Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Rant: Professional Identity: Homemaker

Warning:  This is a rant.  This is not a measured, spiritual, uplifting piece.  This post is written in anger and is therefore somewhat self-pitying and abrasive.  It is probably also offensive.  You have been warned.


What is my profession?  I am a homemaker and a homeschooling mother.  I am also a college professor, but this is my second job.  I do it only because my debt requires a second income.  I would stop teaching in a New York minute if my financial obligations were mitigated.

When people ask me what I do, I assess their ability to damage me and then I answer accordingly.  If they are not in a position to bully me or my children, I tell them that I am a homemaker and that I also teach.  If they are in a position to bully me or my children, I tell them that I am a college professor.  People who hear that I am a college professor are doctors, nurses, school officials, and others who may use their professions as excuses to become very busily and judgmentally involved in others' lives.

I have found that when I first mention that I am a homemaker, I get a variety of negative responses.

Response #1:  Condescension.  "Isn't that nice!  I wish I could stay home with my children, but I just couldn't afford it.  It must be so nice to be home with them all day.  You must have your hands full!"

Related to this response is their tendency to then treat me like I'm a half-wit.  I notice this particularly in doctor's offices.  When they see me as a homemaker, they are inattentive, rude, and bossy.  As soon as they see on my charts that I also have a doctorate and teach in a college, they adjust their tone and vocabulary to indicate that they now respect my intelligence and my ability to make informed decisions.

Response #2:  Judgment:  "You have betrayed the feminist movement and/or are wasting your education."

Sometimes the reaction really has been that blatant and nasty.  Most of the time, however, it is more subtle.  People give me a great deal of advice on how to get a job teaching in a university.  They encourage me to network, apply myself, and become more assertive. 

Of course, the two responses often come together.  People tell me how "nice" it must be to stay home with the kids and then give me advice to help me escape that unfortunate situation.  They tell me that they are so impressed with my ability to (my goodness!) write, teach, and look after children.  My, my!  So busy!  They must think I'm a complete innocent if they think I believe they're actually praising me for staying at home in an unpaid job. 

I study the history of domesticity.  I know that it doesn't make me somehow "special."  I'm not unaware of its changing status, and I'm not likely to believe that somehow my choice to be a homemaker makes me unusually patient and self-sacrificing.  The job undertaken by most women until the most recent generations is certainly challenging, but to gush about it as if it is unusual and soooo nice, is a bit much.  I know that tone.  It is the same tone people used to speak to me when I was a child.  "Well, good for you!  You know how to write your own name.  What a smart girl!"

So here's the point of this post, fair readers:  If you happen to speak to a homemaker, try not to be condescending and judgmental.  It is a real job, a real calling, and it takes real time and energy.  I am not lazy or unskilled.  I am not doing this because I can't make it in the "real world."  I actually mean to be where I am.  I  also do not need ego-stroking.  I'm not ashamed of being a homemaker and don't need your praise or pity. 

Don't tell me that you would do if you had the money.  That's especially insulting to a person in a low-income family.  Relatively speaking, while I am more privileged than many people living in poverty, I am very likely far less privileged than you are.  My spouse is a blue-collar worker and we have lived from hand to mouth our entire marriage.  It takes some doing, let me tell you, to stay home.  If you are going to tell me that you would stay home but you just don't have the money, you'd sure as hell better hide your vehicle (or your clothes, or vacations, furnishings, jewelry, etc.) that cost more than my entire household.  It isn't nice to tempt Quakers to violence. 

The thing is that I respect and admire people who work outside the home.  I see that choice as challenging, interesting, and important.   It would be nice if such people felt the same way about my choice, but if they don't, I much prefer that they keep their mouths closed than respond to me by bullying me, judging me, or by gushing saccharine insincerities in my direction.

8 comments:

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Hystery,

Maybe change your blog title to Plainly Half-wit Ranter;-)? Did you say you were a "housewife"? LOL Couldn't resist a bit of corny humor. (I guess I'm showing the results of severe insomnia and too many battles of late with theological determinists. Have to turn to a Jim Carey outlook on some mornings.)

But I know your blog post is very serious. You are dealing with a sober difficult issue, not funny at all.

Given my own observations over the years of my spouse's many "hats" as
a homemaker, I must admit, I am very impressed with those who "homemake." I had only one difficult job. But homemakers do administration,counseling,planning,organizing,coordinating, serving, tutoring kids nightly, as well as all of the cliche duties...

