Why my feminism includes traditional gender roles

July 13 | Guest post by Minerva Siegel
Funny housewife magnet by Etsy seller picardcreative
Funny housewife magnet by Etsy seller picardcreative

When you hear the word "feminist," you might think of a modern gender-fluid keyboard warrior wearing a "Cats Against Catcalls" t-shirt. You might picture Gloria Steinem, or any number of other famous feminists, and everything they fought for in the '60s. Maybe you even picture the original suffragettes getting thrown in jail for fighting for our right to vote, back when the world was much more black-and-white.

Who you likely don't picture is me: a housewife who does all the cooking and housekeeping, who makes dinner from scratch, and a solid effort to look pretty for her husband everyday when he comes home from work.

"That's not feminism at all!" You might think, "That's oppression!" Well, I'm here to tell you that you're wrong. Feminism is all about giving women as much power as men, and part of that power includes the freedom to choose how to live their lives the way they want to. Most self-described feminists are all for advocating for women to be doctors, politicians, entrepreneurs, and general Titans of Industry, but they look down upon women who use their power as a feminist to choose to live in more traditional ways.

I, too, completely support seeing females in male-dominated industries, and celebrate all female victories in our patriarchal world. But from my cozy, neat home, while a hot dinner sits on the table, with a fresh coat of mascara on my eyelashes, waiting for my husband to come home any minute.

I'm "mom" to my two rescued mutts. I'm a published writer. I'm a wife. And my feminism includes my right to want to be the best wife and partner that I can possibly be to my husband. The keyword there being "partner."

What makes my situation different from a family structure where the wife is horribly oppressed, is that I'm equal to my husband, and he knows it. We fight about things. We disagree. We discuss things, arrive at decisions together, and respect each other mutually and completely.

I had a successful career for years, but I always wanted to be a homemaker and am so glad that I have the opportunity now to be one…

I love my traditional role as housewife as much as my husband loves his traditional role as the provider. Scrubbing floors and doing laundry relaxes me, and there's nothing more soothing to me than the soft churn of the dishwasher. I genuinely delight in thinking of ways to make my husband's time at home as great for him as possible, because I'm completely in love with him, and his happiness is my happiness. He feels the same way and is constantly finding ways to show me that he loves and appreciates me. I'm completely whole and satisfied in this relationship.

The bottom line is this: If your feminism doesn't include the right for a woman to choose to live traditionally, it's not really feminism.

So many people look at my situation and think I'm pathetic, oppressed or wasting my life by playing the role of childfree homemaker and dog mom, instead of going out and taking on the world with my fist in the air. What you're telling women by not including people like me in your feminism is that you're fighting for a woman's right to live how YOU deem acceptable, not however's right for them.

So, the next time you meet a stay-at-home parent or housewife, don't pity them or think of them as oppressed; accept their choice to live traditionally as just as valid as your choices and move on with your life. That's true feminism, and something I think we can, and should, all get behind.

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with this. I was raised surrounded by strong, empowered women (nine aunts, step-mom, mom, grandmothers, etc.) some of whom had successful careers in the professional field, and some of whom had successful careers as housewives. We didn't look at tending the home as selling out; we saw it as a legit way to provide for the family. The family needs money, yes, but the family also needs a clean environment and decent food. Being a housewife is just as much a career as being a lawyer or a doctor (and can often include aspects of those paths).

    For myself, I currently have a career in a law office, but I also have a career feeding my husband and keeping our home. I delight in both and I'm proud of all my successes, be it solving someone's tax law problems or successfully making a meal my husband will eat (he's stupid picky).

    17 agree
  2. "If your feminism doesn't include the right for a woman to choose to live traditionally, it's not really feminism." YES, THIS!
    There was so much of this backwards attitude when I lived in Utah, I got so sick of people prefacing comments or conversations with "you're not a feminist right? I mean you don't have a Real Job…"

    26 agree
  3. I agree that tending home & hearth & kids is perfectly legit and valid. I did it for a long time. When my husband and I separated, and "wife" was no longer part of my identity, I was confronted with a crisis of sorts: who was I now? Eventually I came to believe that yes, feminism can and does include home-making, but now I do it mainly for myself, as opposed to being partner-centric about it (although my partner certainly benefits from it, which is cool). I'm not sure if that makes sense exactly, as it's a pretty subtle distinction. Basically, how do I say fulfilled in myself, without basing my fulfillment on someone else, who may or may not always be there? I do try to look nice for my partner, because he– and our relationship– deserve my best. On the flip (feminist) side, I expect him to offer his best to me, too. 🙂

    5 agree
  4. This is so common sense to me it's almost a no-brainer. It's so upsetting that the term "feminism" has been changed, in most of the public's opinion, to such a narrow and often incorrect definition. Anyone who chooses to stay at home & thrive gets my respect (and sometimes a little envy too).

