Wednesday, August 09, 2006

 
So I come home from my long hard day at the office, and I discover Antiprince and AdequateDer arguing over The Political Compass Questionnaire - as I walk in the door I find them locked in mortal combat over the following question:

"Mothers may have careers, but their first duty is to be homemakers."

I could not have been more surprised if I had caught them wearing brassieres on their heads trying to resurrect Ronald Reagan with a TRS-80 and a set of jumper cables.

It's pretty surprising - I mean, if the Tucker Maxes and Joe Francises of the world are an accurate indicator of what men do all day, one certainly doesn't expect to come upon two bleary-eyed stoner boys vociferously debating central questions of feminism. The fact that there was dissent on the question at all was intriguing enough on its face, but the depth and breadth to which they explored the nuances of the question was really remarkable.

Both guys responded strongly to aspects of the question that truthfully hadn't even occurred to me.

AdequateDer disagreed with the statement, saying that a woman, even a woman with children, need not consider herself primarily a housekeeper - in fact should not, as such restrictive pigeonholing could prove detrimental to the survival of her family (such as in cases where a woman is a single parent) and to her own mental health.

This led to much discussion as to whether a homemaker was the same as a housekeeper, and whether the term "housekeeper" was pejorative.

My husband Antiprince took a different view. He agreed with the statement (quel horreur!) - but he read the statement very differently. He read the statement as:

"Mothers (female adults who are parents)
may have careers (owe allegiance to businesses and workplaces),
but their first duty (trumping their allegiance to businesses and workplaces)
is to be homemakers (to establish an environment where family members can blossom and thrive)."

He further elaborated that male adults who are parents also have a primary obligation to their families over any other obligation.

Myself, I disagreed with the statement, but that may be simply because I come from a long line of legendary household slackasses, and I interpreted "homemaker" to mean "housekeeper."

But the question really became "what makes a 'home'?" Antiprince thinks that "home" is not necessarily a location, but a concept, a state of mind, and that it is the obligation of both parents to firmly establish this concept, whether a family lives in a palatial tuscan-style villa or a traveling circus tent.

We all eventually came to the conclusion that the question was sort of like a Rorschach test, our answers being more useful for what they revealed about us than anything. For my own part, I'm pretty sure our opinions on the subject say more about our own individual mother-related baggage than our feelings on the politics of motherhood.

In the end, we all thought it would be interesting to open it up for wider debate.

Is either analysis more sexist, or less sexist, than the other?

And what makes a home, anyway? Clean dishes? Polished furniture? Love?

Is "housekeeper" a pejorative term?

Any thoughts?

Comments:
one thing is clear, none of you are feminists. why ask!?

:)

i would say that, as it stands, it's just sexist any way you look at it -- because it singles out mothers. if it said parents, different story WRT antiprince's response.

but then there is the problem that so many of us face as, especially, single moms: to what extent have I failed to provide a home if I can't provide the basics?

i'll tell ya, when economic circumstances prevented me from provided my son with at least a comm. college education, and I knew there was no way in hell it would happen soon that I could afford this, I very seriously and quite astonishing very cool and calmly contemplated suicide as the best solution since at least he would get social security income.

i had so seriously also accepted not just the role of homemaker -- which I take quite seriously because that home thing is big with me -- but i'd also come to see myself as the breadwinner such that the two were inseparable.

this has much to do with being so poor that any thing you can give your child, in addition to the love, became utterly meaningful.

once, when I got enough money to afford the luxury of buying him marked down shirts at target, i'd find myself sneaking off to the store to buy the shirt, maybe some M and Ms on sale, a tootbrush that wasn't the cheapest thing, the cologne he liked or whatever. I'd put them in a basket or some dork thing and have them there for him whenhe woke up for school.

Oh, the joy to give him what had always had to be denied.

And when things went to hell and I couldn't do that, I seriously did not want to live any more.

I got over it, of course. But boy, I have a newfound understanding fo the agony men who identify as breadwinners go through when they can't win the bread I knew abstractly, now I know in my gut.

what does this mean. no idea. exccept that the opposition between the two is only an opposition in _this_ society.
 
Meh, I call someone, male, female, whatever, who puts their kids first a good damn parent. Not enough of those in the world. But I do think "at home parent" or "homemaker" sounds better than housekeeper...probably simply because in hotels and such, the "cleaning staff" is called housekeeping, and there is more to "keeping a whole home" than cleaning.
 
