HOW MANY OF US are there: women who always worked but are, for the moment, unemployed? I haven’t suddenly transmogrified into a neo-Martha Stewart, but I am home a lot more, which has perhaps made me more sensitive to the importance of the domestic. Calling myself a housewife,however, is not in the cards.
Housewife used to be a term with some dignity. Then euphemisms took over. People began using self-descriptions like homemaker (sounds more executive and substantial) or stay-at-home wife/mom (often employed defensively, a working-for-pay mother or spouse having become the default position for political and economic reasons).
These days, with the fictional Desperate Housewives and the “reality” shows Real Housewives of… [your city here], the term is used ironically (like practically everything else). Housewives are at best eccentric; at worst, ridiculous: appearance-obsessed, deeply neurotic, spoiled, petty, hot to shop and gossip. Apparently TV audiences love to watch the antics of these trashy gals.
I’m all for subverting the icons of perfect domesticity that crippled and restricted women in the 1950s. I’m not suggesting we return to Sit-Com Mom. At the same time, I find it snide and unpleasant that those who do fundamental things—keep house and make food and raise children—have been reduced to a caricature.
Hey, where’s your sense of humor (people may ask)? No one could seriously confuse TV characters with actual housewives! This is a way of making fun of the rich and idle!
I’m not so sure. I think these tawdry images burrow their way into the national subconscious and encourage disrespect. I also think women in the home are easy targets, particularly vulnerable to ridicule (as women in the workplace are not, or less so). The joke, alas, is on us.