For a long time, the media infatuation with shoving women back in the kitchen where they belong has been justified through the cutesy euphemism “stay-at-home-mom” instead of the classic description “housewife”. The fantasy of dependent womanhood had a feminist justification—she’s staying at home raising the children, The Most Important Job In The World.* The “opt-out revolution” trend stories were not based in reality, but a strong kind of reactionary wish fulfillment—you get to have it both ways. You get to have that sparkling, intelligent and ambitious woman to marry, but you also get the housewife after you knock her up and the stress of throwing all those balls in the air causes her to give in and submit. But the baby was the key to transforming your woman from a career lady to a housewife through the power of euphemism. The fact that most housewives really do leave the workforce when the amount of childcare work at home exceeds what they can juggle (because they have most childcare duties whether they have outside work or not) justified the whole thing, because criticizing the stories was taken as criticizing the women who make this decision under a series of massive pressures. That there was no evidence of any such trend mattered not one bit.
I mention this, because CNN has a trend story about the bestest women of us all—the ones who don’t need a baby to give up their spot in the salaried world, but who become housewives because women are so much happier when they don’t have any distractions from the all-important job of taking care of their husband’s physical, emotional, and social needs. Lest you think I’m engaging in some hyperbole, I shall quote:
Ten years ago, she was an “overwhelmed” high school English teacher. “I didn’t have time for my husband, ” she says, “and I didn’t have a life.”….
Davis says her life isn’t luxurious. “Tuesdays are my laundry day,” she says. “I go grocery shopping on Wednesdays and clean house on Thursdays.” Mondays and Fridays are reserved for appointments and other errands.
She has a job, but it isn’t paid, and its job duties strongly resemble a cross between personal assistant and maid. At this point in time, it’s becoming clear that a lot of these trend stories are statements more about our fucked-up economy than any real trends. You have the stories about what the super wealthy are doing with all this money that they could never spend on sensible things within a lifetime, and you also have stories that, with further digging, reflect changes people are going through because they can’t keep a job. I suspected that if indeed you’re seeing more childless housewives, many are better described as unemployed. It’s also worth noting that the average American worker is spending more and more time at work and can’t get a sick day or a vacation day or even a real weekend, making housewives seem more and more necessary to get that stuff done that you can’t get done because you might lose out on a promotion or be moved to the front of the lines for a layoff.
But upon thoroughly reading the piece, I’m convinced that there’s no trend here. The “evidence” for the trend is some asshole wrote a book that suggests that women are just happier if they give up trying to be men’s equals and take our rightful spot shoving their underwear in the laundry machine and making sure dinner is on the table when he gets home.
Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of “The Secrets of Happily Married Women,” says stay-at-home wives constitute a growing niche. “In the past few years, many women who are well educated and trained for career tracks have decided instead to stay at home,” he says. While his research is ongoing, he estimates that more than 10 percent of the 650 women he’s interviewed who choose to stay home are childless.
Haltzman’s promise of stress-free marital bliss is attractive, but his advice grates, recalling the worst sort of paternalistic misogyny. After explaining that men’s worst communication habits are the result of genetics, Haltzman goes on to say that men need to be nurtured, require acknowledgement for their efforts and only get married for sex. So much for wives “doing less”! Once readers recover from their shock, they’ll begin to notice that whether Haltzman is focusing on arguing efficiently, spicing up your sex life or learning to recognize nonverbal expressions of love and remorse, the lesson is the same: a wife should always love and accept her husband for who he is and always has been, even after the initial throes of romantic love fade away. That core is sound, but it’s hard to say who Haltzman treats less kindly on the way there: men, who are described as intractably difficult, or women, who are told to put up with them anyway.
Library Journal says that the book argues that women should make catering to and pleasing husbands their jobs, which I suppose doesn’t leave any time for paying work. The one commenter who liked the book quoted it extensively, and what struck me as the most interesting was the descriptions on how to fight with you husband:
Men are hardwired and then trained to find answers through logical analysis, women are more likely to be in touch with their immediate emotional reaction that pushes her to focus on her feelings and focused less on objective evidence.
In other words, he wins every fight, since he is the one who is arguing from the evidence and you’re just pulling stuff out of your ass to cause problems. Women are also instructed by this good Christian to stuff a cock in it—talk less, fuck more. No, I’m not kidding. You’re also told that happiness is something found within, not from your circumstances. I generally find that people telling you to look inward for your happiness are trying to sell you on the idea that you shouldn’t fight to improve your circumstances. I offer women another, more likely to work piece of advice—if your relationship is making you unhappy, fix the relationship or end it, but don’t waste your time trying to tell yourself to fake that smile until you feel it. That pretty much never works.
Anyway, long post to make a short point, which is that I find it interesting that backlash forces feel so empowered that they don’t even need to dress up the instructions to women to be housewives with euphemisms any longer.
*Very important jobs are too important to be paid fairly or be done by men.