According to the Observer, unemployed men have been reduced to poaching eggs, weighing edamame and — shocker — playing with children. But silly as their concerns may seem, they may be part of a larger recessionary turn toward housewifery.
Alexandria Symonds writes of men who, post-layoff, are forced to engage in pursuits once the province of women. Norm Elrod now fills his days with "grocery shopping and other household stuff" and "sometimes waits, June Cleaver-style" for his wife to get home. "Brad," who asked to remain anonymous, says that when he was unemployed, "If someone called me and said, 'What are you doing right now?' I would be like, 'Oh, I have so many chores to do today.' You make something out of nothing." And Robert Barr, a former publishing professional who now spends his time poaching eggs and buying leafy greens, says,
There is a weird little sense of accomplishment that you get, cleaning up the space around you. For example, today, I got up and-I have a lot of shiny surfaces in my apartment, and they really show any kind of smudges and stuff like that. They don't even have to be that dirty to look kind of bad. At one point, I was just like, 'O.K., I don't like this, I want to clean the space around my computer and I want to clean off that countertop.' And I felt good. I felt very organized.
On the one hand, it's annoying to hear work that women have done for centuries — usually without fanfare and often on top of their day jobs outside the home — treated like a new fun hobby that men just discovered. Anyone who's actually had to maintain a home, especially with kids, might dispute the idea that chores are "making something out of nothing." On the other hand, though, these guys may be tapping into a zeitgeist. Perhaps the recessionary June Cleaver fantasy is more widespread.
A few months ago we wrote about the (possible) ascendancy of the "wife" blog, and now there's a new one on the scene. Just Call Me June Cleaver titles her inaugural post, dated July 24, "How to be a 1950s housewife in the 21st Century." She writes,
Is it possible? Probably not because so many things are different today. Women work, marriages fail, and kids don't always behave. Having just discovered the show Leave it to Beaver, I'm loving the 1950′s! I want to add little touches of June Cleaver, and this era, to my life. [...] I hope to one day stay home with my babies. I do love my job, and I'm happy to say that I make as much as my ‘Ward'. Maybe staying at home will never be for me, but it sure looks fun. Just call me June Cleaver.
Obviously women worked in the 1950s, and though it may have been harder to get a divorce, marriages certainly failed. But it's possible that in these uncertain times, a nostalgia for a kind of idealized domesticity is taking hold. Katie Roiphe may long for the fake sixties of Mad Men, but Just Call Me June craves a fake fifties in which one income could support a family and housework was super-fun. It's all a little icky (JCMJ also says things like "I think new brides don't bake enough"), but it makes sense that in a time when work outside the home is getting harder to come by, housework might enjoy a moment in the sun.
Of course, Betty Friedan pointed out that a life of housework could in fact be deadening, and Symonds quotes her liberally in the Observer piece, along with men's reports of their ennui and loss of self-esteem. Much as women were forced out of their manufacturing jobs when men came back from WWII, victims of the "he-cession" may put down the scouring pads when their employment picks up again. But maybe they won't — or at least, maybe they'll do so with a renewed appreciation of what housework actually entails. Just Call Me June's fake fifties of "pack[ing] dear husband's lunch everyday" and wearing aprons all the time seems like an extended game of dress-up, complete with some reactionary gender politics, but it does call attention to domestic work that has long gone unnoticed. And maybe if men do this work long enough, they'll recognize that it's hard and sometimes unrewarding — and that you don't have to be a woman to do it.