Another blog post by footnote, this one for tomorrow’s America Watch.
I know that New Yorkers consider taxi driver stories cliché, but I see that as just one more way that bubble dwellers maintain their bubble. It makes seeing through the eyes of others uncool. It both puts other perspectives out of reach and elevates the opinion of people who can pay for taxi services above the observations of those who provide those services. I once thought this just annoying but these contrived separations (see also, “never read the comments”) laid the foundation of this terrible election cycle, and I’m done ignoring them.
A guy made me think about something from a fresh perspective. I don’t care if he was a taxi driver.
Oh, and about that comment that if you can’t find inspiration in the Virgin Islands then you need to get out of creative business, this was my office for the week, complete with daughters building in the sand.
Footnotes by blogpost [UPDATED below]. These are for my America Watch column the week of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Regarding Trump and the GOP’s unauthorized use of “We are the Champions” for Trump’s entrance 1) yes, they need a license, 2) in other contexts, I’ve researched licensing Queen songs and they are much more reserved about granting licenses than other artists, and 3) representatives for Queen are looking into legal recourse, but perhaps the song will be too popular to protect, something George Lucas discovered when a journalist dubbed Ronald Reagan’s strategic defense initiative “Star Wars”. Regardless, this is a headache that is easy to avoid and that a campaign this far behind in funding and staffing does not need.
Regarding Victor Davis Hanson and Trump’s chances of winning: VDH underestimates how many and how much some want to believe Obama and Hillary. In a year when everything is negative, people will look for the one thing that can make them feel good about voting. Eight years ago, that was the power of voting for the first black president. This year, it is the first woman.
His arguments that Obama’s statements are divisive and her sins so significant might play against someone other than Donald Trump. Outside of those already opposed to Clinton, Trump negates their negatives, Clinton’s in particular. I could write article after article about how terrible Hillary Clinton is for women—I planned just that actually—but the arguments will fall on deaf ears when compared to the alternative, a man facing an active suit that he raped a 13 year old girl. It does not matter if the allegations are true. He has an R next to his name now. He will get no benefit of the doubt or complicit media failing to cover the story. (And while writing this post after submitting my article, I find another sexual harassment allegation high up at the Daily Mail. It is Bill Clinton all over again, but this time post Bill Cosby and when the accused is running as a Republican.)
There is one set of events that might work in Trump’s favor: a continued wave of terrorist attacks here at home. To our horror, that is possible. Regardless, I don’t think Trump enjoys the old Republican assumption of more trustworthiness in national security as much as previous Republican’s did. And I do not think that the FBI report on Hillary Clinton hurts her as much as we think it does when compared to Trump. Most independents/lean right folks I know have focused more on the recommendation not to indict and find her Secretary of State experience more reassuring in this world in meltdown than his blustery proclamations. I find this absurd given how her experience is in forging the meltdown, but that doesn’t change that it is a common view.
As Nate Silver counsels, we will know more in a month, but Trump’s chances of winning are low. Republicans, you chose poorly.
Another piece of BS that has been circulated by the RNC to throw dirt on Ted Cruz is that he gave different remarks on stage than the prepared ones he submitted to the RNC for review. Unfortunately, the RNC screwed themselves on this score by sending to media organization prepared copies of Ted Cruz remarks which show that Cruz said exactly what his prepared remarks indicated.
In fact, in response to the news that Cruz was going to make a speech that did not explicitly endorse him, Trump intentionally chose to escalate the situation by leaking the news to friendly delegations and instructing them to boo Cruz to make this a bigger deal that it otherwise would have been. If Trump’s delegates had not booed and caused a ruckus, but instead had remained silent or applauded at Cruz’s exhortation to vote for down ticket races, everyone today would be talking about Pence and his speech, and the discussion would be about positive things associated with Trump and Pence and how they are going to move forward after the convention to at least possible victory.
Since we stayed, there were lots of sleepover requests. I had six supplemental children last night. That’s fine, and much less crazy than previous Lofti 4ths (see posts about passports and possums). It’s good summer fun and they were great. Even were asleep before midnight. Long afternoon of sun, pool, and fireworks will do that for you. But there was no sleeping in.
Boys, the eldest, went off to a service project at church this morning. It’s every Tuesday so it just happened to fall after the 4th this year. I got up, got them up, fed them hotdogs and coffee—we have a lot of leftover hotdogs—and took them to church. Got back and fed the younger girls and nephew hotdogs, toast and berries for breakfast. (Hey, they ate it.)
