My name is Calamity Jane.
I’m 34 years old.
I’m a housewife.
I grew up in an alternative subculture, and have continued to surround myself with the same kind of alternative thinkers. When I had our daughter, two and a half years ago, I entered into a time when I really couldn’t work for money. I became a full time housewife. And all that lifetime of feminist whisperings in my ear surfaced.
First I felt embarrassed. Then I felt mad. Feminism has come to the point of limiting women, of judging them with the same “man’s rule” it fought. A woman can freely enter the career world (though still not rise and profit like a man) but she had better not reject that ‘freedom’ and choose to waste her potential at home.
I’ve always enjoyed work which has direct bearing on my life. In fact I spent years of my life, pre-kiddos, working for money as little as possible, living on a few thousand dollars a year, and spending my time instead providing directly for myself. Best for me is to cook food I have procured with my own hands into something mouth watering and nourishing for people I love. Heaven. For me there is no work more meaningful or more gratifying.
On some level I think everything in this world spirals outward from the kitchen table. And I’m not alone. Modern women’s magazines are full of perfect kitchens and entertaining tips. They’re always talking about the kitchen as the heart of the home as if they just invented the idea. But a woman (and still only a woman) is expected to create and maintain this heart only after work, and on weekends. The homemaker is fantasized about, but not respected.
When I had a baby, my “likes to cook” jumped up to full-blown housewifery. I could have, after 3 months, put my daughter in day care and gone about my life. But the truth was I secretly wanted to be a housewife. Some part of me still thought making and keeping a true Home was about as good as it gets. What could possibly be more feminist than to embrace the natural female quality of nurture? It seems to me that to truly honor ‘woman,’ we must also honor her biological role as mother.
I don’t mean to disparage women who choose to work outside the home, but instead to make a place for those of us who choose to work in it.
And there does seem to be a small movement of us. Punk neo-feminist housewives. I believe us to be an important part of the revolution. But we certainly do need to redefine housewife.
Wendell Berry writes eloquently and passionately about housewifery (and just about everything else) in The Unsettling of America. If you haven’t read this book, go out and get it right now. I mean– stop reading this, put your boots on, and head to your local library or bookshop. In the chapter entitled The Body and the Earth, he systematically details how we’ve separated our bodies from the earth, and the havoc that’s wreaked. One of the devastations is the loss of the housewife as a creative role, and thus of the home as a functioning system. I hate to clip quotes from ole’ Wendell, he is one of those truly great writers who builds an idea so thoroughly that it’s hard to find any one paragraph that really captures it. There are so few writers like that anymore. He’s just about the antithesis to the modern “soundbite.”
That said, if you haven’t left for the library yet, I have to give you just a little taste to motivate you.
“Thus housewifery, once a complex discipline acknowledged to be one of the bases of civilization, was reduced to the exercise of purchasing power…The industrial economy had changed the criterion of housekeeping from thrift to convenience. Thrift was a complex standard requiring skill, intelligence, and moral character…As housekeeping became simpler and easier, it also became more boring. A woman’s work became less accomplished and less satisfying. It became easier for her to believe that what she did was not important…”
For myself, I know what I enjoy, and I know what makes me feel satisfied and contented at the end of the day. I want to grow, harvest, cook, make. My version of housewifery includes dumpster diving, punk sewing projects, making all our own bread, running a very small home business, dragging my daughter through the bushes on my back while I manically pick berries, digging dirt, tending vegetables, building a chicken coop, cooking something delicious and nutritious almost every night, and trying not to nag my husband to wash his half of the dishes.
I want to lessen our dependence on a system we can’t respect and feel around in the dark for a system we can. I want to make a Home for my family which is both nurturing and challenging. A warm haven we can move outward from with full bellies and hopeful hearts to change the world.