Adam Smith called man a manufacturing animal. But Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in 1776. He never saw a copy of a daily newspaper filled with hundreds of advertisements urging people to buy every conceivable article and commodity. He never saw a popular magazine with a circulation in the millions of copies and containing hundreds of pages of advertising urging the people of the entire nation to buy the various products which our factories are producing. And of course he never saw a self-service grocery store, nor a chain store, nor a modern department store, and above all, he never saw a modern bargain sale. Had he lived to see these things; had he lived to see the serried ranks of women whose daily occupation it is to descend on the shopping districts; had he lived to see the dawn of the distribution age when selling and not manufacturing was becoming the principal occupation of men, he would have called man a buying and not a manufacturing animal.
When he wrote, he saw the factory as an instrument devised by man as an instrumentality for manufacturing. He did not foresee that the factory would ultimately turn upon its creators. He did not foresee that the factory would force manufacturers to devote themselves to creating buyers to consume what industry produced. He did not, therefore, see that the factory would ultimately bisect humanity by making one-half of it into earning animals and one-half of it into spending animals.
Add the stimulus of profits, to the ever present fear of bankruptcy, and modern industry’s preoccupation with the process of creating buyers is readily understood. For the manufacturer, the creation of buyers for his products is vital if he is to maintain his sales volume. He must keep his factories producing enough to pay an adequate return upon the investment in them. For the factory worker, and indeed for everybody dependent for their livelihood upon the operation of the factory, the failure to create enough buyers for the products of their factory means unemployment and hard times.
Fortunately for the sales department of the factory, the coming of factory production and the consequent decline in domestic production destroyed the self-sufficiency of men and forced them to supply their wants and desires by buying what formerly they had produced and fashioned for themselves. Men ceased to devote their time and thought to making and producing things for themselves, and devoted them to earning the money essential to the buying of what they needed and wanted. The money economy which was thus thrust upon man forced him to go to work for wages; to go into business to earn profits, to adopt professions which commanded cash returns. Within a hundred years of the time that Adam Smith called attention to the fact that man was a manufacturing animal, men had become creatures expected and trained to devote themselves to bringing home money; women creatures expected and trained to spend the money which their men brought home. By a perfectly natural course of evolution a folkway has developed in which the man plays the part of an earning-animal and the woman that of a buying-animal. Both are expected to be consumers of factory products, but the modern woman, rather than the modern man, has become the factory’s actual customer.
The pre-eminent position of women as the purchasing agents for the home in these days is made evident in the following table from What About Advertising?28 The table is based upon a recent survey of retail stores in New York City. In only two of the twelve classes of retail establishments were men more numerous than women as customers. These two classes sold hardware and automobiles.
The table shows the percentages of purchases made by men and by women in twelve classifications.
|Percent of Purchases:|
|Type of store:||By Men||By Women|
With buying the primary economic function of the modern woman, she ceases to be a domestic producer. The dominant type of woman today is no longer a homemaker. Indeed there is no dominant type. The modern woman may be a shopper, a job-holder, a careerist, or a homemaker. The difference between these four readily distinguishable types of women in respect to economic function is one only of degree. Not even the modern homemakers are consciously domestic producers. All types of women today are customers of the factory—even the homemakers who are slowly disappearing because the men who direct factories know what they want while the homemakers do not.
In industrialized America there are still considerable numbers of homemakers—women to whom homemaking is still a career and motherhood life’s great adventure. Mostly they are to be found on the farms of the country, although a dwindling but gallant minority of urban homes can still boast of them.
Because of the glamour of adventure which has been thrown about the woman who earns a living outside of the home, we tend to forget that the making of a home is not only a career but a creative career of the highest order.
Homemaking is an art.
All art is self-expression. But art is also discipline. The artist expresses himself, but he expresses himself within the discipline which the art he practices imposes upon him. The painter has to master the technique of placing lines, shadows, and colors upon a plane surface before he can produce a really beautiful painting. The number of different elements with which he has to contend are actually few in number. Yet everybody recognizes that what he produces out of these elements is the product of his creative ability —ability which varies in different painters from zero to that of the highest genius.
