Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"Housewife" is NOT an Insult!

It really bothers me when someone used the term "housewife" - usually 1950's housewife specifically - to describe someone they believe has little autonomy, self-worth, empowerment, or mind of her own. And it pisses me off.

For one thing, a woman is a housewife for one of two reasons: either she has chosen to do so, or she felt pressure from her social situation to do so. In the former scenario, we shouldn't shame a woman for her choice, even if we don't agree with it. She probably didn't choose it because it was the easy way out, because she had no "real" aspirations or dreams of her own, or because she has little personality and opinions and wants a man to dominate her. She probably did it because she just wanted that lifestyle, and found real fulfillment in homemaking and being with her children. Good for her. It's not for everyone, and it's certainly not feasible for everyone, but good for her all the same. Remember, feminism is about choices, and just as the second wave petitioned for the right to work, so must we defend the social right to stay at home.

In the latter scenario, where the woman felt an immense pressure to be a housewife either for social or religious reasons, we can't shame her for doing what she was socialized to do. It's maddening when this happens in general. Sure, we can encourage women to go against the grain and flip the middle finger to those who control her, but to actually expect women to do so and then shame them for failing to rise above social pressures is unrealistic. Not to mentioned privileged. Most of the people who have told me to "just ignore" social pressures tend to be guys, and while guys certainly feel social pressure, it's not the same as it is for women. Women, especially young women, are given all sorts of messages from the cradle to the grave about what it means to be a "good woman," a "good girl," a nice girl. From my research, I've found that all the pressure young women are under as they grow up can take a really serious toll on them emotionally.

Now, when I explain this to guys, they laugh. They don't see it, they don't experience it, they usually don't inflict it, so they don't see what the big deal it. They may not see it because women aren't supposed to show it, even to each other, leading many of us to feel alone. These guys think that anyone who can't take this pressure in stride must just be a "pussy," because it can't be that hard. OR that anyone who even acknowledges it is sexist against women. Women are strong, they say, women can handle it. At least, empowered women can.

Back to the housewife issue, I can't understand why people shame women for just being what everyone around them expects them to be. They're put in a double bind, either do what her parents and her partner and her church and her social class expect of her, or do what more progressive people want her to do which is rebel - and she can't possibly please everyone. So she could just please herself, but at what cost? Losing the support of those she loves, experiencing great shame from those around her, to name a few. Losing membership of the church she has been otherwise loyal to her whole life. At this point, what does she want? She can't tell. And if she chooses wrong, someone will probably still make assumptions about her motives, especially if her choice isn't what they think is best for her.

The problem is, and this is typically what male privilege prevents guys from understanding, is that even now in the 21st century, women are still being socialized to be pleasers. Please their parents, please their friends, their boyfriends, people on the street, their church - everything they do, they are expected to do with others in mind. They're still expected to be police, nice, and selfless. Even when a woman does do something genuinely for herself, others assume she must be doing something for attention or validation from someone. Living for yourself, for a woman, is seen as a largely selfish act. Don't want to have kids? Selfish. Don't want to stay at home? Selfish. Don't want to work? Selfish. Don't want to put on makeup and look pretty when you go to the mall? Selfish. (yeah, really. I know there are times, like a formal event or job interview, when you need to look nice, but I've gotten some pretty harsh looks for going out in public with just a t-shirt, jeans, loose ponytail, and no makeup. people actually look disgusted and offended that I didn't doll myself up.)

There are two things I'm trying to get at: 1) Do not use the term "housewife" as an insult. The choice to become a housewife is a complex one that has many social and economic factors and the fact that someone is a housewife is not really indicative of her personality or her level of self-worth. 2) Stop shaming women for not rising above the social pressures they've had to deal with their whole lives. Again, it's a complex, social and psychological issue, and just because someone has a hard time rebelling against society doesn't mean they're weak, stupid or immature, and to make those kinds of judgments is hardly fair to that person.

I think I've said this before on my blog, but for the love of god, let women be human. Let us have bad days, moments of weakness, self-doubt, etc. without shaming us for said humanity. I am a person, I should not be expected to "rise above" my gender or its expectations and become this superhero you think a feminist or empowered woman is supposed to be.

1 comment:

  1. SO UNDERSTAND your pleaser comment. Same with Irish catholic boy in regards to our Moms. one son to be a priest. one to be in the military and then run the family. good post.