Started on the camp laundry, which I had delayed until after the party so the laundry room was not a wreck for the 4th. That backfired because the trunks sat in front of the trash towel cabinet.
Thirty-40 wet kiddos running through the stone floor kitchen during the party—I needed those trash towels. Anyway, now have two loads of just towels to add to the 4 kids and 2 weeks worth of camp laundry, which by the way, smells unpleasant. But it is now underway.
I also cleaned the kitchen twice, or once really. Eldest daughter, Peyton, did the second post-lunch cleaning. They made mac n cheese hot dog casserole. (I wasn’t kidding about the lots of hot dogs. The kids don’t know it yet, but I googled “recipes for leftover hotdogs” and we are having hot dog hash tonight.)
The girls dropped some mac on the floor and Peyton, the ever helpful child, cleaned it up and decided to mop the whole kitchen. It was a mess from yesterday, so Yea! But she mopped it with dish soap, so not Yea! “A” for effort. But now the floor is quite sticky.
Add in a sliced finger from watermelon carving, and one of my children complaining of boredom the second my nephew/her partner in crime went home—it’s not even three and I would just like to go back to sleep. Granted the adult beverages list from yesterday might have something to do with that. (The militia offerings are actually my husband’s. He’s perfecting the craft.)
We moved home too early, I think. I wish we had stayed in London for primary school. We loved ours in London. We are less pleased with primary eduction here. But that’s all regret I’ve covered previously.
This regret is new. Lately, I have far more hope in British politics than our own. While I’m stuck choosing between Clinton or Trump over here, Liam Fox will announce his run for Tory leader over there. Oh, to be able to vote for him!
I was never a Cameron fan. He seemed so pliable. Back in 2011, Liam Fox was still Defence Minister. Fox was not pliable. I wrote at least two posts on Fox back at my expat blog. They are good background and I enjoyed revisiting them when one of my editors sent me a heads up that Fox was announcing. The first, Keep an Eye on the Fantastic Mr. Fox, is from June 3, 2011, back when bloggers used to fisk things.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has emerged as the most admirable of anomalies: the budget-cutter as leader of conscience. [This will go well.]
If relocated to America, Cameron’s program of austerity would make him an unrivaled Tea Party darling. [Crap. Tea splattered all over computer. Hang on a sec… Clean computer so I can type witty actual response: What?!] What serious American has made detailed proposals to cut spending in each government department by an average of nearly 20 percent during the next four years? [I assume that by the “serious” qualifier, the writer is excluding all the republican proposals which have proposed deep cuts? Neat trick, that.] Who would choose to simultaneously slash government jobs, social services and military spending? [No one. But sometimes choice isn’t a choice.]
The extremity of Britain’s fiscal crisis, of course, left few alternatives to budget-cutting ambition. [Precisely. But it isn’t much good to claim what a great guy you are for remaining seated when it is no longer possible to stand.] Yet many British politicians have opted for less-responsible approaches. Cameron campaigned, won and generally has governed on a platform of fiscal discipline. [Campaigned and won, yes, generally governed? Does he have an NHS plan yet? I mean one he hasn’t backtracked on or scrapped? He did cut defence and then had to back door funds when he went into Libya. The VAT went up. That “generally” seems to be hiding a lot of details, no? That Cameron might be one of the least bad options isn’t really cause for optimism.]
Still, Cameronism is defined not only by austerity but by a few notable exceptions to austerity. The prime minister has protected some spending categories from reductions, erecting what’s called a “ring-fence” around health programs and foreign assistance. [And here is why Cameron would not be a Tea Party darling. If you don’t understand that these are things the Tea Party types would not ring fence, then you aren’t informed enough to be writing political commentary.]
[Little did we know then how under informed the bubble dwellers were. The fisking continued for a while, and then I got to Fox.]
But the biggest factor in Dr Fox’s favour is the growing perception that he was prescient to warn of the impact of defence cuts. Mr Cameron’s zealous intervention in Libya, which came just a few months after he signed off on the spending reductions, has drawn attention to the gap between British ambitions and British resources. There is thought to be concern in Washington at the prospect of a close ally downgrading its military capabilities. (America, incidentally, captures the gap between Dr Fox and the Tory leadership like nothing else: he strives to maintain contact with the Republicans; Mr Cameron’s people are fervent fans of Barack Obama.)
