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June 29, 2005

A Woman's Right To Choose

You know, it's funny: I always thought the whole point of Feminism was to free women of those damaging gender stereotypes. To give us more choices, more control over our own lives, more confidence in our ability to make rational, informed decisions without having to worry about fitting into some preconceived notion of what "the ideal woman" was supposed to do. The woman of the past tried to be all things to all people, running around in circles desperately trying to please everyone and inevitably pleasing no one. The woman of the future need only live up to her own internal standards: you know, like men do.

So why is it that so many of us - most often liberals, but even some conservatives these days - denigrate a woman's traditional role as homemaker? LaShawn Barber comments:

Whenever I tell men that I’m a “traditional” woman, they laugh. Yeah, right! They see a modern, outspoken, ambitious, professional woman supporting herself and taking risks.

They assume I’ve chosen this life over that of wife and mother. I explain to them that since I’m unmarried, I must support myself. Who else is going to do it? With no children, I don’t have to worry about starving them if my entrepreneurial ventures fail, so I can afford the risk. And my ambition is an effort to make a contribution to the world and create something of value.

The kind of man I’d marry would want his wife to stay home and raise his children instead committing them to the institutionalized “care” of people who couldn’t possibly care for them as much as I could or know them half as well, while he works outside the home. My roles would be godly wife, partner, homemaker, teacher (for home schooling), and whatever else God assigned. If I expect my husband to be the main breadwinner, he’ll have certain expectations of me.

I was a homemaker for years. Almost seventeen, to be exact. During those years I considered it my primary task to run our home smoothly, maintain a calm and tranquil refuge for my busy husband to return home to after a long day at work, raise our two sons, take them to sports and to school, do the laundry, keep my husband's cammies starched and pressed, pay the bills on time, manage my husband's salary, decorate our home tastefully and economically, prepare tasty and healthy meals on a tight budget, sew curtains, pillows, slipcovers, bedspreads, and other items, buy and refinish furniture, landscape and maintain the lawn and yard, maintain our cars and other appliances, entertain large numbers of hungry Marines and their families several times a year, support the command wives group, and volunteer at a variety of military, school, and community organizations. I may have left out a few things.

Needless to say I was never idle. And rarely bored. I had no time to watch soap operas (or any television, for that matter - the TV was rarely turned on in our home).

I also worked part-time from my home, when I thought it necessary, to raise extra money for little projects I enjoyed like refinishing furniture. Or paying for my sons' private school tuition when we bought our first house and were strapped for cash. But that was always something I worked in around my childrens' needs. It was optional.

Now that my children have grown and I have a very demanding, stressful full-time career, I find myself engaging in the kind of capital-for-labor substitution I only dreamed of when I was a stay-at-home Mom. Always pressed for time, I rarely wrap presents artistically the way I used to when women used to oooh and ahhh over my exquisitely-wrapped gifts at baby showers and parties. I always had that extra creative touch: fresh or dried flowers, an organza bow, a homemade Battenburg lace angel with Spanish moss hair, something unexpected and inspired thrown in at the last minute to make it memorable. Now I just toss the gift in a bag and bash off like a madwoman. They're lucky if I get the darn thing wrapped at all!

I don't cook elaborate meals as often, either - no homemade chicken pie with the flaky crust Marines used to go mad for. With just the two of us and the Spousal Unit coming home so late at night, it seems such a waste during the week. We're both so tired neither of us tastes the food, we're both watching our girlish figures anyway, and who wants to clean up the kitchen at 9 pm? Not us - we'd rather hit the rack and spent a few minutes together.

But every now and then my Mother-in-law comes to visit. She'll get up early in the morning and carefully set breakfast out before anyone gets up. I'll stumble out of bed, and smell fresh coffee brewing and find a big bowl of fresh fruit on the table. Taylor's ham will be sizzling on the stove and my mind goes back to the days when I cooked a hot breakfast for my husband and boys every morning before they trundled off for the day.

