Being “more than” “just” a housewife

Pushing the shopping cart through the fascinating (cheap) aisles at Tuesday Morning, Raihana heard the familiar sounds of baby babble. I saw her prick up her ears, so, to keep her entertained, I prowled in the direction of the baby.

There, pushing another cart with a child in it, I met a mother. We fell to chatting about daycares and children. We compared notes on the local childcare options and our children’s habits. As I chatted with her, I kept my academic identity in the background. When we exited the shop, we discovered we were parked right next to each other. She loaded her child into her minivan and I loaded Raihana into my Forester.

On a whim, I whipped out a business card and gave it to her, suggesting playdates for the kids. The businesscard may seem like an odd choice, but it’s an easy way of passing on my email and phone number.

She glanced at my card, saw the PhD in Education, and revealed that she was on the Institutional Review Board at the university. We THEN fell to chatting about research clearance processes, and realized that we had more in common than motherhood.

A man’s identity is not drowned by parenthood. I would not have essentialized and predicted a man’s identity and work in the same way. But I was forced to remind myself that when I meet another woman/mother, I should not automatically predict “housewife.”

People are probably even more shocked when I tell them, dressed in my casual, unemployed clothing, as I push the stroller or seal a pack of wipes, that I have a PhD.

And yet so much remains to be deconstructed in “just a housewife.” Housewifing without paid employment is a multi-job affair, involving a variety of disciplines and a multitude of skills. But since none of those tasks are paid, it loses status in the “world.” Housewifing loses status and income because it is associated with women. And even women’s non-domestic work becomes invisible when associated with women. Such are the ways in which we – even we smarty-pants academic feminist-type women – are conditioned.

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4 Replies to “Being “more than” “just” a housewife”

  1. I’ve been annoyed at things like that lately too (well, for a long time). Like, if you read a biography, if it’s of a woman it ALWAYS mentions her family life, usually in the first paragraph. If it’s a man’s biography (sadly, especially if it’s a Muslim man’s biography), the family is invisible. His wife should be the most important person in his life, but we don’t even know if she exists.

  2. So true! Imagine a brown mother, wearing a hijaab with two young kids in tow and someone just assumes this one is one idiot *oppressed* muslim woman who doesn’t understand a word of english. WTH!!!
    Once you have children, I think pple automatically assume your name should read, Jane Doe, *insert number of kids here* . 😀

  3. Thanks for sharing that Shabana – although I don’t have a family yet, it is something I worry about due to the sexist nature of our society – both Muslim AND non-Muslim circles.

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