In precisely the same way, the creative ability of the homemaker can vary from zero to that of veritable genius. But the elements with which the homemaker has to produce her work of art are far more numerous than those which the painter uses, and the technique she has to master far more difficult. She has to work with living beings: husband, children, friends, relatives, acquaintances. She has to work with inanimate materials which include nearly everything that mankind produces: food, clothing, shelter, furnishings. Finally, she has to work with the intangibles of life which include practically all of mankind’s cultural activities: society, religion, literature, music and art. Out of these diverse elements—human beings, inanimate materials, cultural interests—the homemaker creates a home as truly as an artist creates a painting. He works in a studio—in effect a laboratory in which he evokes his painting. She works in a whole series of laboratories—in a garden, in a kitchen, in a nursery, in a sewing room, in a dining room, in a living room. And in these she creates what should be, as it is in some cases, the most beautiful thing which mankind has up to the present time created: a desirable environment in which to rear children, a comfortable place for herself and her mate, and a center of the good life for those who are within the social circle of which her home is a center. The time may come when the difficulty of the task will be recognized, and when the highest degrees of the colleges of the world will be reserved for the woman who has equipped herself for a career as homemaker.
Against the dwindling remnant of homemakers in America the factory is waging a relentless war of extermination. The factory extends itself by taking over the homemakers’ creative activities. One by one it has taken away from them the household crafts and the household arts that furnished them the means to creative self-expression. The true crafts have all gone. Sewing is going; cookery is threatened; only furnishing the home may survive. The wonder is that there are still so many aspiring homemakers left. The wonder is that all women have not yet turned away from the task of creating homes, and despairingly accepted conditions which they see no way to alter—conditions which force them to rent homes and to buy everything to put in them; conditions which not only make them buy their family’s clothes, food, furnishings, but also to buy education, culture and entertainment for them.
Today, in our factory-dominated civilization, only the farming class can still boast of homemakers in large numbers. The greater self-sufficiency of farm life explains their survival in rural America. But the automobile, and the good roads which the automobile has brought into existence, are fast thinning even their ranks. Closer contact with the city and the prestige it accords to the factory-made product, instead of stimulating farm housewives to a higher type of homemaking, is leading them to abandon many of the things they still do of a productive and creative nature. Reading daily newspapers, seeing movies, hearing radio programs, shopping in stylish stores, make the farm family want to wear factory clothes, to eat factory foods, to use factory furniture. The time may come when the farm homemakers of the country will cease all individual home production and join the urban women in their devotion to the factory product and their dependence upon factory production.
In urban America the homemakers are fast becoming extinct. Neither among the really rich, nor among the great masses of wage earners and office and store workers are there any considerable number of women of the homemaking type to be found. The instinct for homemaking does not seem able to survive the temptations of hotel and resort life in one case, nor the pressure of flat and tenement life in the other. The homes of the rich and of the poor tend to become dormitories: the places in which the members of the family sleep but not the places in which they live.
As for Suburbia: it can boast of some homemakers who use the land and the room available in the suburban home for a relatively productive domestic life, but they are being daily reduced in number. Suburbia does not furnish a social life which encourages housewives to make homemaking a creative occupation. On the contrary, suburban women are expected to devote their time to “keeping up with the Joneses.” They become increasingly women to whom a home in the fashionable section of the town, membership in the fashionable church, and patronage of the town’s fashionable doctor are the great values in life.
Suburban housewives hide their economies and parade their extravagances. They patronize the fashionable tradesmen of their town, and shop in the most expensive city stores so that high class delivery wagons may stop at their door—because it is the thing to do. The battle for social prestige is won by the amounts they dare to spend.
In Suburbia it is a social handicap to contribute to family welfare by creative and productive work in the home.
Within a very short time after the coming of the factory, careerist women appeared. Women of wealth; women of ability and personality; women of education and of intelligence were among the first to revolt at the desiccated homemaking into which church, state and factory were thrusting them. Yet they were the very women who could least be spared from homemaking. They were the women who should have discovered that woman’s real task was, as Ellen Key said, “to ennoble woman’s sphere, not necessarily to enlarge it.”
While the factory was busily engaged in making it unnecessary for these women to devote themselves to homemaking as a career, they themselves were busily engaged in proving that they could do equally well everything which had been formerly considered exclusively the work of men or believed exclusively a masculine prerogative. They devoted themselves first to the winning of the various equalities with men which go under the name of women’s rights; the right to academic education; the right to engage in the same professions and occupations; the right to vote; finally, the right to sexual freedom.
