The Stay-At-Home Feminist

OHAH - The Column / Friday, October 12th, 2018

I come from a women dominated family. My grandfathers both had left this Earth long before I was born, leaving my dad as the only male amongst two (very alive) grandmothers, his wife and two daughters. Even our family dog was a woman.  And when my sister got baptised she got two godmothers. In school my class teachers were all female up until year seven. 

Growing up I believed that women are strong, independent and extremely skilled. Not once did I doubt that a woman can be or achieve anything she put her mind to. And although my dad only occasionally helped in the day-to-day housekeeping and my mum did literally everything, I never once thought that keeping a house is women’s work. I simply recognised that my dad was away a lot and my mum was extremely capable. In fact, she made it look so easy. Like a ballet dancer makes jumping and skipping on your toes look effortless.

Couple that with the feminist movement of the 1990s and 2000s, in Germany lead by Alice Schwarzer, and naturally, becoming a teenager and then a twenty-something student, I assumed the workload of the home would be shared in my future relationships. Simply because I would work just as much as my partner. As I was encouraged to; as we all were encouraged to follow our dreams, choose a career that we love. Abandon the ancient model of housewives and join the workforces. Even now I’m appalled at the underlying restrictions of the fifties and sixties towards women when watching Call the Midwife, in fact I hardly watch the show anymore because I tend to get so upset.

Yet, somehow or other this is exactly where I ended up – the 1950s set-up of a housekeeping, stay-at-home mum without a career and a partner who goes out every morning to bring the money in. 

A friend visiting us from Germany once mentioned how she had always seen me as this fiercely independent person, full of ideas and drive, that she could never imagine me like this but “the strangest thing is, Nadine”, she said” you seem so utterly happy!”
And I am, I really am. I feel honoured about the control and trust I have been given to steer this family’s direction. I feel grateful for the opportunity to have such a vital impact on our health, well-being and development by managing our home and what goes on in it. 

Now how does that go down in my feminist heart of being utterly happy in such a conservative role, while all my life I thought I wanted something different. How am I smashing the patriarchy now?
The answer, a friend of mine said the other day, surely lies in choice! Remember Julia Stiles’ character in Mona Lisa Smile? Joan Brandwyn has all this potential and the dream of studying law but then angers Julia Roberts – her free-thinking professor in the film – by willingly following the archaic model to stay at home.
The twist, however, is: She chooses to do so! Most importantly not because of any expectations that’s been put on her, but because on her own desires and wishes for her life! What is more feminist than doing what you want as a woman, undeterred by the expectations of your surroundings?  

Also Joan Brandwyn recognised long before I did, something that our society still doesn’t really get: that managing a home and caring for your children can be as (intellectual even) fulfilling and certainly is as demanding as any traditional career (in fact it once was a traditional career!). Somehow amongst all this liberation of women, the initial roles they inhibited were downplayed, almost marginalised in their importance.

Obviously, I can see and am cautious of the contradiction; it’s not in the interest of women to strengthen a system that has undermined them for such a long time; meaning to continue to portray the traditional view on how the roles should be split in house and work. I don’t want my daughter to limit her aspirations because of the assumption she’s bound to follow in my footsteps because we share the same type of genitals. I’m therefore careful how I convey and talk about the work that I do: cleaning, cooking, caring for the garden are not women’s work but simply MY work because I chose so. Focusing on creating a community for us falls not into my hands because Daddy is incapable as he’s a man, but because he works away many hours and I’m around and so on and so fourth. Language, I started to understand, matters as much as modelling.

So in the name of feminism, I’ve got an idea: While we keep telling all the girls that they can follow any career that they like, why don’t we empower the boys just as much. By putting the work of caring for a home and children amongst all the other aspirational roles, from the moment they start playing make-believe in the kitchen to the career days in school and beyond. Our Daddy for one, keeps telling us how he’d love to switch roles with me sometimes and I can see why; because I absobloodylutely love my work!

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