Changing Housework: Feminist Art and the "Universal" Housewife
by Molly Hankwitz
Housework isn't a glamorous past time. It is performed in every human culture and among animal and insect species as a necessity for sanitation and habitation. But, housework, has a double-edged meaning for feminists. On one hand, housework has been embodied by the cultural ideals of white western womanhood. From the first ladies of English manors, managing budgets and business, to the Victorian daughter and mother darning and embroidering, surrounded by hearth and children, and staunchly moralistic, to the American housewife of the 1950s always terrifically busy with her single family home, driving kids to school, preparing meals for the family, housework and the domestication of women has been glorified. The lady/housewife has thus been celebrated across platforms such as Godey's Ladies Books, Family Circle magazine, home-economics classes and 19thc Christmas cards. But, it is with the modern idealized version of housewife that 20th c feminist artists have been most consumed. In the case of 'her', and frequently through her second-life in advertising, she is immortalized in multiple acts of housework which includes cleaning, baby care, shopping, and making home. She is seen on TV and in magazines scrubbing bathrooms and countertops until sparkling, consuming bleach, Kleenex, aerosols, and paper towels with a no cost too great mentality and endless sense of time. She thus rids the house of unsightly stains, makes whites whiter, and encounters a variety of male usually companions from Mr. Clean to the Tidy Bowl Man. This modern housewife's agenda is seemingly to kill the trillions of unwanted germs which might in the worst case scenario harm her family, or which might in a less toxic condition, simply cause an odor.
On the flip-side of this homemaking nirvana scenario generated through Mad Men style 1950s TV advertising and the building of the American dream family, housework is a laborious set of tedious and time-consuming chores; necessary but not very pleasant to perform. Those who can afford it frequently hire maids and housekeepers. As physical labor in domestic space, housework has been until recently or in individual cases, far more likely to be done by women than to be the province of men. Divisions of labor have persisted less since the 1960s women's movement, and the drive towards sensitivity in men, and the more mainstream acceptance of women working at jobs rather than home life, but, never the less, it has historically fallen on wives, mothers, and daughters. The unpleasant drudgery of housework, which forces women into proximity with mould, dirt, and toxic chemicals has health-related side effects. Women's hands need gloves and lotions. Green products have emerged to make pollution and toxins in the home less prominent.
HIstorically, too, in Victorian and feudal societies, housework has been reserved as labor to be ordered of the lower classes. Servants living in the castle, manor or brownstone, would perform the range of duties to upkeep the house and family. This would include meal preparation on order, washing and ironing and maintenance of clothing, preparation of baths, nursing, and child care, as well as outdoor work, cleaning of carpets, drapes, and stoking of fires or ovens. The lower classes would be hired and taken in by the upper ones. In the modern marriage post-war, in America, we have seen the suburban family take precedence as the social unit of the American Dream with professionalized Dad at work and the wives relegated to homemakers, fashion-makers, and tenders of the children. Women in this role fully participated in small town life as members of local organizations, clubs, and churches, while their husbands would be making a living in the cities. Feminists have long railed against the unequal power relations and divisions of labor expected by this formation of the privatized hosuehold and nuclear family where the only money made was made by the man/father/patriarch, in his career, and the woman became manager of a budget and the family. Thus, to critique the oppression of women in patriarchal culture, as feminists have made it their challenge, was first and foremost to understand organizing across the lines of privatizing patriarchy with which capitalist values, consumer market interests and privatization had framed them. It was to step out of prescribed roles.
Advertising has long been a pernicious culprit, consistently associating the value of women's time and labor with cleaning and housework in order to sell products. This relentless capturing of females within service duties to the nuclear family--the capitalist division of labor has been widely critiqued. Our sex gets degraded, while the other does not. Yet, with or without these gendered images of housework, all responsible and thinking humans need housework because we make and create dirt and someone or some "thing" needs to clean it up. Tools and methods are required. Arguably, its culture, location, and technologies form the basis of a labor history which includes: housekeeping, raising families, and the passing on of information and techniques, to do these things, to others. Additionally, because of the menial labor associated with housework, lower income people occupy the jobs and in middle class life, homemaking duties are learned at a very young age, through doll-play, and from her own mother, sister, or other females, themselves caught in the division of labor and the drama of housework, either cleaning, cooking, sewing, or raising children, or all of the above, for others.
The purpose of housecleaning has remained the same for centuries preventing disease, smells, vermin from accumulating; making things tidy. Scullery maids, house servants, slaves, wives, daughters and housekeepers were the labor force and this has remained virtually unchanged except where new "technologies" and methods, alongside its commercialization, have created variable domestic transformations.
Art and Media: Presentation of Womanhood as Housewife and Homemaker
Fine art presents few scenarios in which the chores of housework and servants have been recorded. Fine art was generally a mechanism of the upper classes with which, in a pre-photographic era, the wealthy recorded their own existence. Some intimate interior spaces of embroidery making, child care, and light housework have, however, been rendered as in the early works of Claude Monet. Interior After Dinner (1868), and The Luncheon (1868), for example, both depict servants. The much earlier Vermeer, The Milkmaid (1660) is also a classic. This domestic servant is quietly isolated pouring the milk. There is a serenity and duty to her. In Le Dentelliere (The Lacemaker) by Pascal Laine, made into a film in 1977, the novel has as its central theme a voyeuristic sexualizing of a woman domestic worker, encounterd as "The Laundress, "The Water Girl", and "The Lacemaker", Domestic craft and housework in all of these works of art is performed and rendered as an act of sincere devotion while at the same time perspiring servitude -- the body engrossed in labor-- is also sexualized. And, as history will have it, women in the domestic sphere were frequently accosted sexually by their masters, or worked as prostitutes.
By the mid-nineteenth century and the arrival of photography, domestic scenes began to figure more frequently in the realms of art. A developing middle class also concentrated the necessity for detailed accounts and even obsessions with household craft, manners, and style. By the end of that same century, the promotion of idealized womanhood was deeply embedded in the Victorian psyche, along with the virtues of cleanliness and purity. Arguably, the Victorian era, in both England and the United States, contributed to the tendency for popular constructions of "homemakers" in the culture and since then, marriage and the obligations of child bearing have evolved as a central theme in the middle class. Prescribed social roles and the fashions and trends and expectations that went with them, until very recently, helped to shape our feelings and thoughts about our appearance, our attitudes towards other women, our expectations in conjugal and familial duties and the ingrained concept that our lives were not our own. Moreover, popular iconographies of women's oppression were intimately bound to conservative values: concepts of rightness in moral sexuality and nationalism.
