Who is clearing up the ‘mess’ at ‘home’? A feminist response to Roger Scruton
Based on this article, there was a key area of thought which was entirely ignored by Professor Scruton, and which is particularly conspicuous in its absence, this is the feminist perspective. This is remarkable given Scruton’s arguments pivot around the concept of the home and domestic spheres. In this response to Scruton’s article I wish to focus specifically on Scruton’s understanding of home or ‘oikophilia’ and the ways in which he overlooks the patriarchal norms which govern these institutions. I will argue that this oversight undermines his argument as it fails to acknowledge that these spaces are governed by doctrines and ‘top-down’ structures to the same degree (if not more) as the revolutionary political projects he criticises.
It is in the family, in local clubs and societies, in school, church, team and university that people learn to interact as free beings, all taking responsibility for their actions and accounting to their neighbours. (Scruton, 2017: 11)
Scruton argues that imposing ‘top down’ structures of governance and systems of ethics ‘breeds irresponsible citizens’, who are incapable of taking responsibility for themselves. The true wisdom and ethics of society are learned in our domestic settings. The family home is foundational to our relationship with the ‘sacred’ and our love of the home is the basis for our motivation to protect the environment. Therefore, our concept of home, and the conservation of the traditional family, is integral to the ethics of society at large and sustainable prosperity.
Arguably, this is a new perspective on the idea that the ‘personal is political’. Carol Hanisch’s 1970 essay by the same name also argues for the political significance of the domestic sphere, however, she argues that it is within these institutions that we begin and reinforce the male-dominated structures of society. The traditional notion of the home which Scruton appeals to is a key target for liberal feminism as it underpins gender roles which in turn undermines equality of opportunities between genders (Okin 1989). Scruton himself argues that “the love of home is the imprint left by our primary attachment to the mother.” (2017: 9) This idea of the woman being the primary caregiver and homemaker is clearly present in Scruton’s exploration of the home and reinforces the gendered assumption that women are better at these tasks simply because they are female. Therefore, the dynamics of the family and the home cannot be divided from the issues of society more broadly.
Scruton argues that our domestic sphere or ‘little platoons’ are paramount to fostering a co-operative and responsible society in which we can understand and strive for a common good with strangers. “Home is the place where, if you make a mess, you clear it up, the place where you are conscious of those who share it, and of the lastingness of what they share.” (2017: 10) However, if the politics and dynamics of the family are oppressive to women and, often women will in fact be those who clear up this aforementioned ‘mess’, will this dynamic not also be learned and extended to society in other spheres?
Great steps have been made to overcome the historically patriarchal norms of domestic life. Without the past 200 years of feminism family life would look very different. Yet feminism itself is arguably one of these social movements (like socialism or communism) which demands the top down change Scruton criticises in his article. Paternity care, fights for equal pay, gender-blind recruitment and affordable childcare are all ways in which we may take steps further. These policies are ones which demand top-down government enforcement. These are policies which ideologically oppose the doctrine of patriarchy and the ways in which it structures and defines the dynamics of our family homes.
Overall, we cannot place the home at the centre of the concept of sustainable prosperity and ignore the belief systems which have defined these social spheres. To claim that the family home is exempt from the belief systems of an ‘armed doctrine’ and is instead a space in which “people learn to interact as free beings” is to entirely ignore the basic tenets of modern feminism, despite its clear relevance to this sphere.
Hanisch, C 1970. The Personal is Political, from Notes from the Second Year: Women’s Liberation (edited by Firestone S., and Koedt, A.)
Okin, S M 1989. Justice, Gender and the Family. Chicago: Basic Books, HarperCollins.