Yes, I am a feminist housewife

March 2 | Guest post by NATASHA PINTERICS

The response to Natasha's Queer Parent 101 post was so overwhelming that we asked her to write another post!

On a new road
Photo by Viva La Vida Photography

I am a feminist. I believe firmly that a woman's "place" is wherever she wants and needs to be. (I wish very much that we lived in a world where that were possible for all women). I also believe that happy (reasonably) well-adjusted parents make happy, (reasonably) well adjusted children, regardless of whether those parents work outside or inside of the home. So why is it that I find it so difficult to answer the question: "What do you do for a living?" I find it equally distressing to respond to the ever present: "So, when are you going back to work?"

I hate the word housewife. I hate the word homemaker. These words are so loaded with patriarchal bullshit that I can barely utter them in any seriousness, much less use them to describe myself or what I do. Yet that's the check-box that applies to me. And because of it, I get dismissed by the folks at the bank, the car dealership, and occasionally, other parents. It feels like a pretty limiting check box. But what else do I call myself? How can I encapsulate what I do, day in and day out, without sounding either overly-simplistic or self-denigrating?

I have a master's degree in Gender Studies. I'm a nerd and I love researching and writing. In fact, it's one of the only things I've ever been really good at. I always thought I'd be an academic, and was planning for a return to school for my PhD immediately following the birth of my son. But things didn't quite turn out that way.

Being at home with my son was a real learning experience! Some days were amazing and I felt thrilled and gratified at being able to witness and guide the growth of this little being. Some days were horrendously frustrating and tiring and what I couldn't wait to get "back out in the world." All of the days (and often nights) were long and challenging. But when that first birthday rolled around, and it came time to look at putting Oliver in daycare, I simply couldn't do it. The very thought of it made me want to cry and throw up at the same time. I just wasn't ready to let go of my role as stay-at-home mama. When Ollie was just shy of two, I started to feel a bit suffocated, and decided to look around for some part-time work outside of the home. And then, I got pregnant with Lucy. So – I've been out of the paid workforce for almost three years now. But not out of the workforce.

To say I keep my household running would be an understatement. I make it possible for my partner to focus on her paid work because of all of the behind the scenes work I do. Cooking, cleaning, child care and sock washing. (It is invisible and undervalued work, but work nonetheless).

I don't deal in the economies of paychecks (at least not mine) – I deal in the economies of scraped knees, band-aids, juice boxes and swing pushes. I struggle each day to instill creativity, love of life, respect for the earth and for humanity in my children. I am working my ass off to raise children who will not be sexist or racist or homophobic, who will value difference and do their part to make this world a better place. I do this while struggling not to let my identity become subsumed in the world of my home and children. Some days are better than others. There are many days when my cats rubbing against me for attention at the end of the day makes my skin crawl, because if one more thing "needs me", I will die/cry/spontaneously combust. And seldom a day goes by when I don't find myself wishing I had more contact with a world outside of child raising, more money, more time on my own, more positive feedback to nurture my sense of self and importance in the world.

But this I know for sure. Child raising is labour. A labour of love, most certainly, but labour nonetheless. Hard labour. The hours are crap, the pay is worse, and the acknowledgement from the world around us pretty non-existent.

What do I do for a living?

I'm a teacher and a doctor and a therapist and a laundry mat. I'm a playgroup leader and a chef and a nutritionist. I'm a personal shopper and a cleaning lady and a librarian. I'm a taxi driver and a soccer coach and the occasional jailer. I'm the CEO of this operation, and I'm pretty good at it. I'm up to my eyeballs in laughter and tears and dirty diapers and snotty kleenex. I'm on call 24/7. Fit that in a check-box.

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  1. I have often told people that I am a personal assistant to my daughter, but I would much rather tell them to Fuck Off! Awesome!

    2 agree
  2. Woooh! I needed to read this today, thanks!