Pervasive mass media from slick magazines to electronic media was not invented until after the turn of the nineteenth century, and then later after World War II, when television and the Internet emerged. Multimedia and the World Wide Web, social media, and mobile communications now play multiple, pervasive/invasive roles in the dissemination of commercial advertising, information, and the stereotypes which come with them. Despite feminism, feminist art, feminist media access, and greater liberation, popular culture and commercialization have both continued to produce female stereotypes and to associate women with housework and housekeeping. The industry of women's magazines, for instance, is a multimillion dollar economy bent on redirecting monoculture into diversified markets and developing the career-woman-who-also-has-kids as a new target audience. Mainstream images of women include their privatization in the home because the status quo for mainstream American values: the car, home ownership and the single family, is still a middle class desire.
One difference is, however, that "the family" now comes in all colors and, occasionally, a man helping out is added to the mix. Yet, feminism and multiculturalism aside, women are associated with housework, as seen on television, paraded in commercials, and ameliorated through discourses of "craft", "easy n quick dinners", and "family time." Housework is incessantly purveyed as a form of female achievement, personal satisfaction, and even, sexualized as pleasure.
An Ever Changing Picture
Ideologies of homemaking occupy central roles in today's polymorphous media spectacles selling us social order and telling us how "she" is. But feminists have, over decades, not only have bitched and complained; but have flipped media back upon itself as a form of resistance.
From the late nineteenth century onward, feminists engaged in renegotiations of domestic labor. Architectural historian, Dolores Hayden in The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods and Cities (1981) documents American feminist space, designed and visualized around notions of collectivized labor from laundry to child care. The work. which includes that of feminist activists, architects, homemakers, socialists and socialites--some of the most educated women in America--decries the inevitable lack of economy in individualized and privatized space, and lays claim to radical political and social revisions of society for womens' liberation.
Each decade, each era, has its own brand of feminist thought. This essay first examines post World War II America when rapidly changing communications culture brought us domestic television and later, the 1960s and 1970s when new technologies such as video enabled American women to empower themselves against the dominant Other and the experience of a media culture dominated by men. It looks at the arena of feminist art making and the challenge to arts institutions brought about by this work. Feminist art, particularly when extended to the media arts, reinvented the public sphere as Nancy Spero has pointed out and the arrival of the video camcorder and consumer video editing deck meant a weapon against TV. In the growing context of commercially paid for television programming, depictions of the homemaker or "universalized housewife" and the idealization of housework went from print media and movies, to their routine expression on a screen at home and were directly associated with commodities. The little woman, trapped in the talking box was nothing more than a puppet.
Speaking and Taking Our Bodies Back
The 1960s and '70s were eras when Conceptual Art and what Lucy Lippard called "the dematerialization of the art object", and Pop Art challenged the dominance and classism of the fine art canon, art market, and institutionalization of art. These art movements created new publics for the reception and a collapse of the high and the low. Electronic media, particularly the rise of commercial television, had growing influence as a mass cultural phenomenon and efforts to sell and to commodify everyday life, as the Situationists so notoriously noted, became the object of artistic critique.
For feminists, images of "universalized housewives" from networked TV and female associations with "household" were confusing. Seen as too white, too middle class, too much about male approval and the subordination of one sex over another, the women's movement was fighting for equal rights and civil rights movement. Stereotypes in Hollywood cinema, television shows, and commercial advertising, were the enemy of class, feminist and racial struggle. From a Marxist perspective, media reinforced the system of oppression already aimed at the exploitation and objectification of bodies. Media culture was the mirror, a reality already felt. It was interpreted as a form of mind control/oppression in its own right, perpetrated by white male dominated culture which controlled both television networks and film studios.
In this climate, artists took to video, a medium compatible with television, immediate and cheap. For women artists it allowed them easy access to their own performance: the performance of everyday life.
No Longer on Her Own
Hoards of eligible men returned to post war Europe, sex-starved and ready to work and raise a family. Instead of careers and war economics, the domestic female population now dealt with demands to get married, raise children, plan menus, and make home. Dominant 1950s American media pushed this idea with a new sense of purpose: boosting the nation's economy and selling suburbia like there was no tomorrow.
By the 1960s, however, all the monocultural co-habitation had led to feminist disgruntlement over equal pay, opportunities for higher education, rape laws and reproductive rights. Books like Our Bodies, Ourselves (1972) produced in the Boston Women's Health Collective (and costing 35 cents a copy) were distributed through women's networks. This one book can be credited with raising national female consciousness of erogenous zones, favored birth control methods, and gynecological self-examination with mirror and speculum. A new focus upon female bodies among women and female desire lit young women's minds across the country, and, if art were to be feminist, it was not to be made by, for, and about men. It was to generate a space and voice for women within society.
Feminist art of the 1960s and 70s thus questioned exactly how women had been colonized by the conventions of art history, Hollywood film and media culture. In fine art, feminists studied male dominated art history, and ripe with political reason from an increasingly networked and cogent women's movement, launched an attack upon that culture and those values. Using artistic techniques such as appropriation, performance, performance along with with video, layers of ideological image-bondage were deliberately broken by feminist visual artists. The female body--as nude, statue, passive and silent--walked away from male approval and its relentless frames of reference.
This critique, biting, intelligent and oddly familiar as an account of domestic space ('Hey! Chicky!!', Nina Sobel, 1978) worked to expand the female psyche and the visual, artistic universe. Through conscious efforts to address ordinary women, rather than conventional art world audiences to gain legitimacy, the Feminist Art Movement managed to break many radical models, even, male dominated Conceptual Art.
Works such The Waitresses by LA performer and professor, Jerry Allyn (with Cheri Gaulke) and the art groups, The Waitresses (not be confused with new wave band from Akron, OH called The Waitresses, who sang "I Know What Boys Like") and the Sisters of Survival (c. 1977) from the Los Angeles Women's Building used their performances to bring feminist art to the public eye and to connect with ordinary women and the conditions of their lives. In film studies, Laura Mulvey's seminal Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1978) contributed an identifiable theoretical base that women students could use to reference their experimental activities, giving voice to reason, as it were.
The art history work of New York based Lucy Lippard, Bay Area based Moira Roth and others, deeply concerned with the female body and feminist art, helped build a foundation for women's studies in art at the level of higher institutions and in publishing. On the West Coast, for example, the notorious and much written about L.A. Women's Building fostered a nascent community of women art makers influencing male art professors to support the first-ever development of feminist art programs in the University of California system. WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution exhibition (Constance Butler of MOCA/L.A., curator, 2007), traces these connections between art making, feminist politics and the intellectual development of feminist art history from 1965 to 1980, a seminal period even at the international scale. The exhibition "includ[es] the work of 120 artists from the United States, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Comprising work in a broad range of media including painting, sculpture, photography, film, video, and performance art".