    Being forced into ANY role is what the whole movement has always fought against… and while I'm not the best housekeeper *ahem* I do try to keep a relatively nice home, as does my husband. And I won't leave the house without makeup or heels 🙂 Because I LIKE wearing them, not because anyone expects me to.

    Solidarity, sister!

    13 agree
  5. As a feminist (and professional bleeding heart hippie commie liberal jackass who hangs out with similar self-described feminists), I'm skeptical about the premise that "most self-described feminists" look down upon women in the home. I don't think I've seen many (if any) survey results or statements by organizations that criticize women who stay at home. Certainly not a majority. The comments on this blog seem to support your choice as well, and I think a bunch of them are feminists. Where are you getting this criticism?

    Many feminists do want to have a bigger conversation about how we make choices and what agency we have over our own decisions, so that those decisions are really based on our passions and what fulfills us. For example: am I a stay at home wife because I want to be? Is it also because because I had a really hard time entering a male-dominated field and realized this was a more clear path that would still help my family? Did I decide I wanted to be a stay at home wife because my husband wanted it, and that was a sacrifice I was willing to make for this relationship? Am I staying at home because my husband could not get parental leave and I could? Am I excited and thrilled by the prospect of staying at home, but also noticed that this path was easier to explain to my parents than if I'd decided to pursue a different field?

    And, as an aside, it's also possible to answer "YES" to any of these questions and still be a feminist! Instead, feminism acknowledges that making a choice, like what job to have or what role you have in your home, is still a really complicated decision that can be impacted by society AND our personal passions. Women are largely expected to take on the brunt of unpaid, emotional labor (from maintaining social calendars to taking care of children to elder care, etc.) whether they work outside of the home or not. It can BOTH be fulfilling, powerful work AND work that falls into the laps of women more than men. If you experience discrimination because you're doing unpaid emotional labor that is vital for the comfort and security of your family, that's some anti-feminism, anti-woman bullshit that trivializes literally centuries of work and I have some words for whoever is saying that to you.

    58 agree
    • I have seen some bullying on this account. There really are people out there who will criticize a homemaker as volunteering to be oppressed. They tend to be the sort of people who look for reasons to pick fights and to feel superior to others while kidding themselves about their own enlightenment, so not worth bothering with.

      7 agree
  6. Oh, wow, I could have written this myself! Part of the reason I'm a homemaker is because I'm disabled and working is not something I'm able to do. We also have (very needy) pet-babies and no kids yet (although not for lack of trying). For me, part of what helps is the fact that we're a lesbian couple, so it's not like this role was automatically delegated to me due to my gender – when my wife and I met, she was OK with me taking on the housework while she provided financially, and eventually when we had kids, we both wanted me to be a stay-at-home mom so that our children could have that support.

    Rock on!

    5 agree
    • In our history, Profirio Diaz tried to destroy my tribe by destroying the family, piling all of the Yaqui men that he could catch into cattle-cars and shipping them off to "Attrition Farms" to work them to death. Many Yaqui women did not know if they were wives or widows.

      But the tribe simply redefined family, and stayed strong. A family became any group of people living in the same house with at least one breadwinner and at least one homemaker. Gender did not matter. Relationship did not matter. All that mattered was that food wound up on the table, the roof stayed over everyone's heads, and somebody took care of the kids.

      5 agree
  7. I don't look down on women who choose to be homemakers, or stay-at-home wives. I do raise an eyebrow at anyone who claims that choice is made in a vacuum and is entirely personal, and I raise a fist at the way American society makes women in that position appallingly vulnerable.

    I hope the OP is financially stable and capable of supporting herself; I hope she has a plan for retirement that does not rely on her husband's choosing to share his retirement funds with her; I hope she is able to get health insurance if something happens to his job.

    What makes this situation oppressive is that many women find themselves unable to leave it – or, having been left or widowed, find themselves impoverished because their caring work is invisible, whether that's caring for a partner, a child, an older person, or the home itself.

    I don't assume every woman who stays at home is there against her will, or would rather be in the workforce, or is oppressed by her husband. I do worry about her future.

