Monday, March 25, 2013

A Review of The Retro Housewife by Lisa Miller

            Does our generation still have something to prove as females? Lisa Miller argues in “The Retro Wife” that maybe we don’t. She writes that Caitlin D’arcy, a character from The Good Wife says in season three when she quits her job to raise her family, “Maybe it’s different for my generation, but I don’t have to prove anything. Or if I have to, I don’t want to. I’m in love” (Miller 24). This character may not have been the best example for this article as the last name D’arcy jumps out at me as a choice by the director of this show to remind watchers of the satire by linking the idea of a “good wife” to Victorian ideals in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Miller is coming at the issue of the stay at home mom from a very narrow perspective. The main real-life examples she uses are of upper middle class women whose husbands make enough money for them to stay at home without jobs and who are also totally content with staying at home. Of course there are women who don’t want to work, but that does not mean that it is, as this article suggests, ingrained in the female psyche to want to nurture her own children rather than build a business or go into a professional field.
            It makes sense that a girl who was raised in a patriarchal society would feel like she is supposed to stay home and raise the children because that is what she saw her mother doing, but I feel like this is exactly what feminists are fighting against, this forced domesticity.  Even if it is subconscious, the conditioning is still a force of society, not a force of nature. I find it hard to believe, on the other hand, that some men do not want to stay home and take care of the kids and the home. If the divide between male and female spheres were as clear as this article tries to boil it down to, homosexual relationships would be in real trouble. Two women would be fighting over who gets to raise the children. Two men would presumably always have a nanny because they could not learn how to take care of children as well as a female mother figure.
            The easiest way of splitting familial duties we have found so far in our society does seem to be that one person take the domestic duties while the other takes on the role of breadwinner, working a full time job to provide the funds for the care of the entire family. However, I firmly believe that the roles are not set in stone, and that traditional “mothering” can, to some extent, come from a father or fathers. Yes, a female mother must physically care for the child in utero and during early infancy, but this is why there is maternity leave.
            To relate this to our Woolf studies, it is clear that some women who are only depended on to nurture their families with no tangible rewards from their work burn out. In Woolf’s novels they die out like an overused battery. The men do not have this problem because they are paid for their work, or praised by high society for the things they have accomplished. Many of her father figures are writers or scholars who feed on compliments. The wives and mothers, however, never get praise for their work in the home. They are only told that they look pretty. Mrs. Ramsay from To The Lighthouse and Clarissa from Mrs. Dalloway are perfect examples of this subordinate kind of housewife who hates her position, but can do nothing about it. Woolf is working against the turn of the century notion that women are bred to raise children and households. This article takes her argument and the arguments of many other feminist thinkers back 100 years in some respects. There needs to be an emphasis on the choice aspect of the female to become a stay at home mom. The goal of a modern feminist seems to be to be able to make this choice freely, and this article is not offering that freedom.

Miller, Lisa. "The Retro Housewife." New York Magazine : 20-25 (cont.) 78-79. Web. 25 Mar. 2013. <>.

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