« Of Kings, Psychopaths, and Lawyers | Main | Defending Elizabeth Wurtzel »

So You Want to Be a Housewife?

Vivia Chen

January 10, 2013

Betty_White_CB-TelevisionLast night, my high school pal Joyce emailed me an article from The Daily Princetonian, and it totally wrecked my evening. So much so that I got out my corkscrew, opened a much too expensive bottle of Barolo, and downed a couple of glasses. I was so upset that I even missed Jon Stewart on TV.

"What Princeton Women Want" recounts a conversation between the author and her friend Molly about their impending graduation. Wistfully questioning their futures ("Would we go to graduate school? Marry our college boyfriends? Sell our souls to Wall Street?"), the author then describes her friend's answer:

Molly lowered her voice, glanced from side to side, and leaned in closer to me. “Margaret,” she whispered, “there’s something I need to tell you.” Molly continued, “I don’t want to go to grad school. I don’t even know if I want a career. I want to get married, stay at home, and raise my kids.” Then, clearly distraught, she added, “What’s wrong with me?”

The article is largely a defense of Molly’s choice. And—guess what?—feminism is the designated villain:

Molly's predicament is shameful. Not because she feels the urge to be a stay-at-home mom, but because she feels that her desire is wrong or unnatural. It is shameful that modern feminism has elevated professionalism at the expense of motherhood, particularly the stay-at-home variety. It is sad that some students feel the need to justify their education with a prestigious career.

By this point, the sanctimonious tone is getting under my skin. I know the author is defending her friend, but why pick on "modern" feminism? Was it not feminism that opened those ivy-covered gates to them at Princeton? And yes, if you must ask, I do think the Mollys of the world are squandering their privileged education. In fact, they are taking away seats from other brilliant kids who might actually need a Princeton degree to achieve their dreams.

There, I said it. I got the politically incorrect thesis off my chest.

The article then trots out the latest "It" girl for traditional womanhood: Anne-Marie Slaughter, who famously gave up her high-profile State Department job to spend more time with her sons. (Remember Slaughter's article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” in The Atlantic last summer?) Never mind that Slaughter is a tenured professor at Princeton—and that she really does kind of "have it all." To young women, unfortunately, she's now the wise, nagging voice of how motherhood and high-pressure jobs don't mix, and how traditional motherhood is really morally superior.

"Slaughter legitimized the decision to turn down further career opportunities in favor of spending more time with children," writes the Princetonian author. Okay. Then she adds:

We must accept that many women—even Princeton women—do not want “it all.” As for young women who hope to have a successful career while raising children, they should hear realistic advice about the difficulty—perhaps the impossibility—of having both while minimizing the costs to either.

By this time, I'm asking myself: Is this what some young women today are thinking—that they really can't have a high-flying career and family, and that "good" girls will ultimately chose motherhood? Or is this some kind of Princeton thing? (There must be something in the water there, because the whole "opt-out" thing started with Lisa Belkin's 2003 New York Times article that looked at a bunch of Princeton women who decided to chuck their careers to stay home.)

The author of the piece suggests that Princeton should be more supportive of women who want to take the traditional wife/mother route: "Our university can—and should—do more to validate the desires of students like Molly," adding that "Princeton’s Women’s Center and Career Services are natural places for the dialogue to continue."

Huh? Last time I checked, there was no shortage of jobs for women in the housewife sector. Do institutions of higher learning really need to devote more resources to help women ease into those roles? 

Now, before all you traditionalists out there start sending me angry emails, let me say that I'm not antimotherhood (and, believe it or not, I have kids!). What I find sad and depressing is that these bright young women seem to be limiting themselves so early on. Why not be idealistic and think you can have it all, at least at the starting gate? Why not dream big when you are young?

Believe me, real life will catch up with everyone soon enough.

 

Related posts: Harvard Law Women Opt Out, Really, You Don't Want to Stay Home.


Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email chief blogger Vivia Chen at [email protected] 

 Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist

 

Photo: Betty White as the Happy Homemaker on Mary Tyler Moore show.

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I work full-time, and it makes me utterly and existentially miserable. I'm not a morning person and I most passionately loathe going to bed at nun o'clock (when I'm not sleepy) so that I can grudgingly rouse myself at chicken A.M. when every fibre of my body is manifesting its desperate need for sleep. I also loathe relying on shoddy public transport. Perhaps most comprehensibly, the fact of having to spend almost all my waking hours doing things I don't give a monkey's toss about, only because we need money, means that I have to suppress all my many interests. Now, some people derive their identity from, essentially, a job. They somehow 'are', in some fundamental way, assistant regional manager for logistical counterassessment (or whatever). There exists the idea that if one remains at home, one gives up on having an identity. But my identity is internal and inherent, and it has a lot to do with interests and activities that, sadly, can't be easily monetised (e.g. Balkan music). What work does is quite the opposite of 'giving me an identity', to wit: 'forcing me to disregard my identity'. I don't have time to compose or play music, design my own clothes and so on, because the imperative to generate income dominates every aspect of my life including when I can and can't sleep and whether I have time for a bowel movement when peristalsis raises the siren song of 'loo loo loo'. If I had the luxury of staying at home, I wouldn't 'just' be a housewife; I could finally be me. I don't think that work necessarily has to be ghastly: my husband's job, for instance, coincides with one of his main interests (biochemistry). I also understand that an income has to be found somehow, and that breadwinners may die and so on. I just simultaneously perceive the sadness of having to sell all one's time for money because of the 'just in case' (what if my husband dies etc), thereby precluding any enjoyment of the 'now'. And it's not just about being lazy and not wanting to get up in the morning: it's that when every aspect of one's life is colonised by duty because one can't afford to pay any attention to one's own desires beyond the avoidance of homelessness, one can't help wishing it weren't so. I think that feminism is about removing limits, not imposing new limits (exchanging 'you must stay at home' with 'you can't stay at home'). Not wanting to work needn't imply rejecting male-female equality; it may be a symptom of something else, such as being cursed with talents which can't be converted (easily) into legal tender, and mourning one's transformation into an obedient yes-robot who must choose not being homeless at the expense of all other forms of pleasure. Incidentally, I don't think education has to be retroactively justified by being applied to some practical end or other. One of its perfectly valid functions is to cultivate the mind, because it's there and it's curious. I happen to have three degrees including a PhD, but I didn't do these as part of a master plan to enter some particular career or other. A world where there is no such thing as learning for its own sake is a sad one indeed. Anyway, the take-home message, if any, is that the situation is, in my opinion, too complex for the implications of one's lifestyle choice to be automatically and clearly derivable from one's attitudes regarding male-female equality, and that it is simultaneously possible to perceive the practical wisdom of working and to mourn the loss of all the other aspects of oneself which have to be permanently suppressed in favour of the quest for income. Solutions may be personalised without thereby implying some archaic misogynistic horror: in my case, my husband says that since he is in fact living his dream of being a scientist while I'm giving up all my dreams to work because his dream doesn't pay enough, it makes sense that when his income is enough to support us both, I should be free to reduce my working hours and have nonzero time for something I actually like.

To me, the problem with this article seems to be the assumption that you should give up your seat at college to other people if you don't want to pursue a career. Is education only worth it if you get a high-powered job? What about learning life skills? How to run your house? Invest your money? Tutor your children? Have a successful, part-time, home business? Why is it that we place so little value on what stay at home moms provide for their families that we'd consider them unworthy of education?

I agree that some feminists, not all, have taken the rhetoric too far. No woman should feel guilty for staying at home to care for and invest in her family. An education is not a "waste" on this woman (or man for that matter - there are stay at home dads, too).

Why don't we try being true feminists and support women's choices, no matter what they are? I am ashamed that any woman would feel guilt for making the choice she feels is best for her family.

