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Housework: Nonfiction and Martha Stewart

The following 2-part WMST-L discussion from November/December 2001
began as a query for nonfiction writings about housework.  While
that thread continued, it also expanded into a thread about Martha
Stewart and parodic elements of housework.  Since the threads
remained related, they are both included here.  For additional
WMST-L files available on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.

Date: Mon, 19 Nov 2001 19:16:18 -0500
From: "Sabine N. Merz" <uribazo @ JAVANET.COM>
Subject: Housework and Nonfiction/Poetry
Dear All:

I am a Ph.D. student in sociology doing my dissertation on housework
and I am looking to this listserv for inspiration. Could you please
suggest nonfictional writings to me that deal with housework? I have
to admit I would favor poetry but I would appreciate to hear about
any fictional work that you feel strongly about. The work does not
have to be in English or deal with the American context. (My own
work will be about Germany, if that matters.)

Please understand I am not using this listserv to do my library
research. I would just like to hear from you about works that you
might feel strongly about. Thank you very much . . . in advance.

So I would love to hear from you and I would certainly be willing to
share the collected responses with the group.

Best wishes,

Sabine Merz uribazo  @ Amherst, MA U.S.A.
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2001 09:35:56 -0500
From: mary krueger <mkruege @ BGNET.BGSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: Housework and Nonfiction/Poetry
Sabine:  check out "Biting the Dust: The Joys of Housework " by
Margaret Horsefield.

A review and analysis of the evolution of (primarily American and
Canadian) woman's role as "housewife" from the 17th century to the
20th, how that evolution has related to other social movements as
well as the development of housework-related consumer products, and
how women negotiate the housewife sphere with their mothers and

Meticulously researched, fun and fascinating to read.

Mary Krueger, Ph.D.  419-372--7227 Director, BGSU Women's Center
419-372-6030 (fax) Affiliated Faculty, Women's Studies 108 Hanna Hall Bowling Green, OH 43403

"Service is the rent we pay for living. It is the very purpose of
life, not something to do in your spare time."

                         --Marian Wright Edelman
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2001 08:54:34 -0500
From: Deborah Louis <louis @ UMBC.EDU>
Subject: Re: Housework and Nonfiction/Poetry
also, anything and everything by erma bombeck, and i assume THE FEMININE
MYSTIQUE is already on your list...

there was also a "seminal" article by a professional couple in the late
60s entitled "how to hire a wife," which was the first published attempt
i'm aware of (in popular media) that identified and calculated the
commercial value of the variety of specific skills brought to the task,
resulting from the couple's (fairly humorous) attempt to hire someone to
fulfill the role--i don't have access to my files at the moment, but it
may have appeared in RAMPARTS first, then reprinted in several
places--someone else on the list may know of it and have a direct

debbie <louis  @>
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2001 09:57:17 -0500
From: silver_ak @ MERCER.EDU
Subject: Re: Housework and Nonfiction/Poetry
You probably already have this on your list, but "The Politics of
Housework," by Pat Mainardi is wonderful.  You can find it in
*Sisterhood is Powerful* (I don't know if it's been reprinted
elsewhere).  Two poets who might be useful are Marge Piercy and Nikki
Giovanni, both of whom have written poems about housework.  Also,
there's a chapter in Cisneros's *House on Mango Street* called
"Beautiful and Cruel"; now that I think about it, that whole book
would work well.  Finally, if you want to dig deeper into literary
history, I'd suggest Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market," the poems
of Emily Dickinson (I don't have the number in my head, but she has a
great poem about wives) and Kate Chopin's *The Awakening.*

Good luck!