The statement as it's framed is sexist, if only because of the baggage that comes along with placing those words in proximity to each other (though various interpretations of agreement or disagreement with it may or may not be sexist, as we have seen). Mostly, yeah: Why single out "mothers"?

(Not that I don't have my own set of squicks and hot-buttons for this anyway. To say that the healthiest thing my father contributed to my personhood was a well-timed orgasm is an exaggeration, but not much of one.)

Anyway, I thought of reframing the question as "Parents may have careers, but their first duty is to their family," but that's too narrow for my taste too, cranky subversive anarchist-sympathizer that I am. So:

People may have careers, but their first duty is to their loved ones.

Let's see if that kicks the perspective up a level.
 
I may have been bleary-eyed, but I was not stoned...at that moment.

See, I'm with Dan- and I do remember letting slip the idea that by stating the question as "Mothers...," to the exclusion of the father, couldn't allow for a complete answer and thus did smack of pigeonholing.

In my own case, my father left my mother with no alternative but to return home with two kids(one unborn- yours truly)to raise by herself while taking care of her father and her stroke-ridden mother. It drove her into the ground, eventually. Relatively she is well now but I can't help thinking had she pursued her career of choice(museum curator- she studied Classical Civ. at NYU in the late 60's- chilled with Ferlinghetti and shit)she'd be a lot happier than she is now.

I'm no feminist, I'm a Red Sox fan! And they suck!
 
In all fairness to my mom, for a time I'm sure finishing school would have been nearly impossible. By the time I was in my teens she could have finished her B. of Arts; she was nearly done with her undergrad. I asked her repeatedly about it, encouragingly. Over time I came to realize she suffered such a catastrophic heartbreak that she accepted the home as a prison for failures. She has few if any friends, she does little with her time but work. Growing up, seeing this, the home felt like the left-hand path at the Day of Reckoning in the Game of Life(MB, y'alls!), and I spend as little time there as possible.

I guess that whole kit and kaboodle supports AP's assessment that the question is a Rohrschachamabob each individual paints his/her own experiences over.
 
I am regarded as the Great Satan (which yes, I kind of enjoy even if the Great part is a bit much). Not because I consistently provide my daughter a safe, stable and supportive home, or because I'm jacked on making sure she eats well, is engaged in school and gets plenty of time to do stupid kids tricks with her friends. And it's not because I am fortunate enough to be able to provide her with these things in addition to the requisite and all-important love. I am a bad person because I am a person. I like to travel sans bebe. If this were to compromise her standard of living, I simply wouldn't do it. Once or twice a year if I am lucky, I'll leave her in the care of her extended family for two weeks to go about fulfilling my life beyond the scope of the parent-child relationship. I'm still shocked that people regard this a hair short of child abandonment and call it selfish. Do they believe that compromising myself -you know, hopes, goals, life experiences, freedom, adulthood - is going to make me better suited to do all the things I already do? It's a slap in the face to bleed for this child, doing everything I can and then some, to then be told any attention taken from it is detrimental to her. Housekeeper is absolutely a pejorative term.
 
What They All Said wrt: why single out mothers.

Hell, just for a giggle, why not rephrase it and single out -father?- See what kind of response you get.
 
the statement (whether one agreed or disagreed, and how strongly) was apparently supposed to say something about one's political leanings.

notably, there was no "neutral" choice. one had to agree, agree strongly, disagree or disagree strongly.

FWIW, all three of us wound up in the lower left quadrant, slightly further left than Gandhi.

But of all the statements in that quiz, this was the one that caused the most discussion between the fellows. I thought that was interesting.
 
What makes a home? The people who share the space. I dont think simply if the mother was home simply makes the family better. Its not only how often she is home, its how she interacts with her family when she is.
And for arguments sake, why does ALL the burden have to fall on the mothers shoulders ?
 
"It's a slap in the face to bleed for this child, doing everything I can and then some, to then be told any attention taken from it is detrimental to her."

