Worthwhile Reads: Feminism + Housewifery

Wow. When Jill posted her article, Feminism + Housewifery, on Feminste, she knew it would be provocative and controversial. She even ended her post with “Bombs thrown. Discuss away.” Basically, Jill takes on the idea that it’s just fine for women to choose to stay at home with their children and be housewives, and in the process she brings up a whole array of thought-provoking issues. Remember when I said that I like to think of feminism as a discussion rather than a rule book? This is the sort of discussion I find fascinating. And, it’s a read I think almost anyone will find interesting. Enjoy!

And here is another similar article, this one focusing on Complementarianism: Religion, Women’s Work, and the Economy, on the Huffington Post. I’m really glad these discussions are taking place, especially in light of recent studies that show that men who have stay at home wives are actively hostile towards women in the workplace.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.fromtwotoone.com from two to one

    You’ve likely already seen these two articles, but you may also be interested in Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article for The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” and Elizabeth Wurtzel’s more controversial piece, “1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism and Make the War on Women Possible.”

  • http://pslibrary.com/ MrPopularSentiment

    In a few months, I will be leaving my job to stay at home with my son. I’ve given working a try and it just isn’t working. We’re not the family I want us to be since I went back to work. I’m so stressed that when I’m home, instead of getting to hang out with the best two dudes in the world, I’m just irritable and all I want to do is take a nap. I’m not happy and that’s making me the spot of rot on the apple of our home.

    I’m a die hard feminist, but for the good of our family, I do want someone at home who can be with our son and take up the brunt of the housework. Our reasons for me to stay home rather than my husband are financial, although perhaps slightly different from what that article described. I’m the educated one, and I’m the person who can keep my resume current by doing freelance jobs or volunteering. My husband, on the other hand, does manual labour. He has a job in a company that pays very well (considering the type of work) once enough seniority is accumulated. So for him, taking a break from work would mean going back to minimum wage once he re-enters the workforce, whereas I can pretty much dive in and out without too much of a financial hit.

    The article does hit rather close to home. I don’t want my son growing up thinking that women should be the ones to stay at home, or that women should be the ones doing most of the housework. My husband is very involved, though, and always does a good share – even when I had my year off for maternity leave. And I plan on being open with my son about the reasons for our choice.

    One thing I do agree with is that no woman should be entirely dependent. You have to keep working on your resume – even if that means just taking night courses or volunteering an hour a day to open the mail at a charity. Whatever it is, stay-at-home women (and stay-at-home men) need to do something to maintain a foot in the working world. Even during my maternity leave, when I was as guaranteed a job as anyone ever is at the end of my year, I still volunteered and took classes. Anything could happen, my husband could be hit by a bus tomorrow and I have to make sure that I’d be capable of providing for the family in his absence.

  • shadowspring

    Hmm, and I always thought my husband was the least misogynist of his whole family BECAUSE he had female co-workers and bosses. I guess individual experiences will vary.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    A very interesting read, it really makes you think. I’m going to dive in the comments now.

  • Liberated Liberal

    I always thought that the entire point of feminism was to give women and families the CHOICE. I’ve never once considered staying at home to be dishonorable or misogynistic; forcing women to stay at home is. My mom stayed at home and she and my dad loved it. It worked equally well for both of them.

    I am also completely against any system that makes it 1000 times harder for women to work outside the home then for men to. Staying home because women are railroaded at every turn and prevented from making any kind of money puts the system to blame, not the women.


  • smrnda

    I really liked Wurtzel’s piece since it points out that lots of women who go public with their ‘choice’ to be stay-at-home moms are really just incredibly privileged and probably do less actual child-rearing and home-making duties than women who already work full-time. Their choice is only possible since their husbands belong to the bloated plutocracy.

    Whenever I read about the ‘choice’ to be a homemaker is that it’s not a realistic choice for most women simply out of financial necessity, and posing it as a choice is just deceptive. I also think it’s a way of making poor or even just middle class women feel inferior – the women who can’t make the same ‘choice’ and who are convinced that, as a result, they aren’t going to be capable mothers.

