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?”
“Have you been working?”
“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).
“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?