Years ago, when the Norwegian Artist and I decided that I would stay home and raise the kids, this was not a savvy, astute, wordly-wise, shrewd, smart decision.
Back in the 80s, when women could do anything they wanted, by gum, and do it better than any man, the only thing we couldn’t do was stay home and be a dumb housewife. (And by the way, in case you’re wondering, the Norwegian Artist wasn’t a brain surgeon, with the accompanying brain surgeon wages; for many years he was a white collar illustrator making as much, or less than, a schoolteacher. Without the pension.)
So we functioned on a mid-grade salary, and I, the dumb housewife, stretched funds, creatively shopped, and saved money to the point that we were able to purchase land in the country and build our own home, mortgage free. This, you understand, despite my being dumb. And a housewife.
We ate well, laughed a lot, homeschooled (yep, I could read, write, and add; for what it’s worth, I have a B.A. in English, but most of my knowledge is the result of lots of reading and experience), gardened, milked goats, ran various businesses out of the home, and generally lived a life of good solid work and good solid play. We didn’t own as much stuff as our contemporaries who both pursued careers, but we always had more time. There’s a trade off.
And throughout the years, the media message was pretty consistent: smart women pursued highly professional careers, and those who didn’t, found themselves unemployed and unemployable, because, being dumb housewives, they don’t know how to do anything. (Incidentally, very little was said, or is said today, of women who work non-exotic jobs to make ends meet; when women were “liberated” to become military Pentagon officials, those who worked “unskilled” jobs because they had to weren’t mentioned. Many of these jobs don’t seem very liberating, whether it’s a man or woman working them.)
Several years ago, when Grandpa was in the nursing home for dementia, he panicked around every meal time, because he was convinced that he didn’t belong there and that he would be kicked out. He hovered around the dining room, afraid to return to his room because if he did, he wouldn’t have a place at the table.
All the reassurances of the professional staff resulted in nothing. Doctors were consulted; psychological theories were discussed, but Grandpa remained adamant in his fear. And then I, the dumb housewife, had a thought:
“Why don’t you put a post-it note with his name on it on the back of his chair?” I suggested.
“Couldn’t hurt,” was the reply, and the post-it note was posted.
I wish more problems could be solved that easily. Grandpa saw the note with his name on it and gave a sigh of relief. “This is my chair,” he said to the room at large. “I’m going back to my room until lunch.”
Interestingly, several weeks later, ALL of the residents had name cards at their places. I wonder where they picked up the idea?
If I wanted to apply for a job today, I would be — according to contemporary business world acumen — completely unemployable, because I can’t do anything.
Child care worker or teacher? No, no proper background. Cook? Nah. Office staff? Not enough experience with people. Municipal clerk? Unqualified, although I’m not sure how. I am totally inept, totally incompetent, totally without anything to say about nutrition, interpersonal relations, scheduling, basic finances, writing, or ideas on how to deal with a two-year-old throwing a tantrum in the midst of a grocery store.
Because I am just a dumb housewife.
I am wondering, when will women, and men, be liberated to the point that we are judged not based upon a degree conferred or a job title pasted on a plaque, but upon actual, verifiable, real ability?
You are not your job title. You are a human being, made in the image of God, with gifts, interests, creativity, skills, and ideas, and regardless of what you do during the day, or swing shift, do not limit yourself by the limitations imposed upon you by others.
Never let anyone make you feel dumb. You’re not. If you’re afraid of writing because you’ve had bad experiences with your essay papers, please consider my book, Grammar Despair: Quick, simple solutions to problems like, “Do I say Him and Me or He and I?” There are a lot of basic writing issues, but they don’t have to be impossible to solve. Grammar Despair is available as a paperback for $8.99 or in digital format for $5.99, through Amazon.com.
Very wonderful portrait by Steve, as I have mentioned before…and Carolyn I am very moved by your paragraph about Grandpa which gives us a very clear glimpse into the scariness of Alzheimer’s:, i.e.,
“Several years ago, when Grandpa was in the nursing home for dementia, he panicked around every meal time, because he was convinced that he didn’t belong there and that he would be kicked out. He hovered around the dining room, afraid to return to his room because if he did, he wouldn’t have a place at the table.”
Do people really get to identify with family members’ life experiences when they are in busy careers with little time to spend finding out how grandpas and grandmas are seeing their changing worlds? What bothered me a lot about the radical NOW activities was how its representatives were very UN-DUMB, if you use the term in reference to the ability to speak words.
Likely you use “dumb” in the colloquial sense of stupid, or air-headed. This is a sort of bullying word, and in the first wave of feminism I sort of got the impression that the activists were calling those of us who chose homemaking as a career were stupid or air-headed. It annoyed me, especially when my perfectly sweet neighbor lady with the warmest and most authentic smile swore like a salty dog about the awful MCP’s and how much they deserved to be confronted and beaten down.
You can see I have a lot of fire in my breast (not belly, since I’m a female kind of human) about these issues, so I will (try to) bridle my tongue. But thank goodness we are not dumb. Women’s lib has opened a ton of doors, but it has left so much of the hearth deserted in the process. War is hell.