    Do I support women who do choose this? It would be nice if a family could survive on one income, but I would rather see both parents able to work flexible enough hours so that they can both be part of their children’s lives, but with the belief in the US that freedom means “economic liberty” (meaning freedom for the CEO and not for the worker) this isn’t likely to happen. I wouldn’t mind personally if a couple decides that the wife is going to stay home, but I think that we really need a better choice than just 2 parents working all the time or 1 working all the time and the other staying at home full-time.

    I just worry that men who have stay at home wives are just not going to be very supportive of women in the workplace. They might also believe in the idea that a person either works and is totally committed to work or stays at home and is totally committed to the kids, and wouldn’t be supportive of couples where people balance the two. Men like that often don’t see themselves as privileged but see themselves as better workers since they don’t take off work to take care of sick kids and such; they don’t think that it’s not that they choose to be more committed, but that they have a spouse who does all of that for them.

    • Liberated Liberal

      Very true. Good point.

    • Christine

      In Canada, on the other hand, there are a lot of families with both parents working who would have more money if one of them stayed home. Daycare alone costs 10k p/a / per child, most cities’ transit is poor enough quality that with two working parents you’ll need to own a car, and then there’s the costs of working – professional fees, workplace clothing, eating out/convenience food because you don’t have time to cook. My mom (an engineer) worked after my younger sister was born just to keep her resume up, and ended up staying home for several years because she couldn’t keep up with the workload (she had been doing most of the at-home childcare while working). My parents had about the same amount of spending money after she quit her job. I’ve never seen an actual analysis of how much it costs to have two working parents that doesn’t assume that the parents are some sort of superhumans, who can continue to do all the same work that can be done by a stay-at-home parent. (i.e. none of the ones I have seen include the fact that extra grocery money is required. There is no way I’d be doing this much baking if I was working full time outside the house).

  • wendy

    It never occurred to me that I’ve been complicit in propping up the system. Yes, my husband worked crazy hours early in his career, because he had “support staff” at home. His female colleagues weren’t so lucky.

  • Rosie

    What I don’t see in this discussion (but I haven’t read the comments on the original article yet) is how the fact that “women’s work” (cooking, cleaning, childcare), while it’s given lip-service as being important, is *not financially valued at all* in the culture. In other words, if people are only valued for paying work, nobody will end up doing these things. Is that going to be a problem?

    • http://thaliasmusingsnovels.com/ Amethyst

      Which brings up another good point: people, usually women, who do earn a living by cooking, cleaning, and childcare often get overlooked in these debates. Would it be better for a woman with preschool-aged children to work as a nanny than to do the same work in her own household and save herself the expense of hiring someone else to do it? Same question re: being a maid or a personal chef? I don’t have answers, but they’re thought-provoking questions that I rarely if ever see asked.

      • Rosa

        Yes. Focusing the discussion on professional women is not very indicative of feminism as a whole, since most working women aren’t of that class and they are the ones doing the “unpaid” labor even when it’s paid.

    • AnotherOne

      This is exactly what I came away from the articles thinking. Though both the Atlantic Monthly article and the Feministe post pay lip service to people of middle class and lower middle class income, I definitely get the sense that neither one of them knows jack shit about what it means to actually try to balance the financial realities of childcare, especially if you have more than one child.

      No, I don’t think the housewife pattern is good for society. But devaluing necessary work like food preparation, housework, and childcare is emphatically *not* the answer. The answer is too look at all the work, paid and unpaid, that goes into keeping a family afloat, and to value *all* of it, and to set things up at a societal and individual level so that it can be divided in ways that are equitable and in the long-term interests of all the parties involved.

      • Rosie

        I agree, AnotherOne. I have friends with children under school age, and one of them has always stayed home with the kids because any job that he or she could get (which one depends on the particular circumstances of that year) would pay *less than the cost of child care*. Somehow that particular economic fact gets left out when feminists righteously proclaim that women choosing to stay home with the kids are doing the movement a disservice. Though there are always other feminists arguing elsewhere that the so-called “choice” is moot until we get better social support for parents in the workplace.

