Sunday, February 19, 2006

Semantics 101

Let's get a few things straight.

I hate the show "Desperate Housewives". It's the worst kind of shallow, objectifying dreck. It's Prime Time Jello-O Wrestling. It's a collagen and silicone soap opera disguised as a pile of crap in a see-through bustier. The only thing desperate about it is the publicity-needy Teri Hatcher, but that's not what bugs me most about it. Can you guess? It's that ugly word. Say it with me: H-h-h-o-u-s-e-w-v-i-v-e-s. That's right. Houswives.

First things first. Housewives, like the dinosaurs and Beta Max, are extinct. There is no such creature. By definition, a housewife is a woman who is married and whose focus is the house and its contents. She cooks. She cleans. She does the laundry and goes to the grocery store. She does not have a paying job (not a's just a fact) and has either never thought to want one or is discouraged from having one. For a housewife to want or need a career was considered to be an emasculating blow to her husband...even if he couldn't or didn't make enough money to pay the bills. Whether she produced children or not is/ was beside the point. This is called the "setting aside reality to accommodate the fantasies of others" mindset. The home and its environs are the fate of the housewife. She gets married and she immediately becomes the unpaid help. Her job in life is to make life nice for others, while not necessarily living one of her own.

Here is a picture of a well-known housewife.

Her name was June Cleaver.

Here's another one.
Her name was Lucy Ricardo.

Okay, these women were merely tv characters, and no woman--not even June Cleaver--really vacuumed wearing high heels and pearls. The rest of it, though, was pretty true. 40 years ago a woman might jump from her father's house to her husband's house without her feet ever touching freedom's ground for a moment to breathe the free air of self-sufficiency. Lacking an education, a means to put a roof over her own head or years of experience in a career, she became totally dependent on her husband for money. Even if she was lucky enough to have once had a career, it was expected that she would stop working and "take care of her husband" the moment she lost both her first and last name (Mrs. Ward Cleaver) in the marriage ceremony where, in my mother's day, she promised to "love, honor and obey". No children were required to set all of these limitations into motion.

So, about Desperate Housewhores--er--Housewives. Other than Bree VanDeKamp, who is really more of a anal-retentive cyborg, there are no housewives on DH. Eva Longoria's character, Gabrielle, has a maid to do all the menial chores. Gabrielle is just a trophy wife who only returned to her former modeling career when her husband's assets were frozen in a criminal investigation. They have no children, so why in the world was she at home? Loathesome Teri Hatcher's character is a book illustrator...and she's divorced...but employed. Also not a housewife. Skanky Nicolette Sheridan isn't anyone's wife either. Felicity Huffman's character used to be a high-powered lawyer. She gave it up--temporarily--to stay home with kids, but recently she's back at work. Either way, she's no housewife.

If anything, Huffman's character is the only thing that resembles what many real women do these days. It's not marriage that keeps them home and it's not the house with its infinite and never ending list of mind-numbing chores needed to keep it from folding like a filthy house of cards. Screw that! It's the kids. Those wonderful, aggravating, life-changing kids that you and your husband brought into this world.

We are not our mothers. Women who temporarily leave the workforce to be primary caregivers for their children are stay at-home-mothers. Or SAHM in blog/i.m-speak. They are not housewives. This is more than a matter of semantics. We're not talking HOMEMAKER or even DOMESTIC ENGINEER (which...I'm a name that is just a cry for help) Unlike being a housewife, a SAHM is not a life's just what some women (and men) do when they have kids. Thank God some men are starting to get the message and be more than the 1960s 15-minute-father with their kids, and though there's the tendency to refer to those particular dads as "heroes" when they forego a career (that's another post entirely), there's no reason to muck up the definition with a lot of useless references to floorwax and laundry detergent.