    39 agree
    • I realize I assumed she lives in the US. If she lives somewhere with universal health care and government-funded pensions, then never mind 🙂

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    • If a situation is chosen by the person, it is, by definition, not oppressive. This "eyebrow raising" at the situation of a stay-at-home partner is exactly the attitude the OP is writing to combat. Let's not assume that a partner, man, woman or otherwise, who chooses to work in the home is uninformed and hasn't made a plan for the future with their partner. Let's, instead, be happy that they've made a life choice that fulfills them.

      7 agree
      • I totally respect the choice made by the OP and I totally read Jay as doing so in her comment. I don't read that eyebrow as being at the OP.

        In abstraction, in a purely technical sense, yes I agree that if a situation is chosen its not oppression but I think Jay is right, we don’t choose in a vacuum in which everything is possible and choices are equal, we choose in a highly personal space shaped by our experience, upbringing and the culture in which we live. Even before we choose, all those things will affect our perception of what options are actually available to us or if we even have the right to choice. Anyone in a marginalised group is going to have a very different perception of what choices they can make (not the same as what choices there actually are) than someone more privileged (any marginalise group, not just women).

        The ability to choose is freedom in a purely logical technical sense but that doesn’t mean that every choice you make will be one that makes or keeps you free, which to be crystal clear is NOT a comment of the OP’s choices which I totally respect.

        I also think that Jay is totally right in that the already marginalised position of women in society in terms of earning potential and career freedom makes choosing (however freely) to be the financially supported partner when you are a woman, a very vulnerable position, which is not at all me saying therefore no one should do it. Again NOT a comment on the OP’s choice at all.

        It’s a quagmire to be sure and while choice is the key it’s not a guarantee of freedom or empowerment. I think choices have to be re-visited to keep fresh and (respectful) discussion can be really helpful, but women making other women defend their choices helps no one. I don’t think Jay was doing that and I sincerely hope I haven’t made any one feel that with my comment here.

        19 agree
        • Thanks. You read my comment correctly. I believe that she is delighted with her current state and did choose it. I don't think we do ourselves any favors by ignoring the context in which these choices are made, or the privilege required to be able to make them.

          16 agree
    • Yes! I do not live in the US, but when I found out that maternity leave is only 12 weeks I nearly fell over. If I was in that situation, I wouldn't be ready to go back, and would give up my career, even if that may not be the best choice for me. Let's support women to do whatever they want to do with their lives, careers, and families.

      2 agree
    • This was why Pope John Paul II asked that homemakers be compensated financially by the state for work important to the state. He was largely ignored.

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    • Jay – this article does a really good job of elaborating the contexts of your point:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/opinion/sunday/why-gender-equality-stalled.html

      One of the arguments that stuck with me is this one:

      "The sociologist Pamela Stone studied a group of mothers who had made these decisions [to be "housewives"]. Typically, she found, they phrased their decision in terms of a preference. But when they explained their “decision-making process,” it became clear that most had made the “choice” to quit work only as a last resort — when they could not get the flexible hours or part-time work they wanted, when their husbands would not or could not cut back their hours, and when they began to feel that their employers were hostile to their concerns. Under those conditions, Professor Stone notes, what was really a workplace problem for families became a private problem for women."

      OP, I would hope that you'd agree that it's very important for all feminists to fight for a world in which all women can truly choose what social role they would like to take. Not a world in which some privileged women can truly CHOOSE to be housewives, and many slightly-less-privileged women can SAY that they choose to be housewives as a way of feeling a little more control over their circumstances, when actually gender inequality and family-hostile social policies have forced them into this situation.

      Honestly, I don't think it's "true feminism" to see someone in a situation that looks like oppression and "move on with your life." For every person like you, who are privileged enough to truly CHOOSE the life of a homemaker, there may be another woman who really feels pretty good about having dinner on the table on time every night, but would also LOVE to talk about how angry she is that the family couldn't afford for her to keep working.

      5 agree
  8. You are living my dream! My husband and I have had this conversation so many times. Due to his disability I am the sole wage earner in our house but if he could he would trade places with me without a second's thought.

    My best days are the days where I can play wife, when I can walk our dog, clean the house, and cook something amazing. I love doing laundry, specifically his laundry and he describes the way I fold his t-shirts as "folded with love". It is where I am my happiest and most content. That isn't to say I don't enjoy my job, I am a kick-ass librarian, but I like my days at home best.

    3 agree
  9. I really like the phrase "my feminism." I've had feelings about feminists over the years that were definitely stereotypical. For example, my one sister-in-law is a self-proclaimed feminist but she spends a lot of time on make-up and hair styling. I always thought feminists wouldn't be into those types of superficial things. In that realm I considered myself even more of a feminist than her because I wear a ponytail every day and don't even own any make-up.

