Martha Stewart Discussion/Dec. 1997

Query From Michelle Moravec 15 Nov 1997

For a paper I am presenting at the American Culture Association, I would like to hear from fans of Martha Stewart about why they like Martha.


From Charity Coker Bennett 18 Nov 1997 I subscribe to Martha Stewart Living and I also enjoy her show. Although I am an historian, I am also very domestic. I appreciate the fact that Martha
Stewart promotes independence and an "I can do anything" attitude. Some people criticize her for doing everything so meticulously, but I believe that is one of her strengths. I often take ideas from her magazine and conform them to my own needs.

From Diane Purkiss D.M. 18 Nov 1997

I'm not a fan, but I do have the cookbook. I like her in an entirely ironic, British way, I'm afraid; it's all so dreadfully earnest, so terribly serious. Your choices of canapes says so much about you! I've never encountered anyone so lacking in sprezzatura, and so overloaded with gravitas.

There are so nay hors d'oeuvres in the book that you could open a catering company, and to me the fury of all those tiny, resolute, steely canapes, staring coldly across at the business guests, is at odds with the farm girl, folksy, carve-your-own-pumpkin stuff, the pioneer spirit. But maybe it isn't in America?

Why is she called Stewart when her parents were Polish? And Martha? Like Martha Washington? It's so wannabe; more New England than the pioneers. Femininity, (middle-class style) as effort, it's tragic and funny.

From Jeanette Keith 18 Nov 1997

Recently I've heard the term "Martha Stewart feminist" used to describe professional women who are really into consumption and the Martha Stewart look. As I've heard it applied, the term does not refer to housewives or mothers (in fact, none of the women to whom I have heard it applied has ever been a housewife, nor do any of them have children.) Anyone else ever heard the phrase "Martha Stewart feminist?"

From Don Weitzman 18 Nov 1997

There was an interesting review of her program by Tom Carson in the Village
Voice maybe a month ago.

From Melissa Smith 19 Nov 1997

There was a terrific call-in radio show on the Martha Stewart Phenomenon on
WBUR's program, The Connection, last summer. Guest commentator was Eva Mosely, Curator of Manuscripts at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe. You
can order a tape of it by following the links for The Connection on WBUR to
be found at:

From Genevieve G McBride 19 Nov 1997

Interestingly, just a few hours before seeing the initial query on this thread, I had a discussion with my 16-year-old daughter in which she confessed that she is a closet Martha Stewart fan--as are many, many of her
girlfriends...whose mothers, I know, also are what we would consider wonderful role models as working women, self-sufficient women, etc. So, after I stopped myself from stopping the conversation by moaning about where we went wrong, I spent some time eliciting more info from my daughter--the same one who still counts as one of the most important moments of her life when she met Gloria Steinem and got her to autograph her book--which might explain this regression to me!

Essentially, it seems that these girls are at a stage when they are trying to figure out how to be like their role-model mothers--but are trying to find models of "femininity" as well as feminism. They do not see us, as middle-aged women with little time for such things (if we do wear make-up we have it down to 30 seconds while doing three other things--and none of them the things Martha Stewart appears to so!), as very "feminine." They don't have Girl Scouts anymore, but still want to do craft projects. They don't play with doll houses anymore, nor do they have houses of their own, but they want to start learning how to fix up spaces of their own. (Yes, I refrained from suggesting that my daughter start by clearing floor space in
her room.)

So we had a good talk about how much I wished I could find time ti get back
to that quilt I started making before she was born but set aside to do my doctoral degree and do a book (which is dedicated in part to her, which she
said she wouldn't trade for all the world--but she did not see, I discovered, the trade-offs it took to do it). About how I wished I could find time to make Christmas cookies, but final exams are always during that
time. About how I wished I could find the time to make our backyard look like Martha's but I need to teach in summers to make the mortgage that makes it possible to have a backyard.

My daughter knows I used to do those things, sure. But she apparently didn't know that when I stopped doing those things, it was not because I no
longer wanted to do them or thought they were stupid things to do. I was rather surprised that she didn't see the 16-year-old-girl still inside me, nor the 30-year-old who put away the quilt in progress for what I thought would only be a few months. She didn't see that the choices we make are just priorities, putting first things first...

And we also talked about how hard Martha Stewart must have to work to do books and bake cookies (or canapes!) I loved that email) and plant so many flowers--plus I told her Martha was sued for not paying her gardener--to pay her mortgage(s). We talked about the actresses on '50s TV who were presented as role models for my generation but turned out to be working women who worried about what their kids were doing while they were making it look easy on "Father(!) Knows Best, ", etc. (And always made my working-woman mother look so much worse...)

In sum, I said it was okay to watch such escapist TV--as long as she remembers to come back to reality and realize that anyone, even her middle-aged mom, can pretend to such faux femininity for half an hour! Heck, she can even grow up to be the next Martha Stewart, if she wants to be (and she does think she wants to work in interior decor and/or the media--so long as she, like Martha, first makes sure she can take care of herself beyond baking cookies by getting a college degree including business courses, if a businesswoman like Martha she will be.

So--I wonder how many older women watch this show, if they do (maybe Martha's audience is mainly 16-year-olds!?), are similarly using it as escapist TV? And how many are buying these books for escapist reasons as well, if only to recapture that time when it seemed so very possible to do it all and make doing so look so easy? And there are not many other options
out there for women who just want to think about fixing up a little corner of their lives, after all. Men watch football, even if they do or do not play it. They watch fishing shows by men who make it their lives, even if their viewers can only dream of getting boats or even finding time and corners of their basements for tying a few flies.

And me, I watch authors on national TV and dream of my five minutes of fame
someday, when I will serve up witticisms instead of canapes. First things first. So now my daughter looks at Martha Stewart as somebody who probably is smart and strong enough to have earned a Ph.D. and written a serious book but had to make choices, to.

However, I'm planning to buy my daughter an Erma Bombeck book for her birthday to counter-program her mind. Then we'll work up to Anna Quindlan. Before she knows it, I'll have her reading Betty Friedan--and maybe even that autographed book by Gloria Steinem..

But I sure wish there was something she could watch on TV, too, which every
week would have such women talking to girls as well as to us. We have some women's talk shows on CNN and such, but all they have is Oprah talking about fiction--or MTV talking about STD's, for pity's sake!

From Lori Askeland 19 Nov 1997

...FYI, she's called Stewart because that was the name of her rich ex-husband.

>From Kathy Brown 20 Nov 1997

I enjoyed Genevieve McBride's comments.

I am 56, an administrator at Vassar College, and a non-traditional student finishing my Bachelor's and graduating in '98. I have a commuter marriage, a 23 year old daughter who has not finished her BA and a 27 year old son getting married in June.

I enjoy watching Martha Stewart(although I have had enough of the phrase "It's a good thing!).
I learn tips about gardening, cooking (which I love to do to relax), household maintenance -- painting, wallpapering -- crafts, etc. She makes it all look so easy, but we all know there is a large crew supporting this effort.

Martha Stewart has built a business empire. She is reported often to not be a very nice person, especially to those with whom she works. However, there are a lot of folks who are not nice to their employees and colleagues, not that that is an excuse. We middle-age women often are not good role models for our daughters. Why?
Because we are trying to do it all. I love to garden and find it to be good therapy. I also love to play tennis and find it good therapy. The key to it all is choices. As Ms. McBride noted in her response. She chose to put down the quilt and go back to school. The trade-offs are learned, there is no real way to explain them. Our daughters will learn to trade-off too, but their priorities may be very different from mine or yours. We can provide them with the options -- Martha Stewart, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Terry Tempest Williams. From those and others they will find their path.

I think the most important thing is to share our experiences, successful and unsuccessful, with our daughters. There needs to be a "Women's Place" for dialogue. I want to hear WBUR's "The Connection." It sounds like a good idea. There is another program on public radio called "51%" that grapples with women's issues. TV is a disaster now. How can we get the message to the networks? They are doing a real disservice to our young men and women with their vacant programs. At least Martha Stewart demonstrates things we can do, rather than just sitting staring at a tube.

I look forward to hearing more comments.

From Cath Denial 20 Nov 1997 Genevieve McBride wrote:

> But I sure wish there was something she could watch on TV, too, > which every week would have such women talking to girls as well as to us. >We have some women's talk shows on CNN and such, but all they have is >Oprah talking about fiction -- or MTV talking about STD's, for pity's sake!

Interestingly enough, Oprah devoted a whole show to the 'issue' of Martha Stewart.It was fascinating viewing! Several viewers who were Martha-aholics took camcorders and made short films of their homes and gardens, trying to demonstrate the ways that they'd used Martha's ideas. These women were then joined by Martha Stewart on the show itself, and there was a short section full of exchanged pleasantries.

The show then took a tack I hadn't expected. Oprah began to discuss the idea of model femininity, and asked (along with some frankly irate audience members) whether the Martha Stewart phenomenon was doing women (as a whole) harm. Audience members took her to task for giving currency to the idea that a woman's place was *only* in the home. Some questioned the incredible lengths that she went to in the course of her projects (such as spending 5 hours -- and that's not an exaggeration -- making flaky pastry from scratch in order to have cheese sticks at her night time gathering), while yet more stood up and talked about the fact that they felt like failures for working, raising children, relying on store bought food,and buying their gift wrap instead of making it. Many women talked about the fact that friends and partners looked at Martha's abilities and projects, looked at them, and found them lacking. Not surprisingly, they were angry.

