Women's work is not done.
The design of our place to live (some call it "the built environment") still follows men's visions. For most women, the old household drudgeries have merely been replaced by new suburban drudgeries.
We now have women architects -- all of 3 percent of a total 37,000 members of the American Institute of Architects. But few if any of them are addressing the issues of residential and community design that are still keeping women "in their place" and that, a century-and-a-half ago, led to what Delores Hayden calls "material feminism."
Hayden is the author of "The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities" (MIT Press, $19.95). It details the struggle of some women leaders, mostly in America, who saw the exploitation of women's domestic labor by men as the most basic cause of women's inequality. They put the emphasis of women's liberation on material rather than political and economic inequality.
On the old homestead, before the industrial revolution, men and women toiled together. As more and more men went to work in factories and offices, women were left at home to mind the hearth, chop the wood for the fire, draw the water from a well, carry it to the house, grapple with heavy blocks of ice, drain the icebox, empty the slops, wash and iron the laundry, swelter over the iron cookstove and on and on -- to say nothing about bringing up children and humoring the menfolk.
The rise of cities and urban technology brought some relief.More than a century ago, Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape architect and urban planner, saw the evolving industrial capitalist city as an instrument for the liberation from household drudgery. He believed that more and more women would insist on living in cities because new municipal and commercial services, sewers, water mains and gas pipes, to say nothing of the iceman, the butcher and the baker -- made things a little easier.
Olmsted thought that before long, public central heating of every home pneumatic tube home deliveries and other advances would make urban life more convenient still. They are, of course, a cinch for modern technology. But Olmsted was wrong in his belief that industrial capitalism would provide the transition between "barbarism" and municipal socialism.
But while urban life eased women's lot somewhat, it eased it only for cash rather than barter as in rural society. An increasing number of women, therefore, went to work in factories, leaving middle-class housewives without domestic help. Married women, furthermore, were not supposed to work outside the home. Kinder, Kirche und Kueche! , children, church and kitchen, the Kaiser ordanied for the German hausfrau . American men applauded.
Rebellious women -- or at least the "material feminists," as Hayden calls them -- saw their best hope for reform in experiements in communal living, which were to be contagious.
Most of these experiments were inspried by collective communities launched in England early in the 19th century. The idea was to replace the traditional family home -- that "eternal prison house for the wife" invented "for the drillings of a superstition to render her more submissive."
"After 3,000 years of architectural studies," said Robert Owen, one of the leading community builders of the time, men "have not yet learned to build themselves healthy and comfortable lodgings." It is doubtful, however, that any of the 15 experimental collective arrangements he inspired in the United States were much of an improvement.
The central idea was to do away with the individual kitchen and, in one way or another, arange for cooperative cooking and housekeeping in general. Some of these arrangements involved no more than the sharing of a house by several people and/or families -- the sort of thing that was called a "commune" in the sixties.
Some were merely residential hotel cooperatives, with a housekeeping, restaurant and room-service staff. Others were little more than today's "Meals on Wheels."
The more ambitious projects included a "Social Palace" for 2,000 or 3,000 people proposed in 1870 by Marie Howland. It aspired to a full collective life, complete with day-care centers, schools and provisions for "integral growth," presumably a forerunner of est.
One utopian writer proposed a metropolis of 60 million people to be housed in 25-story round towers in single conurbation that would free the rest of the North American continent for a park. It makes Paolo Soleri's "arcologies" look like mud pies in a subdivision playground.
The "material feminists" -- I wish Hayden had come up with a better name for them -- along with the suffragists, temperance workers, free-love advocates and philanthropists, failed to inspire interesting architecture. Their schemes all look either like army barracks or resort hotels. But they did inspire important writers and thinkers of their time, notably Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Edward Bellamy and H. G. Wells.
Wells, in turn, persuaded Ebenezer Howard, the father of the British "Garden Cities," now known as "New Towns," to try communal housing. Howard built cooperative quadrants of garden apartments in both his garden cities, Letchworth (1915) and Welwyn (1922). They included only one dining room and kitchen for 32 kitchenless apartments.
Wells predicted these communes would make people "green with envy" rather than "red with laughter." Howard compared himself with James Watt, who had harnessed steam power, and declared that he had "wisely and effectively utilized a little of this vast volume of now wasted woman's ability and woman's energy."
An English critic proclaimed that "the feminist flat is revolutionary, strikes at the root of the economic system, may involve vast readjustments of land-tenure, communal building and taxation. But we are not afraid of revolution, for we are the pioneers of a sex-revolution."
Perhaps the pioneers were just a little afraid, after all, for -- funny thing -- much as the British new towns were touted by such eminent writers as Lewis Mumford, their "feminist flats" are never mentioned.
Instead, the very ideas of women's emancipation came under heavy attack, particularly in the United States. It was denounced as un-Christian, un-American, immoral and Bolshevik. It was of little help that in the early days of the Soviet Union, Trotsky's friend Alexandra Kollontai promoted feminism, day-dare centers, cooperative households and other such subversive things.
Then, after World War II, came Suburbia, U.S.A., which spread across this country like a rash. A very few architects, notably Frank Lloyd Wright, Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra, went to the trouble of interviewing women abut their needs and tried to design suburban houses for housekeeping convenience. The rest, in Hayden's words, made little boxes which the appliance manufacturers filled to the brim with their gadgets, most of them with built-in obsolescence.
In addition to being turned into consumers and bombarded with millions of dollars worth of advertising, American women were given roses on Mother's Day, a television set in every recreation room to keep the children quiet and frozen tv dinners for hectic days.
What is more, technology has greatly eased household drudgery, particularly in suburbia where most of the new houses with most of the new dishwashers and food processors are.
But is spending hours driving the children around, the lack of choice in the supermarkets, the isolation and boredom not another form of drudgery?
Is that what so many women went to college for? One result, according to Hayden, is the alarming reliance on psychiatry and on drugs. Doctors prescribed Valium and Librium more than 47 million times for American women in 1978. One tranquilizer ad, showing a housewife with apron, broom and child, says: "You can't change her environment, but you can change her mood."
True, women have better access to jobs now. But many suburban women are kept from taking them. Without husbands, they can seldom afford a car and day-care center for their children. With husbands, they only have a second job at home.
You would think that at least women architects, if not feminist leaders, would speak up on domestic design and urban environment issues.
You would think, as Olmsted did, that more and more women would insist on living in cities and helping urban recovery.
But the grand domestic revolution is yet to come.