“Who are you?” “I am just a housewife.”
Who is a housewife?
In the Oxford dictionary, a ‘housewife’ is defined as “a married woman whose main occupation is caring for her family, managing household affairs, and doing housework”.
For hundreds of years, men in the families have generally been recognised, and thought of, as the main ‘breadwinners’. Housewives work many unrecorded hours a week, while depending for money on their husband’s or partner’s employment.
By the 1960s in western countries, it became a lot more accepted for a woman to work and be a “career girl” until she got married. That would be when she should stop work and be a “housewife”. Some jobs like teaching were only done by unmarried women. Many women in the 1970s believed that this was not treating men and women equally and that women should do whatever job they were able to do, whether they were married or not. Towards the turn of the century, while became more and more educated, it resulted in this increased employment, and some women were able to earn more than their husbands, so the husband would remain at home to raise their young children. This was not common place.
In the late 20th century, it became harder for a family to live on a single wage. Subsequently, many women were required to return to work following the birth of their children, but in most cases, they hold the family together as housewives.
Charlotte Anne Perkins Gilman summed up the tasks and chores that a housewife needs to perform in the following lines –
“To work at my trade by the dozen and never a trade to know;
To plan like a Chinese puzzle — fitting and changing so;
To think of a thousand details, each in a thousand ways;
For my own immediate people and a possible love and praise.
My mind is trodden in circles, tiresome, narrow and hard,
Useful, commonplace, private — simply a small back-yard;
And I the Mother of Nations! — Blind their struggle and vain! —
I cover the earth with my children — each with a housewife’s brain”, and she wasn’t wrong.
Of the many works that housewives do, child care, cleaning, decorating and provision of clothing, eldercare, meals’ related planning, health care and companionship, keeping up with finances, daily household items, and expenses, paying monthly household bills in a timely manner, managing all the household spending, are just a few. Each of theses broad headings include many more tasks and sub-tasks, each of which tax the healths or exhaust housewives, but remain unappreciated because we take them for granted.
From the smallest member of the family, a baby (who requires to be feeded, bathed, clothed, tended and nursed, entertained, lulled to sleep), to the oldest member (who requires to be tended to too, and treated with great love and affection, and have their requests, demands and complaints met), from the spouse or partner (who needs attention, love, care and help in activities), to the children, and in some cases pets too, who all require to be supervised, treated well, first aid, planned meals, new clothes and toys, attention, and just about everything that one can think of, housewives overlook it all!
In some families, stay-at-home fathers, or men who assume the role of the wife, exist too. We must realise that the effort they put in should never be taken for granted because, in very simple words, we’d be lost without them.
I asked my friend what she thought about the role of a housewife, or housewives in general and she said this –
“I think they have particular functions too, like all those who work. It’s not just about doing whatever you want to throughout the day, it’s about having a tightly maintained schedule and taking care of EVERYTHING that happens in the house. My Father is that person. He takes care of anything and everything that happens around the house, any problem and he’ll sort it out. I don’t think that job is only reserved for women.”
And she is right. My mother is housewife and the many chores she manages to complete every single day, over and over again, amazes me.
John Seymour wrote:
“I’m only a housewife, I’m afraid.” How often do we hear this shocking admission. I’m afraid when I hear it I feel very angry indeed. Only a housewife: only a practitioner of one of the two most noble professions (the other one is that of a farmer); only the mistress of a huge battery of high and varied skills and custodian of civilization itself. Only a typist, perhaps! Only a company director, or a nuclear physicist; only a barrister; only the President! When a woman says she is a housewife she should say it with the utmost pride, for there is nothing higher on this planet to which she could aspire.”
No matter what our stand on housewives, or stay-at-home fathers, or working parents, we cannot disagree that they are superhumans who can manage everything, to say the very least, who are not afraid of the Kryptonite.