From this emergent sense of place, women artists analyzed and tried to articulate everything about their gender: bodies, body parts ("On a Couch of Her Own Design", 1966, Yayoi Kusama, Japanese; Cancer Series, Jo Spence, 1982, British), birthing, girlhood, child rearing, labor, marriage, medical health, memories, motherhood (Post-partum Document, Mary Kelly, 1973-79, British), psychoanalysis, sex, power, space, and time. These women were gathering a feminist space based upon what constituted women's culture and what women wanted their culture to be in an anti-oppressive, almost utopian vision of social change. They wrote and made art about the benefits, expectations, "beauty" and paucity of the female gender as "seen" by male-dominated cultures. This included those collecting, making, and teaching art.
In her 2009 article "Iconographic and Iconologic Art Practices with the Hoover: Feminist Artistic Subversion and the Female Body and the Household", in Art-Femme TV curator Evelin Stermitz articulates feminist art as having identified and examined its place within prevailing social discourse (2009, 90). That is to say feminist art gained confidence and considerable original ground, starting in the mid to late 1960s and, as things heated up and got rolling in the seventies and onwards.
Discursive development in the identification of roles reserved for females in the society of the spectacle was, of course, paramount, as was access to visual culture via newer and more cheaply obtained technologies. To participate in financial, institutional and cultural power and to "go public" was the struggle of many women artists. It was feminists (and their hip feminist male counterparts, sometimes) who formed a resistance and cultural base to help each other. Moreover, they did not simply want women-made art to edify the artistic "languages" of men. They wanted it to speak on its own account. They wanted it to clarify the space of women, and ultimately to equilibrate that space within male dominated discourse. Commitment to this project, extended from the use of art to attack patriarchal culture (2009a, 90) and to the sharing of resources such as mailing lists and mimeographs, was prevalent. Eleanor Antin shared her arts culture mailing list for "100 Boots" with other women artists she was friendly with.
Not only were feminists determined to break the meanings and syntax of signs used to described their bodies but, likewise, to break the molds which held women captive to belief systems about themselves, and hence re-inscribed self-hatred and loathing. Central to feminist visual art as a discourse, was the critique of popular media culture which objectified women. This was considered the new material of art.
No Place Like Home
One obvious starting point for feminists was to examine the domestic arena. There, living with men, sex, economy, children, memory, and media coalesced. Personal objects, familiar household situations, family photographs, housekeeping practices, household words, "housewives" idealized in print and television, were used by feminists for critical understanding and inspiration. Sharing of anger, frustration, information, and knowledge lead to these repositories being reframed in terms of what women had to say about them, as opposed to how they had been and for what ends they had been created. Stereotypes could be recorded and replayed and re-recorded with video and many feminist performances, installations, sculptures, videos and books from this time were reworkings of media images. From the mid sixties to eighties feminist artifacts explored themes of aging, appearance, childhood, everyday labor, motherhood, sexual inhibitions, and sexual violence or her-story. The independent mediation of mass cultural images by women artists emerged as an increasingly believable cultural "real" and became a battlefront upon which to counter the ongoing oppression of women. While this movement has been subsequently critiqued, there is no doubt that the emergent subversion of mainstream media culture in the 1960s and '70s was a brilliant and worthy strategy. Feminists had broken through the seamless onslaught of gender-encoding and by example, made room for other women to speak.
Pioneering self-analysis and critique of history, labor and self representation, feminist visual art effort has created a formidable autobiographical history of women which is now known as "telling one's own story". This push has helped all art discourses, arguably, which deal with identity politics, from queer art to post-colonialism. It is concerned with the collusion of art and politics and with opening space for speaking and living of one's subject-hood. Such would be the examination, for instance, of colonized languages that Gayatri Spivak, Coco Fusco and others have worked on. Telling one's own story meant looking at one's own life as valuable. Art material would now be blood, boys, clothing, cooking, diaries, dolls, doll houses, fabrics, families, fears, foods, games, girls, hysterics, love, menstruation, money, mothers, neuroses, obsessions, ovaries, playing, psychoanalysis, sewing, sex, tears, technology, toys, TV, voyeurism, and writing. This content, told honestly, would take down the master's house.
Consciousness of who and what women modeled themselves after, including the household as a starting point and racial and class analysis of one group to another, thus began to gain currency against the limitations imposed on women by the mainstream culture. Feminists transformed art and media; documented their own and the stories and lives of unknown women, reached out and created a women's art history. In the process, both role models of greatness (The Dinner Party, 1974-79, Judy Chicago, American) and the lives of anonymous women (to whom Suzanne Lacey dedicated her life's work) were commemorated. In The Dinner Party ceramics, embroidery, installation and textile craft merged with an ongoing performance and sculptural installation of high intellectual presence. In the piece, Chicago elevates the social and spiritual "feminine" at a grand "dinner table" and the work still stands today as one of the most important of feminist art. Other pieces are almost all of Lacey's extraordinarily ambitious performances, the works of Martha Rosler, Jo Spence, Hannah Wilke 3 For extensive discussion of Hannah Wilke, see Stermitz's article mentioned previously. She gives a long account and discussion and includes photographs with the essay.
Along with Martha Wilson, these women, video artists, photographers and performers, based in England and New York, used much "domestic" and body imagery in their early work, diving into female identity and offering left-wing critique of the politics of idealized images. Subject matter covered a range of topics from aging to beauty culture to the kitchen and personal illness as an "historic" space.
In experimental filmmaking, twin concerns of access to history and the construction of subjectivity in women's lives lead to an articulate, explicitly feminist movement in experimental film where male creativity and its moves had dominated and women film directors in mainstream cinema were few or non existent. Experimental film attracted women as makers of their own right. Lynne Sachs, in an interview with her (Otherzine #20, Spring 2011, www.othercinema.com ) clearly recollects women filmmakers being influenced by European theorists Helene Cixous, Luce Iriguay, and Julia Kristeva. These women were read and discussed by women filmmakers. About her short work, Drawn and Quartered (1987, 4mins. color, 16mm) Sachs describes the film's exploration of "form and content issues in the film medium" (Sachs 2012a), using a divided frame and optical printing, and the dual camerawork between herself and a male friend. It was concerned with both the spectator's role and the realm of physical privacy, thus the fragmenting of a man and a woman into the split screen. Her 1986 film intrigues for title alone: Still Life with Woman and Four Objects. It is "somewhere between a painting and a prose poem" exploring both female identity through "...her as a 'character'". This film belongs with a group of feminist works excavating women's history from art history and gives tribute to Emma Goldman (2012b). Sachs premiered The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts in 1991, a piece examining "women's representation in arts and science" through an admixture of "home movies, personal remembrances, staged scenes, and found footage" (2012c). The House of Science helped to establish a new form of experimental film in which the politics of the image archive was a focus. Borrowing images and rearranging truth, The House of Science undermined notions of narrative within documentary, and the sexist mythologies establishing dominant narratives of fact and medical science. It is a tender, funny, and elegant subversion of myths, contrasting official history with subjective "personhood" from diaries and home movies.
