Sunday, May 07, 2006

the hypocrite housewife

i read this essay in the back of my roomie's latest Time mag while taking a morning constitutional and i had a suspicion that something was wrong.

1. the whiny victim tone. sweetie, you're not a victim. the image of ms. flanagan, homey homemaker, being marched back to the protective arms of the GOP while the mean girls of the Dem party hoot bad names and vulgar gestures because ms. flanagan is a nice girl who'd rather stay home than hold a picket sign is ridiculous. from all reports, ms. flanagan is just as privileged as her husband; she is an accomplished writer who earns money with her writing, and has a staff to help her do it. how many traditional housewives get that? (and, frankly, the notion that only SHE gets to have a dead mother whom she misses desperately is sickening and offensive.)

2. the sticking up for the white male. does the White Male (as signifier) really need another apologist? really? is it stigmatizing the WM to reveal the existence of those on the outside, rather than to always cater to those on the inside with ultimate cultural privilege? (like any other upper middle class white woman, she's uncomfortable with having privilege revealed and being called out on it.) i think it's interesting that she chooses to frame her argument like this, rather than say that the Dem party has abandoned the working man - which it hasn't and she'd be hard pressed to show that it has.

or perhaps her allegation would ring truer if she wrote that the 'beer-guzzling, union-dues paying' white guy got the shit scared out of him by the GOP when 9/11 hit. rather, flanagan makes the WM a victim like herself and we all know how much they suffer, don't we?

3. she's wrong. perhaps i'm watching the wrong Democratic party but i've always felt that the party has been abject in its pursuit of the Housewife. it's women like me the party's abandoned - single women, single women of color, single working men and women. in my particular case, the post-election backpedaling on the choice issue is one such example; discussion abounded that perhaps the language of reproductive choice was too scary for those housewives living in places like naperville; it was too angry. and where are the policies that look out for the interests of the people like me in the party - people who don't live in a subdivision, people without children, but still people who work hard and believe heartily in progressive causes? instead we watch as the party fumbles for its nerve and makes concessions to those easily upset.

so if anyone is being alienated by the Dems, it's not a housewife. and it's certainly not because of contempt. to muster contempt, a party must have vast stores of anger and the GOP spits it continuously while we swallow ours and hope no one notices. We're Here, We're Square, Get Used to It -- May. 08, 2006 -- Page 1
Joan Walsh about Flanagan on the Huffington Post


joy said...

Okay she makes money while staying at home. She is still a housewife. Maybe not in the traditional sense of the 50's,but she chose to be at home, near her children. She is not playing victim, she is saying she is an odd ball to her party.
Th Democratic party does not always look favorably on the housewife role- its too Republican. The Democratic party is not into traditional family values as they claim to be. If so, G- Bush would have lost the election.

ding said...

let's do a little exegesis.

the whole premise of her book, and every article she's ever written, has been that 'traditional' 1950s-style housewives got it right. this is the model she's putting out there. so let's ask ourselves is she really the typical housewife?

ok. how many nannies does the average housewife have? how many book deals does the average housewife have hanging around? how many housekeepers do any of us have?

by her own admission, flanagan shirks housework, doesn't really cook, had full-time nannies while her children were at home before they entered school, and now that they're in school, she still has a part-time babysitter - while she's home. what's the babysitter for??

i have to agree; flanagan is no victim. she is a privileged, upper middle class, educated woman who earns her living through cultural reproduction. she is hegemony.

but her whole essay pivots around the idea that she's being 'run out' of the party. she's being picked on for being a 'housewife.' this 'traditional role' she's always blathering about is a sham.

if it's possible to be a housewife and not do a lick of actual housewifery, including childcare, then i'm a housewife.

Joy said...

Do you have a problem with her or housewives in general, Just curious.
If a woman can maintain a job by working at home so she could be near her children, regardless if she is privilage to have a nanny, so what! Mrs. Flanagan likes the traditional role of being a woman at home. The trend now is that a lot of educated women are coming home to work. Why? Remember that article written in the New York Times about Ivy League women, choosing to have children over career? Why are traditional roles so offensive? I know your single. What if that status change for you? What would you do with your kids?

ding said...

joy, i actually don't have anything against flanagan or housewives. this isn't a personal beef that i'm waging, here.

what i'm trying to talk about is cultural discourse - the discourse *around* what defines 'traditional housewife' and what enables our culture to perpetuate these pointless Mommy Wars, pitting working women against non-working women, when our interests should be allied.

