Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Holy Housewife, Batman

Here I am in Lazio visiting Hilary White who is, as you may know, now currently having chemotherapy. At the moment she is napping, so here I am on her computer, blogging away.

So of 160 readers who voted, 29 of you would prefer to work full-time until retirement and 131 of you would prefer to be stay-at-home mums (or, if American, moms). The fact that 97 of the housewife hopefuls are Americans reflects that fact that most of my readers ARE American. (Next come the Canadians and the British.)

"Shaidle was right!" chortled Hilary, and she was referring to yet another Canadian blogger, that one being called Kathy Shaidle. (Since many many people complain when I link to Kathy, follow the link at your own risk. Kathy is a polemicist, and she writes dirty.)

Kathy Shaidle often says that most women would rather just stay at home than have to go out and work for a living. Of course, this might be true of most men, too, and quite a number of men in various countries just sit in the town square playing games all day while their wives scrape together some kind of living so their husbands and children can eat. But possibly I digress.

The truth is that many young women would love, love, LOVE to be able to stay at home like most (but certainly not all) Western women in the 1950s and create a home and keep it looking and smelling nice and improving it with handicrafts and also bottling jam. I was going to say "middle-class and wealthy women", but as a matter of fact many working-class women stayed home too. Many working-class men were proud that their wives "didn't HAVE to work", and in exchange expected dinner on the table soon (if not immediately) after they got home. If they got home. (Some working men stayed in the pub as long as legally possible instead.)

So if any of the minority of my male readers have been moaning that today's young women don't want to stay home and look after their home, husband and halfings, they need look no further than my last poll. Lots of women want to stay home.

You know what? As much as I can't stand dating websites, I would support a dating website for future housewives and the men who want to marry them. Since a woman can't exactly go around telling men she wants to be a stay-at-home mum, and since a man is afraid to say he would prefer his future wife to stay at home and raise kids, this dating service would eliminate all the embarrassment and fear of slaps.

The thing is, chickadees, that you can't stay at home as a grown-up person if you (A) aren't married or (B) have wracked up a huge student debt. And since so many women have huge student debts, I just have to ask, if you want ultimately to be a stay-at-home mum, why did you wrack up that college debt?

If you went to community college and learned to be a chef or a florist, for example, you would have a good solid trade that would keep you fed and housed "in case" as my Grandmother once said, "you don't get married." Or if you went to a state university and studied Chaucer, you might still know as much about Chaucer as you might have had known you gone to Notre Dame. (If, however, you have always wanted to be an English professor, than the Big Name school might be the way to go, since academia is one of the rackets in which Big Name School means something.) You would just have a smaller student debt.

At any rate, if you dream of being a stay-at-home mum, then stop racking up student debts. Do not apply to do an M.A. or PhD in Theology. Seriously. Get your B.A. (if you really want that B.A.) and then get a job. Spend your evenings at, or planning, social events. Go to lots and lots of Young Catholic (or Other Young People of Good Will) meetings. Go to World Youth Day. Go on the annual Chartres Trid jamboree.

Now there are indeed some women, and I honour them, and heck, so does everyone else (on paper), who are so interested in an academic topic or their business or their careers that they are willing to go without kids and marriage, if that's what it takes. Because, sadly, sometimes that's what it does take.

This is not me saying that if you go to grad school you'll never get married. It is NOT. I know lots of women with advanced degrees, most of them much younger than me, who got married. But I also know women with advanced degrees who have the most appalling student debts. You don't need to get a graduate degree to be a stay-at-home mum, and now I'm going to tell you something horrible. Hold onto your coffee, for it is ghastly.

Men don't necessarily want women to be smarter than they are. Women, famously, want to marry men who make more money than them, are at their intellectual level or even challenge them intellectually. But many, many, many men don't care about these things. They don't expect women to make more money than them; if she's attractive and fun, they'll sweep a waitress off her feet and carry her out of the bar. (Fact: I know a real live barmaid who was indeed swept off by a millionaire.) They also don't expect women to be smarter than them, and many don't like it when women are.

These men are not just 65 year old prosing away on the golf course. I delicately brought up the subject of intellectual companionship in marriage to a handsome and very well-educated NCB and he laughed. He. Actually. Laughed. That was not what he was looking for, he said. His future wife could be intellectual or not intellectual. It didn't matter to him. And, anyway, he hadn't met many women who were his intellectual e--. Okay, I will now draw a curtain over the scene.