The show has to be at least 18 months old, but I know that it's possible to get transcripts of most episodes of Oprah. Maybe it's worth trying to track this down?

From Pamela McVay, sometimes gardener, cook and hostess 20 Nov 1997

I have to dissent from the "dissing" of Martha Stewart.

I can understand why someone like Melissa Smith, who had to give up her interests in crafts, cooking, and gardening to pursue her career, might feel some resentment of Martha Stewart for(apparently) having time to do all those things beautifully. I think a lot of us women feel some guilt and shame that our homes aren't the showplaces we grew up thinking homes should be, and that many of us respond to Martha Stewart's work with some of that shame.

But it's not really rational, is it? In fact, it's pretty sexist that we should single out Ms. Stewart, when any episode of _Hometime_, _This Old House_, _The Frugal Gourmet_, _Victory Garden_, or _The New Yankee Workshop_ presents the viewer with many equally unrealistic projects. Who really saves all their onion skins and spends all day one weekend making those soup stocks Jeff Smith suggests? In what universe would you actually rip out the floor, the double-layer of wallboard, and the insulation of a bathroom in perfect repair just because the color scheme was ten years out of date, as the two people in _Hometime_ feel free to do? What sane person would build an octagonal gazebo in their backyard and build their own lattice from scratch, like Norm Abrams? Well, actually, there are a lot of people in the world who DO sometimes start and finish those projects, and for every one of those people, there's a bunch who like to dream or who do a few small projects here and there. Like me. No, I wouldn't attempt to make my home look like Martha Stewart's. Her whole job is devoted to decorating, preparing for parties, and making elaborate crafts. But I know whose journal I would go to if I wanted to find a few nice ideas for when I have people over for dinner. It wouldn't be SIGNS, MS, or OFF OUR BACKS.

From Christine Gilmore 20 Nov 1997

An addition to Lori Askeland's response [Ed. note: the response was from Diane Purkiss], might I ask: Why is Martha not a Polish name? Marthe, Marthe, Marta. This seems not a very good reason to dislike the woman. We are not required to do anything that Martha Stewart advocates. If we wish to decorate our houses at holiday times, we can. If we wish to make canapes, and line them up on platters, we can. We have a choice. That's what feminism is about, having the choice. At least, I think it is.

From Lisa Cochran 20 Nov 1997

I am 28 and working on a dissertation. I don't watch Martha much nor do I get her magazine, but if I am flipping channels and she is on, then I tend to see what she is up to.

What I like about Martha Stewart: the humor of her credit card commercials, cooking and gardening segments on her show (bec I like shows on PBS that have to do with cooking and gardening anyway.) However, I tend to find her segments inferior to the shows I really enjoy, mostly bec I am happy enough with store-bought tortillas and ice cream and will NEVER make my own wedding cake.

Why I don't watch her show: bec so much of what she does is ridiculously expensive and time consuming.

In response to the email re: teenage love of Martha: I never thought of Martha as the pinnacle of femininity before. What sort of femininity is this? the Real Woman ideal: a woman who can make her own gourmet canned goods and recognize a bargain at any flea market? (as opposed to the "cult of true womanhood" fragile lady ideal?)

Does she have children? Seems like I heard she does. She doesn't come across as maternal to me. She's not making nutter butters with happy faces.

Seems to me that her femininity is tied to the idea that she is somehow teaching us all upper class "good taste", i.e. a lady knows quality when she sees it, eats it, smells it, touches it. Her work boots are strictly the best money can buy etc.

Her mode of work is strictly the kind assoc with leisure these days (elaborate package wrapping, baking, digging). Does she represent what we all secretly wish we had time for? Indeed, her projects look like they take a great deal of time, if not talent.

I guess I see her appeal as mostly class-related. Just some thoughts. I'm curious to hear what the woman doing the project on Martha has to say.

From Ellen M. Shea 20 Nov 1997

A correction to the posting re: Martha Stewart.

Barbara Haber was the guest commentator on the Connection's "Martha Stewart" program. Barbara is the Curator of Books at the Schlesinger Library and a noted food historian.

From Belinda Ray 21 Nov 1997

I think Lisa Cochran was dead on when she wrote:

>>Does she represent what we all secretly wish we had time for?

My view of Martha Stewart is that I can take her or leave her. I enjoy many of her suggestions, but I feel free to take from her what I wish and discard the rest. I don't feel that I'm in anyway a failure for not adhering to every last one of her tips, nor do I feel that my home is lacking in some way because I have not made statice wreaths and throw pillows to enhance the decor of each room. I don't think Ms. Stewart herself would fault me for any of this either.

It is very clear, at least to me, that her livelihood centers around "Good Living" and that she understands that no one who is not making a living doing this could possibly complete all of the projects she tackles. But as another respondant wrote, it would be impossible for anyone to make all of the home renovations and woodworking projects that Bob Villa demonstrates unless s/he made a living in that manner. So why are we picking on Martha? And why the catty comments about her heritage, her rich ex-husband, her personality, her non-maternal qualities, etc.?

I think much of it is for the reason Ms. Cochran stated. We resent her for doing something we wish we could do or regret that we haven't done, and possibly even more so for enjoying it. If this is a result of guilt for choosing work over full-time, stay-at-home parenting, I don't think the guilt is coming from Martha or from any other external source. I think it is something each person must come to terms with on his/her own. I understand the concept of trade-offs, but making choices means precisely that--making choices--and we cannot begrudge someone who has made different choices simply because they make us question ours.

Overall, I enjoy Martha Stewart and find her projects to be good springboards for coming up with my own ideas. I find some of her tips helpful, some of them far too time consuming for me, and some of them completely unappealing. I pick and choose, as I do in every area of my life.

From Cheryl Thurber 21 Nov 1997

I have followed the discussion about Martha Stewart and since I haven't seen my take on the phenomenon presented, it is time to step up. I agree about the appeal and fascination. I think part of is the substitution of knowledge for action.

Martha's shows (books, magazines, products, etc) present the effort, and she certainly does demonstrate that quite successfully. But at the same time her audience can absorb the information, and say yes, now I know how to do that, but we don't have to do it. She establishes a sense of taste and desire, and yet I am sure millions then turn from what they have seen to then order a better quality takeout, or buy handicrafts made by others.

I think this is also related to reading cookbooks, for pleasure but not fixing anything. Martha tells us how it can be done and gives hope that someone is still doing it. Martha does everything, her renaissance WOMAN image, but we in turn can just try a few examples of that effort to be creative, or can purchase her stuff as part of our participation in the striving for comfort and good taste. It is a good thing. Remember she does it full-time as a career and has a staff for assistance.

We gain the knowledge, and think maybe someday when we have time, we might do something like that, but we are absolved from having to achieve perfection by knowing about it.

From Lori Askeland 21 Nov 1997

I'm interested in our thread on Martha, because I think there must be something about her, culturally speaking, that gets under white, working- to middle-class women's skin in a way that the other fix-it shows don't. It may very well be the class issue that Lisa Cochran mentioned--not simply the fictitious effortlessness of the work she does, but her intuitive ability to know quality (and to afford it) when she sees it, and not have to settle for less, as perhaps many of us feel like we have to. In other words, I'm not so sure women always feel they "have a choice" about these things, if they don't have the time or the budget that many of her ideas require,and yet that somehow they are "supposed" to live something like that. (I remember reading about the class dimensions of the "simplicity" aesthetic, which is harder for lower-class people than upper-class people, who can throw out, with abandon, the excessive style that they bought a few years earlier, much easier than working class people can toss out their possessions.) And if you're working class, trying to pass as middle-to upper-middle class, the rules for what you are "supposed" to do, always seem to change so that they are always and already out of grasp. And many of us lack that sense of security that says, none of this matters, I am who I am, and I choose not to worry about whether someone might figure out that I'm really from a tacky working class family where "Precious Moments (tm)" figurines are considered the height of good taste. The desire to separate from that background can be overwhelming in parts of this culture.

So the dissing of Martha arises in that it makes us feel better to know that the "real" Martha is not seamless perfection. For me, more than the "It's a good thing" phrase, when I watch Martha the word that I notice is "perfect." She says it every time she finishes something--no exaggeration. And that emphasis that there is this expectation of perfection, that she meets by sleeping something like 4 hours a night and possibly by not being a perfect employer etc., that white women seem pressured by and which at least I, for one, find myself working to let myself off the hook of, that she, more than other fix-it shows represents. Jeff Smith can be seen as just kind of this dorky preacher (sort of like those preachers who married the heroines of nineteenth century novels, slightly effeminate in interests but more ideal to the predominantly female audience somehow because of it), but Martha is some kind of model.

Nevertheless, I get a perverse pleasure out of watching her sometimes (after all she is beautiful to look at), that doesn't always seem connected to all this reactive, petty emotion--maybe it's escapist, or that my sister-in-law made a turkey using her recipe one Thanksgiving that was fabulous, or maybe it's that she mainly seems so absolutely out of reach--a magazine issue on the pleasures of outdoor showers! --that it becomes a kind of caricature of white womanhood, rather than anything I need to take in any way seriously. Just my two cents worth today.