"What I find sad and depressing is that these bright young women seem to be limiting themselves so early on. Why not be idealistic and think you can have it all, at least at the starting gate?"

- I think you're missing the point of the article. This young woman doesn't WANT "it all". She has no desire for a busy career. Her dream, her passion, is to raise a family. And she feels ASHAMED to pursue her dream because of what society tells her. Tragic to see that the feminist movement has gone so far in the other direction so that it is limiting the dreams of some women.

Everyone is not going to accept you. I've been fighting what I want for a long time because a lot of people around me think I'm not doing anything. A stay at home mom is far from lazy or stupid. They are gourmet chefs, teachers, maids ,managers and students constantly learning. I had this conversation with my mother. She says she had two kids two jobs no help so I need to be as independent as her. But I'm not so what am I suppose to change who I am. I think not. I never knew my mom because she worked so much. My sister who is 5 years older than me, practically raised me. I remember my mom being too tired to hang with me. Aggravated from kids at her job and not wanting to be bothered with kids as soon as she got home. I'm not saying she was a bad mother. I solute working moms. She did what she had to do but I do not want to be like her. I am able to teach my son so much because I have time to research and put projects together. We do lots of art, we recently just made a solar system. We go to children's museums, zoos, libraries ect. My son loves books he'll have me read to him for hours. Everywhere I go people tell me my son is great "he's so sweet and well mannered" they say!. And he really is. He tells me I'm beautiful holds the door open for me. And why is he so great??? Because I'm making him what I want him to be. So I will no longer feel bad about my occupation. I love my life, I love my 4 year old gentleman and I think God is satisfied with me. If you're a good mother you're a good mother no matter what. Everyone is different follow your heart, accept yourself and love life.

I love this author's response to this topic. It was like reading my own thoughts! If you want to be a housewife, go and do that..free up some seats. Let's not try and embody the "MRS. Degree" label, shall we?

I want to be a housewife, because it makes me happy. The thought of having a happy family is gold and someday i want to turn it into reality.

"Why not be idealistic and think you can have it all, at least at the starting gate? Why not dream big when you are young?"

I used to. Then, I spent over a decade climbing a corporate ladder ringed with people who did not want me climbing it. I was bullied at every level for excelling and making the men look bad, I was sexually harassed, I was abused, I endured attempts at forcing me out, and I consistently worked twice as hard as the men for 20K less pay. The final straw came when I was forced out of a management job for earning too much money and needing my health insurance (the younger women didn't; they didn't even see the doctor).

After a degrading job search lasting almost two years, during which I was brought in for my looks and informed my duties would be limited to the secretarial. I have given up any idealism, dreams, or ambition. I hate and fear work, and want no part of it. I want to be a housewife, and if my husband dumps me when I am old, I know some great drug dealers who can help me administer a lethal opiate dose. Anything is better than going back to the old boys club and being treated like a stupid bimbo piece of meat and a slave.

I just found this post, but I respectfully disagree. Really, really, really disagree.

It looks like most of the women here are very upset but I am not sure why. I have always wanted to be a housewife but since marriage is not something you can make happen I spent my time bettering myself through a college degree. My husband actually sent me this article I guess in reminescence of our long conversations about my passion for being a housewife. I do want to have it all, a clean house, success, kids...but my success is less involved in what I do and more about who I am doing it for. I take great pride in serving my husband. I am not without skills and I do make a modest income on the side. But at the end of the day my family comes first, and my husbands career is more important to me than my own.

I feel that marriages fall apart because people ignore each other not because someone stays at home. I find that my marriage has been better since I stopped working. We are able to go on lunch dates and he loves to show me off around the office. Plus when he gets home I am well rested and the house is in order so we can do whatever he wants without him feeling stressed. Yes it has ment we have made some sacrifices to our lifestyle but what we have given up doesn't compare to what we have gained. And I still plan to someday use my college degree to show my children that an education is benefitial no matter ones choice of vocation. I really feel that when I help others to meet there goals I inadvertantly acheive my goals too.

