Reclaiming the Kitchen: The 21st Century Housewife

Bethany settles down in front of her computer with a smile and a sigh on a weekday afternoon. The kids are still at school, and she had just finished wiping the kitchen counter down, the same counter the whole world could easily see in her Youtube vintage-inspired cooking show Making It Modern. She glances at the clock. 1pm. Only a couple of hours are left before she would bring her children home from school. Her newest blog post, for now a draft and a mixture of codes and text on her screen, stare back at her once she returns her attention to it. The hubby is still at work, but by the time he returns Bethany would have uploaded the new post, helped the children with homework and playtime, and dinner would be ready for them to all eat.

Such is a housewife’s life.

Many a modern woman at first glance may not see this as a normal day with family, but to many mums and even some dads, it actually is. Their stories simply missed by the spotlight.

When the term ‘housewife’ or ‘homemaker’ is mentioned, images of women in the 50s decked in floral vintage dresses, pearls and bright red lipstick could come to mind, happily vacuuming posh homes with white picket fences and anticipating her working hubby in a suit. While cute and positive, the scene is also commonly associated with an ‘old’ era where women were socially oppressed, could not work and were expected to be baby machines. While it is true women’s rights were much less advanced at the time, the modern housewife can have the fancy fashion, but not the attached oppression and disadvantage.
Bethany Herwegh, the founder of the massively popular vintage-inspired blog and Youtube Channel ‘The Glamorous Housewife’, is one such modern housewife from California.

At the moment, 3 out of 10 mothers in America are traditional homemakers for their children and family, with most having a working husband, according to the Pew Research center. A trend in women deciding to become full-time homemakers is rising after an all-time low in the late 90s. So are we bringing back the days of old and chaining women back to the kitchen?

Not at all. “I think if a woman chooses to stay at home and raise a family, it is actually an example of feminism,” Bethany claims, a proud feminist herself. “Feminism is about giving women choices and choosing to stay at home is completely valid.” The term housewife in a modern context is now being redefined. While the days of the 50s were really and truly sexist, as women were not given a choice outside of being a homemaker, now feminism has paved the path for women to have the options of career and homemaking.

With this choice, some women are trading in office hours, business skirts and 9-5s for the benefits they can bring to their growing children as a mother and a homemaker- and many of such children raised by them are grateful.

“She was just non-stop. All day working at the house, and when I try to keep up doing the exact same thing, I just fail,” recalls Alistair Garcellano, an assembly manager now in his 30s from Melbourne remembering his mother Erlinda as a housewife during his childhood. Alistair fondly mentions the packed lunches, ironed shirts and the tidy house he, his sister and father always returned to, even when he had to help with those chores himself sometimes.

Even now as an adult, Alistair still cannot forget some of the major tasks his mother Erlinda worked through every single day. The dishes, laundry, cooking lunch and dinner, as well as the general cleaning of the whole house, including all bedrooms and the backyard. Bethany’s schedule is not so different either, with her blog and Youtube responsibilities squeezed in. The housewife life is not merely a picture-perfect vacuuming lady in prim condition, but grueling hours of making a whole house spotless; a whole house with several children and a working husband. The former was just an image that was merely a result of unconventional representations on the TV and the general media, especially home product ads from the 40s and 50s. One of which is the infamous dishware Pyrex ad, which was bombarded with images of pretty, apron-clad and curly-haired housewives in a kitchen, among many other brands.

Such misleading images of housewives have led to an assumption that a homemaking woman is lazy, superficial and unambitious.

However, the facts say otherwise, with actual women from the 50s, such as author and then housewife and mother Sheila Hardy, stating differently. She reveals in her book ‘A 1950’s Housewife’, a memoir of her and her friends’ homemaking experiences during the decade, that the ideal of a prim, pretty housewife who has everything in the house ready by the evening is an ‘impossible ideal to meet’.

