Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Housewives Can Be Empowered Too

I read an interesting post entitled “The Stigma Of Being A Housewife” over at Jezebel a few days ago that has stayed on my mind. The post basically asked if we value housework and the women who do it or if being a housewife somehow akin to being a bad feminist. Should we be supportive of a woman’s choice to stay home? How does that choice affect feminism as a whole? As someone who had never planned on being a stay at home mom but somehow ended up doing just that, the post really made me think about the way I’ve always looked at the career woman vs housewife dichotomy.

I should say right away that I hate anything that questions a woman’s feminism. Obviously they are some people who may claim to be feminists or “pro-women” who aren’t (like Sarah Palin), but questioning the motives of unknown women, just because they’re housewives, is patronizing. Women are fully capable of making decisions that are best for them and their family without being a “traitor” to feminism or the “sisterhood.” Creating a hierarchy of more feminist feminists at the top and women who embrace “traditional family values” at the bottom is the kind of power play that turns people away rather then brings them into the fray (the republican obsession with “RINOs” is good example I think).


Housework, originally uploaded by drip&ju.

Beyond that, I think too much of conversations like this fall back on stereotypes and a narrow opinion of what is considered “worth” doing. One of the comments I found most telling was, "Being a housewife, for me, is ridiculous because I would never expect anyone else to support me." I know each person has a different opinion and I can only speak for myself, but the idea that “support” is only considered as monetary input rubs me the wrong way. I struggle sometimes with the knowledge that Ryan makes all the money and part of me hates it. But to think that what I do isn’t considered “support” is ridiculous. Who do you think keeps everything running? Being in a long term relationship comes with a long list of things that are required to keep the relationship going. What Ryan and I have basically done is divided up that list in a way that works for us. Is our way the same as other couples - of course not. Each partnership requires different things and a different way to make it work. Even though Ryan can’t pay the electric bill with my cooking, my contributions still supports him and our family unit as a whole. Now I realize not everyone will feel the same way (especially if they haven’t made this sort of arrangement personally), but the idea that Ryan is supporting me, instead of contributing to his part of the pie, seems wrong to me. When I did work, we split the chores more evenly and if I was the only one working out roles would be reversed (except maybe the cooking).

It's also a little sexist if you think about it.

Because really, this whole conversation boils down to the belief that earning money, even if it’s doing a job you hate, is more valuable then not making money. And since I don’t actually make any money raising a child and washing the dishes, my work must obviously be less valuable than the work Ryan does. The problem isn’t that some women (and men) want to stay home, but that we undervalue that choice because we consider their lifestyle decision to be less “good” (because productivity equals good right?). While this isn’t all too shocking from a capitalist point of view, it does make the fact that women do two-thirds of the world's work but receive only 10% of the world's income utterly unsurprising.

All of this also ignores the fact that not all people have satisfying jobs. Would anyone really be shocked if someone who works in fast food wanted to stay home and care for their family instead? Of course not. Ryan stands in front of a machine all day that makes drill bits for companies in countries Ryan has never even seen. I fail to understand how that should be considered a more noble profession then me staying home (though I totally appreciate Ryan’s work). I know it's hard for some people to believe, but taking care of my family actually feels good and rewarding. I find it ridiculously satisfying to feed people in a way I never felt while answering phones or helping people pick out clothes. (I also have to wonder who is supposed to be raising our children if we expect everyone to work.)

These two comments sum it up pretty well I think:

"I thought that the whole idea was choice--if you enjoy being a housewife more than being a cubicle dwelling wage slave (or whatever), why not pursue it?? So long as you are happy and fulfilled, the disdain and snobbery of the people who can't possibly understand your decision just simply doesn't matter.”
“I find it offensive when people make me feel bad or inadequate for not choosing the same lifestyles they do. Being "disappointed" in your friend because she wanted to stay at home with her family instead of running a business is just as bad as right-wing fundamentalists calling career women "dangerous" to family values. The whole point is that you're judging someone based on your own standards instead of considering their emotional needs.

If a woman chooses to stay at home, it's exactly that - her choice. And if she's happy doing that, more power to her. Just the same, if she wants to become the CEO of a major corporation, awesome.