From Marya Harada 21 Nov 1997

Why the big deal about Martha Stewart? While a graduate student, many years ago, I watched the Julia Child cooking programs on PBS. I learned most of what I know about cooking from her programs. I am not an enthusiastic cook, and less enthusiastic housekeeper, probably why I do not watch "Miss Martha". However, I do understand that some folks like to watch such programs, if only for comic relief.

My husband and I enjoyed Julia Child's program, occasionally tried out a dish or two, and still talk about those pre-children years when we use to "really cook". Chill out folks, we cannot spend all our time being "really serious" scholars.

From Paula Barnes 21 Nov 1997

Southern women who have grown-up with _Southern Living_ generally find no conflict of interest between their professional lives and their home life (gardening, cooking, travel, etc.) as expressed in the media. In fact, down here we refer to Martha Stewart's magazine as _Northern Living_.

I am grateful for both--when things get too hectic, a few minutes flipping through the pages of SL is a great tonic for the overworked blues.

From Jennifer Kerns 21 Nov 1997

I think it is very important to note the class based assumptions that Martha Stewart carries with her to the kitchen, home, and garden. This may seem obvious, but the kinds of food she cooks and how she decorates are relatively expensive. One of her famous lines is, "it's a good thing."

Well, she often advises her viewers to use "good" balsamic vinegar, olive oil, fabric, etc. "Good" obviously translates as "expensive." I realize she is creating an ideal, but I think anyone writing a paper in a scholarly context should incorporate an extensive class analysis of Stewart's work.

By the way, I enjoyed the discussion of the woman talking to her 16 year old about Martha Stewart, especially the discussion of priorities. Hopefully Stewart will not recreate a middle-class, domestic paradigm for girls of her daughter's generation. I know I struggle with it, even as a Ph.d. candidate in women's history.

From Kathryn Abbott 21 Nov 1997

Martha Stewart makes me uncomfortable, because she seems to be a woman who fills her time with craftsy projects that will help make her home a better haven from the public sphere. Of course, this is belied by the fact that she is enormously public, rich, and surely does not spend her time making all those craftsy things which she highlights on her show and in her magazine. Which is the source of the squirmies: she is making big bucks modeling behaviors for other women who will fill their time with house-y projects, rather than imagining they might have a role in making the world a better place for women.

That said, I'm glad she can "do-it-herself"--and this is of course Martha Stewart's "feminist" touch which is all well and good, but it serves as a bit of a smoke screen for what else is going on. I do not mean to imply that crafts are beneath me or that women who make crafts for church bazaars are not real artists. But underneath it all, I get the feeling that it is all a gloss, that it is another chapter in that long history of propaganda regarding just what makes a woman truly good: she is clean, tidy, keeps a neat house, makes clever things for kids and husband, can even fix a broken chair leg and wallpaper a room.

It sounds very much like what Betty Friedan identified in "The Sexual Sell" (in _The Feminine Mystique_)--it serves as brain-washing to keep women stupid and uninterested in larger issues beyond the home.

To illustrate I include the following quotes from advertisers working on strategies to get women out of the workforce and into the home,

     after WWII:
     *"The feeling of creativeness also serves another purpose: it is

an outlet for the liberated talents, the better taste, the freer imagination, the greater initiative of the modern woman. It permits her to use at home all the faculties that she would display in an outside career."

"The yearning for creative opportunities and moments is a major aspect of buying motivations."

"The role of expert serves a two-fold emotional function:(1) it helps the housewife achieve status, and (2) she moves beyond the orbit of her home, into the world of modern science, in her search for new and better ways of doing things."

*"Identify your product with the physical and spiritual rewards she derives from the almost religious feeling of basic security provided by her home. Talk about her 'light, happy, peaceful feelings'; her 'deep sense of achievement.'"

*"Appeal to this thirst [the need to be independent rather than to just 'keep up with the Joneses']. Tell her that you are adding more zest, more enjoyment to her life, that it is within her reach now to taste new experiences and that she is entitled to taste these=20 experiences. Even more positively, you should convey that you are=20 giving her 'lessons in living.'"

>From Catherine Stodolsky 24 Nov 1997 Who is Anna Quindlan?

From Janet Coryell 24 Nov 1997

Two things on Martha Stewart:

  1. Has it occurred to anyone that the dissing of Martha is in part related to the domestic aspect of her art? If she was painting pictures instead of stenciling walls, or building bridges instead of flower arrangements, would there be this much negativity? So she has a staff--so what? Doesn't every major successful artist? Didn't Eisenstadt have someone to keep his cameras loaded? Or, more to the point, fix his meals so _he_ could take pictures? Her art is domestic art, which is always dissed. But for most women, domestic work is so demanding that it _is_ the only place they can afford to take a few moments to express themselves.
  2. Some of the remarks on this thread make it clear that we academics are a pretty snobby bunch. The vast majority of women in this country have enough problems trying to balance their work lives with their families without worrying that the effort they put into making a home nicer and, _yes_, a "haven" is somehow a meaningless activity. No wonder NOW has such a lousy reputation among grassroots women who value what they do to make their families' lives more pleasant. Beauty helps me get through the day, regardless of its form. I say quit ranking women to some sort of hierarchical scale of politically-correct notions about beauty and where it is to be found and what form it is to take. When feminism becomes about itself, rather than about the freedom it can promote for each to choose her/his own road in life, that is where I get off the train, relax in my hammock, and contemplate picking up my crocheting again!

From Ellen Beattie 24 Nov 1997

After having followed this lively thread, I, too, wish to add some more spice to it.

First, I want to say that since I have lived outside the States for over 15 years, it is rather amazing that I know about Martha Stewart. But, I do.
I have seen her pictures, magazine, read reviews of her programs, and now am watching this thread come to life. And that is an important piece of context, because what I know about today's American pop-culture is basically big-time, megahype pop-culture. Not just anyone, anything. For example, I can barely place the other do-it-yourself personalities that have been mentioned in this discussion as "more of the same".

The reason I bring this up is because Martha is not just any female figure,she's a megafigure, with a very powerful punch, who gets a lot of attention. I do not think that is *simply* due to her good looks and impeccable taste. I think much of the attention she gets is because she,in many ways, is backlashes' dream come true. She is not just any femininity: she is [the] "slave to your home, family and guests, do not even start to sweat it and make yourself much more attractive while you are at it femininity." Plus, she encourages people to consume expensive things regularly and in large quantities, which is probably very good for business: sell her and you will sell more.

I want to underscore Lori Askeland's questioning of just how free our choices really are, as opposed to Belinda Ray's rather radical belief that she is entirely free to choose. Of course no one is forced to watch this woman's TV show or to make lovely 8-hour canapes, but we are in no way free from the powers of the imagery of the feminine and of good taste that surround us. It is definitely not easy just to cop out and make grilled cheese sandwiches (unless, of course it is gruyere and dijon on multi grain whatever), to have "less" (unless it is chic simplicity), to lower yourself to plastic toys (unless it is Duplo) when the thing is hand-carved wooden ones. We do worry about our image, and we do try to cut the mustard. And we fret when we do not.

Being true to a "gender perspective" which places a great deal of emphasis on social imagery and expectations in the creation of gender identities, I do not think we can dismiss a Martha-Stewart-like phenomenon to simple take-it-or-leave-it choice, or fully and naively believe it does not affect me (whether I consume her and her lifestyle or not).

From Georgen Gilliam 25 Nov 1997

This thread is becoming really interesting, and is starting to touch on what I think are some crucial issues in the women's studies field - differing philosophical perspectives. Ellen Beattie's remarks sound a lot like the old Sartre vs. de Beauvoir argument: freedom to create ones own reality vs. the constraints of the social structure. And it sounds like she's interpreted Martha Stewart as being regressive, colluding in the entrapment of women into a narrow view of women's roles.

Janet Coryell's point that feminism often seems to be about limiting women's freedoms sounds like a more post modern feminist viewpoint, encouraging multiple roles and multiple visions of what a woman's concerns can be. That is, that women can do whatever they want to, even if it doesn't pass the "feminist litmus test."

Critics of this view (and Post modern Feminism) will probably say that these shows just further oppress the unenlightened who aren't so jaded that they aren't doing all this with their tongue firmly in their cheeks.

I once criticized the post moderns for the same things, but I've come around to really appreciate the philosophy today. While I haven't kept up with the women's studies field for about six years, I know that ten years ago, these philosophical differences were very much apparent and are part of the reason the women's studies field had a very negative climate. I felt that there was no way I could be "feminist enough" to be a feminist to everybody. Some said I wasn't a feminist because I was married; some said I wasn't because I liked spiritually and art; some because I didn't wear a blue suit to work everyday. And I _think_ that's what Janet Coryell meant by feminism becoming about itself.

I watch Martha Stewart occasionally and really enjoy it. She is Master Putterer. Some people may say that doing so doesn't match their idea of the One Kind of Feminism that they see exists. However, I don't really care. I consider the whole notion that there's one kind of feminism to be, intrinsically, a patriarchal notion: creating a hierarchy of all the views of feminism and placing themselves at the top.