This is no different to the modern housewife. While there are definitely more advanced household appliances compared to decades ago, the housewife’s labour has not shrunk at all, but has actually grown with the average house in the US now much larger by a thousand square feet since the 70s, according to the American Enterprise Institute. The modern housewife now has a larger threshold to be responsible for than the 50s woman.

Swarnalatha Pinto, a Melbourne housewife herself in the 90s to her two children, never regretted taking on the mighty role of becoming a homemaker. “I was able to get things ready, the house was well kept and I had a chance to home school my children,” Swarna explains, reminiscing on the seven years she spent as a stay-at-home mother. She had read them books in early childhood and taught them nursery rhymes well before schooling, fostering an early interest and development in her son and daughter by the time they started kinder. “My daughter had memorized her favourite Little Golden story by heart before even knowing how to read!”

Like Swarna, Bethany currently engages in the education of her three children. She dedicates a great amount of time to help with their homework in addition to getting them prepared in the morning, with breakfast ready as well as bringing them to school and back for nearly eleven years.

Though sadly, the efforts of the modern housewife are often overlooked and underappreciated in a society where women who are commonly career-driven are more praised instead. “It is often a thankless job and I think that is a problem,” Bethany says. Working fully at home and instead of a proper ‘workplace’ seems to foster the misconception that housewives are not putting in a great amount of labour at all.

With their workplace as the home, even the Australian government does not view homemakers’ labour as anything comparable to a 9-5, with the cutbacks to support for one-income families still planned. The Family Tax Benefit B, which assists parents with one median level income, will now be cut off abruptly when the child in the family turns six, leaving lower income families to have no choice but have both parents work and away from home, instead of taking the time to raise their children. A similar case is ongoing in the UK as well, with proposed tax cuts for low income families with more than two children and one breadwinner, proposed by Chancellor George Osborne. This is a rather huge blow for mothers especially, who are commonly the parent who chooses to be a homemaker for their children. Now only very financially comfortable families can afford to have a homemaker to give their family and children the care and attention they need through childhood. It shows how tax and income are much more prioritized in society than the values and care of the home and loved ones, which is disheartening. Blogs like Bethany’s The Glamorous Housewife aim to assist by informing women on how to manage their household as a homemaker on limited income with budget recipes, home DIY and money-saving household tips.

Being a homemaker is not only real work, but work that in the end benefits the family so much more and incomparable to monetary measure. “Being a housewife is a real job and because you are supporting your spouse, his income is your income.” Bethany says on the topic of her working husband, and though there are no promotions and monetary benefits she feels the advantages to her family’s wellbeing and care are more than enough.

The homemaking mother, or at times father, provided they are fully responsible for all domestic work and children are performing hard work at home too, and need as much of a break and relaxation as their working counterparts. “Make sure to allocate time for only for you,” Swarna advises, recommending that some time with friends and pursuing some hobbies and fitness is important for a busy housewife. Bethany also offers the same advice for homemakers on maintaining a healthy balance. “She needs to acknowledge when she is doing a great job and reward herself for it.” In a society where homemakers are greatly undervalued or overlooked, with her family’s support and her own will, a housewife can get recognition for her vital work for her household and children.

Out of all the effort a homemaker gives for her family, aside the chores, school and the physical work, one of the most important things she could do for her children is simply spend time with them. Time otherwise not available if she is at a workplace to make precious memories together. Alistair sighs at the memory of having to watch cheesy noontime dramas with his mother Erlinda, but he did not forget the highlights. “You learn things you don’t at school, like manners and dealing with people through meaningful talks. My mother just managed to watch me well as I got older, ensuring I didn’t mix with the wrong crowds and giving that constant guidance,” He says.

“There were many sweet and memorable experiences I had with my children,” adds Swarna, who believes it had influenced her children positively through their lives.

Granted, it is a difficult time in society to be a housewife or househusband, especially in Australia and the UK, as well as a few other countries. It is work that is still yet to be given much recognition and largely ignored due to the lack of monetary pay that comes with it, not to mention the negative stereotypes floating about from older decades.

