Prisms of Perception 1: Happily, Ever After – The Millennial Housewife
If I said the word ‘housewife’, the first thing that would come to mind is a woman who doesn’t work. Digging even deeper, perhaps a woman who isn’t allowed to work or bring in any finances. But maybe a housewife is a woman who doesn’t want to work outside and just wants to focus on her home? More and more women are choosing to add a modern-day twist on the 50s-originated way of living, by undertaking the role of a homemaker in their relationships and proving to be quite happy with their decision.
Before jumping in with all guns blazing saying ‘housewives don’t work’ with the assumption based on whether a woman is employed and earning an income, we can thank the Cambridge Dictionary for raining on that parade of ignorance by stating that ‘work’ is ‘any activity that requires physical or mental effort to do’. So yes, women have always worked. However, throughout the twentieth century, the US Census repeatedly recorded any woman working on family farms and agricultural land as ‘unemployed’ while men who did the same, or even less, were normally employed as farmers. All work, no pay. And no amount of dirt under the nails, milked cows and harvested grain could help fight your case.
The term ‘housewife’ was only really coined by the upper class, those who could very contently survive on a single income source. The typical life of women of the lower-class mainly consisted of work, because the choice was simply not there; the household would not be able to survive without both parties making some sort of contribution. The World Wars ignited changes that simmered right down the dynamics of the traditional household. Men went to fight, while the women had no choice but to keep both their house and also the country running in their own way by taking on professions that stood far outside their home comforts such as nursing and factory work; a social change which carried on progressing right up until this day. So much so that now up to 72% of women disagree with the superiority complex of ‘men bringing home the money’, according to BBC. Good for you girls. With several factors affecting the choice of becoming a housewife in the modern-day, and a large proportion of women now choosing to undertake both roles of the career woman and the homemaker, it’s important to consider not only the individual’s choices but also the effects of the culture they’ve been raised in.
Not all societies have managed to become as developed as the UK and the west, quite the opposite you may argue. Social status and cultural influence prevail in the lives of families in the South-eastern countries, like India, right to this very day. Let’s be honest, if a housewife were known as Griha Swamini, ‘The Lady of the House’, a title like that would have her feeling all levels of prestige. And these aren’t my words, credits to Ancient Sanskrit lexicon. But the concepts of hierarchy and status within the family remain deeply rooted in the four-thousand-year-old religion. So it did stand highly unlikely for any kind of political revolution to lead to any changes for over eighty years. That then leads on to a constant and tiring battle of keeping up appearances.
It becomes complicated when your devotion to your religion mixes with such a community-oriented culture. Few people would want to be one of the ‘modern’ ones who defy thousands of years worth of traditions which could feel like lathering up in BBQ sauce and stand in the middle of Serengeti. Out of fear of defying traditions, many women simply find themselves complying with housewife roles, just to keep the community gossip at bay, particularly in smaller, rural areas. However, levels of independence in the West remain high in comparison to the East and continue to increase, with much less focus on the traditional, ‘designated’ roles, a trend that Eastern cultures will find difficult to catch up to as long as religious and cultural influences remain dominant. Although you could argue that certain individual circumstances, such as upbringing, would give you the resources to refute such dominating influences.
Regardless of social norms, every family have their own individual thought process when raising the younger generations. If you’re raised in a well-educated family, chances are, your horizons would immediately be broadened; you’d be introduced to more opportunities and ways of life, different from the rest. But even that isn’t enough. Any level of education means almost nothing when one doesn’t possess the open-mindedness to revise and even counteract any current beliefs. When the parents have both a sound knowledge of both ends of the spectrum and have experienced it themselves, they’ll share those experiences with their children. That’s when “mum knows best” actually makes more sense because she really does in this case.
As a result, not all women in the Indian subcontinent find themselves solely accustomed to the homemaker life, with much more women in the workforce in the larger urban areas such as Delhi and Mumbai. But that’s only if you’ve been raised in the so-called ‘modernised’ cities with more women in higher education. After all, India is a big country. They are bound to be some differences across a population of a billion people. If you were born and raised in a more urbanised environment, chances are you’d follow those footsteps and make something of yourself before getting married and making a home for others. Similarly, if you were raised with a financial dependence from childhood that carried on into your adult years, then it’s more than likely that financial dependence would carry on into your married life. Money can either be the make or break here. It’s not as easy as saying “I’m moving out to university and then getting a job,” when every penny of yours comes from the Bank of Mum and Dad. At least in the UK, there are schemes such as student loans and job seeker’s allowance to help you stand on your own two feet, but in countries where the government simply can’t provide the support for your independence, it becomes a safer option to take shelter under your parents’ wing and then, a husband’s.
But what about the Eastern women that are raised in the West? Where do they end up? Housewives or career women? The answer is, they mostly end up wherever they like. Pre-generational links to the Eastern heritage paired with a Western education form the perfect lens to view the different options available. Many British girls with Eastern backgrounds still go on to become housewives, whereas many choose to pursue their careers. And let’s not forget to also raise a glass to the women who work their nine-to-five and an additional six-to-ten with the household chores. The difference is that a woman’s life is now less influenced by the people around her. And even if a woman does decide to contribute to the family through non-financial means, it’s because she’s given the right to choose; independence is encouraged. But this also encourages a stigma; a stigma attached to becoming a Western housewife. Now, for the first time, many women are shamed for actually not working. Something I never thought I’d say.
Supposedly, that’s a difference that comes with a stronger economy; everyone is expected to contribute to it. But it’s how the word ‘contribution’ is interpreted by different people that either encourages or refutes these stigmas. Whatever decision a woman makes, should be entirely her own; the issue isn’t what decision is made, the issue is whether the woman is in control of her decision and is happy. Increasing levels of education and allowing for opportunities for financial independence should be a right rather than a privilege, regardless of whether one chooses the non-financial route. So, to whoever is out there working at home, working outside the home or even working both, no matter what anyone says, you’re working very hard. Keep going.
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