From Lisa Krissoff Boehm 25 Nov 1997

Years ago I saw a spoof of Martha Stewart in the bookstore, a book entitled something like "Martha Stewart's I Know How to Entertain Better Than You Do." I have found the postings on Stewart fascinating. I have only seen the show a number of times (and I must admit I find it hard, if not impossible, to watch her for very long), but I must say it is her lack of faith in her audience which disturbs me. A recent message likened her show to Julia Child's, but I do not think Julia Child chided her audience the way in which Stewart does. Child suggested that one might do this or that, and even made a few mistakes herself. On a recent show, Stewart warned that when cooking with apples, one should pick a firm and juicy one. Does she not think that her audience, many of them veteran cooks of thousands of meals, would most likely know this? Watch Stewart again and note how she supplies even the most obvious directions. No other show which provides cooking advice bothers to provide such detailed advice.

It seems there is a continual reprimand going on underneath the Stewart shows. While the wide range of cooking shows on cable TV today urge one to create and experiment, Stewart urges you follow her steps vigilantly. You can't make a mistake; everything will be "perfect." But it will be her perfection, not yours.

From JoAnn Castagna 25 Nov 1997

At the Style Conference this summer (at Bowling Green), a paper on Martha Stewart was part of the "Blond Ambition" panel, which also included examinations of Dolly Parton [and one could add, Madonna] who shares with MStewart a background of having first created an image self as part of the package of what she is selling and continues to work on the image as part of the package--Martha Stewart's hours making canapes or gilding maple leaves is less interesting to me than her work making "Martha Stewart," especially in these post modern times, when celebrity almost instantaneously invites irony. There are several Martha Stewart parody magazines, for instance (most recently i saw them advertised in a catalog put out in support of public television/radio) and one can purchase a wall placque that reads "Martha Stewart Doesn't Live Here" (that one I've seen even in some rather down scale catalogs). What is her relationship with these products? (there has to be some tacit acceptance, though if i'm remembering correctly the performance artist susan(?) findlay was not able to publish a book-length parody she had done based on Stewart).

Does the process of selling not only one's art/s but an image of the self occur most often by women in this culture? Dennis Rodman comes immediately to mind, or RuPaul , but of course there's a complex gender thing going on in those cases. Donald Trump doesn't seem quite so artificially constructed.

From Genevieve G McBride 25 Nov 1997

Anna Quindlan is a columnist for the New York Times. Her columns now have been published in two collections, I believe. She also authored a work of fiction. It is the work of woman journalists like Quindlan, Goodman, Steinem, etc., which keep me teaching scribblers of the future with some hope for the next century . . . when I read email like today's about Time's issue which didn't mention a one of the many "Mothers of Invention." BTW, that was the great hed I read in my local paper two years ago about women inventors -- and that was a wire-service story. So ignorance is no excuse for Time. Let's flood it with letters. . . .

From: Genevieve G McBride <> 02 Dec 1997

The H-Women archives, a year or so ago, might yield previous discussions of the ways in which -- to borrow a phrase from Dr. Karen Blair's work on domestic feminism -- domestic science served as an "ideological cover" for women to gain respect for their work, if unpaid . . . and for women faculty to gain employment at all. BTW, I'm sending this from the century-old halls of Downer College, now part of my campus but long the only women's college in Wisconsin, which survived to serve so well owing to the women faculty who figured out how to fit study of a remarkable range of natural and social sciences as well as literature and arts into a curriculum called "domestic science" . . . and also figured out that a lot of women deprived of even that sort of schooling would outlive their spouses and leave their estates to further the cause of women's education.

If the ghosts of Professors Mary Mortimer, Ellen Sabin (BTW, one of the first six women admitted to the University of Wisconsin, in 1866, although she could not complete her degree -- but she never tried to glorify her credentials; instead, she spent decades as president of Downer ensuring that other women would not be denied them as her classmates were denied their degrees when they did complete their coursework), Gwendolyn Willis, et al., who walked our halls could speak, I suspect they -- suffragists all, decades before the 1920s -- would suggest that their work be taken in the context of their times . . . much as we may hope ours will be, someday, when we explain "women's studies" to our daughters' daughters.

From Diane Purkiss <> 02 Dec 1997

Don't know if the remarks about being snobby are aimed at me, but the distinction between canapes and paintings is longevity. Canapes vanish quickly; art hangs around. Even performance art. I also think 'beauty' is a big word to sue about a canape. Pity and terror on a plate? Maybe Damien Hirst could bring it off, but not me.

I'm not in the least averse to this kind of activity; I paint my own walls and bake my own bread and carve my own pumpkins and do my own needlepoint. I just don't think activities like this should be confused with art or work. They're leisure. As was argued recently, we feel so unable to claim leisure for ourselves as women that we class everything, grimly, as work or vocation. I don't think this does us or Martha Stewart any favours.

I would also add that just because a lot of people think something doesn't make it right. Housewives have always been encouraged to see their activities as beautification, civilite, etc. That don't make it so, alas.

From Jordy Bell <> 02 Dec 1997

Small correction: Dolores Hayden's wonderful book is called _The Grand Domestic Revolution_ and it covers the entire sweep of the design of house and home in the 19th century.

From J.H.Raichyk 02 Dec 1997

Although I've never watched Ms Stewart's program and never hope to, the subject is fascinating to me because I recently discovered the history of *domestic feminism*.

It may be old news to some, but the fact that co-housing, dining clubs and other social inventions designed to allow women to *have-it-all* were already in existence in the 20s, and that these fledgling institutions were the victims of a campaign by industrialists to return women to domesticity and deprive men of flexibility in labor disputes so that consumerism could flourish and line their pockets grandly.

Aided and abetted by depression, and later by post war politicians, the working and middle classes were offered consumer credit and tax incentives that now make them slaves to the company store powering the big business agenda to exploit both our limited resources and those of developing nations.

Add to this list of players the newly emerging *home economists* of the 20s and their need to glorify their credentials and you have the recipe for a *friendly fire* tragedy. These women, the early corporate versions of Ms Stewart, added the voices of *women scientists* to the message that women simply needed their constant guidance and all the latest gadgetry their science was helping develop in order to free themselves from household drudgery.

Since barely 25% of women worked outside the home and nearly 40% of them were domestic workers, the movement faltered as women at home were lured into believing the consume-and-be-free lie, stopping all progress and reversing the fortunes of the social changes women had begun after suffrage to gain acceptance of the value of mothering and home management, the real *domestic feminism*.

For the history of the perversion of domestic feminism check out Delores Hayden's _The Grand Domestic Feminism_.

With Promise Keepers, and an economy that's over-heating with all of its competitive hype, Ms Stewart looks remarkably like a remake for a new consume-to-be-perfect aesthetic. Just when voluntary simplicity, co-housing communities, unschooling and other alternative lifestyle ideas are beginning to gain a beachhead against the regimented rat-race.

Ms Stewart's access to media and resources is too convenient.

Paranoia or history repeating? IF everyone knew their own US women's history Ms Stewart would be ignorable easily. But _Time_'s ignominious performance on *the inventors* issue suggests that their *100 most important people of this century* is likely to turn into a major propaganda effort to diminish women to insignificance.

Without a counter-culture answer, I think we could be facing serious backlash. What to do? We need credible voices to widely oppose and discredit Time's influence. Short of that, I would suggest we all find a way to make a living without dependence on *jobs*. Small-time operators are notoriously hard to defeat.

Hope the rest of the postings are more cheerful, but this could be a *turning point* and IMHO, we should be looking for and making moves to bulwark the side we want to come out on top, not just standing by observing, recording and waiting to see...

From: Sara Gelser 03 Dec 1997

I've been troubled by the subtext of the Martha Stewart conversation, not just because it touches a button for me personally, but it also reflects how divided we are from each other.

It is simply not fair to say that a person who makes canapes for a living isn't doing work. Nor is it right to imply that the life of a painter or a scholar or an author is any more valuable than the life of a housewife.

Martha Stewart runs a business. She worked for years as a stock broker before opening a catering business. She opened the catering business because she enjoyed cooking and creating, and saw a vocational outlet for her skills and joys. She is successful at something she enjoys. Why is that so bad?

For Martha Stewart, making canapes and other stuff (I don't know; I don't watch her. Don't have time) is her WORK. To argue that it isn't is dangerous as some might argue that those of us who spend our lives reading books are not working, but are involved in leisure activities....

For me, the women's liberation movement was about creating space for women to make choices. It is quite elitist to assume that those who CHOOSE to work in the home just haven't been enlightened enough or educated enough to make the "right" choice. There are intelligent, feminist housewives in this world!

I find mothering rewarding and IMPORTANT work. My scholarly pursuits are also important. I choose to do both, although for me priority goes to my toddler. Other women choose just to do the mothering part and that is just fine, too. I don't understand why folks are so bent on putting those women down. What is this all about?

Someone last week wrote that she hoped women would spend less time focusing on raising children and homemaking, so that they could better spend their energies making the world a better place for women. I'm sorry, but I think I make the world a much better place in my role as a mother than I ever have (or will) with my writing or studying. That might not be true for everyone, which is fine. But it is infuriating that people assume that those of us who consciously choose to focus on our children are stupid, unenlightened, or incapable of "greater" work. To me, this is an example of taking on a male driven world view, which devalues the work that is done by undervalued classes, particularly in the home.

To be sure, I'm not arguing for a return to the domestic sphere. I'm just suggesting that people think about how they are insulting and degrading their sisters in this discussion.

Thanks for letting me toss in my two cents worth...