Performing the Revolution: Dismantling a Culture of Stereotypes
For many feminists, the dismantling of stereotypes starts with the female body and its imprisonment for centuries in prescriptive patriarchal thought: the gazes defining and limiting women. Feminist visual artists undertook the emancipation of the body and its image from this parochial bondage.
British socialist artist, photographer Jo Spence (1934-1992) produced explicit work on the sex appeal of breasts and their role in child nourishment. During her lifetime, Spence, who died of breast cancer, made extraordinary photography emphasizing the female nude and expressing her social and political concerns. She concentrated her work on the exclusion of women from male-dominated art history culminating in a series of autobiographical photos about her own affliction.
Martha Wilson, founder and former director of Franklin Furnace and a performance artist/photographer, in the early 1970s, criticized social expectations placed upon women when performing themselves. Using video, performance and photography, Wilson created a body of self referential works entitled "the housewife," "the goddess", and so on, appearing in the series "Portfolio of Models". These "documentary" images were presented as a feminist cultural study about roles women are forced to play in the dominant culture. In these works, the artist articulates what she called "the staging of self" or the posturing and presentation of female identity.
In 1975 Martha Rosler, feminist professor, activist, videographer, writer, and performer, released a seminal work of video performance: "Semiotics of the Kitchen" (6 minutes, b/w, 1975) This video had huge influence on young feminist artists. The piece is set in an "ordinary" kitchen in the form of a "show and tell" or cooking show referencing elementary school-type learning and television. Through use of typical kitchen tools, first an apron, which Rosler ties around her waist, then others: a wooden spoon, paring knife, and so forth, Rosler talks over each with a lexicon of words descriptive of the culinary art and poured over meticulously on camera, yet "in gestures which depart from the usual use of the tool." (Electronic Arts Intermix 2012a) Throughout the video, the artist navigates the space between culinary signs and domestic space, as a critique of women's oppression (Electronic Arts Intermix, 2012b). Her later artist's book, Service: A Trilogy on Colonization (1978) is a published collection of postcards mailed to herself while traveling, representing three short novels: "A Budding Gourmet", "McTowers Maid," and "Tijuana Maid"...[the novels] address the social uses of food (the third told in both Spanish and English)" (Half Letter Press, 2012). Rosler's video work reflects a her lifelong interest in presenting art as a social phenomenon and non-commodified set of personal and political practices. She has, for instance, often set herself up as a marginalized commentator and was an early creator of Paper Tiger Television.
Professor, performer, and feminist media pioneer, Suzanne Lacy took feminist visual art to new heights by combining life practices with public television and non-traditional roles for artists and non-artists. "Monster Series" (1974) Construction of the Novel Frankenstein, "Inevitable Associations"(1976), "Evalina and I: Crime, Art and Quilts" (1975-1977 ) a collaboration with Evalina Newman, and "The Life and Times of Donaldina Cameron" (1978) with Linda Palumbo and Kathleen Chang, were each prolonged performance works, typical of Lacy, who has consistently melded women's issues through documentary and storytelling into elaborately staged works. These works have emphasized commonly held beliefs about women's lives, expressed femininity simply through words and friendships, and have deconstructed gender stereotypes within conventional art world presentations. Lacy's extraordinary practice has examined aging, the body, and relationships of love and friendship between women, blurring life and art in works which valorize informal chatting, listening and recording, taking on full-scale public staging and audience involvement with the participants. Lacy's explicit use of media culture has included using video, billboards and social networks. Early media work, in the Ariadne Project, mapped and publicized occurrences of rape in East Los Angeles, prefiguring later art such as Carla Kirkwood's performance and public art piece, MWI: Many Women Involved (1992), as part of San Diego public art project, NHI: No Humans Involved. But, it was Suzanne Lacy's insistent commitment to ordinary female consciousness and storytelling as a revolutionary act that contributed to "The Crystal Quilt," a three year project often attributed to her as a major work, performed in 1987 to Minnesota audiences via public TV. In "The Crystal Quilt," 430 older women sat at tables made into a colorful "quilt" by painter Miriam Shapiro. 3,000 people listened as seventy-five women as they recounted stories about aging, and engaged in amplified chat about their own lives.
Pleasure and Pain: Melodramatic Domestic Narratives
No discussion of feminist visual art, especially one concerned primarily with media culture and domestic space, would be complete without mention of Cindy Sherman's film stills series created between 1977 and 1980. This art is one of most distributed and influential in recent decades. Sherman seems to employ the 70s feminist "personal is political" critique in one, singularly creative move: self-performance and self-portrait photography. Pathetic isolation and torture experienced at the hands of Hollywood marginalization is essentially the "topic" of this particular series as Sherman places herself into various harried characters and scenarios emphasizing familiar female vulnerability. She is photographs herself, for instance, alone on a dark road, and in another, eyes tearing surrealistically, towering skyscrapers looming behind her, and in yet another, crouching, as if unexpectedly frustrated by something amiss before an ordinary kitchen stove. Her photos both make the viewer a sympathetic friend and posit a critique of the hidden violence and theatricality in familiar scenes of "women." She makes the viewer feel that s/he has seen these females before. Sherman's focus upon romance and vicarious "stardom" is particularly strong. She puts both art and trauma at the heart of symptoms rent upon generations of females, much as plastic surgery forever betrays its artifice by leaving scars, or how lingerie advertising renders generic and nameless the "any woman". The result is voyeurism and spectatorship which exposes an ongoing interplay of femininity with insanity, monstrosity, promiscuity, and perversion.
Single family Households as the Hearth of Female Consciousness
Post war America witnessed significant cultural and technological change. America had made her mark as a courageous global power; proved herself a mighty ally in victory over the Third Reich alongside England and France. After a decade of independence, home fires were burning, and multitudes of patient, but lonely American women faced their new challenge: to welcome home soldiers, settle down, and raise families as wives and mothers. A significant revolution took place after the war, but not one fought on women's terms. Indeed, World War II had brought about new industrial developments: the production of aluminum, nylon, and plastics; the development of air travel, long distance telephony, long-wave radio and global television. War time production had created massive infrastructure for postwar industries and enabled the victorious nation to envision its future. A gleaming new consumer society, driven by posh automobiles and an unprecedented abundance of middle class wealth and expanding tracts of suburbia emerged. Under the Eisenhower administration, was a defensive infrastructure against invasion and threat of "the bomb" (Varnelis/Sumrell, 2007).
Domestic television sets quickly established a presence in households throughout the decade of the fifties. Captive home viewers watched as the medium paraded dozens of new televisual identities transforming a wartime era into bliss. Images of the 1950's housewife epitomized this effort. Blithely, fashionably clad in sensible flats, a light cotton dress, hair scarf and large purse, this woman was speed, nation, and know-how rolled into one. Everywhere screens and magazines carried pictures of this peace time embodiment of a cultural ideal: modest aspirations, simple pleasures, huge abundance and supermarkets, thrifty intelligence, and devotion to family and country. She was the happy representation of an era yet to come, pumped up and promoted by myths of progress, capable of anything, dedicated to home, and busily birthing the correct number of white American babies.