Rather odd isn't it, how despite at least 40 years of feminism, that often women still aren't valued for THEIR own choices?

Keep up the good work,

Daniel

Hystery said...

Thank you, Daniel. You always have a way of making me feel heard.

Phoenix said...

I know this is an old post, but I can't tell you how much I needed to hear these words and know that I'm not alone. Being a professional home maker is absolutely just that - a profession, a calling, a career. It's one that I've chosen for myself. It's what I WANT to be doing. Even if other people think I'm "wasting my potential" or "not really contributing" (the two I hear most often, and the two I hate the most). It's hard sometimes to get across to people that I'm not unemployed - I just don't draw a salary for my work.

Thank you so much for giving voice to something I didn't even realise was bothering me!

Phoenix said...

I know this is an old post, but I can't tell you how much I needed to hear these words and know that I'm not alone. Being a professional home maker is absolutely just that - a profession, a calling, a career. It's one that I've chosen for myself. It's what I WANT to be doing. Even if other people think I'm "wasting my potential" or "not really contributing" (the two I hear most often, and the two I hate the most). It's hard sometimes to get across to people that I'm not unemployed - I just don't draw a salary for my work.

Thank you so much for giving voice to something I didn't even realise was bothering me!

Hystery said...

Thanks, Phoenix. It does me a world of good to read your response and know that I too am not alone in my feelings.

Anonymous said...

I hunt the internet for people like you during a morning coffee time. I am too a homemaker by profession and choice. This is the most feminist act I have every had to stand up for...It is one on the few positions that is looked down upon by women themselves. This is the profession I choose with the freedom to do or be anything I want. I am smart, competent, capable, educated, intellectual, good as far as humans go, and free as a Canadian. With all that I am, and could be, I choose to be a homemaker. I too experience all of what you say. Lots of puts downs! As soon as I walk out my door and garden by people leave for work or come home from work. Sadly, us women are the hardest ones on each other. WE ALL should choose what we want to do. But in our 20s when we women are carving out careers we should be told and tell future women that this HOMEMAKING is a career. BUT one must pick the right life partners and people who value the same professions to get into this business just like any other one. That is a mega smart person who can still get into this field of work. One must make the right steps in early life to get hear. Examples, buy RRSP when you are young, save early and don't accrue debt right from the beginning in the early 20s, don't fall into the traps of comparing oneself to others or trying to keep up with all current everything.....These are early skills to develop and grow upon when you want to make homemaking a career....I have 5 kids (2 University, 3 high school) and a husband who values my job. Soooo, I am still homemaking but differently than when i was a stay at home mom with soul purpose to raise up toddlers. It can be done on one income!!!....My kids and family are living proof. Like any job or career though...Good days, bad days, good years, tough years....BUT ONE CAN NEVER GIVE UP DURING ANY OF THEM....PERSEVERENCE!!!!! All the power to free choice. Work if you want, don't work, work at home or don't work at home, I could care less...Why do others need to look down upon each other or us homemakers anyway??? Are all these reactions really a fight for womens freedom or is it old fashion "cat fights" based on jealousy of how others make their lives work in a way that brings them happiness, joy and fulfillment. Everyone can do that!!! We all just gotta work for it!!!:) Choose whateeeeeever ya want...I SAY:) Just don't don't don't, look down on others choices and think that others are ever less than anythiiiiing or anyone else!!....Grrrrr!!...That is my rant, and I love what you post!!!!

Hystery said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you so much for visiting this blog and responding in such a supportive and spirited way to this post. I especially appreciate that you highlight how much planning goes into homemaking as a professional calling. It isn't always easy and on bad days, like most jobs, it can be a real drag. But it is really worth it. I wish more people, both men and women, saw homemaking as a calling whether they engaged in it "full time" or "part time" or even for just a few hours a week. Dedicating oneself to home and family with intention and intelligence is so rewarding.

Mama Christina said...

This ny far the best article that I have ever read about this topic, in suble but very annoying ways, I have heard the words, lazy, spoilt, arrogant, crazy, stuck, confused, etc used to decribe my career choice of being a homemaker, the best job on earth, neber mind I dont have a W2, the rewards far out weigh the critism, I know that Hod has called me in this season to stay home and raise my family, among many other amazing things that I do from home, besides " playing with the kids all day", I often felt I needed the right response to my critical moms around me that work, and this article articulates exactly what I have never really verbalized, thank you so much and Hod bless you as you bring encouragement to those of us who consider this job a high calling, a privilege and a great blessing