Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Secret Lives of Housewives

I graduated college at a pretty young age, nineteen, and have basically been working ever since then. Except for brief periods of unemployment lasting a few weeks here and there, I've been very fortunate about getting work. I've never really had long stretches of time where my life was completely my own. I've always been in some sort of structured, scheduled environment. Even when I was working for myself, I was rigorous about my schedule and very disciplined about my work routines.

I recently moved to an Out-of-Town (read: not in New York) community where the job market in my field is horrific. Absolutely sucky. I've been here about three months and outside of a few meager freelance projects, I've had no work. Realistically, my prospects of getting a position in the next few months are rather bleak. Yup. My husband is supporting me.

I'm going to say those words again.

My husband is supporting me. My husband is supporting me. My husband is supporting me.

For some reason, it's hard to get those words out. I feel weird and conflicted and guilty about not working. We don't have kids (yet). I'm very good at my profession and have high-income earning potential. We really need the money. There's not a whole lot to do around the house. Well, there's always something, but it's mostly mind-numbing drudgery. When I say mind-numbing drudgery, I'm not speaking in hyperbole. I could fill up my day with mind-numbing drudgery, like reducing the endless piles of laundry that scream at me from the kitchen (Sort me! Sort me!), or space-bagging the overflow of the linen closets, or organizing and re-organizing the "Costco shelf" in the garage. There are the trips to pick up The Husband's dry-cleaning, or buying things we need at Walmart or at Bed, Bath & Beyond. I could spend hours trolling Bed, Bath & Beyond, clutching my 20% off coupons that never expire (never!), feeling my brain cells jumping ship as I think to myself "lemon we need a lemon zester? Have I been wanting to zest lemons recently?"

There is a lot of that sort of stuff in my life right now. But there's also more meaningful things to do. I'm back in the Jewish community here and I've firmly re-entrenched myself in volunteer work. I'm on the board of an organization that I care about, I teach the occasional class here and there, and I'm doing a few hours a week at the kosher food bank. I'm raising money for one of the schools here. I'm making meals for people who have just come back from the hospital.

I'm bored. I'm so bored I could cry. Actually, I have cried, quite a lot. Twice I cried really bad. The Husband wasn't quite sure what to do with me.

I'm not sure why I'm not enjoying this more. There is something about waking up and kissing your spouse goodbye as he toddles off to work and having the whole day yawn wide in front of you that is utterly depressing.

I have friends who are housewives who are bright, capable women, and they are exhausted all the time. Why are they exhausted? What are these secret lives that they lead that make them tired and fulfill them as my work used to do for me? And as I reluctantly embrace my unemployment, how do I access that feeling that I am doing something useful and good even though I'm not working?

Let me explain right off that I don't have a feminist bone in my body. I'm comfortable and secure with the gender role-oriented aspects of modern Orthodox Judaism and always have been. This is not me trying to prove something or trying to compete in some way. I just want to work.

I just want to work.

I know it would be different if we had kids to raise. But right now, we don't. And I don't know where to put myself. I can't do another Walmart run. I can't even look at the washing machine. I don't want to make any more stuffed cabbage and I don't want to vacuum. I don't want to make packages at the food bank. I want to work.

And while I'm ranting on about the joys of housewifery, let me say some particularly unpeecee things about househusbandry. We have these friends from shul, a young couple, who are very young and stupid. She works, he stays home with their baby. I have to say, (and I know I'm going to get flamed for this but whatever) I have never known a guy who was a "househusband" who wasn't a little strange. Granted, I've only known four couples where this is the case, but thinking about these men, they are all either 1) too lazy and unmotivated to pursue a career or 2) trying to prove some social feminist point that no one really gives a damn about anyway or 3) equipped with a history of mental illness. Seriously. I know there are statistics and studies etc. that bear out that househusbandry is perfectly normal and productive and okay, but I've yet to encounter this sort of setup where the players are not, well, weird. And frankly, some of their kids turn out even weirder.

