The 1950s Housewife Challenge: Day 7

Sleep is evidently for others, because I lay awake in bed until almost 6AM again. No particular reason, I was just…awake.

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I only managed a few hours of sleep and although I know I could’ve slept longer, a single thought kept running through my head: I have to get up and clean!

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After only a week of this challenge, it feels wrong if I don’t start my day by doing the daily chore list, like my house has somehow gotten super grimy in the last 24 hours. Which is ridiculous, but some part of my brain keeps insisting that I need to obsessively clean as if I’m preparing for an inspection.

What’s in a Name?

The other day, I had an interesting conversation with Jon about the terminology people use to describe mothers who stay home with their kids. I asked Jon to tell me his gut reaction to each term and to explain why he thought he had those reactions, and then I later reflected on my own biases and reactions, which resulted in the following:

  • Housewife

    • Google Definition: “a married woman whose main occupation is caring for her family, managing household affairs, and doing housework.”
      • A housewife is also apparently the name for “a small case for needles, thread, and other small sewing items.”
    • Jon’s Reaction: His initial reaction to this term was pretty negative. “I just think it makes you sound really subservient, instead of the equal partnership we actually have.” Jon went on to explain that the term reminded him of a stereotypical 1950s-type relationship where the man leaves to go to work and then comes home to a polite, well-groomed family who talks in hushed, reverent tones so as not to interrupt the man’s relaxation during his evening.
    • My Reaction: I mostly agree with Jon’s initial reaction, but I also realized how many deep-rooted biases I had against the term “housewife.” Although I’ve always supported other women’s choices to stay home with their families if they wanted to, I realized I had a lot of internalized misogyny about the idea of me being “just a housewife.” My brain immediately conjured up thoughts of Stepford wives, which is a really shitty way to think about women who stay home with their families, and I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I thought that way. But, recognizing crappy behavior is the first step in changing it, so I guess at least there’s that.
  • Stay-at-Home Mom/Parent

    • Google Definition: Google routed me back to the definition of “housewife.”
    • Jon’s Reaction: “That one is better, but I don’t think it fully describes what you do.” Jon also pointed out that he doesn’t think of being a parent as a job as much as a responsibility, one he shares equally with me. Not to say that he doesn’t think parenting isn’t work, because he absolutely does; he was clear to make the distinction that he views a job as something you get paid to do but there are lots of things, such as parenting, that are definitely work.
    • My Reaction: This is probably the best term to describe what I do, especially since I’m currently homeschooling Kiddo due to the pandemic and his medical issues, but I still really don’t like it. My main problem with it is that I feel it reduces my identity down to my relationship to another person, namely my son. I absolutely love being his mom, but this circles back to my comments in my pre-challenge post about how I don’t like my identity being reduced down to being a mom. As an independent person with my own thoughts, feelings, and ideas, being solely identified by having a child feels like my identity and purpose are to be a supporting cast member to another person. I love Kiddo with everything I am, but being a mom is not the most interesting thing about me.
  • Homemaker

    • Google Definition: “a person, especially a housewife, who manages a home.”
    • Jon’s Reaction: “That one sounds like you’re going to make all of our clothes out of burlap.”
    • My Reaction: I suppose this one makes sense as an alternative to “housewife” if you think of it in a sort of “a house is not a home” way. Plus, this one has the added bonus of not including the word “wife” or “mother,” which I like. However, it does feel a little outdated and Little House on the Prairie to me, which is fine if that’s what you’re into, it just doesn’t fit for me. I think perhaps I don’t care for this term because it feels like the responsibility is solely on me to make our home enjoyable for the family, whereas I feel Jon is an equal contributor to our home. Yes, I’m cleaning a lot more than he is at the moment, but Jon’s the cook in the family and he always pulls his own weight.

