But I’m Not a Housewife!

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The Real Rules For Girls

The Real Rules For Girls

I may have mentioned before that I worry about teenage girls these days, what with half naked women on every billboard, the Pussycat Dolls being marketed to elementary school kids, and Girls Gone Wild commercials every other second on a popular cable channel – one that bleeps out bad words but advertises that young college girls should be naked and gyrating all over each other on camera if they wanna be normal (that would be Comedy Central, in case you weren’t sure). Ugh, I could go on, and on, but what would be the point? The bottom line is it was hard enough when I had to go through it; I can’t even imagine what it’s like to grow up a girl today.

So, to be honest, I obsess about what all this media does to the minds of young girls, to the point that I read stacks of YA (Young Adult) novels with a secret hope that there will be something in them to assuage my concern, some kind of magic advice that will get them through puberty and young adulthood with their inner-selves unscathed.

That in mind, I picked up this book at my local library and enjoyed it cover to cover one evening. It ain’t perfect, but it’s got a lot of good advice in it about overcoming shyness and being in control. My favorite parts are the ones that insist that you won’t want to know, much less, date the popular football star when you’re an adult, and that your first boyfriend is really just for practice. 

Your first boyfriend should be like the first pancake, just a tester to see if the griddle is hot enough.

One more pearl:

Don’t whine. Whining’s for those who can’t ask for what they want.

I wish I had learned to ask for what I want at an earlier age – in all areas of life.

P.S. I didn’t even know that Courteney Cox Arquette wrote the foreward to this book, as my copy came from the library and that is where the library puts it’s branch sticker.

You Can’t Have It All, Or, You Can Have It All, Just Not At Once

“I just don’t believe you can work full time, run a household, raise great kids, and keep your marriage strong without losing your mind along the way. I think something will suffer, either your marriage, your kids, or your sanity….

“Really, what is the point of working so hard toward a career that isn’t conducive to raising a family?”

~Darla Shine, Happy Housewives

Thanks for the comment on the Happy Housewives post, Robyn. I’ve been meaning to explain what I did like about the book and I’ll respond to your comment about being honest at the same time. 

First, I really do agree with Shine’s basic motivations behind writing the book. I also believe a woman is fooling herself if she thinks she can have a demanding career and be an excellent mother to young children at the same time. And I also share the view that it would be awesome if we could remove the stigma attached to staying at home – which has been the legacy of the feminist movement. I just don’t love the manner in which she presents these ideas, and the way that she attacks everyone in the process. I don’t think there is ever one right way to live life, and I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to tell others that the way they live their lives is wrong. I believe in being honest about one’s opinions, but I think there is a difference between the way one speaks in the privacy of her own  home and in a public forum. At home, one’s close friends and loved ones will understand the difference between venting and making broad generalizations about people who are different from oneself. But, when you are speaking in a public forum you need to be more conscious of how you present your opinions. You can be honest and funny without attacking others.

Now, let me show you what I agree with, and how even then, I think Shine misses valuable points about women in forming the agenda of her book. I agree with the idea that the choice to stay home for our generation of women is difficult and we may not be prepared for how it will make us feel or how we will be treated by others – that’s partly the whole point of this blog – coming to terms with what I want out of life as a woman and what I’ve been raised to believe I want. So, here are the words that come from the most honest and likable side of Darla Shine,  in Happy Housewives (emphasis mine):

I left my career to be with my children because I thought I had no other choice, and I was full of resentment. I refused to let myself feel like a housewife. I rejected the idea of motherhood. I told myself it was all temporary, like a criminal sentence – and I was doing my time. 

I began to get disconnected from my home and my kids. p. 6

(I relate to this oddity of rejecting traditionally female parts of myself.)