    I think that a major mistake of (popularly interpreted) feminism is that you're a lazy, dependent, whiney, patriarchal, unfeminist piece of nasty if you're not in the "workforce" earning a paycheck and able to fully stand alone economically. I'm a highly independent and educated domestic goddess, planning to homeschool once I have kids someday (I'd love to read/write an offbeat homeschooling post!), and I hate all the woman-at-home terms. Besides tongue-in-cheek or poetic ones like domestic goddess or Keeper of the Home and Hearth.

    Some good advice I once heard is to "live your life in chapters." It's not like you're going to be wiping baby butts forever, it's just the phase you happen to be in right now.

    2 agree
    • I was raised by an intelligent, educated, strong, feminist mother who left her job as a computer programmer to be a homeschooling mother for 16 years.

      Mom worked really hard homeschooling me, keeping the household running, managing the money and making sure my dad had the support he needed at home to be able to focus on what he needed to do at work.

      And dad worked long hours and an often stressful job so that mom could stay home and homeschool and manage the house.

      Now, I'm grown and moved out. My mom is teaching programming classes at various colleges and my dad is retired and does the cooking and shopping and so on while mom works.

      3 agree
  3. Hell yes! I once got in a fight in high school with my Women's Lit teacher about growing up to hopefully be a 'housewife' (don't like the term either). She saw it as anti-feminsm, backwards, thankless to the women who have worked so hard to give me the choice of doing whatever I want.

    And you know what? That's exactly it. Femism is all about choice. Good for you for doing what you think is best for you, your kids and your world.

    3 agree
    • Feminists fought hard to give me the choice to do whatever I want. But if I'm only allowed to want a job and not allowed to want to stay home and tend to my house and children – then it's not much of a choice, is it?

      4 agree
  4. In laughed out loud when I read that sock washing was "invisible" work. Of course, that's why the socks keep disappearing!!

    Great article, btw. I wish I could stay home, but my husband's in school and I can't figure out how to make it work.

    2 agree
  5. I feel exactly the same. As a matter of fact I wrote a short blog about it last year.
    For the longest time I rejected the idea of letting another person, a MAN, support me while I stayed home and made babies and cooked suppers.Because it seemed like it was the antithesis of what I was about. Being independent, not needing anyone, doing things my way, and being more than just a baby machine.

    Ive come around. Im still independent. Im still doing things my way. But Im staying home to breastfeed and bond while my husband brings home a paycheck and pays for my food, my tampons, my everything. And the reason I can do this and still be a feminist, is that its MY CHOICE to do these things. Being a mother is a hard job, and there is no "pay" per se. But to see it devalued in society, as if housewives are just too lazy to get a "real job" really is anti-woman. We do a service to our kids,our families,and society at large by staying home and making sure our kids are NURTURED. That we all eat dinner together at the table every night.That our kids are read to, and fed home cooked meals and not just convience foods, eaten in the car, on rides from school to daycare.

    Im not knocking those women that have to work or choose to work outside the home, because feminism is about CHOICE. I choose this role. And I can, because as a woman, and as a human, I have the right to choose how I live my life despite what society calls normal or appropriate. Yes I push the vaccuum cleaner, and wash and fold my husbands socks and undies. But Im not his slave, and he doesnt own me because he pays for everything. And I will go back to work when my baby and I are ready. But for now, my career is Mommy, and Im not "just a housewife" I am the soul of my home!

    1 agrees
  6. !!!! yay!!!!
    I've been getting weird looks once I told everyone that I'm taking time off from my education once my baby is born. I think it's about doing what's important. Guiding and raising a human being, what could be more important than that? Besides, I'm having a BABY, I don't want to have some stranger raise my child, when I want to do it myself!

    My mom is a professional woman who worked hard as a high school teacher to raise me and my brother. She told me something that I will always remember which is that she wanted to have children and raise them herself. Unfortunately she had to put us into daycare from pretty much day one. Bt knowing that she would have rather stayed home at taught us instead of other people's children means that staying home with my child is something I don't want to miss out on.

