One of my favorite pastimes is working on homework while my dedicated sports-fan husband tunes in to ESPN, such nights are a delight (wink, wink) because of my love of homework and equal love for ESPN. Although the background hum of sportscasters arguing over games of the past, matches of the future, and general insanities is usually comforting, last night I heard a remark about sports fans that was truly troubling. A sportscaster in a blue pinstriped suit was rambling on about baseball when he said, “Whether you are lawyer who is a fan, a teacher who is a fan, or just a housewife, you can enjoy this great baseball series.” Wow! This sexism caught me completely off guard as women are usually always well represented on ESPN (wink, again). Now I expected the sheer lack of women on sports television (because, of course, women are less interesting to watch), and the presence of hyper sexualize female sportscasters (these women areinteresting to watch), but now they are degrading wives! I now drop the sarcasm to explain exactly why calling a housewife just a housewife is not only sexist, but also completely untrue.
Placing the word “just” before a noun signifies that the noun is nothing special, nothing extraordinary, nothing even noteworthy: I am just a teacher, I am just a swimmer, or I am just an accountant. Thus, adding “just” reveals what characteristics we find insignificant, mundane, or expected. Simply, “just” reveals what you don’t value as being venerable, for example, one would not say: I am just a doctor, I am just the President, or I am just an astronaut. Indeed the sportscaster had a bit of a Freudian slip when he blurted “just a housewife” can enjoy baseball. Maybe he doesn’t see a housewife as significant, however, he is not alone.
I have learned a lot in my two years as a WomanStats coder and what I have learned the most is that women are greatly devalued. In a sense, the world says: she is just a woman. What’s more, one of the most significant roles of a woman, that is wifehood, is simultaneously devalued. From a traditional perspective, women are viewed as only valuable if in the home, but their role as a housewife quickly becomes their prison where other roles are unobtainable, and thus the housewife is devalued—for she can only use her skill as a housewife. Many feminists, on the other hand, would argue women are only valuable when outside the home and women should collectively throw off the shackles of housewifehood. A common thread in both perspectives is the lack of acknowledging the brilliance, spirituality, and significance of the housewife—the housewife as a collective and as an individual. This un-acknowledgment trickles down from a philosophical gender biases to daily life and even to the beloved ESPN.
Looking to my childhood I remember viewing my mom as a superhuman. Her ability to balance paid-work with dinner with laundry with trips to the school (my homework in hand) and so on was heroic. Typical to most housewives, my mom did everything my dad did not, and more. She made it possible for my dad to go to work and possible for me to go to school. I am not suggesting my father was not involved in our home, for he is a wonderful father, but what I am saying is that the work of a housewife is foundational to all other work.
So Mr. Pinstripes… women are not just housewives. They are the housewives. They are the very reasoning you can work for ESPN and the reason men and women can watch ESPN in clean clothes and a full belly. It is my hope that we see “housewife” as a significant and venerable role, and that men put down the remote and work beside their wives in the most important work for our economy.