Everywhere you go, you are bound to run into a woman who considers herself a stay-at-home wife or mother. To meet such a woman here and there is not considered strange, but as the idea of the “modern housewife” begins to trend more and more – in Britain, especially – it is starting to raise a few eyebrows, and more than a few questions and concerns.
While the modern-day housewife herself would disagree, the working woman is becoming very opinionated on the subject, and have not been shy to express their disapproval of the idea. It is an extremely difficult territory to step into unbiased, and I still find myself on the fence about passing judgment between what is said to be the ‘more fulfilling’ lifestyle of the housewife and the ‘more rewarding’ lifestyle of the working woman.
On one hand, it is hard to disagree with a woman who wants her child to grow raised by their own parent instead of bouncing between babysitters and who finds fairness in tending to the home while the man of the house takes care of the finances, but it is equally difficult to argue with the years and years of struggles for women trying to be equal to men in the working world, and what a deafening blow the choice to be a housewife is to all the progress that has been made in their strides.
Each option has presented it’s own shares of positive and negative aspects, and I think you’ll be surprised to find that your feelings – whether for or against being the modern-day housewife – might not be as solid as you think. A major argument for the housewife is that it is unrealistic to think that you can balance work and a home life and still have a happy marriage and a strong family. “If your mind is fully occupied with other things and you don’t put the effort into marriage, then it can go awry. Said Kirsty Robeson, who gave up her job to raise three daughters. Is it really so unreasonable to agree? In a survey of over 2,000 women commissioned by Vitabotics Wellwoman, a vitamin supplement for women, 59% of women only want their husbands or partners to help out at home when they do not have time to do everything themselves. It is not uncommon to hear people complain that they are stressed and tired from the burden of having to work all day and then come home and cook and clean.
So, what is the harm in relieving one of the burdens? The woman can stay home, comfortable, without the pressures of a job, and do the cooking and cleaning and look after the children, and the man, upon his return from a long day at work, can arrive home to a stress-free environment and, by the end of the night, all the cooking and cleaning is done and the husband is home and the family can focus on being just that – a family – instead of scrambling to get the day’s chores done before bedtime. The idea seems without flaw.
Compared with 41% of working women, 52% of women who participated in a survey conducted by the University of Virginia described themselves as “very happy” with their marriages. In all the research I did, I found that ‘happiness’ was a recurring theme among the housewives, none of whom argued that there was a lack thereof. Women seem to be empowered by the fact that their decision to be a stay-at-home wife or mother is a choice and not something expected of them, as it would have been circa the 1950s, and have been using that idea as a justification of their lifestyle.
However, while it is wonderful to live in a day where we have that choice, some might consider it an insult. Sixty years ago, a woman had a place, and she did not get to choose that place, and it took a great deal of fighting and struggling for women to earn the right to choose where their place would be – behind a man, or beside him. Womens’ rights were controversial, and their strides toward equality were revolutionary in a way that women and men alike took great notice of; suddenly every woman was making the choice to get a job or further their education and climb the ranks.
While men initially did not accept the idea, a modern family in which both parents work has become normalcy. In fact, half the participants in the Vitabotics Wellwoman survey felt they should support their families financially as much at their partner does, and over a quarter of women work more than eight hours to do so. These women still assume their role as a wife at home, though they expect a bit more help than the housewife does, and they do so by just as much choice as the housewife does.
When I asked my younger sister, Sarah, her opinion on the housewife vs. the working woman, I was surprised to find that her opinion was the complete adverse of mine. “Women who stay at home are out of their minds. They’re not doing any good for themselves,” she told me, going on to explain that they are presenting themselves as inferior to men by not harnessing their right to show their full potential as an intelligent, hard-working equal, and also expressing that she believe it is ‘normal’ to have two working parents.
Contrary to the housewife’s argument that a woman cannot give herself to her job or education and her family at the same time, working women believe it is their busy lives that keep their marriages alive. “What makes a happy marriage is likely to be people engaging with each other. If the full extent of your relationships with the external world is the toddlers’ group, daytime TV, and ironing, it has got its limits,” said Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas in London. The complaint that couples ‘run out of things to talk about’, I think, is a misconception.
In the time that my mother had been working prior to her surgery, I often wondered if my parents would ever stop talking about their long days at work. In this, however, I feel like it was less a complaint about their lives and more a way to share and relate with one another about the events of their day. The idea that a woman would have more to talk about after spending her entire day at home is difficult for me to grasp, and the idea that she would be able to sympathize with her working husband is even moreso. One has to wonder how the housewife cultivates her marriage.
Having grown up in a home with two working parents, I cannot say it has directly effected us as a family, but I can always see a strain in my parents’ marriage after both have worked all day and must come home to a house that needs cleaning and a family that needs feeding, or even broken appliances that need to be fixed or taxes that need to be done. While I can’t help but wonder if my relationship with my mother would be stronger than it is now – which hardly seems possible – had I been raised more by her than I was by babysitters in my earlier years, I feel inclined to agree with the lifestyle of the modern-day housewife.
In my experience, I feel like children have the chance to bond with their parents with or without spending the day with a babysitter, and so I feel like the most important part of the decision between housewife and working woman is about how it effects your marriage. Jessica Renison, a self-declared ‘liberated housewife’, said, “I certainly feel a woman has a right to work if that is what she feels is right for her family, but I am happier than I would be if I was working. ” I cannot help but agree with the idea.
A woman should always have the choice to educate herself and to work, and there will always be women who choose that road, but it does not mean the ones who choose not to should be looked down upon as lazy or indignant. I believe there is something about a woman that is hard-wired to find joy in tending to her home and her family, and to lessening the burden on her husband, as well as I believe there is something about a man that is hard-wired to be the bread-winner in the home.
While I have not directly experienced participating in either role, I think that I would like to try both someday. I do not think that a woman who choosing to stay at home and take care of the things her husband often loses sleep worrying about getting done is any less capable of succeeding in the workplace and I do not believe it makes her any less competent in being at equal ranks with a man.
I think women should still be proud to have the choice to be a housewife or a working woman, but to expect that now that we have that choice that we all choose the latter seems a bit familiar, doesn’t it? It certainly doesn’t seem like a choice, that’s for sure. So, I ask: where do you stand? The women who stay at home, while perhaps coming across as insulting to the hard-working woman who takes full advantage of her ability to choose to work, may lead the ‘more fulfilling’ life of a happy, less stressful marriage and a close bond with her children.
On the other end of the spectrum, the working woman may put off the housewife by her lack of dedication to her home in family, but she may also lead the ‘more rewarding’ life of a home built on the idea that both parents are equal, and a home that does not struggle financially and is supported by the mother and father’s strong ability to relate to one another on a personal level. At the end of the day, I can see the beauty in both life styles, and if any woman came to me and spoke of her decision, I would encourage whichever choice she made. Would you?