Housewife Activists

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The Housewife Theory of History” by Rebecca Solnit is an article about “undomestic troubles and unsung heroines.” I’m citing it today in contrast to the article I cited in my last post, “Too Focused On Women?” which was partly about the author’s disbelief in the notion of women making a difference, just because they’re women. This article isn’t exactly saying the opposite, but it does show how women, even “mere” housewives, can have political clout.

The question of whether or not women have a unique role to play in power arenas is dependent on the argument about biological differences. If we say that women are more nurturing, for instance, is that a biological difference or is it a socialized difference? If it is a socialized quality, then one must assume that men could be “trained” to be more nurturing, thereby eliminating the difference between the sexes. The opposite is also true: can women be taught to be more aggressive?

And then there is the issue of generalizations. We all know women who don’t want to be mothers, who seem to be naturally aggressive and not at all nurturing, just as we know men who are passive and emotional. Is this a result of nature or nurture? Or a little of both? Is it fair to generalize that women would bring “feminine” qualities into their endeavors when those qualities might not be present in every women? Or at least not to the same degree?

Yet we all know that there is some justification for generalizing, just as there is truth in every cliche. Women as a group tend to exhibit qualities that are thought of as feminine. The real question is whether or not those qualities are considered desirable. The problem with categorizing women as feminine is the fact that feminine characteristics are thought of as less valuable in the wider society than are masculine qualities. They’re fine, even thought of as necessary, for women who are wives and mothers. But they are not recommended for a woman’s life outside the home. If she acts “like a woman” in the outer world, she is denigrated. (So is a man who acts like a woman.) But she is also denigrated if she acts like a man. She can’t win either way.

I think it’s time that we stop talking about qualities as being masculine or feminine and start to seriously consider what kind of qualities we want to see in the all the people who are in positions of power, including those in the home. Wouldn’t we rather see our daughters also capable of standing up for themselves and our sons as also capable of caring for others? Wouldn’t the ideal be politicians who are as prone to choose dialogue and diplomacy as they are action and aggression?

I look forward to a day when there are no more distinctions between feminine and masculine behavior. When an individual can exhibit both or either without being thought of as unnatural. There are always going to be individuals who don’t fit their assigned molds. So let’s get rid of the molds and start seeing their characteristics as merely human.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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