July 12, 2007 by Stacy McDonald

"Just" a Housewife?

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A lady commented on my blog that she didn’t like the word “housewife” because we are not married to our houses. She is right, we are not married to our houses and I actually bring that up in the first chapter of our book. However, we do not use the term “husbandwife” either, though we are in fact married to our husbands. The word housewife refers to a “wife who is at home” and that I can agree with and seems to be consistent with what the Bible calls being a keeper at home.

What’s funny is that “stay-at-home-mom”, “keeper at home”, and “homemaker”, seem to be acceptable terms for women who do not work outside the home, but call someone a housewife and some will think you’re being oppressive. “Homemaker” would seem to line up more with “housekeeper” than “housewife” would, yet, the word homemaker is perfectly acceptable and an even preferable term to most. And we are certainly more than housekeepers to our families.

Could it be that feminism has made us sensitive to the word housewife? Would we be so offended if we were referred to as a house-mother rather than a stay-at-home–mom? It certainly is a shorter term and it wouldn’t mean we were mothers to our houses. The following quote is from dictionary.com:

“Housewife is offensive to some, perhaps because of an implied contrast with career woman (just a housewife) and perhaps because it defines an occupation in terms of a woman’s relation to a man. Homemaker is a common substitute.”

This quote is from a website reviewing a book written by author, Rosemary
Neering:

“Call her a homemaker, a working parent or even a yummy mummy — just don’t insult a woman by referring to her as a “housewife.”

‘Since the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s, “housewife” has become a derogatory term,’ says the author of a new Canadian history book on the topic.‘There was a tremendous reaction against the housewife of the ’50s who stayed home in suburbia and did her vacuuming in her high heels and was supposed to serve her man,’ said Rosemary Neering.

‘Today the negative stereotype of the housewife is that she is brainless.’ But housewives weren’t always so maligned. ‘For three centuries, Canadian women were very proud to call themselves housewives,’ said Neering, by phone from her home in Victoria, B.C.

‘They were proud of being cooks and good seamstresses and even when they were poverty-stricken you’d find them doing embroidery on flour sacks because they wanted to beautify their homes.’

So, whether or not I have children, I don’t mind being called a housewife. I am in fact a wife-at-home. I also happen to be a mother-at-home, but since I am a wife first, housewife seems almost more appropriate (though I admit I never call myself a housewife). If I call myself a stay-at-home-mom am I somehow neglecting the fact that I am a wife? No. But, it is interesting how it seems a little out of order.



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14 Responses to “"Just" a Housewife?”

  1. Tanya says:

    Dear Stacy,
    To me, the word “housewife” refers to one who cooks, cleans, shops, etc. – basically one who cares for the house. I prefer the term “homemaker”. It refers to the same duties as “housewife”, but it also includes caring for husband and children. When I worked full time I was a housewife on weekends. Now that I am home full time – homeschooling my children, caring for their needs, caring for and serving my husband – I am a homemaker. I don’t keep house, I make a home. Many women are housewives, but only those who work to create a loving home are Home Makers.

  2. Stacy McDonald says:

    Hi Tanya,

    I see what you are saying, but I would disagree with your last sentence. I do beleive there are women who call themselves housewives who also work to create a loving home. It’s really a matter of semantics. I don’t cringe at the word housewife because I don’t define it the same way you do.

    To me, the word homemaker and housewife are the same, except the housewife is married, while the homemaker could be married or not.

  3. Stacy McDonald says:

    I might add…I still don’t refer to myself as a housewife because I believe that part of communicating is considering how others will define the words I choose.

    I wouldn’t say, “I feel “gay” today,” even though I could insist the word means joyful. I must consider how our culture has twisted the word and be sensitive to how others will take what I am trying to communicate.

    However, we chose to use the word “housewife” in the title of the book for other obvious reasons. And I do believe we’re still able to safely use the word in a positive way in our society, regardless of how the feminists have colored the word.

  4. Dana (dana.lifewithchrist.org) says:

    I’ve never really thought about the difference of the two terms but whenever I get the question “What do you do?” I reply with “I am a full time wife and mother”. That pretty much sums – I feel like it is such an important job, that I must be devoted to it full-time rather than part-time :0)

    It really does break my heart to see the tension in so many families because the wife/mother is not taking care of her family full time. I know that there are many who “have” to work, but often times, it is only because the family is not willing to make “sacrifies”. I know that there are situations where a mother has to work in order for her famiy to eat (like many single mothers) but I think that the majority just don’t realize what a high and worthy calling it is and have not desire to stay home (but it seems the tide is starting to turn!).

