Other Retro Pages
RETRO HOUSEWIFE IN THE NEWS
chic” creates a new stir
Cindy La Ferle
old is new again; everything square is cool again. Station wagons
and Danish modern furniture are back. Ditto: bowling shoes, plaid
shorts, pearl chokers, and shirtwaist dresses.
housewives. Not-so-desperate housewives. After decades of being
mythologized or demonized, homemakers are reclaiming the cachet they
lost in the wake of the ‘70s feminist movement.
trend that would mystify the late
Betty Friedan, publishers are
churning out decorating guides and homecare manuals faster than
Cleaver could wax her kitchen floor. Women’s book groups all over
the country are reading
Darla Shine’s “Happy Housewives” and Lorna Landvik’s
“Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons”.
And on the
Web, Retro Housewife (retro-housewife.com) dishes out household
hints and pep talks for a new generation of women who are proud to
call themselves homemakers. Even Retro Housewife editor Jennifer
Hempfling says she’s a bit surprised at the enthusiastic response to
started this three years ago, I thought it would rub a lot of people
the wrong way,” Hempfling explains. “I was bracing myself for mostly
negative comments, but ninety-nine percent of the mail I get is very
everyone is earning rave reviews for stirring up what some feminists
call a backlash.
Flanagan, for instance, is getting lots of flak for her new book,
“To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife”
(Little, Brown and Co.; $22.95).
mother of twins, Flanagan has been criticized for contradicting
herself on some key domestic issues. She believes women should stay
home to raise their kids, yet she employed a full-time nanny and
household help when her boys were younger. She waxes poetic on the
virtues of the American homemaker, yet admits she doesn’t vacuum her
own living room.
magazine career began at the Atlantic Monthly in 2001with a series
of controversial essays on family life. She’s now a staff writer at
The New Yorker – a job that hardly qualifies as housework, even if
most of it can be done at home on a computer.
Flanagan calls herself a “housewife” and isn’t afraid to defend
other women who’ve traded office careers for domestic engineering.
As she explained in a recent Time magazine piece, her book “pays
tribute to the ‘50s housewife instead of ridiculing her.”
Like her or
not, Flanagan is a brilliant stylist and she’s done her research. In
elegantly crafted prose she articulates what many modern women are
reluctant to admit: We’re still nesters at heart.
over I found myself writing about a paradox that became more obvious
with each assignment I took: as women have achieved ever more power
in the world – power of a kind my mother and her friends from
nursing school could never have imagined – they have become
increasingly attracted to the privileges and niceties of traditional
womanhood,” Flanagan explains.
explores every aspect of housewifery, from over-the-top wedding
receptions to the anti-clutter movement. She points a finger at
early feminists for dismantling family values, and hints that not
all housewives of the ‘50s and ‘60s were as bored or miserable as
Betty Friedan wanted us to believe. Several pages are devoted to
Erma Bombeck, too, including a few anecdotes about Bombeck’s life
outside her popular column.
“Drudges and Celebrities” essay, Flanagan examines our ongoing
fascination with Martha Stewart, who built “an empire on the notion
that ironing and polishing silver and sweeping a kitchen floor might
offer an almost sacred communion with what is most essentially and
attractively feminine.” (While Flanagan clearly admires Stewart,
she admits that most of her projects are too labor-intensive for
most of us.)
discusses the painful isolation of new motherhood: “I remember the
first year and a half of my children’s lives as being marked by a
combination of elation and the low-level depression that dogs
shut-ins the world over.” In one of the book’s funnier moments,
Flanagan describes how her social life improved after she enrolled
her twin toddlers in Tumble Camp.
“To Hell with
All That” has been hotly debated, and in view of all the hype, I
started reading it with a few reservations. But I was hooked by the
end of the preface and couldn’t put it down. As a work-at-home mom
who traded her own magazine career for motherhood 15 years ago, I
found myself wishing that this book had been written earlier -- when
I needed validation for my lifestyle. (I came of age in the ‘70s,
after all, when choosing to be a housewife wasn’t quite so cool.)
love or loathe your inner housewife – or Caitlin Flanagan – “To Hell
with All That” will get you thinking about our culture’s bizarre
ambivalence toward home, family, and motherhood.
This essay originally appeared in
The Daily Tribune of Royal Oak, Michigan. Cindy La Ferle
award-winning, nationally published essayist and newspaper columnist
based in Royal Oak. Her columns on home and family issues appear
biweekly in The Daily Tribune and other print and online
publications. Her new essay collection, Writing Home,
is available nationally in bookstores and on Amazon.com. Visit
www.laferle.com for more
information, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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