On Housewives and Househusbands

So, The Fat Nutritionist has an awesome post about her and her husband’s decision for him to stay home and how weird it was to have her friends thinking that he was taking advantage of her, when they wouldn’t think twice about a woman in the same role.

She points out that she’s not good at homemaking tasks, because she can only focus on them for a short time. Her husband, on the other hand, is very good at them.

There are a lot of things I love about this post. One is the way it conveys the importance of homemaking. Cooking, cleaning, organizing, all the stuff that makes a family’s life run. It’s a real job, and its effects are major.

It’s only been two weeks, but already things are better. I have my meals more regularly, there are groceries in the house, and the place is clean. He’s done repair jobs that have gone neglected since we moved in. The cats are, again, spoiled by having their preferred human always around, and I’m slowly regaining the energy and time to write, while also seeing the extraordinary clients who put food on our table.

He’s contented that, instead of helping union-busting assholes make even more profit, his efforts now go toward keeping me sane and helping people, especially women, recover from chronic dieting and fear of food.

Another is the way it highlights the fact that gendered assumptions about who’s good at what are pretty much useless.

One of the conclusions that Matt and I have come to is that he’d make a way better househusband/stay-at-home dad than I would a housewife/stay-at-home mom. Less because of any inherent skills or lack thereof, but more because of personality differences. He’s pretty cool under pressure; I’m easily flustered. With housework especially, I tend to get overwhelmed by the mess and have trouble methodically attacking it one task at a time. I think I’d be an awesome housewife for a month or two, then burn myself out and watch TV and play RIFT for the next month. And I’d alternate between loving it and despising it.

Matt, on the other hand, would plug along steadily, giving himself reasonable breaks for goofing off, but still getting the essential things done. And he probably wouldn’t stress about it. Unfortunately, as long as he’s a computer geek and I’m a language geek, our earning power is vastly different, and if one of us stays home, it’ll be me. (The upside to that is that I have more options for at-home freelance work. You can write and edit anywhere.)

One of the things that I think it’s really important to acknowledge when talking about the stay-at-home thing, especially women doing the traditional “wife and mother” gig is that individual choices are complicated. And the fact that a couple makes a choice that’s best for them doesn’t mean that that choice can actually exist apart from all the complications of living in a sexist society.

One huge example of this is pointed out on Alas, a Blog, here.

to whatever extent some women freely choose to stay out of the labor market, the choice isn’t made in a void. The fact that women – even non-mothers – get rewarded less for wage-work than men means that women give less up if they choose to trade off paid work for motherhood. Women’s lower pay means women have less reason to stay in the paid work market; it also means that when a married couple decides that the lower-paid spouse should give up work for children, the spouse who happens to be lower paid will almost always be the wife. Economists call this a “feedback effect”; it’s likely that women earn less because they work less, but it’s also likely that women work less because of lower earnings.

So, yeah, it’s complicated. People’s choices are limited by so many things that it’s not enough to say “couples should choose what’s best for them” and leave it at that. Of course that’s true, but “what’s best for them” might be different if we actually lived in an egalitarian society. One where men and women got paid the same for the same work, for starters.

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3 thoughts on “On Housewives and Househusbands

  1. fattery says:

    It’s also true that careers that earn less tend to be careers that more women are in: teaching, nursing, etc.

    • KellyK says:

      Also very true. And the pay is in no way comparable to the level of work required from many of those jobs, or the crap (figurative and sometimes literal) you have to put up with.

  2. FemaleEngineer says:

    I chose to become an engineer in large part so that my financial value would be obvious in that situation. In fact, my husband and I moved for my job, not his. My earning potential is higher than his, even with the same degree. I knew all this when I was 15, so I went with my passion for science and now I earn (alone) almost twice the median family income in the US. If I stay at home, it will be 100% my choice. I won’t, but that’s my choice too – TRULY my choice. Not everyone has a passion for careers that come with prestige and money, but little girls should know how these gender dynamics work so that the ones that do can factor them into career decisions. I could have become a linguist and got pushback from language teachers when I went into science. I never thought twice. Money is power, including in personal relationships – even when you love someone, power is still there, like it or not.

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