Is There Such a Thing As a 'Feminist Housewife'?
As of 2012, 41% of births in the U.S. are in single-parent households. Out of those 12.2 million single parent households, over 80% were run by women. So what does this country label as a housewife and a feminist, and how legitimate are the stigmas attached to these labels?
Traditionally, a housewife was equated with being a woman who simply lazed around the home neglecting work for any income. However, the term housewife has become increasingly associated with the big F-word – feminist. A feminist is by definition a person man or woman who believes in the equality of men to women, in every respect. We can predict, then, a feminist couple is one who splits household work and income work equally between the two partners, or chooses to take over one work shift over the other. A woman who stays at home to take on the shift of household duties and childcare is essentially taking on half the load of her marriage — she is a feminist.
In fact, recently in the news, feminism has been associated with being a non-working mother. The woman who managed both a day-time job and a "second-shift" handling childcare after hours is considered a negligent mother. Sacrificing daytime hours at the office instead of tending to kids at home — especially infants — is seen as anti-feminist. The New York Times recently released a piece by Lisa Miller on Kelly Makino, a stay-at-home mother who claimed she "had it all" by choosing her family over work. However, Jezebel.com refutes the article citing evidence that much of the piece was taken out of context: "'A lot of what you had issues with were things that [the magazine] took out of context,' says Makino. 'The research studies we chatted about … were portrayed as spouting gender stereotypes … I vehemently support men in the role of primary caregiver.'"
For those women who are fortunate enough to have the support of their husbands, many of them embrace their partnership as a means to split household and income-generating work. In "He Hasn’t Had It All Either," a New York Times op-ed piece, Michael Winerip cites the difficulties fathers face in picking up some of the work around the house as it has become more and more expected of them since the enactment of paternity leave. Winerip recalls, "I, the dad, had to make career 'sacrifices' to run the family’s domestic life. And my wife, also a journalist, made those same 'sacrifices.' She anchored the first decade; I did the second." It has been psychologically proven that children are mentally healthier when they receive attention from both their primary caregivers in the early years.
One example of a housewife juggling a career cited in the New York Times is the "lean-in" tactic developed by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg advocates for women to be more assertive in their need for time off of work to take care of household and childcare duties, while maintaining their professional lives. In response, Guy Maxx is publishing a book about the need for men to "lean-back" and spend more time with their families. Feminists, both female and male, are turning the tables on what it means to have your priorities straight.
So is there such a thing as the feminist housewife? Can a woman (or man!) truly "have it all" and be equal to their partner if they are taking on the household shift? Spending time with children and working "in the home" is a job equally tiring and of equal investment as a job with monetary gains. The true, modern feminist understands the psychological importance of being there for her children’s upbringing, while also noting the importance of splitting these obligations with a partner who is equally invested in being a part of their children’s lives. For a woman not to advocate for or be entitled to what she needs, both in managing her professional life and taking care of the house and child work, is the true anti-feminist principle.