'The Feminist Housewife' Is Such Bullshit


It’s not a coincidence that one week after Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In gave feminism a much-needed reboot and sparked a national conversation about the innate gender biases that need to be dismantled so that professional women can achieve their full potential, New York Magazine pooped our party with an incendiary cover story about the “legions” of “feminist housewives” who’re “having it all by choosing to stay home.” Choosy feminists choose choice! And I’m choosing to roll my eyes.

Look, feminism and housewifery are not mutually exclusive. Nobody is saying that—or at least I’m not. I’m sure there really are feminist housewives somewhere out there. Maybe they’re reading this right now. (Hey, girl.) But the two women—TWO!—that New York writer Lisa Miller could find to justify this “trend” piece (even though the golden rule of journalism is that three makes a trend), say things that are so fucking infuriating that I felt like Mrs. White in Clue. Flames on the side of my face.

The bulk of the piece is centered on Kelly Makino, a 33-year-old former social worker who ultimately became a stay at home mom because she “believes that every household needs one primary caretaker, that women are, broadly speaking, better at that job than men, and that no amount of professional success could possibly console her if she felt her two young…were not being looked after the right way.” Also she argues that because girls typically grow up playing dolls, “women are raised from the get-go to raise children successfully. When we are moms, we have a better toolbox.” She keeps going with a slew of “reasons” — more accurately described as “gender stereotypes” — about how women are naturally better at raising a family. I don’t find that notion as offensive to women as it is to men, who are not only capable of nurturing their children but excel at it when given the chance.

One would think that since Makino identifies as a feminist that she would recognize that her beliefs aren’t based on any kind of proven biological certainty, but rather, internalized sexism—the same innate gender biases that Sandberg, in her book, says enables women to place limitations on themselves and their professional achievement. Honestly, though, if women keep insisting that we vacuum and car pool and make dinner better than men (all absurd assertions, BTW) then they aren’t going to bother trying. And we can’t achieve true equality if we aren’t equal in the home.

But it’s also totally cool if Makino and other SAHMs want to be housewives, if that’s where they feel the most fulfilled by making “home their highest achievement.” But phrases like “the subversion of her personal drive” indicate that that might not be the case for Makino. And then there’s this:

Kelly calls herself “a flaming liberal” and a feminist, too. “I want my daughter to be able to do anything she wants,” she says. “But I also want to say, ‘Have a career that you can walk away from at the drop of a hat.'”

1.) If you want your daughter to “do anything she wants,” shouldn’t the statement just end there? Why does it need to be qualified with anything? Isn’t this whole piece about how you can be a housewife and a feminist because you’re exercising your choice? So do you want to stay home or not? Because when you add a caveat like that, it would appear that you don’t.

2.) If you’re really a feminist, give the same career advice to your son.

Moving on. Who are these “legions” that are “awakening to the virtues of the way things used to be” as the piece refers to them? Legions. For real? No, not for real. Looking into Census Bureau statistics Jessica Grose points out women like Makino are “still pretty rare.”

Of women with graduate or professional degrees, 75 percent of them who had a child in the past year work, and 60 percent of those women work full time. When you look at highly educated women who have older children, about 86 percent of them are in the work force. So we’re not talking about hordes of women who are “too busy mining their grandmothers’ old-fashioned lives for values they can appropriate like heirlooms, then wear proudly as their own,” as New York claims. Such women, if they exist, are a minuscule sliver of the whole pie.

In fact, the real trend is that more and more men are choosing to stay at home while their wives focus on their careers.

Perhaps one of the most telling quotes came from Patricia Ireland, the other “feminist housewife” interviewed for the piece:

I’m really grateful that my husband and I have fallen into traditional gender roles without conflict.

Why, though? I mean, I understand about being happy that you and your husband found the kind of balance that works for your lives and your family. But why not say that? Why state, specifically, that you are “grateful” that what you do is gendered? What the fucking fuck. Am I in the Twilight Zone? Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining. Don’t sell me some conservative flimflam and package it as neo-progressivism.

“The feminist revolution started in the workplace, and now it’s happening at home,” says Makino. “I feel like in today’s society, women who don’t work are bucking the convention we were raised with … Why can’t we just be girls? Why do we have to be boys and girls at the same time?”

OH MY GOD STOP. Who is she? Malibu Stacy?

On one hand, it’s gross that New York is contributing to the insidious cycle of implicit sexism with no real evidence or hard data to back up the claims. But on the other hand, I guess it’s kind of a win that feminism is so “cool” again that they’d make an attempt, however sloppy, to chime into the conversation.

The Retro Wife [New York]

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