Elisabeth: Occupation, Housewife

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?

I suppose there are obvious gender assumptions in the fact that the word is used at all, so I’m sure my feminist buzzers went off. That “housewife” is something I have the option of being, something that is suggested to me as a possible occupation with no hesitation. On the one hand, it obliquely suggests that my proper place is in the house, so, that’s offensive. On the other hand, my unemployed husband would not be offered the choice of putting down “househusband” or “homemaker”—he would be “unemployed.” Sexism hurts everybody, folks.

I think the problem I have here is with the feeling that my agency was compromised. If I am going to be a housewife (or, let’s not call it that, but instead say “if I were going to stay at home and cook and clean and take care of the household”), I want it to be a choice. I want Amin and me to sit down and review the possible options and decide that it makes sense for me to stop working to pursue something else which would possibly include cooking and cleaning. And when I DO cook and clean, I want it to be seen as a contribution to my family, and one I choose to make, rather than my natural function as a member of the gender of cooking and cleaning. At the Pakistani embassy the term was used as a catch-all occupation for “unemployed married woman,” and honestly I’d rather be listed as an unemployed married woman than be forced into a role I did not choose.

So fine, maybe at the moment I kind of am a housewife. I am not working. I am doing the cooking (I made an apple pie the other day!), I am doing most of the cleaning, and I am doing it in order to care for my husband. And that’s perfectly alright—I enjoy cooking most of the time, the cleaning has to get done by somebody, and I’d rather be busy doing all of that than sitting around watching television and feeling guilty for not yet having found a job in London.

Because as I’m constantly and correctly reminded, feminism is about giving women a choice—a choice whether or not to cook, whether or not to work, whether or not to describe yourself as a “housewife.” It’s not about what you do with that choice, it’s about whether or not you made the decision freely and for some reason other than “I’m a girl and everyone tells me this is what girls have to do.” And whatever my visa application may say, I have not chosen to be a housewife. Not yet. Maybe not ever. And can we please pick another name for it?

As I may have written about earlier, mine is a surprisingly traditional marriage (from my perspective; from Amin’s perspective it’s surprisingly untraditional). Amin and I did not live together before getting married. We have no financial entanglements. Amin’s family does not date before marriage, so the wedding put an enormous and very tangible seal of legitimacy on our relationship. And when I was a child I did not see myself ever needing to negotiate with the fairly conservative norms that still prevail in large swaths of Pakistani culture. But here we are, and I am richer for it.

Writing for APW has been an invaluable resource during this past year as Amin and I navigated the stormy waters of interfaith and intercultural marriage (and a new conversion!). This community has been a wellspring of support and positive vibes during a stressful time, and a fount of information and experience for a bride who had nobody to guide her. I feel a huge sense of accomplishment that Amin and I actually managed to get hitched this year (woo!). But mostly, I am enormously grateful to this amazing community that reaffirmed on a daily basis that there are endless “right” ways to do a wedding or a marriage, no matter how weird or wrong those ways might look to others. I was a Practical Bride and I am doing my best to be a Practical Wife.

Photo by Elisabeth’s sister

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  • Congratulations. On everything, your last wedding, your marriage, all this beautiful writing, the immigration issues solved…
    Enjoy the honeymoon too.
    I am sure you will figure it out, the term wife, how to make it yours.
    I hope you find the job you wish and I hope you and Amin have a life full of love and joy and happiness.

  • Sarah O

    “I was a Practical Bride and I am doing my best to be a Practical Wife.” I will, too!

  • Suzy

    “And when I DO cook and clean, I want it to be seen as a contribution to my family, and one I choose to make, rather than my natural function as a member of the gender of cooking and cleaning.”

    Yes!! I’ve never heard this tension explained so accurately. Thank you. Women are not the “gender of cooking and cleaning” but it SO. OFTEN. IS. ASSUMED. to be that way.

    (Caveat; my husband is pretty good about this. I’m thinking more of my Middle Eastern male ESL students at the university and their interesting persuasive speeches about whether mothers should stay at home.)

  • Steph

    Even though my marriage is a little less traditional (we lived together at my insistence before getting engaged, big work outside the home and are child free by choice) i could so relate to all of these concerns. (I was also raised by a stay at home mom and benefited greatly from her choice, yet would feel uncomfortable about making a similar choice for myself) It’s why i enjoy the reclaiming wife posts so much. I was very excited to marry my husband specifically, but very ambivalent about being a “wife”. Almost 4 years in I can say with confidence that we have made the term our own and that our marriage works for us, which in the end is the most important part :)

  • anon

    For what it’s worth, my husband of 3 months was recently labeled ‘homemaker’ on our home loan applications, not by choice. His description would be ‘in between jobs’ since we are relocating for my job, was about to resign from his current position at the time we applied, and he is truly in the middle of a job search for a new position in his field. This is not to discount your experience, but to share that the same labels are sometimes, in fact, placed on men just as they are on women!

    In both cases, I agree wholeheartedly that there has to be a better way to describe a situation where a person is not bringing in income without all the cultural narrative or baggage.

    • Jenni

      Perhaps homemaker is better though as it’s gender neutral–it doesn’t imply that you are the person who cares for the home because of your gender, just as doctor or lawyer or teacher or writer says nothing about the person’s gender.

      • Absolutely! I love homemaker for so many reasons – making a home may not include a house for starters, and also “housewife” sounds like he/she may have another wife stashed at work, or in the car, or in an apartment somewhere, or lounging on a divan in the yard… Like there’s a housewife doing all the work in the house, and a nightclubwife getting all the dancing and fun time… Creepy and unfair.
        Semantics aside, Elizabeth hit the nail on the head: the choice is what matters and self-identifying is so important to making your choice and having others recognise and support it. That the visa people took that choice and self-identification from her is unfair at the least, subjugation at the worst, and unkind all around. Thank you for sharing a difficult experience, and letting us chew it over!

        • KB

          Nightclubwife!!! This just made my day.

    • Emily

      Personally I’m a fan of Roseanne Barr’s term: Domestic Goddess. Men could be Domestic Gods, although that unfairly sounds a little more all-powerful.

    • KC

      My husband was… not happy… with being labeled “homemaker” by the bank (esp. since he was a student at the time)(but oh, I was so entertained). It is a better term than “housewife” (married to the house?), but in many cases, it’s a profoundly inaccurate catch-all – and, what’s more, a catch-all that seems to demote whatever you’re actually doing to “oh, that’s nice that you’re keeping yourself busy, dear” or something like that, due to decades of super-weird homemaking stigma.

      Homemaking is definitely a useful/worthy/etc. thing to do (building a place where people are comfortable and feel valued! yes!) – but if it is *not what your career is* then it’s really uncomfortable to be unceremoniously chucked in that bucket. We have identity tied up with our labels, and it can be very itchy to have to wear a label that isn’t really ours (even when it’s “higher status”).

