This morning we have the last of our 2012 intern Reclaiming Wife posts, this time from Elisabeth (who converted to Islam and then planned what may have been the world’s longest long-distance wedding ever). I’ve found Elisabeth’s posts this year to be particularly interesting because of the ways she’s had to grapple with her feminist identity in a mostly traditional marriage (traditional, of course, depending on who you ask). And today she’s back, talking about gender roles, choice feminism, and the division of household labor. It’s a perfect complement to the first post she wrote for us, and an excellent musing on the ways that institutional sexism can force us into boxes we’re not comfortable living in.
—Maddie for Maternity Leave
I am writing this on the airplane that is taking me to Pakistan for the last of my multiple wedding-related parties and my first visit to my husband’s country of origin. Our immigration issues are finally over (for the time being), and as soon as we leave Pakistan, we are headed on our honeymoon. After that, I think I may finally feel like I am married and like my marriage is really, honest-to-god, starting. Yesterday we calculated that our five-month anniversary will also happily mark the moment since the wedding when we have spent more time together than apart, and we’re already looking forward to that.
But none of that is what I want to write about. Last week we went to apply for my Pakistan visa, my husband and I, and when they asked me my occupation I said both “unemployed” (accurate) and “writer” (slightly more aspirational but also accurate). What got written down was “housewife.” It was the first time I had ever been described that way by myself or anyone else.
I was viscerally uncomfortable with the description. I am still uncomfortable reporting it to you now.
I’ve spent the last week trying to figure out what it is exactly that makes me so unhappy about the label because, you see, I was raised by a housewife. My mother dedicated all of her time and energy to me and my sisters, and I would (and have often been) the first to say that we benefited enormously from her decision. So I don’t think I’m troubled by the idea of me, or anyone else, making the decision not to work outside the home.
On the other hand, it has been clear to me for a while that my mother is not entirely comfortable with her decision to stay home. Now that my sisters and I are grown up and out of the house, she sometimes feels unneeded and at loose ends, and I think occasionally she regrets not pursuing a career more seriously. For that reason, I’m very ambivalent about the idea of staying home myself, and I think ultimately the decision will be dependent upon where Amin and I are in our careers and how we feel at the time we have to make the decision.
And again, I guess we tend to refer to my mother more as a stay-at-home mom than a housewife—has the latter term gone out of style? Is that why I don’t like it? Is it the implication that a housewife is cooking and cleaning and keeping the house to serve her husband that annoys me? Well, I have been cooking and cleaning (and unpacking and knitting) for my husband—isn’t that what a team does, when one of them is stuck at home by choice or circumstances? Continue reading Elisabeth: Occupation, Housewife