Friday, June 03, 2011

The issue of “stay-at-home” wives

(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 03 June 2011)

I want to clear up a misunderstanding on how I feel about women who are deemed “stay-at-home” wives or moms. Last week I wrote about what the relatives of the brutally murdered Shewraney Doobay had to say regarding her marriage to Dr. Doobay, and I fear that I was not clear enough on my sentiments about women who – like Mrs. Doobay – care for the home.

As a reminder, the Doobay relatives told Kaieteur News, “‘She was his right hand; she spent all of her days at home while he spent most of his time at work…she did everything for him and he adored her.’
This newspaper was told that the couple had been married for more than 30 years.” I then pointed out that I had a problem with this statement because, “While traditional thought might insist this was a great marriage, for me and many other women, this would be hell on earth.”

This was the whole gist of my column – that there are many women who are no longer happy in the “traditional” role of being a stay-at-home wife.

Several times throughout the column I pondered whether Mrs. Doobay had a choice in being a stay-at-home wife. Among which I said, “I wonder if Mrs. Doobay chose this life for herself. I wonder if she even had a choice or if social expectations and spousal expectations chose this life for her.”

Acknowledging the oft stated choice factor in that column is key in understanding my point on this matter, because I believe that if a woman chooses to stay at home, that is her prerogative.
I have the utmost respect for women who choose to sacrifice a career to rear their children themselves. 

In fact, I did the same thing myself and did not go to college until after my youngest had started school. I cannot say that I was always a happy stay-at-home mom. I was not, because I needed an intellectual stimulation that caring for the home did not provide.

But that does not negate the fact that there are many women who find effective ways to stay at home and maintain intellectual stimulation at the same time.

Having said that, I cannot emphasize enough how vital it is that it is the woman’s decision to stay at home. It is not a man’s decision and it is not society’s decision.

This is the crux of the issue I have with whether a woman becomes a stay-at-home wife. I know first-hand how much work caring for a home and children entails, and believe me when I say it is far more work than having a “job” outside of the house.

However, if a woman does not want to be a stay-at-home wife, it should not be forced upon her as if she is a slave without a choice in the matter.

Every person, be it male or female, should have the opportunity to decide for themselves what they want to do with their lives. Women are too often relegated to the home without due consideration of their dreams, their aspirations and their desires. That is just wrong.

In regard to the Doobay column, I had one person ask me about my knowledge concerning East Indian traditions, as if I do not know that East Indian traditions expect women to stay at home. Of course I know. I am married to an East Indian. I have an East Indian mother-in-law, East Indian sisters-in-law, East Indian brothers-in-law, East Indian extended family and many East Indian friends.

I know a lot about East Indian culture (as far as it relates to the Guyanese culture) – and I also know how many East Indian women chafe under the social expectations placed on them and long to break the binds that hold them back from their own aspirations. That is why I am writing these columns about women having a choice in how they live their own lives.

I know full well that these types of columns irritate certain men – regardless of their racial background – because there are still those who believe women to be on a lower stratum than men intellectually, socially, politically, religiously and in every other way. They are wrong. They are so wrong.

In fact, even if a woman chooses to be a stay-at-home wife and then changes her mind later on because she decided it is time to do something else – that, too, is the woman’s decision alone.

Yes, husband and wife should talk about the mechanics of the woman’s decision to find the best way to manage the house, children, chores, etc., but it is the woman who makes the final decision of what she does with her life – just like the man makes his own decisions about his life.

To hold women back from their own dreams and aspirations is to squander human potential, something this world simply cannot afford to do. This is not a matter of women attaining permission to make a choice about their lives, because the same rights and freedoms afforded to men also apply to women. The permission already exists.

What stands in the way of women realizing their own dreams are the traditions that chain women to certain roles, whether they want those roles or not. Humans create traditions and humans can vanquish those traditions.

This is one tradition that is morally bankrupt and socially irresponsible – and should thus be eradicated. Women should make their own choices about their own lives.

It is my hope that Mrs. Doobay did in fact make the choice to stay at home alone and do everything for her husband for 30 years. I would hate to think how she would have felt if it was not her choice.

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