    • wow! I’m surprised by that. My first response was going to be that “housewife” probably bothered her (and would bother me) because I imagine her husband would have been noted as “unemployed.” This “homemaker” option sort of makes me feel better… I guess…? At least it’s gender neutral.

    • I got listed as “housewife” on my first bank account in the UK, before I was even married- but the woman helping me set it up explained that it looked better as far as credit-worthiness goes than “unemployed”. Don’t know if my husband would have been offered the same advantage had our situations been swapped.

      Did it maybe hurt more that you’d already given your preferred descriptors? Swapping “writer” for “housewife” indicates that they’re not taking you very seriously at all.

  • Kira

    Great post! I’m currently reading the book Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, by Shannon Hayes, and finding it extremely valuable for putting the history of domestic labor in perspective. A particularly interesting historical point, I think, is that etymologically “housewife” and “husband” are counterparts, coming from the same root; men and women both worked to support their homes, although their tasks were gendered. Men chopped firewood, carved wooden utensils, made leather goods, and plowed fields; women cooked, wove and sewed cloth, and cared for children. It was only after the industrial revolution, which disproportionally affected traditionally male domestic tasks (coal replaced wood as fuel, wooden and metal goods were mass produced, and money, rather than bartering, became crucial to sustaining a family) that women started doing most of the domestic work while men went out to work in factories. (This focuses on an Anglo perspective, of course, which I think is justified when we’re talking about English etymology, but cross-cultural perspectives would be illuminating here.)

    It’s only relatively recently that we have measured the worth of work by the money it produces rather than the ways in which it supports a family and a community, and it seems to me that this transition in our values requires critical examination. I, too, have felt ambivalence about the work I do to support my household, but framing it in terms of an economic question makes me realize that focusing on sustaining a family and community, rather than (or in addition to) participating in a capitalist system, can be a radical act rather than a reactionary one.

    • If the rest of the book is as eloquent and intriguing as your comment, I may need to make a last-minute addition to my Christmas list. Thanks for sharing some historical perspective!

      I think when we take a longer view of history, often the activities or behaviors that are considered “progressive” actually date farther back in time.

      • Kira

        Read the book! It’s well researched, compassionate, and deeply feminist.

        The more I think about labels like “traditional” and “progressive,” the more mixed up I feel…

        • Labels are always confusing. I dislike being labeled as anything (occupation, political or religious affiliation, etc.) because they make me feel so boxed in. I delight in the complexity of adopting qualities from several different “categories.”

          “Feminist” is one of the few labels that I feel is inclusive enough to properly apply to multiple aspects of my life and my beliefs. (and really, that’s what Elizabeth was talking about- just because she does things that are considered “housewife” duties, doesn’t mean that’s all or only what she does.)

    • Lauren

      Just wanted to say that I am bookmarking this comment and the book suggestion. I predict it will be valuable very soon.

    • Maddie

      “Framing it in terms of an economic question makes me realize that focusing on sustaining a family and community, rather than (or in addition to) participating in a capitalist system, can be a radical act rather than a reactionary one.”

      Woah. Mind. Blown.

      • Ummm next book club book, please?

    • Megan In NY

      Kira – Thank you so much for this great recommendation. I’ve spent the last half hour reading Shannon’s blog, and looking at her recommendations. I can’t wait to order this book!

    • Laura

      Ok. I must read this book. It sounds super fascinating.

    • The book Radical Homemakers is AMAZING! Highly recommend!

    • Super interesting. “Hus” is “house” in Norwegian…but I’ve never thought about it until you mentioned it here. Thanks!

    • Ellie

      Yes and Amen and Too Right to that!
      Both your comment and the article itself accurately prioritise what it is to contribute to the family (whether that exist of only two persons or additional small persons) in a way that is not only valuable but necessary!
      And I always love a good etymology chat, you can come round any day of the week :)

  • Alexa

    I identify with this a lot. I also just married into a family that has vastly more conservative gender expectations than what I was raised with. (My parents are basically hippies & his are Nigerian.) My mom stayed at home to raise my brothers & I and I have mixed feelings about what I will want to do when we have kids (which will definitely not be soon enough for my mother-in-law).

    Perhaps most importantly, I am currently underemployed (part time work) and it started just before the wedding. Even when I am working I spend most of my time at home, but I have generally been really bad about doing cooking and cleaning. Part of me feels like it’s a defense mechanism: if I’m bad at it then it can’t be what I’m “meant” to be doing. Reading this post was great; it really helps to hear related opinions & experiences. Thanks.

    • I found it interesting that you said you have been getting back about the cooking and cleaning as a defense mechanism. I wonder if I do the same thing. I know that I legitimately am not very good at cooking and cleaning, but I also put in minimal effort. It’s sort of like my silent protest to say, “this isn’t really my job.”*

      • “It’s sort of like my silent protest to say, ‘this isn’t really my job.'”

        THANK YOU for articulating what I’ve been feeling for the past several months I’ve been unemployed. My husband gets frustrated that I don’t clean when I’m at home during the day, and I haven’t been able to explain to him why I feel like doing 100% of the cleaning isn’t my responsibility. If he’s at work and I’m dusting and vacuuming, that makes me feel like my job is to clean, whereas if we both clean on the weekends, cleaning is just something we have to do. Seriously, these 2 comments might be marriage-savers. Thank you thank you thank you!

  • Hillori

    Thanks Elizabeth for thoughtful perspective on an interesting issue! So much of our (Western? US?) identity is defined by what we “do” outside of the home.

    My shiny-new-husband is a house-husband for 7 months of the year. He works overseas 5 months of the year, takes care of me and our home for 7 months of the year, and still manages to be the major breadwinner.

    And yet, the fact that he is a homemaker for 7 months of the year puzzles our friends and family. We are comfortable with the situation, but there is a stigma in our US culture for ANYONE (male or female) who stays home. Too many people think I must be supporting him, he is lazy, or must have a mistress in his free time…

    Good luck braving the world of homemaker. I know you’ll be great at it and in your writing, or whatever else you choose to pursue!

    • Laura

      “We are comfortable with the situation, but there is a stigma in our US culture for ANYONE (male or female) who stays home.”

      I think this stigma is MUCH stronger for men who stay at home.

      In our ideal world, I would go off to work, and my husband would be the homemaker. This is what we BOTH want.

      When I mention this to friends, they get all uncomfortable. “But would you be ok being married to someone who doesn’t have any career ambitions?” Um, yeah, I’m ok with that. Would I also be ok with having someone take care of the house (happily, by his choice) while I’m at work? YES PLEASE.

    • Jaime

      “So much of our (Western? US?) identity is defined by what we “do” outside of the home.”

