A talk to wives & mothers
A CRITICISM AND A REPLY.
To the Editor, SOCIALIST STANDARD.
We women are always being; taught by the SOCIALIST STANDARD that the mistake made by all other parties except the Socialist Party was to evolve a scheme first in which all the evils of Capitalism were omitted and then to attempt to carry it out by the power of the vote. I refer to those schemes made without regard to the trends of social development. You call it Utopian, when systems of collectivism, collective eating, collective working, collective playing, etc., are worked out in the minds of men and then, because they seem “good” as opposed to the “bad” system of Capitalism are advocated as practical politics by those men.
You tell us that the Socialist believes that the normal development of Capitalism will provide the institutions which will be used by people after the revolution in the material basis of society has been brought about. As an example, it is explained that the growth of the Modern Credit System will produce the very means whereby centralised administration in the field of production will be carried on under Socialism —possibly.
It is surprising, then, to hear Mrs. Gilmac advocating the idea of collective cooking and eating as a reason for adopting Social¬ ism. Surely she knows, as every other woman knows, whether among the “wives and mothers,” or among those women who are neither wives nor mothers, that “feeding the brute” is one of the pleasures of love. Woman is built for feeding; she does so continuously from the day she places a baby to her breast to the day she packs a man’s lunch-basket. When a woman marries the man she loves, some of that maternal attitude enters into her outlook upon him.
The future modification of family life does not imply that under Socialism we shall turn back to barbaric tribal groups with their ritual of collective cooking and eating. It seems more probable that under Socialism the family will be, though different from the modern family, essentially similar in that it will form on the basis of the mutual love of a woman and a man.
This follows because Socialism is the child of Capitalism and hence somewhat like its mother, because though a revolution means a radical change in the basis of society, it only occurs because, while the method of production is in one stage the other material factors in society evolve step by step until the disharmony between the foundation of society and its roof produces a collapse.
The family seems to evolve gradually; it is not fundamental, like private ownership of tools, etc. There is, therefore, no reason to suppose that communal cooking or communal eating will be any more practicable or desirable than it is to-day. To-day we occasionally go to a restaurant for a change from drab surroundings. It will not be necessary to escape from such surroundings under Socialism.
Mrs. Gilmac knows that it is not possible at restaurants to get always what one might want.
My husband likes his food cooked in a particular way sometimes, and it is generally a way which no restaurant could readily provide. Surely there must be thousands like him? Does Socialism entail the abolition of private home life? Mrs. Gilmac could not have been thinking of many thing’s when she said that we “prefer to enjoy ourselves collectively,” because that is absurd. To me and to millions of women, communal cooking is undesirable. We should be more pleased to know that our houses were to be made hygienic, with healthy windows, no corners nor dirt-collecting niches, and adequately supplied with electric cooking and cleaning apparatus, than to know that we could go to a place where it was all done for us. The trouble about feeding is that one cannot feed oneself sufficiently in three days to last three months. The best methods of collective industry may not apply to cooking, therefore.
I do not suggest that there will he no communal festivity under Socialism, my point is that systematising of any kind as regards the untouched future is rash and unscientific, since what will and will not be practicable is a question which can only be solved in its own time.
However, we are justified in provisionally prophesying the future on the grounds of present trends. And on those grounds I think that Socialism will leave us the family without the slavery conditions that make it unhappy, it will leave us women the pleasure of feeding those whom we love without the drudgery of cooking and serving in the environment of smutty fires, greasy ovens, dirty walls and stinking air.
The reason for working women to accept Socialism to-day is not for the sake of a possible communal cookery centre in the future, but to make a scientific fight against what is hurting us now.
To plead for posterity is sentimental and consistent with womanly feelings, but it is not Socialism.
We owe nothing to posterity. It is of ourselves we must think.
Nevertheless, it is nice to know that the “S.S.” is devoting some of its valuable pages to the women.
The trend of social development is to¬wards having meals away from home and the breaking up of the old-fashioned hearth generally. Therefore my suggestions were not Utopian, but quite in keeping with present tendencies, and were an appeal to the housewife to hasten the day when she would be able to take full advantage of freeing herself from her round of unnecessary toil.
The mistake some make is to endeavour to carry out Utopian schemes that are contrary to the advantages made possible through Capitalism,
For example, we do not call it Utopian to improve on the partly existing schemes of collective activity. Utopian refers to ideas out of touch with reality.