I wish that more women would start supporting each other. It is really hard as a housewife to listen to all my family tell me how I should be working. Your choice is your choice. I think that is what feminism is really about accepting and supporting each other, we are all women. Someday you may be thankful you know that housewife she might become one of your best customers or may watch your kids when you are in a crunch. It doesn't matter what your life choice is go do it and be the best you can at it.

I agree that every mother (or father, for that matter) should have enough education and work experience to be able to support their children if need be. But to say that anyone - man or woman - can have a successful professional career and simultaneously provide their children with same quality of care as a stay-at-home is, frankly, absurd. A lot of women from the Baby Boomer generation realized that too late. I think the new generation (mine) is simply learning from their parents' mistakes.

Yes, and what happens to Molly when hubby decides to trade her in for a newer model? Let's be realisitic here ladies. In 2012, the lifelong probability of a marriage ending in divorce is 40%–50%. Plus, life is unpredictable; your husband may pass away unexpectedly. If you are a house wife with no experience in the corporate world, what will you do to support your children if there is no husband? We owe it to our children to be able to support them no matter what. One book that is amazing on this topic is "Get To Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World" by Linda R. Hirshman. My best friend gave it to me when I got pregnant and it solidified (for me) the decision to go back to work after my son was born.

Let's clear away the nonsense and be honest about the author of that article and Molly. What they were doing was the same old thing many college students do right before graduation: experiencing an old-fashioned bout of panicked cold feet about their impending entry into the "real world." Graduation is scary: No more cozy college life and routine. You worry about whether you'll be able to find a job (especially now), whether you'll have to take something lousy just to pay the bills, whether your degree is worth anything, whether you have what it takes to hack it in your chosen career (assuming you've chosen one--if all you chose is a major, it's worse), whether you can repay all those student loans. All college students go through this panic. The difference is that when male students go through it, their fantasies usually involve something like hitting the road, working odd jobs and living like a will-o'-the-wisp as they discover America, Europe, or whatever place they haven't discovered yet. Pretty soon, someone tells them (or they realize themselves) that these fantasies are just escapist nonsense, that it wouldn't be that easy or necessarily that fun to do, and they set about trying to find an entry-level door into the careers they want.

However, when female students have these fantasies, they tend to sound less like "I want to run away and join the circus or the merchant marine or become a hobo" and a lot more like "I just want to find some nice man who'll marry me and let me stay home and raise the kids while HE pays the bills so I don't have to worry about taking care of myself. I mean, gosh, isn't that how it USED to be? Wasn't that what every woman was supposed to dream of? Why shouldn't I? After all, feminism is about CHOICE, isn't it? And if I want to CHOOSE not to have to take care of myself and to let a man do it, isn't that my CHOICE?"

Yeah, sure, it's about choice. Only that poor fella working his ass off to support two adults and who knows how many kids doesn't have much of a choice, does he?

If Molly and her friend know any sensible people--and let's hope they do--one of those people will recognize this and say to them: "Not so fast, Grasshoppers. Yes, it's natural to get scared about having to go out and make a life for yourself, and fantasizing about marrying a man who'll let you be a pampered SAHM is fun, but so are fantasies about inheriting a dead relative's fortune or winning the lottery. Eventually, you have to set them aside and deal with reality. So get cracking." And they'd sigh, shrug, and start visiting some job websites. End of story.

These life decisions aren't about a moral high ground, or at least, they shouldn't be. Feminism should be about the existence of opportunities, options, and support for women to become whatever they want to become (whether that is a high-powered professional, an artist, a homemaker, etc.). Yes, there should be more support and value for those who decide to stay at home to run the house and raise children - domestic work has a deep history of being under-valued as "not real work." But that support needs to extend towards normalizing the decision for men to do the same. When the expectation, pressure, support, and recognition for men and women to stay at home is equal - that would be a major step forward. And this shift/focus is not exclusive of gains made in the workplace - progress can and should occur in all areas of society. A shifting view of gendered roles at home can have strong effects on how workplaces accommodate obligations at home, to the benefit of both men and women.