From Jeanette Keith <> 03 Dec 1997

This discussion is getting more emotional by the minute-- which probably tells us something about the state of women in America. I don't know if what I'm about to say will insult anyone. Probably. But here goes anyway.

Martha Stewart irritates me mostly because she is an arbiter of a particular type of "good taste." Someone way back commented that most of the women in her family liked cheap mass produced figurines, and that Stewart and people like her were useful in educating people out of such low tastes. I don't see any reason to denigrate anyone's taste. What pleases the eye and warms the heart is personal. One of the saddest things in this country is that people feel that they have to give up things they like-- harmless things, like romance novels or bright clothes or working class tastes in entertainment and food-- in order to be middle class. It might be a worthy sacrifice if people then cultivated tastes for difficult works of art or music, but I don't think that happens much. Middle-brow is much safer.

Stewart promotes a way of living, and of being middle class, that is based on consumption. I don't believe the stuff she sells has any more intrinsic value than Precious Memories figurines. IT IS JUST STUFF. You like your stuff, and I like mine. Food is much the same way. Hand-decorated canapes have no more intrinsic value than Cheez Whiz on crackers, and may not taste as good.(Try feeding caviar to a kid.) What Stewart sells is certified middle class status: you know you have good taste, as opposed to the sisters in the trailer park, because Martha says so. And if you like Martha Stewart's STUFF not because it's socially correct but because you just like it, more power to you. However, I have the right to say that she reminds me of Jane Curtin in the old Saturday Night Live skit, in which she and John Candy sang:

        We're so white
        We're so white
        We walk around with our asses tight.

Merry Christmas, and may your holidays be a good thing, but NOT perfect.

From Andrea Pappas 03 Dec 1997

Dear List,

A friend of mine sent me this--I thought it might be of relevant to the on-going discussion regarding Ms. Stewart. One of the things I find interesting about this is the way it registers a perception that Ms. Stewart's show or values seem to contribute to a sense that she holds her audience in contempt.....Cheers,

For all you Martha Stewart fans . . . .

A Martha Stewart Holiday Planning Calendar

It's not too late to start planning your holiday work.

December 1
Blanch carcass from Thanksgiving turkey. Spray-paint gold, turn upside down and use as a sleigh to hold Christmas cards.

December 2
Have Mormon Tabernacle Choir record outgoing Christmas message for answering machine.

December 3
Using candle wick and hand gilded miniature pine cones, fashion cat-o-nine-tails. Flog gardener.

December 4
Repaint Sistine Chapel ceiling in ecru, with mocha trim.

December 5
Get new eyeglasses. Grind lenses myself.

December 6
Fax family Christmas newsletter to Pulitzer committee for consideration.

December 7
Debug Windows '95

December 10
Align carpets to adjust for curvature of Earth.

December 11
Lay Faberge egg.

December 12
Take dog apart. Disinfect. Reassemble.

December 13
Collect dentures. They make excellent pastry cutters, particularly for decorative pie crusts.

December 14
Install plumbing in gingerbread house.

December 15
Replace air in mini-van tires with Glade "holiday scents" in case tires are shot out at mall.

December 17
Childproof the Christmas tree with garland of razor wire.

December 19
Adjust legs of chairs so each Christmas dinner guest will be same height when sitting at his or her assigned seat.

December 20
Dip sheep and cows in egg whites and roll in confectioner's sugar to add a festive sparkle to the pasture.

December 21
Drain city reservoir; refill with mulled cider, orange slices and cinnamon sticks.

December 22
Float votive candles in toilet tank.

December 23
Seed clouds for white Christmas.

December 24
Do my annual good deed. Go to several stores. Be seen engaged in last-minute Christmas shopping, thus making many people feel less inadequate than they really are.

December 25
Bear son. Swaddle. Lay in color-coordinated manger scented with homemade potpourri.

December 26
Organize spice racks by genus and phylum.

December 27
Build snowman in exact likeness of God.

December 31
New Year's Eve! Give staff their resolutions. Call a friend in each time zone of the world as the clock strikes midnight in that country.

From Julie A. Charlip 03 Dec 1997

As a mother and an academic, I certainly agree that child rearing is important, certainly the most important work that I do. And I agree that the old 1970s feminist dictum that the only place for a feminist was out of the house is a male view. And I have no problem with Martha Stewart making her living by making canapes. But when Martha Stewart seems to imply or is interpreted as saying that we all should be making canapes and all the other myriad household projects she shows, then I have a problem. Stewart has a staff to help with those projects and her home. Most of us don't. Most of us, on many nights, are lucky to get the leftovers reheated in the microwave, spend some time with our families, and get the next day's lecture or grading done. Martha wants us to be domestic goddesses on top of everything else, and since she has the invisible staff, it looks effortless. What she perpetuates is yet another version of the superwoman. So let's see, now we should be at the top of our professions, have fabulous family lives, be thin and fashionable, and have homes that look like Better Homes and Gardens. Count me out.

I'll bet even women who've chosen to stay home will tell you that without Martha's staff and money, those lovely household projects just don't happen when you're chasing toddlers, doing the laundry and trying to get dinner ready.

From Tiffany Dziurman 04 Dec 1997

I agree with Ms. Gelser's comments. I too am troubled that housewives are given so little respect by other women. While I enjoy my academic pursuits and current career, I believe I will make a greater contribution to the world by raising strong, intelligent children. (In fact, my education and working experience will help me to raise such children.)

The purpose of the women's rights movement was to give women choices. Ms. Gelser is correct in stating, "It is quite elitist to assume that those who CHOOSE to work in the home just haven't been enlightened enough or educated enough to make the "right" choice. There are intelligent, feminist housewives in this world!" Women today do have choices about what to do with their lives, and they should feel free to make the choice right for them.

Growing up, my mother stayed home to raise my sister and I. I learned more about human strength,courage, and intelligence from her than from any job or college course I have taken. I would hope that today's women want to support each other, and not be upset at those who choose their children over climbing the corporate ladder.

Many of today's feminists seem too concerned with stay-at-home-wives and mothers. Please, let us not be afraid of women who stay home to raise their children. They really are intelligent, well-educated women. They will not send us back to the stone age!

From McVay, Pamela 04 Dec 1997

How many of the people writing in to say how damaging Martha Stewart's work is to American women have read her stuff or watched her show? I mean, for heaven's sake, this week's Martha Stewart column in the paper offered the <terribly> (that's sarcastic) time-consuming project of putting up Christmas lights. She suggested that 1) one or two strings around one bush can have a bigger impact and be less work than trying to cover your whole house and yard 2) if you've got a bunch of strings with missing bulbs here and there, combine the remaining bulbs on one string. So what if they're different sizes and colors? The effect is still pretty nice 3) Or try wrapping strings to make a few "light balls" in one tree (picture attached, all of 7 strings employed) to get an unusual effect. None of this sounds elitist or expensive to me. Suggestion 2) even offers a way to avoid buying new light strings. In fact, every time I read or hear Stewart she's offering ideas of ways to reuse old stuff instead of throwing it out or buying new. That's the point of the famous commercial where she takes all the credit cards she's gotten in the mail and uses them to make a mosaic in her pool,

a mild Martha Stewart fan
(and she hasn't tried to make me
stop reading romance novels, either)

From Lisa A Cochran 04 Dec 1997

I contributed earlier to this discussion and have been following it with interest. I am struck by how strong peoples' opinions are about Martha Stewart and how little people listen to one another. I don't think that critiquing the model of femininity Martha represents is anti-homemaker or snobbish. I think we (those who critiqued more than admired) are beyond lambasting women who choose to be homemakers and mothers and recognize all too well that Martha is a working woman. Where does this internal critique come from?

Methinks some of us feel guilty for taking a traditional path in life and are hypersensitive when they perceive that others are criticizing that path. I think that is a mis-perception. Yes, homemaking can be creative and challenging and god bless you if you have children. However, homemaking can be boring drudgery for many women who go at it alone (whether they have a partner or not). I don't think Ms Stewart is Machiavelli, but I think that the persona she has created may give a distorted picture of what homemaking is.

Also, M Stewart represents values that I can't relate to. Yes, I like to give gifts, but I rarely make them. I personally hate caring for my home day-to-day and would simply not enjoy making ribbon roses for my curtains. I don't enjoy cleaning and recently hired a maid (a real splurge for me) bec I realized that most people I know that finish their dissertations are men with WIVES. I want a WIFE!!! I want to marry Martha Stewart!!!!! Both for her income AND her pastries....

From Joanne Kay King 04 Dec 1997

Sarah - Amen, sister! I agree with you 100%. I've watched this feminist movement since college in the 60s, had my career for 6 years, raised children at home, returned to work, now on to grad school. Continually, I see women divided, pointing fingers at the 'other side' when they don't line up with our choices. Are we STILL so insecure that we have to defend what we choose to do during whichever phase of life we are in, by putting other women down? I cannot imagine doing what Martha Stewart does, but I defend to the death her right to do it without denigrating remarks from other women. Thanks for a much-needed reminder of why we are "about' all of this. I hope to continue to teach my 3 daughters and my students to help each other to become authentic, no matter whether other (men or women) deride our choices.

From mraichyk 04 Dec 1997

To the editors, et al.

The idea that some do bake their own bread, etc as a leisure activity does not diminish the reality of home management as a genuine management science.

