Someone recently asked me my thoughts on being a “housewife.”
I laughed at the word, dismissively, and shook my head in disbelief. Me? A housewife? How humorous, I thought, with a worldly chuckle.
And then I realized, with a start, that I was sitting at home, in my office, while my husband worked outside of the home. I was — quite literally — a wife in the house most of the time. Oh my goodness.
Then I literally asked myself the stunning question: Am I a housewife?
When I looked up the term “housewife” online with Merriam Webster, this standard definition popped up: house·wife — a married woman who stays at home, does cleaning, cooking, etc., and does not have another job outside the home; a married woman in charge of a household.
Ok, then. I’m married. I’m a woman. I’m a writer, so I don’t technically work outside of my home. I do clean. And cook (OK, only sometimes).
Oh, look at that — it would appear that I am a full-fledged housewife, after all. But if you would have asked me if I would ever, ever describe myself as such, the answer would be a resounding no.
But when I stopped to think about the negative connotation surrounding the term, I wondered why I thought about it that way. It brought me back to a conversation I had had earlier in the week with my husband’s grandmother, a pure saint on earth if ever there was one, and a woman who has spent all of her life, quite happily, in the servitude of others. We shared a laugh over my husband, who actually enjoys cooking and does the majority of cooking in our household.
“Yeah, I’m a lucky woman!” I said.
“Well, I’m glad to hear you say that, Chaunie,” she said in what I was surprised to hear was almost a stern voice. “He’s a good man.”
It’s a strange place to be in, this place as a modern wife, millennial mother, and working partner. It would appear that I’m living life as a sort of hybrid of traditional and modern, of old and new, of feminism and housewifeism.
See, I expect my husband to be an equal partner with me on the parenting front, and yet, let’s face it, it’s not really equal, nor can it ever really be unless men somehow gain the ability to get pregnant and give birth. (Note: I’m not saying dads are less important, I’m just saying that there are some things men simply can not do. Ask me if that’s reverse sexism later, because I don’t know right now, OK?) I would tell any fledgling feminist that their husbands sure as hell better know how to do housework, and yet I’d also confess that marriage is a lot happier if you learn how to say a simple “thank you”— and say it frequently. I’d fight (well, in writing, of course) anyone who dares say that staying home with children isn’t important work, and yet I will admit that’s it not for everyone and it certainly isn’t the only work that matters in the world.
And I think back to my husband’s grandma, a woman who still can’t help but always try to serve, a woman who has been known, on more than one occasion, to claim she enjoys washing dishes, a woman who raised kids and more kids, who worked outside of the home when she had to and served her husband with nary a complaint — and always a smile on her face — and I wonder: who had it right?
Was it me, with my marriage that expects dads to be “hands on” and sacrifice right alongside with women for the family or was it hers, a place where she found genuine happiness and respect in a role that held a quiet dignity and power — a role that gave rise to the startling beauty of family and an example of selflessness that I’m beyond humbled to behold.
Or maybe, like all things in life, modern marriage is about moving forward while looking back. Embracing the wisdom of those that came before us while forging a new path. A blending of old and new, patriarchal and matriarchal, feminism and romanticism.
So, yeah, I guess I’m OK with called being a housewife.
As long as my husband respects it.