      This this this! I’m pretty much a homemaker but call myself unemployed because if I mention being a homemaker (sans children *gasp*), I receive are remarks about a) passive-aggressive remarks about how whipped my fiance is because he “lets” me spend his money, b) flabbergasted looks and questions about why am I’m not looking for and working towards a career, c) nasty questions about what I am going to “do” when our yet to be conceived children are older and no longer need me, or d) well then your thoughts and opinions on topic XYZ are unimportant and stupid because homemakers live in a bubble.

      Whether or not I work is between me and my fiance and it should be treated as such. If I want to pursue a career then that should be my choice, not something thrust on me because of societal pressures. Why is the work I do at home without value, yet the work I do outside (or do not do) the only thing that makes me a valuable, well-rounded person deserving of a (well researched!) opinion?

      • rys

        I’m going to push a little here — I’m not sure I’d react to meeting an engaged woman without children who is a homemaker all that differently than option b. And that’s because as a single woman who wants shelter over my head and food to eat, it’s not an option for me not to work (or to be in a career-oriented degree program). I confess: I find it surprising when I meet people who aren’t working or actively looking for a job (stay-at-home-parents or people in between jobs looking for work notwithstanding). I consider my career part of my identity and who I am (because I love it), but it’s not why I would express surprise or puzzlement to an affianced homemaker (of any gender). It’s because not working isn’t part of the realm of choices that are available or make sense to me. Maybe that’s a narrow perspective, but upon meeting, I would be curious about how this becomes part of the realm of choices (not expecting an answer from you, just explaining why I’d react like option b).

        • Jaime

          I probably should have gone on to say that I am underemployed but I thought it detracted from my point (but I think my not mentioning it actually detracted from my point). In the next few months I should be moving back to my home country and getting a certification that will keep me gainfully employed. Currently I reside in a very poor area where the only options are underemployment so my fiance helps me out quite a bit.

          Thank you for explaining and giving further insight to why people react that way. We’re getting married in two weeks so maybe people will respond differently, but I’m just going to tell people the truth: I’m underemployed and when I move, I’m hoping to get a better paying job but regardless, I’d rather not be defined by my current employment status.

          • Ellie

            I have to own up here and say that I (currently engaged, I’m working, he’s not) recently reacted unfairly to a friend who is about to be married and has no intention of working again after that. My first thought was “why would you give up your right to work?” and my second was “but you have no children!” I guess for me that would be the tipping point: I realise that if we are blessed with kids we will one day need to decide who will stay home, but I cannot imagine “giving up” my job to cook and clean.
            Your comments made me realise how narrow-minded that is- many strong, modern women want to make the CHOICE to stay home and good for them! If their husband makes enough money that they can afford to do that, even better! Just because I’m not in that situation definitely doesnt give me the right to judge who should and shouldn’t be.

  • JESS

    I’ve struggled with this same situation. I lost my job a couple months ago, and staying at home kills me. It’s not that husband complains (he doesn’t), it’s not that we need the money (we could at least survive on his salary alone), it’s not that I’m a person who’s constantly on the go and needs activity. So what is it that bothers me so much about being a stay-at-home wife?

    I guess one factor is that we don’t have kids. We don’t WANT kids, but I think if we had children and I lost my job, I’d at least feel like my family was benefitting from me staying at home. Without kids to take care of, I kind of feel like I’m just mooching off my husband while I watch soap operas at home all day (I don’t, but still). What I mean is, I think stay-at-home MOM and stay-at-home WIFE are two different things, and it iseems like one is acceptable, and one isn’t.

    The other part I chalk up to American attitudes that place enormous value on careers and productivity in the workplace. When people ask you what you do, they mean for a job. And accepted answers only include things like “doctor” and “laywer” or anything that involves a Mad Men-style 9-to-5 job. “I get up and manage to feed myself and my husband and not set anybody on fire” just doesn’t cut it. We don’t see ourselves and each other as valuable if we don’t have a career (or at least a job) to define us. You might sit on the couch all day eating potato chips and surfing the internet, but if you call yourself a “writer” or “blogger” while you do it, it’s suddenly a more valid activity than if you just said you were unemployed. I think these attitudes need to change, as more people choose alternative careers, choose to work from home, or decide not to work at all. Your life’s work is whatever you make of it, no matter how anybody else defines it.

    • Jenni

      There should be more rewards for not setting people on fire.

      • My daily checklist for my employees starts with one rule: “1. Don’t burn the spa down. Everything else can be fixed, but you will be held responsible for setting a fire.”

    • This is something I think about often, as I’ve spent the last couple years under-employed. I also find so much value in volunteer work, which by its nature is all about taking care of the community and stepping in to fulfill needs.

      My favorite piece of advice on networking/meeting new people while I was in a service-learning position was instead of asking people “So what do you do?” ask “What keeps you busy lately?’ Which allows the person to respond with their passion project or new business venture or 9-to-5 or their kids’ latest shenanigans or whatever.

      • A-L

        I like your, “What keeps you busy?” I’ve tried to avoid asking, “What do you do?” simply because I don’t want to define people by their jobs (for a variety of reasons). But other questions, like, “What are you passionate about?” can throw people off (I myself would have a hard time answering this one). But anyone can talk about how they spend their days, and it doesn’t try and force anyone into any particular kind of category.

      • Jashshea

        Like that question so much more than “what do you do.” I work at a really large company with a big presence locally. Some people stop the line of questioning when I say where I work, but others want to know the department, etc. I NEVER want to talk about my job or employer. I’d so much rather talk about what goes on in real life.

        • Great thing about “what keeps you busy lately” is that it also allows people who do identify strongly with their career to answer with that as well “Oh, well I work in X field and it’s been keeping me busy with Y and Z.”

          I never understand why everyone wants to talk about work so much. It may pay my bills, but I like leaving work at work. Why would I want to spend my personal time talking or thinking about a job?

          • Chantelle

            “what keeps you busy?” is a good alternative, but I’m a bit critical about busy culture (a huge problem in my overworked culture). I usually go with “So, what do you do when you’re not here?” (at this event, on this bus etc). A slightly amusing equivalent to “how do you spend your time?”

    • “Without kids to take care of, I kind of feel like I’m just mooching off my husband while I watch soap operas at home all day (I don’t, but still).”

      That’s exactly how I feel. I’m fortunate that my husband has a great job that allows me to be picky with the kind of work I’m looking for, but I still feel guilty. I have so much free time! I should clean and cook and run all the errands and maybe get a part-time job! But usually I just read blogs and watch HGTV after checking the job listing website and seeing that there are – yet again – no jobs in my field.

    • dawn

      I realize that you’re seeking to question what kinds of “jobs” we see as legitimate, but your comment about “writers” suggests that being a “writer” is, in your view, not a “legitimate” occupation, or perhaps you believe that people are lying, describing themselves as “writers” when they’re not writing anything? I am a full-time professor and, yes, a “writer.” Being a “writer” is at least as important to my self-identification as being a “professor.”

