Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Married to the Job

Friends might remember me having a rant a few months ago when my employment status was altered on an application form. I had listed my occupation as "stay at home mum" and the person taking my form crossed it out and wrote "housewife." I had a similar experience recently when applying for a library card. I had the option of ticking a number of boxes in the employment section of the form and the only category that applied to me was again, "housewife." I could've lied on either of these forms and declared myself to be a professor of physics or a self-employed entrepreneur because it's really nobody's business what I do with my time. But I do like to be honest on official documents, especially as we are living very close to the PRC, and you never know who's paying attention.

I strenuously object to being labelled a "housewife" and I apologise if any of you out there wear that term with pride. I mean no offence, I just feel that it's a very outdated term. It instantly evokes images of 1950's wives greeting their husbands with slippers and the day's papers, keeping the kids busy while hoovering and cooking three-course gourmet meals every night. The term itself implies that we're tied to the house in some way, that rather than being a conscious decision, staying at home is our "ball and chain." I'd like to believe that our mothers and grandmothers burnt their bras in the 70's so that staying at home could be a choice for women today. I think it bothers me so much here in Hong Kong because a number of their laws and rules in relation to marriage and family are quite archaic, so it stands to reason that their definition of a housewife is as outdated as mine. There is no recognition of any relationship outside of a marriage between a man and a woman. There is no such thing as de facto status, let alone acknowledgement of a gay marriage. If an expat man is working in Hong Kong, his partner is not eligible for a "dependent" visa unless they get married or she finds an employer to sponsor her. I also object to being labelled a "dependent" but that's another story. We have also had friends here who have had to prove they were married before undergoing fertility treatment. It seems you're not entitled to start a family unless you're officially husband and wife. I might feel differently about being called a housewife in a country with more liberal views, but the limitations placed on what constitutes a family here has me on the warpath.

My husband told me recently that he thinks the only women who don't like the term are housewives themselves. He also suggested that I come up with another, more corporate sounding term, like "Manager of Domestic Affairs." He wasn't taking me seriously at the time, but I do quite like the sound of that. I can't imagine how well that would go down with the bank manager or the immigration office in HK, but it does sound infinitely more important than "housewife," and is probably a much more accurate reflection on what it is we stay-at-home mums actually do. We're not just mums; we're nurses, pharmacists, cleaners, managers, taxi drivers, chefs, teachers, entertainers, diplomats, and jugglers. We work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without holidays or annual bonuses. I don't know many CEO's that work under those conditions.

Since becoming a parent I definitely feel as if I'm managing the household and I have become a lot more organised. I have a calendar on the fridge which outlines every member of the household's movements for the whole month; playgroup, work, doctor's appointments, social engagements, everything is on there. Partly because I have a tendency to forget things if I don't write them down, but also because we're so very busy these days. I may not do the housework myself every day but I do make sure that someone does it, and that it's done to my high standards. And I do it myself on weekends. I also do the grocery shopping, plan meals for the three of us and make sure that we all have clothes to wear, as well as buying all of J's nappies and our cleaning products online. I know where my husband will be and when he is working, even when he doesn't. I have J's routine down to a fine art and I organise 99% of our get-togethers with friends. If I left that job to my husband we wouldn't have any friends!

I'm aware that I may sound like I'm running a small dictatorship, but I'm sure the parents among you completely understand. I do take my role as "Manager of Domestic Affairs" very seriously but only because I enjoy it so much. If I wasn't so organised and engaged I'm afraid I might be bored at home all day. As it is, I love what I do. J is teething at the moment and hasn't been sleeping well at all. He woke up crying several times last night, and even though there were times when my husband got up to him, the only thing that calmed him down was a cuddle with his Mummy. Despite the sleep deprivation, there was nothing else I would rather do, and I don't think there's a label big enough for that kind of commitment.

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