Ever since I graduated I have been keenly aware of the fact that am no longer a student who is “not working right now,” but am in fact, unemployed. I do not have a job and have accumulated countless hours, applications and my fair share of rejection letters to attest to this fact. However, something else has changed in my life this year: I also became a wife and gained a husband… and in between my job searches, while I am cleaning the house, planning meals and working on a GARDEN (which is thriving by the way, despite my previous occupation as a serial plant-killer), I’ve found myself considering, “Am I unemployed or am I a housewife?”
I ask myself this question, as I water the money tree next to my desk: a graduation gift from a friend. *Am I imagining things or did it slightly quiver when I thought about getting an (outside) job*
Planti-cide aside, the more I have considered this question, the more of a spiritual issue and a feminist issue its has become for me. How do I find a balance between my sincere belief that the choice to be a homemaker is a beautiful one, and the feelings of shame or worthlessness I sometimes struggle with because I have not found a “real job.” I find myself listing all of the things I have accomplished in the house each day to my husband when he gets home, as though I have to justify my existence or earn the grocery money I no longer have in my own bank account.
I am reminded here of the question Cathy Dundas-Reyes asked on her blog last month, “What Feeds Your Soul?” Where I am uncomfortable claiming that I am a housewife, I have to admit that some of my activities in this occupation are immensely soul-feeding. I love having a clean house: it feels good. I LOVE having a beautiful garden full of plants that are happy—its like I am cleansing my soul of the repression and neglect many of my previous plants have suffered. On the other hand, there is nothing I find in the title “unemployed” that feeds my soul. I really enjoy preparing new and interesting foods for my little family, but I do not love feeling like I need to ask for the money to pay for this food.
What I find myself avoiding in my self-definition of late is my particular relationship to independence and choice. I don’t have the “choice” to not work at home, whether on the computer looking for jobs or maintaining my home, so I don’t always feel empowered by this work. On the flip side, my own interpretation of what it means to be unemployed is strongly influenced by a kind of isolated sense of independence. This kind of independence tells me that my humanity is contingent upon my ability to stand on my own, have a “power over” my circumstances and succeed through financial gain.
Its interesting to me to know that a part of my resistance to feeling good about my current house-wifery is actually my fear of a relationship, a relationship that for me is one of the most mutual, non-abusive, nurturing relationships I have ever known. When I recognize that there is a part of me that would rather be beholden to my credit card company, an organization I know to be exploitative and designed to keep me in debt, rather than tell my ally, my husband that I need help…well, then I know I have to check myself. My illusion of financial independence comes at too high a price, literally.
As a feminist theo/alogical scholar, I sometimes wish I could banish those parts of me that still buy into patriarchal, anti-relational and greed driven economic self-definitions. But, as Katherine Keller reminds us, we can’t apocalyptically erase our uncomfortable connections without encouraging the same apocalyptic energy that erases relationships to being with.
I still want and need to get a job outside of the home… I celebrate that this type of employment is something I want, while recognizing that my family will actually need a greater income in not too long so that we can pay our bills. This is another facet of the balance I spoke of above.
But for now, considering the question: what is the difference, for me, between being a housewife and being unemployed, I am challenged to be very grateful for the relationships I have…. Howbeit, a little restless and grateful. I am also challenged by the privilege I have to even evoke the term “housewife:” my relationship to an individual who if need be, could possibly pay our rent, though not all of our bills, is an amazing gift… not one every unemployed person shares.
I would love to hear your thoughts of this issue; and about how other women and men are finding their balance. Thank you for this space and for reading!