G.K. Chesterton on Women

Woman must be a cook, but not a competitive cook; a school-mistress, but not a competitive school-mistress; a house decorator, but not a competitive house-decorator; a dressmaker, but not a competitive dressmaker. She should have not one trade but twenty hobbies; she, unlike the man, may develop all her second bests. This is what has been really aimed at from the first in what is called the seclusion, or even the oppression, of women. Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad. The world outside the home was one mass of narrowness, a maze of cramped paths, a madhouse of monomaniacs. It was only by partly limiting and protecting the woman that she was enabled to play at five or six professions and so come almost as near to God as the child when he plays at a hundred trades. But the woman’s professions, unlike the child’s, were all truly and almost terribly fruitful.

You really must read the whole essay “The Emancipation of Domesticity” which originally appeared in What’s Wrong With the World and is included in the book Brave New Family.

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18 thoughts on “G.K. Chesterton on Women

  1. Valerie,

    I think what Chesterton is thinking of is competitive in the market place. She is free in the home to excel in many areas, but she does not have to be an expert (competitive).
    And, I suppose an area where women can be safely competitive would be in a pie baking contest. But even there, watch out! Men are much better at competing (and much worse). My point in quoting GK is to reinforce what I posted earlier. When women quit competing, they are free to really enjoy one another and even enjoy themselves.

  2. I love this quote, I have heard you say it a couple times now and I actually wrote it down one day while listening to a study you did, in order to paint it on my wall….well part of it would go on the wall… any way, good stuff.

  3. That’s a wonderful quote. Sometimes I feel rather guilty that I don’t really have a focus (one husband, no kids, and a job but no career). I’m quite busy, but it’s in so many directions that it’s impossible to sum up in the way that some women are able to say “mother,” “marketing researcher,” “student,” etc. Glad to know that’s just part of being a woman and not something wrong with me. Thanks for the encouragement.

  4. I think that woman learn from each others “second hobbies” and men learn from competing with one another. I myself do not learn well from competition. I focus on feelings too much in competition; I either feel sorry for my opponent and do not really compete or feel sorry for my self once I have lost after giving it my all. I think this aspect is very evident in debating; I much rather get advice from more than one person and think over it than have a debate I even feel uncomfortable watching debates. Again, its the feeling sorry for the loser, even if he’s wrong.

  5. Thanks for this. I’ve always wondered about that phrase “a jack of all trades, but a master of none” and if it applies to all my jobs as wife and mom and you’ve brought much clarity.

  6. I like the idea of thinking on our interests as hobbies. If I was trying to be competitive it would stiffle my creative juices. I love photography. It is a hobby for the moment. This post helped me to want to do it more and not feel like I have to a “professional”!

  7. Wow, great post! Thank you for such an encouraging tid-bit to make housewives/mommies be reassured of our calling and the importance it has, especially in a world that looks down on and degrades our “profession”! Blessings to you, dear sister!

  8. How can we reconcile this with a pursuit of excellence? I want to be excellent in what I do, insofar as I am capable. I know i might be able to knit a scarf, but I think I’d rather leave it to someone who had more skill in this area because I don’t want to produce a lazy-looking scarf. I think I see where GK is coming from on the one hand and I agree. But on the other hand, I wonder if there are some unintentional implications about giving only second best to a task.

  9. Lee,
    Chesterton is showing us that we may pursue many things without the pressure of being a pro at any of them. I love to cook and bake, but my cooking doesn’t hold a candle to the French chef who owns a restaurant downtown. But that doesn’t make me feel like giving up on the cooking, even though I serve up some pretty lazy-looking dinners. And if you knit a scarf, you might surprise yourself and delight your child or your husband or some other lucky recipient. If you leave gardening and decorating and sewing to those with more skill, you’ll be robbing yourself of the pleasure of learning and the blessing of seeing the fruit of your labors. The pursuit of excellence may be a standard God has not imposed. He may be more pleased with a homey mediocrity that is overflowing with joy and thanksgiving for funny hand-knit sweaters.

  10. Thanks, Nancy. I am a pianist/musician and the perfectionist tendencies are strong. Because of this, I do shy away from stuff that I think I would only render halfway decent. That is encouraging to think that I can pursue things with a heart of joy to learn and also embrace the fruit of the labor, even if the fruit itself not up to par with my vision of excellence.

  11. Chesterton is great.
    Even C.S. Lewis took inspiration from him.
    I have some of his books, like “what is wrong with the world”and orthodoxie. given to point that they are written in the early 1900’s they are super actual and we could learn so much from him. The insight and remarkable wisdom this man had!
    Erno from the Netherlands

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