      I believe that being a “writer” ought to be understood to be a legitimate occupation, by any standard. It should not be discounted simply because some people might be throwing the term around as an excuse of some kind. Perhaps what this whole discussion indicates is how we tend to judge “work” by “money earned.” Are “real writers” people who earn money by writing? What if their writing is whatever “we”deem terrible, lowest-common-denominator junk? What if it is excellent but unpublished and no one reads it until the writer’s death? Is the quality of the writing what counts, the effort put into it, the money earned or the respect earned? etc.

  • PAW

    And when I was a child I did not see myself ever needing to negotiate with the fairly conservative norms that still prevail in large swaths of Pakistani culture. But here we are, and I am richer for it.

    The negotiations I am going through are between cultural norms that are less far apart, but I really identify with this line. I grew up in a very unusual cultural bubble, and negotiating life outside of it, and expectations, and gender norms, has been an experience. But I’ve discovered a lot about myself over this period of time (beginning about 6 months before I met my husband, and continuing through now), and I am much more in touch with who I am. Is that more home-y than I expected? Absolutely. But do I still also feel out of place and at odds with expectations sometimes? Yep.

    So, thank you to Elisabeth and APW for helping me realize that I am very far from alone in my navigationof these issues!

  • KB

    I totally agree with the visceral reaction to the term “housewife,” which I seriously think is caused by the “Real Housewives of Whatever” franchise. Society really does define people by their careers (or hobbies, if you don’t have a career) – and even for people who do have a tangible career, there are still stereotypes (see, e.g., lawyers).

    • anonym

      Oh I hate those shows- my feeling is “housewife” implies that you, you know, do housework and keep things running etc. It’s difficult and time-consuming and applying the term to people who do nothing of value all day is an insult to everyone who does the work to make their home livable. (My dad gets as angry at this as I do, which I always love. He does no housework but respects that it is *work* and should be honored as such).

  • Elisabeth – thank you so much for sharing this post. You’ve put into words something that I’ve wanted to blog about, e-mail about, shout from the roof tops but haven’t been able to.

    My husband is in the Army, and when we moved to Germany at the end of the summer, I went from being a teacher to a housewife, and I have struggled mightily with it. Sometimes I like it. “I can do what I want! I can stay up late! I can eat bonbons all day!” But of course, I really don’t want to spend my life doing those things. I feel like I should clean and cook, which I do, but not well. (We had soup from a can last night.) In fact, my husband is better at cleaning and cooking (and enjoys it more). He would be a better “housewife” and I’d be a better employee (although not a better solider – he’s pretty good at that). But these are the positions we find ourselves in.

    It always seemed to me that being a stay at home mom was more socially acceptable. I know quite a few of those. It makes sense. They have little ones that need love and and attention and nuturing. Meanwhile, I have no kids. And even though I think my dog might count, he doesn’t really need that much attention.

    I don’t think less of anyone else who is a housewife, but for me, I’m still grappling with it, trying it on, figuring it out.*

  • My mom stayed home with us when we were little and her reaction to being called a housewife was always, “I am not married to a house.” So my distaste for that word comes from that picture.

    I may be looking at regular periods of unemployment or underemployment as we move for my husband (in the military) and even when I am working full-time, I work a lot fewer hours than he does. (I’m a teacher, he’s a doctor.) So I end up doing more of the housework. I like to cook, so that isn’t an issue, but I struggled to be ok with doing most of the cleaning, and with not seeing it as either my role as the woman or in exchange for him making more money. It came down to deciding that I want us to have a nice, calming home and I was the one who had the time to make that happen. So I guess I’m kind of either a part-time or full-time homemaker, depending on how much I’m working outside the house. I feel like I can live with that since I chose it.

    • A-L

      I hear you, on this one. My husband and I both have the same job title, but his requires more hours. I end up doing all the cooking, which I don’t mind so much, as I usually enjoy cooking. But the cleaning? I don’t enjoy it and I really don’t want to pick up a role that I saw my mom have (work full-time outside the house and then came home and had to take care of 100% of the house responsibilities while dad sat on the couch and watched tv after getting off work). I’m trying to find the balance of, “This is what the team needs,” while not taking up the full load of household responsibility.

      Anyway, thanks for sharing!

  • One More Sara

    I find it really interesting that people seem to think of being a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) or not as being a (fairly) permanent choice. I’m sure options vary by field, but my mother-in-law only worked 2 days a week until their youngest started elementary school. In their town, Wednesdays were always half days, so even as she started adding more hours to her work week as their youngest child got older, she always kept that Wednesday free. (She still has Wednesdays off, even though that youngest daughter is now halfway through college)

    It isn’t always about quitting your job forever. It can also be taking some time off from working, or switching from full-time to part-time for however long that choice still makes sense.

    I’ve been unemployed/homemaker/SAHM for the past few years, started by my immigration status (or lack thereof) and has continued bc I kind of liked it. Now that our son is starting school next year, I’m getting back in the game as well. I made the choice to stay at home as long as it made sense. And it no longer does, so we’re moving on. Scary? Yes. Impossible? hellz no.

    • KC

      Some careers don’t allow for time off (CEOs probably have a rough time re-entering?), but more allow for time out and then getting back in than people normally tell you (although it is usually somewhat harder – the whole “easier to get a job if you have a job” thing). Scary, yes. Maybe an initial re-entry pay cut, sure. But definitely, definitely not impossible in all but the most extreme careers.

      (I say this as someone who took three years out from a field “you’ll never be able to get back into if you step out” and then got back in; bah, humbug to that!)

      • KH_Tas

        On the other hand, I watched my university educated mother try and get back into the workforce after 17 years off as a SAHM, and watched her go from nothing to serious underemployment to a short-term job to her deciding to go into volunteering instead. Women, especially women over 40, often have great difficulty trying to get back into the workforce after more than a few years off.

        • KC

          Part of that may be the age thing, too, though – it’s harder to get a job over the age of X (where X varies by field and probably by location). Plus it’s harder to get a job after 17 years out rather than a shorter period (if someone’s planning to stay at home only until a single kid is safely deposited in kindergarten, for instance, that could be less than a third of that time out and you have a lot more space before retirement). So, in the case of a long time out plus a field-discriminated-against age, you have more things working against you. But more things working against you does not necessarily mean guaranteed failure. (my mom is in a field with minimal age discrimination and re-entered after something like 19 years out; her re-entry proving-yourself period was about as rough as the initial proving-yourself period, and it took at least four years before she was in a really stable, good position)

          I think we’d all profit from being more accurately aware of the probable consequences of our choices (the odds for certain things, the no-longer-an-options, the most likely outcomes, the options if things fall through), rather than having all advice split into “It’ll be totally fine and perfect!” and “Doom!”, but it’s hard when all we have is anecdata.

          • KH_Tas

            Of course, it’s all a matter of probabilities, and how many people are hiring in your industry (which was another issue). I think a lot of us (including me) struggle to talk about things in the middle ground, especially when we’re only going on what we’ve seen, so you’re definitely right there.

