Houswifery

16 Oct

There’s been a thin ribbon of feminism woven through my days for the past few months, it’s just something I keep gravitating toward on two entirely different planes: one, I’ve been more drawn to strong, intelligent women and awed by the contribution they make to society—and determined to be one of them. (The other day I was talking with my very pregnant friend Katherine about how amazing it is that a woman is able to carry, give birth to and then sustain a baby—all with her own body. Katherine concluded, “Women are the shit.”)

But at the same time, these past few months I could honestly fill in the blank after “occupation” with “housewife.” I’ve been job hunting and in the gaps between surfing the Internet for jobs and completing applications there’s errands and chores and cooking. I know some women who would see this as the fulfillment of a dream, this chance to focus on the nest and on caring for one’s husband. I, however, see it as…well, a cross between “repressive” and “defeat.”

Recently I read this post on the New Domesticity blog (I recently discovered it and highly recommend) about whether it is oppressive and antifeminist to hire a maid. My first thought was, “Hell no!” Nobody wants to do the grunt work around the home, male or female. It’s not that I want to go to work and have my husband serve me hand and foot. I actually dream of having a few kids and training them to do all the chores…but I digress. Anyway, I see nothing wrong with providing someone fair wages and honest work, all the while freeing up my time and avoiding the chores I don’t want to do! Of course, this would only be if my husband and I both worked full time. It’s one thing to not have time to do all of the cleaning and another to sit around and eat bon bons while someone does it for you.

So that’s where I’m at right now…with time on my hands and a husband working hard every day. I try to see it as “my share” in our partnership right now—he’s providing a roof over our heads, food on our table, gas in our car…I can provide a clean house and home cooked food and be the errand girl. I suppose this was the mentality in the 1950s when it was so much more common for women to be housewives—and proud of it.

But what is it about this arrangement that sometimes makes my skin crawl? Or that makes me feel so resentful, even when I can easily rationalize that Robert is doing much more work for us than I am—and besides, all of this stuff needs to get done anyway? I think it’s partly that 1950s mentality that one’s husband is the king of the castle. I’ve always hated that paradigm, and never wanted it for myself. It seems like a slippery slope to misogyny. The other side of a lot of housewifery is the coddling and mothering of one’s husband. (By the way, all of this is just going on in my own head…not coming from Robert!) Whether maid or mother, these are not roles that I ever wanted out of marriage.

I don’t know if many a woman goes into her marriage with visions of herself as a servant dancing through her head. But I do think a lot of women—some women I know—marry their husband with a dream of having a nest of their own, taking care of things the way they like to, having the run of the house and command of what everyone wears, eats, sits on. (I married a guy who is way too independent to let something like that happen—which is partly why I liked him in the first place! He wanted a say in our wedding décor and now our home furnishings and I often have to go to him for cooking tips.)

At any rate, whenever I imagined myself married, I pictured myself working, finding my own calling or purpose or way to give something to the world. Some women I know find this in child rearing, and that’s fine for them. But it’s not enough for me. Part of the reason I suppose is that, for my generation, girls were taught to dream about careers, not being a wife and mom—those were a given, not vocational options.

So sometimes when cleaning the house is the big thing I do all day, it scares me. I know I’ll find a job and things will be fine, but we do want kids some day, and I’ll be the natural choice to stay at home. I guess this is preemptive anxiety, but I am so scared of being stuck at home with babies and chores and cooking and man, I already do the dishes SO much I can’t imagine doing any more!

One thing I’m trying to do during these days is to find meaning in my humanity as I complete the menial chores of everyday life. I know in some places in this world, most of one’s day is taken up by such things—fetching water, cooking, washing, mending, gathering food from the garden or the fields—and it’s an awful sense of entitlement that makes me resent these chores. They are the most basic part of being human—feeding ourselves, bathing ourselves, cleaning and beautifying our surroundings—and yet I’ve bought into the idea that I will find myself by spending eight hours a day in a climate-controlled office.

So what do you all think? Are you feeling confined or set free by roles and expectations of our day? Do you delight in nesting, or are you a high powered career woman and loving it? A magical combination of the two? Men, weigh in, too!

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7 Responses to “Houswifery”

  1. shannon October 16, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

    my favorite book is The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris. allllll about this subject. have you read it? http://www.amazon.com/Quotidian-Mysteries-22Womens-Madeleva-Spirituality/dp/0809138018

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    • netanya October 16, 2012 at 9:15 pm #

      Never heard of it, but I definitely want to read it!