"And yes, if you must ask, I do think the Mollys of the world are squandering their privileged education. In fact, they are taking away seats from other brilliant kids who might actually need a Princeton degree to achieve their dreams."

Does a teacher need an education? If so, why doesn't a mother, who also teaches life to her kids?

You don't need education and brains to raise the next generation?

You don't need an education to raise your kids to be savvy and well-adapted?

Prof. Slaughter should teach a course at Princeton called "Life Before Feminism" where the students watch back to back episodes of Mad Men. And the chiding that feminism is about giving women the "choice" to stay home and be housewives is absurd. Fire away!

The point of the feminist movement was to allow each woman the chance to decide for herself what the definition of "all" is without being judged - by anyone.


The fact is that, thanks to the feminists, women do have choices and they have the freedom to make them for themselves. Why do we allow ourselves to fall into the anti-feminist trap of criticizing women for doing just that, or by pressuring women to value one choice over another?


Molly is a brilliant kid in her own right who earned admission to and graduation from Princeton through her talent, dedication, and hard work. She didn't take anyone's seat but the one she earned for herself for the purpose of fulfilling her own educational goals.


It's Molly's right to evaluate all of her options and make the choices that are best for her at that point in her life. She even has the right to make what she might later decide to be a wrong choice - and learn from it.


I, for one, wish her nothing but happiness.

Who has EVER had it all. Men never did, many (but not all) didn't care as much about being at home with the kids and how not being home was going to affect kids. Partially because there really wasn't any social stigma or pressure about it until recently. Even still, the pressure on men to spend time with their kids isn't near what it is for women. If men get to spend time with their kids it's special or a luxury. This even though as one commenter noted, it really has become a necessity to have a two person income for a family. I have kids and I LOVE to be with them, but I also love my job and having an identity that's separate from my kids. Men can do that and be a good dad, why is it that somehow I'm not a good mom if I don't feel like I need to be with my kids 24/7.
While I think everyone can and should make their own choices about whether to stay home or work, I also caution women against the idea that you can do that without risk. I have worked with more than one woman who never thought she would do anything but raise her kids. Then a husband asks for a divorce or dies, and the woman has to figure out how to take care of herself and her children. That is not a situation that any woman or person should find themselves in.
Ultimately, I wish we could stop speaking about working women having it "all" or not having it "all." Since it's not clear to me that there is one definition of what "all" even is. Anyone can have a career and a family, but sometimes one might require more attention than the other and its very helpful to have a partner who can really be a partner and take a share of the responsibility at home. It's not necessarily easy or perfect, but what in life is!! To me what's most important is that women are encouraged and supported in being responsible for themselves and their families and developing as a person (in motherhood and in a career) without being stigmatized. But I guess I shouldn't hold my breath...

I'm really fed up with this 'choice feminism' B.S. myself. Just because you are in possession of a vagina does not make your choices feminist. In fact, many women do their fair share to distmantle any gains made by previous and current activists and reinforce stereotypes that makes it harder for the rest of us to succeed. Lastly, I can respect or leave be the decision of someone like Molly, but I certainly can judge whether or not this sort of decision is good for the world and economy as a whole (from my individual perspective, of course). I don't know why people - especially women - are so nervous to judge. Just like eating meat makes you a bad vegetarian (or not a vegetarian, period), throwing away an education and being financially dependent on a man makes you a feminist (or not a feminist at all). That's my perspective and although each individual needs to do what is best for them, let's call it like it is.

