Many years ago, as I was writing an email at my computer, I received a message from an ex-classmate from High School who wanted to add me to her Messenger contact list. I accepted, even though we hadn’t really spoken since graduating almost eight years prior and we were never close to begin with. But time passes, and things most certainly have changed for both of us. She was now a single mother, and I was married and a few months shy of becoming a mother myself. Finding myself somewhat nostalgic for simpler days gone by, I accepted her request and we suddenly struck up a conversation. She had heard that I was expecting and wanted to congratulate me and ask me how I was. So, needless to say, we soon settled into an animated conversation as we shared our common experiences.
And then came the dreaded question. Everyone asked it. I groaned inwardly whenever they did. “So,” it begins, “what do you do for a living...” The reaction I get to my reply is woefully the same. It’s an innocent question, and utterly valid to ask. Clearly, it validates the person you are speaking to as well as opens up the conversation to various different areas of exploration and discussion... Well, at least usually that’s the case... But for me, it seems to do quite the opposite, ending all promise of stimulating conversation quite abruptly. And invariably, I find myself taking a deep breath before answering, “I am a housewife.”
Now before uttering this unspeakable crime to feminism, my mind usually races, trying to remember any other activity I might be participating in that might sooth the impact of divulging such a submissive and flat out boring lot in life. I panic as I try to make excuses. But as my mind grasps at thin air, I find myself having to admit to the plain, solitary truth. I am indeed a housewife. And you can almost hear the disappointment, even disdain at times, in their voices. “Oh, I see,” as they turn their noses up at me and feel mightily superior. Some come right out and say it. “My, that must be boring!” And others at least feign some interest in my profession. “But what do you do all day?”
Now I used to be puzzled at this question. What do I do all day? What do they honestly think I do all day? Who do they think does the cleaning...? And the shopping...? And the cooking...? And the picking up of towels and dirty socks from the floor, and the making of the bed, and the washing and ironing of the clothes? Ugh, the list is endless! The cultural custom in the country where I lived at the time is to have a maid do all these annoyingly mind-numbing chores. But when my husband and I decided to marry, we sat down to talk about our marital expectations. And it was simple. He wanted a full-time wife and I wanted to be a full-time mom when the time came along. Having reached this decision, I hence relinquished my cultural right to a maid. I believed it was an utter contradiction in terms. It was like owning a company but letting your secretary run it for you. I couldn’t justify my position as a housewife if someone else ran my household for me. But when I shared my decision with most people, they sort of looked at me, as if horrified at the thought of having to dedicate their time to their homes and their loved ones. “But you won’t have time to do anything!” they would gasp.
Soon enough, however, I began to comprehend the strange paradox in the cultural acceptance of housewifery. As a housewife, most people will automatically assume that I am a lazy freeloader with nothing better to do but spend my days shopping at my poor hard-working spouse’s expense. This is because, as a housewife, people automatically assume that I have a full-time maid who takes care of pesky daily chores, from cooking and right down to practically raising any children in the household. This would naturally leave me with nothing to do but have my nails done and do lunch with the girls. This theory would then explain the violently negative image of being a housewife that I came up against.
This was the reaction my friend to whom I was chatting with on the computer had when she took in my response regarding my chosen profession. Of course, she politely refrained from articulating such comments. And I was aware of this because when I promptly explained to her that I didn’t rely on a full-time maid, you could suddenly hear the relief in her reply. I seemed to have suddenly reclaimed my status as a productive member of society.
Having become accustomed to such negative reactions, I actually no longer felt the need to justify my position as passionately as I had in the past. I didn’t feel the need to remind curious bystanders that I had already spent years earning a living and years buried in books to achieve a degree— both of which are things normally associated with liberated, enlightened and independent females in our modern day and age. I was by no means an idiot with no better options in my life and I had little desire to fool myself that I could simultaneously manage a career and a husband and a home and eventually a family. I didn’t see the need to set myself up for disappointment when the time inevitably came that I would have to abandon one or the other to lead a life of quality, dedicated to those things that were truly important to me. So I made a simple choice. I chose not to initiate a career I would eventually have to give up. I decided instead to embark on the most difficult of callings; one that doesn’t offer tangible bonuses or perks. There are no paid vacations, no weekends, no possibility for promotion or career advancement, or even medical or dental plans. No prior training was available, other than on the job, therefore no fancy title to hang on the wall, either. And the last place my name or face would grace was the cover of Forbes or Newsweek. I would remain anonymous, even under appreciated. I would become a housewife.
