but her universality and balance prevented them being merely morbid.

This is the substance of the contention I offer about the historic female position. 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. 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.

The shortest way of summarising 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. The mind that finds its way to wild places is the poet’s; but the mind that never finds its way back is the lunatic’s. There must in every machine be a part that moves and a part that stands still; there must be in everything that changes a part that is unchangeable. And many of the phenomenons which moderns hastily condemn are really parts of this position of the woman as the centre and pillar of health. Much of what is called her subservience, and even her pliability, is merely the subservience and pliability of a universal remedy; she varies as medicines vary, with the disease. She has to be an optimist to the morbid husband, a salutary pessimist to the happy-go-lucky husband. She has to prevent the Quixote from being put upon, and the bully from putting upon others. . . .

The final fact which fixes this is a sufficiently plain one. Supposing it to be conceded that humanity has acted at least not unnaturally in dividing itself into two halves, respectively typifying the ideals of special talent and of general sanity (since they are genuinely difficult to combine completely in one mind), it is not difficult to see why the line of cleavage has followed the line of sex, or why the female became the emblem of the universal and the male of the special and superior. Two gigantic facts of nature fixed it thus: first, that the woman who frequently fulfilled her functions literally *could* not be specially prominent in experiment and adventure; and second, that the same natural operation surrounded her with very young children, who require to be taught not so much anything as everything. 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. It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist. Now if anyone says that this duty of general enlightenment (even when freed from modern rules and hours, and exercised more spontaneously by a more protected person) is in itself too exacting and oppressive, I can understand the view. I can only answer that our race has thought it worthwhile 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, colourless, 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, labours 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.

But though the essential of the woman’s task is universality, this does not, of course, prevent her from having one or two severe though largely wholesome prejudices. She has, on the whole, been more conscious than man that she is only one half of humanity; but she has expressed it (if one may say so of a lady) by getting her teeth into the two or three things which she thinks she stands for. I would observe here in parentheses that much of the recent official trouble about women has arisen from the fact that they transfer to things of doubt and reason that sacred stubbornness only proper to the primary things which a woman was set to guard. One’s own children, one’s own altar, ought to be a matter of principle–or if you like, a matter of prejudice. On the other hand, who wrote Junius’s Letters ought not to be a principle or a prejudice, it ought to be a matter of free and almost indifferent enquiry. But make an energetic modern girl secretary to a league to show that George III wrote Junius, and in three months she will believe it too, out of mere loyalty to her employers. Modern women defend their office with all the fierceness of domesticity. They fight for desk and typewriter as for hearth and home, and develop a sort of wolfish wifehood on behalf of the invisible head of the firm. That is why they do office work so well; and that is why they ought not to do it.

From what I have seen of and heard from this world, very few “modern” people would have any patience for an argument like this. It is not black and white; it is not an irrefutable syllogism that proves that women should do this or not do that. In my exasperating experience most people will try to turn your position, no matter how you express it, or even if you don’t express it directly at all, into a black-and-white matter, if it is not sufficiently so in their eyes. “You think a woman should stay at home—are you saying you believe it’s wrong for a woman to work outside of the home?!?” “You say men are the ones to provide—are you saying if a man is disabled and the woman can work that it would be wrong for her to do so?!?” I want to tell such people, as Pastor Al Martin once said from the pulpit in response to the same kind of manipulation: “Stop that stupid nonsense!” But it would not be very womanly. *bats eyes*

Just thought you might enjoy Mr. Chesterton’s very non-P.C., very reasonable defense of domesticity. It’s the chapter called “The Emancipation of Domesticity,” from a book of essays entitled What’s Wrong with the World. It is fully available on Google Books.


Well, I have come to believe it is never on more glorious display than when a housewife is learning to Take Responsibility and to Think Before Acting. For your education and perhaps enjoyment at my expense:

Many fantastically cheap and useful items at $1.99 each on sale (ending tomorrow!) can total as much as or greater than the figure representing your entire grocery budget.

On the other hand, it is not frugal to omit buying something, or enough of something, that you actually need. Magically, the bill will be lower, but so will household morale. :)

The best solutions are often not the first thing that “intuition” suggests; e.g, calling one’s husband at work when one finds a scorpion in one’s home. Yes, a scorpion, but what is he going to do about it?

Think the vacuum couldn’t possibly pick that up? Just move it anyway.

Fast work with knives is for experienced chefs. To rephrase a popular bumper sticker: “Don’t ‘quickly cut in the butter’ any more quickly than your own fingers can move.”

Toilets do overflow. You aren’t immune to it just because it’s always worked before to try flushing it one more time before resorting to . . . the plunger.

About other family members’ paper piles: three-quarters of the pile may appear quite obviously to be destined for the trash can, and one-half of it may indeed be headed there, but if it is not yours, it is far safer to Leave It Alone. Unless there are, like, bugs crawling around in it, and then you can safely throw out the bugs, I’m sure.

When you think you’ve rolled it thin enough, roll it some more. Particularly applicable to tortillas.

When you think you’ve cooked it enough, cook it some more. Applicable to dried beans and pancakes, separately.

Keep the meat thermometer safely in the drawer when attempting to cook a steak. Ask the people who will be eating it if they are comfortable, not with X degrees, but with it looking like *this*. (Exception: children or people who don’t have a good eye for “medium rare.” The E coli will not be their fault.)

When considering a complicated, multi-part mop whose packaging lacks any instructions on how to disassemble it for cleaning, don’t assume that you’ll “figure out it later.” It may not have been put together “intuitively,” and if you lack mechanical “intuition” in the first place, let’s just say that two negatives do not equal a positive here. Save yourself the likely frustration, time, gas, etc.

Despite being collected by the best microfiber cloth, some dust falls. Start at the top of the dusty object to avoid dusting the object twice as many times as necessary. Then vacuum. Easy.

It is basically impossible to use a Magic Eraser in one spot and then get on with what you were doing. Schedule a large chunk of time to use it up completely. It is addictive and there’s no use fighting it.

If your “intuition” enthusiastically suspects that a certain ingredient substitution would be wonderful for this or that dish, step back and ask yourself two questions: 1) Did Julia Child, Alton Brown, or anyone affiliated with Cook’s Illustrated write the recipe? If so, hands off, you arrogant dolt. Follow the recipe. 2) Consider the people who will have to eat the end result. Especially if you’re poor and they have no other option. Do you think they would rave about it, too?

Now let us briefly compare the wisdom of two great men on our subject:

The only real valuable thing is intuition.
— Einstein

Was this man married? Did he ever know a woman, for that matter?

A woman uses her intelligence to find reasons to support her intuition.
— G.K. Chesterton

Therefore, when Intelligence is lacking, or on vacation, we must learn to abandon Intuition and live by Facts.

December 2017
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