Oooh... I need to show this to my partner, as I think it's something I've been trying to make her really, really believe. She spends most of the day with The Boy, and only recently felt like she could go back to work. This is due in no small part to the expectations she was raised with, very blatant, etc., but she was all the same very glad to go back to work, because she felt like her world had completely collapsed until it was all Sesame Street and Dora, until she felt like she couldn't even take to adults anymore. But after about a week back at work, she just started crying one night and saying she felt like a bad mother, worst mother ever. Even though she still spends 16 hours a day with The Boy to my 8. I cannot convince her that this is just not the case. I cannot convince her that there is no reason in the universe for her to feel bad about feeling 'relieved' when she gets time away from The Boy, in any context. The thing is, nobody has actually said that to her except her ex, and she takes him seriously on none of his other bullshit but that. I mean, if the term 'homemaker' is serving the ends of the socialization that makes her feel like complete shit for not being tied to her child 24/7, then yes, very perjorative.
 
There's a difference between "your children are a high priority" and "being a parent means you're not entitled to a life." One of the marks of male privelege is that fathers get to assume that the difference is there, while mothers, often, don't.

(And I'm thinking, too, how "But think of the children!" has been a nasty weapon in anti-progressive rhetoric for a while now, and how that possibly plays on mothering shame and guilt and uncertainty.)
 
On a related note, have y'all seen Ilyka damen's post on the "mommybloggers"?

http://ilykadamen.blogspot.com/2006/08/mommy-bloggers-and-hating-of-them.html

yeah, I like that political compass test too, although some of the questions i had trouble with the framing. but yeah, lower left quadrant. interesting to note that all the major Dem candidates except Kucinich end up upper right, albeit pretty close to the center at least in some cases.

and that GW Bush is farther to the right than Hitler, although of course lower on the authoritarian end..

...which as far as I'm concerned says more about the boy's lack of ambition than it does any more leaning toward "live and let live."
 
As a homemaker, 'housekeeper' falls into my job description, as does counselor, chef, dogwalker, medic, and conversationalist. I don't have a job outside that. Between my husband and i, we have a division of labor that is equivalent but not equal. I do what I do for the benefit of our kids (I'm home when they're sick, I'm as the schools sometime, etc). There are times I would LOVE to have an outside job, and have taken one, but I am a lazy bird, and an uneducated one, and being a homemaker/housewife/housekeeper satisfies my desire to stay in my bathrobe as long as I want (Viva la Schoolbuses!). Someone called me a prostitute once, because I do this.
 
I like this post.

And anti-prince has a point. Let me pose it in a different way.

When I was 3 months pregnant with my son, I had a serious medical situation that required me to be on bedrest for 3 months until a surgery could be performed. The doctor would not allow me to work (though out of my own hard headedness and o/c tendencies, i worked from home, anyway). When I went into work to break the news to my Lieutenant (I worked for a large metro gang enforcement unit), he said the following:

"DO what you need to do, we'll help you through this, your family WILL ALWAYS BE more important than this job."

When the guys were out on the streets performing enforcement duties, one of the key aspects of their work was this premise:

"Do whatever you need to do to go home safe to your family after shift."

I had come to the job from a "liberal" social services agency that required me to travel well past the time when the doctor wanted me to limit it in order to keep my job. Literally, I was on the road for two weeks at a time until my 38th week of pregnancy.

That last trip, I had to wear flipflops because my feet and legs were so swollen that none of my shoes would fit.

I found it ironic and humorous that such a bastion of testosterone as a police agency would put greater importance on taking care of family than an agency with an extremely liberal agenda.

I must admit that I find the terms home-maker and housekeeper cringe-worthy, though, perhaps because homemaker was so often used as a club to beat me into guilty submission when I was still a believer (and a working mom).
 
and this, my friends, is why this mouse shall never breed
 
sooper:

It sounds pretty grim, doesn't it?

But I will tell you that I have never felt more powerful or content as a woman than at the precise moment I gave birth to my daughter. I was totally amazed at the power and grace of my body, its capacity to create the miraculous, its incredibly cunning design.

For a long time, i wished I were a man...I grew up in a man's world, and there were so many obstacles put in front of me. I thought life would be easier with a penis.

From the moment I gave birth, I never regretted my womanhood again.

And, my daughter is cool as hell.

Anyway, Anti, I think your hubby was expressing the same concept as my lieutenant...that family and the people we love will ALWAYS be more important than work. I love what I do, and to some degree it defines me, but my kids will always the priority.
 
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