Staying at Home

CNN.com ran a story a couple of days ago about wives, without children, choosing to “stay at home” while their husbands worked. It was an interesting article, with at least one “ouch” quote from an academic who chalks up the trend (if it is a trend) as a status symbol:

Daniel Buccino, a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine clinical social worker and psychotherapist, says stay-at-home wives are the latest “status symbols.” “It says, ‘We make enough money that we both don’t need to work outside the home,'” he says. “And especially with the recent economic pressures, a stay-at-home spouse is often an extreme and visible luxury.”

Not really sure where a clinical social worker and psychotherapist fits in as an academic expert on this, but there you have it. One of the women profiled had a more generous take on her life.

Davis says her life isn’t luxurious. “Tuesdays are my laundry day,” she says. “I go grocery shopping on Wednesdays and clean house on Thursdays.” Mondays and Fridays are reserved for appointments and other errands. But her schedule also allows for charity work and leisure: reading, creative writing and exploring new hobbies, like sewing.

There were a couple of things missing, though. First was any sense whatsoever that keeping a house, and all that entails, was a legitimate occupation. Having a “regular job”? OK. Staying at home with kids? OK. Managing a household? Not so much. I had a professor at the University of Louisville who liked to pull out those annual Mother’s Day news stories about how much a stay-at-home mom could earn if all of her tasks were contracted out to paid employees. (A strange practice, since this professor herself had a full-time job outside of the house.) It strikes me as a feminist twist on a typically-capitalist mistake which privileges “paying work” over everything else.

The second element missing from CNN’s article was the question of “charity work,” as CNN so happily summarized the work of volunteering at a nonprofit, which can run from hands-on social work and physical care to management tasks like fundraising or running an event. Two generations ago, nonprofits of every stripe relied heavily on the volunteer efforts of housewives. These volunteers were smart, organized, and dedicated, and had the time and ability to run important causes. Many nonprofits today struggle to find skilled volunteers, and often hire employees to fill the roles once maintained by dedicated volunteers.

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