      Like

  2. Amy Esqui October 17, 2012 at 6:57 am #

    I loved reading this Joy… very honest and raw. Wasn’t going to comment, but since you asked…lol 🙂 I’m more in the dreamed-of-being-a-stay-at-home-mom camp and I actually am fullfilling that dream of being a stay at home wife and mom right now… but it’s not always so DREAMY 🙂 Sometimes i DO wish that i could leave the dishes, diapers, cleaning, disciplining and cooking behind and go to a 9-5 instead, but my daughter IS my biggest contribution to society right now! Raising her (and any future kids) to be a God-fearing, kind, responsible, intelligent and generous individual who can herself positively “contribute” to society with her own gifts and talents someday is my calling right now. We prefer that I do it then let a child-care worker spend the majority of her life doing that… but that was our prayerful choice. A lot changes in your mind and heart once you meet your own kids for the first time. I’ve had lots of gfs that said they really wanted to go back to their careers after having kids (while they were pregnant) and once they met their little one, totally changed their minds and couldn’t imagine doing anything else but being their mommy all day long. But a lot of people don’t have that option because of finances, so that’s a whole different story. All I can say is continue to wrestle with it, and don’t allow society to pressure you to do something but prayerfully consider what you should do for your family now and when it grows someday 🙂

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    • netanya October 17, 2012 at 9:24 am #

      Thanks for your comment Amy! I love hearing other people’s opinions and experiences. It’s been fun watching you on FB become a mom and it is clear you are loving it! I totally agree with you about raising kids to be lights in the world and positive contributors to society…and it seems the best way to do that is to be the one to stay home and raise them! But, just like I can rationalize that I should be the one doing the housework right now but still kinda hate it, when I think of actually staying at home with a baby all day it seems so boring! But I think you are right, and I’ve heard other women say the same thing, that it’s much different with your own baby. Also, I think some special hormones kick in. 🙂 Robert and I have talked about the ideal of both of us working part time and staying home with our (future, imaginary) kids part time. We’re not planning on them for quite a while, so we’ve got time to figure it out. Also, I think it’s important for me to remember that it’s all about seasons…even if I did stay home, it’s not like my career days or intellectual growth would be over! I’m super thankful my mom was able to stay home when we were very small, and now she is thriving as an occupational therapist and doctoral student. There’s still a lot of life to be lived, even after kids. 🙂

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  3. Jordan Middlebrook October 17, 2012 at 8:05 pm #

    Joy, Paige told me about this post and said I just *had* to come read it—so glad I did! This has been my greatest struggle in being newly married. It is no fault of my husband’s; he’s been incredible and supportive and all of those wonderful things. I actually am working a 9-5 desk job right now, and I’m STILL fighting all of this. Every time I clean the house or fold laundry, I’m suddenly practicing speeches and composing articles in my mind about gender roles and equality and egalitarian vs. complementarian biblical models of marriage. Why am I cleaning? Why am I cooking? (Well, right now it’s because Nate’s still working on four classes in addition to his full-time job. But every time I complete one domestic chore, I feel the need to convince myself I’m just doing this to help us get through his last semester, not because society or the church or the elderly ladies at work tell me it’s my role). Realizing the next defined season of my life will likely be marked by children has made me thrash against the idea of stay-at-home wifery/mothering and simultaneously long for the day. I think being a wife and mother can be a fulfilling full-time role for many women, but I can’t figure out if it’s just not my calling or if I’m resisting it because it’s expected. Does that make sense? Anyway, thanks for sharing this!

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    • netanya October 17, 2012 at 9:11 pm #

      Jordan! Makes perfect sense. So many of us young newlyweds are going through the same thing. It’s a weird time in our culture, where things are in the midst of changing and no one really knows where it’s all going to land. But I wrote this just as catharsis, then met up with a newly married friend who was talking about the same struggles so I thought, I need to share this and see what others think! I’m glad Nate married a thinking woman, and that you married a true Middlebrook man. 🙂 and I saw that YOU have a blog! I’ll be checking it out from now on…

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  4. Anoushka Alden November 6, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    Joy- it’s like you’re reading from my diary (in my mind- never have time to actually write one). I feel like there are 2 women in my head all day long! And since I work from home, it makes it worse. One woman is telling me to work on completing my career goals, while another is like “But you also need to stay healthy and life is short, so cook a good dinner and stop fretting.”

    And the thought of staying at home with kids scares me too, but when I see how much creativity you can still have in that arena, I am hopeful. As you said, we do have the rest of our lives to have a career- that’s completely possible. I think that’s why so many women wait until their 30’s to have children because they feel more settled, accomplished, and comfortable with who they are- in terms of career identity outside the home. I can’t wait to get to that point!

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