The Feminist Housewife

I wan’t going to join in this argument. I read The Retro Wife and then I read the resulting bloggy furore and I thought well yes, that’s how it is now: we align ourselves to one mythical cultural group and those who would rather boil their heads than do the same thing, come out hissing at their so called sisters. Welcome to modern feminism.

So I wasn’t going to add to the noise. I really wasn’t. But then last night as I lay in bed entertaining the sniffy irritation that is a Spring cold, I started to get a little sad about the way women treat each other and how feminism as a notion is now used as a weapon in defense of individual choice and I realised how very much it pains me that a movement intended to make our lives better is now the property of those who want to rank womanhood and don’t care who they hurt or how they hamper feminism itself in the process.

Here’s the thing: we women are way to keen to give ourselves a label. We want to be considered “feminists”, because the alternative is unthinkable and so we manipulate our personal circumstances to suit the refrain and along the way invent labels like “feminist housewife” so that we do not have to declare ourselves out of line with modern political ideaology. Even when that very ideaology is dying on its feet.

Yes. I said it. Feminism is dead.  If it ever really lived. Fly down from the pinnacles of the ivory towers that the likes of Sheryl Sandberg dwell in and come tickle your toes at grass roots level. In the suburbs where one man after another bales on his marriage just because he can. Where school playgrounds are still full to bursting with women weeping on each others shoulders because their own expectations of themselves as wives, mothers, daughters and women have left them exhausted. Where university lectures and doctors fight over entry level classroom assistant posts at their own children’s school because family life just does not allow them the headspace to do anything more fulfilling. Where the women I know who have full time professional jobs still have no choice but to try to maintain full time domestic ambition alongside it. Where ten years after Alison Pearson published “I Don’t Know How she Does It”, it is still the Mommy of the household who is up till midnight baking cakes for the school bake sale because Daddy left five years ago and has no clue just what it takes to parent  a child day in and day out.

Do I sound angry? I am a bit. I am angry that our rejection of all that feminism stands for, has contributed to a society where we have to do it all, and then some. I am angry that day after day I see women dumbing themselves down in order to do it all: to contribute to the family coffers while bringing up kids and remaining the trophy housewives so many men with the teeniest bit of professional power demand. Men who all too often dismiss women’s efforts with the kind of throwaway disparagement that chips at our hearts for always.   I am frustrated by the lack of truth-saying: mystified by the way women continue to lie to each other, pinning on smiles after they lose it in the aisles of the supermarket, weeping into the frozen fish fingers over who knows what, then packing their recycled carrier bags with pain and downright misery and never alluding to their breakdown again. I can barely tolerate the relentless push to be thinner, healthier, glossier versions of ourselves and the fashion for enhanced breasts , eyelashes and almost everything else makes me feel sick. We are still censoring ourselves aren’t we? Still covering up the truth about our bodies and our needs and our desires and our ambitions. Still sanitising our souls to keep men who barely scratch our hearts surface at our sides. Still lying to all and sundry about the choices we make and still forcing ourselves to believe that we are happy living lives that compromise everything we are.

I believe that feminism at it’s heart is simply about choice. The choice to live life on equal terms with men and the choice to work and parent as we see fit as individuals. Indeed the earliest definition of feminism has it as “the capacity to choose independance”. But women are not helping themselves by judging each other when those choices are made  and though I am loathe to bite the hand that feeds me, the blogosphere is not helping either, merely serving instead to remind us that it doesn’t do to wash our dirty linen in public and that we still prefer to fill our minds with the kinds of lies perpetuated by successful bloggers determined to whitewash their lives to such a degree that only whimsical floss is left, where there could be opportunity for the sort of truth that says, I don’t know how I do it either or even, look I can’t and don’t do it all.

It is too simple to say lets give up trying, declare ourselves “feminist housewives” and set up an Etsy shop for pin money. At the same time we are patronised by the kind of advice that says “lean in” to work, while expecting men and children to fall into line behind us just because we say so. None of this takes our instinct to Mother and nest into account. Nor  does it address the demands of a society obsessed with image and celebrity culture. A society still too willing to support male ambition at the expense of his female counterpart, while excusing the lack of responsibility and obligation many men now feel and thrusting upon women increasingly rigorous commands for perfection in all all aspects of  our being, while we egg each other on with more and more fanciful instructions for living, and never dare to look each other in the eye and ask of ourselves anything truly meaningful.