Children of the early 1960s learned to read with "Dick and Jane and Baby Sally", the inhabitants of just such a home, time-saving economy, backyard barbecue, modern convenience, and wholesome white life. This 1950s "housewife"--the one with the Chevy and the carport--not only loved her husband but the profit motives of corporate America. She promised goods (vacuum cleaners, double slotted toasters, blenders and front loaded washers) as they chugged out of the factory. Indeed, the 1950s housewife was the quintessential consumer and purveyor of convenience.
The classic TV dinner (as found in the frozen food aisle) was invented by Swanson and Sons, c. 1953. A remarkable product both for its physical characteristics, featuring an aluminum compartmented platter,to the "airplane" style food was an imitation of "home cooking" in one ready-made, heat n serve, frozen portion. The TV dinner was designed for busy families to coordinate in front of the television. Arguably, it demonstrates transitioning roles for housewives from solid homemaker and good cook, like Betty Crocker, to supreme agent of mass production. This transformation is clear in the TV dinner which made cooking easy, but it also took place with respect to housework an arena where abundant electricity, visible in the brightly lit roadside restaurants, gas stations, and neon of the 1950s, along with push button automation, were expected to eradicate household drudgery. In some cases the happiness of the "universal housewife" revolved around them. Every home needed "technological" advances. The convenience model of the "universal housewife's" modernity replaced elbow grease as the governing ethos of housework, something female domestic icon, wartime heroine Rosie the Riveter embodied and Hoovers, the world over, symbolized a sophisticated global expertise in war on dirt.5 The globalization of the Hoover takes the form of factories in both the UK and Australia and their popularity overseas.
But, looking at pictures of idealized housewives from any era and one can only marvel at the extreme two dimensionality of her commercialization in which nearly supernatural powers in connection with cleaning products are expressed. Mid sixties TV sit com heroines, Elizabeth Montgomery's "Samantha," the witch wife and mother of ABC's Bewitched, (1964 - 1972) and Barbara Eden's orientalist portrayal of "Jeannie" (a genie) in Screen Gems/NBCs, I Dream of Jeannie (1965 to 1970), perhaps owe something of their magical characterizations to this persistent hysteria over housekeeping. The 1950s housewife, "universalized" on TV could get what she wanted in the blink of an eye, by virtue of cleaning fluids, spells, winking, and "charm", connecting her to the magical qualities of the commodities in advertising.
By the 1960s and 70s books, film classics, and melodramas: The Graduate (1965), The Stepford Wives (1972), Shampoo (1975), and many other examples, betrayed the dark-side of suburban single family culture. In a literal valley of the dolls type of denouement, modern values of the 1950 housewife came crashing down. It was the crisis of the counterculture.
Voila: The Home Computer
In 1969, giant of manufacturing Ford Philco released the corporate industrial film 1999, in which a pretty housewife donning light dress, big mod earrings and a French twist, is seen gently interacting with computer-operated appliances and menu-driven programmable devices while planning her day. The voiceover tells us: 'she can choose her weekly groceries and prepare the family's dinner...all with pushbutton convenience and new age ease...' In corporate imaginary, numerous innovations, yet-to-be-produced are set forth as an outcome of engineering and expertise. The home of the future according to Ford Philco would be managed by a networked of computers and computer driven appliances so efficient and customizable to the desires of the typical middle class family, that their usefulness would enable more leisure time for all. The actress is shown operating a home entertainment music center, playing with her kid, and taking up ceramics while the computer cooks dinner.
From the end of World War II the"universal housewife", in whom, second wave feminist artists saw a problematic, nationalistic zeal for male approval, patriarchy, exclusion of women from their own lives, and the crass commercialization of female bodies into ciphers for profit, was a televisual evangelist for the American dream. The power of her ether, her presence on billboards and on TV, made homemakers emulate and imitate her consumption. Automation, instant food and entertainment, paper goods, whitest laundry; plastic and aluminum everything and a love affair with bleach, Jello and Mr. Clean constituted some kind of home and personal reality for many women.6 "Wessonality" was a term invented by Wesson Oil in the 1970s to describe personality changes associated with using their product.
Arguably, housework's meaning in culture has both remained the same, as a necessary imposition of sanitizing rituals, and has changed profoundly. With the development of industrialization and working classes in the nineteenth century, medical knowledge, public health and sanitation systems intersected as municipal strategies for cities to deal with the grimy, huddled mass that were their inhabitants. Disease and its prevention, particularly, meant getting a move on to create access to clean water, bathing and sewage disposal. The promotion of modern plumbing, building code and interior cleanliness of the household would save cities from cholera, pneumonia, and small pox.
Some aspects of nineteenth century cities were so qualitatively different from the present that it is difficult to imagine how they even worked. Without electricity, cities functioned, for example, primarily during the day and only with coal, gas, and oil. The scourge of soot accumulated in homes, on clothing, hair and skin. Personal hygiene could be counted upon only by the upper classes who were more likely to enjoy running water and an occasional flush toilet and to employ a staff of domestic workers and servants. Outhouses and shared pit toilets, bucketed water supplies, and communal bathhouses took care of the working poor. Attitudes towards hygiene rapidly changed and social reform through public information attempted to control filth and disease among the working poor.
Moral regard for cleanliness, purity of purpose, and the sexuality of the suburban housewife has roots in Victorian era America, for while modern appliances may have liberated American housewives from the dirty work of cleaning, brands reflected olden days of domestic service, i.e. 'Rubbermaid, the name brand of a major household goods manufacturer--they never liberated her from 'homemaking' as a career. It is precisely the promotion of this timeless occupation as a woman's proper place that intersects with Victorian era subjugation--"The Household General" promoted in Harriet Beeton's Book of Household Management--for instance as a popular ideology. At the same time, the postwar housewife's "new" identity embodied another transition. She possessed a latent desire for new ideas and was a zeitgeist. Her image suggests pervasive new mobility and freedom. It helped shed many problems, processes, and negative associations from the pre-war and wartime past. General Motors' epic advertisement 'Design for Dreaming' (1956) with Thea Tadlock dancing through yards of gleaming cars and taking her position in the "Kitchen of the Future" and '1999', with its nerdy proclamation that computers would give housewives leisure, both utilize the woman of the future to pave the way.
Mechanization and Speed
Sigfried Gideon tracked his fascination with myths of progress in Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History (1948). In this book, Gideon hails the progress tied up with American innovation and production. He looks at drawings of machines,and varieties of inventions and tool-making, to explain humanity, profoundly awed by the speed with which certain accomplishments in mechanics in America emerged over decades as a result of need, comparing them with similar histories in Europe, which may have taken centuries.
