Friday, September 19, 2008

Desperate Housewives

“She used to see herself as a career woman, and a hugely successful one at that. She was known for her power lunches, her eye-catching presentations, and her ruthlessness in wiping out the competition. But unfortunately for Lynette, this new label frequently fell short of what was advertised...” – Mary Alice Young narrating Lynette Scavo’s character in the popular TV series “Desperate Housewives”.

When I was much younger, I remember feeling disturbed whenever I was asked in school what my mother’s occupation was. For me to label her a housewife on paper was embarrassing. Even at that age and our considerably traditionalist culture, I had the notion that being a housewife meant that my mother was uneducated, unsophisticated and of course boring. I didn’t want anybody to think lesser of my mother just because she is a housewife.

Of course, now that I am grown up, married and recently a temporary housewife, I could see how wrong I was. Now, I could only look back and ask myself in a bewildered look, “How did my mother do it?”

For a start, I think that there is a huge misconception by many people particularly men and children that being a housewife means you have it easy. What is there to complain about, right? You don’t have to deal with nasty bosses, office politics or hard labour and really, how hard it is to stay at home, do the housework and not having to think at all?

Now to me, the title “housewife” is completely unjustified and undignified. It’s too narrow and ambiguous. Really, it doesn’t tell you anything if you compare what housewives actually do.

Let me give you a gist of some of the tasks a housewife does. She is a cook, caterer, dishwasher, waitress, launderette, maid, nanny, garbage collector and disposer, party planner, decorator, gardener, teacher, public relations officer, stock taker, stylist, nutritionist, health care provider, counselor, economist, financier, chauffeur, concierge and often also a cheerleader. Why a cheerleader? Ah, because she cheers her husband and children on when they are in a crisis at work or school.

Sounds easy enough? Think again.

Working husbands get weekends and holidays. Housewives? Think again but yes, how they wish to get a day off occasionally just to be pampered and being taken care of for a change. What they get is two crummy Women’s and Mother’s Day but even then does the house work stop? How many husbands or children actually take a step back and think about how their lives would be if housewives don’t exist? Sure, you can hire a maid but really, how many maids are willing to go the whole nine yards without demanding for more salary?

Housewives don’t receive their well-deserved recognition and appreciation. When they have slogged all day, thinking up menus for the whole day (just imagine, as soon as breakfast is done, there is lunch to think of and then dinner after), the husbands and children come home and complain about everything. “Are we having chicken again?” “Why are my clothes not ironed yet?” “You always complain you’re too tired!”

While some women may be lucky enough to have husbands who are willing to take come-backs for those remarks, many don’t. For them, deep inside their hearts, they acknowledge the fact that their husbands have worked hard to provide income for the family, so the right thing to do is to take it all in.

But let’s face it, husbands expect their wives to be sympathetic and caring when they have a problem at work. Wives are pretty much the same. They would like their husbands to acknowledge that they have worked hard all day, so please try to cut them some slacks. Even better, try to help out a little bit. Working men get demoralized and disappointed when their bosses criticize their work, especially when they have put a lot of time and effort on the work. Housewives are the same.

I always thought that American TV teaches us nothing but violence, competition and melodrama but when I watch the series Desperate Housewives, I think there is a lesson for everyone. No doubt, it is filled with drama and a bunch of gossipy, vindictive and competitive women who contrive malicious schemes to get what they want, but when I look at Lynette Scavo and Bree Van De Camp’s lives, I see all the women around me who have given up their lives to focus on only one thing, their families.

To put it simply, housewives are women with only one simple ambition, to keep their families happy without any ulterior motives. They are not aiming to get a promotion, an award or a raise. They often beat themselves up for not being good mothers or wives. Women would always support their husbands in their career or their children in their school. But very rarely do they get enough support from their husbands and children to be a better wife or mother.

I know a woman who works hard to educate her children to be polite and better behaved. When her husband comes home from work, all he wants is to play with his children and showers them with love and generosity. He would allow his children to do whatever they want and hence “undone” what she has worked so hard for. This is frustrating to the woman who has to deal with her children all day and yet doesn’t want to deprive her husband from interacting with the children. What the husband doesn’t see is that he is spoiling the children. All he sees is his unkind and mean wife who is being tough on the children.

I also know another woman who doesn’t want to go out at night because all she looks forward to is a quiet night with her husband after a long day of slaving around. All her husband sees is her anti-social behaviour that she is no longer fun. Then when her husband suggests to having a dinner party to entertain some work friends, she doesn’t look too enthusiastic and he accuses her of being lazy. Little does he realize that she will be the one doing all the work while he happily dines with his buddies.

Housewives are misunderstood creatures. Husbands and children often think that they sit at home, gossip with the neighbours and watch the television. A scene from Desperate Housewives where Tom Scavo tells his wife to enjoy her vacation while he takes the kids to the park and she replies, “A vacation? While you’re gone, I’ll be paying the bills, doing the laundry and cooking dinner” really hits the core.

Everyday when my husband comes home from work and he asks me, “What did you do today?” expecting me to tell him that I have a good day pampering myself by doing the things I like. To be fair, he does want me to have a good time but who else will stock the refrigerator and have lunch and dinner on the table?

The truth is, my day is not exciting and I don’t have to worry about deadlines or managing difficult staffs but it doesn’t mean I am doing nothing.

One of my friends asked me recently, “What is the hardest part of being a housewife?” You see, I used to work for a humanitarian organization in post-conflict countries and my life was pretty much working for vulnerable people. So my answer to her was, “It is waking up every morning knowing that my whole life is about serving only one person and that scares the hell out of me.”

The worse thing is, even then when I was taking up a difficult and challenging task, I always find satisfaction, self-worth and confidence in what I did. But now that I am a housewife, I find it hard to have self-confidence because I question my ability to cook, to host dinner parties, to interact with working people, etc. So, unless what I am doing gives a meaning to someone I care for, it doesn’t do any good to my self-esteem.

Housewives are human beings too where psychologically they are affected by things people say or do, especially people they are working for. Whenever my husband says something discouraging, I am crushed and it makes me question why I have diligently woke up every morning to get his coffee and breakfast done. But he will make it all worthwhile whenever he says a simple thank you and a hug after I have served him his meal, which he does without fail.

Such simple act of acknowledgment goes a long way and that is what keeps every housewife going. As much as a criticism can deflate one’s good intention, appreciation can inflate one’s self-worth. Trust me because as I have said before, housewives have no ulterior motives. All they want is for their husbands and children to be happy and if the latter can express their happiness towards what their wives and mothers have done for them, that is the greatest satisfaction anyone can have. That is the meaning of it all.

If husbands want their wives to be fun again just like they used to be, then be more supportive and understanding. Extending small help and a lot of emotional support are just the tricks because a happy and well-supported staff performs better, not just as a worker but also as a person. If every working man knows this, why don’t they apply the same for their unpaid “staff” at home?

To end this, I also remember that while labeling my mother as a housewife, I often wished that she was a nurse, a teacher or even a nanny. But now, I realize that she is all those and even more. Raising children and taking good care of your life partner are one of the hardest jobs anyone can have.

So, I would like to suggest that instead of calling these hardworking and multi-tasking women "housewives", they should be referred to as life time volunteer. After all, they work hard with their hearts, not paid and often not given the recognition they deserve.

Written on 18 December 2007

Published in on 19 December 2007

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