Literary Wives is an on-line book club that examines the meaning and role of wife in different books. Every other month, we post and discuss a book with this question in mind:
What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?
Don’t forget to check out the other members of Literary Wives to see what they have to say about the book!
- Ariel at One Little Library
- Emily at The Bookshelf of Emily J.
- Kay at What Me Read
- Lynn at Smoke & Mirrors
- Kate at Kate Rae Davis; Reading Culture, Finding God
- Carolyn at Rosemary & Reading Glasses (on break)
- Cecilia at Only You (on break)
- Audra at Unabridged Chick (on break)
I don’t know if, by writing American Housewife, Ellis was trying to make a statement or if she was just having some fun (or both). But it did raise some questions for me, and this is my attempt to talk about them. (Warning: It’s possible that what I have to say has nothing whatsoever to do with the book.)
American Housewife is a short story collection that is at times entertaining and clever, and at other times a bit silly. To figure out what she was trying to say about the experience of being a wife wasn’t easy. Some of the stories lend themselves better to this theme than others, but after reading a review of the book at Pickle Me This, I realized that the one thing they all have in common is that the wives in the stories are all childless.
My entire experience of being a housewife (not sure I like that term, but I’ll go with it for now) has been one of also being a mother. And everyone I (personally) know who stays home also has children. So, this is new territory for me. What do I know about being a housewife who doesn’t have children? For me, taking care of my children is the main part (by far) of my job as a ‘housewife’, and the most rewarding.
On the other hand, even without kids there are lots of things that need to get done; so many possibilities. How do I know this? Because these are all the things I never seem to be able to get to because I’m too busy doing the child-related things and keeping up with the basics. However, one person’s idea of ‘things to do’ might be very different from another person’s. Ellis explores this a little in “The Wainscoting War” where decorating the house becomes too important in the woman’s life, and eventually comes between her and her husband. Picking up some kind of a hobby, though, might have been beneficial to the housewife in “Dead Doormen” (and to the doormen).
In some of the stories, like “What I Do All Day” and Hello! Welcome To Book Club“, she almost seems to be making fun of being a housewife (in an affectionate kind of way). The wife in “What I Do All Day” weeps because she is lucky enough to have a drawer full of glitter. And, the women in the book club all have secret book club names (“as long as you take care of book club, book club takes care of you”).
In “Dumpster Diving With the Stars” and “How To Be A Patron of the Arts” the wives, who are writers, seem to be wrestling with the decision to stay home as a writer, even when not getting published, rather than working outside the house. In “How To Be A Patron of the Arts” the wife is burning herself out writing on weekends with a full-time job during the week, so that she has something ‘to fall back on’ that’s not her husband. When he suggests to her that she stay home and write, she cries. Relief? Failure? Gratitude? Is that not what partners are for – to support each other? That’s my official standpoint, but I’m as guilty as the next person for doubting myself. No one likes to feel dependent on another person, but we are also not meant to do everything on our own.
I think the hardest thing about being a housewife is feeling proud of what you do. I dread the question: What do you do for a living? because I know people have strong opinions on it, and that many people don’t value domestic work. Next, I dread the question: So, what do you do all day? When I answer this, I always feel defensive. (Is this not a rude question?) So many things! And every one of them is valuable to me and to my family. So valuable that I choose to do them even though I don’t get paid.
Every couple finds what works for them, and there are no right or wrong answers (as long as everyone is happy with their choices). But domestic roles are still undervalued.* Which means that housewives are still doubting their decision to stay home, even if that’s what works best for them. It almost seems worse now that women have so many more options open to them; like if we still choose to stay home we’re turning our backs on progress. And often, we are our own worst enemy; doubting ourselves and criticizing others.
In “How To Be A Grown-Ass Lady” and “Take It From Cats“, I found some helpful hints for anyone: “Don’t sit on a toilet in front of anyone, ever”, “Forget thongs”, “Listen to erotic audiobooks when you scrub the bathroom floor”, and “Even though you can take care of yourself, it’s okay to let someone be nice to you.”
Best line: I fix myself a hot chocolate because it is a gateway drug to reading.
*Child care is undervalued as well, but that’s a rant for another time, since there are no children in this book.
Don’t forget to see what the other Literary Wives thought of the book! Next we’ll be reading Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood. Join us if you can!