1999 LLLI Conference Sessions:
Home-Centered Life and Contemporary Feminism
East Brunswick NJ USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 16 No. 5, September-October 1999, p. 163
Carol Lee Flinders' name has been familiar to me since I was a girl, looking at my mother's copy of her book, Laurel's Kitchen. Her words have struck a chord with me since my mother gave me my own copy of The New Laurel's Kitchen soon after I was married. I enjoyed her essays about spirituality and simple living as well as the recipes and nutritional information. So attending Flinders' conference session, "Lighting the Lamp--Tending the Flame: Reconciling a home-centered life with contemporary feminism," was a chance for me to meet and listen to someone I feel I've known for years.
Many of us know Flinders for her writing about food, and in her talk she drew on the essays she had written for her books to define home and its importance. In the first essay, which was published in 1976, she wrote about women as the "Keepers of the Keys," the people who control the family's resources and who hold the power to satisfy the needs of the family for food, security, and love. Flinders used different images in her more recent writing to contrast the home-centered life with the materialism of the 1980s. The image of home as a place of security and order where home-baked bread and long-simmered stews nourish the people who love and live and learn there opposed the prevailing notion of home as a place where you grab a quick bite before the members of the family head out the door in opposite directions.
The feminist movement has given women greater opportunities for advancement at work, and in the 1990s most women, including mothers of young children, work outside the home. At the job they receive recognition, status, and a chance to use their creativity. For many, the home is now only a place of clutter, mess, and undone laundry. Flinders expressed some pessimism that the movement toward a home-centered life she portrayed in Laurel's Kitchen seems to be losing momentum since many women focus on fulfillment through getting and spending. The good news, she said, is the number of women in the audience interested in combining a home-centered life with their own feminist concerns. Women who are staying home to nourish and nurture their families have a "motivation to swim upstream" that comes from deep inside, she said. The battle is between spirit and matter, with our society favoring the material. She said that multi-national corporations have much to gain from the dismantling of our homes. If women are convinced that paid employment and the resulting material purchases are the means to satisfaction, then multi-national corporations will benefit from loyal employees and increased sales.
Flinders then turned to defining feminism. She said that people who want their daughters and the daughters of others to live safely without the fear of violence and to achieve their full potential can consider themselves feminists. Flinders concluded that reconciling a home-centered life with feminism is possible. We need to model a non-sexist family and act as anthropologists in discussing the images of women in the culture around us. We need to be aware of the subtle images presented and the way the female body is used to sell things, she said.
Our work in the home is not limited to meeting physical needs; the spiritual work we do is also very important. Flinders quoted Gandhi freely and emphasized the fact that our homes are holy places and that in our work as mothers we have the opportunity to sanctify the everyday. Keeping a home or kitchen is not an end in itself, but is useful in terms of bringing about full human unfolding, she said. Flinders commented that women shouldn 't feel they need to sacrifice their creative and intellectual interests because they are raising families. Even if we are not pursuing our work on a grand scale while our children are young, we should still be making time for our own endeavors.
Since I've attended her session, I've been savoring her new book At the Root of this Longing. She articulates some of the issues I've had about how I can continue to have feminist concerns while occupying the traditional role of homemaker. Whether we believe we are part of the feminist movement or not, we might find Carol Lee Flinders' books and essays provide a starting point to begin our dialogue about women's roles today.