Cameron had to smear Fox out of office for asking too many questions, causing too many problems over British defenses. Downgrading British military readiness while America retreats—that has tuned out as the experts expected, no?
That “noted last week” link with more Fox is still up, but here it is so you don’t have to click:
After the US State Visit
The basic take: British pols are still in thrall to Obama, but the public is wary. I made a great effort last week to get a read on public opinion of Obama. Mind, I am an experienced expat and did not go around asking direct questions to any Brits, save M&M. I have long since learned to be a shameless eavesdropper. I have also learned how to ask leading, suggestive questions that don’t mention the topic I really want to discuss. During the US election and the previous Obama visit, getting a read on public opinion on Obama this way was easy.
This time, there was complete British silence. The only people to mention the visit were Americans, and only two of them at that. Yasha suggests two reasons for this. One, people no longer trust Obama. The Guardian article I posted on last week is probably an overly optimistic version of this. The Guardian is a leftist paper whose readers want to trust Obama. Non-leftists, however, aren’t so invested in trusting Obama and gave up on him a while back. (Time Traveller says the Nobel Prize did it for him, and I think that might have been a pivot point for Brits.) Two, the UK has her own problems and while the rest of the world does pay attention to US politics, they pay less attention than the American press would have us believe. They will pay more attention during the election.
British pols and press, however, are another story. Are they really that gullible? George Bush gives Tony Blair a nickname and pals around a bit after they had spent years in the political trenches getting shelled for the Iraq War, and that makes him a strangled poodle on a short leash and prompts sneers about a “special relationship.” Obama and Cameron high five after a photo op ping-pong match in an unveiled attempt to look like best mates after three years of frosty and ham-handed diplomatic exchanges, and the pols and press believe it indicates some genuine bond?!
As the President prepared for talks with Cameron and Cabinet Ministers on Wednesday, Fox was about to jet off to the States.
One bemused No 10 source says: ‘He didn’t go to any of the main meetings with Obama.
‘One of the advantages of going to Washington is to see the key players. But the key player, the President, was here.’
That “key player”, the one who devastated the Middle East peace process then headed out of town while Netanyahu gave a powerful speech to Congress? The one who has acted decisively on Libya? The one that rumors suggest had to be dragged into the OBL raid? Perhaps Mr. Fox knows something about the “key player” that others don’t, like perhaps he isn’t really all that “key.”
David Pasley, a Tory councillor in Mr Fox’s North Somerset constituency, described the MP as “hard working” and “diligent”, and said he was “deeply saddened” by Friday’s events.
But he added: “He’s someone who you can’t keep down.
“He has got such experience in his political career that I’m sure it will just be a question of time before he’s back, and I hope he’s back very soon in a high profile position.”
One can hope.
And sometimes that hope pays off. Good luck, Mr. Fox, some of us over here are rooting for you.
Today is June the 10th, when Netflix takes its shot at rebooting an epic tale. I have a little more faith in Netflix than Hollywood. They do more homework. Still, I did not wake up this morning and start binge watching Voltron, Legendary Defender. After the disappointment of The Force Awakens, I’ve lost faith. But the Voltron buzz sounds promising. So it seems a binge is in order for tonight, but I’ll likely end up reading fan fic by weekend’s end.
I dove into the reading fanfic rabbit hole a few years ago when I was looking for new shows for my kids and discovered what WEP had done to my one of my favorite fandoms from the 80’s, Voltron. Provided with a timeless tale of good vs. evil, loyalty, hardship, duty, and passion, WEP served up a music concert for the environment and peace. They obviously had no clue about what made the original cartoon successful, much less why it still had fans 20 years later.
Authors, screenwriters, and other assorted Hollywood powers that be have forgotten how to write myth. From a death of the blockbuster article:
They often start with a good premise, but then bend the story to tell a modern morality tale that they, the good little Relativists they are, believe morality to be. Any storyteller worth his salt should know that ‘there are fates far worse than death’ is one of the central themes of the Harry Potter books, yet the significant line was dropped from the film. The Twilight screenplays were penned by a woman who had difficulty comprehending the ideals of the hero and heroine; the lukewarm fan reception to Prince Caspian came out of TPTB worrying about the story’s religious basis. At least they learned the lesson for Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but then it was just to literally transpose Lewis’s dialogue to screen.