Germaine Greer or Gloria Steinem would have hit him with his chair, but I was merely in awe that at such a young age the NCB knew what was important to him and what was not and, above all, that he was not afraid to say so.

Of course, there must be NCBs who really do hope for wives that are their intellectual equals. B.A. and I are traditional, but we're not so traditional that we don't have fights about politics and conversations about matters philosophical. I often tell people intellectual conversations are not a daily feature of marriage, but as a matter of fact, they do crop up in mine. I suppose it all comes down to core values again. That said, I have a terrible suspicion that B.A. would have married me even if I didn't know Hegel from Hume. It is much more important that I am too smart to make the mistake of making the man I love feel stupid.


mary said...

After reading this post, I feel deflated. I see that many women on the site are excited about being housewives. Personally I'm not one of them, though I do very much want to get married. One walk of life is not better or nobler than the other. Part of the reason why I chose my field is because it offers me the flexibility to work part-time or have summers off, in case I do have children; another is because it can be fairly lucrative. (Also, it's a really interesting field and there are plenty of other reasons, but I digress.)

I would like to be able to contribute to my family's financial well-being, and I want a husband that I can have lively, intelligent conversations with. I see those as good things that I could bring to a marriage. It's not about trying to outearn or outargue someone - of course that has no place in love or marriage. I just see it as part of the whole partnership of marriage.

It sounds like perhaps men don't want this kind of dynamic though? I'm confused. More likely I suppose that *some* men don't want this? Most of the guys I've dated have liked the fact that I can hold my own conversationally and that I have career plans. I'm not overbearing or cutthroat about things, I just know my own mind and opinions. I would actually take it as a red flag if a guy discouraged those aspects of my personality. Were they rarer finds than I had thought? Anyway, still confused.

Multum Incola said...

I wonder if this is the case in UK? Or do girls just not admit it?

Seraphic said...

I see no reason to feel deflated because some girls would prefer to be stay-at-home mums than to work outside the house until retirement.

If they want to do that, that's what they want to do. If you want to do something else, that's fine.

It's not a question of which is better. I just wanted to know how many readers want to be homemakers. Very often young women are afraid to admit they'd like to stay at home and concentrate on children, husband and house instead of having to work what are essentially TWO jobs.

There are trad Catholic men who would love to court a traditional type girl who wants to stay at home instead of work, especially to stay at home instead of putting their children in daycare. But then there are other men who don't really think much about it at all. It all comes down to the woman the man is in love with and wants to marry. If she wants to stay home, that's okay (if they can afford it), and if she wants to work that's okay, too, unless he gets shoved into the margins of her life.

If you feel deflated because you think men should be like teachers, professors and model employers and reward the girls with brains, then I have done my job. Romance and marriage ARE NOT LIKE SCHOOL AND WORK. You don't get a romantic reward for studying, working hard or winning arguments.

A man might feel proud that his wife is smart, highly respected in her field and can hold her own in arguments. I doubt however that outside Hollywood movies this is the primary reason why men fall in love. And I'm sorry about that, too, because brains is mostly what I've got.

In short, women's brains simply do not matter to men as much as men's brains matter to women. They will not hurt you in your hopes for a husband but they won't necessarily be the deciding factor.

Once again, a male professor will marry a charming, sassy, quick-talking woman from any kind of job, but a female professor will not usually be hoping for a mate outside of academia. Thus, women tend to limit ourselves.

I would never tell a woman to hide her intellectual light under a bushel. I'm just saying that "being smart" may have got us approval from all our teachers, profs and bosses, but that is not what makes or breaks the romance.

I think the biggest problem women have is thinking that if we are smart enough or work hard enough or DO SOMETHING we will get the man we want, just as if he were an M.A. degree.

Meanwhile, the M.A. degree is expensive and almost useless for women who plan to be stay-at-home mums.

Meredith said...

"Meanwhile, the M.A. degree is expensive and almost useless for women who plan to be stay-at-home mums."

Unless you get into a program that gives you funding! I would advise hunting very aggressively for a program that pays *you* to study. My program waived my tuition and gave me a small stipend for being a T.A. I got teaching experience and came away with 0 student debt. Obviously these programs don't grow on trees, but they exist.