  • Lauren

    This is a concept I’m struggling with as well. I’m a freelance writer just getting started in this market, which translates to basically being unemployed. And I say this as I have another job telemarketing just to put pennies toward the wedding. After which, we’ll be moving and I’ll have to start over in a new place while he’s getting his Ph. D. (And thankfully getting paid for it).

    The post a few weeks ago to the tune of “bloom where you’re planted” as we’ll as this one are really speaking to me. I’m coming to terms, slowly and painfully, that I might have to be a “housewife” for a while. This is compoundedly uncomfortable because I actually like housewifery – cooking, cleaning, budgeting, etc. These posts of late are excellent reminders that I don’t have to be one-dimensional. I can housewife it up AND write my novel(s) AND freelance AND finally learn to sew (more housewifery!) AND start updating and actually put effort into my Etsy embroidery shop. Now, I just have to work on not being overwhelmed with the possibilities.

  • H

    I always liked the phrase home economics. What about a home economist? I kinda like the sound of that.

    • Lily

      There used to be a natural-foods grocery store in my town called The Home Economist! I think it’s a great name for the store, or for a gender-neutral title.

  • The same thing happened to me when I went to the Italian consulate to get my passport. I said “Lawyer, not practicing at the time”and they wrote “casalinga” (housewife). I almost died that very second. Yes, I am a housewife, yes I am a mother, but I am also other things that I have worked hard to achieve, whether or not I am doing them now. I guess what bothers me is the stereotype…still trying to figure it out and to the expiration of my passport…sigh…

  • “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?”

    Hah. I wish. My husband has been unemployed for about 7 months total in 2012. I’ve tried and tried, but I can barely get him to do dishes and laundry. I feel like if the situation was reversed, I would have been expected to keep the house neat and tidy, do all the cooking, and perform all the other household chores. So as it is, I come home to a messy house every day, and it makes me really angry sometimes. I’m so tired from working all day, and the last thing I want to do is clean up his mess.

    I’m really looking forward to my husband having steady employment again, if only so that I can hire a maid!

    • That’s really upsetting. I’ve had similar struggles, but we began living together on somewhat equal terms – we are both freelance musicians/teachers, so some days he would be home and some days I would be home. I think I was lucky that in a way, that provided us with a level playing field to begin our domestic lives together. Over time, our positions have shifted and I now work much more than he does. I’ve had to go through MANY talks, arguments and upsets with him, but he’s getting way better about contributing to the housework. We’re still working on things… I am trying to get him to take initiative so I don’t have to make lists (I’m not his mom), and the bigger chores (sweeping, etc.) are still needing some work, but it’s always improving. I’ve explained (and cried, and whined, and ultimately real-talked) to him on many occasions that housework isn’t just about doing housework, it’s about splitting the work as a team, and respecting and caring for each other equally. The aspect of teamwork is so important to me, and that’s how I see our marriage being successful. He’s been really receptive, even if he needs reminders still every so often.

      This post absolutely hit home for me, too. I have this actual fear of being boxed into being the “housewife”. Which, to me, sounds like such an old-fashioned, condescending term. I have fought tooth-and-nail to get him to step up and be my equal (and to be my equal without giving him a load of praise every time he does a dish), and it is worth every struggle. I’m starting to feel like I can rely on him for these things, and that I know he’ll do a good job, and it feels awesome.

      My own mom is in a similar situation. She just started working full time, and works longer hours than my dad, but she is having a hard time getting him to start laundry and do a few dishes before she gets home. I get so frustrated for her, but she’s also working on it with my dad and it’s getting better.

      This topic is so interesting to me, because we are always the ones who are fighting for an equal share in housework, not the guys. It makes me wonder, Dudes, what kind of life would you have if you never had a lady in it? Would it really be that messy? IS THIS ALL FOR REAL? And why is it that this is the thing that is still seeming to be so divisive in modern relationships, or at least a large chunk of them? There are so many things that we’ve come so far on, yet when you put a male and a female together in the household, there’s a very high chance he’ll end up slacking and she’ll end up picking it up. It makes me wonder about how much the way the men were raised impact their lives in that way. My fiance was raised by a mostly stay-at-home mom (she ran a daycare out of their house), but she did, and continues to do, EVERYTHING for the family. She’s absolutely wonderful, but I wonder if it caused some… deficiencies? In knowing how to clean up? Maybe. But either way, I feel for you, girl. I’d be angry, too.

      • Jashshea

        My husband and I were raised by mostly SAHMs who did everything for us and we’re about equally deficient. My tolerance level for disarray is way way lower than his – Clothes on the floor or a giant pile of laundry doesn’t get to me, but I can’t stand a full sink of dishes – and that makes for some interesting discussions. I hate feeling like I have to cajole him into cleaning (or start cleaning loudly enough that he gets that I want help :)) and we’re still working out how to maintain the bare minimum level of acceptability. Definitely a work in progress.

        We both work (he works longer hours overall) and make nearly the same amount of money. We’re aggressively saving for a house so a maid doesn’t really factor in right now, but I promise you that is a top priority for me once we’re in a house.

      • Pippa

        If it helps, in our household, I am the one who is happy to have things messy and will get around to cleaning… eventually, whereas mess of any kind really stresses him out! He nags much more than I do when it comes to dividing the household chores as it just doesn’t bother me as much. The funny thing is, I’m a full-time student so when I’m on my holidays we have this weird situation where I’m at home with not much to do (aside from part-time work) while he goes out 7-4 everyday and earns money for us. We both see what we each do as valid contributions to the household, despite the fact that my study does not (yet) help us out in any way. But when I’m on holidays, there’s this expectation that I should do more than half of the chores because, well, I’m on holidays. Even though when I’m not on holidays, and have assignments and exams and prac and stress, we still split things 50/50…

        • Chantelle

          This is not to gloat at all, just to balance – i’ve also been the beneficiary of a wonderful husband with much better and better used homemaking skills than myself. Shortly after we were married my husband was unemployed and then moved into part time work while my work remained quite demanding. We anticipated that this situation would make me uncomfortable – I’m the one who worries about finances and I have a strong, vaguely judgmental work ethic so we thought I would resent being the sole and the primary breadwinner.
          It turned out very different. My husband kept our house very clean and cooked every meal, and I LOVED coming home each night not having to worry about those things. I’m not terribly good at that stuff and while my husband probably started out with skills at my level, with practice he quickly surpassed me, especially in the cooking department. We made lots of gender role jokes (“Oh, darling, you cooked and you made yourself pretty for me too!), but actually I started to see the appeal if being the 1960s Mad Men husband (minus the infidelity and chauvanism).
          I guess the thing I most appreciated was that my husband did this, both because he wanted an inviting home for himself and because he understood my work pressure and wanted to serve and support me. Knowing that makes it easier for me to contemplate possible periods of homemaking in our future together, coz I’m confident it won’t be a gender expectation but an act of love and partnership, whoever takes up the role.