The method of cooking and distributing food in vogue when Socialism replaces Capitalism may be much more centralised than we, at present, can imagine, just as the present manner of producing and delivering food differs from that of a hundred years ago. This is shown by the selection of prepared foods now in common use. It is no longer “natural” to bake our own bread when it is so easily obtainable from the bakery, and so with many other things which at one time seemed “natural” for the housewife to do.
The “natural” pleasure of love, that of “feeding the brute,” ceases with the ceas¬ing of putting a baby to the breast. The rest is a matter of circumstance.
Surely the majority of women, if they were economically free would prefer to dine out with “him” than spend much unnecessary time preparing meals, etc.,—if they think about it at all? Just as she wishes for relief from the “natural” duties connected with the constant attention to children.
Why it is supposed to be “natural” for every woman to prefer home duties any more than for every man to be an engineer rather puzzles me.
We are so steeped in tradition that we imagine that what is the outcome of woman’s bondage or man’s economic condition is a natural function.
As to collective action, if to eat and cook collectively is bad because it was done during barbarism, then surely it is also barbaric to eat at all. Why eat? Why eat in restaurants? All relics of barbarism are not worse than the present habits.
The future form of family life may be somewhat like its present Capitalist form. Unions of short duration are becoming general, as is shown by the divorce courts, etc. Another instance of economic conditions where free love is only for those who can afford it. The mutual love of a man and a woman, even freed from the present economic dependence, may not last for a lifetime.
The remarks about the family not being fundamental like private ownership are not at all clear. What do they mean? What is fundamental? Is not the family?
The family evolves along with economic conditions, and is now, in many respects, different from the family of old, as is instanced by the growing tendency to dine out, to travel, etc., to develop industrially. Woman’s position since the War started has shown that that was, need not always be. If she is wise she will endeavour to take steps to free herself of unnecessary drudgery instead of imagining that it is natural for her to be cooped up in solitude ; a thousand mothers cooking in a thousand rooms, and washing thousands of saucepans. As to our critic’s husband, I hardly know whether to take these remarks seriously. If he cannot get his particular dish at present-day restaurants, perhaps under a more sane system of society he may have more leisure to wait for its preparation, unless it is so appetising that others will also require it and it will always be at hand and involve much less labour if done collectively.
But joking aside—of course, if women prefer to spend so much time preparing food, etc., and all that it involves (and may involve even under Socialism), she would no doubt be allowed to do it all herself. But I was suggesting the possibility of collective cooking and distribution of food as being in harmony with collective production generally, with a view to reducing all work where possible and leave both sexes more leisure.
Under such conditions a woman may be able to develop other talents, she may possess to further advantage, whether it is a “masculine” or “feminine” occupation.
“Does Socialism entail the abolition of private home life?” our critic asks. Personally I hope so, the present sort, anyway, since to me, and to many others, it is too private for the woman.
I happen to be, like most of us, a social being, and would as well dine out as stay at home preparing meals and thereby losing the opportunity of social intercourse, of travel, concerts, etc., etc., although I am prepared to do my quota of work while others prepare my food, or vice versa. This need not necessarily mean giving up private home life, but will enable us to make it a matter of choice instead of necessity.
Public restaurants are very much taking woman’s “natural” job out of her hands already, and she has not risen up in arms against it, and it is not “natural” for the “elite” to cook their husbands’ dinners, which seems to suggest this cooking, etc., is an economic problem. Does it not?
My critic, having made definite remarks about the future mode of family life, etc., has herself seen that to do so is rash and unscientific.
However, if I may prophesy provisionally, I can do so on the basis of present trends—i.e., as I said before, not home¬-made bread, etc., but collective cooking and collective dining, perhaps.
Collective schooling—board and otherwise, are already the thing, so why not collective nurseries, laundries, etc?
The reason for women to adopt the principles of Socialism is to get the best the community can offer, so that if a few can prepare meals for the many while the latter are doing other work, then communal cooking may be part of the scientific scheme.
The remarks about posterity, etc., are strange, coming from one so concerned about family life. To plead for posterity is to endeavour to improve the lot of our descendants, which is in accordance with human instinct. Sentiment in the sense of feeling is a part of our general make-up, masculine as well. Were it not so we would scarcely put up with the struggle so complacently, but would “let our children,” to quote Heine, “go beg for bread.” But do we?
(MRS.) H. GILMAC.
(Socialist Standard, November 1928)