Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A rose by any other name . . .

My mother just cringed every time my WWII era grandmother talked about the "Japs." She did it frequently, one of her biggest fears being that the Japs still intended to take over America, at least financially. Similarly, I cringed when not long ago my mother used the term "Oriental" to refer to people from the far east. Larry having taught at UCR, which has a rather large Asian population, I am aware that Oriental seemingly refers to rugs, and is degrading to people.

African-Americans have gone through similar evolutions over the years, deciding that prior labels of choice have now taken on negative connotations. I don't point this out to criticize. I fully understand. My people have been through the same transitions and it is often emotional and even dividing within the group. Yes, I am not a housewife, I am not a homemaker, I am a stay-at-home-mom.

The housewives dominated the 50s and 60s, and even the 70s and were immortalized by TV characters from June Cleaver to Laura Petrie to Carol Brady. Somewhere in the late 70s and early 80s women remaining at home and outside of the compensated workforce decided that the term "housewife" was at the very least inaccurate, if not slightly offensive. "I am not married to my house," they cried. Homemakers emerged--women who chose to create a comfortable and loving home for their families and took pride in their role.

In the 80s Roseanne Barr coined the phrase "domestic goddess" in her stand-up routine and made it popular on her TV show. Funny, yes, but much like IHOPs "rooty-tooty-fresh-and fruity platter," I think it was a little embarrassing to verbally identify with. And with no menu to just point out the choice, the term never caught on as a serious label.

It's my generation of mothers who have decided that while we are choosing to stay home, that choice is inspired not by homemaking but child-rearing. Hence the new term: "Stay-at-home-mom." While I know some who shorten this to its acronym "SAHM," I'm personally not big on acronyms. Those who listen to Dr Laura's radio program will often use her verbiage of being "my kids' mom," meaning that one doesn't farm out the job of mothering one's own kids to someone (or some institution) else. I'm sure some working moms take offense to that as it is rather harshly blunt. We all have to make our own choices.

I frequently think to myself, that though I am not unhappy or offended by the S-A-H-M label, it is not true. I seem to be rarely home at all. I am at the school, or in the car, or at a practice or game. I am at the store, or at church, or at a meeting. I am at the doctor, dentist, or orthodontist. I am just not sure how to describe that job of mine accurately and succinctly. There are those in my acquaintance who seem to think that because I am not "gainfully employed" that I must be available to help out whenever. Sometimes I can, but often not. And even when I can, there is generally something for my family that is being put off again.

Why do we find the need to keep re-naming ourselves? Are we too sensitive and self-absorbed? Or was William wrong? If you called a rose a stink-plant would anyone bother to sniff it? If a flower gives off odor in the garden and no one is there to inhale, does it really smell?

1 fishy comments:

Jenn said...

Although I certainly prefer SAHM to "housewife" or "homemaker" (because, as you said, I see my job as child-rearing, not cleaning or cooking or any of those other things), I definitely see your point. WHEN do I actually get to "stay at home"? Almost never, LOL. And in reality, I see what I do as more of an executive position, managing a household, making sure things run smoothly, coordinating everyone's schedule and delivering people to appointments, classes, meetings, and activities (as well as attending my own), dealing with the finances, arranging for things to be done as needed, making the important decisions, making sure it all gets done somehow. But I'm not going to start calling myself the Rooty Tooty Goddess or anything. ;0)