the feminist homemaker

I’ve been spending more time reading complementary blogs lately . . . I love reading about other women’s adventures and misadventures as they navigate their lives at home.

Most of the time I find it encouraging, inspiring, invigorating – breaking me into fits of laughter and tears in turns.

But I have to say, some of what I read worries me. Ok. Worries isn’t even the right word. More like . . .

Freaks me right out.

My girlfriends and old colleagues who question my decision to be at home full time do so largely because of their feminist values. They hear housewife and think barefoot and pregnant and under the thumb of some man.

I like to think that I can be a housewife, homemaker, homesteader and be a feminist. In fact, when I look back at the women who did this before it was a big deal or a “lifestyle” I suspect more than a few of them probably had a thing or two in common with modern feminists.

I’ve spent plenty of my time at home barefoot, prego and in the kitchen. And I’ve spent every moment of it a feminist.

I’d like to dream that my writing helps dispel the myth that choosing a more traditional role as a woman means choosing subservience. I have not walked back into shackles. (Even if some days I feel chained to my washing machine.)

And then I read blogs by women who promote the values of serving their husbands. And I don’t mean – working for your family, taking care, being a mum and wife. I get that. I understand that. I try to live that.

What I don’t get, is the tone of less than that I hear in some of these blogs. The notion that these women, their entire lives, exist to serve their husbands.

Is that what we’re doing this for??

Husband and wives should be partners. Different but equal. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that long ago that women were mere chattel. In many places in the world, they still are.

We owe it to those women who are daily bought and sold, traded, beaten, abused and thrown away to exercise our freedom and embrace our proper place as equals to the men in our lives.

We cannot move backwards.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Does it make you as uncomfortable as it makes me? Does it even matter to you? Is it a case of to each her own? Does it have wider implications for women in general? Homemakers in particular?

14 thoughts on “the feminist homemaker

  1. patsquared2

    Freedom is what this whole debate is about. Not the freedom to force you to leave your chosen path and follow mine but the freedom to choose either path or one of the many paths now open to women in this country because, way back in the 50’s and 60’s we did fight for liberation – we were feminists.

    I was a late-to the-game soldier in this war but I did fight. Why?

    Because I was very surprised to learn that women were not equal in this big, wide world. I was surprised because in our house, we were all equal, all required to carry our load and all asked to express our opinions.

    My first hint that the world was a very different place came when I tried to rent an apartment by myself with my 3 year old daughter in tow and was asked, “Who;s going to pay the rent, little lady?” My answer, “…the same person who’s been paying the rent for the last 4 years.”

    I didn’t get the apartment. I couldn’t get a credit card in my own name. I was a non entity when it came to utilities. I had to move back home. And even though I was working, I was paid 1/3rd what the men doing the same job were paid.

    I still believe in feminism as long as the original premise is kept – it was a fight for women’s freedom and equality no matter what we did with our lives.

    Here’s my question: “Why has there never been a debate about a “man’s place?” Why are men still paid more than women for the same work? Why are most of the MBAs awarded in the United States going to women while most of the executive positions are going to men?

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      That’s amazing . . . I can only imagine. I’m still angry about being denied a job as a printmaker’s apprentice at 21 because I was a woman. (He said it was messy and smelly and not suited for a young woman – Ignoring the fact that I had just completed a four year university degree in the same.)

      What frightens me more, though, is how many young women don’t believe we need feminism any more. Who believe we have equality, for whom feminism is a dirty word. They forget these things still go on, even right here at home. When I worked in human rights, I got calls daily from women who were fired because they were pregnant or were sexually harassed or even assaulted on the job. As you say, we also forget that we have the freedoms we do because of the hard work of others before us.

      What do you think about the role of religion in all of this? I have met many very young wives and mothers online who are living their “biblical” roles. They are SO young and talk a lot about “serving” their husbands, that being their God-given role. I understand the spirit of service in the Christian religion, but the strong undercurrent of subservience is what really worries me.

      1. patsquared2

        Organized religion leaves me cold. It is interpretive, generally written by men and designed to control not grow, expand or teach. I loved and still learn from people like Joseph Campbell. His deep knowledge of the origins of religious beliefs, the myths on which many people base their lives, the commonality of the three great religions (as he calls them) and the fact that none of these “religions” (philosophies, really) have changed to accommodate our lives, our world is brilliant even though the man died in 1987.

        I have also been deeply influenced by Robert Ardrey’s trilogy of books, The African Genesis, The Territorial Imperative and The Social Contract. Again, these books were written 50 years ago but they helped me to understand how and why upheaval occur in a society and why, when women’s and men’s roles change, some people run for the cover of what they know instead of trying to grow and change with them.