In my classes on Operations Management (Dept of Management and Marketing), I have occasionally taken techniques the students were to learn and presented them in the forms they would take in home management... just to see how well they recognize the concept as well as to show them that what women do in managing their homes is the *same beast* as what highly paid industry managers do to earn their keep... hopefully they may imbibe the idea that women's time spent doing household managing is valuable experience that can translate well into business.

As for it being *art*... it may be for some, that's not my field though I appreciate the *ambience* of some women's homes as a separate achievement from operation managing. Certainly, retail outlets, restaurants and most other public places pay time, money and attention to these *arts*. These homes tend to have a more public function.

What was lost with the demise of domestic feminism was multifaceted and very substantial:

1- the movement to recognize these values... as well as the real challenges of child-care and education of young children... 2- the opportunities for the further growth of certain social inventions to accommodate women working outside the home... 3- the freedom to thumb our noses at the social waste and inanities of our over-hyped economy since most people are tied to it by their use of major debt... the wheels of production then grind out more of the same, limiting the choices of anyone who does manage to elude the snares of debt 4- the opportunity to diminish the gap between the economic classes

The loss of domestic feminism is something I believe we need to recognize and we owe it to our mothers and grandmothers to re-invigorate their efforts.

This forum is an invaluable means of sharing ideas, honing them and applying them and I hope we can keep this line of communication open. Thanks.

From Susan Ouellette 04 Dec 1997

Hi There!

Most of the time I am a definite list lurker and not much of a contributor, but the Martha Stewart discussion has drawn me in. I am very ambivalent about Martha Stewart. On the one hand, as someone observed, she is a very powerful businesswoman who built an empire out of a business usually confined to people's kitchens and craft booths. It is an amazing success story.

On the other, the incredible power she exerts through her TV shows and publications on middle class tastes and expectations is really very disturbing. The conspicuous consumption promoted by her shows and magazines and the "high brow vs. low brow" snobbery they foster really highlight the class divisions in our society. I am waiting for a Martha Stewart version of Barbie -an older Barbie with a highlighted shorter hair style wearing a Land's End sweater, LL Bean jeans and so on.

As a woman business owner, she is to be admired. However, as a purveyor of taste I'm not so sure. I teach at a small university where many of the students are the first generation of their family to go to college. I see them struggle with the distance that their education places between them and their parents and siblings as they get closer to their professional goals and further away from their families. These differences seem to get more problematic when students begin to see themselves as a different class than their families. I am troubled by the divisions in our society -class and generational. They seem to make us less capable of solving many of the problems that we increasingly face in the post-industrial, post-whatever, new century we are facing.

From michelle moravec$

As the person who started the Martha thread I thought I'd let you all know that I am, in addition to looking at Martha's appeal, also contributing to an anthology devoted to Martha a chapter that historicizes Martha within the cult of domesticity, feminine mystique, and new traditionalism of the 1980s. I have found the comments about domestic feminism very helpful. I must confess that I am not surprised that Martha elicits such strong emotions from people. That is exactly the reason why I think she is interesting. She is ambiguous because she is a multi-millionaire business woman who "works" as a housewife. In that sense she is similar to Debbie Fields, who founded Mrs. Field's cookies. Yet as the daughter of an ethnic, working class family who reinvented herself as a lifestyle guru she is similar to both Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, neither of whom are attacked personally for building a business on "good taste."

I want to thank everyone who has responded. I have received a wealth of material.

From Ellen Beattie"

To all the Martha Stewart Thread Followers:

I did not expect to chime in once again on this discussion, but I have to react to all the uproar about putting homemakers down. I know it has been described as a "subtext", but, truly, I do not think at all that that has been the drift of the debate. With the possible exception of the remark about cooking being more ephemeral than painting, I have not seen people insulting.

Almost all of the women who have contributed (have there been any men?I cannot remember just now, I don't think so), have admitted to having interest in, taste and respect for domestic activities (Me too! I love to cook, am a sucker for fancy food and don't think pretty flowers are too shabby either), but regret not having nearly enough time to dedicate to them. The problem that has been discussed is that the social expectations brought on by Martha Stewart-styled femininity are beyond the reach of any average woman (not unlike top model standards of beauty). Let's not forget that almost all women (and men!) work not out of free choice but economic necessity, ie. in order to earn an income. Staying at home is an option for ever fewer adults (even more so for women who are far more likely to be raising children alone than men are). So, pushing time-demanding domesticity is pushing an illusion just out of our reach (like the 6 ft and 105 lb look).

Of course Ms. Stewart has every right to build an empire on that desire (just as Sylvester Stallone does on his brand of unobtainable masculinity), and everyone else has the right to consume the stuff or not as they wish. But,we as an academic community, versed in history and feminism, also have the right and perhaps even the responsibility to comment on the possible meanings and implications of their power.

From Debora Hills 05 December 1997

Well-said Sara!
Nurturing a child IS more important than anything else a woman with children do. Not that all women need to have children, and, not all women need to work-- but children are the future. I've enjoyed motherhood and never felt oppressed, except by Feminists who abused me, especially in the 80s, for making a choice that didn't suit THEIR goal.

I was a working woman in the late 70s--a secretary. I went home to have my first child in 1982, just as women were coming out to work in mass. Who knew that women were going to mindlessly follow Gloria, even when working wasn't necessarily best for them? I've never regretted my choice, I only wish that I had spoken up then. I didn't pay any attention to Gloria. I can't believe that so many did.

I wasn't in a professional position. I didn't make enough to pay the cost of daycare--they didn't even have daycare until my second child came along five years later. When he started school, I tried returning to work. Many of my friends were able to work because they left their kids at their mother's house. My mother still had her own home. I had to pay for after school care, which took too much of my salary to be worthwhile and caused a dysfunctional household for no good reason. My son hated being locked up in a daycare after school, and, I didn't need to work. My husband is an engineer. I went home again. I did what was best for my family.

I enjoyed school, however. It was like my hobby. I enjoyed archives work too, which I did as a volunteer. I thought I might like to be an archivist someday when the children were older and I would work full time again--doing something I enjoyed this time. But now archivists need a masters degree. I went to grad school full-time, since I was getting to be near 40 years old and was running out of time, if I was ever going to have a career. But I don't have any work experience in the field--so I may never break into it. Librarianship is much the same situation. I worked as a substitute teacher during grad school--home by 3:00.

My younger sister went to school before getting married. She recently quit her job as an attorney on Capitol Hill in order to be a full-time mother. Though her child was attending an expensive daycare, along with the children of senators, and was well cared for, my sister felt that she wanted to raise the child herself. I resent that she has this choice. I didn't have a choice. I was abused in the 80s for doing just the same thing, quitting my job to be a mother. Suddenly it's OK to be a mother.

In the interviews I've had with feminist interviewers, they look at my resume and say "I see you took a vacation". Vacation? Excuse me? Do they mean all those years I spent struggling to get through school while raising children at the same time with little help from my husband who was always out of town? Have they any idea of what it's like trying to get a degree under these conditions? It would have been horrible for everybody in my family if I had worked too.

Obviously, these interviewers didn't have children, or they would have known that motherhood is more rewarding than any job could ever be to women like me who have strong maternal instincts. I wasn't about to take up my study time and time better spent with the children, to do some para-professional library job, no more rewarding than being a secretary, if it wasn't necessary financially. Is library science the only field where you have to work as a nonprofessional before you can be a professional in the field?

I'm ready to try working again, if it's something I'll enjoy. I also have student loans to pay off. But, I don't apologize for having spent time as a mother and I don't want to work for anybody who doesn't value its importance.

There are women who don't have maternal instincts. I have a friend, the same age as me, who is a professional. She took a few months of leave to be with her child and went bonkers-- said she had nothing to do. She didn't understand what the job of mother was all about. It wasn't about her. It was about the child. She was supposed to do what the daycare center does all day. There's a schedule of activities that are designed to educate and socialize the child. She didn't know how to do that. She had no role model for motherhood, just as I had no role model for being a career woman.

This woman put her child in a daycare from 6:00 til 6:00 daily until he went to school--then after-school daycare. On Friday evenings, while she went out, the kid went to an evening daycare. When he was sick--he went to a special daycare that had a nurse. Should this woman have brought children into the world? She made the choice to be a career woman. Her job is NOT conducive to child rearing. There are women who want this kind of non-traditional job, but they shouldn't plan on having a family--unless they wait until later in life and retire early from the job, as my sister did. It's not fair to the children and CHILDREN ARE NOT LESS IMPORTANT than women.

My 10 yr.old son forgot his homework and I took him to school at 6:00pm. We saw my friend's son sitting alone in the gym, waiting for his mother to come from work. We felt sad for him. That's how he's spent his entire life. By that time of night, my son had already been out riding his bike and playing with his friends. This boy sat in the gym for 3 hours after being in school all day. His mother is important. What's best for her is what matters, say the Feminists.

In my town there are many women professionals who don't put motherhood first. Their teenagers run wild--unsupervised. They don't want to spend the money for after-school supervision. They're all divorced (they didn't understand what marriage was all about either). There's no one home a lot of the time. Many of these kids are into drugs, sex, and vandalism. I'm talking about middle class to upper middle class children. They have all the material things they could possible want, but their mothers are too important to "play mommy".

