by Mrs. Cecil Chesterton
"There is, thank God," said Ally Sloper, "no place like home." This observation was rapturously applauded at a recent debate when Mrs. Dora Russell proposed the abolition of this place of doom. The Majority of the meeting supported the opener, but neither she nor the audience faced the issue as to what would happen when the home was destroyed.
Familiar arguments were used as to the repression of the home upon the younger generation. We were invited to deplore the spectacle of girls who, working by day in an office, come home at night to wash dishes and suffer the tyranny of parents. There are such cases: we all know them. But the answer, as it seems to me, is that this business of domestic tyranny would disappear if, instead of there being no homes, there were more of them. At this present moment there are not hundreds but thousands of families, consisting of husband and wife with two children and very often a grandmother, compelled to live in one room. Grandmother would undoubtedly like to have a place of her own; just as Mary, rising eighteen, would like to get married to her young man. They can't - why? Because, under present housing conditions, there is no place for them to go to.
It was interesting to listen to the usual complaints: that a wife is a slave to domesticity; that she spends her days in cooking, washing, and ironing, unable even to snatch time to listen to the wireless. If this be so, whence, I ask, comes the enormous army of women that pour into the cinemas every afternoon, that wait outside the theatres in long queues, that thong the shops and gaze into the windows? The tyranny of domesticity is an exploded argument. Nowadays labour-saving devices have made it child's play to keep house.
But even if we grant- the contention that home is a menace to happiness, what is the alternative? The most hygienic and efficient institution, where you enjoy communal dining rooms, communal bedrooms, and communal conversation, is a thing of terror to the ordinary individual.
To live communally is to destroy the right to personal property- those small belongings to which every woman clings. Divorce a woman from her background- deprive her of the ability to express herself in her surroundings, and you postulate a rather dreadful creature.
That this shrill note of feminism, rooted in fear and dislike of man, is likely to influence the next election, in however small a degree, seems fairly certain. Women in commerce, who, past their first youth, have to look forward to a narrow living-wage without prospect of increase, are obsessed with a sense of injustice in life. They will not organize-middle-class women are the worst trade-unionists in the world- they will not think out their economic position; they turn and rend the thing that is nearest to their hand-the home.
That the present calamitous housing shortage could be remedied if the women of this country decided to remedy it is one of my firmest beliefs. That there is any hope of such a decision seems very dubious. What is a distinct danger, however, is that if this bogey, of the home as a source of oppression and of evil, gains ground, all attempts to mitigate the overcrowding will be arrested. What we shall see will be the abolition, not of the home- who is going to interfere with the private residences of Park Lane? -but of the homes of the poor. It is cheaper, more sanitary, to erect huge barracks. Moreover it is to the advantage of the capitalist to do so. Already Lord Melchett has put forward his contention in this direction. Workmen, separated from their wives and families, are necessarily more easy to exploit; deprived of the place where they have freedom of speech (within limits, I admit), deprived of the sense of security which only your own fireside can bring, they will not long exercise effective opposition.
Institutional as opposed to domestic life tends, as experience has shown, to standardization. Regimentation expresses individuality - it is the only necessary to observe the decay of those arts and crafts which flourished in the home to realize what mechanical civilization has effected. It is argued that the home in Europe is of but recent biological growth, and that maybe a return to the nomad condition would bring about a happier state of things. But this again confuses the issue. The tribes were nomad for economic reasons. The desert is not perennially fruitful. But in so far as a home could be established, it was- were it only a few sticks and a camp fire.
The final argument, that home is bad for the child and that the only people incapable of property rearing an infant are its parents, carried to its logical conclusion must mean the abolition of the child. Faced with the fact that the child must be delivered to the State, brought up with thousands of other children all the same- how man women could bring themselves to become maternal machines under Government regulation?
And always, as in every argument of the kind, the menace is directed at the poor.
Taken from G.K.'s Weekly October 13, 1928.