By Claire Martens
Throughout my life, I have been privy to meeting a number of educated, clever and empowered women. There was never a common dream and aspiration for any of them. It was rumoured that some women went to university in order to find an educated husband. I also came across many career-driven women too; who were top of their respective classes, who were outspoken and ambitious. It also did not surprise me when some educated women told me that all they really wanted from life was to marry and have children.
I remember telling my friend, a liberal man, that I too was happy with the idea of having children, settling down in a small town and living a very low-key life. I have no dreams of parliament, CEO-ship or any of those other high-powered positions. He was horrified. His reply was something along the lines of, “But, you’re a masters-level educated woman who has the ability to do anything you want”. Perhaps that is true, but I also value a good family life above other kinds of success.
Can you be a feminist and a housewife, or is that an oxymoron?
I remember hearing in law class that South African family legislation now recognises the value of domestic work. In other words, being a housewife is a legally recognised form of employment, one that has a monetary value. In some instances, depending on the pre-nuptial agreement, upon divorce, the courts will calculate the contribution you made to the household and you will be fairly “compensated”. The financial empowerment of this kind of forward-thinking legislation is invaluable to the upliftment of women, and also says a lot about being a housewife.
I have always believed that there is no feminist stereotype out there. Feminism is synonymous with empowerment or freedom; does that not then also refer to the freedom of choice? It follows that you then have to ask yourself, if a woman is well-educated but chooses to have children and settle down with a man, stop working and become a housewife; does that mean she is following a patriarchal norm? Can you no longer consider her contributing to the feminist ideal? I think not.
I think that every marriage, every relationship and every person is different; and if something is your choice, then that alone shows a sense of human freedom. I don’t think that being a housewife is a job that should be belittled; firstly because it is difficult and tiring work, and secondly because it has both financial and social value. But it should not be reduced to work that is only done by women; men too can be househusbands.
In many ways I would go so far as to celebrate the role of the housewife. Much of the time it gives you enough time to support outside institutions; such as your church or a local charity. It also allows you ample opportunities to spend quality time with your children, leading to well-rounded and socially successful little humans. However, for your own development as a person, the choice should be yours; you should feel fulfilled and happy in that position and you should receive rewards for your work.
I am really glad of our progressive legal norms: to me it shows a slow decaying of South Africa’s patriarchal state, allowing women more freedom of self-determination. Now, all we need is for society to recognise the value of the choices one makes.