Questions to explore motherhood, the home and domesticity. Ideas surrounding work, gender and power that have emerged from the studies of second wave feminism have as yet remained problematic for mothers and arguably for all women of my own generation. I see that it is important to acknowledge and bring potential debate around a seemingly ‘old’ yet still ‘in play’ and provocative issue, albeit a first world issue. I wish to understand how the position of women and work dramatically changed after industrialisation; how this progress and change benefited the patriarchal society and created a system of dependence within a partnership particularly with the arrival of children. Is this ‘why motherhood has been represented by women artists for nearly one hundred years after the beginning of the twentieth century as a trap and a prison and seldom as a joy and liberation?’ (Gioni, 2016, p.22)
Feminist Motherhood; A Housewife, Mother, Teacher and Artist
The domestic mother role that I have created for myself since having my children has created an ongoing awareness of issues regarding identity, gender and domesticity. In order to explore the complex and multi-faceted roles of motherhood-in-art, I have looked to several key feminist artists: their work over decades has given clarity and a sense of purpose and place for my own reasoning within my work. In turn, whilst this has thrown up countless questions and frustrations it has helped frame my work into a social, feminist and historical context which I aim to develop further. I have been struck by my own plight and of those around me, observing and discussing the duality of managing the home and a career as being a new problem for women to tackle but through my research I realise that there is nothing new about it at all, in fact quite the opposite. It is only new when a woman enters the ‘role’, becomes a mother and assumes the responsibility of a mother and she begins to conform, however reluctantly, to a cultural stereotype. As the second wave feminist Ann Oakley (1984, p126) observes in her housework study: ‘Out of the housework study and my own experience came a conclusion that isn’t original now, although it was then, that it is first-time motherhood which forces women to confront the real feminine dilemma. Before that, and as I had done in my early housewife-undergraduate days, you can pretend you’re equal. Once there’s a baby to care for, you can’t.'
This is not about the trappings of motherhood, rather a sense of the overwhelming responsibility that one encounters when you have the care and nurture of another human. Women are biologically designed for the immediate care giving, nurture and nourishment of the infant child. Women sit within a biologically made situation but also a historic and cultural situation where the female has been centred on the creation and maintenance of the home for centuries. Discussions around this central theme have proved provocative and so recognition of including quantitative data to support and illustrate the division of labour is imperative. In 2016, almost 30,000 co-habiting and married couples took part in a housework study whereby ‘researchers were able to see how education levels, employment status, socio-economic background and ethnicity played a part in determining how British couples divide up chores.’(2016. Who does the housework in multicultural Britain? : Available at: https://www.understandingsociety.ac.uk/2016/02/08/housework (accessed 8th December 2017)
The results demonstrate that in all the groups represented; on average women maintain a 70% share of the housework chores.