    I think my personal feminism involves the desire to be completely financially independent of anyone. It's a status that I've striven for since I was able to work, and a status that is sometimes very hard to achieve in this economic environment, but I'm finally there. When I got married we decided not to combine finances. We each retained our own separate accounts and aside from our rent and utilities all of our bills are separate too. Those bills that are joint are split 50/50. I just don't feel that my husband has any right to use money that I earned, and I don't feel I have any right to use money he earned. I would never in a million years want him to have to pay for things that are just for my personal use like my car, my cell phone, my clothes, etc.

    2 agree
  10. Love this! I'm really encountering a lot of these views, starting when I first got engaged, and especially now that we're coming closer to being parents one day. It frustrates me because if it was my husband who was the one who changed his name or wanted to stay home with children they would applaud and cheer. I understand that they've seen very oppressed stay-at-home moms and homemakers who are unappreciated and do so much while men lie around, but I would NEVER tolerate that from my husband! I highly support women breaking the glass ceiling, not changing names, not having babies, but I ALSO support all the opposite things IF THAT'S WHAT THEY WANT TO DO. Every partnership and family gets to decide what works best for them.

    1 agrees
  11. "So, the next time you meet a stay-at-home parent or housewife, don't pity them or think of them as oppressed"

    I don't think that, I'm envious of them. Envious that they are rich enough to do what they do and envious that they have a partner that is ok with it too. Being a stay-at-home partner, especially without kids, is a huge luxury. To me, discussing the feminist aspect of it is like discussing how its ok for a woman to drive a Ferrari even though that's something mostly done by men. Yeah, it's ok, but most people can't afford it anyway and those who can don't care what others think.

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    • I wouldn't necessarily be envious. I'm not sure about the OP's situation, but in my case, I'm a homemaker because I'm disabled and I can't work. SSDI does not pay a lot, and if I had been on SSI instead of SSDI, my wife and I would not have been able to get married because they would have taken my benefits away (because the government really, really wants you to live in poverty if you're disabled – the grey area in between eligible for benefits and being able to realistically support yourself is huge). I know a lot of folx in my Clubhouse programs who are in similar situations and are struggling financially. In my case, it makes sense for me to contribute to our household by being a homemaker, and my wife takes on most of the financial burden, but we are far from lucky, well-off, or in any position you should be envious of.

      1 agrees
      • Aurora I am right there with you. My husband is currently applying for disability and was unable to qualify for SSI and we are waiting to hear about SSDI. We are currently making it work on my salary but things are tight and we rely on our credit cards much more than I am comfortable. We have to spend wisely and we rarely are able to buy some of those extras that would actually make life easier.

        Even those who do it by choice (ours was default due to my husband's inability to work) have to figure out how that will work financially and for many it is not necessarily easy but a priority, especially when there are children involved.

        1 agrees
  12. More power to you! It's feminism, so long as this also includes advocating for the right for men to be homemakers if they so desire and are good at it. I get tired of hearing men being called deadbeats and failures when they do a splendid job of housekeeping, childrearing and cooking. If they're a failure for working at home while their beloved works outside the house, then that's a stab against the dignity of such work when women do it, too. Work is work! And doing what you love and what needs done is a beautiful thing.

    3 agree
  13. I agree. Somehow moms who stayed at home weren't cool anymore in the eyes of feminists. I think a woman choosing a profession outside the home should get equal pay etc but I also think that a mom who gets to stay home is the luckiest woman because raising and caring for the next generation is THE most important job anyone can have. As a widow with a son I had no choice but to work. But I made my son my number one priority when I was home and the best 'paycheck' I ever got was when my son told me that he felt sorry for a lot of his friends and classmates because they couldn't and/or wouldn't talk to their parents the way my son was able to talk to me.

    1 agrees
  14. I love this! I have worked in male dominated fields and excelled, I loved my time as a corrections officer, a roustabout hand in the oil field, ranch hand, mechanic, I have also held and enjoyed traditional feminine jobs (waitress, after school programs, daycare). I am fortuate yo have a husband who respects all of these roles, is comfortable helping out but appreciates that i do extra for him and our family. I am transitioning to stay at home mom in October, and while its something I have always wanted, it's also something I have struggled with, am I letting our family down by not helping financially, so much of my identity has involved being successful in my various work, etc. I also have run into a few people who are in the "you havs always been such a strong woman, how can you just give up _____", and it irritates me but also makes me feel bad for them, that they dont understand the value. Again my husband is very supportive and great for putting into perspective how much I will be contributing in ways that he can't and more and more I am loving the beginning of my transition and really appreciate hearing I'm not the only one.

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