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!