It’s a mess. And throwing in the towel to become a so-called “feminist housewife” is only the answer if it suits our inner life as a human being. If we make this choice not because our senses are dulled to such a degree we have no choice, or because society  is too quick to dampen the spirit of female ambition with obligation and financial threat. Let us not fool ourselves that by adding the word “feminist” to a label Betty Friedan had women of our Mothers generation fleeing, we are not in fact falling back in line with the very patriarchal society feminism has long fought against. Nor should we go on perpetuating the myth that any kind of sisterhood exists, when it is increasingly obvious that whether we are competing to own the prettiest vintage apron or the kind of smooth nether regions that undermine everything feminism stands for, that we are in exactly that- competition with each other, pinning our lives away and denying our own frustrations, to ourselves and to each other.

Enough already. Lets see where kindness can take us. Let’s hold each others hands and re-join the march.  

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7 comments on “The Feminist Housewife

  1. Linda on said:

    I heard about this on the radio all day at work. Wow. Yes, lets see where kindness takes us as you said. Lets just live the best life we can without labels and dart throwing. We are all so busy and your blog is an oasis of sanity for me. I am proud to be the multifaceted woman that living 53 years has made me. Most women I know feel this way and I am just sick and tired of all this anger among and between women. I want to scream out “Get a life” and just be happy with your choices. If something doesn’t work then change it and stop with all the angst already! Love you Alison!!

  2. I thought, at the beginning, I was going to be upset, but then it turned out that … yeah, pretty much what you said. I have become an angrier and angrier feminist over the last few years, and it’s really come to a full rolling boil just now. I’m more done with society’s expectations of us than I’ve ever been. I am feeling fairly cynical about kindness being able to take us anywhere at all, but it’s in situations where the right way out feels the most hopeless that we must *certainly* try the right way.

  3. I missed the controversy! I’ll be reading the article. I do agree though that women need to support each other. I feel so lucky to have a group of women who do. Some of us have jobs, some of us have children, some struggle financially, some have husbands–and those descriptions overlap in different ways in each of us. For myself I think housewifery (a word I love, though many do not) and feminism can combine.

    I can’t do it all. When my kids were little, I used to say that there were 3 things that were the priority in my life: kids/homeschooling, running the home, and my sewing obsession. At any time I could do 2 well, but not 3. Then I got a part-time job and everything but the homeschooling went to hell. 🙂 I have a good life, but it’s on the messy side.

  4. First, welcome back Alison!

    Secondly – wow, just wow. This is the most powerful piece of writing I have read in a long time (your post I mean, not the original) and it so totally resonates with the despair and loneliness I have been increasingly feeling for so long now at how I feel in society. I could cry (something I never do btw) because I think I just feel so RELIEVED that I am not going silently mad in what seemed, maybe, like my own too acute analysation of all around me. I might be right after all!

    I am tired, like literally sick and tired, of feeling let down and continually disappointed at the lack of what is so VITAL to me – respect, just plain mutual respect. And care, actually caring about another human being. And I mean from anyone – men and women. For true equality would be totally seeing us all as just simply human beings, flesh, bones and BRAINS, regardless of gender, race, denomination etc. And that seems to be the simplest solution of all doesn’t it? As you say – kindness. It is actually the so called ‘sisterhood’ that has broken my heart more times than any man ever has. Yet another friend for whom our friendship was obviously a self-serving one way street, and if I fail to live up to invisible expectations obviously silently placed upon me by them, I fail, unbeknowns to me and therefore, for reasons I may never fathom (and I’ve asked, oh I’ve asked) my punishment is the withholding of years of friendship, a silent protest. I clearly haven’t done ‘enough’ somehow. How does this help us? What does this do to society, when we women can’t even be forgiving, generous, supportive and KIND to each other? If we can’t even manage it, why should a man?