Gideon's perception of innovation as a platform, from which historical change emerges, sets the stage as a theoretical proposition from which transformations in American households can be viewed. Post-war America was concretized in production of household goods and appliances. Their consumption relieved housewives while promoting a culture of efficiency and speed. From from pre-war to modern, manless to married, the ethos of idealized womanhood in dominant media was to be satisfied through them. This rapid transition is reflected in a media culture replete with domestic workers, where housewives and nuclear families abound. Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy, after The Adventures of 'Ozzie and Harriet' (1952-1966) popularized plights of the stay-at-home housewife and her hysteria. Ball's women-oriented comedy played up the homemaker's day to day dilemmas, poking fun at the newly wed. Lucy repeatedly humiliates herself. Her inherent lack of marital knowledge, inability to cook or organize a home, ineptitude at housework, over worked conscience when it came to spending, and shrill, mixed messages with respect to marriage were central themes of the show. An excess of soap suds billowing from early modern dishwasher capped Lucy's lack of order in the social order, further underscoring the way women should behave, while other endlessly frustrating issues for Lucy touched audiences' underlying fears of disapproval, especially from men.
Maids by the Minute
Fifty years ago, 'Rosie the Robot', the bossy, space-age 'personal maid' of television's most futuristic family, The Jetsons, was an old she-robot, modeled on real life sit com heroines like 'Hazel.' 6 As well as the Hazel cartoon strip by Ted Key run in The Saturday Evening Post of the same era.
Having robots clean the house intersects with fantasies of a computer culture which would inevitably bring Americans leisure, and, even ultra-clean, streamlined interiors such as those in science fiction movie sets. Smooth, clean lines, precision, and the appearance and machine-like aesthetics of these interiors make them superior to others. The Jetsons typified the aspirations of America's post war middle class that lived for futurology and for whom clean and sparkle were important.
Maids and the housekeepers in art and media culture have much to offer a study of transformed households and feminist representation. Apart from the sexualized "French maid", the all-cleaned up-for TV housekeeper/maids of sit coms, such as Rosie, have several character and narrative traits in common. Maids from the 1950s through 1980s (Frasier's cheeky younger cockney maid of the nineties being a departure but still obsessed with her biological clock) are frequently middle-aged, possessing stereotyped age-related characteristics such as a certain matronly dowdiness, rapidly greying hair, old style, and sensible shoes. They are also usually single and frequently concerned, when they do talk, with seeking a husband. They owe something to an earlier popular maid, "The Old Maid" from the family card game.8 In this game, the player stuck with the last card or Old Maid loses.
For this stereotype, being "too old" means a) being undesirable to men because of age and b) not able to bear children. Being "too old" has connotations of inadequacy and, above all, having failed to catch a man, implying that something is wrong.
Rosie the Robot exudes this stereotype because she is firstly an older model machine. Her rivets show and she is a rental, not owned, making her impermanent - an itinerant. Hazel from 'Hazel' and Alice from The Brady Bunch (1965 to 1974) are both middle aged characters. They are women without life partners. They became housekeepers and maids because they were skilled enough to do the job, but missed the boat in having a marriage or man of their own. Hence, these characters are portrayed as without roots, aspiring to the fulfillment that their female employer has, but living it vicariously. 'Hazel', 'Rosie' and 'Alice' are semi-dykish, mannish in appearance and character, a significant contrast to the feminine Mrs. Jetson and Mrs. Brady, ever appealing to George and Mike. These too-big-footed maids, like those step sisters of Cinderella, are infinitely unappealing. Alice, for instance, was overly practical. She wore front zippered smocks, ready for spills and housework; nylon and plain; no ornament and sometimes "checked." Her voice was masculine. She cracked jokes and had a man's physical bearing. Her tall hairdo, short on the sides, made her face rectangular.
Uncle Charlie of My Three Sons would sometimes cross-dress in a frilly apron as a comic gag. The missing mother figure of the program was somehow more obviously absent through this joke, but more importantly was working class Uncle Charlie, a male housemaid, Other; a landlocked sailor, itinerant, not even a "real" uncle. This male maid, too, was inadequate.
Maids in the media have humiliating self-consciousness about their single "old maid' status. Script writers make this lack central and a painful part of the comedy. Brady Bunch's Alice is self deprecatory and factual, implying she's a little boring--from a man's point of view. There is the spectator, again defining the female character through lack and inability to be a real woman. Carol Burnett's washerwoman, alone on stage in a hairnet singing "So long..." as the end of the show arrives and credits roll is yet another maid existing in exaggerated, midlife isolation and pathetic, vicarious stardom. Mrs. Danvers' (Hitchcock's Rebecca) is also an aging, aspirational, desolate housekeeper. She wanders mad amidst memories and her uninhabitable Mandolay. Covered to the chin line in black, Danvers battles being alive as an asexual, manless, and mistress-less human being, the cinematic equivalent of a slightly more deranged Hazel, Alice or Rosie.
Real Realpolitik: Maid to Survive
Barbara Ehrenreich's lengthy investigation of 1995 welfare reform upon underpaid, under the table, unfashionable service labor is a document cutting clean through the melodramatic hype and over-glamorization of housework as put forth in commercial media. Ehrenreich investigates what roles domestic workers actually play in American road and hospitality industries and exposes the dimensions of lives of marginalized workers, their day to day survival on a minimum wage as housemaids, waitresses and cleaners. Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America (2000) is a tragic tale and one of remarkable strength, and sadness. Domestic workers from motels and restaurants support families, sometimes as single parents and often having to travel great distances to find work, only to live as itinerants in their cars to avoid high rent. Ehrenreich went undercover, working as a hotel maid, to engage with these heroic workers. She offers a chilling account of the art that goes into this lifestyle and its perpetuation. In 2007 Ehrenreich also appeared as a waitress in Lewis H. Lapham and John Kirby's The American Ruling Class, a dramatic documentary film exploring taboos of class, power and prestige in the United States.
Not all representations of unpopular work are journalistic accounts as marvelously detailed as Nickel and Dimed or George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London. "Down and out" characters of film and TV, historically have gained recognition through comedy. Chaplin's Modern Times celebrates the essentialist worker as creative poet, charlatan, goof ball, off-beat clown, and political activist. The Three Stooges were slackers, petite bourgeois numbskulls scheming ways out of boredom, jobs, prison or school. As the Puerto Rican immigrant in Scarface, Al Pacino rants: "First you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the women...." The aforementioned "washerwoman" of Burnett's is also a highly scripted, worker/clown and the list goes on. In Spielberg's A.I. an assemblage of "types" makes up the tragic/comic underclass. Irish maids are collaged digitally with broken, hacked and refurbished machines, and these, with hobbling hobos and clowns.
