the domestic arts

by mraynes

cross posted at the exponent

several months ago, Salon published an article by an atheist woman obsessed with reading mormon mommy blogs. this article got a lot of attention but seemed to strike a chord with many mormon women i know. my facebook page was overrun with links to this particular article with friends commenting that although the author didn’t know it, it was really the truthfulness of the gospel that attracted her to these blogs. i personally found the article patronizing and infuriating in its reduction of mormon women to one particular genre but at the same time, oddly validating. you see, i’m a little obsessed with mormon housewife blogs myself.

i’ve analyzed this particular obsession of mine and arrived at the conclusion that i am attracted to the image of control that these women present to the world. they have the perfect family, home, clothes; they seemingly live a life full of simplicity and beauty that is intoxicating.  i can’t help but compare my hectic and chaotic existence with those pictures of domestic tranquility. whether that is what’s really going on behind the scenes is beside the point, their lives look more beautiful than mine.

What’s remarkable to me is that the popularity of these blogs could be considered a feminist victory. Twenty years ago the lives of housewives was seen as unimportant, just silly women leading silly, unimportant lives. Ursula Le Guin addressed this in her 1986 commencment speech given at Bryn Mawr:

In our culture [homemaking] is not considered an art, it is not even considered work…People who make order where people live are by doing so stigmatized as unfit for “higher” pursuits; so women mostly do it…That our society devalues it is evidence of the barbarity, the aesthetic and ethical bankruptcy, of our society.

As housekeeping is an art, so is cooking and all it involves–it involves, after all, agriculture, hunting, herding…So is the making of clothing and all it involves…And so on; you see how I want to revalue the world “art” so that when I come back as I do now to talking about words it is in the context of the great arts of living, of the woman carrying the basket of bread, bearing gifts, goods. Art not as some ejaculative act of ego but as a way, a skillful and powerful way of being in the world.

I think it is a fair to say that many of the Mormon housewife blogs have figured out a skillful and powerful way of being in the world. These Mormon women have turned homemaking into an art that is appreciated by thousands.

Of course, Mormon mommy bloggers aren’t the only ones who have figured this out. Indeed, some have taken the cult of domesticity to new levels by assigning deeper, more progressive meaning to their domestic arts. Nigella Lawson stirred up a whole lot of controversy when she declared that her book, How to Be a Domestic Goddess, was really “an important feminist tract.” And the whole Radical Homemakers movement is dedicated to the idea that child-rearing and homemaking is a subversive, political act.

Part of me really wants to believe this. I want to believe that the birthday cakes I bake from scratch or the booties I crochet for my baby somehow make the world a kinder, more beautiful place. I know that utilizing my creativity to contribute to my home, whether it be by blogging, crocheting, decorating or baking, makes me feel better about being at home. But in the end, I am left wondering if this glorification of domesticity isn’t just another way for those of us with the time and resources to engage in the domestic arts to rationalize our privilege?