But I’m Not a Housewife!

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Happy Housewives: A Book Review

9780061137792

“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.

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