Feminism, Homemakers, and Stepford Wives

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say the words “wife and homemaker”?


Now as you probably know by now I’m getting married this summer. I’m super stoked about spending the rest of my life with John because he is my best friend and we have awesome adventures, but I’ve been struggling with what it means to become a wife within our cultural context.

Look at us! We’re married! Now we can jump on the bed!

On the one hand I have many fantastic examples of what it can mean to be a wife and homemaker. My eldest sister for example. She was married by 19 and popping out babies by 20. She has a massive garden, grinds her own wheat, cooks pretty much everything from scratch, volunteers at her kids’ school, practically built her house from the ground up with her husband, and manages the office of their business from home. These are amazing accomplishments.

So why do I feel like I should reassure you readers that now that her kids are hitting their teens she has returned to university?

The other day I was talking to John about the pressure I have felt in university (particularly in my Sociology class) to use day care whenever we start having kids so I can continue with a professional career. I explained that it almost feels like there is a sort of “pro-day care” propaganda. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with subsidizing childcare, but some of the arguments I encountered seem to stigmatize stay-at- home parents. He was somewhat bewildered by my argument and couldn’t see where I was coming from. So I told him that the next time he bumps into an old professor and they ask what he is now doing that he should tell them he has decided to be a stay-at-home dad for a few years. I think that got my point across.

So I really do believe that being a wife and mother, and even a homemaker, are valuable skills that need to be respected, not stigmatized. On the other hand, I am a feminist, and I do believe that it’s my duty as a woman of privilege to take advantage of the opportunities I have been given so that those doors can remain open for future generations of women.

Although apparently, as a feminist, you shouldn’t trust me with children.

As Jennifer Siebel Newsom impresses in her documentary, Miss Representation, it is hard for young girls to strive towards something they don’t see.

Despite the advances of feminism, women are still underrepresented in government, and perhaps more influentially, in media. This often results in the roles of women being diminished, and their value focused on the aesthetic

Why go to school when you can be pretty for a living?

So what does this mean for me on a practical level? I mean, it’s not like getting married is going to prevent me from pursuing a career. In fact, probably the exact opposite because John is super supportive about my passion for women’s issues, and is a huge support with my schooling and career plans. No, I mean what does that mean in our relationship.

I was always the girl who swore I would never cook for a man, I was going to find a man who could cook for me. I was going to do something that involved power tools or heavy work equipment and was never ever going to wear pink. Above all, I was determined to never be weak or vulnerable.

Unfortunately for me, relationship is all about vulnerability.

We recently went to the pastor who will be marrying us to get some good ol’ premarital counselling (all the cool kids are doing it) and he talked to us about the roles in a marriage relationship. He kept focusing on some of my least favorite verses in the bible:

Ephesians 5: 21-25

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

Now I really, really hate the word “submit”, but I’ve been in the church long enough to know that the lion’s share of the work is actually put on the husband in these verses as the man is called to sacrifice his life for his wife as Christ sacrificed his life for the church. Yet even that irks me, why is the husband held to a higher standard of living than the wife? On the other hand

On the other hand John has no problem fulfilling many of his expected gender roles in our relationship. He pays on dates, he takes out the garbage, I even thought it was pretty darn cute that he asked my parents if he could date me. In fact, a big part of what I was attracted to about him was the way he was confident enough to hold his own and not back down when we argued, even though it also made me furious.

So have I created a double standard here? I writhe under typical female gender role expectations, but I still want him to “be the man.” What do you think? As a self professing “liberal Christian” do I accept the biblical roles which have created many of the successful relationships around me? On a practical level, is it only fair that if I expect him to play the role of the husband that I take on the role of the wife? Does my position as a feminist mean I need to rebel against any and all gender stereotypes, even in my own relationship?

Also, should I hyphenate my name, or is that just lame?


19 responses to “Feminism, Homemakers, and Stepford Wives

  1. Pingback: Evan and Gordon Interview: Kat, Our Newest CWR! | Culture War Reporters

  2. Great article, Kat! I say keep your last name!

  3. Welcome, Kat.

    First of all, I hate you for putting that video in the middle of your article because I thought it was going to be 7 minutes long, but was an eternity and I had to watch all of it. So much for getting stuff done today.

    Second of all, good on ya. Well written, and good questions raised.

    Finally, I recently read an interesting book about misinterpreting scripture–and I’m pretty sure, but not positive, that it said something about that passage. Given the Ephesian cultural context, Paul intended to warn them away from their specific areas of error, culturally–so that’s a culture where it was culturally acceptable for men to be outright adulterous (at the local temple) and….I forget what their standard was for women. But also different from ours. So more than a rule for your living, it was a warning for the Ephesians against their cultural standard of living. I get the feeling that you’re being wary enough of our current cultural standards to see that you don’t need the rules–marriage is supposed to be about loving and respecting each other, right? Do you need written rules to know how to do that? My 2 cents

  4. I dunno man, Kat Sheppard is kind of a badass name. Probably has a better ring to it than Kat Goertz, to be honest. Is it weird that my main considerations are how it looks on paper and how the syllables flow together? Kat Sheppard. Very euphonic. Definitely a novel-heroine’s name. She’d probably be a detective or something. I hope you don’t hyphenate, unless you want to do that on the paperwork and go by just one name in practical life. Those names very rarely sound nice, and for some reason that seems like a more important issue than the principle of whose name goes where.

