So-Called 'Retro Wives' Trend Sounds Like the Same Old B.S.

Eye Roll 15

It only took getting to the the second paragraph of this New York Magazine piece titled "The Feminist Housewife" for my eyes to roll: "Women (...) are conditioned to be more patient with children, to be better multitaskers, to be more tolerant of the quotidian grind of playdates and temper tantrums."

The article focuses on the so-called "retro wife" -- the contented women who choose to leave their careers for a peaceful, satisfying life raising kids:

... what was once feminist blasphemy is now conventional wisdom: Generally speaking, mothers instinctively want to devote themselves to home more than fathers do. (...) The harried, stressed, multiarmed Kali goddess, with a laptop in one hand and homemade organic baby food in the ­other, has been replaced with a domestic Madonna, content with her choices and placid in her sphere.

Domestic Madonna? PLACID IN HER SPHERE? So, am I antifeminist if I say I can't identify with that sentiment at all?

One of the women featured in the article is described as spending "hours upon hours doing things that would make another kind of woman scream with boredom, chanting nursery rhymes and eating pretend cake beneath a giant Transformers poster."

Setting aside ALL the issues of privilege and class this article ignores, my brain kind of hitches on that particular phrase: Another kind of woman? What KIND of woman? The ... normal kind? Because every mom I know does those types of things despite the boredom that often sets in. If there's some modern parenting movement that "giving yourself over entirely to the care and feeding of your family" is the definition of having it all, I'm sorry to hear it -- because I was enjoying that whole thing where we actually felt comfortable sharing how SUCKY it can be.

I'm happy for anyone who has the luxury of choosing to stay home and truly enjoys every minute of it, but I call bullshit on -- among other things -- the idea that it's a lifestyle that comes naturally for most women. I don't love being a homemaker, I do it because that's the situation that happens to work best for our family. I do it reluctantly, to be honest. I don't feel empowered by the endless struggle to balance my freelance deadlines with child-wrangling, laundry, cleaning, and cooking -- in fact, I often feel like I'm failing on all fronts. Sometimes I think of how nice it must be for my husband to come home to a hot meal and a clean house and I'm filled with envy that I'm always the provider, never the recipient.

This doesn't feel like go-girl-power to me, and I guess it goes to show it's all in how you think of it. If you believe your ultimate fulfillment as a woman lies in managing the household, then it's true. But if you're like me, you might find yourself running the vacuum for the millionth time and thinking of that Talking Heads song: This is not my beautiful life!

In my experience, there is no such thing as having it all. In parenthood, the name of the game is compromise, and I'm one of those moms who feels like we're all healthier for having the freedom to talk about the stuff that sucks. My life at home isn't a magical dream come true -- it's an ever-changing mishmash of awesomeness and shittiness, and the only thing that seems retro about it is the notion that I'm supposed to enjoy every moment.

Which is all to say, presenting the personal preferences of these privileged women in sweeping generalizations -- or positioning them as some sort of parental ideal -- makes me a little crazy. The author herself writes of seeing the fantasyland appeal of being a happy, contented stay-home mom:

How delicious might our weeknight dinners be, how straight the part in our daughter’s hair, how much more carefree my marriage, if only I spent a fraction of the time cultivating our domestic landscape that I do at work.

Sure, because there are no downsides, right? There are no financial challenges, no feelings of inadequacy and imbalance, no isolation, no long-term career repercussions. Good for anyone who's happy staying home. But don't try to sell me the same fairy tale we were fed 50 years ago, and repackage it under the name of modern feminism.

(Interestingly, two of the woman who profiled in the piece now say they were grossly misrepresented. Not because the idea of a feminist and a homemaker can't coexist, of course -- but that the complexities of their lives were glossed over in order to fit the writer's agenda.)

What do you think about the idea of 'retro wives' being a so-called trend? Do you think the media constantly tries to put labels on lifestyles in order to stir up drama?

Image via Linda Sharps

back-to-work, time for mom


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nonmember avatar Gretta

It's silly. It seems to be just another attempt to dismiss women by painting them all with a wide brushstroke. Every woman and family is different and makes adjustments based on what's best for them all.

nonmember avatar MammaMel

I think you are being overly-judgemental (jealous?) of how other people choose to parent. If I could I would do this in a HEARTBEAT instead of working full time. Maybe it's time that wome are allowed to do whatever they want. I think the TRUE feminist would respect that women can
CHOOSE to do whatever they want - isn't that the idea of the women's movement? That women can do ANYTHING, even YES be a retro wife if it's what they want.

eupeptic eupeptic

Linda, I'd like to point out the book series Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch as well as the book A Course in Miracles (which is long but you can read only the parts that look interesting to you). The reason I am making these suggestions are because you have the attitude that life is unpleasant and you have yet to see how you can change your attitudes towards life which would result in you being happy and content with life. These books give you advice on how to accomplish that.

