The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

To Stoopid Gender Retrogression, Australia Says No!

Posted by Mel Campbell on January 3, 2009

Today I saw a Courier-Mail story with the headline: Economic decline sees return of 1950s housewife. Oh boy, I thought:

GET out the knitting needles, dust off the pie dishes and fire up the oven. A trend that will concern career women everywhere shows the housewife is back.

In a move that will send shockwaves through career women everywhere, new figures have revealed younger women are embracing traditional domestic crafts in droves, with cooking, knitting and gardening top of the list.

The article goes on to detail the ways that people are returning to traditional domestic pursuits such as cooking, making their own clothes, growing vegetable gardens and keeping chooks. I was thinking, “How is this possibly a return to being 1950s housewives?” And I got kind of angry when I saw a poll attached to the story: “Vote: where should a woman’s place be?”

Luckily, the good readers of News.com.au weren’t all buying into this bullshit. Among the predictable comments (“I am a very lucky man to have a wife that relishes in doing those jobs rather than chase the glass ceiling career”, “The voting is more of an indicator of how many lesbians are taking the test”) were some encouraging remarks:

“I think the answer to the question of ‘where should the woman’s place be’ is pretty simple. Where-ever the hell she wants comes to mind! It is inconceivable to me that we should still be asking such a dumb question in 2009,” wrote Paul Stephensen.

“I dont think it is about the whole return to the 1950’s housewife.Know one can go back, all it shows is people are trying to work how to survive in these times. not just women there are men as well. We may start to work together as a family and as a community. with respect for all and not have a focus on money. I also think their will be less depression and less fat kids to,” wrote agasagawoman.

“OoOOoo, big news,” wrote Fredric of Brisbane. “Besides none of these statistics really show that its women specifically who are involved in the recent surge in Sewing machine and fabric sales. kinda biased to think that really; considering that men also like gardening and other domestic activities that the average 1950’s housewife would. But either way, its good news for men like me who don’t really care what their women do; cook, clean, sew… it doesn’t mean anything really considering that this article is absolutely pointless. Seriously, who cares what women do?”

“… More importand what sort of role models is it for our children in particular our daughters,” wrote Sue of Brisbane. “Has anybody stopped to think that you might be brainwashing them into thinking that they are worth nothing but been a housewife tell me how encouraging is that not to mention it is giving our sons the impression that they are entitled to have someone run around after them for free. Before you know it they will then turn around and say women can’t vote anymore.Wake up it is 2009 and everyone is equal . I taught my sons if you want something get it yourself and that includes your slippers and there is nothing wrong with helping make the dinner and do the washing and all the other household chores . I know my husband does and even when he is tired he insists we all work together as a team kids and husband and wife and we both work.Everybody has a right and our children should know that. Don’t just expect for a meal to be waiting for you and your washing to be clean and waiting for you as that is selfish and naive.There is no i in team and the last time I was told partnership means team.”

Ultimately, this story shouldn’t need to “concern career women everywhere”. Rather, it just makes you realise how many news stories that are presented as self-evident social trends are actually curated and shaped by the reporting process.

Here we have a deliberately provocative headline and poll that suggest women are abandoning the gains of feminism and resuming old gender roles of being domestic servants for their husbands, yet the story is more about general domestic thrift and can apply equally to men and women.

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14 Responses to “To Stoopid Gender Retrogression, Australia Says No!”

  1. How retarded is the Courier-Mail, sometimes there are stories on that site just to get a rise outta people. Personally I started making clothes to reuse and recycle clothes and fabrics to do my part in stopping landfill and to stop buying massive chainstore sweatshop shit. Helping the environment? (warning: sarcasm) How 1950s is that?

    I would agree that people are doing things themselves, but growing vegetables and making clothes could be more about the environment and and being sustainable than men & female having ‘roles’…

    Love the blog guys!

