Tuesday, 21 June 2011

I would have got away with it if it wasn't for those pesky teachers

Another <3 in the direction of Judy Horacek.

ETA:  There's quite a bit of friendly debate about this cartoon in comments - feel free to join in!  


notafeminist said...

A friend of mine who is a homemaker saw this and was not impressed. I'm also not a fan - perhaps I'm overanalysing/misreading it?

I'm interpreting "read" as a formal education, and the character is saying "I have an education, so I'm not going to make my occupation homemaking" which implies "people who do homemaking jobs are uneducated and don't realise there are other choices". Maybe I'm just approaching it with the wrong mindset.

Muerk said...

I'm a wife and a stay at home mother and I'm really angry about this cartoon. I'm actually very well educated thank you. I read people like Henry James, Euripides, Tolstoy and Faulkner for fun.

When I married and had children by 25 it took me years, _years_, to reconcile myself to becoming invisible and worthless to society, whilst my female friends went on and had careers. I wasn't supposed to want to be at home with my children making a home for my family. I was an intelligent woman, I was thus expected to be financially independent and focused on a career.

Now that I am older and more confident in myself as a woman who chose to have a family over a career I can cope with cartoons like this. Now I can stand up and say how rude, judgmental and offensive it is.

I'm proud to cook, sew and clean for my family. It's what I want to do and I'm not uneducated or stupid.

Julie said...

Whoa, ok, wasn't expecting that, but I can see where you are both coming from, thanks for commenting.

I don't think Horacek is implying that housework is for the uneducated. My reading of the cartoon was very much about the liberation of education for so many women - not necessarily from doing cleaning but from thinking that the only thing they can do is be a wife in a way that subsumes their identity into their husband's. It's something I frequently have to fight off - being so-and-so's wife - and so that's what I was coming to it with.

People who do homemaking-type jobs (and not necessarily in the home either) have my respect. I actually quite enjoy doing that work myself, some of the time, and it's likely I'll have to do a lot more of it in the future. I guess the key thing for me is that education gives you more choices, and supports you to do that work. It must be really hard to be doing the home-work and not be literate, as so much in our society is based around written English. So I didn't see it as an either/or - educated OR doing the home stuff.

Interesting discussion, keen to keep it going.

hungrymama said...

It definitely treads a fine line. I would (and frequently do)rather read a book (or blog) than clean so, in that way, I identify but I'm so used to hearing the message that, by being the non-earning half of a one-income couple, my lifestyle is Bad for Women that my kneejerk response is not so positive.

Muerk said...

"I guess the key thing for me is that education gives you more choices..."

And when women do choose to stay at home with a family we are judged. Are we uneducated? (As this cartoon would have us.) Lazy? Sponging off our husbands?

Think of the questions that get asked when new people meet.

"What do you do?"
"Where do you work?"

Saying you are a housewife is the social kiss of death. Eyes either glaze over or people ask you when you are going back to work. It's no good saying "Actually I read the Economist." because you've just been pidgin-holed into silence.

You can see people back off in fear you're going to regale them with tales of your baby's latest bowel movement or a tip on how to get cat urine out of fabric.

Julie said...

As a teen I was totally dismissive of my mother's efforts at home. I recall we would have to fill out little slips of what our parents' occupations were and some of us would have a little joke about what our mums did (most were at home) and put things like "slave" or "household executive" or "nothing". So cruel. And so ignorant.

I agree totally that we should reject utterly the idea that the work that happens to keep a home, a household, going is without value.

I note Muerk that you cut off the end of the sentence you quoted from my comment, which said in full: "I guess the key thing for me is that education gives you more choices, and supports you to do that work."

There's a tension within all this between those women who choose to stay home and want to do that and those who don't choose it but have to. And, conversely, those who choose to work outside the home and want to, and those who wouldn't choose it but have to. (At the moment I'd consider myself more in the camp of wanting to be home more but not being able to, btw).

I am definitely not criticising the individual choices that any woman makes for how they do this stuff. I can't know what's going on for them, for any of you, and it is definitely NOT my place to say something like "gee Muerk you so smart you could be anything, what are you doing at home with your kids?" I don't even think that in my head.

