At the risk of tooting the IWF’s horn (but why not?) and becoming a one-woman fan band for our “MoDo Watch” regular Cathy Seipp, I must recommend Cathy’s latest contribution to the IWF home page: a complaint that women’s magazines–Good Housekeeping and the like–no longer do what they were designed to do, which is to help women keep house. Cathy actually loves the “Seven Sisters,” as the family of mags including Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle, and the like, are known, for their juicy tales of “couples drowning in credit card debt and mothers dealing with leering school bus drivers.” Cathy notes nonetheless:
“But these magazines almost never have anything to do any more with what for years was their core purpose — keeping house — and that’s too bad, because God knows the post-‘I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar’ generation could use help in this area. I’ve had it with what I’ve come to think of as Do-Nothing feminism, which is far more pervasive and insidious now than the much ballyhooed Do-Me Feminism.
“Do-Nothing feminism makes domestic incompetence a point of pride: ‘I just CAN’T cook/sew on a button/clean up my house…I’m just..too…BUSY!’ is its neurasthetic cri du coeur, the modern equivalent of 19th-Century fainting spells.”
“I was struck, for instance, by the contrast between the Aug. 2004 Good Housekeeping and my July 1964 issue (I collect vintage magazines).
“The 40-year-old issue has entire separate departments devoted to Fashions/Patterns, Needlework, Decorating/Studio and Institute/Textiles….The 1964 issue features a pert drawing of a woman next to ‘The Floor You’re Looking For,’ who smiles happily as she scrubs her floor on hands-and-knees while wearing a cute headband and Laura Petrie pedal-pushers.”
By contrast, Cathy notes, the August 2004 issue of Good Housekeeping carries a profile of Judith Scruggs, the Connecticut woman convicted last year of contributing to the suicide of her 12-year-old son, Daniel, who was depressed because his foul body odor–the Scruggs bathroom was nearly impassible–made him the target of school bullies. Scruggs, as Cathy notes, engaged in “spectacularly bad housekeeping.” Here is how this suicide-prevention website describes the premises:
“Judith Scruggs lived in the equivalent of a pig sty. The house was beyond filthy and cluttered, it was uninhabitable. Period. I saw pictures of inside the house and it was unbelievably filthy and cluttered. There could be no excuse for mainting a home as filthy, disgusting, cluttered, and dangerous as the Scrugg’s home.
“Judith Scruggs did not even do the most basic of household chores. Dirty clothes were everywhere. Garbage was piled up in all of the rooms. Dirty dishes were stacked as high as they could go in the kitchen. Even the bathroom was filled with garbage and dirty clothes.
“There was almost no floor space. And the smell in the house was repulsive.
“So after being bullied at school, Daniel would go to a place that he could not possibly call ‘home.’ It was a garbage dump.”
Nonethless, Judith Scruggs became, as you might expect, a poster mom for the feminist establishment, who complained that Scruggs was being victimized for being a working single mom who didn’t have time to clean and that the real fault lay with the school system for permitting bullies to operate on its premises. (School bullies, being almost always male, are always the ones at fault when something goes wrong a school, as far as the feministas are concerned. Remember how the Columbine massacre was blamed not on its spoiled, murderous teen perpetrators but on the victims themselves for having been too cliquish in their school social hierarchy?)
Now I myself didn’t exactly approve of the Scruggs conviction, because I don’t think it was possible for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt what exactly drove troubled young Daniel to his final despair. But I sure didn’t see any excuse whatsoever for the kind of house that Judith Scruggs kept. I’m no great shakes as a housekeeper myself, but there are a few standards of minimal cleanliness–such as washing the dishes, emptying the trash, dumping the dirty clothes into the washer, and scrubbing the john and the shower now and then–to which she could have hewed. Plus, she had a kid of an age old enough to help out.
But Good Housekeeping instead takes this gooey approach to Judith Scruggs:
“When Judith was first arrested,…her story was dubbed the ‘messy house’ case — and sympathetic mothers across the country wondered how they might be judged if faced with similar scrutiny.”
Oh, sure. No wonder Cathy is outraged! As she writes:
“Yes, the cheerful 1964 floor-scrubber was unrealistic; but so is the notion that the housekeeping habits of someone like Scruggs are not all that worse than those of sympathetic mothers across the country. Obviously, her problems were bigger than her messy house; but I’ll bet forcing herself to clean it up would have gone a long way toward improving her family’s life. And modern women’s magazines do women no favors when they not only suggest that housekeeping is hugely difficult, but offer almost no help in making it easier.”