Inner Housewife, Strawfeminist, & other action figures


Given my heritage, I’m willing to bet five bucks that I never had an inner housewife.

If I did, she up and left years ago — see evidence above — maybe during the converted motel period, when I usually ate off of napkins to avoid doing dishes. (The water I covered them with started to stink after a week or so. It turned gray and sometimes there were little gnats hovering around. Would you want to stick your hand in there?)

So I wonder how I fit into Caitlin Flanagan’s scheme. Her To Hell With All That (Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife) (pages 12-13), which collects all her most sophistic essays into a single volume, appears in April and posits that women would all be happier if we transformed into 50’s housewives. Their husbands may have had to fumble around with a flashlight for their clitoris, but those homemakers got a lot more action than you do, Flanagan will have you know.

The serene 50’s housewife is one of Flanagan’s favorite action figures. That and the strawfeminist, a selfish, humorless beast who, given half a chance, would stamp on June Cleaver’s pillbox hat, rip the Beaver from her loving embrace, and rob her of the joys of dusting. Slap her down with your pocketbook, ladies!

I’d love to know what my Texan granny (scroll down), who divorced her alcoholic husband and raised my mom on her own in the 50’s, would’ve had to say to Flanagan. It wouldn’t have been anything nice. And as the child of a mother who reacted against her own upbringing, stayed home to raise my sister and me, and quickly fell to the business of becoming stark, raving mad — all while putting a hot dinner on the table every night — I happen to know that Flanagan’s prescription is bullshit.

Some women aren’t meant to stay at home with their children. Or to have children. Or even — are you sitting down? — to be married.

Also shocking: not all women who work in offices are upper-middle-class, or feminists. Nor, contrary to Flanagan’s implication in a recent Atlantic review,* are all lesbian couples well-to-do. In fact, most of the ones I know aren’t.

The economic assumptions undergirding Flanagan’s theses are even more fallacious and infuriating than her generalizations about gender roles. But I digress.

Three kinds of women seem to populate Flanagan’s world:

  • Happy homemakers (who are decorously well-off);
  • Rich, striving feminists (who foist their children on strangers and refuse to fuck their husbands); and
  • Nannies, Wal-Mart workers, and other lower forms of life (who should of course be exploited by corporations rather than by individuals).

    Substitute real people for her bendy plastic toys, and it becomes clear that Flanagan has no actual insights to offer.

    I’ve tried in the past to engage with her arguments, such as they are, because she is the (that’s one) woman anointed by two of the nation’s most prestigious publications to write about “women’s issues.” Now that her book’s on the way, though, I think I’m going to tune her out. I don’t see where it says in my Grim Feminists’ Handbook that I have a duty to respond to frothing nonsense.

    * She also characterizes “g[etting] [one]self inseminated” as “an essentially selfish act.”

    “There is nothing a woman can do that is so fundamentally self-centered that it won’t be met with a cackle of ‘You go, girl!’ from a female somewhere on the planet,” she says.


    Newsletter Signup

    Subscribe to my free newsletter, Ancestor Trouble.


    You might want to subscribe to my free Substack newsletter, Ancestor Trouble, if the name makes intuitive sense to you.