But the confidence and wisdom I have now in knowing to choose my battles wisely was not something I could rely on when I was engaged to be married. Everyone was interested in knowing what I would be doing for a living once I was married, and when I stood by my decision to stay at home, I can truly say I was only met with negativity. I remember one incident where my husband had taken me out to a restaurant with a few of his friends who were also acquaintances of mine. Conversation soon drifted to the sparkler on my finger and the subject of marriage and the role of women in that particular institution. As soon as I declared I planned to be a stay-at-home wife, I was bombarded with frowns and clucking of disapproval. One of the women across from me at the table deliberately turned to whoever was next to her to comment on how boring women become when they become housewives and how few conversational topics they are able to participate in due to the lack of intellectual stimulation in their personal lives. All of the women at the table agreed heartily. I felt the harsh sting of her words. They remain with me today. But I sometimes gloat in the quiet satisfaction of knowing how that same woman married not long after I did and decided to quit her job and become a housewife herself. As she would let most people know at every chance she got, she was most content with her new lifestyle choice. I am also delighted to report that my intellectual capacity diminished only due to the exhausting strain of pregnancy on my body. I expect a full recovery once my child has graduated from college. It won’t be long now…
Having stood up for my domestic rights, however, I have to admit, it is a lonely life. Sometimes even boring. But then so is being buried under paperwork and phone calls in a cubicle on the 25th floor of corporate hell. So are microwaved leftovers in front of the television after a long hard day at work and no one to come home to. And so are evenings out on the weekends with your girlfriends complaining how there are no good men and how so-and-so got married the other week and isn’t she lucky. Now that’s not only lonely, but downright dull as mud.
Which brings me to an epiphany I had sitting outside on our apartment’s balcony, relaxing before heaving my swollen pregnant belly into bed to get a well-deserved early night’s sleep. As I sat there with my bare feet dangling through the bars, I looked down at the street where, outside the opposite apartment building, my neighbours were obviously getting ready for a night out. The front door to the apartment was open and from the car parked out front emerged a young woman who appeared to be just about my age. She had long, blonde hair that fell loose to her waist, and she was dressed in hip-hugging jeans and a tight black top with slits open on each side to reveal a well-toned midriff. She bounded up the front steps to the door, shouting and motioning her friends to hurry up. Obviously they had places to go and cocktails to get through.
Now, it might’ve had something to do with my impending motherhood and its respective hormone fluctuations, but suddenly a knot welled up in my throat and tears came to my eyes. As I choked up, all I could think about was how I would never look like that girl ever again. I would never bound up the stairs and yell at friends to hurry up, carefree and impatient with energy, like that girl. Neither would men look at me ever again in the way that she would so probably be admired at the clubs and bars they would stop at that night. I was married. I would be a mother. I would soon have leaking breasts and a sagging midriff to hide— too tired and harried to even bother changing out of my pajamas before the day was over and it was time to get back into bed in the evening. And if anyone were to ask, as if to add insult to injury, I was also a housewife. Oh woe and curséd be me.
But the more I yearned at that particular moment to be in the shoes of that girl, and the more I envied her figure and her lifestyle, I remembered the days when I was so much like her-- and I actually felt sorry for her. Those days had been filled with consuming as much alcohol as was humanly possible and obsessing over each man who entered my life or obsessing even more pathetically over the lack thereof. Our youthful days had been filled with wondering whether we would ever find true love or inner peace or stability. Similarly, our days had been also filled with self-doubt and insecurity.
So, yes, I am indeed married and unavailable, and perhaps mildly (okay… a lot) less attractive than I used to be— but I am married to a beautiful man who loves me enough to want to have children with me and who will hold my hand on my deathbed, who will miss me when I am gone. And yes, I will be a mother with sagging breasts— but mother nonetheless to a tiny miracle, someone I would happily lay down my life for should the time ever call for it. And if anyone is to ask again, I am for those reasons thrilled to bits to be a housewife. I am truly blessed with what few have and what so many truly desire.