Maybe it is selfish, but we need the best and the brightest out there in every field. If you don't believe that, you should stop seeing female doctors, relying on women in government to stand up for policies relating to your health, etc. When will women learn that if we aren't at the table, we're on the menu?

Molly's choice reflects a bigger failure here, one that won't be fixed by sitting at home unengaged in the world. It's a disappointment that someone with so much opportunity would waste it.

The author is simply engaging in lazy writing, as it is tempting for journalists to do - using cliched ideas and phrases. That's too bad, as it indicates a lack of critical thinking She's also young, which doesn't necessarily indicate a lack of maturity, but in this case is reflected in her inexperienced views.

I think that young women are having this dialogue because it is a legitimate conversation. It acknowledges that life contains many components and family is a huge part of it. That being said, I tend to agree that deciding to be a homemaker at 21 with a Princeton education seems a bit like deciding to take a trip in time machine. We shouldn't ridicule young women like Molly. Instead we should support them and get them to think about all of their interests including motherhood. She may be afraid that she will wind up 40 with a great career but unable to have children. They should continue to have the conversation and we should listen. Perhaps in the end she will get a great job, marry her sweetheart, have those children and live happily ever after. (Even in this pragmatic world there should be room for fairytales...)

Might it be the the reason Molly is whispering is not to avoid judgment by the sisterhood, but so the Ivy-league educated "college boyfriends" don't hear her? Economic reality and social equality (not necessarily feminism) have molded the views of most men as well. How many young male 20-somethings (likely raised by working mothers) are interested in marrying early to a woman who has no aspirations but to stay home and "keep" house? It puts a tremendous burden on the man to be the sole source of any possible breadwinning, and it is a quantitatively different burden than it was two generations ago. Plus, the idea of missing out on a worldly, skilled and intellectually equal life partner doesn't seem like much of a bargain for college boyfriend, either. How many women would sign up for the reverse, where she was expected to do support the family single-handedly, while her unskilled hubby stayed home and nested with no prospects of a future career? Not many people want that division of labor anymore, and I'm sure Molly knows it.

Right on, Vivia! Let those stay-at-home-mom wannabees give up their spaces at Princeton and make room for young women like my daughter, who would love a Princeton education, and, would put it to good use. Maybe you can't "have it all," but you can have some of everything.

Having a job outside the home is not a choice; it is a necessity. There is no job security in being a "homemaker" (for either men or women). Once the marriage ends, it is very difficult for the homemaker to enter the workforce or find another spouse (that will provide the same level of financial support). If being a homemaker was a good choice, more men would be doing it.

Molly and Margaret are young, and really don't yet have any idea how complicated it all is. The problems of when to have kids, who should raise them, how to move ahead in your career at the same time are real problems. Molly and Margaret just don't yet understand that staying at home and raising kids straight out of college is not a good long term solution to those problems, because it derails your career prospects later. And they are going to want careers later because they are going to want and need to make money because it isn't smart to rely on one's spouse for that because, among other things, spouses can die or divorce you. On the other hand, delaying having kids until your career is established isn't great either, and leaving your kids at home with a nanny is certainly not ideal. Don't blame Anne Marie Slaughter for Molly and Margaret's confusion. There is no perfect solution to this problem, and I think that's what Anne Marie's article said.
BTW, I went to Princeton and was in the same class as Anne Marie. I went to law school, practiced law for 10 years then had kids, stayed home with them for 7 years and then went back to work. Not a perfect solution in that it hurt my career to leave for 7 years, and in an ideal world I would have preferred to have kids in my twenties when I was younger and stronger.

In this competitive world, more and more is required just to "make it" and "keep it". If women come to decide they don't want "it", I think it's ok if they step off that path. It's a shame that organizations and men/male culture/hierarchy still make it so difficult for women to be successful that taking this radically different , and often more rewarding, path is seen as the wiser choice.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Subscribe to get The Careerist via e-mail

Enter your e-mail address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

To search across all ALM blogs, go to www.Lexis.com.