Saturday, August 24, 2013

Becoming Housewife Part 2

This is a 2 part series translated from an article published in S Weekly. See the first part here.

The New Waves

Wan Dan used to join an online community form by Gen-Y housewives and participated in their offline activity. They went for steamboat lunch on weekday, enjoyed a leisure afternoon tea, and rushed back to prepare for dinner before evening peak hours.

It is a natural human instinct to join a similar community like themselves so that one can get support from the people who faces the same challenges and problems. For people who have less social presence (at least in China) like housewives, such needs is even more urgent. However, Wan Dan doesn't feel that this is for her. There are something else that's bothering her about being housewife, something more emotional then physical.

It is becoming more common for women to become a full-time housewives in China, especially for globalized city like Beijing. It isn't a luxury that only reserved for the riches as more middle-class women finding themselves treading down the path. Mrs Tao - a full time housewife - summarized the common attributes of such women in Financial Times (China) column: they are typically of working class, no immediate financial stress, have one or two young child, will go for a long vacation once a year, shopped in the hypermarket every week, and splurge on organic food once in a while. They also enjoy a bourgeois lifestyle: watching movies, dining out in restaurants or spending lazy afternoons in Beijing's Summer Palace.

But Fiona, one of the group leader of Gen-Y housewives community, doesn't think that it is that simple to categorize this group of women. She is very active and familiar with many of the Gen-Y housewives member. According to her, the group have 200 members, with 50~60 of them participating actively with the group activity.

Unlike Wan Dan, who is sort of unwillingly gave up her career and became a housewife, another member Xiaohe wants to be a full-time home maker since young. "In the 90's, this is a weird thought that I can't share with anyone." Multi-national enterprises have just enter China en masse during that time. Almost every girl dreams to land an office job. Full-time housewives probably have the same social status as a mistress.

Knowing what she determined to do, Xiaohe prepared herself for the job of a home maker early. When she was in college, she spent a lot of time reading and learning various skills that's helpful for her life of home maker. She does everything to increase her exposure but also at the same time spend a lot of time doing housework. She is lucky, in the sense that she met someone she loves right after graduation. And her husband is willing and has the means to support her as a full-time housewife.

Xiaohe's husband is an entrepreneur and is financially stable. Both are Buddhist and easy-going. "We never had a fight during the last 8 years since we met. This is something that I am really proud of," said Xiaohe. Xiaohe's husband transfers all household assets under Xiaohe's name as a financial assurance for her as a full-time housewife.
Despite full support from her husband, Xiaohe still faces numerous pressure from the society. Filling in "home maker" as a occupation were frequently changed into "unemployed". Her decision is not supported by her parents too. She refuse to further her studies in England as she doesn't see the value of a master degree if she is staying home and doesn't want to risk ruining her relationship with her current husband. They were very unhappy on her decision and still refuse to acknowledge their daughter as a full time housewife till now. "They will introduce me as married and is currently studying for an advance degree."" They couldn't understand my decision, but I guess they will accept the face slowly"

The Fortunate and Not-So-Fortunate Ones

Xiaohe is a happy housewife. The slow homemaker lifestyle softens her already-mild manners even more. She has all the patience and tolerance to face the arrogance and derogation she encounters in her daily life. "Some sympathizes you for your inability to make a living by yourself; while others think that you are useless and not contributing to the society. Anyway, almost everyone think that your future is dim: not self-sustainable, dull and unattractive, constant worries about adultery, and possibly divorce."
Most of these prejudices come from young ladies who just started their career or successful career women. This is not surprising since "young girls need lots of motivation to kick start their career while successful women are usually critical." said Xiao He. But all these negatives comments doesn't matter to her. "There is constant supply of young women who are eager to contribute their time and energy to the society, but my family needs a devoted wife and mum. Since I have no interest in having my own career, I might as well as stay home and do my part as a homemaker."

In a society that lacks respect and understanding towards housewifes, it is important that any woman who is considering this options must both enjoy being housewife herself and has a husband that is supportive of it emotionally and financially. Xiaohe is a fortunate case where a homely girl met a guy who is looking for a housewife.

