PODIUM

Housewives are people too!

Sondra Gotlieb February 1 1982
PODIUM

Housewives are people too!

Sondra Gotlieb February 1 1982

Housewives are people too!

PODIUM

Sondra Gotlieb

Loyal wives, whether they are married to politicians, diplomats or coal miners, have become the lepers of our society. The women’s movement and glossy fashion magazines accuse loyal wives of living vicariously and of not conforming to the “correct” image of the new “Dream Woman.” Yet Dream Woman is no more than an invention of the advertising types of Madison Avenue, pandering to the fantasies of naïve feminists. What’s wrong with cleaning your husband’s bathtub? Coal miners’ wives do it as a matter of habit. Or of scheming and plotting to help your husband’s career? Loving political wives have no qualms about it. By contrast, that repellent creature, the Virginia Slims “You’ve come a long way, baby” woman, has abandoned her mops, cleansers and brutish husband, and is now the president of a mining and smelting company.

She might clean the bathtub of her coal miner lover as an erotic exercise, once, but she knows that sexual titillation would utterly vanish if removing his coal grime were to become her daily chore. At one time she might have been called selfish, but not today.

Women who appear to subordinate their personal fulfillment because they have no careers are made to feel half human by the propaganda of the women’s liberation movement and the media. Yet the support and stability they offer their families cannot be understated. A friend of mine, whose husband is one of the most successful men in his field, is alarmed at the inevitable cocktailparty question: “And what do you do?” “I’m so and so’s wife,” she responds, as her companion quickly turns away. “If only I could say that I’m a truss manufacturer,” she complains, “then I’d be fascinating to talk to.” Nancy Reagan is criticized by the media because she’s ambitious for her husband and likes pretty clothes. Ironically, though, we never criticize a well-dressed career woman who determinedly furthers her own ambition. Pushy wives and mothers are out. Assertive working women in Faye Dunaway crepe-de-chine blouses are in.

These days the assertive working woman is not only the role model of feminist magazines like Ms. and glossies like Cosmopolitan, but, distressingly, she has become the sweetheart of such Canadian homemakers’ institutions as Chatelaine. Whereas Chatelaine used to dedicate its editorial to “Perfect Domestic Bliss”—remember that wife with seven children who canned chickens the same day she cheerfully entertained her husband’s boss at dinner—the magazine nowadays has banished this domestic wizard from its pages. A single issue (October, 1981) features three articles about Chatelaine’s new ideal woman—The Mover and Shaker— and her career-minded sisters. She’s a woman doctor interested in varicose veins; her sisters are “women in pharmacy” and “bright new women artists.” How can Chatelaine’s editors ignore that about 50 per cent of Canadian women are still homemakers? At that, it is my understanding that a good portion of the women who claim to be wage earn-

ers work for as little as six weeks a year. In a 1980 U.S. Gallup poll, three women in four indicated that marriage and children were still essential ingredients of the ideal life. Why are their interests and concerns not reflected in our media?

Don’t misunderstand me—I am not against equal rights for women. If a woman wants to become a high flyer in the corporate world or bottom drill in a coal mine, she should have the same opportunity as a man. But I can’t understand why feminists worship the 20th-century work world of men. Daily work from nine till late becomes a treadmill. And from my experience, most businessmen, public servants, politicians and truss manufacturers think and talk exclusively about their own narrow concerns. Their conversation consists of, “my latest deal,” “my new promotion,” “my importance to the voters ” and “why my trusses are better than the competition’s.” It’s all narcissism and fatuous egotism. I’d

rather talk to their wives, who know how to listen and who are capable of laughing at themselves.

During those years I discovered that women whose sense of self-value did not feel threatened because they had chosen to stay at home are natural givers. They have time to give to their families, their friends, and they can take on a multitude of worthwhile volunteer activities. I can’t help but feel that if every woman had a full-time paying job, both women as individuals and society in general would be shortchanged. Whether it be helping in the hospitals, raising money for the arts or medical research, or even reading a book or giving a party—all are activities that contribute to a civilized society. As Barbara Grizzuti Harrison wrote in the October issue of Harper's, “If the real work of the world is that which extends into the future, that which is not ephemeral, and that which sustains life, we are talking about poetry, and bread and babies.” Caring for a family is not ephemeral, but lasting work. Women who deliberately stay at home for reasons of the heart are certainly as liberated as the movers and shakers. It’s time they stopped feeling debased by the media or the ideologues of the women’s movement.

Sondra Gotlieb is an author and the wife of Canada’s new ambassador to Washington.

I consider myself an “appendage” wife. I married at 18 with no thought of becoming anything but a wife and mother. While raising my three children, it never occurred to me that I was an inferior species of female because I didn’t have a paying job. I was lucky. Dream Woman had not yet been invented to make me feel guilty and diminished. My hus^'band did not clean out bathtubs, or even enter the kitchen—the sight of raw ^chicken legs lying on the counter makes him feel queasy—

yet this was never a contentious issue in our marriage. After my youngest child was at school full time, I found that I had time to take up writing. But I always planned my work around my husband’s hectic schedule, for too much emphasis on my “freedom” might threaten something enduring in our lives—the fact that marriage and family come first.