    3 agree
    • This isn't about you, but this kind of comment makes me upset about how little feminism has done for women with children. I work out of the house. I like my job. It's an important one, and I think that it helps make a difference in the world. To do that, my children are cared for by someone else (a wonderful daycare center) during the day. But is "some stranger" raising my kids? Hardly. My husband and I are still the parents, instilling values, wiping runny noses, cooking dinners, changing diapers, playing hide-and-seek, you name it.

      So yes, feminism is about choice, and if the choice that moms want to make is to stay at home, then more power to you. Lord knows I couldn't do it. But feminism is also about acknowledging that doesn't inherently make you a better parent than a mom who chooses to go to work.

      And where feminism has failed is not insisting that there be systems in place to support moms (and dads!) who are part of dual-working families. Where are the affordable, wonderful daycare centers? Where is the paid maternity leave? Where is flexibility in scheduling? Leaving the choices of how to care for the kids up to each individual family is inevitably going to pit family against family, mother against mother. The system that we have isn't good enough to really support women, and men, in the choices that they want, or are compelled, to make.

      Sorry for the rant. Had to get that off my chest.

      5 agree
  7. There was a commercial a few years ago on tv (in Germany) that went somewhat like your last paragraph. Asked what her job is we get flashes of all the thigs the women who was asked does during her day (very very close to the list you gave) and her aswer is: "I manage a(the) family business!

    This commercial became so popular that a tv-show was created where "family managers" (nominated by their family members or themselves) are honored for the hard work they do. (I don't think it was only for "stay at home people?") It's been done at least twice and many different people (mostly women, but some men) have been honored. Of course these tend to be special cases (like extra hardships, like sickness, one that stuck in my mind was a great-grandmother who took in her great-granddaughter and raised her, at the point she was in the show the girl was in her early teens) but it did raise awareness for everybody.

    1 agrees
    • Oh, also my mom stayed home to raise me and my brother and we did many awesome things!

  8. I've been using the term"Domestic Engineer" and it usually elicits a laugh or a "thats great" comment. You are welcome to use it! πŸ™‚ Great article!

    2 agree
  9. Hell yeah! I kind of wish I could stay home with my son, but the truth is I went crazy while I was home on maternity leave. Now I'm happily back at work and my husband stays home with our one year old son. And you know what? He's better at it than I am. Let's break down all those gender stereotypes, I say!

    1 agrees
    • Yeah, I have a dear friend who made all sorts of arrangements so that she could be a stay at home mom … and after 6 months she was just like THIS IS NOT RIGHT FOR ME! She confessed that she and her son were driving each other batty. She and her husband reworked it so that he could stay home, and everyone was much happier. Hurray for options and choices. πŸ™‚

      1 agrees
      • I'd love it if he would too, but I'm afraid it's about as likely as finding a winning lottery ticket tied around the neck of a flying unicorn in my front yard. Love him as I do, he's SO not a writer and kind of generally distrusts the internet. But maybe he'll agree to let me ghost-write something about him… if I don't use his name or picture. maybe. πŸ™‚

    • I can definitely understand that. No kids yet, but we've already planned for me to go back to work and him to be a stay-at-home dad.

  10. I am printing this up and giving it to all my mommy friends. They are going to LOVE it.

    And I'm seriously considering putting this: "I'm a teacher and a doctor and a therapist and a laundrymat. I'm a playgroup leader and a chef and a nutritionist. I'm a personal shopper and a cleaning lady and a librarian. I'm a taxi driver and a soccer coach and the occasional jailer. I'm the CEO of this operation, and I'm pretty good at it" on a business card and giving it out next time someone asks me if I'm going to go back to work.

    Till then its going on the fridge.

    Definitely my favorite post thus far!

  11. Reading this really rose my spirits! I've been slowly finishing my degree while staying home with my kids, and I have gotten lots of "so what ELSE do you do?" And I don't think the students in my classes have any idea the amount of work I go home to, which makes me want to totally flip my lid when I have to hear how someone else didn't have time to do X or Y… but that's another story.