At the height of emerging feminist art practice, Jeanne Diehlman 23 Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (1975) directed by Belgian filmmaker Chantal Ackerman, was released to the critical public. This was a pivotal moment for feminist experimental film combining elements of feminist critique and a troubled heroine into an indictment of women's silence in the domestic sphere. Jeanne Diehlman's central character (by same name as the title) is a revolutionary depiction; a single mother of a single infant. She is shown by Ackerman, over and over, repeating in a three day duration, the routines of child and home care. No seeming plot, or narrative, the character engages in cleaning, cooking, and tending her baby with clockwork monotony, when suddenly, she prostitutes herself to a sole client to pay for food. Meticulous in its projection of menial, self denying labor, apathy and isolation, traditional female labor under capitalism and patriarchy, the film is shot through an aesthetic of static framing, long takes, intimately involving its audience in every excruciating detail. When she stabs her sex client to death, the tedium falters. Art and life become brutal and stupid, but the lengthy interconnection of audience with heroine, applauded by critics, reframed and reexamined roles reserved for women in cinematic history.
Lives in the Present
Arguably, feminist art has moved from rigorous analyses of unequal labor conditions and their inscription on the body to other kinds of investigations of domesticity, gender and social discourse. Feminist art, recuperating the history of womens' work, its beauty and patience, uses domestic processes in "artisan works" (Stermitz, 89) and as a metaphor for the consistent building of home, peace, social fabric, and weaving together of culture in which women participate. This politic has reclaimed home, house, housework--as a nurturing space--where the body, mind, personal and the political, coalesce.
Contemporary feminist art, using domestic images and space articulates the necessary de-privatization of an essential "woman" and expresses interiority as a repository of psychic memory or valorizes the daily operation and routine of household labor under local and global conditions. The houseWORK project (2003), a collective exhibition on housework, for instance, "reflects upon the function and impact of housework on everyday life, and draws attention to the people doing the work, including foreign domestic workers in Singapore" (Tan, 2011). Artist Annetta Kapon's "Photography Lesson" (1990), a video performance, observes the obsessive caring and cleaning of one's technology as a form of housework. She scrubs her camera with cloths and sprays. This work might also be construed as talking about how art has become labor. The woman in the kitchen (cleaning, scrubbing, boiling, food preparation) is confounded with the labor of photography. The video satirizes the obsessiveness with which photographers fetishize their tools. The darkroom is not so different from the kitchen; what is different is the gender (Kapon, 2011 website).
In Cornucopia (2009) Kapon, who lives in France, works sculpturally with baguettes, clothing, and a plastic panier to demonstrate process and communication. The piece literally "tumbles out" from a corner into the gallery as if to express some sudden joy or the act of sharing. Kapon's photographic, video based, and sculptural art about housework looks at flatness, horizontality, measurability, labor and language; in short, repetition. Laundry (2009) is a piece about 'home economics' in the global economic crisis presented as bath towels on which several major currencies have been screen printed. Daphna Lapidot's video installation and performance, Wall to Wall (2011) "explores the themes of motherhood/domesticity. It is a reflection on the issues that women encounter as new mothers inundated with the perpetual daily routine." (Mickie's Zoo, 2011)
Critique of domestic work is often post-colonial in its intent as well, an important outcome of feminist art practices after the Internet. Personal and global autobiography include critique of human rights and labor around the world, where, for instance, in Latin America, "81 percent of women without their own income do unpaid domestic work and experts believe that the financial crisis has aggravated the gap between paid work and unpaid care that women provide to children, the elderly, and other family members." (International Museum of Women, "Focusing on Latin America" 2011) Maria Ezcurra makes work about "stereotypical acts of femininity that parody gender intolerance". These works are presented through sculpture, performance and photographic tableaus utilizing sewing, fabric, food, and domestic interiors (2011). Ezcurra's work "encourages the expansion of human and civil rights for women today." (2011) Three projects: "The Perfect Housewife," "Waitress" and "Domestic Mythology" show the artist performing typical acts: ironing, serving food, and sitting with a husband. "Waitress" shows her as the typical female hostess, sometimes incorporated with a table and full table cloth as "dress."
Ezcurra "incorporates herself into the work, wearing clothes that conform to and are incorporated in the domestic act, symbolizing how women and domestic work are assumed to be irrevocably combined."(2011). This "costume" is not only a product of Latin American oppression, however, it was similarly used at the corporate dinner of the World Economic Forum in northeastern China where 'dress code for ladies extended to tablecloths...inserted into a hole in each table was a comely woman waring a strapless dress made of the same material as the tablecloth.' (Beech, 2011--see photo above) and symbolizes in this context, the global oppression of women bolstered by globalization. Ezcurra's last piece, 'Domestic Mythologies" is "a series of fabric pieces depicting mythological creatures performing domestic tasks." Its aim is to demythologize the "universal housewife" concept once again, this time by tying domesticity to fantastic elements of non-white cultural mythologies (IMW, 2011).
Memories suggesting boredom, isolation, and violence are investigated within relentless paradigms of cultural alienation in filmmaker Yin-Ju Chen's short experimental works, Recycle System 1 and 2 (2002). In most of the earlier video performances, the gaze is turned on herself as a subject: the "Asian" woman living in the US. Usually framed within an interior setting, they both accentuate her marginalized position in Western society as well as reference her occupational condition: working from her home studio as a free-lance artist. Not unlike early feminist performance video of the ‘70s, autobiography, relation of self to others, and questions of visual representation play a central role in her work (Schedelbauer, 2008).
A woman emerges from a door at the end of an unidentified corridor which appears to be part of a public institution. The sound track and motion "suggest that she is carefully vacuuming every corner of the hall. As she gets closer, the viewer realizes that she does not, in fact, have a vacuum cleaner, but is embodying it: the tube is affixed to her mouth and she is sucking in everything off the gray PVC floor." (2008a)"Nature is a circle––those who damage the environment will eventually be damaged themselves" Chen states of this work (2008b). "Chen employs stereotypes of the female "Oriental" worker: the cleaning lady, the copycat, the sexualized object of desire, and the speechless immigrant."(2008c) In more recent work, this interesting filmmaker continues to decode the "self-ghettoized psychological conditions" of her colonization, migrant state, and the condition of immigration, and gender and takes a more critical and"aggressive" stance in her "political confrontation".(2010d) Preoccupation with her "anxious psyche" (2010e) is expressed in this stunning visual diary, notably utilizing architectural space as metaphor and terrifying surrealism in its own right: winding stairs, unmade beds, ringing phones, empty rooms. The filmmaker hunts her topic without a script.