Speaking out like the great niece of an early nineteenth century feminist who took on the world as a divorcee in an age where they were still shocked to see women’s ankles!! She gave me great genes, but my family gave me healthy models of homemaking as well. We do get to choose.
Susan — media is a fascinating influence, and as long as it is behind a movement, it really doesn’t matter how big or small the movement is. So it was with the “feminist revolution.” Yes, there were things that needed to be addressed, but somehow, people like you and me, and our voices, never got heard. At least not in the mass media.
Day by day we speak as we live, and I am encouraged by the number of younger women who are choosing their own paths, many of which lead to home. The crucial thing always comes back to thinking for ourselves, and a big step toward doing that in our society is questioning what we see, hear, and are hit by on the media — newspapers, magazines, social media, cinema. Question question question.
Like you, I definitely caught the feminist message that women who stay home are dumb. Those very voices are railing at the new generation, scolding them for not marching to the workplace — the hard fought for, hallowed halls of boxstores and office cubicles, low paid positions that too many women, and men, find themselves in each day. I’m not sure where the liberation part comes in.
Also like you, I can go on and on about this! I applaud you your decision and your life.
Thank you, Kate!
It’s ironic that you should write about being a dumb housewife. I’m trying to convince possible future employers that even without a degree I’m not dumb and wouldn’t be applying for the posted position if I didn’t think I could do the job. At 57, it’s not easy to start over again.
After 28 years working in an industry predominately run by men, I managed to run an office, train two bosses, and run the warehouse facility while “they” were looking for my latest new boss. All that without a college degree, and I was good at it. The new owners did reward me by letting me go due to down-sizing at the beginning of the busiest time of the year.
I AM NOT DUMB – I just don’t have a college degree. Dammit, look past that and see what I have done. TALK TO ME! I want to shout this back at all the rejection letters because I know they are looking at the 2 things I can’t change about myself: My age and my education!
It helps to vent, and your article hit the right nerve.
Margie — it becomes increasingly obvious, as time goes on, that there are a lot of dumb employers out there, in both the public and private sector. I hear you about the degree.
If you haven’t already, take a look at the work by Steve Henderson — my Norwegian Artist — at http://www.stevehendersonfineart.com. Steve has a B.F.A. in fine art, but not the terminal M.F.A. degree. Because of this, he can’t teach at a four-year university, and many community college, because of that all important degree.
Years ago, Steve gave a workshop in which one of his students was a tenured university professor with an M.F.A., and was scheduled to teach students in a particular medium the next semester. This person had never taught (or done) this medium before, and his/her only experience with it was Steve’s workshop, which he/she said was amazingly informative. So, this person is now qualified to teach this medium — which he/she learned from Steve — at the university level, but Steve is not. All on the basis of letters after the name.
I know this journey is frustrating for you, but please, please hang on to your dignity and your self-esteem, and do not let the Establishment of Men (and Women) drive you into thinking that you are worthless because you do not fit into their system.
I don’t know where you are with God, but I know that He is right in the room with you. He doesn’t judge you based upon your age or systemized education, and He will lead you where He wants you to go, if you grab onto His hand (if you’re like me, you might be a little irritated with Him right now, but that’s okay. He’s big enough to handle that.)
Carolyn, I am holding tight to our Lord’s hand and will never let go. His strength keeps me going. I will not lose my self-esteem or dignity; no job is worth that. When the frustration builds and I have to let off steam – God directs me to the right people – today we chose you. Easter Blessings to you and your family.
Margie, it honors me to have been chosen by the two of you this time. It is a desire of my heart to be useful in this manner.
I find it comforting to know that, as tight or as loosely as I hold on to His hand, He never lets go of mine. Nor yours.
Prayers to you — you and He are walking on a narrow path, but narrow paths lead to beautfiul places. — Carolyn
Good morning Carolyn, I wanted to share a website I subscribe to for the “three minute retreat.” Today’s retreat especially is one for both you and your husband. I could not forward the site to you because I don’t know the email address here, but the site is:
http://www.loyolapress.com and search for three minute retreat. Today’s retreat is called Personal Satisfaction. I hope you have 3 minutes to listen, read, and pray.
Great post – I enjoyed reading all the responses too. It is a problem of epic proportions and years in the making. It will still take time to change it going forward but I do think the bar has been set by some very intelligent ‘housewives’ whose stories come to light and spread like wildfire. The choice of raising children is a personal one and I can only applaud those who made the choice to forgo the corporate world in exchange for family. It is tough to be all things.
You know, Lesley — I think that’s the crucial thing — it is tough to be all things. We can shout all we want that we can be anything that we want to be, or that we can have it all, but all decisions come with a price. It’s up to each of us — as individuals and families — to decide on what is best for us to do.
Exactly. Each avenue we take, we can expect the consequences of the action. The consequence of being a stay at home mom/everything that goes with it has its long term benefits as does joining the rat race. Compromise is a life sentence either way.
This is an awesome portrait. Love it!!!!!
Thank you. I rarely like pictures or images of myself, but I really do like this one. That Norwegian Artist — he’s really good at what he does. He’s done portraits of all of our children, too, and it’s a treasure capturing a moment of their childhood.
Yes, he is very good.