Reclaiming the Apron

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In Jo Seagar’s latest cook book 100 recipes from Jo’s kitchen, she mentions the benefits of wearing an apron while cooking; ‘Put on an apron’ she says, ‘It’s not demeaning, it’s there to keep your clothes clean’.

How strange it is that a simple cooking essential has become a frightening symbol of female oppression…

Women have worked hard to untie their apron strings and win social approval to venture out into the career world. Society eventually accepted it; they gave into the feminine desire to be more than just muffin makers and hanky ironers, and they even accepted the “House Husband” in their place.

Women felt liberated by the idea that they were no
longer expected to stay at home and they could dedicate themselves to a chosen field without feeling guilty. Gradually, being a housewife became a scary prospect; images of bored housewives were everywhere and society actually began to expect women to desire a career over the traditional homemaker role. Now that the fight is over however, and women have won the right to venture away from home, it seems contradictory that a woman should actually want to be a housewife. But, could tradition be catching up with them?

A recent article published by American newspaper The Age claims that American women are giving up high paid jobs in favour of staying home to raise their children. It seems that now that women have conquered the working world, they feel a sense of satisfaction in choosing to stay at home. In America, the country that created the working woman, they now have to accept the fact that not only do women have the right to choose; but that women may actually choose to go back to a role that they once fought so hard to liberate themselves from.

Writer Danielle Crittenden recently released a book
that explores the insides of choosing to be a housewife over the career world. Her book Amanda bright@home, follows the life of a woman raised with feminist values who is expected to choose a career over being a housewife. However, after having a baby and returning to work she soon realises that she wants to be at home with her child. Crittenden looks at the idea that a lot of women want to stay at home, but feel ashamed at the idea of giving up on their feminist values, and feel that men will no longer respect them as mere housewives.

Feminists have often criticised the housewife as a symbol of suffrage and inferiority to men. It was liberating for women to venture into the working world, and even more liberating to have society and men, respect this decision. Now women are educated with the purpose of pursuing a career, not a family. The thought of women not wanting this seems to be a violation of everything they have fought for. The irony however is that woman are starting to recognise the housewife as one of the greatest symbols of femininity; and the idea of taking care of their children and partners is as challenging and rewarding as a high paid career.

With websites and groups bringing the ‘modern-day-
housewife’ back into perspective, the role is being re-shaped into a vocation that has just as much respect as any other career. Sites such as Retro Housewife aim to dispel the “desperate housewife” myth that society created, and re-invent the modern housewife as a powerful woman. Blogging and support groups have also provided a voice for women, enabling them to share stories about how they feel about choosing to stay at home. The sites pay homage to tradition and help women to see that donning an apron does not mean sacrificing their
feminist virtues.

Amongst all the pressure of the career world the traditional appeal of the housewife is looking very attractive. Tradition has become trendy; eating healthily, walking to work, and family stability is starting to take priority over high paid careers. For women the challenge is over, and there is now a sense of duty to redefine the housewife as a respectful, traditional role.

The housewife will always be a picture of controversy; an image of absolute oppression and supreme femininity. For women though, being a housewife will always be a difficult decision. Ironically women had to triumph over the working world to recognise the respect for a role they once dismissed. The housewife may not only be coming back into fashion, but more importantly it may be coming back into power.

Recognising that the apron is simply there to keep your clothes clean is just one small step in the identity of the housewife.

Nicola Poole

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