Sunday, May 29, 2011

feminism is housework

i am a radical feminist. i am also a housewife. those two things are not at odds.

it makes me angry and sad when women buy into the idea that homemaking is only something that women do if they are subordinate, un-inspired, and weak, or only something one does if one has put "real" dreams and a "real" career on hold, or even that homemaking is only something women do.

by choosing to make a career of being a mother and wife and manager of my home, i am choosing to see those things as inherently valuable and worthwhile. i work 18 hours a day at the most demanding, but also most rewarding job i have ever had. it is a job that allows me opportunity to explore my own resourcefulness and creativity, and to show my daughter and husband that they are the absolute most important things in my life. i cannot even fathom the sacrifices i would have to make to get a job outside the home. i would have to put my real dreams and real career on hold to do that.

currently, whenever i'm not tending to haven's needs, i can do whatever i want with my time. i have time to crochet, and sew, and read blogs, and write blogs, and spend time outdoors, and cook fancy foods, and make cosmetics and soaps, and watch movies. i spend time each day doing housework, but usually by the time haven goes to bed at night, i have several hours totally free. when tony is not on deployment, i can be there for him when he gets home from work and needs to talk and de-stress. i can cook dinner at my own pace, with real food. if i were to get another job, i would lose all that. when i got home from work stressed and tired, i would have to spend my entire evening rushing through all the housework, baby care, cooking, etc. i would sleep less. i would feel ragged and trapped. homemaking means more sleep, more freedom, more creativity, more fulfillment, more time with loved ones, more time for myself. i can't imaging giving all that up for anything other than an absolute financial crisis.

a lot of feminists have bought into the oppressive, patriarchal idea that the work women have traditionally done is somehow less important than the work men have traditionally done. virginia wolfe and mary woolstonecraft would be rolling in their graves if they knew what had become of feminism, and that modern feminism has become the greatest perpetuator of the idea that women are inferior. i think it is really degrading to women to say that being a mother is not enough of a "career". the work of the home is still done primarily by women, only now women also feel like they have to have a "real job" too. so they run themselves ragged trying to have two careers, because society, and many feminists, make them feel inferior if they don't. telling a woman that working in the home is not "real work" is as limiting and oppressive as telling her that she can only work in the home. society went from oppressing women in one way, to oppressing them in an opposite way. only now women are oppressed with twice as much work to do.

i don't get a "real job" because i see working outside the home as a less important and less valuable way to spend my time and energy, not the other way around. i am so grateful to tony for having a job that brings in money, and putting up with all the bullshit that entails, so that i can have a fulfilling, inspiring, important job taking care of the non-monetary needs of our family. rather than feeling repressed or subjugated, i feel really selfish that i get to work at something so fulfilling while he is stuck working for money.

i am by no means saying that every woman should be a homemaker or get married or raise children. women and men should have the career that they find most fulfilling, and for many women that means a career outside the home. but women who find that the career that is most fulfilling to them is homemaking should not be looked down on for it, especially by other women. the whole point of feminism is supposed to be to recognize that women and men have equal value, and should have equal opportunities and choices. my choice is to be a homemaker, and saying that it is a poor choice or an inferior choice is about as un-feminist as it gets.
in the same vein, men should also have the choice to work in the home if that is the career that they find most fulfilling. stay-at-home dads are made the butt of jokes in our society, which degrades men in the same way that looking down on stay-at-home moms degrades women. patriarchy doesn't actually give men more choices. it limits and degrades everyone. and, sadly, much of modern feminism has become a tool of patriarchy.

i don't raise my baby, cook for my family, and run my house because i can't do anything else. i do it because you couldn't pay me to give those things up to do anything else. the work that i do as a housewife is real and valuable work.
so as a radical feminist, i will continue to nurture, nourish and teach my daughter, take care of my husband, make our home a place of comfort and acceptance, live consciously and sustainably, and develop my creative interests. feminism means i have the right to make that choice, to follow my own dreams and my own path rather than a path proscribed for me by anyone else, including other "feminists".
and that is my rant.


  1. Well said sis. And on another note, why the hell didn't you tell me you have a blog??

  2. I don't quite understand what modern feminism you are looking at exactly to critique it so- it sounds like you are being more critical of the radical separatist feminists of the 2nd wave. I don't want to be critical with the division of labor in your home or with your personal choice of how to live your life, but most feminist arguments that I've seen aren't critiquing stay-at-home mothers so much as critiquing the concept of "second shift," which is the idea that housework is a woman's charge, even as she is working outside the home. (You also describe this as what you would be doing if you had other employment outside the home, trying to accomplish 2 jobs, etc.) The reality is that most households cannot be sustained on a single income anymore, but it is often an unequal division of labor between the sexes because women's roles have traditionally been that as caretakers. This is, of course, in heterosexually coupled households with children that represent the traditional family. What could be better considered as a more radical argument would be to suggest that you would be paid for performing household tasks because it should be valued equally in the capitalist society we live in, because household labor is not valued in the same way as "bringing home the bacon." Feminism is about making your own choices, sure, but it is more the patriarchy that has been devaluing women's work since the beginning, not the feminists. And certainly not modern feminists.