What I am wary of is the idea that women don't need/want education because they don't need it to be at home. You totally do. When I think about the financial abilities alone that are required to keep a household going, and all that comes with that around being able to read and analyse choices between say different power providers, identify and deliver on what the family needs, so so many things - it all requires knowledge, skills and gets easier/better with experience.

It's interesting to me that the leap has been made from the ability to read to being formally educated. Perhaps we could unpack that a little more?

Muerk said...

Once upon a time people could do a degree in home economics. I'm not sure what happened to that. Running a home does take intelligence and you have to be a jack of all trades to do it well.

How many girls would be supported if they said "when I grow up I want to be a housewife and homemaker"? Compare this to the girl who wants to be a doctor or teacher when she grows up.

Muerk said...

Also, I know this will seem to be nit-picking, but the cartoon was written in English. English speaking countries like New Zealand, Australia, England and America have really high literacy rates. New Zealand's literacy rate is 99% according to this:


The other thing is that this cartoon assumes literacy is the key to education. What about cultures that don't write? Oral cultures like pre-colonial Maori? Just because someone can't read doesn't mean they aren't educated. Oral cultures foster the ability to memorise enormous amounts of information. The written word destroys that.

Flynn the Cat said...

How many girls would be supported if they said "when I grow up I want to be a housewife and homemaker"? Compare this to the girl who wants to be a doctor or teacher when she grows up.

Well, the thing about that is it pretty strongly depends on having someone to make a home for. Whether it is a partnership or a dependency, that girl would still be dependent on finding someone to make house for.

Which means a) not having a way to do it yourself and b) possibly making an unsuitable partnership in order to be that homemaker or c) pairing up with someone who expects you to stay home and may be resistant to you ever choosing to change.

Personally, I'd be uneasy about that. I would be much more comfortable with a couple pairing up, looking around at what their life is and saying 'actually, I would like to do it this way, this partner will take care of the house and this partner will take care of the income'.

(ALthough I suppose they could be a professional foster parent...)

Muerk said...

My husband and I are not a partnership (I say that because I see a partnership as a business relationship). I would say that we are interdependent. He needs me and what I do, and I need him and what he does.

Why is it uncomfortable to want a family to be interdependent with? I think your three options are not conclusive because I'm not covered by them. I'm d) with a person who loves me and supports me.

I don't think individualism and independence is the be all and end all. and I don't think it reflects all people's lived experiences. I'm certainly not independent because I have four children to care for. Everything I do I have to be aware of how it will affect them.

Danielle said...

How DO you get cat urine out of fabric?

Moz said...

Here was me thinking that the cartoon was about the opening up of life choices that can come from reading. The girl read some things that caused her to change her mind. Which I'm sure we can all agree is a positive outcome.

I realise that a lot of people are critical of women who choose not to do paid work, but I don't think that's a reason to attack anyone who dares to suggest that some women might choose paid work.

And, of course, choices can change. One problem with the "I choose to be a homemaker" taken early on is that it can be quite restricting later on, in a way that choosing paid work is not. Viz, it's much easier to quit paid work and become a stay at home parent than the other way round. Which is not ideal, it just is. So I would counsel anyone choosing to aim for SAHP to broaden their goals. I'd do the same for someone saying "I can quit school at 16 and become a checkout chick".

I suspect Meurk is a better parent for having a university education, and I don't see the cartoon as suggesting otherwise.

Julie said...

Readers of this thread may be interested in Ele's reaction to a Dom Post article on the gap in pay between men and women given that both work similar hours.

Scuba Nurse said...

Not 100% on topic, but in some other countries asking someone "what they do for a living" is a really rude question.
When it was taken away as an option in cocktail party circles I was hopeless. Here in NZ we often choose to have our identity tightly joined to what we do.
For this reason I tend to ask people what they like to do in their spare time. - they then share interests more true to their heart and real passions without my assuptions as barriers.

The assumption that someone's job is pivotal to who they are is not a world wide phenomenon.

notafeminist said...

Flynn and Moz - I find both your posts problematic.

Flynn, I think Muerk hit it on the head with a partnership being "interdependent" - because this is no different to the relationships we have in everyday life. If we have jobs, we need our employers and they need us (hopefully). If we're a teacher, we need students and students need teachers. When it comes down to it, the only difference between an interdependent personal relationship and an interdependent professional relationship is that money is what drives a professional relationship, and love drives a personal relationship. If you were going to have to 'work' in some way, in a partnership of some form, you can hardly blame a person for wanting to do it for love rather than money, if their circumstances allow.

