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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

I'm not a Housewife

The physiotherapist was rattling through the questions on the piece of paper in front of her at breakneck speed.  In a matter of seconds her quick fire technique had established my age, marital status and number of children.   Next up; employment.

“Are you working?”
“No”
“Have you been working?”
“No”
“So, you’re a Housewife?”

Hmmmm. I paused.  Housewife. Not a word I hear everyday. Certainly not a word I usually use to describe myself.  But clearly one that the NHS uses to bucket it’s patients when classifying their occupation (or lack thereof).

Silence.

“Well, I guess that would be one way of describing me”  I conceded, allowing rationality to get the better of me. She smiled.  Suddenly I felt more aware of her relative youthfulness, her efficiency, the fact that her badge had the word ‘senior’ on it. The familiar shadow of feeling lost as a woman without a defined work occupation crept over me.

The ‘Housewife’ comment niggled for longer than the intermediate discomfort that came as she tried to ‘level’ my hips and pulled at my legs.  As I drove home from the hospital later, I tried to determine why it bothered me so much.   In the strictest definition of the term, I am a housewife.  So, why did it wrangle so? And if I didn’t want to be referred to as a housewife, what did I want to be called?

For me, the word Housewife sounds old fashioned. It conjours up images of a woman in a time warp; a 1950’s post war woman, delighting in trialling and purchasing new consumer goods for the home, a woman who truly marvelled at the invention of the washing machine and how it would revolutionise her life.  A woman, who after years of rationing and austerity, enjoyed experimenting to now make more indulgent recipes, or making her own clothes.  The media of the day, women’s magazines particularly, propagated the fact that women enjoyed this role (even if in reality some wore false smiles to hide their gritted teeth.)
She looks happy with her lot in life.

If a modern day equivalent of this woman exists; (Anthea Turner and her series ‘The Perfect Housewife’ springs to mind,) then I’m nothing like her.  In one small snippet I saw of this series, Anthea was organising her linen cupboard; neatly folded white duvet and pillowcase sets were colour coded with tied ribbons to indicate the size of the sheets; which were pressed to perfection and folded with meticulous precision.  In contrast, my linen cupboard is chaotic and unorganised. I never know if the sheet I select is going to fit the bed, and if I’m honest, nine times out of ten I’m rooting through the wash basket on the day guests arrive to find a fitted sheet to wash and dry on a quick cycle before they get here.  Likewise, the advent of a revolutionary invention for accomplishing household chores is never going to get my party started; I’m just not the kind of girl that gets excited about the fact that Mr Dyson has launched a cordless hoover.  

Perhaps that’s the issue; I have no desire to be the best housewife on the block.  Before I give the wrong impression; that I have slatternly like habits and reside in some slovenly dive, I should say that I do have standards.  I like my home to be clean, neat and tidy.  I like the bed linen to be pressed and not creased.  But I don’t enjoy doing all these tasks myself, day after day. I confess, I pay a cleaner to come once a week to keep on top of it.   I then dip in and out of the additional things that need doing; the necessary ‘deep cleans’. Tasks such as performing a proper limescale cleanse on the toilet are much more likely to get me animated.  Using a Harpic toilet bomb, observing the cautionary ‘must wear gloves warning’ and watching it all fizz up, feels more like an exciting high school chemistry experiment than a household chore.

Maybe my aversion to the word housewife is because I feel a certain element of guilt that I’m not doing everything in the domestic sphere myself, that I pay someone else to do the things I don’t enjoy, whilst I sneak off and do something more enjoyable. (Play with my son, do something to enrich my own mind.) Perhaps there is a subconscious shame niggling away at me that I don’t personally have any desire to excel at what I deem to be the mundane chores of domesticity.  If the title were ‘House Manager’ instead, perhaps I’d feel the cap fits a little better. But that's me all over; far happier to direct than execute.  Or perhaps it's deeper rooted than that, that after nearly four years out of the workplace, I still struggle to accept my new role, struggle with the fact that people are oblivious that I once worked hard, added value and made a contribution to the workplace too.  Work can define us in more ways than we ever realise.

The more modern title of ‘Stay at Home Mum’ is slightly more palatable to me than 'Housewife.'  At least that implies that I am occupying myself with the important task of looking after my children, and investing my time and energy in them.  Experience has taught me that being a stay at home mum is not a soft option, but it is something I absolutely want to do my best at.  It’s a choice I’ve made (for the medium term) and as such, I do feel a sense of responsibility comes with this choice; for me to try and do it ‘properly’; to help Pip learn as much and do as much as possible in these years that I am with him.

