Yes, I am a feminist housewife


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

On a new road

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.

Comments on Yes, I am a feminist housewife

  1. 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.

    • 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. !!!! 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.

    • 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

    • 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. 🙂

      • 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. 🙂

  8. 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!

  9. 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).

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