Muerk, you said this: "I realise that a lot of people are critical of women who choose not to do paid work, but I don't think that's a reason to attack anyone who dares to suggest that some women might choose paid work."

I haven't seen any attack thus far; we are acknowledging that some women choose to do paid work and some choose homemaking. The issue is the implication that some of us have interpreted from this cartoon of an education being what changes someone's mind, and the implied dichotomy between roles which are the result of lack of education and the roles which are the result of choice. This is a false dichotomy in my mind.

If I'd said "Once upon a time I wanted to be firefighter. Then I learned to read." you would be forgiven for thinking that the implication is that people who want to be firefighters want to do so because they're naive and uneducated.

No one (particularly Muerk, who I'm glad has participated in this conversation as I'm unable to speak from homemaking experience) is saying that choices are bad; the problem is the dichotomy I mentioned above. Put that together with a long social history of woman- and particularly mother-blaming (whether they choose paid work or homemaking), and the implications are even stronger.

Moz - once again, homemaking is only restrictive if you think about it in a monetary sense. And counter to your claim - it is not easy for a household to go from 2 incomes to 1. Not to mention that the benefits of homemaking (which are not monetary) matter at specific times (being a homemaker is always valuable but particularly when children are young - Muerk you can correct me if I'm totally wrong about that), but careers can theoretically happen anytime (and are always monetary, although not only). It also seems like you're viewing this in very much a 'what-is-good-for-the-woman' point of view, whereas a lot of my friends who are homemakers take a much broader view of what's good for them, their partners, their children and their community. The differences in value between being a career woman and being a homemaker are really quite incomparable, because we're measuring in different units.

Finally, Muerk really said it right about how this cartoon is valuing formal education and literacy over other kinds of knowledge. I don't necessarily see Muerk as being a better parent because she has a formal education. My mother has no formal education but runs the house with a level of forethought that my father, who is university educated, cannot even fathom.

I'm really uneasy about trying to convince someone out of homemaking - it's an experience that a career can never give you, one that can't be measured in terms of formal education and payscales and monetary opportunities later in life. If a person wishes to be a homemaker, it's a valuable thing to do. If a person chooses to make a career, it's a valuable thing to do, for different, incomparable reasons.

(Sorry if this post is unclear - for some reason I've finding it difficult to articulate my views on this!)

Muerk said...

Alcohol should help get cat urine odor out of fabric. Basically anything that will take out blood should take out urine.

Don't use ammonia based cleaners though because that smell will linger and encourage the cat to wee in the same place. Baking soda can help, but it's pretty weak against something as strong as cat urine.

Right, time to go back to my narrow, dependent life as a homemaker.

Scuba Nurse said...

And then there is the fact that not everyone who is a working mother has a "career". I will prob always have a job, for finantial reasons, however that may not be someothing I am 100% thrilled about.
The concept that all working mothers choose a "career" grates me a wee bit, because it ignores the fact that in a lot of cases that job is not always fullfilling or rewarding, but is taken out of need, not choice.

Muerk said...

Fair enough Scuba Nurse. Add in paid work to career to what I said.

Anonymous said...

Wow, until I read the discussion I just saw it as describing me (stay-at-home mum/housewife) perfectly: Our house would be a lot cleaner if I couldn't read, but the books will keep distracting me. So our house isn't as clean as it could be, but so what?
I can see how people could read more into it, but it's a stretch.


Muerk said...

Well here's an example of the kind of attitude stay at home mother's have to put up with. Deepak Chopra was having a go at Sarah Palin, he said and I quote "I've never met a soccer mom who wanted a Picasso refrigerator magnet."

Frankly Deepak - take a running jump.


katy said...

"The concept that all working mothers choose a "career" grates me a wee bit, because it ignores the fact that in a lot of cases that job is not always fullfilling or rewarding, but is taken out of need, not choice."

Yeah, I was having a bit of trouble with the liberation through work argument myself.

Muerk said...