Perhaps no other single movement in all history was fraught with so much in the way of good for the future of the race as was this assertion of the rights of womankind. Many of the rights for which the women who led the movement struggled have so far proved of trifling importance, but taking them as a whole, they had a tendency to free woman for a voluntary contribution to the life of mankind. They were a direct attack upon the involuntary contribution which the state, church and society had up to that time demanded of women. They had a tendency to make her entrance upon wifehood and motherhood voluntary and so to make a mutual undertaking of the vital activities which have to be conducted by men and women in common. But the struggle had a most unfortunate effect upon the women who made the work of winning these rights the basis of their careers.
The ablest among them set themselves up in opposition to everything that savored of compromise with men. Their rebellion against the age-old conditions which the men had complacently accepted, made them react against any normal relationships with the opposite sex at all. These spirited, independent women formed the habit of looking upon homemaking and motherhood as a sort of treason to the cause to which they were devoted. Work outside of the home seemed a heaven-sent outlet for their energies. They devoted themselves to reform, to law, to medicine, to journalism and finally to business. By comparison with careers in these fields, partnership with men in the creation of homes and the continuance of the race seemed submission to a lifetime of drudgery. Home making and motherhood seemed to offer them no scope for the expression of ability, no opportunity for adventurous activity and no hope for recognition and reward of genius.
Of the institutions which evolved out of the woman’s rights movement, the women’s colleges probably contributed most to setting up an abnormal appreciation of careers and an equally abnormal depreciation of marriages. A dean of one woman’s college once made the significant remark that three-quarters of the women who graduated from her college were failures. Asked what type of graduates she considered the failures she answered: “Why, those who wasted their educations by marrying.” Only of late is it beginning to dawn upon these teachers of women that partnership in the creation of a home and a family is woman’s true career in life, precisely and exactly as it is man’s. The awakening has probably come too late both for the women and the men. The factory has in the meantime taken over so many of the functions of the home that the graduates from the euthenics courses, now being added to the curriculum of these colleges, will probably find as little to do in their homes as do the men.
In turning their backs on homemaking, the careerists wholeheartedly embrace the earn-and-buy theory of living. They are buyers of everything that they consume, and generally very poor buyers as well. Lacking all training and lacking all interest in the homely activities of life, they are almost certain to be poor judges both of values and of merchandise. The more completely they devote themselves to their careers, the more ignorant they are certain to be about the things that they have to buy. But this is a burden of which they are generally unconscious.
Theirs is a life above mundane things. The careerists have managed to evolve a folkway—a pattern of life—that shields them from these grosser aspects of life. Most of them live intensively in their work, associate only with their own kind, know nothing of the possibilities of life in partnership with the complementary sex. Most of them live an abnormal sex-life—one ranging from complete sex-starvation to the partial sex-life of unions without home or children. For few of them marry, and fewer still have children. Thus they invite the life-long frustration which nature inflicts upon all those who flout her mandate of fecundity.
The excessive specialization which careerists impose upon them selves, however excusable to great genius, is no more good for normal women than it is for normal men. If anything this specialization is more harmful to women than it is to men, because the penalty exacted by nature from women who refuse motherhood is greater than that exacted from men who refuse fatherhood. For the majority of women, even for the women who have the ability to attain a considerable measure of success in careers outside of the home, the chance for achieving happiness in marriage and partnership with the right man—even if it is necessary to try marriage a number of times in order to find the right one—is better than the chance of achieving it in even the most successful of specialized careers. Specialization is bad for men—it is worse for women. Women’s careers, even more than men’s, ought, therefore, to be complementary to homemaking.
Unfortunately the factory system interposes every kind of obstacle to the development of homes which can enlist the talents of able women. It destroys the economic utility of women’s work in the home. It cheats the women in the home of opportunity for self-expression in what they do. It deprives them of their husband’s assistance in building real homes, because the men are forced to be away most of their days. And at the same time that it thus lessens the significance of all work in the home, it opens innumerable alternative careers for them. The careerists are there fore going to increase in number. As they increase in numbers, they will increase in prestige and inflict an ever more galling feeling of inferiority upon those women who strive to make home making their careers. Women of spirit will shrink more and more from homemaking and motherhood, and leave both increasingly to the less desirable types of women.
