top of page
  • Alexis Howells

Alice, Come Home

Naturally, we think of Wonderland as something outside ourselves or an imaginary location. But I believe we can achieve a wonderland within the home. The traditional way of considering homemaking is outdated, even as the tradwife subculture–one that embraces traditional sex and marriage roles–gains popularity in Western culture. Falling into Wonderland teaches Alice important lessons: the value of friendship, the importance of imagination, embracing one's true self, and the power of perception. Each must be considered when adapting Wonderland to the home. Women were given the primary domestic role ages ago, and they’ve slowly subverted this over time, just as Alice’s character does in Tim Burton’s film adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s work.

In Burton’s version, 19-year-old Alice flees Victorian England to escape its restrictive status on women, which emphasized domesticity and submissiveness over everything else. Burton depicts this effectively with Alice’s aversion to the corset she’s made to wear and reaction to her suitor telling her: “When in doubt, stay silent.” After escaping to Wonderland, she is freed from the domestic handcuffs to which her sister had surrendered and dedicated her life to an endless performance of household duties.

A hundred twenty-three years after Queen Victoria’s reign, women are able to more visibly resist their predetermined role in domestic labor by talking about it online. For example, TikToker Hannah Misra went viral by sharing her frustrating experience recovering from Covid. She and her child had isolated on the upper level of their house to keep her husband Covid-free and, after seven days of illness,  returned to a moldy pile of dishes, an overflowing trash bin, and a lingering smell of rotten food. Her husband relied on her to care for their child and do laundry even as she was barely strong enough to leave the bed and then expected her to work overtime to make up for the work she “missed” during the week. Housework is necessary for everyday functioning, but placing all the responsibility on one person is a vehicle for power.

Society has always depended on women for social reproduction, which describes the relationship between class and social relations. In Marx’s theory, the rich accumulate wealth and advance through generations while  lower classes lack those advantages needed to move up in society. But Marx forgot something: labor cannot generate itself on its own. It’s the work of reproduction (for laborers to eat, sleep, and return to work) that has been naturalized as “women’s work” that renews labor power: the energy to work in the factories. 

Reproductive labor is the unpaid work in the private sphere (such as cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing) that assists in the making of productive labor, in which goods are produced. Because it is not visible, what second-wave feminists call “the second shift” is not recognized as waged work, even though the most visible product of this is the most important to the system: the next generation of waged laborers. In 1972, Silvia Federici, Selma James, and Mariarosa Dalla Costa founded the Wages for Housework campaign for the recognition and payment of all work, inside and outside the home. Mind you, women used to dedicate their lives to domestic work. So it’s even worse today, because women are expected to work full-time jobs just like men alongside accomplishing the labor needed for social reproduction alone.

Women’s history is class history: it is based on the bureaucratic struggle to gain and maintain power. In the age of primitive accumulation, or the development of capitalism in the Middle Ages, the upper class obtained power and kept it with the witch trials, unleashing a massive campaign of terror against women to weaken the European peasantry. Italian feminist scholar Silvia Federici wrote, "The world had to be 'disenchanted' in order to be dominated" in response to the persecution of women in the witch trials that led to their isolation in the private sphere.

It is unclear what wave of feminism Western society currently engages in, but regardless, we’re cycling around to continue the work of our second-wave sisters: liberating women from the prescribed “woman’s work” and embracing women’s perception of self-importance. Because social media has infiltrated our everyday lives, stories like Hannah Misra’s are more visible and make other women feel seen in their struggles.

Recently, the internet has popularized the term "weaponized incompetence," which describes how (mostly) men in (mostly) heterosexual households use incapability tactically to get out of doing domestic work. A current online trend embodying this has women testing how their male partners approach cleaning a pile of ketchup on the kitchen counter.

It goes like this: the woman secretly presses record, “spills” a heaping pile of ketchup onto a surface, and calls her husband into the kitchen to clean it up. Typically, he smears the processed red goop all over the granite, and it sparks rage in viewers. Clearly, the videos are set up to get interaction, but the point is that it shows how he makes situations worse to avoid being asked again, making the wife what the internet calls a “single married mom.”

The patriarchy has always feared women having a platform because if a woman is isolated at home performing her duties, she cannot connect with other women over her struggles and band together to seek liberation. The lessons learned from Alice’s experiences in Wonderland are vital because if we don’t embrace our true selves, we can’t stay true to our values. Without friendship, there is no community. And without imagination, there is no envisioning better futures outside of the life we were made to perceive as correct. Like Alice, we must be creative in our methods to subvert the patriarchy, even if they are as simple as creating a chore chart. 

Since society has somewhat ditched its dependence on the housewife to create a home, certain measures can be taken to ensure that all the necessary housework is completed evenly by all parties. Conflict at home is inevitable no matter who you live with or how healthy that relationship is. Regardless of gender or number of housemates, it’s important to discuss the historical and contemporary strategies of subordination so we can call them out in our own homes and level the housework between each other. We all have our faults, so while Wonderland isn’t perfect, it’s not unobtainable, and there’s no reason not to strive for it in our everyday lives.


Art by Amelia Stebbing


bottom of page