They’re both labels at the end of the day.  One, slightly better in my mind in the other, but if I’m honest, the real crux of the issue is, I’d rather I wasn’t labelled singularly as either of these things.  I accept for the purpose of form filling and bureaucracy I need to be defined as something; the NHS, insurance firms, have their boxes to tick.  But in these, the years where I give myself to family, I do feel the need to remind myself that I am not just defined by the title of 'Housewife'.  (Not easy when you even have to request your husband to gift aid on your behalf.)

I am more than a housewife,  I am more than a stay at home mum.  I’m a woman of many hats, even if some of them are invisible to others.  I’m a multitasking professional plate spinner, a project manager, an interior designer, a cook, a playmate, a writer, a style icon (ok, maybe not that one). I am a multifaceted woman.  People can refer to me as a ‘housewife’ if they like, but I know I’m so much more than that.

If you don't work, what do you refer to yourself as? Does being called a housewife bother you? Am I getting my feather dusters ruffled up over nothing? 


30 comments:

  1. No, I agree, it definitely bothers me. I feel as though I am being judged for taking the 'soft' option (as if!) and that I exist in a world of coffee mornings and manicures (again, as if!) Sad really as it's a precious time to spend with your child and you don't need to feel you have to justify it every time someone says 'isn't it nice for some'.

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    1. I am not alone. That's good to know.

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  2. I agree and enjoyed this post. Well said! It would have annoyed me as well to have been referred to as a house wife. That is such an archaic term you don't hear any longer. I much prefer and do refer to myself as a stay at home mom because I feel more defined by that than house wife. I don't stay home all day being a wife. My husband is working and I'm not doing "wifely" things...whatever that may be. Varies person to person I'm sure. ...Being a wife isn't to me a job either. I won't hear it - motherhood IS a job. The most important. That is definitely work. Hard work. So being called a House Wife does feel like one is implying you don't do anything but watch soaps eating chocolate and just exist.

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    1. I was surprised by how much it bothered me. Enough to write this post anyway! Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  3. From the top of my head 'Home Based Mother' could qualify on a lot of fronts - even for those who aren't, er, mothers...or female!

    Seriously, point well made. Might irritate less if there was a 'Househusband' label, but there isn't and, I suspect, for good reason.

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    1. I'm a househusband! Most form filling has this as an option or if not at least a homemaker?

      Saying that, I have also been labelled a housewife on my insurance once so maybe we're not fully recognised just yet!

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    2. Thank you both. I didn't realise that some forms now include a househusband option - even if it's only some.

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  4. I really struggle with this. I don't work because I was ill and was unable too, now I am able to but am struggling to find a job. My husband works and has a good job so I dont claim benefits. So what do I call myself? Unemployed? Housewife? Stay at home mum to a puppy? Or am I house manager, cook, cleaner and everything else that goes along with my role! Thanks for the post. It's got me thinking. Xx

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    1. Gosh, I don't know. It's a tricky one. Nonetheless, you are a woman of many talents I am sure :0)

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  5. Certainly "housewife" doesn't sound appealing these days does it?! I much prefer "stay at home mum" me thinks :)

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    1. Agreed. Stay at home mum is better than housewife IMHO.

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  6. From a male perspective (with flak jacket adorned) I think the label of 'housewife' is still perceived negatively at least by a lot of men, exemplified by the fact it's often preceded by the words 'just a...'

    There's a definite sexist element to it as I'm a proud househusband/stay at home dad and when I tell people this it's often answered with,
    "Good for you", or
    "Well done"
    Which I'm guessing isn't the response most women would get?

    There's a perception that for a woman it's less a choice, more a duty, whereas for me it's seen as the former.

    When someone tells me they're a housewife I view them no differently than if they told me they were a lawyer. Would I have done so prior to being a stay at home dad? If I'm honest, no.
    I wouldn't have viewed them in a negative way so much as in a nothingness(?) kind of way which I suppose is the same thing?

    As to a better label (which society dictates we must all have), I've no idea? To come up with something new treads the same dangerous path of the cringe-worthy 'mumtrepreneur'.

    Then again, as a housewife-with-willy (sorry) it's probably not my place to sit on that panel!



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    1. Thanks for your honest comment - very interesting to hear things from a male perspective, particularly in a 'before' and 'after' context.

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  7. I love multitasking professional plate spinner, next time someone asks me what I do (& they do frequently) I am going to say that! xx

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  8. Loved that last paragraph, and no I don't think you are getting your feather duster ruffled at all. When Younger Dads bosses asked him what I do and he said I was a stay at home mother, they mirrored his response by saying I was a housewife. When YD told me this, it rankled me something rotten. It's a very old fashioned term, and I think domestic manager/director cuts the mustard much better as a job title. Still, when you break down what us stay at home mums actually do (see your last paragraph) its really quite staggering. And like you, I really relate to struggling, deep down, to accept my new role - I think part of this is the limited way in which mother is defined, and not treated with the same respect as a top flight director or doctor - after all, we are doing the most important job there is! X.