Superman, Ender’s Game—is there a franchise in which the Hollywood adaption got the story right?
I get particularly annoyed at the trashing of heroines.
Hollywood writers don’t recognize what makes heroines iconic to the fans. They pay attention to the feminist formula for the Strong Independent Woman (TM) and write guys who happen to be female. They often modify women to give them mystical powers in order to explain why they can hang with the men in battle.
The heroine shouldn’t be too beautiful and certainly not sexy—unless she is going for empowerment sexy, a la Wonder Woman teaches men to submit style. And she can’t be dependent in any way or men. No rescuing. No romance. Either she does it all on her own or it doesn’t count.
Outside of Game of Thrones, the woman who doesn’t need a man like a fish doesn’t need a bicycle because a woman is just a man with boobs is everywhere. Pan from ‘don’t hold my hand, I can do this myself’ Rey to Wonder Woman as backdrop in Superman v Batman.
Such heroines are predictable and dull. They are also lies. They present young women with role models who overcome every and all hardship with a confident attitude, as if merely thinking you can is ever enough.
The Force Awakens is the worst offender. When we seen ‘new and improved’ Princess General Leia in TFA, she is a ruler without a planet, a daughter without parents, a sister without a brother, a wife without a husband, and a mother without her child. Any one of those could, and has, broken a woman. Any combo of two would see a real woman struggle. But carrying all of them, Leia is still quipping. Because that’s what we are told strong women do—endure everything, on our own.
And then we wonder why women are so exhausted. We do as we are told and chase the impossible with no option of grace.
I really, really hate modern heroines. They forge brittle women.
Vanity Fair has a new email newsletter, HIVE. The tagline is “Where Wall Street, Washington, and Silicon Valley meet.” I’d bet more than a dime that the name is a play on the famous description of Mos Eisley, the “wretched hive of scum and villainy.” It does fit.
I note, too, the bubble assumptions of it all. Granted, Houston would be better poised to take her place as urban leadership if we had managed to elect a strong leader mayor last year. But still, we get written off as some backwater. Few appreciate how we influence the country.
Joel Kotkin noted this in Battle of the Upstarts. New York City will its influence because of its history and Wall Street, DC because of government. He thinks the San Francisco Bay Area will square off against Houston for significance.
Throw on the dualchallenges to Washington DC, lead in significant part by Texas, and the problems facing some of the Silicon Valley powerhouses (see assorted links at HIVE) and Houston will end up leading, whether it is ready or not.
I also note the banner ad for the HIVE newsletter, Shinola, high end fashion leather goods…from Detroit. Not usually the city one thinks of for fashion, but I respect the initiative of a company trying to grow in that city. And the blue shoulder bag is a beauty.
This is a post for an answer I repeatedly have to give.
Almost every time I point out weaknesses in feminist positions, someone replies with “you just don’t know what feminism means.” That is, they assume I disagree with them because they are well informed while I am ignorant.
Actually, I’ve researched historical feminism, Second Wave feminism of the 60’s, the debatable Third Wave and the growing New Wave. I’ve written on modern developments from fertility to misandry to free bleeding, which, contrary to blustering defenses, is really a thing. I have original copies of Red Stockings.The Feminine Mystique—I’ve actually read it.
I am quite familiar with the variety of definitions of feminism, how they conflict, and generally who promotes which one. Anyone who comes at me with a “just” definition of feminism, I know they are a pop feminist. And I know that by their overriding concern for the term, they intend, knowingly or not, to put discussion out of reach. Like the intersectionalists, they might cry “My feminism will be happy “just” feminism or it will be bu!!sh*t!”
As with so many of the phenomena surrounding Donald Trump that demand further investigation, it is only as he is about to become the Republican nominee that the press is taking interest in his prior dealings, and developing new curiosity for the activity surrounding the candidate. The general rule that journalists only become interested in digging into things when they have a personal experience with the matter also holds true for the online Trump army, which went after journalist Julia Ioffe this past week. The amount of surprise expressed by journalists for an experience many writers on the right have had for months is one of the odder elements of this cycle, as was illustrated last week in the reaction to Ioffe facing a barrage of anti-Semitic attacks after profiling Melania Trump. “But why?”, the Washington Post asks. http://vlt.tc/2doz
I recommend reading the WaPo link, but two thoughts. First, the surprise has long since gotten old. This has been going on for months, and not just for anti-Trump commentary, but for pro-Cruz commentary. They threaten female journalists with adding them to the list of Cruz’s alleged mistresses. There isn’t even an attempt at plausibility as some of these women have never even met Cruz in person. Plus, Trump’s run isn’t the first time legacy journalists have been horrified by what is standard fare against their colleagues in right media.
