06 January 2004

Movies and Housewives
I went to the movies with my big sister today. We saw "Mona Lisa Smile." It was not great, but it was entertaining enough. I'm not a big Julia Roberts fan, but I like Kirsten Dunst and Julia Stiles. For those of you who didn't see the previews, Ms. Roberts plays a bohemian art history prof who goes to teach at the prestigious all-women Wellesley College somewhere on the East Coast in 1953. It's pretty much a finishing school where society girls take classes in poise and deportment while they wait for a boy from one of the "right" families (probably a student at Harvard) to propose. This professor thinks she can change the girls, and introduces them to modern ideas about women having jobs and husbands, or not tying themselves to men at all.

At one point, a prize student who has already been accepted to Yale Law School decides not to be a lawyer and elopes with her fiance. Ms. Roberts' character confronts her about it, disappointed that she would give up such an opportunity. The girl tells her professor that she has chosen to be a housewife and raise a family. No one pushed her into it; this really is what she wants. The professor leaves, a bit stunned.

To me, this is one of the more interesting parts of the movie. I think it recognizes a fault in the sort of feminism which Ms. Roberts' character espouses, and is a very real fault which does not only apply to feminists in 1953. My mother, for instance, has a hard time accepting that I have many friends whose mothers are intelligent, amibitous, hard-working college graduates who have chosen not to work outside the home. She has a difficult time believing, not that they are not smart or hard-working, but that they are ambitious. To stay home must mean that this woman is somehow devoid of a drive to make something of herself, right?

Wrong. To be a housewife, and I mean to do this by choice, not because your mother did it, or because it's expected of you, or because your husband wants you to, is very ambitious. It's not easier than being a business woman or a teacher or a doctor. It doesn't require less intelligence or determination. It's hard work, and it requires a different set of talents than being in the conventional work world. If anything, I think it's more of a vocation than a job. I don't want to stay home because God gave me a set of talents, specifically for music, that I think would languish, and waste away if I didn't teach and perform. Other women are really good at being housewives. So, feminists of my mother's generation and of mine, please just let them do what they're good at, what they like doing, what they have chosen to do. I glad that I will have the opportunity to have a career, please let my peers also have the opportunity to stay home with their kids sans criticism. (While you're at it, I would appreciate it if you didn't sneer disapprovingly as they go through the grocery store with their seven children.)

No comments: