Sentenced to Everyday Life: Feminism and the Housewife

Sentenced to Everyday Life: Feminism and the Housewife

Sentenced to Everyday Life: Feminism and the Housewife

Sentenced to Everyday Life: Feminism and the Housewife

Synopsis

The history of the housewife is a complicated and uneasy narrative, rife with contradictions, tensions, and unanswered questions. What is the relationship between women and the home? And why are women reluctant to call themselves housewives? Starting with an exploration of why 1940s housewives became associated with drudgery, this book examines how magazines and advertising articulated connected women with the domestic sphere, while 1950s films explored the shifting boundaries between social, family, and individual desires and constraints for women. Johnson and Lloyd also study the home as a site of boredom, and the balance between work and family in the modern world. By situating their examination in a still unresolved and contemporary topic, Johnson and Lloyd offer us both a backward glance and a forward-looking perspective into domesticity and the modern self.

Excerpt

Once a figure of considerable interest to the popular media in the 1950s, the housewife has received renewed attention in the daily press in recent years, but for very different reasons. In 1996 a debate that began in a major sociology journal between British feminists spilled over into the popular media. Claimed by the press to be a disagreement over whether women can be 'happy housewives', newspaper articles in both Britain and Australia reported on the controversy with a certain amount of relish as a 'falling out' among feminists after British sociologist Catherine Hakim published her controversial article in the British Journal of Sociology the previous year. In 2000, an article from The New York Times, reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald, reported on a feature article in Cosmopolitan which announced that young women were the 'New Housewife Wanna-bes'. In 2002, articles appeared prompted by a new book by British academic James Tooley discussing whether 'thirty-something' women have been misled by feminists into thinking incorrectly that they could 'have a career and an independent life without forgoing motherhood'. And in 2003, feature articles appeared in the Australian press comparing the housewife of 1953 with 'busy mums' of 2003 in the context of a visit to Australia by Hakim. Such newspaper articles explore the extent to which women today prefer full-time employment to 'domesticity' - staying at home to look after their children - as does Hakim's original article and subsequent work.

Other articles have appeared in the Australian press exploring related issues concerned with gender relations and the worlds of home and work. Some have proposed that professional women are achieving success at the expense of their children. Similarly articles discuss reports on whether children are disadvantaged by spending too much time in child care. And talk-back radio explodes whenever the issue is mentioned as women respond justifying their decisions to stay home or go to work when their children are young. In 2002, Virginia Hausseger, an Australian journalist, created a furore in the press when she wrote an article about being failed by 'our feminist mothers'. She blamed her mother's generation for telling 'us we could have it all and carve out brilliant careers without warning young women to listen to their biological clocks'. Rather than questioning the pressures of a workplace culture which makes increasing demands on employees' emotions, as well as their time, she was now angry at her own foolishness in listening to her . . .

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