I miss that. There was a tranquility, a peace that is missing from our often too-hurried lives now. Oh, I'm not sure I want to go back, mind you. I love the excitement of my job: the invigorating discussions with clients, solving difficult problems, times like yesterday when after doing research for several weeks, I ran my theories by a valued client and he got excited and said, "Exactly! That's exactly what we're seeing here!" and I felt like I'd won the lottery. I know that's what working women miss when they leave their jobs to stay home.

But then I miss the feeling of gathering two warm, sweet-smelling boys into my arms just after they've had their baths. I miss combing their damp hair and putting their PJ's on and watching them scramble to find a favorite stuffed animal - knowing they can't wait to hear the next chapter of whatever book we're reading that week.

I miss going for walks to find fresh flowers for the table because we can't afford to buy them. Or traipsing through the woods and stumbling on a patch of blackberries and surprising my husband with cobbler when he gets home from work.

Now, berries are commonplace. But they weren't, then. And somehow they taste better when you pick them yourself, even if you had to soak them in sugar for 4 hours to get the tartness out.

Why do we put homemaking - as an avocation, as an art - down? One of LaShawn's commenters, and I don't want to pick on him (he may not have thought seriously about his comment, or he may have: I don't know) said:

If there are no children involved then a woman has no reason to stay home. She needs to get a job. She has no option. What good reason would she have to sit at home all day and do damn near nothing, because she’s a wife? Not good enough as far as I’m concerned. A woman won’t sit around and watch Oprah and The People’s Court because I put a ring on her finger.

I so disagree with that statement, though obviously everyone should be free to marry whomever he pleases. My Mother and my Mother-in-law are both homemakers. They both work hard. They have always worked hard. If you do the job right, it is time-consuming and difficult work. Scrubbing floors and toilets is not what I would call a hoot and a half. Cleaning a dirty oven is not exactly a yuck-fest. Laundry and ironing are not fun. My mother hand-irons all my Dad's shirts, and they always look beautiful. She does the painting when their house needs it every few years. And all the gardening for their enormous yard. She is in her seventies. She treats my Dad well - she makes his lunch for him every day. And my father treats her like a princess: as he should.

Too often women say they want to be treated a certain way by men but consider reciprocal treatment “old-fashioned” or beneath them or contrary to feminism. Hogwash. Throw that out with the rest of the trash.

Exactly. There is nothing wrong with the old male-and-female roles. They worked for centuries.

Feminism has given us some new choices, but that doesn't mean we need to put down the old ones or throw the baby out with the bathwater. Working full-time has given me a renewed appreciation for how difficult it is to be a man in today's society. Many times I have wished that I had a wife to come home to!

How nice it would be, at the end of the work day, to be greeted with a smile, a loving kiss, and a sparkling house! Last week my husband gave me a big hug and said, "You know, I really appreciate the way dinner has been ready lately when I walk through the door - it's so nice to smell it as I walk up the path." I was sort of shocked, but it made me feel wonderful.

It's a little thing, and I'm really tired at the end of the work day too. But I'd gotten so tired of never knowing when he was going to be home. And then I said to myself, stop. We have to have a schedule. Some order to the day. The way it used to be. Our home needs to be the center again, not our jobs.

And so, even though it's an extra effort, I'm going to make it. Maybe it's sexist, or inegalitarian, but that's what I'm good at. And if putting flowers on the table, or taking the time to notice that he likes things a certain way is what it takes to create that space, that tranquility again for both of us, then so be it.

There is something to be said for gracious living, and that is what seems to be missing from our lives now that I work. I don't have the time or the energy to create the kind of home we used to have, though I haven't given up completely. And I refuse to become the kind of frantic working woman I see all too often: running around with a cell phone and a DayTimer, every spare moment scheduled as she micromanages her husband's, children's, and everyone else's lives. That is a sure path to resentment.