Meredith said...

And if you do choose to go into teaching, an M.A. can help you a lot and bump up your starting salary. There's no way I'm going for a PhD, though. Just no way.

Sinéad. said...

It took me a LONG time to decide what to vote there Seraphic, I think I left it 2 hours before the deadline. I would love to stay at home and rear a family, and if I'm not blessed with kiddos then work part-time and volunteer. I am on my 2nd degree now (first was arts) and have to take a year out to save for fees next year. I'll have no debt when I'm done. I'll have a job for life then (nursing).

My faffing about was because part of me thinks that since it has taken this long to get here (I'll be 31 by the time I'm done)then I should use the degree otherwise it was a waste. The other part of me wonders how a man could not resent me spending his money on trinkets for me. If I can bring in dosh I can buy those earrings, but I shouldn't spend his money on these extras. So if I met someone who regarded his salary as ours then yes, I'd stay at home. I can't though in all conscience believe that a man wouldn't resent his money being spent on my nail varnish.. I have seen it done, I just don't understand how the women are not feeling guilty about it. I envy them their peace, what do they understand that I don't?!

mary said...

Yes, I see what you're saying - you have done your job. My deflation was not because other women want to stay at home (more power to them!) but because I had gotten the sense that career plans and/or smarts were considered as negative traits by some men. And to some men, maybe they are, which would indicate that I might not be compatible with those men, which is ok. What you're saying is that those things factor in differently/less for men as they think of women romantically.

Part of what I have learned from your blog is the idea that you can't make a man fall in love with you - it's not a matter of merit really, but God deciding that the time is right, and two people falling in love. It makes sense but you're right, it is quite at odds with the world I've been used to, where hard work and multiple revisions result in rewards.

I think the only thing I can do at this point is continue being open to it and keep working on my friendships, faith, career, health, and other interests in the meantime. And be happy. :) (If you would add anything to this list, I appreciate your input.)

Seraphic said...

Well, some men think the money they bring men is not their money anymore but "our money." I think men are better at the "our money" thinking than women are. At least, my husband is better at it than I am. Of course, my money is his money, too, but that's the money I buy shoes with, so I definitely know what you mean. All the same, if he said, "Look, instead of buying another pair of shoes with Our Other Money That You Secretly Think of As Your Money, I think we should do X instead," than in fairness I would say, "Yes, Dear."

Men sometimes consider nail varnish an okay expense, if they think nail varnish is pretty on girls, as they often do.

Oh, this reminds me of something else. Although some men do complain, men-in-general don't mind paying for other people's stuff as much as women-in-general seem to do do. We might hate to have to pay for a man's little treats, but that does not mean he would necessarily hate to pay for ours.

Although this may have changed now, it used to be quite a joke that men would fight for the right to pay the entire restaurant bill for a group and a group of women would work out with pen and paper who ate what and how much and therefore owed what, right down to percentage of tip.

Have I mentioned that men are not women today?

Seraphic said...

Oops, there is something wrong with that first sentence, perhaps because I have been up for 20 hours.

Lena said...

I was lucky to get a college degree paid for by my parents. But in my 30s, I decided to go back to school. Now I have large student debts. That was my big mistake.

some guy on the street said...

On The One Hand, I'm quite used to being not understood when talking of my research --- my siblings and parents simply don't speak the language, nor do most other people; and there are women of about my age in the same field, but so far I don't want to marry any of them.

But On The Other, I do very much expect that, if there is a Miss Right, she and I will be well-suited for some sort of thoughtful talk, both about simply useful things and about shared passions. I certainly don't want to be taken for some oracular mystery merely on account of the abstract nonsense I work on professionally. (yes, it does happen! with alarming frequency!) And furthermore, being myself a remarkably impractical fellow, she'll have to hold a store of wisdom that we can dip into together!

Is that what it means to be intellectual peers?

Beb said...