The focus is and always has been the welfare and early childhood education of small children. Though one might end up taking on all the aforementioned onerous tasks that can't or won't be done by those who "escaped" by leaving for the outside world of employment, it's the kids' naptime, and the reading aloud, and trips to the zoo and the park that define the life of a stay-at-home-mom. Take those kids out of the equation and I'm betting that most or all of us would be out there being doctors and lawyers and Indian chiefs (Hey, it can happen...look up Wilma Mankiller)

All I'm saying is that the term housewife is based on concept that rarely--if ever--exists anymore, because (Thank you Betty Friedan!) women have found that they can--if they choose--pursue more in life than just the removal of tough perspiration stains. Staying at home is a choice...not a requirement. It's not glamorous and it's not easy. If it'd see a line of anxious men waiting for it that would definitely exceed the number assembled to purchase the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated.

I know women who've quit their jobs totally and forever to stay at home with their kids. They're not housewives. I know some who quit but who count the days until the last little one starts pre-school before resuming life on the outside. NOT A HOUSEWIFE. Out of the almost-17 years I've been a SAHM, I've held some kind of free-lance job for most of that time. Still, I'm not a houswife either. The house? It's going to be here a long time, and those baseboards or the mounting laundry aren't what made me pull out of the school parking lot one last time after locking my classroom door. It was the baby who was beside me in the infant seat who now drives himself to school and who still needs help editing his essays. And it was his two brothers after him. It's not the dishes that keep me's the kids.

I can't really see Gabrielle doing that. Can you?


Blogger The Gradual Gardener said...

Yeah, well, maybe they picked a sucky title...Not only aren't they housewives, but let's face it, there are more single women on the show than married couples, now that Rex is gone. But it IS funny. And it's harmless. They're actors, its very clear it's not real, and nobody gets hurt. Unlike The Bachelor, or Wife Swap, or any of the other "reality" shows out there. You have to wonder what kind of psychological damage participants on those shows end up with after the filming is done.

I assume the writers chose the title they did because of the humor in comparing these women to June Cleaver or Harriet Nelson. I love Bree's character, because she tries so hard to be June Cleaver but she just can't do it, and she ends up pulling out a rifle and taking potshots in the middle of a dinner party. It's hysterical.

The dispelling-the-whole-housewife-myth is what I loved about the movie Pleasantville. Well, that and Toby Maguire... Really, though, it's a great movie, and Joan Allen was excellant as the housewife discovering she doesn't have to be just a housewife. All the actors were great. I highly recommend it.

But Desperate Housewives? It's just harmless fun.

7:41 PM  
Blogger Melanhead said...

Sometimes I don't know what to feel when I hear the words "Working mom". You rarely hear the words "Working dad". Because it's a GIVEN that when you say "Dad", of course he is "working" too, while a mom can be "working" or "not". I think saying mom or dad should be a connotation for working, because whether you are being paid a salary or not, you have a job of raising your kids. Together. (or with other extended family members, close friends, what ever your family structure happens to be).

7:41 PM  
Blogger Ditsy Chick said...

I admit, I like the show, these women are so far over the top, I cannot help, but to laugh at them.

I agree, though there is not such a thing as a housewife and most of the women are not really fit to be a wife, let alone a standard to hold ourselves up against.

I consider Bree to be a Stepford wife, she is a complete nut job...ack, they are all nuts, makes me feel like I am doing one helluva a job.

8:08 PM  
Anonymous V-Grrrl said...

Women are told we can do anything, but culturally there isn't an altogether comfortable place for us, no matter what our life style choices.

To be fair, I guess men have their own versions of this dilemma, though every time I see videos of Congress or Wall Street or the endless corporate slime-masters with their dark suits and grim smiles and big PRESENCE, I want to hurl. Still a man's world, through and through.

11:32 PM  
Blogger Brooke said...

I always liked Donna Reed, myself.

But I see your point. As a woman, I wonder if we can ever really win. If I ever finally get the chance to make that decision to stay home with the kids, I can only hope I'll be able to afford to.

And "easy" is the LAST word I would use to describe your job!

1:20 AM  
Blogger Tink said...

I LOVE this post. It's definitely over your 25 word limit though ;). I'm not the biggest fan of DH. I watched the first season and thought it was kind of cute. Now it's a bit bizarre. I only catch the ending on my way to watching Gray's Anatomy.

I was raised by a single Mom. The idea of a SAHM was a little tainted. My Mom worked at home, so she was there for the youngins, but she was working just as hard as if she weren't. Most likely harder in fact.