But there is hope. On Mother’s Day 2013, Venezuela granted a benefit specifically to act as a wage for housewives as part of their labour law. Touching! Maybe one day this may be the same for everywhere else, as there are many stay at home mums striving to have their voice heard in society, with groups like Mothers At Home Matter Too in the UK and the international advocacy Make Mothers Matter. These groups constantly facilitate discussion regarding stay-at-home mothers’ status in society within feminist circles and advocates to make them more visible when governments change and create policies.

Ultimately, to be or not to be a homemaker is really within the choice of the modern woman, despite some of its hardships. “It’s better to try and see the difference for your family at home,” Alistair advises, as he supposes that though some women may feel more comfortable in the workplace, there are many others that would be just delighted and enjoy the work at home with their children. Such was the case with Swarna, who liked having time as a housewife and also as a working woman as well afterwards. “I am glad for the seven years I was a full time housewife,” she affirms, “But if I continued until now, I would be unhappy.”

But for Bethany, becoming a homemaker feels like the most natural occupation in the world. “I think being a homemaker is a beautiful thing,” Bethany states proudly. “I am glad I chose to be a housewife.”

This is a mantra that resounds in her head as she clicks ‘Post’ and with a content smile leaves her desk. Another glance is given to the clock. 2:45pm. In a simple but tasteful beige sundress, Bethany slips into her low, casual heels and takes her car keys from the colourful hook. With bag in hand, she sees her reflection in the hallway mirror and smiles at the fair woman with red lips and a neat bun that only took five minutes before opening the door and heading out. The kids would soon be waiting.

And Bethany will be there, like always.

 

 

WORKS CITED

Cohn, D’vera, Gretchen Livingston and Wendy Wang. “After Decades of Decline, A Rise in Stay-At-Home Mothers.” Pew Research Center. 8. Apr. 2014. Web. 21 Nov. 2015. <http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/04/08/after-decades-of-decline-a-rise-in-stay-at-home-mothers/&gt;
Crabb, Annabel. “Abbott’s message to mothers: get to work.” The Drum. 16 May. 2014. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. < http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-14/crabb-so-long-howards-cherished-stay-at-home-mum/5452004&gt;
Crown Crystal Glass Pty Ltd. “Agee Pyrex for Cooking, for Serving, for Storing.” The Australian Women’s Weekly. 12 May. 1951: 49. Print.
Dominiczak, Peter and Steven Swinford. “George Osborne gets stay-at-home mothers back to work.” The Telegraph. 22 Oct. 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2015. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/georgeosborne/11181535/George-Osborne-gets-stay-at-home-mothers-back-to-work.html
Perry, Mark J. “Today’s new homes are 1,000 square feet larger than in 1973, and the living space per person has doubled over last 40 years.” American Enterprise Institute. 26. Feb. 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.
<https://www.aei.org/publication/todays-new-homes-are-1000-square-feet-larger-than-in-1973-and-the-living-space-per-person-has-doubled-over-last-40-years/&gt;
Ponniah, Thomas. “Venezuela’s new labour law: The best Mother’s Day gift.” Rabble Canada. 15 May 2013. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.
<http://rabble.ca/columnists/2013/05/venezuelas-new-labour-law-best-mothers-day-gift&gt;
Waterlow, Lucy. “The perfect 50s housewife myth busted: How women didn’t have time to keep an immaculate home AND achieve a flawless look.” Daily Mail. 2 Mar. 2013. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2286549/Perfect-50s-housewife-myth-busted-They-didnt-time-immaculate-home-AND-achieve-flawless-look.html&gt;

 

 

INTERVIEWEES

Mr. Alistair Garcellano. Assembly at Toyota Group. (Interview conducted on November 2, 2015.)
Mrs. Bethany Herwegh. Housewife and Founder of The Glamorous Housewife. (Interview conducted on November 10, 2015.)
Mrs. Swarnalatha Pinto. Former Housewife and Current Student at Curtin University. (Interview conducted on November 24, 2015.)

 


-The Musing Mestiza, 3rd Year

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s