        Any human being who subsumes themselves to another is selling themselves (and the other person in the relationship) short. Is it easy to be equal? Is it easy to act as partners? No. No. No. I wrote about it, about my “magic marriage” – – as my friends called it because I wanted people to understand – relationships are work.

        But a true relationship is worth all that it takes to hammer it out, form and shape it, live and love within it. And “religion” with all the rules it brings with it ensures that one person will be in control and one will not be and the parity, equity, partnership of a truly “magic marriage” will elude the couple forever.

  2. The Soulicious Life

    I’m so happy to see you breach this subject. I am a full-time mom, but I also have a full-time management position in a respected national firm and have never faced discrimination in the workplace or otherwise. I often forget that many women out there still fight for equality even though I think we’ve already won. I consider myself lucky I guess.

    I do understand though that what women have fought for over the years is indeed the freedom to make a choice. I choose to work. But I also appreciate that I could choose to stop at any time, assuming of course that I’m willing to make the sacrifices that sometimes go with living on one salary. My marriage is indeed a partnership and, like you, I know that if I did not go to an office every day, my contribution – watching after our child, running the household, raisting food, and cooking healthy meals – would be equally as important as the paycheck I bring home now. Heck, I already to the latter three even with a full-time corporate job!

    But what really struck a cord with me is your disturbance of the blogs written by woman, often young, who yes, preach a bible-based life centered on serving their husbands. When I come across those, I roll my eyes and say to myself, “you gotta be kidding me.” Not only do I not “get it,” but I get completely turned off. Don’t these women realize there is a whole world out there, a lifetime in front of them, with which they could do whatever their heart or mind desires? I suppose, in the end, they have the freedom to make a choice, or so I hope. (After all, I do note that many of these woman live in the so-called “bible belt” of America. Don’t even get me started on organized religion and the brainwashing that often ensues). I guess I just don’t understand their choice, but to each their own and if they are truly happy, I suppose that’s all that matters. But yes, it make me extremely uncomfortable too.

  3. Meg@thelegaltart

    Feminists fought for us women to have choices not be defined by being a mother or career woman. I hate it being assumed that because i have a professional job and don’t have a family this must be because i am a career driven woman who is cold and unnurturing and i hate when it is assumed because i like cooking and iron my sheets that i must be some sort of housewife in training desperate to pop out a baby and settle behind a white picket fence. I have also been asked many times at interviews if i have a partner or children or if i am planning to have children.
    I think women can be the worst judges of other women and their choices, but i also worry that men and maybe society more generally continue to see work that women do at home as not worthy. The other day i hung out a pregnant friends washing while at her house. Her husband watched me while drinking his coffee. In spite being a generation x’er he clearly didn’t think it was his job, after all he had a hard week at work, as he repeatedly told me over lunch. I was more suprised that he wasn’t embarassed about me hanging up his smalls!
    I worry that many women, to make life easier and so they can avoid constant argument, continue to carry an inequitable burden at home often unappreciated, i have done it. This continues to breed a concept that women are made to do and love doing housework and childcare and any woman who doesn’t automatically gravitate to it is deficient or selfish. It also reinforces the idea that men aren’t made to be nurturers or housekeepers and leads to bad pick up lines like ‘i do my own washing you know’ I have actually heard this. I believe we only change this when we model in our relationships the kind of partners and people we want our children to be and have. Equal, loving and above all appreciative of what the other person brings..

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      You’re right, we often are our own worst enemies. Rather than being supportive of each other and our choices, we feel the need to pull each other down. I wonder if women in general were supported more – whether at home or at work, if we would feel less vulnerable and therefore less defensive about our choices.

      When I was working full-time, I was surrounded by plenty of very powerful women, all lawyers, and I took a lot of flack from for my interests in baking, cooking, canning and gardening. I often felt like they felt I was somehow betraying them with my lunch bag of homemade bread and heirloom tomatoes . . . Or maybe they thought I was betraying myself and my university education . . . I don’t know.

      We are still plagued by way more “shoulds” than men are, I think. A woman should want to have babies, a woman should peruse her career before family, a woman should want to be the primary caretaker of the home and that being at home should be enough.

      I love my life at home (most days) but honestly, laundry and dishes and being a mum isn’t enough for me to feel satisfied and fulfilled in my life – and I often feel like its sacrilegious to say that out loud. But its true. I need my writing and my marketing business. They help me feel connected to the world outside my home. And at the end of the day, if I am happy and fulfilled, I will be a better wife, homemaker and mum.