      • dawn

        Just to share a counter-example: My mother was a sort of stay-at-home mom and for the most part did most of the household “stuff,” and he is great at being responsible for the home with his wife, rather than being responsible for “helping her” with the home, which seems to be the general attitude.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      My husband is unemployed. I work full-time. He only does a bit more of the chores and errands. We consider his looking for work a full-time job of its own, and that’s the kind of effort he puts into it. That means his only free-time advantage over me is he doesn’t have a commute.

      Obviously, this is an arrangement and an attitude we came to together. It’s not the attitude I grew up with, and if I were the one looking for a job, I’d be taking time from that for housekeeping, and he’d be frustrated about how few resumes I was sending out.

      Maybe Stephanie’s partner has my husband’s attitude, and she has mine, and they need to make expectations more explicit?

  • Not Sarah

    So if I’m single and don’t have a job, I’m “Unemployed”, but if I was married and didn’t have a job, I’m then “Housewife”. How does that make any sense? I’m still Unemployed! And if I was single and had no job, I would be cleaning my apartment too…

    Seeing all these other people in the world makes me curious that not everyone had as liberal an upbringing as I did. I played with Legos and Barbies, climbed trees, was not forced to wear dresses, played sports, learned computer programming at a really young age, etc. Plus, my mom wore a pink dress when she got married, they bought a house together before getting married, and I’m pretty sure there was no proposal! But…other people think that the bride’s parents must pay for the wedding, the guy must pay for dinner, and all sorts of other crazy things.

    How much are the way things are paid for determined by patriarchy and how much are they determined by who historically/generally makes more money? Is the guy supposed to pay because he’s a guy or because the men historically made more money? I’m pretty sure it’s the latter, but try explaining that to any guys when you make more money than them and they’ll just be upset with you and see you as taking away their manhood. But why is my womanhood not able to be defined by my ability to pay for things?

    Are you still a housewife when what you actually did was retire from the workforce since you banked a bunch of cash? Because if so, that’s an insult. I made that money and I’m Retired*, not a Housewife.

    *not actually, that’s Future Me talking.

    My boyfriend and I were at a holiday party this past weekend. A (male) coworker hugged all of the women good-bye and shook the men’s hands. That’s not treating me as a coworker, that’s treating me as a woman. And that’s not cool. (Besides the point that I don’t like hugs much, let alone from strangers.) So. Awkward. It’s things like this that make me feel like a false foreigner because I’m a Canadian expat living in the States, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t normal in America either (my boyfriend said he also thought it was weird), while this guy was from neither culture.

    • KB

      “So if I’m single and don’t have a job, I’m “Unemployed”, but if I was married and didn’t have a job, I’m then “Housewife”. How does that make any sense? I’m still Unemployed!” – THIS THIS THIS.

    • Caroline

      That would make me SO uncomfortable. That’s awful. In my Jewish community, hugs are definitely the normal greeting, which leads to some hugs from guys I so don’t know well enough to want to be hugged by, but at least they hug everyone. It’s not so much that they extra want to hug me, it’s the culture. But unwanted hugs from people you don’t know well are super icky.
      What your coworker did seems like borderline sexual harassment, if they hug only the women and it makes you uncomfortable (in fact, I’m pretty sure it actually is sexual harassment).
      I’m so sorry.

      • Not Sarah

        It’s so hard to explain to people in other cultures why it’s not okay and I am so tired of it :( I’ve had four major problems with sexual harassment in my short career and it makes me start to wonder if there’s something wrong with my comfort levels…

        I guess it boils down to: if action X is how you would treat a coworker, that’s what you should follow for all people, men and women included, and if action X is how you would treat a woman, you should not follow that action if said woman is a coworker, no matter where you are.

        I left a job a few weeks ago and I hugged my coworkers good-bye, but I had worked with them for a year or two and knew them pretty well.

        • There’s nothing wrong with your comfort levels. If you have the opportunity to express what makes you comfortable, then your coworkers should respect that.

          The next time a stranger or co-worker goes in for a hug, I’d step back and stick out my hand for a handshake. Awkward the first time, but they’ll definitely remember it for the future.

  • I could have written this. I, too, am an unemployed newlywed, and I hate that my circumstances have unwillingly made me a stereotype. I am an attorney, not a homemaker, but because I am an attorney without a place to practice, I do all the grocery shopping, run all the errands, and cook dinner every night for my husband. Maybe circumstances have made me a housewife, but I am so much more than that.

  • My husband started grad school in a new city right after our wedding, and I moved half way across the country (leaving a job where I made waaaaay more than he did) to support him. We tried living apart for a few months, and it sucked so hugely that I didn’t even think twice when I turned in my resignation. Since moving, I’ve been a home-maker while looking for a job. Keeping our new household running smoothly has been a really gratifying way to contribute to his success and the investment that we are both making for his future career. As lonely, frustrating and exhausting as these last few months have been, I’m really happy that I’ve had the chance to contribute in this way.
    However, I’ve just received an (amazing) job offer and will be starting the next, challenging chapter of my career in January. I’ve become really frightened about the way our roles have been divided. I have the sneaking suspicion that he will find it hard to adjust to doing his share of the shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry after being rather coddled by my contributions the last few months.
    The fact is, keeping house is a lot of work, with or without kids in the picture. It takes teamwork to keep a domestic partnership functioning and roles have to be constantly re-assessed. Those conversations are never easy, but it’s so important to have them all the time. Giving affirmation of all the work your partner is doing – inside the home or out – is the most important thing we can do to combat the negative associations of staying home.

  • CBB

    This post is so thoughtful, and really hit home for me. I’m a newlywed who was raised by a feminist single mom who worked outside the home (after she married as well as when she was single)–I was raised in a very feminist household–a fact that I thank my lucky stars for every day!–and am now struggling with the idea that I might actually *want* to be a homemaker. I have a semi-promising career now, but I’ve just never felt very ambitious, and my ego isn’t tied to my work, but to other things, so work has always felt a bit flat for me. I love cooking, cleaning, kids, gardening, excersize, hanging out with my dog, reading, and many other activities that can more easily be pursued when not doing paid-work. This has been a very hard reality for me to face, because I’m not sure I subscribe to choice feminism–while I’m certainly grateful that we, as women, now have the opportunity to choose whether to work, and while I don’t by any means think that it’s anti-feminism to choose homemaking over paid work, I also struggle with the idea that it could be an explicitely feminist choice to be a stay-at-home parent/ homemaker.

    I think that this tension is a reflection of how I was raised and my youthful expectations for my grown-up self, but it’s something I really can’t get past. On my mind quite a lot as we start to think about having babies…

    If anyone else is dealing with the same, I’d love to talk about it!

