‘Parasites’, ‘mindless’, ‘thing-hungry’: the things they call housewives

To put it mildly, feminists have traditionally taken a dim view of housewives. Simone de Beauvoir described the housewife thus: “A parasite sucking out the living strength of another organism…the [housewife’s] labor does not even tend toward the creation of anything durable…. [W]oman’s work within the home [is] not directly useful to society, produces nothing.”

Betty Friedan said: “Housewives are mindless and thing-hungry…Housework is peculiarly suited to the capabilities of feeble-minded girls; it can hardly use the abilities of a woman of average or normal human intelligence.”

De Beauvoir believed women should not be allowed to become housewives because if the option was given, “too many women will make that one”.

More recently we have had Linda Hirshman in ‘Get to Work’ chastising women who quit work to stay at home. She says, “their talent and education are lost from the public world to the private world of laundry and kissing boo-boos”.

She says these women “aren’t using their capacities fully; their so-called free choice makes them unfree dependents on their husbands”.

Writing in the Health Section of The Irish Times last week, Jacky Jones, formerly of the HSE, also gets stuck into the poor old housewife.

She can’t understand why women would want to be housewives. She is completely mystified by a new opinion poll which finds that women are split more or less down the middle on whether we should delete from the Constitution the section (Article 41.2) which says that women should not be forced out of the home by economic necessity.

“What is going on?”, asks Jones. “Are women afraid they might have to get a real job?”

Thankfully, Jones does place value in child-rearing, which she sees as “an important job that should be shared equally by both parents with State support”.

She then defines home duties as “cleaning, laundry, bed-making, cooking, shopping and all the other things people do to have healthy lives”.

Jones wants to see an education campaign launched to persuade the public of the necessity of getting rid of Article 42.1. She then delivers the coup de grace: “Having nearly a third of a million citizens at home doing housework is a complete waste of talent”.

But suppose many women want to stay at home? And worse, suppose some women currently at work, would prefer not to be? Most importantly, suppose, as is likely, these women see as the accompaniment to the much more important task of raising children at home. Are all these choices to be denied?

Jones acknowledges that child-rearing is important. Well, if so, then why isn’t staying at home to raise your child important? I’m guessing that Jones believes children should be placed in day-care during the working day. But again, suppose a lot of women don’t want that? There is evidence that a lot don’t want it. (See here and here)

Finally, why is it ok to so roundly insult housewives? We are not permitted to insult women as a group in this way, but why it is ok to insult a sub-set of women; the housewife, in such terms?

It shows once again that it is permissible to insult some groups and not others. Housewives are fair game. They are a deeply unfashionable group, dismissed as obstacles to true female. So, feel free to say what you like about them. And note that the very worst insults come from other women.