The idea of a woman having no other option but to be a housewife curdles my stomach. I like that we have a choice in the matter, even if we chose to stay at home after all.

7:06 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

I've never seen an episode and I sort of refuse to watch on principle for many of the reasons you mentioned here. Not to mention the fact that all of those women are completely overexposed and bordering on being famous for fame's sake which just annoys me.

Perhaps if there were more writers like you involved in drawing female characters for television, there would actually be some shows about women that are worth watching.

7:33 AM  
Blogger theyellowwallpaper said...

I totally agree with you. It is time to banish "housewife" forever from our vernacular once and for all. It really has become a derogatory term.

I tried watching the show a couple of times. I was interested in it because of all the hype and was disappointed it was just a soap opera with none of the social zings I was expecting.

While I do agree that it is a choice to stay at home. I'd also like to point out that economics definitely play a part. If you want more than one child, particularly if they end up being close in age, daycare is very expensive. So, many mothers and fathers choose to stay at home rather then put all their paychecks towards a different care giver.

10:08 AM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

I have never watched the show, and I haven't because it didn't seem like something I could relate to. Not that I can relate to camping out on an island with 19 other people for a month and a half or being a doctor in the most dramatic ER in the entire world, but it just didn't appeal to me.

11:36 AM  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

I don't watch the show. I am too busy being a SAHM, eating bon-bons,watching Oprah and keeping my man happy!!

Luckily, I have been able to freelance/write and get paid (trust me-no one could live on what I make but its something!)for the last 13 years.

Good post - you go Wordgirl.P.S. I am from Oklahoma so I know totally know who Wilma Mankiller is!

11:42 AM  
Blogger Rock said...

I'm with you Gradual Gardner - its harmless fun. Its just TV for Pete's sake. I loved Donna Reed too BrookeDude.

In this day and age the term "Housewife" here is just used as a colloquial moniker. But this "Desperate" thing is another matter....

12:21 PM  
Blogger The June Cleaver Diaries said...

You know, speaking of Betty Friedan, I found it interesting that the article about her death was on page 13 of the first section of the newspaper here (Roch. NY), but Grandpa Munster's obit made first page.

Sigh. A sign of the times.

3:19 PM  
Blogger Kurt said...

I wish we could all get a day off from Eva Longoria.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Alan Smithee said...

Al Lewis earned a Ph.D. in child psychology from Columbia University. He taught school and wrote two children's books. In 1949, he turned to acting, working in burlesque and vaudeville theaters and then on Broadway. On TV, he was Officer Leo Schnauser on "Car 54, Where Are You?" and Grandpa on "The Munsters." He later produced a home video for children and appeared on WTBS in a series of Saturday morning programs for children.

5:06 PM  
Anonymous jess said...

Oh that was just what i needed today. You are so totally, completely awesome and articulate and well-spoken. It's such a joy to stop by!

9:22 PM  
Blogger mrtl said...


Congratulations! You are the Big Wiener of the Evict Frida Contest at mrtland! You will receive a homemade adult diaper and maybe another just as fabulous prize in due time, given you provide me with your mailing address.

Again, congratulations!


9:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you're right about DH being shallow etc, but I watch it anyways, lol. It's one of those shows that I can watch without having to really pay attention to it. For example, last night I spent the entire time learning how to knit (ie reading knitting instructions and getting tangled in yarn) but even so I could follow the episode storyline. In fact, though I only looked at the TV a couple times, I didn't miss a thing! lol.


9:49 PM  
Blogger Mignon said...

Last week at the doctor's office the nurse asked me if I was employed and I said no, I stay at home, and I saw her write "housewife" in the space provided. I totally came unglued (on the inside). I wanted to pull out my 18 gazillion business cards from former engineering jobs and shove them in her face.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Dan said...


3:57 AM  
Blogger Virenda said...

I hate Desperate Housewives!!!

Just glad someone else agrees with me.

I'm a SAHM and I enjoy parts of it lol but I would fail miserably at the housewife thing.

Desperate Housewhores is right.


2:48 PM  
Blogger Gef said...

In the day and age where people are so secretive I really appreciate you sharing your true thoughts.

Sean Cody

6:50 PM  

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