But not everyone is as fortunate as Xiaohe. In fact, most housewives in China - like Wan Dan - resigned to the position reluctantly. Fiona is also one of them. Even though she is the head of the housewife community and the go-to-person when any members are in trouble, she is as lost as most members. Pretty and aggressive, Fiona used to be a human resource executive in a government enterprise. She left her position when her husband gained an opportunity to work in United States. Her parents warned her against being idle once settled in US, "get a job or further your studies," they told her. She didn't heed their advice. She settled into the position of full time housewife in US very soon, since it is pretty common in her neighborhood. The housewives have their own community, social circle and enjoy insurance protection as well as tax relief, which gives Fiona even less incentive to find a job.

Unlike Wan Dan and Xiaohe, Fiona didn't have a consensus with her husband on the issue of being a stay home mum. She settled in the position passively, without much thought. Financials were tight when Fiona and her husband first came to US. She can tell that her husband secretly hoping that she will work to elevate the financial stress. However, once found out that only lower level jobs such as nanny or cashier are available, she gave up the idea of working.

Fiona didn't think that she has a easy life as a housewife. Her husband changed jobs five times in the first three years and he spent all her time moving, packing and unpacking. When they finally settled down by the fourth year, in which she finally is able to enroll in a master degree course, she found out that she is pregnant.

"My parents are very unhappy with me. My best friend commented that I have achieved nothing apart from moving houses during these few years." Fiona is also disappointed with herself. Although she didn't dream to be very successful in her career, but lacking one makes her feels that she is losing her status at home. There was once that her husband bought a second hand BMW without consulting her, on the ground that "money is earned by him". She was furious but at the same time upset and sadden by the fact.

"It is my biggest mistakes to be a full time housewife," said Fiona. "You can clearly tell that your husband is losing all his respect and adoration towards you... All men wants a wife who can take care of the family, but at the same time earns a decent living and have high social status." Fiona's husband rebutted, "Isn't it similar for women? They want everything: easy life at home, love, adoration and respect from husband."

The main problem for Fiona is that her husband doesn't recognized that it is also hard work to be a housewife, probably not any easier then his job. "If I have known this is what it is going to end up to be, I wouldn't have came to US with him. I might not even be marrying him." Even though Fiona has been giving advice to many others women who are in similar position, she is as lost as them. "I don't have any long term pan now, just deal with the situations along the way... Probably I will go back to China with my son after finishing my master degree."

Part Time Housewives

Ding Dang used to have a respectable job. After graduating with a master degree in Chinese, she stayed on at her university as a career counselor. She was active socially and enjoyed her time spent with students. The benefit of working in a university is good and she got to enjoy long holiday. As a results, she managed to travel extensively.

Ding Dang married in 2009, and was pregnant very soon after. She decided to quit her job due to 2 factors: firstly, she would like to spend a part of her life devoted to her family entirely. Secondly, although her job is well respected with decent pay, it isn't what she really wants to do. And so she quit.

Adjusting to a house maker life is not as easy as she thought. After 10 years of working life which provided her income, satisfaction, sense of accomplishment and joy, she quickly feel lost and empty facing housework day in and day out. "It isn't that I have too much time in my hand. Having a child means that you have endless things to do." But she is lost emotionally. A sense of emptiness that can't be filled just by cooking and washing. She needs something more creative and meaningful, a goal that she can fight towards it.

Since Ding Dang loves to travel and shares her travel experience, she decided to write a book about travelling in 2012. Her son is one and a half years old by then. Without hiring any help, Ding Dang woke up every day at 6:30am, wash and cook and keep herself busy with the household until her son fall asleep by 9pm. Only then, she will start working on her book. It is not unusual that she works on it till 2~3am.

The proceed from the book, when compared to her previous income or contribution to family income, is meager. But to Ding Dang, this is something that's very important to her. It provides something for her to look forward to and work on.

Although most educated women are tired of working full time and devoting more time to career than their family, they don't want to give up financial independence and totally rely on their husbands' income either. They probably should be acknowledged as "Part Time Housewives".
Yan Hong used to work at Wall Street Journal, held managerial positions in two university and work as a press officer at Australian Embassy. Yet, she quitted all these when she had a first child and stay home for more than 10 years. During this period, she wrote 10 books on children education and she never had doubt regarding her status. "My husband will introduced me as the children education expert, my children will tell their friends that I am a writer... but all these doesn't really matter to me. I am totally fine if they just introduced me as the stay home mum. I am proud of it."

Apart from understanding and acceptance, the space for full time housewife in China is still relatively less due to less active social activity. But Ding Dang and Yan Hong proves that this is not necessary the way. There is still a space for you to develop yourself apart from the cooking, washing and caring for your child.


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