I haven’t worked outside the home in more than three years. The closest thing I have to an office is a laundry room, where I can hide for a few minutes of quiet as well as a Hershey’s Kiss or two. The only performance reviews I get are each night at dinner while I wait to see if my 3-year-olds will eat what I’ve prepared. Most would probably refer to me as a stay-at-home mom or perhaps even a housewife. And I am indeed those things. The word I most use to describe myself (besides mom, wife and devoted fan of Broadway musicals) is “feminist.”
Before I became a mom, I practiced as a divorce attorney and worked as a courtroom clerk. While I absolutely loved the work and was proud of myself for getting to where I was, being a lawyer was the point in my life where I felt the least like a feminist. I worked alongside mainly men, the vast majority of whom went out of their way to make me feel inferior because of my gender.
I dealt with bosses who requested frequent back rubs and asked me to feel their biceps, and opposing counsel who told me the only reason he advised his client to come to an agreement was because my blond hair reminded him of his wife. Even though I had the same education as these men, passed the same bar exam and, in some cases, had a better court record, they still refused to treat me as an equal.
Even including the bodily fluids I deal with on the regular, as a mom to twin 3-year-olds, I’m still treated better in my current role than in my old one. The fact that I happen to fold his underwear for him doesn’t make my husband respect me any less, nor does it shift the balance of power in the relationship to his favor. It’s true that he files his taxes as head of household, but he still treats me as his equal. In fact, on the days when I can’t keep up with everything around the house and ask him to pitch in by grabbing a broom or making some pasta, he’s more than happy to do as I ask, so if anyone’s subservient here, it’s him, not me.
I know part of the feminist movement is about gender equality, and therefore from the outside it hardly seems fair that I’m the only adult in the household who worries about things like changing the sheets or whether we have milk in the fridge. But I consider myself a practical person as well as a feminist, and taking on the lion’s share of the household duties makes good sense from a logistical standpoint for my family.
My husband works outside the house; I don’t. We don’t have the funds to hire help that will cook and clean for us, and someone’s got to do it, because takeout every night and buying new socks when you run out of clean ones gets expensive quick. It’s just simple math that, as the one who’s home more, doing the things that need doing around the house falls on me.
More important, I like cooking and cleaning. I get satisfaction from crossing items off my cleaning chart and knowing I didn’t miss any spots when mopping the floor. My kids have typical toddler palates, and whenever I can get them to try a new food, the victory is just as sweet as when I won a motion in court. Plus, feminist or not, I was raised in an Italian-American family, and we take pride in the meals we make. If feminism is about empowering women to do what makes them happy and allowing them to make their own choices, then I am rocking being a feminist, apron and all.
I’ll admit that when I first made the choice to stay home, I wondered what type of message I was sending my sons. I grew up with a single mom who worked both a full-time job and part time as a fitness instructor, and seeing her example definitely rubbed off on me. I don’t want my boys to grow up thinking a woman’s role is in the kitchen and that they shouldn’t have to help out around the house just because their dad doesn’t always.
However, making the choice to stay home in and of itself is a feminist act, and I’ll make sure my boys understand that. I also plan to teach them how to do their own laundry, clean up after themselves and cook, because these aren’t inherently female skills, regardless of how the division of duties is divided in my home.
For me, feminism is like underwear — not everyone wears it, but if you do, there are plenty of styles to choose from to suit your personal preferences. Like the thong, doing the bulk of the household chores and cooking isn’t for everyone. But being a feminist and enjoying my role as a housewife aren’t mutually exclusive. So yes, I love my feather duster, but only because it does double duty as my scepter.
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