    • Magda

      I am with you on this one. I grew up in a home where both parents worked full time and my mom constantly told me that I needed to be financially independent when I grew up and have a career that I can support myself with. I’m training to be a massage therapist, so hopefully I’ll have a career that pays decently (I also have a bachelor’s degree in geography that I’ve never used, but that’s a whole other story of expectations). I’ve also known for a while, probably since I was a teenager, that I wanted to have kids and that I wanted to homeschool them as long as necessary (I agree with others that terminology is problematic. I’d rather not be known as a “stay-at-home” mom or “housewife,” even though that’s essentially what I want to be. I mean, “go-outside-mom” would be more accurate, because I plan to spend plenty of my time with my kids outside the home!). I always felt a little creeping guilt over that. I don’t really know if there’s any solution, other than just being really confident that the choices you make are truly what you want, and that they make you happy. Having a supportive partner doesn’t hurt either.

      When you refer to your doubts that being a homemaker can be an explicitly feminist choice, what do you mean? I don’t think you’re doing any harm by being a homemaker. You’re a feminist, and you’ll likely keep engaging in the same discourse you always did, encouraging feminist thought and making feminist waves in society and so on. I mean, perhaps if your justification for being a homemaker is that you’re a woman, then it’s not the most feminist of choices (according to some arguments against choice feminism insofar as I understand them), but I doubt that is your motivation, and I know it certainly isn’t mine. I’d really prefer not to sacrifice life choices that will make me happy in order to stay true to other peoples’ definition of feminism. I know I’ll get some weird looks for my choice, and possibly disapproval from my “feminist mentors”, but I feel confident that I can stay true to myself in whatever decisions I make in life, and it would be nice if people respected those choices, even if they secretly think they’re not feminist choices, whatever that means.

      • I think there is a difference between making a feminist choice and being a feminist. For CBB, if she doesn’t consider staying at home to be an explicitly feminist choice, she could still be a feminist and stay at home. I don’t think feminists need to always make feminist choices (nor is that realistic).
        For example, I got engaged in a pretty traditional way: Even though we had talked about it before, my fiance bought me a ring, chose the time and place, and proposed. This was not a feminist way to get engaged, and I didn’t make a feminist choice by wanting to get engaged that way. But! I’m super-feminist, and I would never think that having a non-feminist proposal would diminish that.
        For another example, I don’t personally think that changing your name when you get married is the feminist choice, but I know plenty of feminists who did so, and I would never call their “feminism” into question for it. I mean, I’m progressive and a populist, but I still shop at Target. Isn’t that kind of the same thing?

        • Magda

          I agree with you, and had a similar experience with becoming engaged. I’ll also be changing my name and having a fairly traditional wedding, even though I am strongly feminist. Like you, I don’t see a quarrel here between my choices and my feminism, but I think it is a bit hasty to define any choice that seems to fit well into a traditional patriarchal framework as being explicitly not feminist. It would probably help to define what we all mean by feminist choice. Is it being used here to refer to choices that specifically promote someone’s idea of feminism, as opposed to “neutral” or “not-feminist” choices that would possibly perpetuate the dominant patriarchal societal norms?

          I can see how changing my name might be unarguably not feminist, because my reason for doing so (avoiding confusion) is essentially informed by the prevailing patriarchal norms. I think the choice to be a homemaker is a little more of a grey area, because there are so many reasons to make that choice, many of which may have little to do directly with the influence of a patriarchal society. In the absence of those patriarchal norms, there would be little reason for me to want to change my name (unless I disliked it for other reasons). In the case of homemaking, though, even in the absence of patriarchal norms, there are still plenty of valid reasons that I (or my husband, for that matter) could desire to be a homemaker.

        • CBB

          Thanks, Barbra and Magda! Barbra, you’re exactly right–I don’t think that the kind of “non-feminist” choices we’re talking about are “anti-feminist,” by any means. But because I was raised by a strident feminist (love that term!), I always expected that the big choices I made in life would be explicitely feminist. When I was 9 I used to love to brag that I’d never have kids or get married “because I’m a woman and I can take care of myself!” So, partly, the tension that I’m feeling is the age-old one of thinking that the little kid you were would be disappointed with the grown-up you are.

    • Ann

      Yes, yes and yes! This sounds so similar to how I feel. I always did well in school and felt that I had a lot of opportunities to get into a nice career if I wanted to, but I have never been a career-driven person. I love to do so many things that I simply cannot get paid to do, which include keeping my house nice for myself and my husband, and caring for children when the time comes. And so many of those things I know I would never have time for if I worked full-time. But I can’t help feel a little guilty, because I know many people will perceive me as not contributing equally. I think I my particular case, the main hurdle I have to overcome is the fact that I came into my marriage with a boatload of student loads for a degree I am not using. My husband has made it clear that once we get those paid off he will support me never working again if that’s what will really make me happy. BUT those loans terrify both of us, and we really can’t make ends meet and cover those payments on just his salary (plus, I don’t know how I would sleep at night knowing he’s busting his butt at work to pay for my debt, in spite of the fact that he willing took it on when he married me). So, for now I feel the pressure from myself to contribute financially, but even when those loans are gone, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel 100% comfortable chosing to be a housewife.

  • NicoleCM

    Category labels given to us by others always seem less authentic and marginalizing than ones which we’ve had time to process, digest, and choose for ourselves. The poem below was penned many years ago by a friend of my grandmother’s, Georgie Sicking. Georgie is an octogenarian cowboy and it heartens me to see women of many generations standing up for their full identities. She gets a standing ovation every time she recites it.


    We went to the bank to get a loan to keep the ranch afloat
    little banker had whiskers on his chin just like a billy goat.

    He wrote “profession: rancher” on my husband’s pedigree,
    asked a few more questions and then he looked at me

    He looked me up and down with kinda squinty eyes
    and opened up his mouth and uttered a word that I despise: housewife

    Now when I’m calvin’ heifers and haulin’ hay and doin’ other chores
    to call me “just a housewife” is enough to start a war.

    I’ve got cows to move and fence to fix, gotta doctor that ol’ bull,
    and that balky tractor it won’t start without a pull.

    Now the ranch work is important so the house will have to wait.
    I’ll cook supper for my husband because he’s workin’ late.

    I’ve been a rancher’s daughter, I’ve been a rancher’s spouse,
    But never was I ever married to a house.

  • I think the main thing that irks me and maybe is what got to you too is that the term is a default one. You literally gave TWO options and they picked a third one out of nowhere. I think that makes me more upset than anything. Why isn’t “job searching” or “unemployed” or “writer” a valid thing to write down? Especially if she isn’t checking a box, but writing it out. We like to put people in boxes, eh?

