The Feminine Hustle – Is ‘Having It All’ Worth Doing It All?

I was 20 when I read The Feminine Mystique.

Beach Read

Am I missing something?

Six months after dropping out of college, my education had become self-lead. My newly-minted adulthood, the oversized title of Woman, demanded some effort to understand my place in the world.

Plus, my boyfriend had dumped me over Xmas, so angry distraction seemed like just the thing.

At the time, I assumed I didn’t understand it. Bored suburban housewives didn’t have much to say to an anxiety-riddled romantic.

And her advice boiled down to, “Get a job, honey, but do it for you!

Bell Hooks put it well, “She did not speak of the needs of women without men, without children, without homes. She ignored the existence of all non-white women and poor white women.”

I had a job, whether I wanted one or not. A family was something I’d probably have someday. I admit I took the image Friedan presented for granted as something to reject.

The problem that has no name” is not a problem anymore. Single-income families are slipping over the event horizon, along with part-time health benefits and affordable housing. Who is re-wiping countertops, waiting for the kids to get home?

Friedan pleads on behalf of her people, “We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: ‘I want something more than my husband and my children and my house.'” 60 years on, she sounds kinda bratty to this battle-weary bitch.

Sure, we all yearn for deeper meaning in life. But 100 years earlier, in the 1860s, if half your children lived you were lucky. And here in 2020, that affordable house of hers looks pretty nice.

Shadow Baby

Something’s not right here…

Generational Friction

I hate talking about my home life. We live with my mother-in-law. It’s her house and she pays the mortgage with her government money. Hubs pays everything else, including a chunk of her car payment.

She has a strong connection to her Baby Boy. Her first and only for five years, he was a sickly little guy whose father was often away for work. Later on when Dad was around, Mama’s Boy was singled out for petty humiliations, often in front of the old man’s friends. Sometimes, Mama had his back. Sometimes, she didn’t.

He works very hard to keep her happy, it’s just a fact of life. This has gotten complicated the last couple years, as she has slowly rewritten me as a Bad Guy.

I am antisocial and spend too much time in my room, but I have also driven her from her spot on the living room couch with my aggressive behavior. I knew when she and our 9th grader would be back early from a trip, creating the chore chart weeks in advance so Freshman would have work to do that day. My many expressions of concern about any of this toxic shit is really just jealousy over how close she and Freshman are, I just wish I had my own daughter.

She said this to my daughter. I didn’t make her myself and I was almost a decade late, but I got here literally as soon as I could. And after five intense years, I’ve grown kinda attached to the little creep.

Getting Taller

Am I big enough yet??

Step-Parents Choose To Love … Whether You Like It Or Not

Even if she has gone back to using my first name. I never pressured the girls to call me Mom, but the younger was excited at first. We wore matching outfits. I read her bedtime stories.

But I also insisted she learn age-appropriate skills like making her bed and tying her shoes. And I didn’t take kindly to phantom sprains and mysterious stomach aches on school mornings.

I don’t have many details, but the effect of sabotage is obvious. During a confrontation with her Dad a couple weeks ago, he got her to agree to family therapy. Today was the first appointment, and she asked for me not to come.

A volatile temper has been catered to and used to manipulate her. The old lady lets her rant, soothes her ego, indulges feelings of persecution. Hubs’ impulse to keep his Mama happy leaves him humoring them both. It doesn’t hurt that the kid in question is his first child, who he sacrificed a lot to protect.

But when this reckless rubber meets my road, I’m responsible for a defiant young woman who I have zero authority over.

Every disagreement is subject to a ruling by the Deed Holder – You know, the lady who decided to kick us out after I stood up to her, channeling all the calm I could muster to remind her she isn’t the parent. Over something Hubs and I had talked about thoroughly.

Even though she can’t afford this place by herself. That lasted all of 24 hours.

The lady who is clearly biased against me, for reasons I can only guess because she still pretends to be my friend, when it suits her. Trying to address anything directly gets me smiled at, lied to, and an hour of pointless conversation.

Is Work Really the Answer?

Amidst all this, my husband seldom misses an opportunity to guilt-trip me about not having a job.

Yoga Visitor

I promise you, Gary – This is the most important “nothing” I will ever do!

Oh, is there a pandemic on? Whatever, sure could use help with these bills! No discussion of how they seem to multiply apace with his pay raises (Vehicles, subscriptions, a mushroom cloud of a bathroom remodel…) His Mom can raise our kids. Hobbies don’t pay, those spare hours could be spent padding the next check.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to him for his hard work. Such stubbornness conjures respect in my heretic heart, and I make an effort to show him that. His dedication has finally started paying off. Instead of looking for a job, right now he’s working on whether to accept an offer, or stay where he’s been for over a year.

