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Table of Contents Preface Virgin Bride Wifely Duty Housewife Confidential A Necessary Person That¿s My Woman Executive Child Rich Mom, Poor Mom Drudges and Celebrities: The New Housekeeping Clutter Warriors To Hell with All That My Life without You PREFACE This is a book about the things that have always interested me the most: women and children, households and marriages. It is the story of an age, not told on battlefields or in courtrooms, but in the places women love and loathe: laundry rooms and nurseries, sunny kitchens and dark ones, the marriage bed. The book was born from my own experiences as a wife and mother, and from a series of assignments on family life that I was given by two national magazines. As I read cartons of books on motherhood and marriage and housekeeping, I was engaged in an extensive practicum on the subjects, lending the essays the authority of experience and the liability of subjectivity. The assignments colored my daily round with an agreeable measure of academic inquiry. I wrote an essay on the anti-clutter movement two weeks after Christmas, when my house was filled to the gunwales with the stuff, and I was being driven mad by it. I wrote about the contradictions and casual brutalities of the current nanny culture after coming to terms with my own role in that culture. Once my editor called me and said that he believed there was an epidemic of sexless marriages in America, and I told him he was wrong; two weeks later three people in a row confessed they were living in one, or knew someone who was, and so I wrote about that, too. Over and over, I found myself writing about a paradox which became more obvious with each assignment I took: as women have achieved evermore power in the world, they have become increasingly attracted to the privileges and niceties of traditional womanhood. Because they buck the obligations and restraints that gave those privileges meaning, they have become obsessed with a drag queen ethos, in which femininity must be communicated by exaggeration and cartoon: They want all of the economic and personal power of men, but come wedding time they create ceremonies that hark back to the time when brides were chattel transferred from husband to father, and which celebrate by sign and symbol the notion of bridal virginity; They consider housekeeping drudgery that is unfairly foisted on women, but they have also fueled the Martha Stewart empire and the current manias for home decoration and gourmet cooking, the standards of which are higher that any imposed upon the typical fifties wife whom they revile; When single they demand access to sex, and when married they demand access to celibacy; About motherhood there is the deepest conflict of all. Affluent working mothers stubbornly insist that no one question their commitment to their children, while at-home mothers demand that the world confer on them the social cachet that comes with working outside the home. But these are mutually exclusive demands. What few will admit - because it is painful, because it reveals the unpleasant truth that life presents a series of choices, each of which precludes a host of other attractive possibilities - is that whichever decision a woman makes, she will lose something of incalculable value. The kind of relationship formed between a child and a mother who is home all day caring for him is substantively different that that formed between a child and a woman who is gone many hours a week. The former relationship is more intimate, more private, filled with more moments of maternal frustration ¿ and even despair - and with more moments of the transcendence that comes only from mothering a small child. Yet when a woman works outside of the home, she uses the best of her mind and education, exerting her authority and power on the world beyond her doorstep. We respect women who stay home with their children, but it¿s the ones who work ¿ the ones who spend their days taking part in the commerce and traffic of the adult world - who seem to have retained the most of their former selves. Children crave their mothers. They always have and they always will. And women fortunate enough to live in a society where they have access to that greatest of levelers, education, will always have the burning dream of doing something more exciting and important than tidying Lego blocks and running loads of laundry. That many women have to work because of financial necessity often precludes serious discussion of these issues. What could be more heartless than highlighting the emotional losses posed to mother and child by their separation because of maternal employment? Yet in writing this book I discovered a powerful faction of women ¿ in particular those who shape our media culture ¿ who repeatedly claim that, like poorer women, they ¿have¿ to work. What these women mean when they say this and how their claims may in fact shortchange less fortunate working mothers is also a subject, however unpopular, of this book. [drop] Writing honestly about these issues in the national press has been difficult, because the media is strongly stacked in favor of working motherhood. As I reflect on what has been written about my opinions, I see that I have challenged certain articles of faith that comprise what the popular media wants us to believe about womanhood. Among them: - Girls do not have a natural interest in homemaking; - A young woman should not spend any of her energies finding a suitable husband and preparing for her life as a wife and mother; - A woman doesn¿t need a man, and a child doesn¿t need a father; - Caring for the emotional and physical needs of a husband constitutes subservience; - Paid professional work outside the home is the most valuable way for a woman to assert her intelligence and native gifts onto the world; - There is no connection between the number of hours a woman spends with her child and the nature of her relationship with that child. For many women, this code has brought heartache. Why? Because it refuses to acknowledge a truth as old as civilization: that a woman¿s ambition to be a wife and mother can be just as powerful as her ambition to become a respected member of the labor force. For me, and for many other women, it is much stronger. [Drop cap] Without intending to, I wrote these essays in a natural sequence. I found myself interested in sex long before my attentions turned to housekeeping, for example. The book, too, follows the natural course of women¿s lives: brides before wives, newlyweds before homemakers. Mothers, as ever, form the core. There is no prescription for a happy life here, nor is there a call to action of any kind. What might seem political is merely personal: my unwavering, lifelong certainty that running a household and being a wife and mother would land me exactly where I wanted to be: in the center of a world where I am depended on ¿ and considered irreplaceable - by the people who love me.
Library of Congress Subject Headings for this publication:
Housewives -- United States.
Marriage -- United States.
Motherhood -- United States.
Housekeeping -- United States.