I'd venture to say that a thoughtful, intelligent man - at least, the kind of man I'd want to be with and the type of man to whom I am, in fact, engaged - would be utterly bored with a woman who is significantly less intelligent than him. And while it may be true that men do not actively seek brains in their mates the same way women do, that doesn't mean it's unimportant or that, once a man begins to spend time with a woman who is a bit of a dim bulb, he won't suddenly realize, "Oh, hey, I guess I DO care about brains." I've talked about this with my fiance and for him, this is true. I guess it might not apply to everyone... But generally I would not want to be with a man who doesn't value and demand intelligence in a mate. Incidentally, there is an evolutionary component at work here, too, right? Don't men on some level want their kids to be smart?

Kate P said...

(A shout-out of support and prayers for Hilary, and cheers to Seraphic for being a good friend.)

I see what you're saying here, Seraphic. Now, at the time I applied for my graduate degree (and yes this is a specifically required degree for the field), I was in a going-nowhere corporate job, and a long-term relationship had ended the year before with no real marital prospects in sight. I guess I figured that if I had to support myself, it should be with something I like doing.

Mind you, I did earn a fellowship from my school that paid for part of the tuition, and I also continued to work full time so I could pay for my books and pay off the interest on the loans. It was rough at times, but I did it!

I don't regret getting a graduate degree--some days, though, I do wonder if I've created a self-fulfilling prophecy (i.e. I'm supporting myself because no one wants to support me as his wife and mother of our children). But how can I deny being the best version of myself--a person who likes to learn, who likes working in her new field (most days!) and is intelligent (but apparently intimidating to some)??? I would much rather attract someone--and it only has to be one--being that best version of myself.

The Crescat said...

I hold the same opinion as your first comment. Sort of. But in the end... intellectually equal starts to feel too much like competition. I want a husband, not a sparring partner.

leonine said...

This was the deflating line to me: men "also don't expect women to be smarter than them, and many don't like it when women are."

And here's why: because I actually am smarter than a lot of people. I don't assign any moral weight to that, and I certainly wouldn't say it out loud were it not for the relative anonymity of this forum. It's just something about me, like the fact that I have brown hair. But it's true that I'm getting a PhD in an extremely competitive program at a top-tier university. I don't talk about it like that to the men I meet, but they can put two and two together usually. I really, really try not to advertise that, but I don't want to dissemble, either. To pretend I don't have the brains I've got seems like false advertising of the worst kind.

Interestingly, the only man I've ever dated seriously really loved the fact that I was smart, and he always said my smile and my brains were what drew him to me. It didn't work out -- for a number of reasons -- but we were happy while it lasted. And he didn't go to university. I would absolutely be willing to date and marry a man who had less formal education than I do. (And I suspect that those men are less threatened, and less competitive, than the men who are on an educational track similar to mind.)

I can't imagine being with a man who doesn't value my intellectual gifts, but it seems as though those sorts of men are incredibly few and far between. I would very much like to be married, but I know that is getting -- statistically, at least -- less and less likely. This was an unintended consequence that never crossed my mind when I, at 25, moved to a small town in the middle of nowhere where everybody was already married.

But I don't know that I would have done anything different. I could not possibly have turned down the concrete offer of a fully-funded place in hopes that the abstract Mr. Right would come along. I suppose one does one's best...

... but the fact that men generally don't like smart women makes me, as a smart woman who likes men, rather sad.

Catholic Pen said...

As I see it, it doesn't seem to be a matter of whether or not men like women with brains, it is a matter of are they putting a "she must have a certain level of education to be the woman I want to be with." You can have smart women that don't have a PhD--that are intelligent in different ways. They may not think hmm, she is a catch she is smart--but they may think-hmm there is something about her--she is a girl I could fall for. This may be the girls "smarts" but they may not qualify it as such. They fall in love with the person, not the pedigree. I say this knowing that I have at times thought in terms of "pedigree"--e.g. I saw myself as marrying someone with at the minimum a BA, but am now in a great relationship with someone who doesn't have this. He is wonderful and smart in ways I wouldn't have come to know if I had limited myself.

amlovesmusic said...

I didn't vote in the poll, because I have yet to decide what I want to be, if God decides to bless me with a spouse. I am an active person, and I have been described as "high-strung" by a friend of mine, and "excitable" by people at my workplace. I just don't see myself being able to stay stuck in a house all day with children, doing nothing but housework, caring for them, and blogging in the little free time I have. I have other friends who are moms already, and they say that Catholic women need to be willing to sacrifice themselves and offer up their own desires in order to be good SAHMs. I agree that being a SAHM is a sacrifice, and that it is a good thing. However, I don't know if I really WANT to make that sacrifice. I feel horrible stating that, but that is the way it is at this point in my life. I DO want to get married, and have children, but not yet.

