Another Meaning of “Real Life:” A Housewife And A Writer  

It gives me a special pleasure to explore another meaning of “real life” on the same morning when Benjamin Netanyahu attempts to convince the Americans that real life is synonymous with the Iranian nuclear threat.

In the Guardian essay from Monday March 2nd  “I love being a housewife and that doesn’t make me any less of a feminist,” Chitra Ramaswamy, a  writer and a columnist, shares her experience of being a housewife and a mother in 2015 Edinburgh.

Like many other couples, after taking a year off as a maternity leave, Ramaswamy and her partner  realized that the high cost of childcare made it sensible for her to stay at home with her son and not go back to work. They decided to live off the wage of her partner.

And like Ramaswamy, I too made the choice to become a stay home mom in the 1980s in the US. I too, lived off my partner’s salary and felt very grateful to be able to do so, especially when I compared myself to my friends in Israel who could not afford it and had to go back to work.

Ramaswamy knows that she is lucky to live in 2015 and not in 1955 when the life of the homemaker was much harder. However the reality of a stay home mom today is not only a thankless task, but it is seen as a betrayal of the feminist cause, or in Ramaswamy’s words:  “To decide to be a housewife does feel like you’re doing your grubby bit to uphold the gender roles upon which the patriarchy is founded. Choosing playroom over boardroom.  Abandoning office for hearth. And even though my partner is a woman, we do find ourselves falling into traditional “male” and female roles. I do the cooking, she takes the bins down. She sees the world, I watch it go by from the window, or rather from the screen of my smartphone.”

However, Ramaswamy’s position is unique, although  she doesn’t  have a job, being a  writer, she can continue writing  at home without sacrificing her future career. In most other professions such a choice does not exist.

Speaking of the 1950s Britain, at that time women were strongly urged to stay home, but even then being a housewife had no glory. Thus, the  writer Monica Dickens, an “agony aunt”  in Woman’s Own, encouraged women who stayed home to feel proud of their choice.

In response to a letter of a reader, who felt insecure about the possibility of being a role model to her children as a stay home mom,  Dickens answers:

“Would [the children] tire of her as they grew older, and wish that they had a mother who was a more stimulating person because she had a wider experience?

As a writer, I have my own work, but it is work that can be done at home, and if it ever involved going away from my family, I would probably give up the work.

Even in the unlikely event of being asked to go to Hollywood to write a film script, I think I should turn down the offer, if it meant leaving my family behind.

If you are a young girl living at home, I wonder what you will think about this. Would you prefer your mother to be always at home, looking after you and the others , or do you think you would find her more interesting if she went out and gleaned a whole lot of new ideas and connections that had nothing to do with you?

I think I know what most girls would say. If your mother was not there when you came home from school or work , waiting with food, and praise  or sympathy  or laughter for the events of your day, something would be wrong.

You might be a little proud if she was a successful business woman, chic, poised and wordly wise; but you are more proud of an unselfish, devoted Mum, who knows, and no one else can, how to make you and the rest of the family safe and secure.” (March 8th 1956 p. 28)

I feel that this reply was hypocritical, even though she worked from home, Dickens had a career and her children could look up to her as a role model.  Ramaswamy, like  Monica Dickens is also not really a housewife. She is active in her profession while being at home enjoying her son. However, many women of my generation who stayed home during the 1980s gave up the possibility of having a  career.

Today, I would not advise my daughters to follow my example and choose to be stay home moms, even if it means spending all their salary on child care. Women have always had to make great sacrifices in order to have a family and a career, but they don’t really have a choice, do they? This is  “real life” for us.

The link to the Guardian essay:

The author Monica Dickens, who was also the great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens


About the Author
I hold a PhD in English Literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, specializing in writing about issues related to women, literature, culture, and society. Having lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994), I bring a diverse perspective to my work. As a widow, in March 2016, I initiated a support and growth-oriented Facebook group for widows named "Widows Move On." The group has now grown to over 2000 members, providing a valuable space for mutual support and understanding.
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