Ok, back to me. I woke up at 7am today and made my husband breakfast and then spent 8am-9am in bed with a good library book. At 9am I got dressed (no sweats, I will not wear sweats, no I will not) and headed down to Walgreen's to pick up bandaids and shampoo. At 9:25am, I sobbed silently in my car, just for a few minutes. At 9:45am, I sat down at my computer to blog about it. And so it goes. Tomorrow I will do it all over again, different episode, same show.

I'm not cut out for the housewife gig, I think. I'm just not.


AJ said...

Well, you could always get obsessed with a TV show. Maybe this is the time to watch the first 5 seasons of "Lost" in 5 weeks. I know I've had DVD marathons of Prison Break's first two seasons, and the first two season of Alias are good. (I stopped watching after that.) And I've heard that "Heroes," "Mad Men," and "Battlestar Gallactica" are all pretty good.

WebGirl said...

That is so never going to happen. That's just not in my personality.

Anonymous said...

"Let me explain right off that I don't have a feminist bone in my body. I'm comfortable and secure with the gender role-oriented aspects of modern Orthodox Judaism and always have been. This is not me trying to prove something or trying to compete in some way. I just want to work."

Hate to break it to you, but I think you just found your 'feminist bone'.

WebGirl said...

No I didn't. I don't want to work because I want to make some feminist statement. If I had a kid, I'd probably love to be home. I want to work because my brain has nothing to do.

A said...

Anonymous is right. Feminism isn't about making statements, it's about not being locked into the typical gender defining role, it's about doing what you want to do, be it work or stay at home. Oh yeah, plus all that stuff about equal pay for equal work.

WebGirl said...

No, it's not. Not modern feminism. Maybe the original feminist agenda was about that, but the world has shifted.

Abandoning Eden said...

Feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal opportunities to work or to stay home. Yes, your belief that stay at home dads are all a little weird is against feminist principles (and a bit insulting to me, given that I have a househusband for the same reason you are a now a housewife- prolonged unemployment and a horrible job market). But your desire to work and not be a housewife is totally in keeping with them.

Feminism is about having the option to work if you want to work, and not having to be a housewife because of your gender. Yes there are stupid feminists who do things for stupid principles (I think of them as 'nose ring feminists' cause they tend to have nose rings) but for the vast majority of people in the feminist movement it is just about having options and not having your gender be your destiny.

For me that means women can work, or can be a stay at home mom or housewife, and that men can do the same. I'm proud to be the breadwinner in my family, and proud that I have a great career and that what I earn is enough to support both of us(with benefits!) :)

WebGirl said...

AE, didn't mean to insult B, and not knowing him at all, I'm sure B is a normal, sane, ambitious, industrious guy. My assumptions about househusbands are based on the four I know. Actually, I thought one was almost normal, and then I got into a conversation with him where he told me about his suicide attempt when he was younger. Yeah. Then he proceeded to tell me about his long history of mental illness and how it's wrapped up with his general attitude of entitlement.

If B. is a househusband because he is knocking himself out trying to get a job and failing because of the crummy economy, in my book, he's not a househusband, or at least, he's only a temporary one. He's unemployed in a two-income family, same as me.

I actually do think your gender dictates much of your destiny.

I'm grateful for the early feminists that sacrificed so that I could vote, go to college, work etc. I think they were truly noble. But somewhere along the way, the message of equality got distorted. The feminists of today (maybe the ones with noserings, as you said) are militant, angry, and I think they don't like themselves. I remember an incident in college (and we're talking the mid-eighties here) where a group of them insisted that the dorm bathrooms on our floor go co-ed. It was a nightmare. And don't even get me started on religious feminists.

This is a blog post on to itself, and maybe we can even do one together with opposing points of view.;) I have strong feelings about feminism, and I think modern feminists and their agenda are responsible for invoking much of the misogyny that exists today.