On Housewives and Homemakers and Domestic Goddesses
Because we're women, too, and we have a history.
Here it is April 1, and I totally missed writing anything for Women’s History Month. It ended yesterday. If I hadn’t procrastinated, I could have published this before midnight, and it would have been legit.
But really—women still have a history, right?
The theme this year was ‘Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories’. I love that! And I missed it.
I love all of the women pictured above. I love women who have achieved and who give back. Most of my inspiration comes from women and, in a climate like this one, which has been going on for countless millennia, when one succeeds we all benefit.
The National Women’s History Alliance describes their goal this way:
Throughout 2023, the NWHA will encourage recognition of women, past and present, who have been active in all forms of media and storytelling including print, radio, TV, stage, screen, blogs, podcasts, and more. The timely theme honors women in every community who have devoted their lives and talents to producing art, pursuing truth, and reflecting the human condition decade after decade.
From the earliest storytellers through pioneering journalists, our experiences have been captured by a wide variety of artists and teachers. These include authors, songwriters, scholars, playwrights, performers, and grandmothers throughout time. Women have long been instrumental in passing on our heritage in word and in print to communicate the lessons of those who came before us. Women’s stories, and the larger human story, expand our understanding and strengthen our connections with each other.
I see the word ‘blogs’ in there, I sometimes tell stories, and it does say ‘2023’ and not just ‘March’, so I feel included.
Many of us don’t. And we should.
From the time I gave up my job as a long-distance telephone operator to become a housewife at 18 and a mother at 19, I’ve always felt that taint—as if those two roles would never be enough. Any woman could do it, and most didn’t want to. That was the prevailing notion.
I must have felt it, too. As the kids grew older, I ventured into real estate, became a paraprofessional at a high school, and had a stint as an executive secretary, not because I had any real skills but because the woman who hired me liked having me around. (Biggest perk: I got to type on an IBM Selectric. I wrote stories on it when nobody was looking.)
I became a writer through more flukes. I asked and they let me. I wrote for newspapers and magazines—articles and columns—and ended up teaching creative writing and lecturing at conferences. I met people with big names in Michigan and outside. I won a few awards. Me! I loved every bit of it.
I volunteered and was on the local library board, the historical commission, was an elected Democratic delegate, and was at one time the president of a hundred-year-old professional writers’ organization in Detroit.
But they were peripheral to my real job—that of housewife and mother. They both came first. My choice.
I dipped into the arts—watercolor, oils, acrylics, pottery, macrame, crochet, crewel embroidery—and I could do all of them, including writing, at home.
My longest lasting title is ‘housewife’. The second longest is ‘mother’. I’m a widow now so am I still a housewife? Maybe not. But I’ll be a mother forever. And a grandmother. My three grandchildren are the lights of my life and spending time with them feels like such a privilege.
Most women who are housewives and mothers have lives outside their homes. We all dream and grow and need other outlets. That’s normal. That’s healthy. We can be clever and interesting and unique and still be that person whose main function is to take care of a home and family.
We’re not giving up our freedom, we’re making a lifestyle choice. Like those ‘successful’ women whose arcs take them in other directions, we can find satisfaction in what we do and where we do it. If we’re doing it at home who’s to say we’re not contributing? If I worked a drudge job I hated, what would be my contribution?
After so many years of juggling these many parts of me, I know where I fit in. I’m a woman, I’m a Mom and a Nana, I’m a Midwesterner, I’m a high school graduate with a few college credits (but not enough to give me any standing), I’m a widow, I’m old, I’m a human rights advocate, and I’m a writer.
I love spending most of my time in the home I’ve established and decorated to my liking, that home that spells comfort to me and is truly where I belong. But those other things are what make me, too.
If I were to start again—adulting at a more reasonable age, maybe—I can’t imagine that my trajectory would have gone any other way. The balance was just right for me. For me.
My mother and my grandmother kept spotless houses. Though they were fascinating women who could keep me enthralled, their mission in life was to combat the scourge of dust and cobwebs and grease. They were proud of their homes and felt they’d accomplished something grand if at the end of the day everything was polished and in its place. (At my grandmother’s we would pretend we were looking for dust, just to irk her.)
I don’t carry that gene. I’ve been known to leave the vacuum cleaner in the living room for days, finding ever so much else to do that’s far more interesting. Once, my husband came into the room, looked at the ever-present vacuum and said, “Still here, huh? Maybe it takes coins…”.
I miss his droll humor. Leaving the vacuum in the living room isn’t nearly as much fun anymore.
(And before you go on a rant about my husband not doing it himself, he did. He cooked, too. The one thing he couldn’t do is change a diaper, but those days are long past. They gave me stories, though, and he never lived it down. I love how the young dads are aghast at that. It gives me hope.)
In this same vein—sort of:
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"Home. If there is a more beautiful word in any language, I do not know it." John Henry Holliday in DOC.
Oy! I respond to your love of your home, and you give me a hard time about housework?!