Warning: long, discursive and a bit weird.
You know, the world would probably not run without housewives. (And the occasional house husband, of course.) A woman with top intelligence and drive can manage a fulfilling and successful career and wife/motherhood. But most women do not have the opportunities, the work ethic or a very helpful spouse, all of which are what makes the career path possible. Yes, I hear you muttering, there are a lot of single women out there managing work and children. Yes. There are. The point is, though, that it can be very, very hard. Ask a childless, unmarried career woman how easy it is to have a dinner party solo, just in passing. She could certainly use a helper, a gofer, someone to shop, clean, manage the laundry, run errands, garden, all that. A helpmeet. Synonym for wife. To have the time and resources necessary to climb most work ladders, a person needs that support. That wife. Politicians almost have to have one – preferably blonde, sweet, the mother of two and a half adorable children, and ready at any time to pose with said children and the photogenic dog. Most successful people have one. Having the support leads to success.
I am defining ‘success’ in saying all this. A successful career, as opposed to a ‘job’, or a succession of jobs, is specific, in this context. It is the path of choice for the woman in it, and a path that leads upward to recognition and reward, to responsibility and promotion. A successful career satisfies the person in it and the person gives satisfaction. Sure, a lot of men do not have successful careers, for various reasons. But my point is that many more women than men end up dead-ended, struggling, underpaid and unappreciated. If, instead of a struggling worker, the woman is a housewife, all of these things are also very likely to be true. Yes, there are housewives by choice. If they have not been persuaded by custom or family pressure, good for them. Those few, those happy few. As they say. The rest of womankind is, um, held cheap.
Is it fixable, do you think? There is one road, a path that runs through education combined with both the ability to profit by the education and the opportunity to use it. For this to work, the education has to be relevant and suited to the individual. The things taught have to be related enough to the work world, to confer value and impart both knowledge and desire to know and do. I have worked in the peripheries of the education industry all my life and I do not have a high opinion of a lot of the curriculum, which tends to lag reality, or some of the teachers, who tend to live in yesterday instead of tomorrow. Somewhere in there it would also be really good if the student learns to think, just a little; but I have digressed.
One thing that cannot be changed is that it is the women who gestates and produces the children. And, after the pregnancy, a lot of the caring for the newborn falls to the mother, especially if the child is nursed rather than bottle fed. Although it is tiring for both parents, raising the children falls mostly to the mother, in our society. The same thing is true of housework and, just generally, gatekeeping. In a two-person household, these tasks tend to fall on the wife of the house. She may hear ‘How can I help?’, but lifting the burden requires looking at its shape and weight and figuring out how to share, truly share it, without being told to do each individual task. The gatekeeper, the scheduler, has the responsibility and must make the time to do the planning, telling, reminding, list making, locating and researching. True even if there is an empty nest – guess who ends up disposing of the egg shells.
Ah, I now hear you saying. You just need to simplify. Then the burden is less. I hear that in a lot of ways from a lot of sources and I think it is just plain wrong. Simple solutions to complex problems do not exist. Sorry. Whether you are the leader of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition or married to a worrier, you are, please believe me, wrong. “You don’t need to iron my handkerchiefs” says the helpful spouse. Well, no. But rough-folded handkerchiefs do not fit into the drawer properly; they take up twice the space of ironed ones. To simplify, one could use paper tissues. At, sadly, a cost both to the weekly grocery bill and the environment, not to mention the task of making sure that a tissue does not go into the wash in a pocket. Paper tissues are make using bleach, oh dear, but the cloth handkerchiefs require bleach, or at least saline solution, if the user has a cold or a nosebleed. And around we go. Simple? Nah.
Disclosure time: I am a housewife. I have been a housewife, more often than not, for sixty years and counting. Yes, I have studied, worked, volunteered, all things I did in addition to my day job. Um, perhaps I should describe it as my day-and-night job, because housewifing is not something that you
can quit at 5:00 PM, hang up your tools and go out for a drink. Especially not if you are a mother; disclosure requires me to add here that my househusband was a willing and creative babysitter in the evenings and certainly made being a mother an easier job because of that. I do not, am not, able to judge if I have been a successful housewife, though, because what is the standard for success? Sixty years of marriage to the same man? Two successful children raised, launched and applauded? A grandchild well on the way to at least a chance at a satisfying life? Am I, then, a success judged by my past ability to do my job? I repeat, I have no idea. Am I satisfied with myself? Well, no.
It was the road I chose, but the road not taken haunts me.