    I also need to think of a new way to pose the "what do you do?" question to other moms without them feeling like I'm making that same judgment– sometimes I meet moms who I am just curious to know what they are interested in and what they have done, and I haven't been able to find a way to ask that without feeling like I am asking or implying the awful "what ELSE do you do other than be a SAHM?"

    • So what are your interests? Or what are your hobbies? I know a lot of moms don't have interests or hobbies outside of their kids, but my experience has been that those same moms take their kids to museums and plays and puppet shows which are still totally fascinating (to me anyway).

      2 agree
  12. reading this was like coming up for air after drowning in a sea of bullshit! absolutely perfect. thank you for sharing!

    1 agrees
  13. Awesome. I think I need to send this to my mother. I plan to work part-time when the baby comes (after awhile of working not at all) and she's devastated. She didn't raise me to be a housewife! Ugh! But what is the point of working just to pay someone else to raise your kid, especially if you hate your job!? My husband would be more jazzed about the idea if I could cook and clean, because currently he works, cooks and cleans, but I'm learning!
    PS I love the "I manage the family business" line from that commercial.

    1 agrees
  14. Awesome!! and I agree with you. Feminism is about the choice. I choose to stay home with our kids.

    1 agrees
  15. HELL yes! I would love to be a stay-at-home-awesome when we eventually have kids and then eventually when they are old enough work part time. The idea of sticking a kid in day care is just not something I like.

    You rock.

  16. I'm a feminist who isn't married and has no children and never plans to. I loved this post! yes feminism is about women having choices, doing what makes them happy and not being judged for those choices. Being a mother and managing a household is important fulfilling work and no one should think less of someone for making that choice.

    1 agrees
  17. When are you going back to work? You're never OFF work! πŸ˜› Awesome. Don't let people put you into a box … mothers and fathers who take care of their kids and their homes are almost never given the respect and appreciation (at least from outside the home) that they deserve.

  18. AMEN. I get told I cannot be a stay-at-home mom and a feminist at the same time. To that, I say fuck you. Obviously you can, because I'm doing it.

    Besides. I was a kindergarten teacher. What am I going to do, go pay to put my kids in daycare so I can teach some other ones? It's fine for people who do that, but it didn't make sense for me.

    1 agrees
  19. Wow! I actually laughed so hard I cried, and that never happens. Being a mother is a full time job and it's a very important one! Thank you for sharing.

  20. Love Love Love this post! We should never feel we have to justify our choices …whether it is to go back to work or to stay home. We decide these things for very personal, very different reasons

    • yes! totally. I feel the so-called 'divide' between working moms (paid) and working moms (unpaid) doesn't really exist – except maybe in the media. Women just want(and need) to be free to make the best choices for them! NP

  21. WOW! Thank you for putting words to emotions. It's conversations like this that change our language and thus our worlds. I just want to hug you all!

  22. I totally agree 100% with this. I'm a mom of triplet baby boys. It's been an interesting ride and I had to take time off of university to be home with my guys. I agree that feminism is about choice. Unfortunately the way our economy is my husband and I are going to both have to work. My goal is that by completing school and becoming actively involved in community advocacy I will be able to work from home.

  23. I think I might be loony but this made me cry. HA! I don't want to go back to work in a few months…but I will have been home with my babe for 14 months and we need the money to plan a big family move. It's heartbreaking…
    I'm so happy that you're able to stay home with your kiddies, the rest of the world needs to step the eff off!

  24. Thank you for this post! I am planning on entering law school in the fall of 2011 and so desperately want to begin a family soon. I'll be in my early 30's when I'm done and will have to begin starting a law career (I plan on going in to children and family law, there is no way in hell I'd be a corporate lawyer working 10+ days) and well having a child then would be a lot tougher as I couldn't stay at home the first year. So my fiance and I have both decided that I'll go to school part time and start our family while I'm in school.