  3. kristi - i do think homemakers (male or female) should be payed for their work. i don't think it will ever happen, but i think it ought to.
    as far as second shift, there are things that haven needs from me as her mother that tony just couldn't do. when he is home he does quite a lot of the cooking and helps with cleaning, but there are things he simply can't do no matter how good his intentions. he can't nurse the baby. he can't make the house inviting/beautiful. he can't nurture our family the way that i can. if i worked outside the home, i would still be doing those things because they are needs that i can meet that he can't. we are both clear that he provides the monetary, and me the non-monetary support right now, and that if i ever have to chip in with monetary provision he will have to greatly up his non-monetary provision.
    as far as living on one income goes, it would actually cost us money for me to work anything less than full time. the money for child care, twice the gas and maybe a second car, twice the lunches, store-bought versions of what i currently make myself, etc etc would add up to more than what i could make working anything less than 30 hours a week. i believe a lot of people could live on one income if they looked at homemaking with respect and put serious effort into it.
    i can only write from my own experience, but as i have experienced it, i have never met a man who saw homemaking as an easy or menial job. they tend to look in awe at what i can accomplish and the effort and hours it takes. i have only gotten "i don't think i could do that much work" from men. i have however met many women who bristle at the word "housewife", and when i say that i am a homemaker they are shocked/condescending and ask if i plan to go "back to work" when haven is older. i am asked all the time "do you work or do you stay home?" as if staying at home means i'm not working...but i seem to only get that attitude from women.
    when i talk about feminism, i am not talking about academic feminism, which i think is what you're talking about. i'm talking about boots-on-the-ground feminism as it is interpreted by many women. it is like comparing the words of jesus with the dogmas of a particular church. same name, but nothing similar. when i say "feminism" you, as a womens studies major, probably think of something entirely different than the average person on the street. i'm talking about pop culture "feminism", not real feminism...which distinction i should have made clear. i should have used "pop feminism" rather than "modern". my whole point was that the every-day pop understanding of feminism is not actually feminism but rather patriarchy in disguise.
    i am simply tired of getting a superior attitude from the grocery store cashier because i "just sit around at home instead of getting a real job like any strong, self respecting woman (like her) would" not so many words.

  4. she says it better here:

  5. The thing about feminism is that there are as many types of feminism as there are feminists. Feminists disagree just like other philosophers, but we tend to get misunderstood because of that, and we feel a responsibility to critique ourselves for our mistakes. The F-Word becomes a dirty word instead of being recognized that yes, feminism can have flaws, just like other political dogma. I think that your feminism and my feminism have different leanings, but I don't ascribe to the camp that says that your feminism and my feminism are on a hierarchy and one must be accepted while the other is thrown away. I think there is room to have other opinions accepted, and I think that it is one of the best things about feminism is that the theories and beliefs can complement each other and challenge each other.

    I think this woman (and perhaps yourself), are in the "cultural" and/or "eco-" feminist camps. Wikipedia has a good review of these.

    I lean more towards postmodern feminism; I see gender as something that is performed and not innate, and I see this as changing based on various combinations of intersectional identities (such as, but not limited to race, class, sexuality, gender identity.) I am usually a nurture over nature kinda gal when it comes down to it. This goes into my pedagogical philosophy as well when I think about teaching and how I approach it.

    I get really nitpicky when I see feminism being critiqued because I have to ask, "Which feminism?" and "Who said it?" Feminism gets a bad rap a lot of the time, and a lot of it, from my experience, comes from women who see it for the stereotypes. I get this from the students I have encountered who are working in our feminist orgs or in WS classes who don't really have a clear understanding of what feminism is, and they see it as 1) women who hate men and think they are better than men, 2) lesbians, obviously, 3) women who hate the idea of the traditional family, 4) the cannots- a feminist cannot be feminine, a feminist cannot be in a sorority, a feminist cannot be a housewife, etc. and 5) radicalism.

    I have had to grapple with the idea that not all women are feminists, even if they benefit from and agree with the contributions that feminism has made in the past, and they will often say adamantly that they are not feminists because feminism is about the above-mentioned stereotypes. I agree with you that the people who act this way towards you are probably not, in fact, feminists, but the patriarchy in disguise.

  6. I had to approach your post with trepidation, because I often see these same attacks from conservative book writers who are using "the contented housewife" as a symbol of why traditional values need to be reified. Read traditional as ALL women should go back to the home, NON-TRADITIONAL families are WRONG, etc. I mean contented housewife here as an idea, a trope, and a nostalgia for the 1950's, instead of a fully realized woman who embodies the figure of a housewife. I see housewife as one identity, just as I see mother as an identity, just as I see artist as one identity. Luckily, we have the luxury as humans to be defined as multiple identities, not just one. You can be a poet, an artist, a mother, a feminist, a sexual being, and others all at the same time, existing in one body. Just in feminist theory as you can simultaneously embody aspects of privilege and oppression in the same body at the same time. I think it is often the patriarchy (as a structure, which means men and women both participating in it) that finds it convenient to take one label and run with it--to see the housewife as the only identity, to see women as only one identity.

    The second-wavers questioned housewifery because for the middle-upper class white woman, the housewife was seemingly the end all option, instead of one-of-many options. This has become a stereotype that has consumed what feminism is-- where feminism is about the "nots" and the "anti" instead of about choices and freedoms gained.