October 2011: Most modern mothers in Britain hate being called 'housewives', preferring to be described as 'stay-at-home mums'. Some thoughts.
In a recent survey of 2,000 British mums who gave up work to look after the kids, two-thirds believe the term 'housewife' has 'negative connotations' and 'trivialises' their roles; in fact, a third of those who dislike it even said it is 'insulting'.
A year ago, after days of surveys and interactions with groups of target consumers of a women's magazine in India, my former boss, a foreigner, made an observation. “This generation of Indian women really looks down on housewives, eh?” In light of the Brit survey, I thought I'd ask: do we really feel disdain for those who give up careers for family? Or do we, like modern English women, simply react to the term 'housewife' because of what it implies.
The Way You Look At It
I suspect it's the latter. Over time, we've come to see the word 'housewife' with modern- and feminist-tinted glasses: a person defined by her role in the home and her marital status is plain old-fashioned repression! Despite the sexy Desperate Housewives, it evokes images of one who takes care of the home: husband, chores, babies, et al. We imagine no one would choose slaving over the husband and home: using Ala bleach to ensure hubby dearest's shirts are white and office-ready, being the quiet woman behind the successful (or not!) man, cooking, cleaning, and killing the little free time with mindless soaps and kitty parties. We see an unequal woman, and we've all heard terms like 'home/house manager' that attempt to elevate the importance of the role.
Now, no one would argue that being a hands-on mum is an important role, perhaps one of the most important roles we could play. Remove 'husband's assistant' and 'sole chore-doer' from a housewife's role, and we have nothing but respect and admiration for those who prioritise the kids and give up careers to become 'stay-at-home mums'. It places the home, chores and each other as shared responsibilities between husband and wife, as they should be.
In this wave of political correctness, the 'air hostess' is now a 'flight attendant' and the 'secretary' is now the 'administrative assistant'. Take the survey below, and tell us whether you, the modern Indian mother, think 'housewife' deserves a similar fate...
Would you rather be a 'stay-at-home mum' than a 'housewife'?
I work, so I don’t count
No, being a mother is part of my role as a wife
Yes, being a mother is my primary role, we both share other responsibilities
Yes, ‘housewife’ has negative connotations
It doesn’t matter, it’s just a word
This article appeared on Yowoto—a now-defunct parenting website startup that I helped incubate as Editor-in-chief—in October 2011.
While I’m now a firm childless antinatalist, my politics weren’t fully formed when I took this short-lived assignment to explore the digital side of publishing (though it was never a good fit). Nonetheless, some of the articles I wrote at the time are interesting.