Monday, March 3, 2014

Domestic Servitude...

The Well Turned Lady has a confession to make.  She has not managed her time well since she last wrote to you, thus the gap of many months since the last post.  Her creativity, the very thing she is attempting to nurture, is thwarted in a stream of work, chores, fatigue, and frittering time away on the Internet.
She confess this to you because she needs this transparency to really see what she is doing and because daily work versus creativity was no less a struggle for women historically, though it looked different.  In order to cultivate this creative life, The Well-Turned Lady is attempting to understand how other ladies in the past who labored still managed to create.  And all who create must reach an agreement with themselves and their spouses on how much Domestic Servitude is required of each of them.
WTL warns you not to make the mistake she did.  In looking for a tasty baked French toast recipe one day, she came upon a blog focused upon Domestic Servitude.  “Perhaps this was some ironic spin on the topic of housework,” she wondered. The WTL was flummoxed to find it was an (ahem) S & M site...with recipes.  Apparently the Domestic Servant of said site had entered into a Master-Slave relationship.  She even posted pictures of their (non-wedding) bands with the words “Master” and “Slave” engraved upon them.  How quaint. 
She did have excellent baked French toast, though.
While home maintenance can at times feel like a Master/Servant relationship, the WTL reminds herself frequently that having a place to lay one’s head is a blessing, still.  However, it can seriously impinge one’s creative time – at least it does to her.  One reason for this, she had read, was that with each technological innovation in the domestic arts, our standards of cleanliness rose to meet them.  Thus, Labor Saving became Labor Expanding.
One more distinction must be raised.  Given England’s class system most respectable houses had servants.  In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet huffily defended that they had a servant, too.  It showed their social status.  The Colonial woman of this nation - less so.  Anonymous was a Woman references that most of the girls and young women in the book were preparing themselves to care for their home.  One mother even exhorts her daughter:
                                Oh, you life will go so much easier if you know how to bake and roast!
The WTL lady is in the Colonial category.  Daily work is done by the WTL and The Well-Turned Hub (husband).  She receives some help with deep cleaning every few weeks as The WTL has arthritis, Fibromyalgia, and a host of other chronic pain issues.  She does not even attempt to deep clean anymore as it will set her back, and she will need several days in bed to recoup.  Day-to-Day is another matter.  Clothes, dishes, picking up, vacuuming, general cleaning and litter box cleaning (oh joy) falls squarely on the WTL and WTH. 
The trouble is that the WTL feels pulled in a million directions.  When cleaning, she wishes she were doing something fun.  When doing something fun, she might be reviewing that endless to do list in her head.   She rushes from one place to another from the start of the day until the end when she pours herself into bed after watching the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.  Quell Domage!  What is a WTL to do?
Have ideas to solve this quandary? Share, please, in the comments section.

Who You Callin’ a Lady?

Is that a trick question?  Well, I am calling myself The Well-Turned Lady (WTL), but if I am thinking in Jane Austen’s time (Regency Period) then it is a tricky question, indeed.  In our more democratic era, the standard for being lady is…well more liberal.  Now we can all be ladies if we call ourselves that.  However, in Jane’s time it was very clear that most women were not Ladies. 

Being well-turned did not happen by accident and did not happen overnight.  A Lady was cultivated. This was the great dividing line in English culture.  Her Ladyship’s work was becoming a Lady.  The rest of them were hoofing it for her and pulling it together for themselves when they could.

In training to be a Lady, it was a given that you would work on your embroidery, your painting, your languages, your dancing -- this was your work. Even In the softening of the class system in America, this did not die completely.  Young women who wanted to be respectable wives had their lessons as well.  This was the new work of middle class women.  It was a matter of course that a young woman would work on these skills.  They might also may marry a bully or die in childbirth, but we can’t have everything can we, Dears?

Why does being a Lady even matter?  Why should you or I care?  For me, the artful life that I desire is not pulling itself together on its own.  Nor do I believe it will without a conscious effort to see that happen, and I do not know how to make that happen in my current manner of living.

As a feminist, I am not harkening back to a time of “traditional womanhood” kicks and grins.  I am hearkening back to a time when roles were bounded by cultural expectations.  Yet, in that boundary a lot of creativity and cultivation could happen.  That was a boon, I think.  It is a great struggle for me to make this happen in any other way.  In having it all, I am too unbounded.  I have too much to do in vocation, chores, avocations and self-care.  In managing me there is just too much to “just happen” any other way.

You can disagree with me on this, but for some reason the Well-Turned Lady Model makes this all very real to me.  To live the model one must know, what constitutes a lady?  I can’t say that I have encountered any women who would not be considered ladies now-a-days.  However, in the true cultivation model, I know of only one or two women who were actually raised in such a way that their patronage, wealth and lifestyle would actually make them part of the “ton.  Knowing them and hearing about their lives is to meet someone who breathes extremely rarified air.

Beyond the pure, pure air of that world, the model of the Well-Turned Lady became most real to me in fictional worlds.  First in learning more about the world Jane Austen lived in, which fascinates me to no end.  Second in watching a woman who models what a true lady most likely was -- Lady Mary in Downton Abbey. 

Yes, there are issues in the show:  too much of a soap opera, too liberal in its depictions of class relationships, etc.   However, Lady Mary’s demeanor was something that I had never really understood until “my study” of her.  Has there ever been a more entitled woman depicted on television?  She acts with true (perhaps selfish) self-regard.  In her is a depiction a woman whose sense of what she needs and what she wants is a matter of fact.  Her wants supersedes everyone else in her orbit -- no apologies or qualifications.  Why would there be?  She has been raised to know that what she wants matters and is important; therefore, she need not apologize for wanting it.
For this reason, I am really beginning to think that sense of entitlement is what is ultimately necessary in order to carve out the time to create.  Entitlement is very difficult for me.  In my life, I have been raised to be a servant and not a lady.  I do not know how to give myself the time to cultivate me without feeling like I have to ask permission for it (to no one but my own highly developed super ego).  At 46 years old, I am a little tired of it.