Jon also brought up the time after our son was born, when his immune system was so fragile immediately after his transplant that neither Jon nor I could get a job outside of our home because it would be too much exposure to possible illnesses that we could pass on to Kiddo. Due to the extensive amount of care our son needed, no one assumed I would ever go back to work…but Jon got an extreme amount of judgment from older family members, especially during the times when I was the breadwinner with my freelance work and he was the primary caregiver for our kid. They were shocked Jon took on an equal share of parenting duties, and even when Jon was able to create a career working from home, they didn’t think he was “really” working because he managed to do it from home instead of leaving the house all day. Family members used to refer to Jon as “Mr. Mom” which is a bullshit way of saying “father.” It’s the same kind of way that people will ask a mother if the father is “babysitting” the kids. It’s not babysitting if they’re your children; it’s called parenting. But this illustrates that the biases go both ways; while I’m paranoid about being thought of solely as a mother, Jon was frequently viewed as not fulfilling his gendered role of sole provider during the times when his focus was on our son.

Labels & Boxes

So what housewife-ish term do I like the best for me? Honestly…none of them. I feel like there isn’t a common term that fits because to me, they all feel so reductive, including homemaker, because it feels like each just reinforces a gendered stereotype that women belong at home with the children and the vacuum. I think this is largely due to the way Americans are labeled and judged by their profession. “What do you do?” is one of the first get-to-know-you questions we ask each other in social situations and, whether we want to admit it or not, we have preconceived notions and assumptions about people based on their answer. “I’m a doctor,” automatically commands respect, but if you tell people, “I’m a bartender,” they assume you’ve fucked up your life in some way and can’t get another job. I’m particularly salty about the latter because when I was a bartender, I’d already completed my Masters and I was bartending because I made good money while leaving my days free to work on my writing. However, bar patrons were often shocked to hear that I not only finished college, but I had an advanced degree since they’d assumed that, due to the nature of my job in the service industry, I was barely literate. 

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“You can READ???”

I want to rally against the whole “what do you do?” thing and instead shift the focus to who we are as people, but that’s not exactly a short soundbite that can be easily exchanged during small talk at a party. Maybe what I really hate is the shallowness of our connections with people to where we’d rather quickly label one another instead of taking the time to get to know who they are. But, rather than admit that we don’t give a shit, we keep up a facade of interest so we can widen the appearance of our social circle, thereby making us seem more interesting and popular because we know one or two facts about each person without having to put in the time and effort to get to know each other as complete, complex humans.

What is your freaking point, Emily?

I’m not sure I have one yet. I’m still exploring what my personal identity means to me now that I have taken on a role I never planned to fulfill as a housewife/stay-at-home parent/homemaker/whatever you want to call it. While I admit I’m coming to terms with my own internal biases, it feels more and more like I’m rallying against how I think I’m being perceived by those around me. And why should I care what other people think? They’re not the ones living my life and I don’t have to justify myself to them or anyone else. However, considering the length of this particular post, maybe I doth protest too much. As much as I hate to admit it, maybe I really do care what other people think which is why I’m so upset at the idea of being pigeonholed by the fact that I’m a mother.

Good lord, it’s exhausting being in my head all the time.

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Both. I need both.

For the record, I acknowledge what a first world, white lady problem this is. I’m fortunate enough to be in a situation where I can choose whether I want to get a job or if I want to be with my son full-time. A lot of people are not afforded the luxury of this choice and I know how lucky I am. I’m grateful for the opportunity to do a ridiculous challenge like this and wax philosophically about the words we use to describe women who stay home with their children and spend all this time thinking about it. At times this makes me feel a little frivolous, but I also know I’m not the only person who thinks about these topics, so why not be involved in the discussion when I have the opportunity?

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Oh fuck, I’m a Carrie.

Day 8: “Didn’t I JUST clean that?”


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One Comment on “The 1950s Housewife Challenge: Day 7

  1. Pingback: The 1950s Housewife Challenge: Day 6 – Emily Regan

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