      1. Deb Weyrich-Cody

        Boy, it sure is nice to hear all of the affirmation going on here. I am SO glad to have stumbled across your blog (thanks Anna; )
        Thinking that all of those high-falutin’ lawyer-types were being so bitchy because you made them feel lazy with all of the amazing food in your “little brown bag”… just as simple as that. Isn’t it amazing how that works if you don’t fit into the feminine-workplace-clique? (Been there, still don’t give a shit; ) Funny (sad really) thing is? Guys (same workplace) don’t do that kind of crap.
        About secular religious doctrine (because that’s really what it is) beware those who would garner power: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Anyone been watching Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth”/”World Without End” lately?
        Boy, didn’t Grandma just hit it right on the head with “All things in moderation…”, “Do unto others…” We (none of us) would have no need for feminism if people just followed the most basic rules of (basically every) society (on this earth).

  4. oceannah

    whoo boy, that’s a loaded topic. I no longer work outside the home. I chose to stay home and we make due with a single salary. It is not always easy, true, but my husband and I (partners) decided together that it was the best choice for raising a child.
    I love patsquared2’s points and would largely say, “ditto for me” Love Joe Campbell and have had many wonderful experiences and explorations in various spiritual contexts.
    The frightening thing to me with some of the young women you mention is that I fear their “choice” may have been made within a very narrow context of what their options actually are within the context of the larger world. Of course being raised in a conservative christian paradigm these young girls have little concept of life outside that ideology. Is that really a choice then? I don’t know.
    I am a woman and a Quaker. The lengths that some Quaker women as (well as non Quaker’s) went to for women’s suffrage was/is astonishing. From Seneca Falls in 1848 [!!!] to Alice Paul ( who was a remarkable women imho), Margret Sanger, as well as many others who worked tirelessly so that we may HAVE a choice….says to me that we, the women of today’s world owe a debt of responsibility to not let those gains be stripped away by the veneer of ‘equality’ that exists today. There are some areas in which we have made progress, yes. Is there still a long way to go? yes.
    Thanks for shedding some light in the darker corners 🙂

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      Hehe. Yes, loaded is right. But we don’t talk about it enough, I don’t think, especially among women (in a rational way, anyway.) Maybe if we’d talk about it more, we’d all feel more empowered and secure in our decisions, whether that’s to stay at home, work outside the home, or something in between.

      I guess that’s my question, too. Is it really a choice? I hope that it is, but I’m not sure that it can truly be if you believe in your heart that your sole (divine) purpose is to be in service to your husband. I’m not sure what other women can do to “help” in that circumstance, other than open doors of communication and support.

      It’s hard for me not to feel freaked out, worried and maybe threatened? by it . . . To feel that they are letting women down in the same way some of my girlfriends think I’m letting women down by staying at home. That’s not helpful for anyone, so I guess talking about it is the best thing I can do.

      That said, I have this bizarre sense of envy sometimes in regards to the sense of purpose some women of faith find in their homemaking. There is a beautiful kind of strength that comes when a healthy faith, love of family and a clear sense of purpose come together in the hands of a skilled and capable homemaker that I really admire.

  5. Pingback: the homemaking binder : printables | The Slow Foods Mama

  6. oceannah

    “There is a beautiful kind of strength….” I join your admiration, and emphasize the healthy aspect of the equation. Dialogue is useful and important, yet I’ve had limited opportunity to be in the conversation, as most of the young women referenced will (in my experience) avoid contact with ‘others’. And to be clear…this is not a Christian only issue. I live in an area of NY that sees a huge influx of Hasidim each summer. I find their community even more insular in many ways. Their young girls marry very young and have many children. So while I support and encourage the idea of opening the conversation, I’m utterly flummoxed about how to actually begin.

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      Me too! I’m finding in general, whether I’m writing about homemaking or food security, that it is nearly impossible to begin a discourse with folks on the other side of the table.

      Partly I blame my own (often intentional and I think necessary) simplification of very complicated issues. I feel as though I have to take a strong stance in order to be heard, but in doing so I’m pushing myself and my point of view further to the margins . . . a lot less likely to be the kind of person someone would reach out to. I don’t want to preach to the choir all the time, but I also don’t know how to do both. I duno how to fix that.

      Maybe we can’t talk directly to these women, but perhaps in having these conversations “out in the open” like we are, they might hear us . . .

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      Absolutely! It’s on my bookshelf. It was nice to read about other’s experiences, especially since homemaking can be such a solitary / isolating experience.

      Thanks for popping by!


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