What’s In A Name?

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A rose by any other name would smell as sweet – apparently not. A debate I thought had withered away has managed to produce the occasional bloom and recently its reek has been stinking up my world. Is there a difference between a housewife and a stay-at-home mom? Personally, I wish the term housewife would have drowned in the Second Wave Feminist Movement; however, despite its weight from hefty implications, it has managed to keep its ugly head above water.  To save myself from having to inhale the malodorous stench of this controversy, I thought I would try to clear the air.

Merriam Webster defines a housewife as, “a married woman who is in charge of her household.” This definition has a flaw. Isn’t any married woman, employed or unemployed, in charge?  Wikipedia (which is a web site that brings its own credibility controversy) describes a housewife as, “a married female who is not employed outside of the home.” A housewife was also a term used in the 18th century to refer to a sewing kit or bag where women kept their toiletries. This handy little sewing kit was also called a hussy. Now, maybe it is just southern slang but hussy isn’t a name that a woman wants to be called let alone have it attached to your chosen occupation.  Words like hussy that have derived from housewife to evolve into direct insults shows the amount of respect this title brings. However, by definition, are there any housewives left? Are there women out there who are married without kids trying to make an 8 to 5 out of cleaning and taking care of another able-bodied adult?

An article in the New York Times, “The Stigma of Being a Housewife” by Katrin Bennhold, stated that journalist Peter Letmark reported “housewives are nearly extinct species in Sweden. And the few who still do exist don’t really dare to go public with it.” I wonder if there are closet-housewives in America – cowering from fear of being shunned by society. Of course, it is hard for me to believe that any self-respecting woman would fool herself into thinking this is her role in life unless a woman oppressing religion has convinced her otherwise.

Sadly, as for the term stay-at-home mom, when I set out to find a scholarly definition I only discovered one that wasn’t full of hate and didn’t redirect me to the term housewife. Macmillandictionary.com defines a SAHM as, “a parent who stays at home to take care of their children instead of working outside the home. “Though I don’t like this description, it is better than one person’s account on urbandictionary.com which states: “a stay-at-home mom is a white, upper middle class woman who…thinks her job is the hardest in the world, using dumb arguments from Dr. Phil like ‘stay-at-home moms have an equivalent to 2 full-time jobs’…was born with the silver spoon: she lived off her daddy’s money and now lives off hubby’s money.”

On Yahoo! Answers, when asked to define a SAHM, one misinformed commenter explained, “I define a stay-at-home mom as a woman who doesn’t work both outside and inside the home.” I found numerous “definitions” like these that reeked of hate, slander and ignorant generalizations.

Though I set out to clear the air on the two terms, I discovered that world is in a thicker fog than I thought. Since a concise, intelligent definition of SAHM doesn’t exist and a housewife (by its official definition) is on the endangered species list, the only known difference between the two is who they stay at home to support. Both labels come with its share of ridicule keeping the line (if any) between them blurred. Perhaps if we declare housewifery extinct, taking the term out of existence, then we would have one less withered definition of a mom stinking up our world.

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16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Karyn Climans
    Oct 18, 2010 @ 08:46:06

    OMG, I can’t believe how ignorant people are! I’ve been both … a full-time stay-at-home mom and a full time business owner and I can say with 100% certainty that the full time mom JOB is the hardest one of all!!!

    Reply

    • Torie Combest
      Oct 18, 2010 @ 09:54:01

      Karyn,

      I can’t believe it either. Is it jealousy or just simply ignorance to what SAHM’s do? Some say the disrespect that SAHM’s get is because feminists have overshot their goal but I think that it is America’s value of money that keeps SAHM’s in the shadows.

      Reply

  2. Mandy
    Oct 18, 2010 @ 11:52:43

    I replied to your discussion on Bloggy Moms but hopped over here to see your full post. I have never ‘cowered in the shadows’ about being a housewife or a SAHM~ God has given me the option/opportunity to be both, and I feel terribly blessed. I don’t consider my ‘job’ the hardest in the world (nor do I quote Dr. Phil!), but I know it is difficult. And it’s not that my religion has tricked me into feeling this way~ this is absolutely what I want and choose to do with my life!

    Reply

    • Torie Combest
      Oct 18, 2010 @ 12:35:08

      Mandy,

      Thanks for commenting. I know it is infuriating to find how SAHM’s are labeled and defined. Whether you consider yourself a housewife or SAHM both labels are so distorted that the real issue should be how to gain some repect for these chosen occupations. I do not consider myself a housewife since I stay home to support my children and if I didn’t have children I would work outside the home. But no matter what we call it, we do not get the best reaction and that is just sad.

