A rose by any other name would smell as sweet – apparently not. A debate I thought had withered away has managed to produce the occasional bloom and recently its reek has been stinking up my world. Is there a difference between a housewife and a stay-at-home mom? Personally, I wish the term housewife would have drowned in the Second Wave Feminist Movement; however, despite its weight from hefty implications, it has managed to keep its ugly head above water. To save myself from having to inhale the malodorous stench of this controversy, I thought I would try to clear the air.
Merriam Webster defines a housewife as, “a married woman who is in charge of her household.” This definition has a flaw. Isn’t any married woman, employed or unemployed, in charge? Wikipedia (which is a web site that brings its own credibility controversy) describes a housewife as, “a married female who is not employed outside of the home.” A housewife was also a term used in the 18th century to refer to a sewing kit or bag where women kept their toiletries. This handy little sewing kit was also called a hussy. Now, maybe it is just southern slang but hussy isn’t a name that a woman wants to be called let alone have it attached to your chosen occupation. Words like hussy that have derived from housewife to evolve into direct insults shows the amount of respect this title brings. However, by definition, are there any housewives left? Are there women out there who are married without kids trying to make an 8 to 5 out of cleaning and taking care of another able-bodied adult?
An article in the New York Times, “The Stigma of Being a Housewife” by Katrin Bennhold, stated that journalist Peter Letmark reported “housewives are nearly extinct species in Sweden. And the few who still do exist don’t really dare to go public with it.” I wonder if there are closet-housewives in America – cowering from fear of being shunned by society. Of course, it is hard for me to believe that any self-respecting woman would fool herself into thinking this is her role in life unless a woman oppressing religion has convinced her otherwise.
Sadly, as for the term stay-at-home mom, when I set out to find a scholarly definition I only discovered one that wasn’t full of hate and didn’t redirect me to the term housewife. Macmillandictionary.com defines a SAHM as, “a parent who stays at home to take care of their children instead of working outside the home. “Though I don’t like this description, it is better than one person’s account on urbandictionary.com which states: “a stay-at-home mom is a white, upper middle class woman who…thinks her job is the hardest in the world, using dumb arguments from Dr. Phil like ‘stay-at-home moms have an equivalent to 2 full-time jobs’…was born with the silver spoon: she lived off her daddy’s money and now lives off hubby’s money.”
On Yahoo! Answers, when asked to define a SAHM, one misinformed commenter explained, “I define a stay-at-home mom as a woman who doesn’t work both outside and inside the home.” I found numerous “definitions” like these that reeked of hate, slander and ignorant generalizations.
Though I set out to clear the air on the two terms, I discovered that world is in a thicker fog than I thought. Since a concise, intelligent definition of SAHM doesn’t exist and a housewife (by its official definition) is on the endangered species list, the only known difference between the two is who they stay at home to support. Both labels come with its share of ridicule keeping the line (if any) between them blurred. Perhaps if we declare housewifery extinct, taking the term out of existence, then we would have one less withered definition of a mom stinking up our world.