  2. Oh, and p.s, on this note:

    “Ultimately, this story shouldn’t need to “concern career women everywhere”. Rather, it just makes you realise how many news stories that are presented as self-evident social trends are actually curated and shaped by the reporting process.”

    The reporting process at this time of year is not so good, could be that inexperienced reporters are re-writing press releases at this point. Press Releases sent out, perhaps in this case, by cookbook peeps and sewing industry peeps who are looking for a bit of attention.

  3. HooHoo said

    I read this exact article and knew what they were trying to do, luckilly most saw through it. It’s 2009. Women shouldn’t be beholden to men.

    By the way I am male.

  4. audrey said

    Hi Mel,

    I wrote about this for the paper this weekend. I’ll send you the link when it’s up. I’m also just about to blog for them about your post on competing to be the ugliest…

  5. audrey said

    Here’s the link.

  6. Mel Campbell said

    The story must have been syndicated to all the News mastheads – I’m sure I’ve seen Kylie Hansen’s byline in many a Herald Sun article. I really don’t think she’s an inexperienced reporter. A CBF over summer reporter, perhaps?

  7. Bearded Lady said

    I agree with Veronica. What’s politically reterogressive about cooking and growing your own food or making your own clothes? The majority of the world’s population does and in an era of chronic obesity and over-consumption, unsustainable agriculture and seed patenting, global warming and exploitative labour practices, why wouldn’t you?
    Ecofeminists such as Vandana Shiva, Marie Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen have been advocating it (what they call the ‘subsistence perspective’) for years.

  8. CBF-ed sounds about right!

    I work in the media, and have just deleted about 20 PR companies “How to lose weight after Christmas” emails! Love your work Mel!

  9. HooHoo said

    As an opinion maker, the tabloids in Australia ain’t much to worry about anymore. Even Joe Average in the suburbs thinks they are a joke.

  10. Mel Campbell said

    This isn’t a problem unique to tabloid journalism. Fairfax is just as bad – and perhaps even worse, because everyone there is obsessed with a stupid, meaningless notion of ‘quality journalism’, by which they mean ‘opinion-making journalism’. Yet their papers are full of subbing errors and PR churnalism, which ought to be a better marker of journalistic ‘quality’.

    Plus, Audrey writes her consistently thoughtful columns for the ‘tabloid’ Advertiser.

  11. Bearded Lady said

    @ HooHoo

    I wouldn’t be so sure about that. I work in a low-paid, blue-collar job and I can tell you that there really are a lot of people out there who think programs like ‘Today Tonight’ and ‘A Current Affair’ constitute serious journalism.

  12. Clem Bastow said

    The hilarious thing about their spin, as others here have noted, is that in many ways (i.e. making your own clothes or ‘renovating’ old ones, growing and making your own food) what they’re talking about actually are feminist statements, because you’re in essence removing yourself from the commercialism and capitalism that feeds into so much sexism (women want to shop, you must buy high heels, eat this food or you’ll be fat and depressed, blah blah).

    And I definitely agree with Mel re: the supposed ‘good’ papers not necessarily being any better; remember when The Australian was the pick of the bunch? Meeeemmoooorriiiieees!

  13. tina_sparkle said

    I’m enjoying getting back into baking. how retro! how quaint! should I now be burning my power suit as a statement?

  14. Amber said

    We covered this on Babble as well. I suspect the subs are mainly to blame for the inflammatory headline, but it’s just lazy journalism to think ooh, women are taking sewing lessons, we must be wanting to step out of the boardroom and become Suzy Homemakers again.

    There is a massive movement in parenting at the moment towards more sustainable living – cloth nappies, sewing, vege gardens etc and the study merely reflects this trend. The stay-at-home mothers I know like this are not wanting to be 1950s housewives with an immaculate house and kids out of sight but actually live a more worthwhile life and try to make a difference for the few years their kids are at home. Many of them also are using this as an empowering time to start up their own small businesses from home making clothes and selling them online, etc.

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