Anya Silver

Dr. Anya Krugovoy Silver
Assistant Professor of English and Interdisciplinary Studies
Director of Women's and Gender Studies
Mercer University
1400 Coleman Ave.               "Tell me, what is it you plan to do
Macon, GA 31207-0001            with your one wild and precious life?"
(912) 752-5641                                         --Mary Oliver
silver_ak  @
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2001 09:42:11 -0600
From: Janet Allured <jallured @ LIGHTWIRE.NET>
Subject: Re: Housework and Nonfiction/Poetry
I have my another, related, query:

Some time ago I read a hysterical feminist parody of Martha Stewart.  Does
anybody know where I might get my hands on it?  Or, do you know of any
feminist critiques of Martha Stewart, parodies or not?  I'd love to use
these in my WMST intro class.


Janet Allured
McNeese State University
jallured  @
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2001 11:20:09 -0500
From: Jennifer Tuttle <JTuttle @ UNE.EDU>
Subject: Re: Housework and Nonfiction/Poetry
You might also search for essays by Barbara Ehrenreich on this topic--she 
had a smart and hilarious essay out several years ago now (I remember 
there was some mention of vacuuming, but I'm embarassed to say I can't 
remember anything more specific!) on the topic of housework.  Does anyone 
know the citation?  It escapes me now and I can't seem to locate my copy 
of the article at the moment.

Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2001 11:15:23 -0500
From: arc3 @
Subject: Re. Feminist parody of Martha Stewart
Don't know whether this is what you had in mind, but a
while back I read _Living It Up: humorous adventures in
hyperdomesticity_, by the performance artist Karen
Finley (Doubleday, 1996). It is clearly a response to
the Martha Stewart ethos, and is screamingly funny. I
don't know whether it is still in print, but it's a
short book, so could be placed on reserve.

Anne Carson
Cornell University Law Library
Ithaca, NY 14853
arc3  @
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2001 12:39:54 -0700
From: Marilyn Grotzky <mgrotzky @>
Subject: Re: Housework and Nonfiction/Poetry
I'm very fond of "Perfection Salad" published by Modern Library, I think,
about the roles of the domestic scientists in the evolution of cooking from
about 1860-1920.  It's reasonably scholarly, informative, sympathetic to a
movement from which we needed badly to recover (and did, thanks to Julia
Child and others), and great fun to read.

Marilyn Grotzky
mgrotzky  @

At 07:16 PM 11/19/2001 -0500, you wrote:
>I am a Ph.D. student in sociology doing my dissertation on housework and I
>am looking to this listserv for inspiration. Could you please suggest
>nonfictional writings to me that deal with housework? I have to admit I
>would favor poetry but I would appreciate to hear about any fictional work
>that you feel strongly about. The work does not have to be in English or
>deal with the American context. (My own work will be about Germany, if
>that matters.)
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2001 12:48:55 -0700
From: Marilyn Grotzky <mgrotzky @>
Subject: Re: Housework and Nonfiction/Poetry
I once had a copy of Martha Stewart's 12 Days of Christmas.  Does anyone
have it?  It sounds as if it would be relevant to the list just now.  It
includes things like "Build a snowman in the exact image and likeness of

Marilyn Grotzky
mgrotzky  @
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2001 11:54:04 -0800
From: Phillipa Kafka <pkafka @ LVCM.COM>
Subject: Re: Housework and Nonfiction/Poetry
Fiction: Buchi Emecheta, The Joys of Motherhood
Bharati Mukherjee, Wife

Dr. Phillipa Kafka
Professor Emerita
Kean University
pkafka  @
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2001 15:14:13 -0500
From: Heather Laube <hlaube @ NYCAP.RR.COM>
Subject: Re: Housework and Nonfiction/Poetry
There are a couple of good ones, including Martha Stewart's Holiday
Countdown and letters between Martha and Erma at
Heather Laube
Department of Sociology
University at Albany
hlaube  @