The vast majority of women whom the factory has driven out of the home, however, are not careerists. They are mere job holders. It is necessity which has driven them out of the home to earn money. Ambition for a career is a minor motive if it is prescrit at all. Our factories and offices are full of women job holders—women who are there because they have to earn money, and whose interest is not in the work they do, but in the pay which they get for it.
According to Miss Mary Anderson, head of the Women’s Bureau of the United States Department of Labor, these women are in American industry to stay.
They take employment young—when they leave school, and if they stop work to get married, it is only a short time before circumstances force them back to their tasks again. Failure of husbands to make adequate incomes is the cause.
Too many people, however, blame the married woman who goes out of the home in this fashion, failing to realize it is dire necessity that is making her do it. The women themselves suffer, as well as the families and society. A whole new set of social problems—not really new in age, but unique in this generation—is the result.
For some time to come fortunate job-holders may still find in marriage and housekeeping a means of escape from their “jobs,” but as the nation becomes more and more urbanized, and the home of less and less economic utility, this will become an escape more and more difficult to achieve. One quarter of all the women gainfully employed in the United States are already married women. Vast numbers of men find it impossible to support wives, much less families, on the money which they alone earn. When they marry their wives have to continue working outside the home, and have to postpone motherhood as long as possible.
The training for buying of these job-holders who form the vast majority of the factory’s customers is pitifully inadequate for the task with which they are confronted. For buy they must when they marry, whether they retain their jobs or leave them to start a home. If they remain at work, the cooking, sewing and washing which they do at home must be done evenings after work or Saturday afternoons and Sundays. Naturally the amount of this work is reduced to a minimum. They cannot afford, as can their more able or more wealthy fellow-workers, the careerists, to go to restaurants very much, so they become what may be called without exaggeration, tin-can cooks. It is quite surprising how complete a meal they can prepare once they have learned to use a can opener with ease and precision, and it is quite amazing how elaborate some of these can openers have to be so as to reduce the dangers and the fatigue of this part of their housekeeping to a minimum.
They know little or nothing about the actual contents of the cans and packages which they buy. The manufacturers’ advertising gives them a vague feeling that the advertised brands are the best, but they buy very largely whatever the retail clerks, who know as little as the women themselves, hand out to them.
They know nothing about the textiles which they buy. How should they? The different fibers are very largely just names to them. They know nothing about the construction of the goods and of their relative utility or durability. How can they? They have never seen the different fibers grown; never seen them spun into yarn; probably do not know what a loom is at all.
Their ignorance about the nature and the value of foods and textiles is duplicated in almost every class of product which they are called upon to buy. They probably abandon even the most elementary kinds of home sewing. They believe that the factories, in which they work or have worked and with which they are more or less familiar, make things so much more efficiently than they can be made in a home, and at so much lower costs, that it is foolish to make anything themselves. It is astonishing how often even thoughtful people fail to distinguish between the low costs for which the factory can make things and the high price at which they have to be sold by the time all the costs of distribution are added to the bare factory cost.
If these job-holding types of women devote all their time to their homes, it is usually because the coming of children forces them to do so. But even if they spend all of their time at home, there is no assurance that, with so much more of their time free to shop, they will do their marketing more intelligently than their non housekeeping sisters. They expend large drafts of their energy in haunting the stores advertising bargain sales, and in shopping from store to store so as to save small sums on individual items. They do not realize that the amount of energy which they expend in order to save a cent or two per can on the soup they buy, would enable them to make a better soup at home, at practically no cost at all. They so proudly buy with the herd that it is pitiful to see how gloriously they save at the spigot and waste at the bunghole. They buy from hand to mouth partly because their earnings do not permit them to buy in economical quantities and partly because the small flats or houses in which they live give them little room in which to accumulate any considerable quantity of supplies. This type of woman in ever increasing numbers furnishes the mass of actual customers for factory products. To reduce all the women of the country to the job-holders’ complete dependence upon the factory product, the vast majority of factories are bending all their energies.