That last statement should automatically put me into the "Serious Single" category, right? But strangely it doesn't. I want to meet men, and go on dates (provided I get asked on them). And I still want to search for a husband, and I want him to be my intellectual equal at least. If not intellectual equal, then possibly professional equal. But at the same time, I feel like right now I should just work on my career, and paying off my student debt. Yes, I am one of those singles. I see no light at the end of the tunnel for a while.

claire r. said...

I think you're overstating the case against graduate school. Acceptance to academic Ph.D. programs at state universities in the U.S. often comes with free tuition and a small stipend. I'm almost done with my Ph.D., am still in my twenties, and am not in debt thanks to scholarships. I don't see any reason why it's unlikely that I'll marry an NCB and spend some time as a stay at home mom. Although there are men who are intimidated by women with advanced degrees, they're not usually the type that educated women want to marry anyway. If you're young, childless, fully funded, passionate about the subject, and don't mind not dating much for a few years, why not go for it?

Seraphic said...

These are great and thoughtful responses.

Obviously there is a lot of anxiety around men, women and intelligence.

I do not know what else to say about this except that women care more about marrying an intellectual equal or superior than men do. This is not to say that men want to marry dimbulbs. It is just to say that men don't usually carry a list in their psyche with "She must have gone to grad school" on it. They might think they do, but they do permit themselves to fall in love with all kinds of women of different educations and who can't necessarily discuss their professional specialty with them.

One sad image I keep carrying around in my head is from a story about a woman scientist in the middle of a table. The men, her colleagues, to her right are all talking shop. The women to her left, the men's wives, are all talking about something else. She doesn't understand why the whole group isn't all talking about the same thing. But that's the way it is.

Men are big compartamentalizers, and just because they love to talk about particle physics all day at work doesn't mean that's what they want to do when they get home. On the other hand, a plumber or gardener might be glad and relieved to get home to a wife who can enter into a truly intelligent conversation, if all he's heard all day was dumb jokes and baseball stats.

Mrs Doyle said...

Wow, if i did have coffee, it would have been spilt all over the keyboard at the suggestion that women shouldn't educate themselves if it happens to be expensive (sorry Seraphic, if my paraphrasing isn't accurate).

Heck, if you can educate yourself well, but at a reasonable cost, obviously, that's the most sensible option, for anyone!

Whether you will end up at home with the kids or not, once they've grown up - what then?
Most women get back into the workforce, and the jobs that they are qualified for can be horrifically underpaid and thankless. Believe me, I work with women like this and they all hate it.

I resent the idea that if you've been given an intellect and want to pursue a field of study which is open to you - then you should defer to your (future) husband to be the one to have the college debt instead of you.

I will probably finish uni with a debt of about $60,000 US (undergrad degree + law degree + grad dip) not payable until I earn a decent graduate wage and only taken out in small portions), but if it's God's plan that I marry - He will sort it out, and no doubt our mode of living will reflect that.
But there's no way I would apologise for giving myself a decent education.

My advice to any woman is to sensibly study (or not) whatever field you might have a God-given talent/interest - my advice would be exactly the same for a man.

My views may be different because of a slightly different university system in Australia.

theobromophile said...

I think it depends much more on the age of the man than you're giving it credit for, Seraphic.

Young men truly do not care if they date or marry someone less smart than themselves. But young, brilliant men turn into middle-aged, brilliant men, and often find themselves bored with their wives. (Intellectual conversation "not every day" and "never" are much more different, I think, than you're acknowledging.) Those who don't marry young look for something quite different when they are in their 30s and 40s than they did "back in the day". Your young NCB, I will wager, will sing a different tune at age 50.

A few days ago, I had a conversation with one of my male friends who is about twenty years my senior and divorced; he said that, at this point in his life, intellectual stimulation is a fundamental part of attraction. I hear this not-infrequently from my male friends. (I also hear a lot of male friends begging their single male friends to "find someone who also brings something to the table.")