  • smrnda

    To Rosie:

    The idea that housework and child care is actually WORK that is necessary but unpaid is something that some people in economics and social science acknowledge and point out. The fact that it isn’t paid is just a consequence of how or economic system is set up – “work” isn’t what is socially valuable, but what turns a profit for someone who happens to own some form of capital. This is why when it comes to using $$ to solve social problems it’s thought of as a luxury, while any money-making venture, even if it’s socially destructive, is seen as being totally entitled to go on doing business as it always has.

    So for Rosie – you can’t avoid the fact that this unpaid work is necessary, but our economic system is based on an incentive system where it’s necessary but not rewarded – nobody can stop doing it without society falling apart but it can get awfully hard to do when people are pushed to work more and more to turn a profit for someone else. I think this mess is that our economic decisions aren’t made democratically. If the boss thinks you need to work more, you end up having to do it at the expense of other things. Then we end up with all of these social problems and personal problems because it’s not the needs of the person that is a priority, but whatever makes someone $$$.

    As far as when it’s worth hiring someone else to do something related to housework or childcare, as opposed to doing it yourself – or when it’s better to stop working to do it yourself – would probably be something that would be unique to each person in terms of the trade-offs.

    • Rosie

      Thank you, smrnda. Looks to me like economics, social science, and feminism need to get together. Because it’s going to be impossible to manage true equality without redesigning the economic system to take into account the needs of human beings over the needs of profit, looks like. You say the work is “necessary”, and yet in my lifetime it seems to be getting done less and less, with consequences like outbreaks of bedbugs in New York City, and increasing degenerative diseases due to poor (but convenient) foods. If what you say is true, our economic system may spell the demise of our civilization, precisely because it refuses to reward so much necessary work.

      • smrnda

        Those fields don’t interact often enough, and a big problem is that economists frequently choose only to measure things that back up their own agenda – many economists care about these things, but the economists who get the most publicity are the ones that are funded by big business (through various think tank organizations) to put forth the lie that a deregulated market produces the best result for everyone. This is an oversimplification, but libertarian economists just seem to look at what makes a profit for businesses and they declare everything else outside of the realm of precise measurement or irrelevant.

        A big problem (at least according to some people who are highly critical of capitalism) is the division of labor into the ‘market’ and the home, with the home getting the left-overs. In the past this was even worse – you can read about how earlier in time pregnant women worked in coal mines and gave birth on the job because the employers cared about making a profit, not human values. The social cost doesn’t matter to the wealthy elites.

        A warning from history though is that whenever people choose to take a stand that human values matter more than profit, expect resistance from the upper classes, and expect violent repression. Today, in third world countries, people who try to organize for a more fair system get killed.

        It’s not as bad in the US, but seriously, we work longer hours than people in any other advanced country, and if you want to know why we have higher obesity rates and more social problems, I think that alone can account for it. Though we do get to hear all sorts of bullshit about politicians and ‘family values’ but when it comes to delivering for families, they care more about some millionaire’s bottom line.

  • Julie42

    I like her emphasis that it is not a good idea to choose to be a dependent when you have other options. My mom was a stay-at-home mom all her life and she’s had a big struggle trying to figure out what to do since my dad died. Because of my parents bad decisions, I’m currently financially dependent on my boyfriend, and it’s not fun. I’m completely in love with him and I don’t see us breaking up any time soon, if ever, but it’s terrifying to know that if anything goes wrong, I can’t leave. So that line really struck me; why would anyone choose this?

    I think for some parents, it really is the most practical decision to have one parent stay home. I know it’s a touchy subject, but I really think that if a couple is going for that model of a family, they need to have a prenup. (Actually, I think just about everyone should get one). It’s not fair for the couple to agree that they want one person to stay home and one to have a career, but then during a divorce, the working partner takes more because they made more of the money. Really, they wouldn’t have been able to make that much money without someone helping them out at home.
    It’s also really important to plan ahead for other issues, whether it’s a death or a financial problem where the person staying at home must go back to work. Like MrPopularSentiment said, it’s a good idea to make sure the person staying at home can keep their resume current by volunteering or freelancing every now and then.