As a kid my mother had an outlook that was similar to yours - negative, judgmental, intolerant of things that didn't go her way (or somewhat controlling), etc. Throughout the past 2 decades she's focused a good amount of her time and energy on learning spiritual ways of life and she's become a much happier woman who's a joy to be around (as a kid I feared my mother's presence rather than enjoyed her being around simply because she was never happy and could never be satisfied by anything). I mention this because if you focus on improving yourself spiritually (as my mom has) then that will lead to more love and joy in life for yourself, your kids, and your husband.

The short description of what the books above teach and provide techniques on how to accomplish is acceptance, forgiveness, and being non-judgmental. This leads towards greater enlightenment of ourselves. And becoming more enlightened is one of our goals in life quite simply because life is meant to be enjoyed.

mande... manderspanders

Eupeptic, for as strange as I think some of your ideas are at times, I do think you are right... Overall, a big thing lacking in modern society, with "modern" women IS acceptance, among other things.  Too often women are looking at what they don't have and lamenting that so-and-so "has it all", even though that is an illusion. 

I think overall, women need to accept that they really can't have it all - you can't give 100% to a career and 100% to your marriage AND 100% to your kids.  BUT THAT'S OK.  It's about finding the balance, being able to accept your life and create your path to the balance that allows you to be at peace with what you have.  Going through life being bitter, resentful, judgmental, and stressed doesn't make for a life well lived at all; and I see waaaayyy too many women who just don't get it.  It starts with *yourself*.... if you want life to be different, then you start with you and stop worrying about what other women are doing or aren't doing.

nonmember avatar Sally

I just recently finished getting my degree (which going to school full-time felt like having a job without the pay, given that I still juggled the majority of the domestic duties) and I thrived as a full-time student/mother/wife. Now that I'm done and am staying home full-time until I find work, I feel like ripping my hair out on a daily basis, while friends of mine who stay at home with their children absolutely adore it. The media doesn't seem able to comprehend that there is no one single parenting norm, and that most moms choose the path that works best for their families. By the way I love the Talking Heads reference, that song has been running through my head lately.

Katy Khan

Well , I AM a stay at home mom feminist. I love taking care of my house and my family, it's very fulfilling. We are financially stable though so that stress that is so big in so many peoples lives doesn't exist for us but even back when it was, I still loved making dinner and homemade bread and my husbands favorite cookies and ironing his shirts and such. I think the author is wrong when she implies most women aren't happy with that life. I think lots and lots of women would love that while I also know a few who would pull their hair out if they didn't have a job outside the home. 

fleur... fleurdelys3110


1 second ago

The idea of feminism means that women can do whatever they want without be judged. Different dynamics work for different women and for different families. I know that I would NEVER be content to be a stay at home mother. I am too selfish, impatient, and driven in my career goals to ever give it up. While that may make me look bad in the eyes of some other women, I really don't care because it's my life. I admit that freely and I am not ashamed of it. My boyfriend on the other hand (who I will marry in a few years), is much more nurturing, patient, and domestic than I am. He can cook, clean, and do laundry, all of which I suck at. Therefore, it would make more sense for him to be the primary caregiver to any children. In other households, the dynamics could very well be switched. The point of this extensive diatribe was basically say "hey, whatever works!"

nonmember avatar Shannon

I think you are just trying to stir up drama. Linda, you are stressed out because you are not truly a SAHM. You have outside employment. You believe these women are nuts because you are not in their shoes. Being a SAHM is NOT a luxury to some, it's a necessity that they sacrifice for BIG TIME by living a frugal lifestyle. But I guess that's inconceivable for a women to do anything completely selfless for her family --- because for women like you, it's all about, "Is this fulfilling ME?"

nonmember avatar NoWay

I always wanted to be a "housewife" and "SAHM" ... alas ... I was never in a that situation. I get so upset with the SAHM's who complain about not having a job while I wanted nothing more than to be able to stay home with my babies. Such is life, I suppose. :)

MrsRo... MrsRoberts413

Okay, so the main point of feminism is that women have the same rights as men, including the right to CHOOSE what they do with their lives.  If a woman CHOOSES to become a homemaker, there is nothing inherently antifeminist about that, so long as it was her CHOICE. If that's your chosen route and makes you happy, good for you!  If you choose a career path or a path that includes both work and homemaking, just as good for you!  Geez!

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