Finally we come to the shoppers—a type of women especially important because they are free to devote themselves entirely to buying things: clothes for themselves, furnishings for their homes, and food for their table. The shoppers live in hotels, in apartment houses, in boarding houses and occasionally in those suburban houses which demand the minimum of labor from the mistress of the house. After their husbands go off to work—the husbands of shoppers are generally salesmen, minor executives, well-paid office workers of some kind, and not infrequently small manufacturers or tradesmen—they have a little work in their houses, including the getting of the children, if any, off to school, the whole taking up not more than two or three hours. They are then ready for an exhausting day of shopping.
Shoppers devote an extraordinary amount of thought to the matter of what they buy, where they buy it, and how much their friends will think they have paid for it. The latest styles in cloth ing, the redecorating of their rooms, the buying of refreshments for their bridge parties—these are the problems upon which they concentrate their minds. If they have some spark of creative urge not otherwise sublimated, it takes the form of learning the new “arts”—decorating lamp shades, painting china, dyeing batiks, making hooked rugs—in which they are given the opportunity to dabble by department stores. These furnish new outlets for buying: strange things to buy for which otherwise they would have no use.
Shoppers are great patrons of the cuits: of which the beauty cuit is the prime favorite. They buy all sorts of cosmetics and perfumes; patronize beauty parlors, and devote a very large part of their time to buying whatever the advertisements tell them is helpful in warding off old age.
At a recent convention of large dry goods merchants, a woman speaker contrasted the shoppers of today with the shoppers of the nineties—a contrast covering a relatively short period of time, but still indicative of the change in women because no further back than the eighteen-nineties women even among the well-to-do classes could be homemakers without loss of caste. The women of the nineties, the speaker said, went to the stores with lists of things which they needed, and they bought them as promptly as possible. Today, this speaker said, the shopping lists are gone. modern shoppers do not go out to buy what they need—they go out to “shop.” The principal by-product of this aimless buying, as far as the modern store goes, is an alarming increase of what is called in the trade the “return goods evil.” Things are bought, delivered, and then returned. A large part of the merchandise which many American department stores sell has to be sold twice before it stays sold. Shoppers are thus enabled to make a triple in road upon the leisure which the factory furnishes them: the first, the lime devoted to the original buying; the second, the time devoted to returning what was first purchased; and the third, the time devoted to buying something which is actually kept. This is the ultimate in shopping. It furnishes the shoppers with a triple justification for their existence.
Unfortunate women, forever seeking to utilize a leisure for which they lack the necessary educational equipment, and pre vented by their husband’s prosperity from the job-holding to which necessity drives their poorer sisters! But veritably perfect consumers of the factory’s products: consumers who waste large portions of what they buy; who use what they buy so carelessly that it depreciates much more rapidly than is normal; who discard what is still serviceable because some newer thing has rendered it old fashioned.
The solicitude of the factory for its woman customers is touch ing in the extreme.
Let me quote upon this point one of the country’s ablest apologists for modern industrialism. Writing in The Nation’s Business, for July 1928, a magazine read by nearly 300,000 business men and published as the official organ of the United States Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Roy S. Durstine, Secretary-Treasurer of the advertising agency of Barton, Durstine & Osborne, Inc., New York City, said:
Not so many years ago most American women were pretty busy doing the things that manufacturers are doing for them today. Women were old at forty and soon passed on, while their hardier husbands chose younger, stronger helpmates to take up the burden. “Why did you get married again so soon?” someone asked a middle-western farmer a month after his first wife died forty years ago. “Well,” was the answer, “it was either that or get a hired girl.”
No wonder women on farms and in small towns and in Louisville and Atlanta and Seattle said to American industry: “We are tired of growing everything we eat and making everything we wear and use. Why can’t we go into the nearest store and buy what we need when we need it?”
There are certain comments to be made upon this, most of them bearing upon the question of whether the facts presented are true and the inference based upon them justified. Let us take the first part of the statement, which includes a gross libel upon the average farmer of forty years ago, that “not so many years ago women were old at forty and soon passed on because most American women were pretty busy doing things that manufacturers are doing for them today.” Even the alleged fact in this statement can be accepted by us only provisionally, while the assumption about the relationship of manufacturing to longevity is based upon one of those half-truths in which uncritical minds delight. Mr. Durstine breezily waves aside all that modern medicine, hygiene, dietetics, obstetrics, have done to add to the longevity of women and blandly gives the factory the whole credit.
