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Does Housework Get A Bad Rap?

Being a stay-at-home mom is one thing. But a housewife? That’s practically a dirty word, at least in some circles.

In an interesting essay on Jezebel, the writers look at what it takes to walk away from a career and become a full-time housewife. Feminists have been debating this issue for decades, torn between the movement to free women from the drudgery of “women’s work” on the one hand and the need to respect and value housework on the other.

These things aren’t really in conflict of course. Domestic labor is valuable, skilled labor. It’s not work that women are universally, innately suited to. Most housekeeping and childcare is done by women, but not all. And by no means all women are skilled at these things, or fullfilled by doing them.

Some of us are, though. Plenty of women leave interesting careers to stay at home and raise kids, tend a garden, keep a house. According to a not-at-all scientific poll from the women’s site TresSugar (whose readership overlaps ours a lot, except for the whole having kids thing), 50% of women would be housewives if they could. Another 27% said they’d do it after they had kids. That’s a lot of dreamy domestic bliss.

It may just be that the grass is always greener. Working women fantasize about being housewives. Most of the stay-at-home moms and housewives I know fantasize about having a high-powered career, complete with big paychecks and juicy intellectual challenges. Or at least we fantasize about having clean clothes and conversations with people over 4 years old.

I’ve been on both sides of this. I left a full-time newspaper job to be a full-time mommy. I changed diapers, sang songs, scrubbed floors. Over time I started freelancing again. Now I’m at the point where I’m considering hiring a cleaning service to scrub those floors for me while I write.

It turns out that while I love being with my kids, I’m not very good at housework. I don’t enjoy it, and my house is a mess even when I’m finished.

Some of my friends are masters at housework. They clean for fun. They do cute things with leftover wrapping paper and bits of string that make their houses look like the inside of Martha Stewart Living. I’m not that girl.

It seems to me that valuing housewives means accepting that not everyone is cut out for it. There’s no reason to think every women should be a stay-at-home mom any more than every woman should be a lawyer or an accountant. It’s a career, with it’s own set of skills, rewards and challenges.

What do you think? Are you a housewife? Would you be one if you could?

Photo: Steven Depolo

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