“Such are the dreams of the everyday housewife …"
— "Dreams of the Everyday Housewife" (1968), written by Chris Gantry
“The ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me.”
— President Trump (@realDonaldTrump) via Twitter, Aug. 12, 2020
My mother married my father in 1951, in what was a formative time for the modern American homemaker. The war was over, the baby boom was on, and many wives styled themselves on a vision that would be personified in 1957 by June Cleaver, the TV mom on “Leave It to Beaver.” My mother did secretarial work for an insurance company until she had her first child (I was the second of six), and never again held a paying job. But she ruled the house.
As a member of a growing demographic for advertisers, my mother tried every innovative, time-saving food and home appliance. She loved the convenience of canned vegetables and infant formula. She kept a clean house. She kept up appearances. She was the treasurer of the Mother’s Club at our school. She was super-smart when she watched "Jeopardy!" She was always on a diet.
If you’re around my age, my mother might sound a lot like your mother. If you are younger, this kind of stay-at-home mom may sound fantastical to you.
My dad was also a product of his generation, a veteran, a lovely man, but old-school in his views on women. While I wouldn’t ever have called him misogynistic, he definitely considered women the weaker sex, rendered inferior both by physiology and emotion. He humored me by allowing me to go to college, joking that he hoped I’d earn my “MRS” degree by finding a husband. A husband would take responsibility for me off his hands. At one point my father contemplated naming only his sons in his will, because he worried that inherited money might turn his daughters into wives with a little too much independence. By then, my mother knew better and vetoed the idea. She knew the value of a housewife having what she called her "running-away money."
Although I came of age during the women’s movement of the 1970s, which means I am a mad feminist, I confess that "housewife" is among the many hats I have worn. There is a sobering list of zeros for my yearly income on my Social Security retirement estimate corresponding to the time I was a full-time mother. I used to write in "hausfrau" for my occupation, because it sounded more bad-ass than "housewife." But I was home and unpaid, raising our daughters while my husband went to work in the traditional way.
Few of my friends, however, chose the same path, mostly because the life of a family on one income is not an easy one. Should that income be earned at a minimum-wage job, it is impossible. The comfortable living my mother’s generation took for granted was less available to my peers. For my daughters who are now adults, the idea of getting by on one income is a pipe dream. Except for the wealthy, two incomes are required for raising a family. Homemaking is no longer a full-time option for most parents, even for those who are willing to sacrifice the frills.
Which is why the president’s recent tweeted appeal to housewives in 2020 America is laughable. Maybe he hasn’t noticed that the 1950s have been over for a long time. Here’s more of his tweet about "suburban housewives" from Aug. 12: “They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood … with Corey Booker in charge!”
Hold on: Does the president think the suburbs are segregated? They are not. Nobody in the cul-de-sac is frightened of running into Cory Booker, who by the way is a peace-loving vegan, because suburban neighborhoods are on average 32 percent people of color, a figure that is increasing. Aside from the dog-whistle demonization of anyone who lives in "low income housing," this tweet’s aura of unreality is inescapable.
I assume that when the president tries to scare "all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream" (caps his) in a July 29 tweet, he thinks these mythical creatures are white. He also must believe that a large voting bloc of white frightened housewives exists. But this is the 21st century: The women and men of this country have full-time jobs in addition to their homemaking and parenting tasks. Nobody is wearing their pearls and wielding a feather duster. Nobody is being greeted at the door with a martini. These tweets would be silly if they weren’t so frankly divisive.
“An everyday housewife who gave up the good life for me,” sang Glen Campbell in 1968, a song that no one would even write now. It’s ancient history, and we must unite now in the promise of our burgeoning, beautiful, brilliant American experiment. It’s time to focus on the songs of the future.