Gender essentialism and the feminist housewife
Hi there! My name is Shannon, and I am a feminist housewife.
This is me in my kitchen. Behind my arm is –NO JOKE–a loaf of homemade gluten-free bread. I am a housewife, and a damn good one!
Do you like my apron? it’s from the HOTDISH Militia, a group that fundraises for abortion clinics with tasty casseroles–the acronym stands for Hand Over The Decision It Should (be) Hers. I support affordable access to the full spectrum of women’s reproductive health services, including abortion on demand, without apology. That’s feminist, baby!
Combine my job with my passion, et voilà: you get me, a feminist housewife!
I didn’t aspire to be a feminist housewife when I grew up. As a child, I wanted to write books. As a child, I assumed that writing books would magically make money appear.
Six-year-old Shannon can be blamed for her ignorance, but what excuse does Kelly Makino, a self-identified feminist, have? From New York Magazine’s March 17, 2013 cover story “The Retro Wife”:
The maternal instinct is a real thing, Kelly argues: Girls play with dolls from childhood, so “women are raised from the get-go to raise children successfully. When we are moms, we have a better toolbox.” Women, she believes, are conditioned to be more patient with children, to be better multitaskers, to be more tolerant of the quotidian grind of playdates and temper tantrums; “women,” she says, “keep it together better than guys do.”
Oh Mrs. Makino! You retrograde goofball, you. In case you missed this lecture in Women’s Studies 101, let me break it down for you. Choosing your choice is feminist, sure! But GENDER ESSENTIALISM IS NOT FEMINIST.
I can’t pick on only Kelly, though, for the author of the piece, Lisa Miller, makes some mind-boggling observations of her own:
I prepare our daughter’s lunch box every morning with ritualistic care, as if sending her off to school with a bologna sandwich made by me can work as an amulet against all the pain of my irregular, inevitable absences. I believe that I have a special gift for arranging playdates, pediatrician appointments, and piano lessons….
“The feminist revolution started in the workplace, and now it’s happening at home,” says Makino. “I feel like in today’s society, women who don’t work are bucking the convention we were raised with … Why can’t we just be girls? Why do we have to be boys and girls at the same time?”
Again, I must ask: what makes a girl a GIRL? Is it a baby? An apron? A kickass banana bread recipe? A Pinterest account?
What makes a boy a BOY? A wife?
I made a choice to be my kids’ caregiver, but that choice wasn’t made in a vacuum. My hubby and I had to weigh some very harsh realities. Who made more money? Who would probably ALWAYS make more money? Who could count on consistent work for the next two decades? If you guessed the BOY, you’re right! You win a wife.*
Understanding how patriarchal capitalism works is feminist. GENDER ESSENTIALISM IS NOT FEMINIST.
For the record, I am terrible at arranging playdates. My vag has nothing to do with it–I am not only forgetful, I hate using the telephone. I’d rather bake you a rice-tapioca-soy flour loaf. If you want our kids to hang out, you’d better have my e-mail–or better yet, Matt’s!
All of this is very funny in the echo chamber of the internets. I really don’t care whether Kelly Makino, Lisa Miller, or hell, Sheryl Sandberg is a housewife or not. I DO care when one pretty white New Yorker’s lifestyle is trotted out as “proof” that women are this or that and feminism is a failure blah blah blah, because you know that articles like these delight conservatives eager to push back on women’s rights, especially reproductive rights. Sen. Rand Paul, a 2016 presidential contender, has already said he’d support a fetal personhood bill that would outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception. Without control over their fertility, women would be stuck in the kitchen making hotdish (and this is the important part) whether they want to or not.
It’s a future too horrible to contemplate.
Maybe I’ll cook a pie. That would make me feel better.
*offer not valid for women