Second, this is another instance of needing to analyze when to blame a group. How accountable are Trump’s supporters—or Trump—for the abhorrent behavior of a subset of supporters?
When was the act done? Centuries ago or last week?**
Who is doing the act? A leader of the group or a follower?
How many are doing the act? A large group or a lone wolf?
What is the nature and magnitude of the act? Words or violence? A slap or a slit throat?
And how do other members of the larger group respond? With silence, condemnation, or celebration? Calls to imitate or to cease?
In this instance, we have words by a loud, perhaps small, group. The words are slander and anti-Semitism, not just insults. And the leader and the others respond with silence or excuse. That’s leaning pretty culpable for me.
I have been sympathetic to Trump’s supporters for most of this cycle. Early on I asked others to understand their anger and frustration. I liked my editor Joy Pullman’s description of forgotten Americans in Indiana. They do feel forgotten, forsaken.
Now, Trump’s supporters are sacrificing the sunlight his run brought. And Cruz is right, Trump is playing them for chumps. When he tries to win the election by betraying them in moving left and Hillary Clinton wins anyway, they will still be powerless. Worse, they will be powerless and completely discredited. Even Trump himself won’t respect them because they were just gullible folks that he used to make the deal. Big, swinging power doesn’t respect rubes. It uses them. (And Trump is a user.)
Hillary will occupy the top office and have all of the federal bureaucracy at her disposal. The recoil from Trump’s run will likely devastate the down ticket as well.
I will fight against his nomination until the bitter end. Should Trump win the nomination, I will divert all of my election efforts to state and local races and the Convention of States. If the federal government can be headed by a criminal, then I certainly want it back on its leash. This holds true even if Trump could win and the federal government headed by a charlatan.
A final note about those who would hope to keep the GOP together. I have to laugh. Their deafness and power preserving nomination rules and their self-serving power plays best seen in Kasich and Rubio’s refusal to rally to the conservative candidate and Boehner and Christie currying favor with Trump brought us here.* What fool would trust them? Some pundits are also advocating for Clinton over Trump. When the choice is slippery un-convicted criminal or fickle robber baron, one works against the criminal. To do otherwise does not inspire leadership.
A Trump nomination will kill the party. Not conservatism. That will survive in a new coalition. Where and how remains to be seen. But the chumps, both high and low, cannot lead it. Their credibility is shot.
UPDATES: I came to fix a typo and decided to add a few links that came after I wrote this post on May 3.
Add on minor problems with social media. Twitter’s use of shadow blacklists and uneven enforcement of bad behavior has dampened the platform’s appeal. Facebook changes it’s algorithms often. As soon as you get settled into a news reading pattern, they change the rules. Medium is trying to recover from becoming a “Try my new app” platform. It did not work as writers hoped.
In news and commentary, online magazines pop up and fade or get absorbed into bigger sites at varying speeds.
Right now, how does anyone make that informed threshold of the past: skim the WSJ or NYT headlines while listening to the local news over coffee and the nightly news after dinner? With the deluge of information coming at us from everywhere, is it any wonder if the American public seems oddly under informed. With so many options it is easier to either ignore the noise or get lost in the mindless junk.
This hurts local awareness particularly hard. How do local stories manage to break though the national and international trends? In Houston’s recent mayoral election, we had to push so that the public would know that we have a problem. Months later, the problems are still there. (Bill King did not win the runoff as the previous link hoped.)
Looking for quality news sources has been a problem for casual readers for a while. Now it affects heavy readers, and so I see a re-sort coming again. And as mentioned previously, I still have a hunch that personal websites will end up like mobile phone numbers, at least for those who put their name to public commentary. For the constant re-sorts, writers almost need to be their own self-contained unit. That would also help us avoid what Prof. Jacobson noticed. Conservatives essentially got trapped by Twitter.