I talked about careers because that was what my female friends were doing - while I was at home being a mother they were working professionally, university lecturer, lawyer, etc. This was my experience and I apologise if anyone felt that I was assuming that was all working woman. Scuba Nurse was right to point that out to me.

A Nonny Moose said...

A lot of this type of discussion is a throw back to the attitudes of second wavers, who were dismissive of the domestic lives of women they were trying to "liberate". Like the lash back against angry 2nd wavers, attitudes like this linger and are encouraged. While we're too busy judging each other, we don't have enough energy to fight outside forces that would give us equal pay and rights in ALL sectors.

Just have a look at the commentary on that Stuff article about the pay gap/domestic duty division. Just rotten things like: "NZ women don't know how lucky they are" etc ugh.

It's time to use our knowledge of intersections to rise above the nit picking and use our strength for each other.

Moz said...

notafeminist, your post convinced me that we disagree and there's no real prospect of reconciliation. You've chosen to twist what I've said to contradict the parts you didn't quote, and some of your premises are odd. For example, your "it's not easy for a household to go from 2 incomes to 1". I read that as trivially wrong, so I suspect you have a collection of assumptions that are not coming through. I'm not really into a prolonged session of unpicking your unspoken assumptions, sorry.

Not A Feminist said...

Moz - sorry, I didn't mean to appear unappreciative of your input, and I clearly misunderstood what you were saying and haven't articulated myself well. I apologise that I sounded dismissive and dense.

Trouble said...

This whole debate depends on all the participants being middle class, I think. If your choices are cleaner or factory worker or homemaker, then nobody's going to question your choice, and all the occupations are equally likely to sink a middle class dinner party conversation.

Modern middle class privilege is linked very closely to occupation. Having the leisure and social capital to invest in an expensive qualification gives you greater choice of occupations, more of which are personally rewarding and interesting. It's more fun in itself (to a point, depending on taste), and has social cachet.

We use occupation as a class identifier - you see women trying to work around that by calling themselves home executives, since it's not that fashionable to identify yourself by your husband's occupation these days. That's the bit feminism is responsible for. But there's a whole world outside feminism that's part of this trend - creating silly euphemisms for undesirable jobs, like Waste Management Technician for rubbish collector; or how you need much higher qualifications now to stand a chance at jobs school leavers used to do.

But the feminist issue at the heart of this is that there's work to be done in keeping a household going, and most of that work falls to women. It's just as much a sign that something is wrong with our labour market (that women with tertiary educations are cleaning, cooking and childminding for men with tertiary educations) as the taxi driver with a masters degree from his home country. Rational choices made by individuals in response to the world around them, but leading to inefficient allocation of resources.

Sandra said...

"It's just as much a sign that something is wrong with our labour market (that women with tertiary educations are cleaning, cooking and childminding for men with tertiary educations) as the taxi driver with a masters degree from his home country."
- Trouble, what has it got to do with the labour market that I make this choice? That you assume that childminding is unintelligent?

I'm aware that this argument is rather circular and can get boring. For the most part, people either already understand the issues or they don't want to. I think of it on a continuum, where some mothers are very committed to making this their full time role, along a spectrum of choice and necessity, with it changing over time. There are women who commit to homemaking full time without dependents but it is rare. Reading is a damn useful thing. The original cartoon doesn't offend me, but then I hate cleaning.

For anyone who thinks that the role of the full time home maker is confined to the home and without intelligence, then I suggest you meet some of the people working on your local school fundraising group. Many of these people are holding down paid employment as well, but not all. The skills these people employ/exhibit blow me away. They would get paid so damn well for them in events management. They don't just contribute their skills freely to thier families, but to our entire community.

Trouble said...

Not at all - it's a job that has to be done, and gets done well by people with experience and skill. Most education doesn't train for it though. There's a labour market problem if we're training people for work they're not going to do. And if people's potential is diverted into an industry they're not necessarily fitted for. It's just wrong that that problem affects women much more than men. There's got to be a better way of organising things so that the thankless but necessary tasks of life get more evenly distributed and the skill that gets applied to them gets more evenly rewarded.

Your fundraisers who aren't working in lucrative events management - it's probable that they can't devote the time the labour market requires (40 hour week) because someone's got to pick the kids up from school and hubby's job pays more so guess who draws the short straw.