In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir describes domesticity as akin to the fate of Sisyphus:
Legions of women have in common only endlessly recurrent fatigue in a battle that never leads to victory. Even in the most privileged cases, this victory is never final.
One could object that there is more to the life of domesticity than just housework: there is also the work of caring for children and other dependants. But Beauvoir also takes mothering into account:
Simone de Beauvoir not only thought that domestic work was a form of drudgery, but choosing housewifery, and sometimes motherhood, struck her as examples of bad faith. Women don't really enjoy doing the housework or changing diapers, or if they do, it is because they have forced themselves to stop looking for enjoyment in more rewarding places.
Bad faith for Beauvoir meant something different than what it meant for Sartre. Sartre saw bad faith as using one's situation as an excuse for one's life – 'I am a wife, I can only obey my husband' or 'I am a mother, my nature dictates that I should care for my children'. Sartre, rejecting essentialism, believed that one could always choose to react differently to one's situation, except for one odd essentialism of his own: human beings, he thought, were bound to fall into the category of dominator or dominated. Beauvoir rejected this essentialism too:
If Sartre thought human beings were by nature doomed to desire domination, then there really was no exit from living our own oppressors. Beauvoir's philosophy, by contrast, refused 'the consolations of lies and resignations' – it was an excuse to think that it's just human nature to dominate or submit. (see Kate Fitzpatrick, Becoming Beauvoir, loc 3475.)
This was an ethical disagreement: for Sartre, a woman's bad faith is measured according to her failure to participate in males' projects of seduction (see Toril Moi, 2008, Simone de Beauvoir: The Making of an Intellectual Woman, 150-154). Beauvoir's ethical stance was, like Sartre's underlain by a metaphysical one. Sartre believed that we became free through a situation, that we could realize our freedom by transcending that situation. But Beauvoir objected that women's situations were not and could not be transcended, because they were part of the world that made them who they were, and in many cases, that world made it impossible for them to assert their freedom. Turning away from Sartre's analysis, she went back to Heidegger and the idea that human beings are at one with their world (Mitsein) and to Husserl's phenomenology in order to make it clear that it is the lived experience of women, rather than their situation we need to focus on in order to help them achieve freedom. (see Kate Fitzpatrick, Becoming Beauvoir, loc4298, and Manon Garcia, On ne Nait pas Soumise, on le Devient).
So how does this help us understand women's relationship to the home? Women, for Beauvoir cannot simply transcend their situation, nor should they accept them as inevitable: there is something that can be and should done. Resistance to any given aspect of women's lives, whether it is domesticity, motherhood, or subservience, is hard, but not futile, and it involves turning the world around, one meaning at a time.
But what singularly defines the situation of woman is that being, like all humans, an autonomous freedom, she discovers and chooses herself in a world where men force her to assume herself as Other: an attempt is made to freeze her as an object and doom her to immanence, since her transcendence will be forever transcended by another essential and sovereign consciousness. Woman’s drama lies in this conflict between the fundamental claim of every subject, which always posits itself as essential, and the demands of a situation that constitutes her as inessential. How, in the feminine condition, can a human being accomplish herself? What paths are open to her? Which ones lead to dead ends? How can she find independence within dependence? What circumstances limit women’s freedom and can she overcome them? The Second Sex, 37.
This is where I blog about my new book project (under contract with OUP): a history of the philosophy of the home and domesticity, from the perspective of women philosophers.