Housewives Redefined

by kat hobza

June Cleaver.  Carol Brady.  Marion Cunningham.  Our own mothers.  For decades, the word housewife conjured up images of women in stylish dresses, upswept hair, donning an apron and heels, while gracefully navigating everyday domestic challenges.  We pictured an apple pie cooling in the window, ironing boards and irons (that were actually utilized), and happy children consuming homemade cookies and a glass of milk at the end of the school day.  We heard the word housewife and we could almost smell the banana bread baking in the oven!  All that has changed.

  Now we hear the word housewife and we think of Desperate Housewives or The Real Housewives of New York.  Our cozy images of home and hearth have been severely compromised.  The women on Desperate Housewives wear clothing that would have gotten Mrs. Cunningham’s daughter, Joanie, grounded for a month!   Bravo TV has really taken some liberties with the words “real” and “housewife.”  For example, Bethany from The Real Housewives of New York is not a wife and she lives, like most of the cast, in an apartment!  Bravo TV has managed to remove both house and wife from the term housewife.  The women of The Real Housewife series also are abundantly wealthy, something most real housewives likely have a hard time identifying with.  It is a very confusing time for domestic divas indeed!    

   Being a housewife today is at least an 84 hour a week job.  The reality is that domestic duties, and the time spent doing them, is also lumped onto women who have full time or part-time jobs.  These tasks seem never-ending and are performed without pay, vacation, retirement benefits or health insurance.  While the same was true of housewives in the 50’s, they are remembered as less stressed and exhausted. 

     There exists the possibility that as a society we have glamorized the 50’s housewife and she was every bit as frazzled as we are.  June Cleaver’s real life peers had to perform many of the same tasks we do today, but we have dishwashers, front load washers and dryers, bread machines, prepackaged food, and “wipes” that are fast replacing cleaning solutions.  “Those were simpler times” we often hear when we talk about June’s era.  Were they really?

     Comparisons aside, the thread that ties all generations of housewives is the value (or sadly lack thereof) that society places on these industrious, driven, self-sacrificing souls.  Rather than being revered for their contribution to society, many snicker at the image of the 50’s housewife.

      In celebration of Housewife Day, which was November 3rd (mark it on the calendar for next year if you missed it), we would like to honor all housewives by taking a peek into the life of two of these amazing women (see pg. 20). And as we step back and really think about what is accomplished each and every day, let’s all send a little love to housewives everywhere.  They can multi-task and accomplish as much as most corporate CEOs.  They are raising future politicians, bankers, teachers, medical personnel, engineers, craftsmen- all the people who keep our economy and nation running.  At a minimum, if you meet a real housewife, please don’t ask her about Bon-Bons or soap operas!


     Mary Fitzgerald, a Billings woman who remembers what it was like to be a 50s housewife, and Erin McCall, stay-at-home mother to 4 children (twins account for 2 of the 4), help us to contrast what it means to be a housewife; then and now:

Mary Fitzgerald (1950’s)

“The 50’s housewife did not, by any stretch of the imagination, enjoy an “idyllic” life. While the breadwinner (the husband) went to work daily, the wife didn’t have to leave the house for her work.  She had enough of it right under her roof. Child-raising was her job; daycare was unheard of and babysitters were few and far between.  The 50’s housewife was a woman in need of respite.  Unlike today, husbands in those days did not share in the duties involving the care of their children.

  The polio vaccine wasn’t invented until the mid 50’s, and I recall when the epidemic hit the little town of Miles City. While both mothers and fathers were frantic, the women were the ones who cared for their sick children - 24 hours a day. 

  Even laundry day in the 50’s was a huge deal.  Few women owned dryers.  Most everyone had a clothesline draped with clothes.  Jeans froze on lines during the long winter months in Montana, or were fitted over endless stretchers in the laundry room. The backs of kitchen chairs were often found straddled with clothing that could not “finish”’ drying on backyard clothesline. And those washing boards!  Women would forever scrub away at stains on garments, soak them overnight in bluing and finally commit the items to the washing machine (IF she had one) the next morning.  Naturally, dishwashers hadn’t yet arrived.  It took nearly as long to clean up after a holiday meal as it did to prepare it! 

  Feeding a family in the 50’s wasn’t exactly convenient; few food items came in packages. Fixing meals took lots of time and preparation. I don’t recall a meal that was ever served on the fly!  The excitement generated by the first man landing on the moon didn’t compare to the celebration surrounding the arrival of the first fast food business in town - Dairy Queen. 

  Montana women in the 50’s, despite their struggles, were simply thankful to have luxuries their mothers went without, like running water and electricity.  And a family car in the garage.  And a pot large enough for a couple of chickens they may have plucked themselves.  And a husband to take care of at the end of his long, hard day.” 

Erin McCall (2009)

I drink an enormous cup of coffee, and mentally push back the article I read about caffeine. After breakfast comes reminders to brush teeth, check homework in backpacks, prepare snacks for preschool, and write checks for book orders.  The toddlers want to see Sissy’s bus.  I must decide if I will face the neighbors in my PJs, robe, and day old smudged mascara or listen to them whine for the next hour.  So, I walk outside in subzero temps with two babies in my arms and blow kisses to “Sissy” as she gets on the bus.  I know it made Sissy’s day, so it was worth it.

  Now it’s just me, the three preschoolers, and a long to-do list:  Clean the kitchen, pick up the toys, start a load of laundry, make the beds (really what is point?), bathe the babies, and take a moment to evaluate life.

  The twins are tackling each other with teeth exposed. “Don’t bite,” I yell, suddenly remembering the book I read two kids ago that encouraged telling kids what you would like them to do instead of pointing out what you don’t want them to do.  I give it a try. “Let’s give brother kisses with our mouth.” Just like that the biting gave way to kissing. It worked! One point  Mom. Moments later I hear screaming and one twin comes running to me with distinct bite marks on his back. One point


  Nap time has finally arrived!  During this blessed “break” I need to check emails, plan dinner, bake cookies for the bake sale, work on my bible study homework, and call a friend so that I can maintain some sort of balance.  The afternoon is filled with after school snacks, homework, running to soccer practice, dance practice, and refereeing four small children. Finally, we are all back home and dinner is in the oven.  

  My husband knows my tipping point generally happens around 4:30 to 6 pm daily.  When he arrives, he takes on full time Dad so I can have a break.  My husband takes me on dates and offers words of encouragement and gratitude.  Every stay at home mom needs to feel appreciated and noticed.    So take a moment to thank the housewife in your life. 

  I’m a housewife because for me, there is no better job than investing all of my time, energy, creativity, and love in the four little creations God has entrusted to me and my husband. 

Kat Hobza lives in Billings and is a mother, retired media empress, writer, exceptionally poor golfer, occasional hiker, infrequent jogger, sporadic reader, part-time elementary school aide, high-heel collector and a miserable failure at cooking/cleaning.