"Silence has never brought us anything of worth."
             Audre Lorde

----- Original Message -----

> I once had a copy of Martha Stewart's 12 Days of Christmas.  Does anyone
> have it?  It sounds as if it would be relevant to the list just now.  It
> includes things like "Build a snowman in the exact image and likeness of
> God."
Date: Tue, 27 Nov 2001 13:17:08 -0600
From: Janet Forbes <janetforbes @ STN.NET>
Subject: Re: Housework and Nonfiction/Poetry
Reading the messages prompted me to get up and check my book shelf. I
have a book called "Biting the Dust: The Joys of Housework" by Margaret
Horsfield published by Fourth Estate, London, 1997. It is a paperback I
bought on the remaindered table at a popular bookstore so it may
difficult to track down a copy and I must confess I have only browsed
through it, but it seems a quite good & entertaining history of
Housework and has a large source reference that would be useful. The
notes indicate that the author has done considerable research of popular
press, domestic advise books and 100 interviews for the book.

Another interesting source might be, if you are close to a University
that taught Home Ec, or Domestic Science and did a search, particularly
looking for some older books, I suspect that some "entertaining" texts
would be found.

Janet Forbes
janetforbes  @
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2001 15:09:36 -0500
From: "Moravec, Michelle" <MoravecM @ WPUNJ.EDU>
Subject: Re: Housework and Nonfiction/Poetry
Is Martha Stewart Living?  is the name of the parody magazines.

In the same vein of Biting the Dust is Other People's Dirt: A Housecleaner's
Curious Adventures  by Louise Rafkin

"Why I Want a Wife" by Judy Syfers is the article to which Deborah Louis
referred.  It is reprinted in Radical Feminism eds Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine,
and Anita Rapone.

For the 19th century anything by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  I also like the
work of Dolores Hayden, The Grand Domestic Revolution and Redesigning the
American Dream although more slanted towards architecture and how it relates
to changing women's labor within the home.

Michelle Moravec, Ph.D.
Director, Women's Center
William Paterson University of New Jersey
300 Pompton Road, Student Center 214
Wayne, NJ 07470
973 720 2946
moravecm  @
Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2001 10:23:27 -0700
From: Marilyn Grotzky <mgrotzky @>
Subject: Re: Housework and Martha Stewart
I love some of the Martha Stewart parodies, but I do wonder if we're doing
something I first read about in an early Ms. magazine -- trashing those that
become famous.  In the early years, we hoped for feminist consensus and
tried for equality, with any of us, not just the chosen ones, speaking for
us, and all of us sometimes leading, sometimes doing support work.  Even
then we must have seen that the ideal wasn't going to work out as we hoped.
(Granted notable exceptions such as the Boston Women's Health Collective and
the Bloodroot Collective in Bridgeport, CT).

What is it, specifically, about Martha Stewart that causes her to attract
these sorts of often funny attacks -- which are still attacks?   MS is often
useful.  A week does not go by without my hearing someone praise MS for a
technique or idea that has been helpful.  Her (advertising heavy) magazine
has explained how to maintain lawn mowers, fix toilets, and rewire lamps.
It has pictured endless types of asters or lilacs and explained which grew
where best.

Various film stars, including, I think, Barbra Streisland, have commented
that if you are on the way up, you get praise, once you are there, very
little that you do is praised -- as if we needed always to be pushing people
to be wherever they are not, up if they are down, down if they are up.

Are we talking jealousy or trashing or deserved response?  Is this a women's
issue or a human one or a critical one?  Since we carry, in this case, these
parodies into the classroom, how do we explain them?  Is Martha Stewart a
high paid attempt to return women to the home, where our goals become really
essential things like painting the Thanksgiving turkey carcass mauve (after
removing all the meat and boiling the bones for broth, of course) and
fashioning it into a sleigh to hold the Christmas cards?  Is a woman with 5
show homes a symbol of excess?  Is she a source of practical information and
occasional fun at home?  Does Oprah get the same treatment?  Or Rosie?  All
three are now at least multi-media?

I was thinking of taking one of the parodies to class, just because it's
funny -- but now I wonder what I'd say about it.  What do you think?