“I feel sorry for all the women out there who are still trying to hold on to this image of being a supermom. It’s just impossible. I know that I can’t have it all. Something has to give. I’ve finally let go of my ego, and since then I finally have freedom. I’ve let go of all the demands and the expectations society put on me to be this perfect woman. I cannot be her, and I choose not to be her. I don’t want to work ten hours a day. I don’t want to get on the commuter train at 5:00 A.M. in a blizzard. I don’t want to break the glass ceiling. I now know exactly what I want. I am desperate no more. I am proud to say I’m a happy housewife.” p. 9-10

(Amen!)

…. I was full of baloney. I chose to leave work. I wanted to be at home with my son…. I was finally able to admit to myself that I had no intentions of going back to work and that it was time for me to give up that identity. I was a housewife. Why, though, did I feel so ashamed for so long?” p. 21

“I know the answer now. It’s because our society has looked down on motherhood as an option for a career. As if it isn’t good enough for you to be a mom, to be a housewife. My entire generation of women were raised to be more than housewives. It was engraved into our brains at an early age that we could finally be something. Our sisters before us – oh, and I’m going to talk about them in a bit – opened so many doors for us, and now we were expected to step up. We had to take our places in the workforce. We were expected to be something. Aspiring to be a mom, to get married, was not something we said out loud. 

The luxury that our mothers had as girls was that they knew that even though they would go to college, most likely their main goal was to meet a man who could take care of them so they could stay home. I think our mothers were far more fortunate than us. They weren’t plagued with this unrealistic burden to be superwomen juggling career, marriage, and family. They knew being home raising a family was the most important job, and they took pride in that.

It’s such a shame that society has put this terrible pressure on women – this ridiculous notion that we can work full time, raise a famliy, keep a happy home, and not lose our sanity in the process. p.22 

“But my mother never raised me to believe that I could only be a housewife. My parents gave me the confidence to believe that I could be anything I wanted. My father said, ‘Go to college, have your career.’ My mother said, ‘But then go home and raise your babies. You can always go back to work when they get bigger.

I don’t think either of them knew how conflicted I would be. It was easy for my mother to say, ‘Hey, go become something and then give it all up to be a mom.’ Our mothers have no idea how they have burdened us with liberation and equality (ooh, she gets a lot of flack for that line). It’s an enormous responsibility to live up to. It’s exhausting. It’s a shame that so many of us are still trying to juggle everything, and it’s no wonder so many of us are getting desperate int he process. 

I’m angry that I wasted so many days of my new baby’s life on that emotional roller coaster, struggling with the knowledge that I chose motherhood over my career, conflicted over the fact that I was no longer of value in this society because I wasn’t a big career girl. I felt less valuable being ‘just a mom.’ I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to break back into the industry when he got older. Instead of embracing new motherhood, I was worried that I was turning into my mother and that I would never be more than a mother and wife.” p. 24

Okay, so it’s the common struggle of women today to feel undervalued for being at home with their kids and not working. And kudos to Shine for suggesting that we find creative ways to work part-time from home when our children are older; I believe in broadening our ideas of what a valuable work is. But, I don’t think the way to lift up stay-at-home moms is to bash working moms. I was annoyed by her moralistic admonitions about the one true, correct way to do things.

I don’t think that all women want to be home bonding with their kitchens. I don’t think that all women like making crafts, baking, and cooking. And not all women can afford to stay home full time. In an ideal world, I don’t think anyone would deny that children would fair better with their mothers being around much more. But it isn’t productive to put down women who have decided that they will not be sane people if they don’t work part time. Many good family men admit that, although going to work every day is sometimes grueling and that they wish they could be home with their children more of the time, the truth is, they need their careers for their sanity and their identity. They admit that they would go insane not having a job to go to. But, working full time as a bread winner is a dilemma for men as well as women. I know that my husband will have rough times when he wishes he were home with his wife and children, living life with them and creating memories together, instead of working long hours with strangers. Some women, like men, would go insane if stuck in the home and unable to use their brains, skills, and education. We should not punish women for having the same desires as many men. We should support families with two working parents so that husband and wife together can balance that outside fulfillment with that of raising a family. 