(the Opt Out Phenomenon is a perfect example of this. according to those magazine and news articles we're left with the impression that droves of women are jumping off the career track to stay home with their kids, when only a small percentage of upper middle class white women are doing so. what does this tell me, as cultural critic? it tells me that our popular culture is defining 'traditional motherhood' in terms that are inherently class-based and not so 'natural', after all. left unasked are questions about WHO can afford to Opt Out? WHY are women really opting out? WHAT are the material consequences of Opting Out? WHY is this not a phenomenon with middle class women of color or women from a blue collar background? WHY are men not opting out?)

my issue with flanagan is the way she uses that discourse of traditional motherhood disingenuously - and her disingenuous shorthand gets replicated until it becomes FACT. blindly accepting certain cultural trends is a mistake, i think.

and when i mention these topics, it's never because i have an axe to grind or something pisses me off (unless i say it pisses me off.) i mention these things to discuss because i think our popular culture is based on some assumptions that need to be questioned, criticized and also analyzed. i think there's value in disassembling cultural codes.

(i was trained as a literature academic, so being ultra-critical of language, image, tone, themes, ideologies - these come naturally to me.)

Joy said...

Maybe I being naive here, Maybe?

you said "who can afford to opt out"
well, that depends on how and why your doing it?
Are you only applying that the rich and wealthy can only opt out?

You also said "what are the material consequenses for opting out? Once again, is it about the material, opting out?

Maybe in the cultures or community you mentioned, primarly minorities, they would opt out more if they understood the importance of doing it without looking at the material. Class should not stop a woman for doing it. I'm sure many could speak about this who aren't like Flanagan, but could speak about opting out. I know a few. If I was rich and African American woman who was like Flanagan,would you say the same thing that you said about Flanigan to me?

PS- Your training. Yeah I figure that about you after reading some of your writings.

ding said...

i don't mean to sound harsh, but yeah - that's naive. and that's exactly what i'm saying: opting out is only an option for those women who can afford to do so comfortably.

(we're not talking about women who've never been in the workforce, but women who were in fast-track jobs and then chose to stay home with their kids.)

their comfort derives from a material and social context that is unfamiliar and foreign to the Regular Janes out here.

we may like to discount the material conditions in which we live, but they exist. class is real, money is real. who can afford to not be aware of their material condition?

poverty exists. poor people exist. making a barely livable wage exists. not everyone lives in a 1950's middle class suburb where the father makes enough money to pay for everything while the mother stays home. not everyone makes enough money to subsist on one income. not every woman has a partner/husband to help out. these are the material conditions i'm talking about.

historically (and for the most part), women of color *worked*. why? because we had no choice in the matter. there was no sitting back to be the angel in the house; the Angel is a bourgeois myth.

but, yeah, if a woman of color said the same thing to me that flanagan wrote i'd call her out on her class privilege. why? because it *exists*.

now, if you're saying that a woman or a couple should ignore their material condition (no matter what it is) to adhere to an idea of the 'traditional' because it is 'good' or 'better' then that's...

i don't even know how that works.

Joy said...

So a woman who is well-off should feel guilty being a stay at home mom? Maybe she doesn't struggle in her finance as those who do stay home who are not well off, but should she be made to feel guilty because of her "class privalages"?

ding said...

guilt as punishment doesn't work for me. that's what popular culture wants us to do - to feel guilty for how we order our lives.

i just want us to be more aware of the different privileges we all carry so that we don't start assuming that other people have those same privileges. do i want flanagan to dump her kids at home and go to an office to work all day?

no. but i want her to be aware of the slippages in her discourse and to be aware of her own subject position when she proscribes that subject position to other women as if it's Truth. it's not truth - it's her truth that's enabled by her class, race, education and marital status.

do i want flanagan (or women like flanagan) to feel guilt? no. guilt is not productive. to be conscious of one's position and not impose it on others is the best one can do.

it's like playing a game with someone who cheats. do i want the cheater to feel guilty about her cheating? no. but i won't play that game with her and i'd show the other players how she cheated, leaving it up to them if they want to play with a cheater.