It is true that years ago most women were old at forty, but so were the men, as the statistics of the life insurance companies show. Both men and women do not grow old so quickly today. In the case of the women, he ignores the special burden which aged the women of the past much more quickly than the women of today and from which the men of all times have been exempt. The women of the past, thanks to the superstitions of the church, were condemned to a life of incubation. It was the annual procession of babies, accompanied by the burden of carrying the pre-natal child, of blood-letting at parturition, of obstetrical ignorance, of nursing at the breast, and the strain of the slaughter of innocents in the first year of their life, that made the women of the past prematurely old. This was the burden, as if they did not have enough without it, which kept American women “pretty busy,” and the carrying of this burden is not something which modern “manufacturers are doing for them.” When American women began to cut down the birth rate; when the number of pregnancies per woman began to shrink from the traditional four surviving births, four deaths in infancy, and four miscarriages, to a total of probably less than four, including abortions, (which are not so serious with modern methods of curettage), women ceased to grow old at forty. This reduction in the pregnancy rate is something for which even advertising men will hardly have the hardihood to give the factories credit. Eliminate the burden which the annual procession of pregnancies imposed upon women, and the other work of women forty years ago aged them hardly much more than men’s work at that time aged men.
Mr. Durstine’s argument is no more reliable when he asserts, figuratively, that the women of the country became so tired of producing things for themselves that they asked the factories to lift the burden off their shoulders. Where is his evidence for such a statement? Go back as far as he will, even to the time of the building of the first factories, (which were built, according to Mr. Durstine, in order to lift the burden of spinning and weaving off the backs of laboring men and women), and what do we find? We find that far from having asked the factories to undertake this work, both the men and women of that time showed great hostility to the factory system and great reluctance at being forced to give up the “burden” of home spinning and craft weaving.
In the Middle Ages, women were identified with their spindles as men with their spears. While the spears did their own work, the spindles were busy, making the yarn for clothing, for curtains and tapestries, for soft wrappings for wounds, for banners, and in the Orient, for the rugs which are the envy and despair of modern manufacturers. Mr. Durstine may think that women are better off because the factories have deprived them of this labor, but the women themselves made no pleas to have this work taken from them and transferred to a caste of factory hands.
I can recall practically no instance in the early years of the factory in which women took the initiative in welcoming the factory. Even today, there are practically no organizations of women formed for the purpose of encouraging the growth of factories, and I can recall no convention of women which passed resolutions requesting manufacturers to take over the spinning, weaving, sewing, knitting, bread making, preserving, sugar making, soap making, which at one time occupied them. The initiative in taking over these activities always came from the factory—as advertising men like Mr. Durstine well know.
The reason that women generally showed such reluctance to abandoning home-work was not because they were so stupid as to refuse “to raise living standards and to gain leisure for recreation.” They did not see a higher standard of living in what the factory offered them until the factory dominated the world and evolved a folkway which made the women see it as higher. The factory offered them a different canon of values: the women refused to see any superiority in it until advertising made them do so.
To the poorer classes of women the factory offered release from home-work in return for factory and office work. In the beginning these women saw no gain in exchanging long hours of work at home for equally long hours in mills, sweat shops, and stores. At first job-holding was an unavoidable interlude in a life that was ultimately to mean marriage and homemaking. Today, labor laws prevent the old exploitation of working women. The factory and office day is much shorter. Conditions for women workers are much better. Job-holding still seems to most women an undesirable alternative to homemaking, but many have now come to recognize it as an unavoidable one. Slowly but surely the women are accepting the new folkway. And in the new folkway, job-holding by women is strictly in the nature of things.
As for the more prosperous classes of women, avid acceptance of the leisure the buying of factory products made possible became general only after the factory had come to dominate our civilization and after the invention of such meretriciously attractive uses for the time no longer needed for housework as bridge parties and daily movies. Then women began to transform themselves from producers into purchasing agents. They proved intelligent purchasing agents, however, only as long as they retained the knowledge absorbed from the days of productive homeworking. The second and third generation no longer have such knowledge to help them to buy intelligently. They have leisure to shop—they even have the leisure for recreation of which Mr. Durstine speaks—but they have neither the knowledge necessary for intelligent buying nor the cultural disciplines which enable them to use their leisure intelligently.