At the same time, I agree that we shouldn’t assume that women who choose to be at home, do not feel ambiguous about this decision, or are not intelligent women with educations that they hope to use later on in life, when the children are grown. They deserve respect for sacrificing the kind of fulfillment that a career can bring. Maybe some of them have never wanted or dreamed of doing anything except raising a family, but there are many who have to fight the daily feeling that they are missing something vital by being at home. But in supporting the at-home-mothers, let us not put down the working ones. Let us build that system which supports all women and mothers.

Happy Housewives: A Book Review

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“Girls are afraid to say, ‘You know, I am happy to be home,’ ” she says. “I took it upon myself to lead this movement and say, ‘You know what? We are taking back the power. We’re happy. It’s time to admit it and be proud of it.’ “

To those who complain and act embarrassed about their stay-at-home lives, she says: “Snap out of it. Shut up and stop whining.”  

‘Happy’ housewives finally get their due, By Carol Memmott, USA TODAY, Posted 10/19/2005

Okay, I’ve said it before, I’m obsessed with all things housewife, woman, and, mom-related even though I’m not yet a mom. (Yes, I’ve said that before, too. Oh, and working woman or working mom related too, to be honest.) This must be why I feel it’s my duty to check out every housekeeping, homemaking and housewife related book from the library, to share my opinions about said books with my readers.

And so, back to Happy Housewives, by Darla Shine, which I promised several weeks ago to review here. And whew! If you check out the reviews on Amazon.com, which I like to do, there are some Darla-haters out there!

Usually, I am firmly  with the ditractors or the supporters, but I find myself agreeing with all of the reviews. I have a love-hate relationship with this book. To mention the most positive side of the book, in the words of one reviewer:

Her message, however you may feel about the packaging, is inspiring and all about self-empowerment.

So, what this book offered me was a kick in the pants, the view that nobody is perfect, and that one should simplify, simplify, simplify, stop making excuses, and make it a priority to find uncomplicated routines that work.

Great ideas I took away from the book: 

  • With respect to cleaning: If you think it, do it! (I love that!)
  • Be intimate with your husband (though, not because you want to manipulate him as Shine suggests, but because it brings you closer together — and because this man, who has agreed to spend his life with only you, deserves to have sex!)
  • Bond with your home: clean it (yourself), cook, and create a place of beauty for your family (Sooo, hard!).
  • Take time for yourself: It’s okay to put your baby in a jumper or crib while you shower and put on make-up, or relax for a few minutes with a cup of tea and a magazine.

But the book fails on so many levels. Jen Lawrence, an MBA, mother, blogger and writer, (who wrote a much better book review than I could ever hope to write, over at Literarymama.com) shares my suspicion that it was Darla’s editors trying to garner a more sensational and selling tone for the book, that mucked everything up, not Darla herself. I like to think that this is true, and there are, as Lawrence notes, hints of another Darla underneath all the vitriol. She really does want to empower stay-at-home moms and to encourage them to feel in control and proud of themselves for their seemingly unpopular choice.

The caveat: Shine is not able to create an empowering book for stay-at-home mothers that is inclusive of all mothers. It is so confrontational, one-sided, and unwittingly classist that it’s hard to stomach! What’s more, it is sloppily written, disorganized, slapped together, and full of contradictions, straw-man arguments, and acerbic language — which was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but fails to be funny.

There is an uncomfortable (and much criticized) scene in a supermarket where she admits feeling angry at an obese woman buying junk food in front of her, because she is raising an overweight son.

I was so angry that I wanted to smash my cart into her big fat ass. But then I thought to myself, is it possible that she just doesn’t know about nutrition? Is it possible that she was raised to eat this way, and now she’s passing on her bad habits to her son? As her food moved down the conveyor belt, I began to load my fresh organic lettuce, tomatoes, apples, bananas, spinach, broccoli, wild salmon, bottled water, kettle chips, and tofu ice cream onto the belt. I hoped she would look over and that it would inspire her to eat healthier. She didn’t seem to notice; she just paid and left the store. 

