Posted: 10th June 2020
A Home and a Husband is one of three projects Tracy is working on during her virtual artist residency at North Lincolnshire Museum. She was drawn to the cottage in the museum, which was built on Church Street in Scunthorpe and taken down brick by brick and rebuilt on the museum site. She also has an interest in women’s history and wanted to explore domesticity in the cottage from a female’s perspective, looking at the conventional ideals of gender roles. As journalist Laura Bates bluntly puts it ‘domesticity and stereotypically ‘female’ duties are shoved down their [girls] throats before they have even reached 5′.
Firstly Tracy visited the museum at Scunthorpe just before the lockdown and took lots of photographs of artefacts that relate to cottage life. She wanted to focus on late Victorian and Edwardian era. She also collated archival materials from her visits to the museum, library and archives. She also read many books and found local women’s diaries useful for getting into the mindset of a housewife. One particular book that gave her a vivid insight to domestic life was A Life to Live by G. F. Maw, which was very descriptive of the different domestic duties in the home ranging from cooking, cleaning and washing. It was also very descriptive of the furniture and layout in the rooms and how they were used.
Tracy was also drawn to the book Time to Pick the Flowers by Bette Vickers and the following extract inspired the name of the project. ‘Women didn’t have careers. They got a steady job and then married and as soon as they were married they did not go out to work. Work was a home and a husband. A good marriage, that was the best thing for a lass. I’ll never know what that meant. Most of the women I saw looked tired out, shabby, discontented and hard up. I wanted more than that, more than a pinny and a dolly legs wash tub’.
For a national perspective of domestic life for working class women she reviewed articles and extracts from British Women’s History by Alison Twells. She was moved by the following housewife’s life ‘So here I am a woman of 41 years, blessed with a lovely family of healthy children, faced with a big deficit, varicose veins, and an occasional loss of the use of my hands. I want nice things, but I must pay that debt I owe. I would like nice clothes, but I must not have them yet. I’d like to develop mentally, but I must stifle that part of my nature until I have made good the ills of the past, and I am doing it slowly and surely, and my heart grows lighter, and will grow lighter still when that burden is lifted from the mothers of our race.’ She also wanted a feminist perspective of housework and briefly reviewed Woman’s Work by sociologist Ann Oakley, who discusses the patriarchal structure of marriage that ‘doesn’t allow for much expression of qualities of intellect or personality [of the woman]’.
From her research Tracy wanted to focus on women being socially constructed to be the homemaker, which at first maybe an attractive role as a newlywed but after many years and babies later they may have a different view of the drudgery of housework. From the extract above she was moved by stifled ambitions of the housewife who’s vitality was drained by the burdens of the home. She wanted to show their rage and frustration and give them the freedom to release their anger and follow their dreams.
To communicate this Tracy created a collage animation to music and worked closely with sound designer Peter Richards. The collage scenes were created from the archival materials, images of the museum’s artefacts and my own sourced materials. She was also inspired by music videos using collage animation, such as works by Lucy Dyson and Jonas Odell. She was also inspired by the performance Semiotics of the Kitchen by artist Martha Rosler.
The project took about 2 and a half months to create from research, development and production.
Tracy thinks this poem On a Tired Housewife epitomises how many wives felt about their domestic duties and she is sure there are many that feel this way today!
Here lies a poor woman who was always tired,
She lived in a house where help wasn’t hired:
Her last words on earth were: ‘Dear friends, I am going
To where there’s no cooking, or washing, or sewing,
For everything there is exact to my wishes,
For where they don’t eat there’s no washing of dishes.
I’ll be where loud anthems will always be ringing,
But having no voice I’ll be quit of the singing.
Don’t mourn for me now, don’t mourn for me never,
I am going to do nothing for ever and ever.’
My next project looks at the behaviours and perspectives of women accused of being witches and also of the accuser. Tracy is interested in getting into the mindset of English communities and looking at how some of these behaviours compare today. My inspiration is taken from Ethel Rudkin’s book Lincolnshire Folklore, Witches and Devils.