Recently I’ve been reading a lot of discussion based on the postmodern feminist homesteading movement. It’s been refreshing and I really wish a lot of these resources were as popular – or even existed at all – back when I was in high school. I remember telling my high school guidance counselor and my therapist at the time that I didn’t have any solid career goals – I simply wanted to be a stay-at-home mom (and a foster mom), and whatever work got me financially settled until I reached that point would do. They both responded by telling me there was something wrong with me. For a bright young woman growing up in the era of third wave feminism and attending a school that prided itself on its academic achievements, it was unheard of that I wouldn’t be excited about college and a career and using those two aspects of life to define myself. That line of thinking was reserved for the girls who had a lower GPA and perhaps were already mothers. That line of thinking was reserved for the girls who were “damaged” and would end up on welfare – something nobody in my insular community thought would manifest for me. I was destined for “success” – the kind of success that is measured by expensive, good schools and solid careers that produce money and “happiness”. But at my June 2007 high school graduation date, right before the economy tanked, nobody could predict that this kind of “success” would be hard to come by – for everyone.
I didn’t expect to become a “radical homemaker” or a “hipster housewife” because I had no other options. Did any woman in the 2k era think that? I figured I’d work a little, get married, work a little more, and then settle down, and the whole affair would be a choice. For me, though, there was no choice. Unlike the lack of choice imparted by society in the 1950’s and previous decades, the lack of choice that was fought against by second wave feminists, my lack of choice came from a disability. “Standard”, or career-focused work, was too stressful for me. And honestly? Sometimes work around the home is too stressful for me as well. But, overall, it’s considerably more manageable – and for me, much more rewarding.
I shouldn’t need outside validation to bring home the point that there isn’t anything wrong with staying home and managing affairs there – and to a certain extent, I don’t. But it’s amazing to see how the movement – if you can call it that – has grown and changed since I graduated and started trying to find my way as an adult. After the career-driven 80’s and 90’s, more millennials started adopting the attitude I had – work is not the be-all end-all to life, and there are more ways to be a contributing member of society beside bringing home a paycheck. Of course, this brings to light various racial and class inequalities – if I wasn’t engaged and co-habitating, and if I didn’t have the option of presenting this as a conscious decision my fiancée and I made (and to a certain extent, it is), then I’d be considered a welfare burden. People who come from a lower economic bracket or marginalized race have a lot more obstacles in the way of social judgment when it comes to this area as well. If the roles were reversed and my Black fiancée was the stay-at-home dog-mom and keeper of the home and I was the career woman, the judgment faced by her would be much harsher. Once you’re not white and educated, making the decision to be a homemaker is no longer deemed a conscious one by society – it’s assumed that you had no other choice. And when the element of choice is taken away, that’s when conservatives decide you have less value and deserve less rights.
I like to think of the benefits of me staying home to make sure things run smoothly. Our pets get considerably more attention than they would if we both worked outside the home. I’m able to do a lot of cooking from scratch (and would love to learn to do more), something that I can’t imagine is easily manageable for two adults who commute to a full-time job every day. And while I wouldn’t consider myself a housekeeper-grade cleaner (I actually tried to be a housekeeper once; after about an hour my boss gave me what I had earned thus far and told me to go home), the home is considerably more well-kept and we get much more downtime on the weekends than it would be otherwise.
Despite all this – the burgeoning modern movement that has captivated both liberal and conservative folx, the extensive histories of homesteading as a valuable way to make a living pre-industrialist and capitalist society, the first-person testimonies of stay-at-home moms everywhere – I still find myself having to justify my choice to anybody and everybody who asks. I recall the husband of someone I went to church with stating that he wished he had it as easy as “staying home and playing with the puppy”, while I was struggling with crate training and keeping up with the ordinary housework on top of that. Maybe managing a household is easier for neurotypical or non-disabled folx, but given that statistics show that women do most of the shopping, cooking, cleaning, and childcare for their households even when they do work outside the home, I suspect that this husband was blissfully unaware of the weight his wife had been pulling. And unless I’m adding considerable community socialization or increased DIY projects to my schedule, saying things like “Well, this week I baked bread, worked on creating a cute goal chart to help myself live more purposefully, finished my library book and cut down on the time it takes to clean the kitchen without sacrificing the quality of my work!” tends to sound… boring. Like I’m not doing anything with my life. Like I’m struggling to make myself sound interesting. The small goals and accomplishments are the ones that are the least talked about and the ones we’re the least proud of.
So while resources on homesteading and homemaking can be procured in abundance during the current economic and social climate, there’s still a change to be made regarding attitudes toward those who choose to stay home – or toward those who don’t have the luxury of choice and are making the best of things. While the work can seem daunting or a burden to those who don’t have this agency – whether we’re referencing 50’s housewives doped up on antidepressants to curb their boredom and depression or modern single parents who are struggling to provide for their children when outside childcare is inaccessible – for those who desire to work inside the home, what we do is valuable and does contribute, even if we are childless or child-free. It’s not easy, and it matters. And we matter.