It is precisely with regard to this matter of leisure that the factory has led women into a blind alley. It is the folkway today to consider leisure, and of course leisure for recreation, a sort of good-in-itself. Whereas the goodness or badness of leisure is precisely and exactly the same as the goodness or badness of labor. The virtue resides no more in the length of time devoted to leisure, than in the length of time devoted to labor. It is dependent wholly upon what is expressed and what is extracted from time.
As a matter of fact there can be no such thing as leisure, certainly physiologically, while human beings are alive. What protagonists of the factory like Mr. Durstine call leisure is the cessation of directly remunerative or actually productive activity. It is the substitution of one kind of activity for activity of another kind. Among these women customers of the factory, most of whom lack not only training but often capacity for education, leisure means time devoted to play. And it means largely vicarious play. For most of modern play is purchased. These women buy their amusements just as they buy food, clothing and shelter. Their leisure, therefore, is really time devoted to activities which involve the consumption of what has been bought, as contrasted to the time devoted to earning money in order to pay for what they want to consume.
The use of time for energetic consumption and for passive spectatorship of play, scarcely represents an improvement over the use which women made of their time in the past. On the contrary, a long enough period of devotion to this kind of leisure is certain to end by transforming women into inappreciative barbarians.
Those who think that a mere release from useful activity of all kinds will produce comfort are mistaken.
The factory’s customers are on the wrong road.
What is needed is not a reduction of the time devoted to productive activities but the substitution of more intelligent activities for less intelligent activities.
That the process of making factory customers out of the women who, Mr. Durstine says, are tired of growing everything they eat and of making everything they wear and use, constitutes such a substitution of more intelligent for less intelligent activity, I utterly deny.
The road to comfort leads in an altogether different direction. It leads to more and more domestic production and less and less factory production. It requires the integration of production and consumption, not their disintegration.
The factory has robbed men and women of their occupations as producers of the family’s needs and desires and forced them into the factory in order to procure the money to pay for them.
Before the coming of the factory, producer and consumer were one. Before the coming of the great Chicago packing houses, nearly every American home used to raise at least one pig, and to supply itself with its own fresh pork, smoked ham and bacon, sausage and lard. Today pigs are raised by hog farmers, often by factory methods; they are taken to market instead of being slaughtered at home; a packing house slaughters them, cures them and converts them into pork, ham, bacon and lard. The consumer has nothing to do but buy these products—and to work in factories in order to get the money with which to pay for them.
As factory products increase in number and variety, the warfare upon domestic production continues until no phase of home making can be carried on without the competition of factory products. With enormous accretions of capital to be invested, factories are constantly expanded and new ones built. The capital which went into the erection of flour mills first deprived the home makers of custom and home-milled flours. Then it went into the erection of bread bakeries, and began to make worthless the home makers’ opportunity to make bread at home. Still later, it went into biscuit bakeries, cake bakeries, and pastry bakeries, and now the homemakers have this competition to meet, handicapped by the fact that social prestige is to be won, not by the skill which is put into home baking, but by the amount which the family can spend.
When the process reaches perfection, homemakers will completely disappear, and with them will disappear not only the home as a few still know it, but the home as it might be if the thought and ingenuity of man were really devoted to developing all its possible contributions to the mental and physical health, happiness, and comfort of mankind. The process has, however, gone far enough so that great numbers of women have already ceased to be homemakers. They have abandoned homemaking as a career because the factory makes it so difficult for the modern home to furnish them the opportunity to gratify and satisfy their intellectual, economic, and social aspirations. Most of the women have become mere buyers of what the factories produce to satisfy their own and their family’s necessities and desires, and if they devote themselves to production at all, it is to producing that one thing which seems to command all things and to open all doors today: money!
It is difficult to disentangle the influence upon the family of the change from the home’s preoccupation with productive activities to its present preoccupation with consumptive activities, from all the other influences which have come with the factory. The influence of more democratic forms of government; the influence of speedy and cheap forms of transportation and communication; the influence of periodical literature and more general literacy—all these act and react upon the family at the same time that the factory profoundly alters the home’s contribution to the economic life of the individual and to society. As a result of all these influences the family is smaller; it lacks continuity throughout the generations; it is notoriously unstable, as the rising tide of divorce and newer forms of marriage clearly indicate. Of one thing there is little doubt: the destruction of the creative and productive home has destroyed an almost essential element in the cement which used to hold the family together.
