The Myth of the Modern Housewife


Staff member
The Myth of the Modern Housewife

Women are increasingly accepting less and giving more to soothe men who are terrified of gold diggers they could never afford anyway. We’re are expected to build up a man and support his goals to he can be more successful than we could dream of while we still pay half the rent, puff up his ego with compliments, give him generous gifts and accept a Christmas cracker engagement ring to prove we’re not using him, while he fails to pick up the slack domestically. We already know this, the second shift is a well documented phenomenon. Studies have shown that men consistently overestimate their share of domestic work.

Some dudes say they want a traditional woman, without being willing to be a traditional man and often without really wanting that or knowing what it means. Because something I always see missing from discussions about being a “traditional” wife staying at home to take care of the house and support your man, is the prevalence of domestic servants. The saying goes that behind every great man is a great woman, for most of history that’s been a lie. Behind every great man was at least several women, maybe even a large team of women, men and children depending on how great we’re talking about.

In both the UK and the US, and much of Europe, domestic service was the largest employment sector for women until WWII when they were needed in the factories instead. Their numbers had dropped by half by 1950 as women jumped to commercial industries where they had better pay and more rights, but it was still common for middle-class households to employ at least one maid until the 60’s. It goes without saying that domestic workers were overwhelmingly poor, easily exploited women with few options, and in the US, mostly women of colour. They were underpaid, had few protections, and the long hours and live-in nature of the job meant they were often isolated from the world so a high proportion of them never got married themselves. A lot of ads even specified “no suitors”. These women, working as maids, cooks, nannies, etc. were the foundation on which men built their success, and they’re forgotten. Not even on a personal level, people forget just how common it was to have one or several live-in servants and it still is common a lot of the world.

The idea of a woman being entirely responsible for the household with no or minimal help is just as modern and unprecedented as a women with a career splitting the bills and chores. Don’t get me wrong, the drop off in domestic service in western countries is a good thing. It’s the result of women having more opportunities, and those who do still work jobs like cleaners or nannies (are supposed to) have better pay and more reasonable hours. I’d also advise against becoming a stay at home wife regardless of the workload because it’s not a good idea to willingly become financially dependent on your husband. I bring this up so next time a man tries to argue that things like cooking and cleaning are women’s work that we’re just naturally better at, remind him that it’s rarely been an individual woman’s work, usually at least two with one being paid for her effort.