    I am a 40 year old stay at home Mum – a choice I consciously made, and was very lucky to have the financial support of my husband to be able to do so (notice I feel ‘lucky’??). I have more qualifications than most people I know, had never been without a job since the age of 14, and CHOSE bringing my precious daughter up as my new job. The most important one I felt I could do – to the best of my ability. Have I ever felt revered, like EVER in 16 years for taking on this job full time? Never. You know who I have felt the most derision from? Yep – other women. Now, of course that may be because men simply dismiss me as the little woman at home, to whom I am no threat, and don’t therefore give me a moments thought. Until I open my mouth. Then I’m ‘argumentative’ and ‘difficult’ (mostly because I have the ‘cheek’ to offer a difference of opinion or tell them when they are being out of order or disrespectful to me, or maybe another female. How dare I hey? Would I have been looked upon more favourably had I returned to an unfulfilling badly paid job where I felt the guilt of not being able to juggle all the balls in the air at once and that I was failing someone at any one time dismally? Probably. And that’s the tragedy. Been there, tried it. I was and I did. So for my own sanity and that of my family, I choose to do one job REALLY WELL, and in my own world I love it! I have gained extra qualifications, extra skills, explored and developed my creativity, project managed and renovated houses, managed property and rentals abroad, dealt with a hugely diverse mix of people from all walks of life. I am more mutli-faceted now than I could ever have been trapped on a treadmill. I am humane, because I have been able to really BE there for people when they’ve needed me, been able to listen and think and understand – put others before myself and truly see the world through others eyes. Shame the world makes me feel guilty for loving it, for not doing ‘more’. That I have achieved little in so many years.

    I am so sad and worried for my daughter emerging into a world where none of this seems to be held in esteem. In a world where even films seem to carry the subliminal message that the ills of the world basically boil down to how your mother behaved – the irony being that in real life women are barely given the help and support to give all they have to full time motherhood! So we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Where is the subliminal message in every aspect of society that the same is true of men???????????

    Sorry. Rant over! Thank you x

    • I should also add that I also believe that working (outside the home) women should also be given the SAME mutual respect and help and support to do this AND be great parents if that is their choice – the optimum word being CHOICE.

  5. I’m not a feminist. I’m a humanist in that I refuse to pigeonhole people according to the ever-changing and often ridiculous labels and standards of Society. And as for feminism, it lost the plot a long time ago. Now its just another group in the herd who are trying to force their agenda down your throat. I’m an intelligent adult, thank you. I don’t take kindly to being dictated to by folks who can’t or won’t see the proverbial forest for the trees. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to how you live your life. What’s really alarming though is the devolution in attitudes towards women in various parts of the world, including the West. Where the hell is that coming from?

    Its bizarre how working mothers are so often blamed for Society’s ills. Fact of the matter is, women have been working for centuries. Who the hell else runs things while the other half of the species are off, enmasse, slaughtering one another in the name of politics, religion and/or big business? Women, that’s who. Who’s job keeps the household going when the recession has made the “man of the house” unemployed? Women. Who gets out and finds a job when that happens? Women. Single parent households; I give you one guess at who heads more of them, men or women.

    When times get tough, women get tougher. Always have done, always will. You choose to stay home, having babies and baking cookies? Good for you! Be child-free and run a multi-national conglomerate? Power to you! Get a boob job or just let ’em droop? I applaud your choice, regardless. Because that’s what it is, YOUR choice.

    The most basic of human rights is the right to choose, be you man or woman. So let’s support one another’s choices. And save the pigeonholes for what they were designed to do, house pigeons.

  6. Dear Alison, I have been a loyal reader for years now but hardly ever comment.
    But what a powerful piece of writing this is. Society’s expectations are too much, but then you always have a choice to live up to them. On the other hand, standards are becoming increasingly inhuman. I understand why you did not feel you wanted to add to this discussion in the beginning. That is a shame though, because only the extremists get heard. Meanwhile, I think the majority of women and probably men too want to do a little of everything, meaningful work, relationships, and a pleasant home. That should not be too hard…. Indeed, let’s see where kindness takes us. That would work wonders in this matter, and in any matter too.