    Most of my friends and family look at me as if I'm crazy. I have been told to pursue more "pink collar jobs", focus on a family, or focus on the law career. I have come to learn that as a woman that none of my choices will be easy. But thank goodness I have a choice!

    1 agrees
    • OMG Faith as I reading this for a second I thought, "Did I write this?" I am also starting law school in the fall of 2011 and planning on having a baby around the same time AND I"m going into family law. Weird right? This will be our second baby but I'm so nervous about going to law school and having a newborn. The first year of crazy sleep schedules combined with all the coursework is a little scary. And soooo many of the moms at the playgroups think I'm nuts for trying to do it and for a quick second I let me get into my brain.

      But just like you said the choice to do both isn't going to be easy but seriously what in life is easy. And I want to teach my child(ren) that you have to work at the things that are really want. And just like you said even though I absolutely want to be a lawyer I refuse to work past 5 or 6pm. I'll take the pay cut to be at home with my babies. So yeah you aren't crazy. And if you are I'm right there with you!

  25. I hear you. My fondest, dearest wish is that somehow, someway (perhaps through a lucky break at the lottery tonight) is that when I have children, I could stay home. Raising kids is a thankless job and I hate it when people ask SAHM/SAHDs what they do/when they plan to go back to work. They are child development specialists, nurses, drivers, chefs, maids, conflict mediators, and cheerleaders. Sometimes they are also seamstresses, woodworkers, general contractors, roofers, electricians, plumbers, and car repair people. So, what does a stay at home parent do? EVERYTHING.

  26. I so completely and utterly relate to the dread of "…soooo, when are you going back to work?". I used to be in engineering and where I am it's totally male-dominated, so I feel even worse for "opting out" or whatever people want to call it these days – but is it like I owe anyone aside from myself anything?! PHAH! I don't. I owe me and mine the happiest, healthiest life and best choices we are capable of, and the judgey types and a*holes can totally eat it.
    Thank you for this, I needed to read it today.

  27. I love this!!! you rock! I am best at and most enjoy looking after children (my own and others!) cooking, sewing and (bizzarely!) cleaning. these things make me happy and i'm great at them so why doesn't society see them as a valid choice?!

    2 agree
  28. I'm very happy to read this article. I am not a mother yet but it will happen at some point in my life. It seems a hard concept for people to understand that yes you can be married, have kids and still be a feminist. As Lola has said before "She saw it as anti-feminsm, backwards, thankless to the women who have worked so hard to give me the choice of doing whatever I want." It wasn't my Women's Lit prof but fellow women. They were offended when I disagreed with them and saw my point of view as 'backwards'.

    Thank you for putting this in the forefront!

    1 agrees
  29. Awesome post! I'm also a "housewife" and feminist and we don't even have kids yet! (Although obviously we're planning to, given that I'm hanging around here. I'm taking my folic acid every day!). It's wonderful that society (at least some of it!) allow us to do this, whereas men don't (socially) have that option. I just love making stuff, whether that's dinner, art, or programming web applications ^-^. I'm really thankful I have the option to do that instead of working at a soul-killing office job. Luckily my husband also has that kind of freedom as an academic that mostly does computer work… it's just so awesome being able to go kayaking on the river with him on a really nice day. I just want to say to all the women out there that feel pressured to work at stressful, boring, high-powered jobs, that you have to live for yourself. And while it's important that women be able to work those jobs if they want to, it's also important to spend time with your kids; it's incredibly important for society to raise a generation of civic-minded, feminist kids, and only you can impart your values to them.

    I hope that wasn't too preachy, I was just really inspired by this post ^-^.

    1 agrees
  30. "I hate the word homemaker. These words are so loaded with patriarchal bullshit"

    So making a home for your family is being oppressed by men, yeah?

    Housewife isn't a "enslaved by evil, evil penis-bearers" slave-title, it's a word of dignity. A woman that is trusted to handle the household, that is able to cook the meals, clean the house, raise the children, do the washing and make her husband happy is not something shameful and wrong.
    It's a job that takes a lot more than putting on a suit and going to the office to answer phone calls while the kids are in some stranger's daycare.