I have accepted a certain loosening of standards: gift bags instead of wrapping paper. No more daily vaccuuming, which I used to be a demon about. But I think we can go too far sometimes, and it disturbs me when I hear women (and even men!) criticize what I like to call the Womanly Arts: those which make daily life orderly, pleasant, and tranquil: in a word, beautiful. If you don't enjoy them, fine. Not everyone does. But have some respect for women who do choose to do those things competently and with panache, because they make life a whole lot richer and more pleasant after a hard day's work.

And you never know: you just may end up hiring another woman to do those things for you someday. In today's money-rich, time-poor environment, this could be the next growth industry.

Posted by Cassandra at June 29, 2005 07:12 AM

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Your reminiscing of your former oppression at the hands of the a man only demonstrates the scale of brainwashing that has taken place. No woman with free will would ever choose to live in that Komfortable Koncentration Kamp.

Posted by: Masked Menace© at June 29, 2005 11:32 AM

Dude... I thought sure you were going to link to the Happy Housewife :D

Posted by: Bush Ate My Soul... at June 29, 2005 11:46 AM

I think you missed something about what women are supposed to be like by not watching soaps, Oprah,
PBS, Oprah, cooking shows, Oprah, etc.

How dare you have an original thought and make a wholesome choice? Susan B. Anthony must be spinning in her grave.

Posted by: Cricket at June 29, 2005 11:49 AM

Do you know, I have never seen Oprah?

Never. I feel so depraved...I mean deprived.

Posted by: Bush Ate My Soul... at June 29, 2005 11:51 AM

To tide you over until spd rdr returns from his boondoggle:
"So what time will dinner be ready?"

Posted by: portia at June 29, 2005 12:22 PM

Well, I think you need to go on Jerry Springer and discuss it.

I am still in the homemaking phase of my life and right now...well, we have hit a rough spot. Six years between teenagers is hard. After my year of satellite is over, I am ripping the d***n thing out of the wall.

There, I feel wefweshed.

Posted by: Cricket at June 29, 2005 12:24 PM

"So what time will dinner be ready?"


That man knows how to push my buttons.

I nearly clocked him when he said that right after I moved in :)

Cricket, my hat is off to you. I only raised two - that is easy. And I never went through what you have endured. You should get a medal or something. And I mean that most sincerely. By the time I went back to school, I was *so* ready it almost hurt inside.

I was like a horse that had been hobbled for years and was suddenly let free to run - I just went and went and went for five years, day and night, burning the candle at both ends.

Your day will come :) You are so smart and so vibrant - the world is going to get rocked on its heels when you hit the pavement, woman. And in the meantime, your family is blessed beyond all measure. Whatever you choose to do, you will leave your mark - I am sure of that. Never doubt it.

Posted by: Bush Ate My Soul... at June 29, 2005 12:33 PM

Heh. A ringer for spd rdr! Just what you need:)

Posted by: portia at June 29, 2005 01:04 PM

Hey... I thought you forgave me for getting a mite testy the other day??? :)

Posted by: Bush Ate My Soul... at June 29, 2005 01:20 PM

[in my best imitation of spd voice:]

"Um...does that mean you're not cooking dinner tonight?"

Posted by: portia at June 29, 2005 01:56 PM

Dear God. Even when he's not here, he's here.

The man is impossible. He's paying you to torment me, isn't he?

Posted by: Bush Ate My Soul... at June 29, 2005 02:03 PM


Posted by: portia at June 29, 2005 02:31 PM

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
-Song lyric by the group "Rush"

Posted by: camojack at June 29, 2005 05:28 PM

My last job was with a sadistic consulting firm who forbid me from seeing my family or raising my children. First chained to and IT desk, then sent to the PBX dungeon where they kept me it GITMO conditions. Thankfully I became pregnant after 10 years since my previous, and used the window of opportunity to escape. I finally quit working after 14 years.

Now the baby is 5 and will be entering kindergarten this fall, and I realized that in my inexperience as a SAHM I’ve created a bunch of spoiled malcontents. Especially in the older ones (15 and 17). But then again, they would be most likely still be spoiled malcontents even if I did work over the past 5 years, but most likely really bad spoiled malcontents who could get away with robbing a convent had I not come home to kick them squarely upside their backside when needed.