  • Ah, unemployed vs housewife. A debate I had with myself when we went away on holiday to Europe earlier this year.
    Although Iwas actively looking for work, and hated being “at home”, I still opted to call myself a house-wife on visa (etc) forms because even though I was travelling with my husband, I haven’t changed the name on my passport yet, so if we wound up in separate queues to get our passports stamped, I hoped to have less issues with questions about how I was intending to support myself etc.

    The longer I go without finding work, the more comfortable I become with the term. I think thats partly because unemployment is rare in our group of friends, and pitied. I would rather not be pitied! (although I do take the sympathy for boredom when its offered). Plus, I actually feel ashamed to admit I cant find work, even though the market is tough and I’m getting up to quite heavily pregnant (so have stopped looking in the last few weeks).

    But, I think the key thing for me is that I have CHOSEN to take on this title, rather than been given it through a cultural norm. And I’m thankful to my husband for being so, because without that, I wouldn’t have a choice but to be labelled as unemployed. I still feel guilty for spending *his* money, but so long as I’m not wasteful, I dont feel too bad!

  • “If I am going to be a housewife (or, let’s not call it that, but instead say “if I were going to stay at home and cook and clean and take care of the household”), I want it to be a choice.”

    The lack of choice is hard. Especially when you gave them other options, and “writer” is a legitimate profession, it comes off as though even though you’ve made your career choice the visa person was refusing to acknowledge it.

  • Theodora

    I have friends who self-identify as feminists, yet are at home, not by choice, due to the economy. Some have children, some don’t. While it may seem, at first glance, that they aren’t contributing in a meaningful way to the “family cause,” they’ve all come to the conclusion (sooner or later) that they *are* making a meaningful contribution. The ones with children aren’t paying for daycare, which is a relief on the family budget. They’re able to *save* money – and rather good amounts of it, through their frugal efforts. No more take out, because the wife is at home with time to cook, not scrambling for something after she gets home from work. There is time to shop thrift and consignment stores, grocery shop more carefully, etc. One planted a huge garden, which she didn’t have time for when working.

    Some might not find this up their alley, but some of these women now tell me they are seriously considering staying home for a while, at least until their children are in school.

  • When I got married, I quit my (temporary, low-paying) job in the city my husband and I wanted to live in to move to the city where he actually had a job that would support us. I did look for work (because his job didn’t quite cover our expenses), but I had no qualms about self-identifying as a housewife, although it made some of my older female relatives very uncomfortable. However – I wasn’t very good at it. I’ve always struggled with procrastination, and it was just as problematic at home as it had been at school and at work. I always had dinner ready, and usually had laundry done, but I rarely cleaned, or tackled necessary home projects, etc.

    We’ve since relocated, both getting full time jobs in our chosen city, but my husband lost his job last month, and has been staying home ever since – and I’m learning that he makes a FANTASTIC housewife. Our apartment is cleaner than it’s ever been, our meals more elaborate and more varied, our laundry more regularly done. We’ve always hoped that I’d be able to stay home with our kids when the time comes – and I’ve always wanted to – but it’s beginning to look like he’d be way better than I am at keeping a house running while home during the day.

  • Ann

    I understand this exactly! I am in a very similar position, though not in an intercultural marriage. I am basically an unemployed married woman, who I suppose could easily be described as a housewife. Although if someone referred to me that way, I would be completely weirded out. I don’t think of myself as a housewife, in spite of the fact that I do not currently work outside of the home, and I do most of the cooking and cleaning and whatever else needs to be done to take care of my hard-working husband.

    The thing is, it’s really all about choice, as you say. I guess I have always thought of housewife to mean someone who has chosen to stay home and take on this role, particularly in situations where the couple’s financial status makes that feasible. But that’s not quite how my life looks.

    I am not technically unemployed, because I am still on a company’s payroll, even though I haven’t done any work for them in four months, and don’t know if I will again. I am technically also a student, but since all I have left to finish my MFA is to complete my manuscript (aka novel), I do all my “work” from home, and don’t think to refer to myself as a student. I am home right now, because the best choice for my future is to dedicate my time right now to writing, and therefore finishing my degree so that I can a. have better job opportunities and b. get one step closer to hopefully getting my book published, which is the end goal. But I don’t think to refer to my occupation as “writer” either, because, well… it’s not a job, at least not right now.

    Needless to say, when people ask me what I do, I grimmace a little, becuase for some reason I am afraid that even through all my description of what I’m working on, all they will here is that I stay at home. I am a housewife. Oh well.

  • Runi

    The term “housewife” or “homemaker” (US) is a putdown, and it should be. It’s good if a parent can stay home with young children for a few years. The problem is caused by those who stay home for the long term (40-45 years between 22 and 65 or 67) because they have not personally paid their fair share into Social Security Old Age Benefits and Medicare, but will collect benefits based on a working spouse’s name. They are grifting the workers who will be paying for these benefits. This situation is the government’s fault because these provisions–enacted 80 some years ago (for Social Security) and 45 years ago (for Medicare) were never changed. These policies discriminate against singles and working couples, and need to be phased out. Workers are repeatedly facing conjecture about raising benefit ages and reducing benefit caps to cover for shortfalls caused by these perpetually dependent fully abled adults.

    If you are in the child rearing phase, just grin and bear it until they are old enough for you to return to work. It’s unfortunate that the excessive dependency of some is adversely affecting all.

  • Angry Feminist Bitch

    ‘It’s not about what you do with that choice, it’s about whether or not you made the decision freely and for some reason other than “I’m a girl and everyone tells me this is what girls have to do.”’


    Sarah Palin says she’s a feminist. Is she?

    Words have meanings.

    Choices are not made in vacuums.

    Just because a woman makes a choice, that doesn’t make it automatically feminist.

    I am SO. TIRED. of this trope.

    • Angry Feminist Bitch

      Also, if you are financially dependent on a man, you are in an insecure position. That’s just the truth. (Indeed, if you are financially dependent upon *anyone*, this is true, but particularly in hetero relationships because of social, legal, financial, and cultural baggage.)

      While it’s true that a housewife’s unpaid labor *is* labor and should be rewarded, all those tasks are things that the rest of us adults living and working in today’s Western, liberal, wage slavery society also do. We work all day *and* come home and cook and clean. So, while housework is most definitely “real work” (e.g. labor), it’s not a job.

      If you are staying home and allowing a man to pay your rent, for your food, for your utilities, for your clothes, and for your entertainment, how are you different from a courtesan or mistress? As far as I can see, historically, the only difference between a wife and a mistress is that the wife must supply healthy offspring (preferably sons), and has considerably less social, financial, and sexual freedom than the mistress.

      Of course, if you have money in the bank, or a separate income, my point is moot. Stay home and enjoy it.

      Wage slavery is no achievement, nor is it noble. It’s a waste of human potential. Most of the work that most of us do most of the time is an utter waste, for the profit of others, and it’s soul destroying. So, no, I am not a “career woman,” either.

      But financial dependence is a mistake for women. We fought too hard to just give it up for the luxury of opting out of wage slavery.