Parenting

What's so bad about being a housewife?

After reading a recent study that suggests women would rather be divorced than doing dishes, Jennifer defends the “traditional” role of housewives.

Photo by SuburbanSport via Flickr.

When I’m in the mood for snark and irreverence, Jezebel never disappoints. This week, housewives were under fire with the headline “Most Women Would Rather Kick Their Husbands to the Curb Than Be a Housewife” catching my attention.

Highlighting research from Kathleen Gerson’s 2009 book, The Unfinished Revolution, Jezebel pokes fun at the 1950s stereotype of a woman who stays home while her husband brings home the bacon, calling this traditional role “quaint.” After all, doesn’t every woman want to be totally equal with her partner? That’s what 80% of women and 70% of men want — at least according to Gerson’s research.

But when Gerson asked study subjects what they would do it they found themselves in a relationship where men and women couldn’t sustain an equal partnership, 75% of women said they would rather ask their husband for a divorce than stay in a marriage that had them home with their children. My friend, Chantal, was shocked at the statistic which stated that 70% of men who were asked the same question said they hoped their wives would “de-prioritize” their career and focus on homemaking.

Instead of jumping on the bandwagon of saying men don’t care about women’s careers — which is what the bulk of commenters wrote on Jezebel — I want to flip this statistic around and highlight what depresses me: Only 25% of Gerson’s female study subjects would choose their kids over their career. To me this study says less about the importance of women in the workplace than it does about how little young, unmarried people value family.

Believe me, I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a stay-at-home mom, and if I had been part of that same study group 15 years ago I would have answered that question the same way. But marriage and children have a funny way of changing your priorities and, after having our second child, my husband and I decided that the best place for me to be was at home — a joint decision based on the fact that his income could support this choice and mine could not.

There are moments in my new life as a housewife that my 20-year-old career-minded self would have cringed at, but now, as a stay-at-home parent who does most of the cooking and cleaning, I can say confidently that divorce is not the option I would choose. But if the misconception that a housewife’s role in a marriage is little more than cooking the bacon her husband brings home, of course divorce seems more attractive to a singleton. Truth is, being a housewife isn’t the same as being an unpaid janitor — and to see us as such is insulting. I see myself not only as a full-time caregiver to my children but, most importantly, to my marriage (I consider chores to be pesky side jobs of what I see as the real job of a housewife).

Here are statistics I’d like to see 15 years from now, should initiatives like income splitting and tax breaks be put in place, enabling more parents to stay home to care for their marriages and children:

  • how children read and sing more often and are more literate
  • how divorce rates will fall
  • how youth crime will be reduced
  • how children eat healthier and have fewer cases of diabetes
  • how children play outside more and obesity is obsolete

Hopefully some mommy blogger like me will say, “look at that old study from 2009, when they thought that being a housewife didn’t matter. How quaint.”

Photo by SuburbanSport via Flickr.