Mar 18, 2005

Housewife!

Apparently, from what I read and see in the media, the term "housewife" is being reclaimed by younger women. Check out this retro-ly hip shirt, for example. But a couple of weeks ago a doctor I had to see for my back called me a housewife. Coming from a fifty-something professional woman, it sounded harsh and insulting. I had explained "I'm home with my children now." and quickly she said, "Oh, so you're a housewife."

I'm not going to get my knickers in a twist about something like that. I have a doctorate. I am forty-six years old and I'm so fortunate to have even had two children over forty. Hell, I'm on the edge of menopause. It isn't worth my time to feel personally affronted. Yawn.

However, what interests me is the ways in which this stay-at-home-mother role is interpreted so differently by different generations. One friend of mine, a fifty-year-old anthropologist, upon hearing what I am doing with my life right now, said to me "You are your mother." Of course, she never know my mother, but I knew what she meant. Back to the 1950s, and all that. (There's a reason why those hip housewife t-shirts re-use the old graphics.) The multiple feminisms in our culture right now create a dissonance on this subject, and I feel it because my age puts me with late boomers, but my young children put me with women in their mid thirties or younger.

It seems women who are intentionally at home with their children for the long haul (I don't include myself in that) need some ideology to prop that up, be it conservative Christian values, natural living, attachment parenting, whatever. Other women will say "I'm home with my children for now" like I just did, even if they don't know when and how they'll get back into the work world. Because it's just very difficult to claim a "homemaker" status as your identity without some more transcendent values that justify doing that.

I do think we're feeling our way toward an enlightened domesticity, as the popularity of Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelsohn indicates. Jean Railla has a lovely essay about domesticity here. It's the introduction to her book Get Crafty: Hip Home Ec. The introduction is the best part of the book, as most people don't have any interest in knitting a bikini or making large volumes of limoncello. Anyway, the book seems to be a significant gesture towards redefining and reclaiming the domestic. Read Railla's intro and let me know what you think.

2 comments:

Anjali said...

I feel similarly, Lauren. And I struggle with finding harmony between my militant feminist self and my stay at home status. Anjali

MonicaRose said...

Hey,
I am the designer of the "housewifeTM" t-shirts and wanted to shed some insight behind my design. The word housewife is a powerful word, it stirs emotion when it is said, heard and read. That is why I put it on t-shirts. I wanted to fully embrace the word housewife, explore it, understand it...in a fun way. There is nothing better than a simple, humorous t-shirt that "breaks the ice" on a more serious topic. My shirts create a dialogue about women, mothers, gender roles, feminism. I have had some great talks with many people, just because I really wanted to own that I'm a housewife right now. Your sight is really COOL! Take care, Monica (mother of 2). P.S. Spread the word..."Housewife!"