      Reply

      • Mandy
        Oct 18, 2010 @ 12:52:53

        I think that the view is changing, as SAHMs have become sort of a trendy thing in some areas. I know when I lived in Metro Nashville, there was a huge community of what I might call ‘yuppies’ =) who were SAHMs and therefore it wasn’t looked down upon at all… Last year we moved to where we are currently, small town IL, and I think there is a slightly different view point, but at the same time I don’t run into negative opinions very often. I have never been ashamed, and I think I would stay home even if I didn’t have my kids. I love the ‘domestic’ end of my ‘job’…

  3. MusingMom
    Oct 18, 2010 @ 18:03:59

    My job as woman, wife and mother is not the easiest nor the cushiest job in the world. Although, it is the most satisfying and rewarding.

    This is my post on “The Mommy Wars” if you would like to read it.

    http://musingsmom.blogspot.com/2010/07/my-take-on-mommy-wars.html

    Reply

  4. ryoko861
    Oct 18, 2010 @ 19:36:01

    “Housewife” is a dated term I think. Beaver Cleaver’s mom was a housewife. Samantha Stevens (Bewitched) was a housewife. My mom was a housewife.
    I’m a SAHM. I think that depicts a vast array of definitions.

    I don’t remember who said it but when asked if they were a house wife, they answered “No, I’m not married to my house”. Good answer!

    Reply

    • Torie Combest
      Oct 18, 2010 @ 21:48:44

      ryoko861,

      I agree that housewife is a dated term. It does still hold the same meaning as it did in the 50’s and I doubt all of us are waiting for our husbands to come home while wearing an apron. I really wish it would just disappear. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply

  5. Travis McClain
    Oct 18, 2010 @ 19:44:56

    It seems no one is interested in crafting a definition that doesn’t reflect a value judgment, and that many of your adversaries have conflated a SAHM with a “trophy wife.” That term *is* derogatory, and it should be–it describes a woman whose identity rests exclusively on being little more than a high maintenance, costly indulgence of her husband’s. Or wife’s, I suppose. [Note to self: find out the lesbian community's view on trophy wives.]

    I suspect that most of those who dismiss the notion that being a SAHM is just as demanding as, and economically as valuable as, a full time job have likely never been responsible for a family of their own. People may not want to admit it, but let’s be honest – the majority of jobs are fairly mindless. I prefer U-Scans because I, frankly, have little patience for the average cashier.

    Most of them are just going through the repetitive motions of their job; had they instead spent their work shift engaged in the daily tasks of a SAHM, I suspect they’d realize how much more demanding it actually is. And, of course, how much more rewarding – I don’t think anyone has ever handed a customer a receipt and actually felt like they’d accomplished something of value.

    Reply

    • Torie Combest
      Oct 18, 2010 @ 21:35:56

      Travis,

      I hate all labels that come with being a full-time mom including trophy wife. How ridiculous is that term? You’re right, people can’t say their job is harder than being a SAHM just because they leave the house to do it. Don’t you think that SAHM’s are ridiculed just because it is not a paid profession? It is sad that we have to defend wanting the best for our children. Thanks for commenting, as always, it was very insightful.

      Reply

  6. Melanie
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 08:53:21

    I too have worked full time with kiddos in day care and have also been a SAHM. The SAHM job is way harder than the working job!! WHen I get sick and can’t even sit up, I still have to get the kids to school, pick them up, etc etc. No childcare for me to drop them off while I lay in bed recouperating. No wonder it takes me twice as long to get over a oold these days :)! Stopping by from SITS…

    Reply

  7. Julia
    Oct 20, 2010 @ 11:07:16

    does anyone know how to pronounce SAHM? Is like Sam or do you say S.A.H.M.?

    I became a SAHM because we have no day care service’s within 75miles! But I have since fallen in love with my new job and its importance. We were forced to make due with one income, and while extra money always sounds nice, I dont know if I could give up this gig when all we have to do is budget more for me to keep it.

    Visiting from SITS

    Reply

  8. branchenverzeichnis
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 03:55:53

    Hello!, Very interest angle, we were talking about the same thing at work and found your site very stimulating. So felt compelled to com?ment a little thank you for all your effort. Please keep up the great work your doing!

    Reply

  9. Kiril The Mad Macedonian
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 02:07:49

    What’s in a name?

    Letters…Too many, or not enough, depending on your point of view.

    My teachers took one look at my last name, and unanimously, though independently, all agreed the answer was too darn many!

    Mom didn’t think so…she fell in love, and thus went from a 5 letter Born in the USA last name to a 12 letter Americanized version of an 11 letter Macedonian last name. ;-D

    Go figure. ;-D

    Interesting discusion y’all got going here. ;-D

    Reply

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