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    1. Thank you OM. It's good to know that I'm not the only person that struggles with the perception of being a SAHM. To be honest, I'm not sure how much of this is to do with self perception/ insecurity, and how much of this is to do with how society makes me feel. I do agree it is a very important job. And certainly, a far more worthy title than housewife. x

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  9. What happened to Full-time mother? I used to hear it a lot but haven't for ages. I wouldn't mind being a full-time mother. What mother isn't a full-time mother even if she's also something in The City?

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    1. You're right. I haven't heard Full-time mother for ages either. Good point.

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  10. Fantastic post. I'm so glad we've moved past the mum-vs-mum discussion, that pits working mothers against stay at home types. Most women I know understand that raising children is an important role and taking time off from a career or focussing on it doesn't make you an "opt-out" citizen. But it's still shocking to hear people use the term "housewife". It's pretty stunning to hear that you have to get your husband's permission for Gift Aid (!).

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    1. Yes, housewife is an outdated term. As a now non taxpayer - the only way I can ensure that gift aid is give to a charity is to do it in my husband's name. I think it's ridiculous.

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  11. i agrees whole heartily! i HATE the term 'housewife' and i am not sure why either!, i do think some people come across as seeing this as a lesser job than any other. I think its one of the most important jobs you could do and i feel really grateful to be in a position i can do this with my son as i couldn't with my eldest daughter. we are bringing up the next generation and i hope my hard work pays off ensuring my children are interdependent, happy, fully rounded people!

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    1. Thanks Jaime. I'm really grateful I have the choice I can to do this too, but just wish sometimes other's didn't make me feel that I am a lesser person as I don't have a classified 'occupation'. Thanks for commenting.

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  12. I couldn't agree more, housewife feels like such a derogatory term. It's exactly the same over here in Canada. I say 'full time mum' but always with that apologetic tone in my voice! I don't think most Men care what label we have it's other women that are the harshest judges.

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    1. Your comment with an 'apologetic' tone made me smile. I think that's how so many of us feel. We shouldn't.

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  13. I have friends who own a coffee shop a few mins walk from my house. I go once a week, with my toddler, she loves them and I can enjoy a Friday treat. Of course, what they see is a mummy out for coffee, pushing a Bugaboo, wearing Converse etc. They often joke about my husband working for me to sit on my arse, that I'm not just a housewife but a "lady who lunches" (what's lunch?!), that I'm living the dream and every day's a holiday. It's all said in jest but actually, the truth is, it pees me right off. They don't ask what I did when I worked in the city for the decade prior. Don't care that I actually contributed a lot to the purchase of our "fancy" home, don't see that I am absolutely knackered because this is one job that never stops. They just see me as a housewife out for coffee. I am so much more than that and so are you.
    (feel a bit strongly about this....!)
    Great post.

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    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I can really identify with the points you make. Off to check out your blog now. x

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  14. I am so with you on this....I'm glad to hear that you too have a cleaner (I often keep that one under wraps!) I don't 'enjoy' the domesticated stuff but I know it's necessary. Perhaps if I enjoyed it a bit more, the sheets would get changed more regularly lol! I do find it very stressful when it's all mounting up though, do you? The idea of that awful Anthea Turner programme is enough to turn your stomach! Great post :)

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    1. Yes, I often keep the fact I've got a cleaner under wraps too, but I'm trying to stop feeling guilty about it. Life is too short to wear a hair shirt all the time! I do hate it when it all mounts up. That's when I try and have a 'power hour' each morning. Blogging and a cuppa afterwards are my reward!

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  15. I have such a thing about this, the term that is just never going to be appreciated enough! I get so worked up about it I won't comment into much detail because I would never stop and my head would probably explode, but I agree with you - it is frustrating the lack of respect for the role we now play. And in agreement with Lynn, no one asks what I for the 15 years prior to becoming a Mother, they just assume that I sit at home all day. I guess until I became a Mother and understood the 24/7 365 day a year role it is, I had the same negative 'What do they do all day?' attitude - which is why I now get so frustrated about it - I know exactly what people are thinking! I think I am going to do a post on what my CV could hold, now I have the experience of being a stay home mum - it might be lengthy lol!

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  16. Admittedly, I'm not keen on the housewife term ... I'm married to my husband and not a house! For me, giving up work in a few weeks time is all about a choice to become a more hands on mum. No to do the cleaning, not to do all the cooking, not to do countless chores ... simply to be a full-time mother. I don't sit at work with one hand on the computer and the hoover in the other, so I won't be doing it when I have my two boys to look after. Maybe I'm spoilt by having a cleaner and a husband who has been bossed in to helping after many years of cajoling ;-)

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