Marilyn Grotzky
mgrotzky  @
Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2001 12:28:27 -0600
From: Rebecca Walsh <rawalsh @ FACSTAFF.WISC.EDU>
Subject: Martha Stewart
I haven't been caught up on the full thread about Martha Stewart parodies,
but I thought I'd bring to the list's attention a very recent popular
culture Marta Stewart reference.   In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode
aired this week, a (formerly nonhuman) character is convinced that Martha
Stewart is a witch because no mortal could do all that she does so quickly
and easily.  It's a brief reference that focuses mostly on Martha Stewart's
wedding business empire, but I'm thinking of using it in my Women's Studies
101 class next semester to help illustrate Rosalind Coward's analysis of
home decorating/home arts that hide the amount of (female) labor involved
in trying to reach an unattainable ideal.  I don't have the reference
handy, but I think it's her essay called "Ideal Homes" in her collection
called Female Desires.


Rebecca Walsh
English Department and
Women's Studies Program
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Office:  (608) 263-2971
rawalsh  @
Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2001 09:52:48 -0800
From: Phillipa Kafka <pkafka @ LVCM.COM>
Subject: Re: Housework and Nonfiction/Poetry
Julia Alvarez has some interesting poetry about the meaning of housework
such as dusting (as a metaphor for constraint on her mother and herself) as
well as in How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.

This is a far more complex topic than might appear on the surface, because
there are all the texts to research that go back, at least to the 19th c.,
that deal with the diverse meanings and responses to housework and domestic
work  from very diverse groups of writers by race, class, ethnicity,
etc.--African American, Irish American, Asian American, Chicana, and Latina
writers, for example.

 Then there are the "mainstream" white women writers who also write from the
drudge side of it--  Elizabeth Cady Stanton recorded her daily labors in her
home as a young wife and mother to several children. Then there was an essay
recently in Signs on Emily Dickinson's long-time maid, which gave specific
details on exactly what drudgery was done in the Dickinson home and by whom.

Catherine Beecher wrote a book on how to make housework easier for
individual women and even sketched out how kitchens should be set up. And
later, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (her niece?) expanded this interest to
include whole groups of women in a more communal vision.

Then there is the view  from the upper class side. "Ah, the servant problem.
Isn't it awful?"  and the whole movement to make housework more respected
and more scientific, including   Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee work (Up
from Slavery) from the perspective of African American women's taking
advantage of such an attitude, such needs. Almost all African American women
writers deal with this material,  but from a very different perspective from
Washington's--starting from Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave

Dr. Phillipa Kafka
Professor Emerita
Kean University
pkafka  @
Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2001 13:03:02 -0500
From: arc3 @
Subject: Re. Housework and Martha Stewart
Regarding parodies of Martha Stewart, I'd like to point
out that in a recent April issue of her own magazine
there was a parody of her calendar, which included
projects like "Vacuum the lawn". It actually took me a
while to realize that it was meant as self-satire. I
agree with Marilyn Grotzky that it is important to
examine the intersection of the form (elaborate
housekeeping) with the results: a billion dollars in
assets, multiple homes--I think she's up to 7 by
now--and a personal style that has caused widespread
resentment and hostility among people who actually know
her. Barbra Streisand is a good analogy as an extremely
successful and obviously talented woman who is routinely
castigated for being difficult (and not beautiful). One
could go on with other examples of women in
public life who are denounced because they are openly

Anne Carson
Cornell University Library
Ithaca, NY 14853
arc3  @
Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2001 13:23:44 -0400
From: Jeannie Ludlow <jludlow @ BGNET.BGSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: Housework and Martha Stewart
I just received the summer 2001 issue of *American Studies* Journal
(vol 42 no 2), and there is a roundtable on Martha Stewart (7
articles).  I just thought folks who were interested might want to
Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2001 13:34:19 EST
From: MRaichyk @ AOL.COM
Subject: Martha Stewart
I have severe doubts that the Martha jokes are related to her "success"...
there is something seriously sick about this woman, not to mention the uneasy
feeling that we are looking at massively orchestrated but insidiously clever
backlash... based on observations such as the one relayed in the post below,
you be the judge...  "they don't go together", really...