Shine doesn’t seem to realize that much of America cannot afford to eat like that, especially if they are choosing survive on one income. According to her, all women can afford to stay home with their children as well: 

If you made the choice to get pregnant, you should make the choice to stay home with that baby if you can afford to, and I think most of you could afford to.

I know I’m making a lot of women angry. How dare I call career moms selfish? How dare I say women belong at home with the kids? How dare I suggest moms who are at home with their kids are better mothers than moms who work full time outside of the home. Well, sorry….

So, maybe you’ll have to give something up. Maybe this year you won’t buy a big-screen TV. Maybe you won’t go to Bermuda. Maybe you’ll have to downsize your home. Things might get tight. But isn’t your baby worth it?” p. 20 (Emphasis mine.)

I did feel that there were some helpful hints that I hadn’t thought of in this book, unfortunately, I had to dig through a lot of disorganized, hateful content, that I just didn’t agree with, to find them. I’ve also realized that many of the hints which which I was filing away in my mind for future use, “Ooh, that sounds like a good idea, yes, keep foods simple and appealing to the kids – Noted,”  only appeal to me because I’m not yet a mother. And these, according to Lawrence, are ideas which can be found ubiquitously in women’s magazines already.  The only reason they fool me as being helpful, is because I have not yet had to deal with motherhood. 

Finally, if it wasn’t so chock full of us-versus-them dichotomies (or Darla versus everyone else), and spiteful comments about men, husbands, women who work, “feminists,” fat women, unfashionable mothers, and sisters who fail at holding it all together; if it wasn’t such a manifesto to get all women back in the home so that the author could finally be justified in her decision to leave a high-powered job, I would like it much, much more.

My Current Women’s Issues Reading Queue

It all started when Mad Men came out (which I immediately loved, loved, loved) and then I randomly found this book on the shelf at my local Library:

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A reader review on Amazon.com says it more eloquently than I can at the moment:

5.0 out of 5 stars If you’re not a Feminist, read it anyway., July 25, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Women’s Room (Paperback)

French’s work is a maddening, beautiful, horrific, and eloquent work of artistry that truthfully tells of women’s lives. I recently read it at college (yes, I am Feminist, we’ll get that out of the way) and this novel allowed me to find the words to connect the thoughts that had been floating in my own head for years. The point of this novel is not even in its compelling, wonderful plot, it is in the ideas expressed and the intelligence of French’s work. I am certainly not a 1950’s suburban wife with two children, yet I found pieces of my life in every one of the characters of “The Women’s Room.” If you can get past the insipid idea that French is claiming all men are oppressive, all women meek or radical, and relationships between the genders are doomed, you’ll be a different person, emotionally and intellectually by the time you turn the final page. Read it slowly, savour the language, get angry, cry, laugh, become empowered, and find your own voice with the help of this remarkable novel.

I pretty much agree with everything said above by “A Customer.

I am also reading For Her Own Good, by Barbara Ehrenreich (who wrote Nickel and Dimed) and Deirdre English.

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It is an excellent book about the history of women and the rise of the psychological and medical professions along with their “expert” advice to women in the past two centuries. I found out about it because my mom is currently reading it – thanks, mom!

I’ve also just finished Happy Housewives, by Darla Shine, of the Happy Housewives Club

This book apparently comes in three colors.

I’m dying to post a proper review of this book, because although I mostly enjoyed it and devoured it in one weekend, I had mixed feeling about it. The reviews by readers have been mixed and cite two things of which I was also acutely aware when I read it:

  • It is, unfortunately written with the assumption that the reader is an Upper Class American.
  • Her holier-than-thou, “judgy, snotty way of referring to those different from herself” writing style was terribly offputting.

More to come on that book.

Finally, these are next books in my reading queue, which I have on order at the public library:

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