  5. Yeah Chris, I wouldn’t want to go by two last names, I’m only considering it for paperwork. Man, there is just so much to switch over! I figured if I had Goertz-Sheppard written somewhere that maybe in all the places I forgot to switch my name people would still know who I am. Meh, I still have a few months to figure it out.
    And Matt, thanks for the feedback. Don’t suppose you remember the name of that book eh? And sorry about the documentary. Initially I was only planning to include a trailer, but the whole documentary only recently ended up on youtube (it used to be quite pricey to get a copy) so I thought I’d better share it with the world (and really, was it a day wasted, really?).

  6. And thanks Claire! I’ve definitely thought about it, at least professionally. We will see.

  7. Have to agree with Chris on the name and for the same reasons. did I ever tell you that we named a horse after you? Well sort of. Her regd. name is Kool And Tardy… KAT for short. I said she seems like a Katherine, thinking of you. Hannah said ya she reminds me of Katherine Geortz. I yelled ya me too!
    She’s a strong capable blond (ok buckskin).
    It’s seems way better in my heart than in print.
    Keep on blogging. Always loved to hear your ideas….. Sue

  8. Hi Kat, lovely article – I personally appreciated the video – I’d been wanting to see it and it was a perfect way to spend part of my quiet night shift!

    I am not sure about the Biblical roles you refer to, and I guess I’m just be wary about the idea of “Biblical roles” because so much of what appears to be about gender roles in the Bible has been interpreted to uphold patriarchy. But I know you know that, so I’m not too worried 🙂 Ben said all that needed to be said – love and respect. I think you two are the only ones who can define the roles you play in the relationship, according to what you prefer and what works – and they might change over time as your circumstances, interests and skills change too!

    About the name. I always cringe when other people tell women what to do in this circumstance, just because I think women are told what to do in life more than enough. I loved the option of keeping my own name and personally never even considered anything else. It helped that my husband came from a culture where it would have been unheard of and hilarious for me to take on his name. Another option, however, is for both the guy and the gal to combine last names (hyphen optional). Most of the progressive Mennonite couples I worked with in MCC did that. It was pretty much the normal and expected thing to do. Of course, it meant a change for the man as well as the woman (which is only fair). I think that unless the guy is willing to change his name, than the gal shouldn’t feel any pressure to do so herself. Personally I wouldn’t have given all the family and cultural significance in my last name, although I wish I had my mother’s last name as well to reflect her side of the family. People who say hyphenated or two last names doesn’t sound good are simply speaking from their cultural context, and a limited one at that.

  9. Thanks Shalom, I read your comment out to John and he really liked it too. I still haven’t decided 100%. I feel like one name makes things simpler for whenever we have kids, but I’m definitely leaning towards hyphenating on paper. We will see.

  10. I kept my maiden name as a part of my name, so I have four names on the paper work (first, middle, another middle, and last).. But in reality, my husbands last name just sounded better, so thats what I go by. I also feel that there is pressure from both sides of the fence. When I was a stay at home mom for some time, a lot of people acted like I had “given up” a part of my existence, like I had let them down. Now that I work, there is pressure to go back home, or step down at work. My husband and I work alternate shifts because day care is super expensive, and some people feel that I have compromised my “modern woman freedom” by not taking advantage of $120 week day care. Basically, I feel that as a human being (not as a woman, or as a man) I should do what I feel is best for my family and myself.

  11. “So I told him that the next time he bumps into an old professor and they ask what he is now doing that he should tell them he has decided to be a stay-at-home dad for a few years. I think that got my point across.”

    This made me giggle. I am reading your blog tonight because when I ran into John, a former student, in the grocery store today, he told me I should read your blog, and then Facebook-stalked me to send me the link. I have to be honest, if he had told me he was going to be a stay-at-home dad, I’d have cheered out loud right there in the vegetable aisle!

    But the point is a valid one, because I am a female (and feminist) mother of four who was fortunate enough to be able to stay home and later work part-time while my children were small. And the difference in response to “I’m an at-home mum” compared to “I’m a college instructor” was huge.

    Anyway – I enjoyed these blogs and will continue to check in and see what you are talking about. And have a blast on your wedding day!

    • I’m so glad he sent it your way! And that you would have cheered him on in being a stay at home dad! It is definitely tricky waters to navigate, so it’s good to hear I’m not the only one hearing mixed messages. Thanks again for giving it a read! And for teaching John!

  12. Pingback: Evan and Gordon Kat Talk: Marriage | Culture War Reporters

  13. Pingback: Is “Feminism” a Self-Defeating Label? | Culture War Reporters

  14. Pingback: The 3 Best Pieces of Advice I’ve Received in 3 Years of Marriage | Culture War Reporters

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