If there were real "choice" in the matter, I'd choose to have them married with children of their own so they would have a clue and I a martini. Ha Ha.

Posted by: June "The Meat" Cleaver at June 29, 2005 09:16 PM

Heh... as my good friend Dia from the South Side of Chicago used to say (very sarcastically) "Children are a Gift From God...sent here to enrich our lives in SO many ways".

There's hope. Once they leave for college and have to fend for themselves, they turn astonishingly human again. I love my sons now.

I could never work for a large firm - I'm too much of a rebel. I only survive on charm and an annoying ability to make myself indispensible.

Posted by: Cassandra, snarking from the sidelines at June 29, 2005 09:38 PM

Cass, thanks for the boost. I really needed to hear that, especially when I am raising a whiner. Somehow, that has had a trickle down effect to the younger sibs. Or we have the pecking order of delegation.

But believe it or not, your posts and subsequent insights in the comments (along with Mathmom and June and spd, KJ and Pile) keep me coming back.

June, THANK YOU for the reminder of it being okay to get their attention in such a manner. Better they get a boot from mom up their backsides than land on them.

Posted by: Cricket at June 30, 2005 10:51 AM

Kids can wear you down.

The years when the Unit was overseas or deployed a lot were the worst - when you're the only parent it is tough to keep saying NO all the time.

The last year alone with my youngest was particularly difficult. I'd just moved cross-country, left all my friends, my son changed schools, my oldest had left for college, my husband was overseas for a year...YUCK. And my son was turning 18 - the worst year for both my boys - they got little blue flames behind their eyes and that Satan voice.

And on top of everything else, I turned 40 and got my first grey hair. Oh and the hardly any sex for an entire year thing was particularly special too... I can't tell you how much that adds to the overall ambiance.

I've never exercised so much in my entire life :)

Posted by: Cassandra at June 30, 2005 11:13 AM

You mean they get a Satan voice? Is that anything like the church lady's echo when she says "SATAN?"

I have so much to look forward to.

As to deployments and the lack of sex...YUP! I walked a LOT. Took a lot of cold showers in Washington state of all places...it is FREEZING in the summertime. We all went swimming when it warmed up to the low 70s.

My cousin had a slogan in her kitchen that I say to myself when I am in need of a motivator:
"raising children is like being pecked to death by a chicken."

Posted by: cricket at June 30, 2005 12:21 PM

"raising children is like being pecked to death by a chicken."

Reason #3487 why I don't have kids yet. :-p

Posted by: Masked Menace© at June 30, 2005 12:26 PM

I enjoy being a SAHM and then will enjoy the freedom too. I want to do my job right so they are independent self reliant adults.

THAT will be worth it. I will miss some of the fun things like snuggling babies and the reading we do together, the fun things we enjoy, but hopefully they will want to repeat that with their families.

I don't have a job for a variety of reasons, but
one of the things that I really believe with my heart and soul is that kids are better off with a parent at home than they are without.

I know they get into trouble and will do stupid things and dumb stuff. But I would rather be the one to help them out of their learning curves
than the local jail or rehab.

Wasn't there a petite mom who learned karate so when her abusive son tried to beat her up she flattened him?

Good for her.

Posted by: Cricket at June 30, 2005 02:17 PM

I have enjoyed each phase along the way Cricket, and I've mourned each a bit when it was over, then let it go and learned to love the next one as it came along.

After a short while, there's no looking back. I am very happy now. Strangely, this part of my life reminds me most of when I was very young - around sixteen or so.

There seem to be more ups and downs. It's less even, and though I'm more happy overall, there are times when I'm very unhappy too. That's a bit hard to take sometimes because for twenty years or so I've been on such an even keel.

I'd sort of forgotten how it felt when I was a girl. But I guess this is what it was like. Funny - I look in the mirror sometimes and I can't figure out how I got to be the age I am. I feel like I should be so much younger.

Maybe I never grew up :)

Posted by: Cassandra at June 30, 2005 03:17 PM

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