He’s chipping away at a degree, business isn’t his dream vocation but it builds on what he’s already put together. He’s a determined, versatile person.

But not everyone can be a bulldog. The pervasive Protestant Work Ethic has sent me far and wide to avoid facing that, to me, this amounts to forfeiting my life. And I'm actually pretty fucking happy that it's completely impractical for us.

Even if my mother-in-law could handle my frenetic 3-year-old all day, every day, why should I trust her? But it doesn’t really matter – She falls asleep after hanging out with him for an hour! I come in and find him playing on her phone while she snores.

I often hear through the grapevine that the house isn’t being kept to her standards.

For one thing, she had two kids, who she mothered from the beginning. I have four, and half of them have Mom trauma that makes being New Mom very difficult sometimes. Not to mention her grown son who doesn’t seem to know how to use a laundry hamper. Add four dogs and a cat to that and, yeah, sometimes it’s a pretty sticky situation. And hairy. And muddy. And shitty.

But dishes are (mostly) in the sink. Laundry is (mostly) in hampers. Floors get swept, tables wiped, toys picked up.

I am Supervisor of the Juvenile Squad, but I do a lot of the repetitive daily and weekly stuff. Most of the past three years have been full of Baby, of course. And I haven’t even mentioned the extremely stressful shit ongoing with my extended family that burns at the edges of my captive consciousness.

But I am “lazy” and “ungrateful” because I “won’t” get a job.

Nevermind that for the first half of these five years, I had a job. The same one. While he bounced around at a temp agency, out of work sometimes for months at a stretch. Nevermind that for a while last year, I had two.

That doesn’t fit the scapegoat narrative. You know, sometimes I think he misses his ex more than he realizes.

Sleeping Seperately

I’ll let you back in when you remember who I am!

Grad Student at the School of Hard Knocks

My education is much less self-lead these days. I’m surrounded by people, each teaching me something.

My mother-in-law has taught me that people can only share what they allow themselves to be conscious of. And that a lot of women in my mother’s generation have more in common than casual acquaintance would suggest.

And that I need a secure place of my own, if it’s the last thing I do.

I still push myself to read things from different perspectives. Betty Friedan’s magnum opus of ennui pops up once in a while, though it seems to have fallen from favor since “spawning” second-wave feminism, to borrow an unfortunate metaphor from Ashley Fetters of The Atlantic. The story is that affluent white women’s lack of passion for their new washing machines was the spark that lit the fuse of Women’s Liberation.

…Is it any wonder that Bell Hooks and so many others roll their eyes at this?

At 20, I assumed I didn’t get it. So much ink spilled because college-educated women couldn’t figure out what to do with themselves? Maybe the sense of urgency was lost in another era.

Or maybe it’s a pile of navel-gazing trash. Which is fine, I guess. Women should be free to have our Holden Caulfields and our Jordan Petersons.

Housewife, wherefore art thou housewife?

I read Friedan’s book almost half my life ago, and her message rings even more hollow now. Over half of us Millennials are back with our parents. Our kids are stuck at home, glued to the screens we once discouraged. And, I’ll admit this too, I kinda love my washing machine – It sure beats doing all that laundry by hand!

Hilda Bath

If I squint really hard, it’s like having my own bathroom again!

The feminist community has become my home, even if I don’t quite fit in there, either. Every day presents a new angle on how to untangle ourselves from ancient, misguided ideas about who we are.

But I’m tired of hearing about The Feminine Mystique. The search for meaning was never going to end at work, the last 60 years took us all the way to that dead end. Why is the answer always, ‘Go get a job‘??

The ache for something deeper beyond the daily grind is your natural creative impulse seeking expression. Private bank accounts were an improvement, but the answer is to develop ourselves as human beings.

The combination of short-sighted leadership and a weird, deadly epidemic has most women back at home where we started. With the added pressure of bringing in money. Our identity as women thoroughly stomped on, we begin to feel how fractured and isolated we have become.

And, thanks to unprecedented strain on a system weakened by decades of economic abuse, many of us will soon be wishing for a washing machine of our own.

The romantic myth of the Happy Homemaker has been thoroughly slain. I took her for granted as a fallback position, only to find the “traditional” option no longer available when I needed it.

The Feminine Mystique has been replaced by The Feminine Hustle, which never, ever ends. First, second and third shift bleed together across a few hundred square feet. The only thing we are waiting for now is a plan.

A new feminism will sprout in the new light of this reality. We just have to remember to look after ourselves, too – We will never be free if we’re too exhausted to get up and go.

Remember your hobbies.


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