    You're a housewife, say it with pride.

    1 agrees
    • I think you missed out on the fact that she doesn't have a husband to "make happy", she has a female partner, wife or otherwise, but other than that you've said it perfectly. Being a mom is the hardest, and best job in the world.

  31. My ex told me I was "too fucking lazy to get a real job" because I only work 20 hours a week while raising three boys as a single parent. I'd rather be fiscally poor and life rich!! I wish everyone could have the choice to be at home with their children, and I wish everyone would be supportive of all the hard choices parents have to make. There is no "right" path, only your own.

    1 agrees
  32. ABSOLUTELY!!! I hate it too, the "So, you're not working anymore?" or the "When do you plan on going to work?" I AM AT WORK. This house is my work, these kids are my work, taking care of this small world inside of a bigger one is my work. I am not a housewife, a slave to the labors of children and men, I am much bigger than that.
    My exhusband said that staying at home with a child was NOT a REAL JOB. Fuck him. That is why he is my ex husband. Funny how when I needed to get out for an hour into the rest of the world he couldnt handle the kid or the house. Hmmmm.
    We are just as important to the rest of humanity as those in the career field.
    So preach it, sister, and keep on rockin!

  33. I have never had a high opinion of stay-at-home moms. I've always thought of them to be victims of a male-dominated society. Thank you for showing me that this is not the case, and I apologize for having such a narrow-minded view.

    All the best,

    2 agree
  34. I myself am a feminist, as well as a Domestic Engineer. I got tired of friends and people I used to work with calling me a housewife, or a stay-at-home mom. Like it was something not worth noting. Just because I didn't actually bring in a paycheck for what I did it wasn't a job. Yes, I call parenting a job. It is by far the best job I have ever had, don't get me wrong, but it is something you have to work at everyday. I wish I did get paid for what I do. I am the live-in 24/7 maid, laundress, chef, and chaffeur, among other things. So, in regards to people saying I don't work, I tell them I do, and that I have the best job of all. I am a Domestic Engineer. (And Mother extrodinair, but thats more like a special skill. Hahaha)

  35. Great blog. Nothing gets me more riled than when the media trivialises this subject and turns it into an us and them argument. I hate seeing women pitched against each other like that. As you say, feminism is about choice and having the choices that our mums and grandmothers never had. We're all in it together and should support each other no matter what our choices are. My partner and I are both working part time so that we can share the child rearing and so far it's working well – it's not the best option financially but it's the bext for our sense of work/life/balance and out kids love it. Staying home is hard work and should never be demeaned or trivialised.

  36. My mother is an ultrasound tech, and she has met all kinds of very cool pregnant women. One, who is a stay-at home mom, checked "other" on her hospital forms and penned in "Domestic Goddess"

    1 agrees
  37. My mum was a SAHM but when filling out forms for our schools or whatever, the line asking occupation she always filled out as DOMESTIC GODDESS. She always had a really good comeback for anyone who would question her occupation (this would usually cause us kids to break out in laughter to the point that on occasion someone would pee their pants). Now that I have my own child, I see what the big deal is about. I would love to be a SAHM but I am the worker in the family and my husband gets to be a SAHD.
    Love the post and brings back some great memories from my childhood. Thanks

  38. I found this link from the Carnival of Feminist Parenting, so I'm late to the game here, but I still had to chime in with a hell yeah. I usually say I'm an "at-home parent" which flummoxes people who aren't used to the gender neutral description. And like anything stripped of its "feminine" associations, it sounds more important to folks that way.

    1 agrees
  39. awesome post
    its really help to uplift spirits
    yes i am going to print it and read it everyday i feel low or worth less
    thanx a ton

  40. Yes, yes to all of this.

    I guess I've been pretty lucky in that when I was a stay-at-home mom I was never, EVER labelled 'Just a housewife'. Instead I was met with looks of horror by people who understood the sheer volume of work involved and questions of 'How do you do it?'

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