Some bloggers have gone back to their old sites. And many of their once active commenters have returned to those comment threads rather than commenting on Twitter. I’ve experimented with other networks, everything from Disqus to GoogleGroups to Medium. None match the efficiency of a single website.
And as I started my original website to experiment with idea networking, that’s what I’m going back to here. This time I will work on vetting ideas, pulling various commentary together by subject matter. Over the next weeks I will also redo my link lists as my own personal newspaper, a series I can click though and skim over a coffee, noting articles to read. I’m aiming for finding ways that we can be generally informed enough to have a discussion at the watercooler or PTA meeting.
I’m still writing more elsewhere. That’s one of the reasons I’m thinking in subjects because those have become more focused, and that has worked well. I’m doing motherhood for professionals advice at PJMedia, America Watch election commentary at The Conservative Woman in the UK, and longer commentary pieces at The Federalist, usually on feminism, law, or UK issues.
But I still like to experiment. So, back to blogging.
The question comes up from time to time, usually in runs. Who owns the term housewife anymore? I do. I did even before I started writing. I chose the term deliberately back in 2007 when my husband first encouraged me to start blogging. The term “housewife” was the topic of my first blog post, An American Housewife in London. (Followed quickly and unexpectedly by furious posts about the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsement of a ritual nick to appease practitioners of female genital mutilation.)
Like most GenX women, I hadn’t thought of using the traditional term while I was growing up. But in September of 2003, while I was nesting through my final trimester of my first pregnancy, I read Caitlin Flanagan’s Atlantic article, “Housewife Confidential“. I had already become a Flanagan fan earlier that year when “The Wifely Duty” made the rounds among my girlfriends. (Actually, it made the rounds because I sent it to all of them. Based on the reaction, I think if social media had been around then, it might have held the Atlantic‘s most read article until Anne Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in 2012.)
“Housewife Confidential” was a tribute to Erma Bombeck. I recommend reading it for that. But more importantly for me, it gave words to what I was starting to intuitively understand, that Stay at Home Mothers (SAHM’s) were a very new and not-so-savvy creation of culture. From Flanagan’s opening description:
The notion of a domestic life that purrs along, with routines and order and carefully delineated standards, is endlessly appealing to me. It is also quite foreign, because I am not a housewife. I am an “at-home mother,” and the difference between the two is vast.
Consider the etymology. When a woman described herself as a “housewife,” she was defining herself primarily through her relationship to her house and her husband. That children came along with the deal was simply assumed, the way that airing rooms and occasionally cooking for invalids came along with the deal. When a housewife subjected herself and her work to a bit of brutally honest examination, she may have begun by assessing how well she was doing with the children, but she may just as well have begun by contemplating the nature and quality of her housework. If it had been suggested to her that she spend the long, delicate hours between three and six o’clock squiring her children to the array of enhancing activities pursued by the modern child, she would have laughed. Who would stay home to get dinner on? More to the point, why had she chosen a house so close to a playground if the children weren’t going to get out of her hair and play in it? The kind of childhood that many of us remember so fondly—with hours of free time, and gangs of neighborhood kids meeting up after school—was possible partly because each block contained houses in which women were busy but close by, all too willing to push open a window and yell at the neighbor boy to get his fool bike out of the street.
But an at-home mother feels little obligation to the house itself; in fact, she is keenly aware that the house can be a vehicle of oppression. She is “at home” only because that is where her children happen to be. She does not define herself through her housekeeping; if she is in any way solvent (and many at-home mothers are), she has, at the very least, a once-a-month cleaning woman to do the most onerous tasks. (That some of the most significant achievements of the women’s movement—specifically liberation from housework and child care—have been bought at the expense of poor women, often of poor brown-skinned women, is a bitter irony that very few feminists will discuss directly, other than to murmur something vague about “universal day care” and then, on reflex, blame the Republicans.)
