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

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