“So, what do you do?”
The most adult question ever. And in a bustling capitalist society, the most important question, signifying your present net worth to society.
When you’re 24 like I am (‘86, represent!), it’s usually something like, “Answer phones and fetch coffee,” and if you’re lucky, “Answer phones and fetch coffee for super-important people.”
But what if you do nothing? And (the horror!) what if you are not actively seeking employment, opting out of the game that everyone else is forced to play? What the hell are you supposed to say then? – “I freeload, how ‘bout you?”
Welcome to my life. Yes, I am a housewife. I am worth absolutely nothing – less than nothing, in fact, when you count my student loans. So when some unsuspecting someone asks me that question, I cheerfully answer, “I stay home with my son,” and the conversation ends abruptly, disintegrating into polite smiles and room-scans as if I’d said, “No speak English,” or “Happy coconuts your majesty!”
Evidently, worthlessness is contagious. This must be the reason that, as Katrin Bennhold writes, women in developed countries would rather say they “are on extended maternity leave” or “between jobs,” than admit to being just a housewife.
Everyone has an image in their head of the classic homemaker. It usually involves pearls and pills. I assure you, I am not Betty Draper. And I’ll be honest – when I made the decision to stay home it was the result of job hatred and daycare fear, not to fulfill a frilly, feminine destiny.
But of course, my new life influenced what I read, watched and observed. Before I knew it, I was a reluctant cadet in “the Mommy Wars.” Joanne Brundage, founder of Mothers and More, breaks down the unspoken, assumed battle between working mothers and at-home mothers, explaining, “If you’re in the paid workplace, you’re a selfish, uncaring mother. If you’re not working in a meaningful way, you’re stupid, you’re boring.” The ferocity of the Mommy Wars may be overstated, but the subtext of what America thinks is clear: work is life, and motherhood is a strange, tear-and-other-bodily-fluid-filled hobby that should never get in the way.
As a happily self-involved Millennial, I called bullshit on this. My life and work are pointless? I don’t think so. You see, I took that you-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be upbringing very seriously. And if I am choosing to stay home, then staying home must rule, because I rule!
Still, I get the feeling (because books have been written about it) that today’s feminists aren’t feeling my cheeky empowerment. I decided to pretend they didn’t exist for a moment (ah, that’s nice) and looked backward to the Big Kahuna herself, Betty Friedan. Her groundbreaking 1960 article in Good Housekeeping entitled “Women are People, Too!” (gosh darnit!) bemoaned the fact that American women had no identity outside of their lives as wives and mothers. It was the pre-cursor to her 1963 best-seller, The Feminine Mystique, and one of the documents responsible for driving millions of mothers into the workforce.
I expected another argument about self-respect and a paycheck but was instead surprised to find that Betty agreed wholeheartedly with my sentiments. “Who knows what women can be when they finally are free to become themselves?” she asks. Gee, maybe a happy, opinionated, thriving 24-year-old housewife with an identity that most definitely comes from within (save little tidbits gleaned from Emma, Sex & the City, and my wonderfully imperfect family tree), perhaps?
I know that my behavior is frightening, even maddening, to the women who fought very hard to give us, their daughters and granddaughters, a choice, a voice and freedom from the confines of mandatory domesticity. The atrocities of the past are real for them. But I have to admit, as a young person, the only glaring inequality I see is men living their lives as they please while supposedly self-respecting women must ask, “What have I done for Feminism today?” as if we didn’t have enough to worry about!
To me, female fulfillment has one ingredient – unconditional, unbreakable faith. Every adult woman must trust herself, and everyone else must trust her. And we’re closer than we’ve ever been, because when a Millennial Girl looks in the mirror, she sees her own masterpiece. For myself, I know that my home is not a prison. My home is me.