The at-home mother defines herself by her relationship to her children. She is making sacrifices on their behalf, giving up a career to give them something only she can. Her No. 1 complaint concerns the issue of respect: She demands it! Can’t get enough of it! She isn’t like a fifties housewife: ironing curtains, shampooing the carpets, stuck. She knows all about those women. She has seen Pleasantville and watched Leave It to Beaver; she’s made more June Cleaver jokes than she can count. (In fact, June Cleaver—a character on a television show that went off the air in 1963—looms over her to a surprising extent, a sickening, terrifying specter: Is that how people think I spend my time?) If she has seen Todd Haynes’s sumptuously beautiful recent movie, Far From Heaven, she understands and agrees wholeheartedly with the film’s implication: that being a moneyed white housewife—with full-time help—in pre-Betty Friedan Hartford, Connecticut, was just as oppressive and soul-withering as being a black man in pre-civil rights Hartford. The at-home mother’s attitude toward housewives of the fifties and sixties is a mixture of pity, outrage on their behalf, and gently mocking humor. (I recently received a birthday card that featured a perfectly coiffed fifties housewife standing in a gleaming kitchen. “The smart woman knows her way around the kitchen,” the front of the card said. Inside: “Around the kitchen, out the back door, and to a decent restaurant.”)
The at-home mother has a lot on her mind; to a significant extent she has herself on her mind. She must not allow herself to shrivel up with boredom. She must do things for herself. She must get to the gym, the spa, the yoga studio. To the book group. (She wouldn’t be caught dead setting up tables and filling nut cups for a bridge party—June Cleaver! June Cleaver!—but a book group, which blends an agreeable seriousness of purpose with the kind of busy chitchat that women the world over adore, is irresistible.) She must go to lunch with like-minded friends, and to the movies. She needs to feed herself intellectually and emotionally; she needs to be on guard against exhaustion. She must find a way to combine the traditional women’s work of childrearing with the kind of shared housework arrangements and domestic liberation that working mothers enjoy. Most important, she must somehow draw a line in the sand between the valuable, important work she is doing and the pathetic imprisonment, the Doll’s House existence, of the housewife of old. It’s a tall order.
It is a tall order. A ridiculous one at that, in ways big and small.
Big: those who must demand respect do not actually have it.
Small: all of the shoulds seemed like performances. It was irrelevant if I actually wanted to do a book club with like-minded friends. Rather boring, that, a chorus of “oh, me too ” and “I thought exactly the same thing.” I was just supposed to do what everyone else was doing, making much ado about not being June Cleaver.
Not quite home yet—I was an in-house attorney at a major oil company—I knew that I was a housewife. I did not yet know how lonely that would be. Looking back, I’m not sure how I managed, although it does explain how I found time to read. Since we are not the power woman at the mercy of her career track or the SAHM at the mercy of the immediate needs of her children, housewives have more time—if only because we have more control over it.
In addition to being able to zig when required, housewives also trust ourselves more. Yes, I have to do things for my children, of course, but I don’t fret that I should be doing some other modern mother thing whenever I sit down to read or type. And whenever I am doing for them, I don’t fret that I could be doing something supposedly more meaningful than cooking dinner, dousing a tantrum, or changing a dirty nappy. Those things need to be done, and done competently. The good of the family directs me to spend enough time tending to the children that they are well-behaved, happy, and secure, but not to serve them so much that we are slouching towards Lord of the Flies or Heathers.
Doing housewifery the old way is counter cultural these days, and one cannot do counterculture without conviction. True, many play the rebel by doing what everyone else is doing for whatever we have dubbed ‘counterculture’. But rebel cool doesn’t require conviction. It is “cool”, peer approved, by definition. Being a modern housewife is truly subversive. The timid won’t try.
I did not start to find similarly minded mom friends until we moved to London in 2006—English and European mothers are not quite as intense as US mothers—and then when the Free Range Kids movement was born in 2008. It was okay to stop hovering over your kids for the sake of your kids so more women started to do it. House and husband time became pleasantly surprising pluses to the free rangers.
But they were not the goals. It is still easy to see this truth in all manner of mom discussions. We phrase our decisions as benefits to our kids. It is acceptable to pull back from whatever to benefit your kid but not your husband. Never him, June Cleaver. The term “housewife” remains irredeemable.
And so, just the other day, I sat among a large group of women, generally my age and marital, kid, and income status. We were discussing housewifery and stay-at-home-momery, without using the terms, of course. Now it is all ‘do what works for you’ and no term really works for the absence of any standard, in the same way it is hard to define a “not”. But that was the point of the discussion, really. The experienced voices were telling us that the old housewife formula, marriage centered, low on kid activities, high on kid chores and family dinner, that’s what works for most of us, our spouses, and our kids. Switch housewife for househusband, even. The basic successful formula doesn’t change.
Shame we banished the simple terms we could use now, as we rediscover what our grand-parents knew.