Of course, one needn't take on $100,000 of loans (or more!) to accomplish this, and Seraphic makes an excellent point there. Most of my law school friends would be pea-green with envy at Mrs. Doyle's $60,000 total. You can get a side job as a SAHM and pay that off in a few years. Many law students take on $150,000 or $200,000 in loans, which is just silly if one doesn't intend on working to pay it off. School can also be done later in life, and many parents of young-ish children are happy as graduate students or law students.

Seraphic said...

Your paraphrasing isn't accurate.

I'm not telling the future lawyers of the world not to rack up tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. I'm telling the future stay-at-home wives and mothers not to rack up tens of thousands of dollars in student loans.

I don't recall suggesting men should have tens of thousands of dollars of student debt either. They shouldn't, and the fact that so many do suggests that academia has become a racket, if it weren't a racket already.

The post was really addressing the huge percentage of my readers who surprised me, and probably themselves, by saying that really, they'd rather stay at home with the kids.

Meanwhile, there's nothing to stop them from going to grad school once their kids are grown up, if that's what they'd like to do. That's what my mother did, and then got her first paid job in umpteen years.

I think all universities should publish--somewhere where people can see it--percentages of how many of their grads have jobs paying over $40,000/a within five years of graduation. It should be done by program (e.g. Law) and by degree (e.g. Ph.D).

Sheila said...

One on my big reasons for getting a bachelors' degree was to make me a better homeschooling mom. Yes, even at 18 I was planning my "mom resume"! I do think it helps, even though I no longer live in a state that cares if you have a degree. I think it sets a good example to one's kids, too, to tell them you went to college.

That having been said, I don't know if I would have done the same if it weren't for my scholarship and my parents' help. I wanted to get married with money in the bank and no debt, which I did. (Now I help shoulder my husband's staggering debt.)

I am probably smarter than my husband. At least, he certainly thinks I am, and I did get better grades in college. However, he's going for his masters and I am not. I have the brains for it, but if money is to be spent on someone's education, we decided it should be spent on the one who is going to support the family.

I don't think my brains were at all a deciding factor in my husband's marrying me -- at least, all he wanted was a woman who could hold her own in a conversation and keep up with his intellectual ideas. He wasn't really hoping for someone who would lecture him on the structure of DNA. (Our areas of interest are pretty different anyway.) So I would side with Seraphic here -- most men don't particularly care if you have an advanced degree. Get one if YOU want one, and if you can afford one, but not to impress a husband. (Though you never know -- if you are the masters degree type, you may find a husband who likes masters degrees. Just like if you're a blonde, you may find a husband who likes blondes. Be who you are and you will find someone who likes who you are.)

MM said...

I just found your blog which I like very much. I am happily married now but I vividly remember the days when I was over 30 and not married. But I wanted to mention that getting a Master's Degree when you plan on being a stay-at-home can indeed be a great asset. I received my Master's in English Literature. I am now homeschooling my two bright children. Because of my education I am capable of teaching the Humanities at a high level and as a result my kids are several grade levels ahead. I don't think I would have even had the confidence to homeschool without my education. I paid off my student loans within 4 years of graduating and had no debt when I married. So just saying...

sciencegirl said...

I'd love to see another poll asking when the stay-at-home moms would like to start working for pay again, either full- or part-time.

A stay-at-home mom who plans to go back to work in 5 or 10 years actually would have a big advantage if she already has an education and the network that goes with it, particularly if she has limited to no debt.

Mrs Doyle said...

Point taken Seraphic! I have a feeling that this is a dilemma of an American variety. How does college funding work in the States? Is it partly government funded or is it 100% your debt and who do you owe the debt to? The university or the government?

I suppose my concern is - is it possible to know that you will be called/are called to be a wife and mother (and would choose to then stay at home) before the age of going to university, and therefore avoiding unnecessary expense?

Mind you, I'd be interested in the circumstances of the women who voted in the poll. Did they go to university for the wrong reasons?

I honestly haven't met any woman who has known 100% that she will be at home, let alone known it and gone off to university for 10 zillion years instead. Mind you, that would still be financially compatible in Australia, it's not an oxymoron.

Take home tip - do whatever it is you're called to do, and not what you think others want you to do! God will sort out the rest.

Also: men and women need to learn the domestic arts - it's not just a woman's realm! I don't care if you're a corporate monkey, learn to cook!

There! I think I've just solved everyone's problems!!!