My children don't come home to an empty house. We don't have an extravagant house, but it's nice enough. I'm not sure why people are sacrificing their children's welfare and their marriages in order to maintain a luxury house or to be self sufficient. Somebody must have told them that materialism and self-centeredness were more important than children and family values. Feminists perhaps? For what reason do they submit their family to this routine? They have no life that I can see. Many are divorced because the stress of a career and children at the same time was just too much. The kids are really suffering, but I don't think their mothers notice.

A 15 year old has to watch her sisters after school. That means she can't participate in school sports, which might help her get into college, though she wants to. Her mother is the vice-president of a corporation, but she's a divorced mother with an extravagant house to maintain-- can't afford a babysitter--the 15 year old is free. What's best for women is what matters, say the Feminists. Female children ARE future women. Which women are more important? The mothers or the daughters?

Some women don't really have a choice about working-- their husbands don't make enough money or they're on their own. They want ME to work because THEY have to.

Gloria Steinham wanted me to work because what SHE wanted wouldn't have worked unless women came out in mass to support HER cause. [That's what is going on, Sara] Gloria didn't want to do housework, so she had to make it unacceptable for all women--in order to not only get away with not doing it, but to be praised for not doing it. Some of us didn't follow her.

There are women today who don't want motherhood or can't have motherhood, so they need to devalue it to make their situation acceptable. They embark on a mass brainwashing campaign. I don't see Gloria or the newer leaders as a heroes. They are responsible for many of the teenage problems and dysfunctional families across the country. They've done a great deal of damage to our society, though a few good things that may have resulted for career women.

Mothers who value motherhood first are not all less educated than Feminists. We have different goals. We have different opinions. Not everyone is on a power trip. I for one am sick of their abuse.

Women go home to your children if you can. Don't listen to Feminists. Their division is indicative of the fact that certain groups have different personal goals. If none of them match your goals, cover your ears and follow your own heart.

My age group was caught in the transition. Feminists stepped on our faces to get what THEY wanted. We've spent most of our adult life feeling inadequate. If you would dare say that we allowed ourselves to feel inadequate and that Feminists aren't responsible, how is it that Feminists hold men accountable for women who suffer from anorexia? I admit that I allowed that evil demon, Gloria, to make me feel inadequate for choosing motherhood, but fortunately many women are now waking up. The struggle to hold a career and raise children at the same time is ridiculous. You cannot do both at the same time. You don't have to. You don't have to be a mother. Do what YOU want, not what Feminists dictate. But don't do it at the expense of your children. Their life is not less valuable than yours.

I'm sorry that Feminists don't value me. I don't really value them either. Who cares what they think? Much as they would like to, Feminists are not going to control me. They can keep me out of the workforce when they see that I've been a mother and didn't support their cause, but they cannot devalue me as a person unless I let them.

I'm free to do whatever I want to do--except work. My degrees mean nothing since I didn't get work experience while attending school. Mothers cannot do this, unless they drag school out for a very long time--I already did that with my BA. I'm too overqualified to return to secretarial work, not that I would want to, and, I'm not allowed to be a housewife, especially now that my children are not babies anymore. I'm not qualified enough for a professional position and can't afford to get any more education. What exactly do Feminists think I should do now?

I appreciate this opportunity to let you know what I think about women who brought children into the world and then didn't nurture them, thinking that their career was the priority.I also think that Feminists should publicly apologize to my generation for two decades of harassment and abuse and for devaluing our lives and the lives of our children and for filling the minds of innocent women with their nonsense.

Editor's note: The Martha Stewart thread is beginning to diverge from the mission of this list, which is to promote discussion of scholarly topics related to women's history. Although we welcome anyone with a mature and abiding interest in women's history, we are not a discussion list for general women's issues. I am posting the latest responses, most of which address professional issues raised by Deborah Hill's post from last Friday. However, in the future, the other editors and I would like replies that fit within the parameters of the list. If you would like to respond to Deborah Hill$ do so directly at her address: Thank you,
Heather Munro Prescott
H-Women Editor

From Colleen Matan

Two of the things which have been nagging at me during this discussion (the implicit critique of women who like doing 'Martha things' and the explicit criticism by scholars who have not seen these particular primary sources) have been addressed. But two remain.

Susan Ouellette wrote:

> On the other, the incredible power she exerts through her TV shows and > publications on middle class tastes and expectations is really very > disturbing.

While I would not argue that Martha isn't a tastemaker (or that this isn't her goal), I take exception to the assumption that she wields some kind of all-pervasive power over those who watch her and that she is some kind of taste dictator. There are plenty of people, from university professors to service industry workers who reject Martha in her entirety. And there there are others from both groups who are unabashed fans. Something I continually see in the literature on mass and popular culture is a belief that consumers are stupid, helpless creatures who have no control over how they 'process' the 'messages' which bombard them. I find this insulting. Popular culture figures, like Martha Stewart, are popular figures because they also have a good marketing plan, to be sure. But they also resonate, for some reason and on some level, with the public. I believe this is what the original query was trying to uncover.

> The conspicuous consumption promoted by her shows and magazines > and the "high brow vs. low brow" snobbery they foster really highlight the > class divisions in our society.

I would argue that Martha Stewart, even before she signed her K-Mart deal, does not push high culture values. Are the truly wealthly women of this country watching Martha and making their own cranberry garlands this holiday season? I would venture that it is a large leap from Martha Stewart Living to Architectural Digest. This is a middle-brow issue through and through.

> As a woman businessowner, she is to be admired. However, as a purveyor of > taste I'm not so sure. I teach at a small university where many of the > students are the first generation of their family to go to college. I see > them struggle with the distance that their education places between them > and their parents and siblings as they get closer to their professional > goals and further away from their families. These differences seem to get > more problematic when students begin to see themselves as a different class

My sisters and I are the first generation of our family to go to college and onto advanced degrees. We grew up one block from the iron foundry where my father's father worked and where our parents still live. We def. straddle the classes within our generations. Yet my sisters have very little interest in Martha and her activities, although they certainly have very middle class taste in decorating. I tend to watch her show if I'm home and I remember that it's on. However, my brother-in-law was thrilled when I gave him a copy of her cookbook for Christmas a few years back. Go figure.

Second, I am puzzled as to why when working class people aspire to middle class status it is often seen as selling out and why a desire for comfort, for beautiful surroundings, for peace and quiet is somehow seen as a moral failing. I too often find that working class life is romanticized; believe me, those of us who grew up in that environment can attest that it is not inherently more satisfying or noble than the middle-class milieu.

> than their families. I am troubled by the divisions in our society -class > and generational. They seem to make us less capable of solving many of the > problems that we increasingly face in the post-industrial, post-whatever, > new century we are facing.

Although this seems to be moving us away from Martha, I would be very interested in learning what these problems are and how families whose generations straddle classes can be used as a solution. It's an interesting idea.

From (lauren coo$

Ellen Beattie wrote an eloquent and informed rebuttal to the feminist-blaming, "me first as a mom" letters that came in on this issue. A generation of women in the Fifties were told that raising children was the most important work they could do, and their children rebelled in droves. We do not become what our parents wish to create, nor do children necessarily give meaning to women's lives. As Katha Pollitt has written, we need to repeat that independent women make better mothers. "But first we have to believe it, because it's true," ("The Nation, November 30, l997).

From Angela Gugliotta

I was deeply saddened by Debora Hill's post, both because of her own evident pain and because of the divisive debate I thought it might engender. My husband and I do our academic work on the backs of those who have taken care of our children (sometimes for a small number of hours a week) during the time we work, always without adequate respect, and usually, despite our best efforts, without truly adequate compensation. Our situation is very flexible and we know that things are very different for single parents (mothers especially) and those outside the comfortable middle class. Still, we feel sad when friends who are mothers at home (often at great financial sacrifice), or daycare workers at our center, are not appreciated (or adequately compensated) for the very important work they do. I hope we as feminists can work to change the way social arrangements set up the work that Debora Hill did as valueless and as a dead end. My husband wanted to respond to her directly; his post is below.

To Debora Hill,
I'm sorry to hear that "feminists" have abused you for making the choice to stay home with your kids. I agree with you that the welfare of children is important and that anyone who would make their career an absolute priority over their children probably shouldn't have any. But why the absolute distinction -- children and no career, career and no children? Better -- what has imposed THIS choice on you? Or to put it another way, why was this YOUR choice to make, not your husband's? Do you think no men have "paternal instincts?" All I learned about your husband from your letter was that he's an engineer. Is he home when the kids get home from school? I imagine not. I realize that his job may make this impossible for him. But why is this an acceptable demand for his job to place on him, but not an acceptable demand for a job to place on you? You say that divorced working mothers didn't know what motherhood and marriage were all about. Did their husbands? And what is marriage all about for a woman, as you see it? Is what it's all about for her different than for him? Why?

I don't mean to be saying here that your choice was not the right one for you under the circumstances. But I think we should be able to imagine and work towards a society in which the choices you describe are not the only ones.

