Look beyond traditional gender roles, recognize feminists among housewives

Housework, stay-at-home mothers and housewives are sticky terms that have divided feminists since Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” suggested that women might not inherently love their traditional roles as housekeepers and mothers.

Many of you out there might think I am crazy for even bringing this up, but just last week, one of my feminist friends admitted that she only recently learned to cook because she saw avoiding cooking as a rebellion against the domesticity that entrapped her mother. Now she loves to cook and regrets not having those years of extra cooking wisdom.

Not too long ago, I was quick to belittle my aunt, at that time a stay-at-home mom and housewife, for doing “nothing.” Flash-forward to my first experience living in an apartment on my own: I no longer believe that housework is “nothing.” I think that all of us living on our own can agree, even the smallest amount of housework equals a significant amount of labor.

Armed with the knowledge that cooking, cleaning, laundering and other household chores constitute a significant and essential category of labor, it is easy to see the perspective of those feminists who believe that domestic labor is feminist and that women who choose to stay at home for various reasons are not excluded from being feminist. Another feminist friend of mine hopes to one day be a stay-at-home mom and dedicate time to unpaid charity work.

Who am I to look down my feminist nose at domestic labor or the vastly needed charitable donation of time and energy?

In fact, there are many proponents of giving small governmental stipends to stay-at-home moms and housewives to show that their labor is equally as important as those who labor outside of the home. After all, in saying that housework is feminist, we are recognizing the centuries of unrecognized labor traditionally performed by women as important and at the same time, we give “feminized” labor the same respect as the “masculinized” labor of the outside economy.

Furthermore, recognizing the importance of domestic labor could help to increase cultural respect for the lower class and racial minorities, who to this day continue to do their own housework and perform a significant amount of domestic labor for the more privileged middle and upper classes.

The danger in praising stay-at-home moms and housewives too much is that it reinforces gender roles and gendered spaces.

At the end of the day, stay-at-home moms and housewives are reaping the benefits typically reserved for white, middle-class women and doing nothing to prove that feminized space extends beyond the household. These women are reinforcing gender roles and possibly slowing the pace toward universal gender equality.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that this little article is going to settle any debates over domestic labor, but I sure hope it gets you all thinking or at the very least, makes everybody a little more thankful for the efforts of their moms (and dads, too).

My opinion? There are many feminist housewives out there, but there are far more women staying at home due to patriarchal beliefs. Maybe if there were more stay-at-home dads and househusbands and better-paid domestic employees, we wouldn’t even be having this debate at all.

Carrie Bass is an art history senior. E-mail [email protected]