and is the attached puppet show Martha joke at the bottom the reality... one
where women, who have lost their grandmothers' skills attempting to breach
the corporate scene, are now frustratedly striking back?  I, for one,
remember all the millions of skills my mother took for granted...  not that I
would emulate them exactly since I feel she was shortchanged trying to enable
her children to have the unsustainable world she equated with success...
JH Raichyk, PhD
We were watching Martha's Kitchen yesterday and she was helping her banker
friend learn how to make her very own pie crust - from scratch.  It was going
well...Martha was perfectly coiffed and her lovely sage green blouse didn't
have a speck on it...her friend, Jane, on the other hand, was wearing flour
all over her NAVY sweater and in her hair.   They have both made pie crusts
and filled a baking shell with one crust...and Martha was teaching Jane how
to decorate the edges with pastry cutouts...Jane could have a choice of
leaves or stars cookie cutters.  Jane said:  "Oh-h-h-h, I'll do both!"  "No,"
said Martha, "they don't go together.  You have to choose one."     I kid you

Martha's Way vs. My Way

Martha's Way:
Stuff a miniature marshmallow in the bottom of a sugar
cone to prevent ice cream drips.

My Way:
Just suck the ice cream out of the bottom of the cone
for Pete's sake, you are probably lying on the couch with your feet up
eating it anyway.

Martha's Way:
To keep potatoes from budding, place an apple in the
bag with the potatoes.

My Way:
Buy Hungry Jack Mash Potato Mix and keep it in the
pantry for up to a year.

Martha's Way:
Spray your Tupperware with nonstick cooking spray
before pouring in tomato based sauces and there won't be any stains.

My Way:
Feed your garbage disposal and there won't be any

Martha's Way:
When a cake recipe calls for flouring the baking pan,
use a bit of the dry cake mix instead & there won't be any white mess
on the outside of the cake.

My Way:
Go to the bakery. They'll even decorate it for you.

Martha's Way:
If you accidentally over-salt a dish, drop in a peeled
potato and it will absorb the excess salt.

My Way:
If you over-salt a dish while you're cooking that's
too darn bad. My motto is: I made it, you will eat it, I don't care how
bad it tastes!

Martha's Way:
To determine whether an egg is fresh, immerse it in a
pan of cool, salted water. It sinks, it's fresh, but if it rises to
the surface, throw it away.

My Way:
Eat, cook or use the egg anyway. If you feel bad
later, you will know it wasn't fresh.

Martha's Way:
To cure a headache, take a lime, cut it in half and
rub it on your forehead. The throbbing will go away.

My Way:
Martha, dear, the only reason this works is because
you can't rub a lime on your forehead without getting lime juice in your

eye, and then the problem isn't the headache  anymore; it is because you

are now blind.

Martha's Way:
Don't throw out all that leftover wine. Freeze into
ice cubes for future use in casseroles and sauces.

My Way:
What leftover wine?

Martha's Way:
Potatoes will take food stains off your fingers.  Just
slice and rub raw potatoes on the stains and rinse with water.

My Way:
Mashed potatoes will now be replacing the
anti-bacterial soap in the handy dispenser next to my sink.

Martha's Way:
Place a slice of apple in hardened brown sugar to
soften it.

My Way:
Brown sugar is supposed to be "soft"?

Martha's Way:
Now look what you can do with Alka-Seltzer:  To clean
a toilet, drop two tablets in, wait 20 min, brush and flush.
To remove a stain from a vase or glass cruet, fill with water and drop
in two tablets.
To polish jewelry, drop two Alka-Seltzer tabs into a glass of water and
immerse jewelry for two minutes.  To clean a thermos bottle, fill with
and drop in four tabs and let sit for an hour or more (if necessary).

My Way: (a real time saver)
Put your jewelry, vases and thermos in the toilet.
Add a bottle of Alka-Seltzer tabs and you have solved a whole bunch of
problems at once.
For the really bold......drop in your dentures too!

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