Women do not face the choice between housewife and superwoman

Elsa Maishman 20 April 2015

To my great despair, an article in this publication on 11 April spoke out 'in defence of the housewife'. Although a legitimate plea, this article ended up contributing to the problem it was speaking out against.

What was presented was the conflict of two ideals: that of the housewife, and that of the 'independent woman'. However, the picture of the independent woman conflates two very different things. If the standards of being one are to be strong and intelligent, attack sexism and voice equality then sign me up.

But the article goes on to say that "this is the same woman who works hard and plays hard, who carries her heels as she jogs to work and picks up a skinny latte on the way. She must have sky-high ambitions, and the strength to leap over any obstacle in her way."

There is a big difference here. The first description is that of a woman trying to fight sexism and to have the right to do whatever she wants. The second is the idiotic women's magazine version of 'having it all', or whatever this vision of a working woman is. In fact, they are quite opposite.

Maybe I don't want to wear heels. I certainly don't like lattes. Maybe I am hugely ambitious, maybe not. This should not be the point. I don't want to be a housewife but I certainly don't want to fulfil this ideal.

Because I don't want to fulfil any ideal.

As a woman, it is feminism that has given me the choice to take what I want from either or neither of these lifestyles – to make my own ideal of what my life should be like. There is a conspicuous space in the middle of these two lifestyles. The Guardian style guide entry for “career woman, career girl” is simply “We don't use these sexist labels”. They should not be used by anyone.  A woman doesn't have to be a bitch, a heartless control freak, eating 1,200 calories a day, wearing designer clothes and going to spin classes in her lunch breaks just because she don't want to be a housewife.

Part of the problem is a striving for unrealistic goals in whatever we do – women's magazines now are to this new ideal what they were in the 1950s to that of the housewife, selling and perpetuating a whole lifestyle. Thankfully, we are getting to the point that there are role models who are now telling us that we don't have to adhere to this: stay-at-home dads; my stepfather who has a job and still manages to do the cooking and daily cleaning; Caitlin Moran; The Vagenda; Liz Lemon in 30 Rock, my thesp friend's thesp parents who keep house while the other is touring. The list goes on.

As for the profession of being a housewife itself, it is difficult to see how that provides independence. Financial independence? A burgeoning and independent social life? The reason that I personally would not choose housewifery for myself is because I fear that defining my own existence through a husband and children would not be a fulfilling life.

This is, after all, 'the problem that has no name', the frustration and repression felt by many housewives of the 1950s as surveyed in Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, built partly on the premise that the busywork and exhausting variety of tasks that a housewife performs in one day is  fulfilling. And this is a dangerous one. Yes, there are jobs and careers that can leave one feeling unfulfilled because one's creative and mental abilities are not being used to their full, but I don't think that housewifery would necessarily be a good way of countering this.

Yes, this does weaken the older ideal of the woman as a housewife. Because that is the point; that there should not be any such solid ideals for women. Radically, women should have the right and the means to choose their own path, be it housewifery, modelling oneself on Steve Jobs or dropping everything for the undying pursuit of communist revolution in Britain. I absolutely agree that we should respect women who choose to be a housewife, because we should respect people's life choices whatever they are.