At one time practically every economic activity of the home involved family activity: father, mother, grandparents and children all did their several parts in contributing to family production. In the production of textiles, for instance, the father grew the flax or cared for and sheared the sheep; the very young and the very old members of the family spun the yarn and reeled it; the fathers and mothers wove it into cloth. Today the only economic function in which the various members of the average family participate as a unit is that of sharing a common lodging. Not every family even eats together; fewer still cook together.
Now the family, we are told, is for the first time dependent wholly upon mutual affection for its cementing medium—presumably a great advance over the old compulsions of religion, of law, of custom. But it is easy to overlook the fact that lasting affections do not survive in a vacuum. Affection is most often produced as a result of experiences shared in common. Men who have endured perils together are often made fast friends by their experiences. In fact, any kind of activity together tends to set up an emotional tie. The greater the volume of common activities, the stouter the emotional tie. The homemaking family of the past, in spite of the compulsions which handicapped it, probably produced just as many happy lives as does the modern family.
It is not so difficult to determine the effect of the divorce between consumption and production on the masses of consumers. The factory has made the individual, as producer, shift his interest from making to earning; from craftsmanship to the wages paid for his time. It has made the individual, as consumer, dependent upon his skill and his ability in buying, rather than upon his ability to make things for himself. It has transformed him from a self-helpful individual into a self-helpless individual.
To a constantly increasing extent, men and women have become dependent for their shelter, their food, their clothing, their entertainment, upon what they can buy with money. Neither the necessities nor the luxuries which they desire are today gratified by their own craft and their own artistry. They are gratified to the extent to which they can procure money with which to buy things. They consume what others have produced, and are dependent for existence and happiness upon things about the making of which they know nothing.
Myriads of human beings in our cities are consuming canned peas without ever having in their life had the opportunity to discover whether peas grow on trees, on bushes, or in the ground. The factory’s customers are spectators of economic life, not actual participators in it. Not even in the work in their own factories are they full participators. Division and subdivision of labor deprives them generally of any sight of the ends of their labor and confines them to the narrow field of the particular operations which they repeat endlessly throughout their productive days.
To cap the climax, the very system of production which has brought about the present superabundance of material well-being is responsible for destroying the factory customer’s sense of values.
Perhaps the most appaling account of what this has led to is that devastating analysis of the merits of industrialized America’s factory-made products by Stuart Chase and F. J. Schlink in Your Money’s Worth. No one can read their arraignment without being impressed with the ingenuity with which the factory fools its customers and with the ignorance of the factory’s customers which makes this fooling possible.
The factory, in the beginning, was able to prove to the buying public conclusively that it was furnishing similar products at a much lower price than craft production could furnish them. Now, having deprived consumers of the old basis for comparison, it leaves them helpless to insure full receipt of the savings which mass production theoretically produces. The things they buy all come to them from stores. They can only compare one factory’s products with another factory’s. And when they do so, they are handicapped by their ignorance about the materials out of which they are made, and the processes involved in fabricating them. When in the store, they are confronted with factory-made products the qualities of which are influenced by their needs and desires only in the most indirect fashion. A bewildering variety of products and brands and prices are submitted to them. The very abundance which the factory makes possible confuses them, disarms them, and leaves them almost entirely at the mercy of the manufacturer’s propaganda. Naturally credulous, ignorance makes them gullible to an unbelievable extent. They are influenced by advertisement and sales arguments pitched in a key to appeal to intelligences whose average is that of twelve to fourteen-year old children. They judge the things they buy by the amount of prestige the products have acquired and in the last analysis mainly by the price asked for them. What is highest in price is presumably best. In their ignorance, they put a premium upon features of the product which frequently add to cost without really adding to utility or beauty. They know so little about the intrinsic merits of the products themselves that they are without a particle of judgment upon the question of whether the higher priced products represent commensurate increases in value.
As the head of one of New York’s largest department stores put the matter, echoing Oscar Wilde: “Nowadays, people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
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