    As always, a wonderful post!

    Blessings,
    Dana

  5. Gabrielle says:

    Stacy,

    I see the term homemaker not so much as housekeeper, but as a woman who is crafting her home into something beautiful in appearance and tone. Housewife suggests housekeeper to me because the emphasis is on the house and not the home. I am also very aware of when a house is not a home and so I might be more sensitive to this slight nuance than others.

    Also, you are very right when you say a housewife is married while a homemaker may or may not be. I was seventeen when my mother died and I took over all the duties of keeping our home a pleasant place to be. I was a homemaker, but not a wife. That was always kinda weird for me to try to explain. It’s one thing to explain being home to care for one’s husband and perhaps children, but to try and explain being home to care for one’s father is nearly impossible.

    I suppose all I am saying is that I have a personal preference towards the term homemaker because of the nuances of the term and my own personal experience.

  6. Stacy McDonald says:

    Thank you for sharing, Gabrielle. What a blessing you must have been to your father! I know you will make a wonderful wife and mother one day and whatever “house” you touch, will be (as is the home you’re in now) a home of beauty and grace.

    How about you and I changing the word housewife to homewife? Unless of course we’re referring to a single woman or a widow!

    Like you, my unmarried daughters are all young homemakers, but they’re not housewives…or homewives! :-)

    Aren’t words fun? I bet we could get REALLY creative if we wanted to!!!!! LOL!

  7. Patti says:

    This is a great post and very thought-provoking. I realize that I have fallen prey to the ideas of our society. I have looked down at being called a housewife and far prefer something like “domestic engineer”. That is because I have allowed the feminist mindset about a housewife to cloud my mind. I should be proud to be called a housewife.
    For truly, I AM proud to be one.

    I have recently started a blog to encourage women in their roles as wives and mothers. I would love to have you visit sometime. http://www.homesteadblogger.com/joyfulmotherhood

  8. Ron and Ginny says:

    Greetings! I just came across your blog. I am enjoying it. As for the term “stay-at-home-mom”, that has always made me kind of antsy. I find that many women tend to identify themselves as mothers and their husbands tend to fade into the background. I like the term housewife. That’s what I am.

    In Christ,

    Ginny

    P.S. The fact that I don’t have children did not affect my attitude toward the inordinate affection toward children. My own desire for children that superceded my role as a wife was my most convicting influence. I found myself desiring children to the point of disregarding my role as wife.

    I can’t seem to say things the way I want to, but I hope you understand what I am trying to say. :-D

  9. Patti Gardner says:

    Stacy,
    Your blog is VERY inspiring. I am so thankful for women like you who stand up, uncompromisingly, and declare what God’s Word says about the role of women. That is why I am awarding you the Reflection Blogger Award. Please check out the latest post on my blog for all the details and to learn what I have said about you.

    http://www.homesteadblogger.com/joyfulmotherhood

    Be blessed today!

  10. dlr says:

    FWIW…

    HOUSEWIFE, n. hous’wife.

    1. A female economist; a good manager.

    2. One skilled in female business.

    3. A little case or bag for articles of female work.

    Can anyone explain that last one?

  11. dlr says:

    Oh, and those definitions are from Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary.

  12. Anonymous says:

    The third term refers to an item that holds needlework items or handwork. At the time of the American Civil War, small sewing kits carried by soldiers were referred to as “housewives.”

  13. It was the definitions between “housewife” and “homemaker” that made me change my blog name a few years ago from “Renewing Homemakers” to “Renewing Housewives” ;) I even took a vote once, and the majority, if not all stated they preferred the term “homemaker.”
    Knowing the meanings behind the words, I’ll stick with “housewives”
    Blessings!

  14. Amy says:

    I like the word housewife. I was born 1959 and there were still housewives when I was in school. But , by the time I left high school feminism was on the rage and now anyone that wants to be a keeper at home is attacked. I always wanted to be a housewife but the world changed so fast and it was gone in American society. Even in my church I am attacked by the feminist who want to take Titus 2 completely out of the Bible and finish this problem for good. My mom was a housewife and I thank her and my Grand mother for all the good they taught me. Blessings

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