A Love Affair with Housework
BBC article, "Is the US Love Affair with Housework over? (September 2011) reports that "the country that gave the world the vacuum cleaner" has experienced dropping sales of household cleaning products since 2006 and wonders whether Americans have become "less keen on sparkling homes."(2011) Arguably, at least in television and women's homemaking magazines, desire for the sparkling home is still a prime motivator; and not only is the "love affair" hot, but its strangely liberated. These days just as many giddy women glide across screens, wiping and scrubbing, but their able "dance partners" and "dates" are no longer tired sloppy mops. The are a new breed of gadgets: lightweight, smoothly maneuverable and agile cleaning tools, each with a niche and specialty. If anything, cleaning has been made more "feminine" by design.
Tossing out old models like so many cast off husbands, dead lovers and boring boyfriends, today's post 90s homemakers are busily looking for something a little more reliable. The new womanhood of housework includes some reference to the freedom of sexuality, conflict over time, and tolerance for 'mess' that 1960s second wave feminism demanded. Today's middle class homemaker as-seen-on-TV is, above all, a juggler of time. Hot romance and vicarious rock n roll fame are but a few of the vicarious thrills this multicultural milieu of homemakers engage in while mopping and polishing. Lack of splitting the soundtrack from the voiceover in the commercial message manages to drive home a point that "universal she" is in total control. But, unfortunately, women are still doing most of the dirty work. Feminist performance artist, Annie Abraham's 2006 web piece, 'Domestic Dancing' turns around this particular phenomenon of seamless image and audio. Abraham juxtaposes two synchronous GIF animations and two kinds of noise: a) a women playing music on an accordion and b) and a tiny figure vacuuming repetitively. The message is about real pleasure.
A surprising number of new housework ads include hip music from hip bands the to better to demonstrate that the product will make the homemaker happy. Blondie, Simple Plan, and The Equals can all be heard. Musical approach courtesy Mike Mosher.
Dirt, Sex and 'Mr. Right'
All the maneuverable, lightweight new mops and sweepers feed a renaissance of interest in squeaky clean floors. They are happy replacements for messy technologies; buckets and mops. In one particular commercial, miniature females are even dolled up in cute, brown and grey outfits gynepomorphizing Mud and Dust and they are ecstatic or irritated about getting "picked up" or being neglected by a certain sweeper acting the role of 'Mr. Right.' Their entire future as a ball of dirt lies in the possible chance encounter with this mop/guy, whom they really want to "stick with", when they get him and, for whom, they will wait forever.
Curiously, in many commercials housework is no longer even done by the doer, but, is perceived to be done, supernaturally, through the design of the tools and products themselves. Heavy work--big, dirty jobs--are something all homemakers want to avoid, while the signs of the homemaker and her 'raison d'etre' have slightly changed. Today's TV homemaker, like the skinnier, light, more agile mops, contoured air fresheners, and soaps she is fond of, is all about diversification and niche marketing, rather than a one-way "does all" command economy universe. She is still "in love" with housework but it is done in the name of juggling home, family, and career. Liberation is about time management skills and how products can help her time management. Swirling her wood-floor swiffie, she is promised less difficulty in doing the labor and in the process, the chemicals smell great. Chores come in colors and have value-added appeal. New products are slick, more portable, with packs of disposable, pre moistened cleaning cloths instead of water and buckets, or they have fantastic, powerful scrubbing agents which bubble with chemical strengths and are easier to lift, swivel, use and discard. Adjust the entire mop for hard to reach places. Working homemakers can now relax, "the product" does the work and mess is an informality of post modernity. Occasionally, even, a guy enters in to help out. It is all about time-management, refillable bowl-side disinfectants working while you sleep, and solid aromatic air fresheners which homemakers can forget about and enjoy it.
The middle class American home that came blaring through the television some fifty years ago is a different animal from today's mixed crew. Market research has established both a multiculturalism and a feminism to the new American home and diversify it regularly. Moreover, "American willingness to be persuaded by [advertising] may have sparked a national obsession with cleanliness at the start of the 20th century" (Ashenberg in Goehegen, 2011, 2 ) but, that is changing, perhaps due to increased media literacy, changing attitudes towards women and girls, understanding the effects of toxins and even "hygiene hypotheses" which suggest that germs are actually good for the immune system (2011, 2).
The drama of housework, an intense source of womens' oppression in male dominated culture, as a form of oppression around the world, is a source of great interest to feminists. Perhaps first world countries are finally transitioning from a consumer society based in powerful commercial television, disposable plastics and the unpaid or flexible labor of women, to new models and networks of production; those founded upon environmentally conscious consumption, "making one's own cleaners and using cloth in stead of paper" (BBC, 2011).
Molly Hankwitz holds a Ph.D. in media and communications. She researches urban space, mobile technologies and culture and has published on architecture, feminist film, feminist art, net art, public art, public space, new technologies, new media and situationist architecture.
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Mickie's Zoo blog (2011)
Sachs, L. (2012a) Lynne Sachs website, http://www.lynnesachs.com/medium/drawn-and-quartered-15061987/?fcat=18 ________(2012b) http://www.lynnesachs.com/medium/still-life-with-woman-four-objects-15061987/ ? fcat=18 ______(2012c) http://www.lynnesachs.com/medium/the-house-of-sciencea-museum-of-false-facts-15061991/?fcat=18
Schedelbauer, S. (2010) 'Chen Chews: Musings on Cultural Indigestion' Otherzine, Issue #14, Spring 2008. ________(2010a - 2010d)
Stermitz, E. (2009) "Iconographics and Iconologic Art Practices with the Hoover: Feminist Artistic Subversion of the Female Body and the Household" in Monitor, Vol. IX, No 1-2, Art: Resistance, Subversion, Madness, pp. 85-104.
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Varnelis, K. and Robert Sumrell (2007) Blue Monday.
Artists, Art and Filmworks Carla Kirkwood, performance artist __MWI: Many Women Involved, San Diego.
Suzanne Lacy, performance artist and public artist, all works.
Martha Rosler, video artist, documentary artist,
__Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975. video
__Service: A Trilogy on Colonization, 1987. book
Lynne Sachs, filmmaker __Drawn and Quartered, 1987. http://www.lynnesachs.com/medium/filmsvideos/page/4/ __The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts, 1991. __Still Life with Woman and Four Objects, 1986
Cindy Sherman, photographer __Film stills, 1977-1980
Jo Spence, 1934-1992, photographer ___Cancer Series
Martha Wilson, performer, videographer __Portfolio of Models
A. Tan __houseWORK project
Annette Kapon __Photography Lesson __Cornocopia
Annie Abraham, 2006 __Domestic Dancing
Websites sourced for images
images for text, elsewhere: 1950s housewife from http://motifmagazine.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/1950s-housewife-rules/ martha wilson, Goddess from Portfolio of Models, 1975 house of science still, Lynne Sachs 1991 hey!!chicky!! nina sobell, 1978 Max Dupain, who did the HOOVER photo