Joy said...

You think she is imposing and assuming all women are like her? Let me go back and read her articles again. I'll be back.

The issue was, that Flanagan felt that her party, the Democrats were not accepting her because she didn't fit in there mind set. She is too much like the other side, that was it, correct?

Her faults:

She is well-off, she works out of her home and she has nannies. so having all of those privileges automatically disqualifies her from speaking on the behalf of other not so privalege stay at home moms?
In other words, what does she know about the stay at home lifestyle, with all that material? She is a cheater!

Keeping this in mind and I am not taking up for her, but you did say that "guilt is what others want us to feel for how we order our lives"

ding said...

she's like oprah. (get ready; this is a long analogy.)

think about oprah. mega-rich, extremely culturally powerful- when she says she wants to catch child molesters, those child molesters are caught-and not exactly living a lifestyle that any of us understand.

yet, she has fashioned herself into the near-perfect substitute for every suburban, stay-at-home mother in america. her shows are about topics that ring very close to this demographic - domesticity, domesticity, domesticity.

when people wonder at oprah's success they discover that it's because her audience identifies with her - in effect, they're thinking 'i watch oprah because oprah understands me, understands my situation, understands who i am.'

but oprah really doesn't. what she's doing is puttng something out there into the culture that people are attracted to because it reflects back to them an image of who they think they are - or should be.

in the same way, flanagan's fault is saying that her particular situation is typical - that she is the 'typical' 'traditional' housewife. and, in her work (and her essays - do a google search to read her entire body of writing)- she makes broad claims that women would be better off if they lived their lives like she did.

she does all of this without acknowledging that her life is the product of certain things that not all of us have access to, though it might be nice if we did. what she has access to is *money.*

is flanagan living in a delusional world where she doesn't know that she's rich? no. she knows. she knows what it means to have nannies and 'help.' but she doesn't talk about it and it makes me wonder why. if she's not ignorant of her situation then why not be open about it, instead of trying to make herself seem 'regular'? what do we call it when we know something and decided to hide it, letting other people think just the opposite of what we know? that's intellectual dishonesty. that's cheating.

if she was honest she should just say what she is:

i am a very well-off woman. i have a husband who makes more than enough money to allow me to not work. i write from home because it is comfortable and clean and i have been given extremely enviable positions at major magazines and i am a success. i live a life that only 3-10% of the general population share. and now i am going to tell you why this way of life is better than anyone else's.

that would be honest. because then we could all look at her writing from the same ground. we'd recognize it and her and take it from there. we'd know the game, then.

so, again, i don't want flanagan to be guilty. i want her to be honest.

ding said...

oh, and i really appreciate this discussion, joy. i really do. we see things very differently, but you're making me think, too!

ding said...

and so here's my honesty:

i have 'help'. every month, a little cleaning lady comes by my house and cleans it. she scrubs my bathroom, the floors, loads the dishwasher, dusts every surface, and i love it. i wish my sister had a cleaning lady. it makes things so much easier. i participate in this economic exchange because i know that i can. (though not to the level that flanagan can, let's say.)

as a single north american woman with disposable income, i know that i can do this and this is my privilege.

Joy said...

Thanks for the honesty!

Orpah- She longs secretly to be a teacher, stay at home mom, and yes, even "Jesus". But she can't, so she lives her life through others.

who is not feeling guilty for being able to afford expensive shoes and clothes.

ding said...

i knew it.

we're all just our subject positions...

jesus chick said...

good grief - where have i been? this housewife stuff is right up my middle-class alley! :)
my thoughts:
i don't believe there is a "normal" housewife scenario ~ there are different situations in most family dynamics to allow a mother/woman to stay home, so what exactly is "normal"?
i have never watched an episode of oprah. couldn't tell you what channel she's on nor what time. but i read something somewhere (imagine that) where she said she enjoys being wealthy and has no guilt about her sheets (apparently these are some pretty significant sheets).
i believe i am priviliged to be able to stay at home with my children. however, i also believe i am priviliged to have shelter, food, water, a bed (without fancy sheets) etc. i even believe i'm priviliged to clean up my children's yack in the middle of the night - it gives me yet another opportunity to show them how much i love them. i'm whacked, i know. . . . but i just want to remind everyone that there are different ways to define privilege.