I'm the father of three girls ages 3, 5, 7, and a professor of philosophy at a major midwestern university. My wife is a graduate student in history, and went back to school when our second daughter was 6 months old. We have struggled along with various cobbled-together daycare arrangements, usually providing us with 20 hours or so a week absolutely free of child-care responsibilities (on a good week!). We have done our best with splitting up child-care reponsibilities the rest of the time. At present our oldest daughter is in second grade and our younger two are in a campus daycare full-time -- yes, from 8:30 until 5:30, Monday to Friday. The daycare is excellent and they love it there. However, they are not in daycare in the summer months. Our oldest daughter always finds one of us home when she gets out from school (in fact generally that one of us has to spend 2 or more hours overseeing her homework). Our children slept in our bed until the oldest was 5, and my wife is still nursing the youngest two-to-three times a day. We are struggling to achieve a BALANCE between the demands of our careers and the needs of our children. Of course as my wife said, our flexible schedules make all of this easier to attempt than many careers would allow. Nonetheless, the pressures to "produce" in the academic world favor those who place career above all else, just as in many other professions. I can sympathize with many of your complaints -- we often feel that we can't compete against colleagues who are relatively free of childcare responsibilities -- either because they are single, or have children and two incomes, or are married with no children... I have colleagues who view their jobs as demanding 60-or-more-hours a week, who can be found in the office from 6 in the morning till late at night. This is what one of my friends calls the "screw-your-family" work schedule -- if you have a family, that is. More than once I've been taken aback by the way in which such a schedule is taken for granted as normal by my younger single colleagues. I think of the struggle for the eight-hour day and old union songs about fathers who never see their children awake (not to equate contemporary professional work with 12 hour factory shifts, of course. I probably shouldn't intrude often on a history list!)

As you say, the demands of child-raising are often seen as equivalent to a vacation -- or a hobby. (Similarly childless colleagues are often stunned to discover the financial cost of daycare -- it never occurs to them that one reason we don't have more daycare is the cost!) On the other hand we recognize that people without children are often burdened by equally demanding responsibilities -- care of a parent or spouse for example.

This has been a ramble. I think what I want to say in the end is that the tone of your rhetoric is going to cause your message to go unheard, though there are points in it which badly deserve a hearing. At the same time some bad experiences with individual "feminists" have left you unable to hear important points in the feminist message. In particular I'd encourage you to ask yourself some hard questions about what possibilities our society allows for men and for women, whether these possibilities are the only ones, whether it is just that these should be the only ones typically allowed in practice, and what if anything we should do about this. To the rest of the list (my wife's the subscriber, so I don't often read your posts) I would like to make an appeal -- don't simply dismiss what this woman has to say. She speaks from experience, and its important and significant that a woman who has devoted herself to important WORK feels put down by "feminists." She's not the only one who needs to be asking some hard questions. We all do.

--Michael Kremer (Michael.J.Kremer.$

From Lisa A Cochran 15 $

Thanks Michele Moravec for giving us more info on what your project is. It sounds interesting. I just have one last comment and then I am afraid that the Martha Stewart posts are going to get the D for Delete without being read (the last rant I read about Angel mothers vs Devil mothers was the end of the line for me.Perhaps the reasons so many women aren't "good" mothers are exactly the reasons that motherhood should be demystified rather than sanctified. Somehow the species goes on. Even with , heaven forbid, day care!)

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I don't think you can really equate Martha with Calvin Klein and the other guy. Those men have merchandise lines and ads but they don't have their own tv show or magazine. They sell style and lifestyle, but they don't have a whole philosophy that they espouse like Martha does.

From Jeanette Keith keith@planetx.blo$

Dear Debra Hill: My grandmothers worked, doing agricultural labor and cooking over wood-fired stoves. My mother worked before we were born, and started back to work when my youngest sibling started school. None of that had anything to do with feminism. I was raised to believe that a woman should be capable of supporting herself, since (1)you might not get married (2)your husband might not be able to support you (3)he might die. In the Tennessee countryside from which I came, to say "She's a real worker" is the highest praise you can give a woman. Most of these people have never heard of Gloria Steinem. They work _because_ they want the kids to have the middleclass lifestyle, including good shoes, straight teeth and a chance to go to college; they also work because they have to pay the rent, medical bills, food bills etc. On behalf of all us hillbillies, let me suggest that you stay out of the job force if you please. We don't want you to work because we have to. But please don't put down people who weren't lucky enough to marry a man with money.

From Darcy Martin 15$ Reply to Debora Hill's comments:

I am saddened by such anger and hostility and also the numerous myths regarding feminism and motherhood versus career women. I can reply with today's cliche "been there, done that" to much of what she says EXCEPT that I found feminism liberating not oppressing. Feminism is about choice; it has always been about choice. Should I resent her comments about being too educated to be a secretary? I'm well educated (however, I just finished my undergraduate degree with a minor in women's studies this past May and am currently in graduate school) and have been a secretary for 30 plus years. Being a secretary and a feminist helped finish my husband's education, educated three daughters, two with advanced degrees. What's important that women have dreams and aspirations, then be free to achieve them. A broader understanding of feminism, patriarchy, education, religion, politics, philosophy, history, may help. Nurturing our children is important, but it isn't women's work; it is humanity's work. If a woman wants to stay at home and raise her children, fine; if a man wants to stay home and raise the children, fine. No children; no marriage; that's fine too. Feminism is about creating a healthy environment in which all can choose to live their lives to best of their abilities. Our government, and many others, our society, our churches, have not done a good job in creating this kind of healthy environment. To place Gloria Steinem at the root of all women's evil does an enormous disservice to a strong and compassionate woman who was part of the leadership of the modern feminist movement during its most difficult days. I offer one of the Statements of Purpose from the National Organization of Women: "We believe that a true partnership between the sexes demands a different concept of marriage, an equitable sharing of the responsibilities of home and children and of the economic burdens of their support. We believe that proper recognition should be given to the economic and social values of homemaking and child care." Does that sound like people not interested in children? One of the saddest commentaries on the misunderstanding of what feminism is all about is a diatribe like Debora Hill's. I've heard it most of my life (I'm 57.) and it remains as painful today as it did 30 years ago.

From Rodney Hessinger HESS@VM.TEMPLE.EDU Since Ellen Beattie has commented on the lack of male voices on this Martha Stewart discussion, I'll come out of the woodwork here. I'm sure the post following Beattie's post by Deborah Hill (Mom First) is going to cause alot of sharp reactions (whether people will write a response I'm not sure). Without getting into the gritty detail of Hill's post, I would like to suggest that she explicitly (and obviously more strongly) states an assumption which I think has been implicit in many of the comments offered by others. She constructs an impossible choice here for women-- work or children-- without stopping to realize that if we stop to reconceive MEN's roles one might manage to do both. This is why gender/masculinity is so important to consider in doing history. This is also why it is essential that the structure/career schedule of the modern workplace needs to be reconceived. I wholeheartedly agree that children are important. I emphatically do not believe that it is wholly women's responsibility to care for them. As others have already noted, we cannot assume that women have a "free choice" about how they exert their energies-- cultural symbols/expectations influence all of us. Until it is as readily expected that men should be nurturing, good fathers, good cooks, good cleaners, etc., as these things are expected of women, women will be facing a series of unfair constraints on how they live their lives.

Editor's note: these posts appear to be the wind-up of the thread originally known as "Martha Stewart." Clearly, the posts have generated considerable controversy -- including whether they were appropriate for the list at all. There is obviously not agreement among the list subscribers about the issues raised (nor should there have to be). However,it seems like a useful time to reiterate the focus of the list as that of women's history and to encourage posts which reflect that. Nancy Marie Robertson
H-women Editor

From Marian H. Neudel mneudel@ac$

> And I agree that the old 1970s feminist dictum that the > only place for a feminist was out of the house is a male view.

Excuse me, folks, but what is your source for this dictum? We are supposed to be a list by and for people who value historical accuracy. I know of *no* feminist, male or female, during, before or after the '70s, who $ said any such thing. Simone de Beauvoir probably came closest, and I *will* hunt down that quote if anybody wants it. This purported dictum, along with the "bra-burning" canard, is right up there with the Blood Libel. It not only shouldn't be cited on this list, we ought to be doing everything we can to discredit it.

From Belinda Ray womenshistor$ RE:
>I would also add that just because a lot of people think >something doesn't make it right. Housewives have always >been encouraged to see their activities as beautification, >civilite, etc. That don't make it so, alas.

In response to the comments of Diane Purkiss, I would ask exactly how she would classify the job of a housewife. Her comments, along with the comments of many other list members, make it sound as though women who spend their lives as stay-at-home parents are in some way lesser people. (Strangely, there has been no mention of house-husbands. I suspect the people so critical of housewives would have little to say in the way of rebuffs for the man who stays home because his wife is the breadwinner.)

I simply don't understand this attitude. There seems to be a belief that the only way to be a worthwhile person is to deny all things domestic and _prove_ to the world that a woman can be "more than a housewife", and I must say, it does seem rather snobbish and sexist to me. Thoughts and comments of this type are what keep women in subservience because we refuse to value work that is done by women--all work that is done by women. Believe it or not, raising children and managing a household is difficult work and those who dedicate themselves to it deserve our respect--not our scorn because they didn't win this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry and beat out ten men in the process.

The oddest part of this whole issue is that the people who are hardest on women--and the people who have the least respect for "housewives"--are other women. When females denounce all things stereotypically feminine (be they positive or negative), they leave women no other choice but to dislike themselves and others of their gender for any perceived "feminine" qualities--AKA weaknesses. Doesn't something about this phenomenon strike you as wrong? Don't you think that as women we should cut one another a little more slack? I think you're all missing the TRUE backlash--it's the one that you are propagating on your own. Considerably puzzled.