Daily Cleaning: Housewife Ideals

No one can be dogmatic about the daily cleaning of various rooms in the house. So many things influence the amount of work that can be done–the quantity of dust or soot in the air, for example, the philosophy of first things first, the number of rooms that must be cleaned, the size of the family, the age of the children, and the help or lack of it that the homemaker has.

…[W]e set before you an ideal. How nearly you can approach this ideal, especially as to daily cleaning, we cannot know.

America’s Housekeeping Book, 1941

Me neither, AHB. Me. Neither.

Rows of upright straw brooms.
We’re going to need more brooms.

Just as it would be silly to take Martha Stewart as the prototypical homemaker of today, looking to the home management books and magazines as an “authentic” guide to what every homemaker did in the mid 20th century is a mistake. As our pal, the AHB tells us, we’re talking about ideals. The mere fact that all these manuals exist speaks to the fact that “how to housewife” was not universal knowledge.

Continue reading “Daily Cleaning: Housewife Ideals”

My Life as a 1950s Housewife

Happy Women’s History Month!

Woohoo, it’s March! The time we take to remember that women have existed for all of history.

Seriously, we’ve been here THE WHOLE TIME.

Generally, Women’s History Month focuses on the women who were remarkably ahead of their time. The Elizabeth Cady Stantons and Harriet Tubmans of the world. But here at Retrofitting Vintage, we’re leaving the luminaries to actual historians, and focusing on an everyday woman of the mid-20th century.

That’s right, we’re talking about housewives.

1940's print illustration of cartoon woman sweeping.

And how shall we do so?

Why, with an ill-advised guinea pig journalism approach, of course. That is, in fact, how I roll. That’s right, it’s 1950s Housewife Month.

Continue reading “My Life as a 1950s Housewife”

Domesticity Has No Gender

When we talk about “domesticity” there is a general cultural assumption that we’re talking about women. Obviously, the home has been the female domain for much of history. However, I think home is for everybody.

It is never my assumption that cooking, crafting, vintage fashion, or entertaining are just for women. There is room for everyone at my house.

With women now an accepted part of the workforce, men doing housework isn’t the unheard of idea it used to be. But, I would argue, ours is still a culture that is highly invested in policing masculinity and femininity, and that is mostly unprepared to address those who travel between those borders. Just take a look at the commercials on television, and you’ll start to notice just how much comedy hinges on the assumption that husbands are domestic idiots. Home, and the things that happen in it, is still very gendered in the popular imagination.

Studies have suggested that women still do the majority of housework, though men are certainly doing more than they used to. Of course, these studies still divide the human population into a very strict gender binary, which certainly doesn’t include everybody.

Domesticity is what you make of it. My (male) partner is a much better homemaker than I am. If we were the only people living in a society, sociologists would conclude that the male role is to keep the home in order, and the female role is to make things and proposition the male. He keeps on top of laundry, is an organizational whirlwind, and actively thinks of new ways to clean things. He notices clutter, which my eyes tend to bounce over. On the other hand, I freak out a little if the pantry couldn’t keep us through a Laura Ingalls Wilder-style winter. I suffer from the deluded belief that given enough time and semi-appropriate tools, I could figure out how to make anything.None of this has to do with gender. All of this has to do with the people we are, our strengths and what we enjoy.

I think it helps if we think of homemaking as a field that was pioneered by women. Just like other professions and fields were lead by men in the beginning, because they were the only people who were allowed to, the activities of daily life in a home didn’t used to hire men.  And now that we’ve opened up gender roles a little, I can be a physicist and my boyfriend can be a top-notch ironer, or whatever floats our individual and collective boats.

So Retrofitting Vintage isn’t for women or men. It’s for people of all genders or lack of gender, who value home.

Retrofitting Vintage

There’s a lot of good stuff from the past. And a lot of garbage.

Retrofitting Vintage is about taking the good from historical skills based in the home and private world, while ditching the rest. It’s not about romanticizing the past, or getting off the grid, or “old-fashioned values.” It’s about being a radical feminist who knits. A guy who makes cakes. A two mom family that appreciates a trip to the apple orchard. At Retrofitting Vintage we believe that home is for everybody, and that we can bring our own worldviews to traditional tasks. We retrofit them with our own values, taking the good and leaving the rest.