Stop telling women and young girls how they "should" feel or what they "should" aspire to. Instead, encourage them to find whatever it is that makes them happy and fulfills their lives. If that fulfillment comes from making their kids' lunches everyday, suck it up. It's her life, not yours.”
I’m not gonna lie, staying home is not easy and always wonderful. There are a lot of times I feel like I need more human interaction and wonder how the hell I got in this situation. But then I remind myself that not all of the jobs I’ve had have been wonderful either and take comfort in the fact that I can read a book and make some cookies anytime I please. I don’t plan on staying home forever, but it’s nice for right now. Holden is still young and I have the time to immerse myself in all the hobbies I always wanted to try but kept putting offn (and bring you this lovely blog). Is my choice the only right one? No. But if it works for me then why should it matter to anyone else? Our lives are not measuring sticks for evaluating all others against. I wish people could get that.

So keep on keeping on people.

Update: I also want to add that I am not talking about the preconceived notion that women should do the housework while men get a pass since it’s “woman’s work.” I am talking about women who have chosen to stay home because they want to. That is what the Jezebel article is about.

5 comments:

  1. I really like this post. I imagined being a housewife was easier than holding a job outside the home. And guess what? It's not. Partially, because of the lack of monetary compensation and you can never clock out.

    I find it interesting this idea that we are somehow not feminists if we manage the household. I know a mom who has a degree in science and feels passionate about "staying at home" with the kids but when her daughter said she wanted to be a housewife when she grew up, she had to wonder if she was doing the right thing.

    For my situation, my husband and I can't afford one income for the long term so my days as a housewife were always numbered. I am thankful that I've experienced it though, because now I know it's not for wimps.

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  2. Thank you! The never being able to clock out thing is what gets me the most and I agree with you about being thankful for the experience.

    I don't plan on being a housewife forever so maybe I'm the wrong person to bring it up, but I don't see anything wrong with raising your children yourself if it is possible. I do find it hard to understand why someone would want to be a housewife forever, but to ridicule that choice by using feminism as a front is bull IMO.

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  3. what? so who is paying for your "choice"? your husband has to fund your emotional needs. what if your happiness comes from making your kids sandwiches? what if your husband wants the same thing? someone has to work. your deciding to be a housewife instead of being able to financially support yourself (using a method besides sexual barter and maid/nanny services around the house) is not excusable. everyone needs to financially support themselves. that's it. no mooch. no considering emotional needs. none of it. the reason some people are unhappy at their job is because it is a JOB. not everyone works because they want to. when working isn't a choice for everyone then why is staying home one? no. i absolutely disagree with this post. men think exactly like that cartoon you posted above because you think there is a choice. if there were no such law that requires married men to give you 50% of their earnings upon divorce, you'd have a powerless position should the unthinkable happen. it's why so many abused women stay with men who mistreat them today even. why worry about self respect when you can have a meal ticket and a free ride to stay home and play with your kids? how under deserved.

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  4. Your response is rather ridiculous. I understand what it is you think you're saying, but I disagree. Being in a partnership is about two people coming together and making decisions on what's best for the family. Money is not the only thing worth value in a partnership. Your whole comment is indicative of the devaluing of the work women mostly do. So don't give me your bullshit.

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  5. So why isn't it that men gladly do that work? If you ask the majority of men to do it, they'll scoff at you and walk off because they know the value of being able to support yourself. Don't call it "devaluing of the work women mostly do" because they shouldn't be mostly doing it. Why wouldn't a man do "what's best for the family" by staying home and doing it? Most won't. Because whoever has the power to strike out financially can always quit it all to be like you, but you could never get those years of experience and career development in the blink of an eye like people with a career. Doubting me? Just go and seriously ask a guy to give up his career to stay home while you work. See how many of them will say they have been stripped of their masculinity. I feel ashamed of being a woman when you group self-sustaining people into "the work women do". BTW? A chef, nanny, or any combination thereof, including mutually working and taking care of the family can replace the other thing that you think is of worth in a partnership. You can't get back the respect you lose in the eyes of people who do everything without giving up their ability to self sustain. If you wanted to stay home, why crowd universities trying to get an education? Just stay home from grade school onwards and have babies and cook for your man. Give an opportunity to someone who really needs to utilize and constantly grow as a person regardless of her marital status.

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