Cosmo Landesman debates with Róisín Lanigan

Róisín: As the great Gemma Collins once said: “I do wish I had someone who was financially stable to look after me so I could be free, and be myself. Someone to put petrol in my car so I ain’t got to keep working like a dog.” It became an instant meme because 1) it’s Gemma Collins and 2) who hasn’t fantasised about having some wealthy benefactor or ailing, elderly, phenomenally rich husband to pay for them to just float around and write their silly little columns and buy their silly little outfits and simply… vibe?

At the time, Gemma (even in all her infinite wisdom) couldn’t possibly have foreseen just how much her words would resonate with young women who are rediscovering, in a kind of Stepford Wives-takes-TikTok way, the joy of being a housewife. A bunch of women in their 20s and 30s post endless “day in the life” videos where they do such tasks as: get their nails done, give tips for cleaning tiles in the shower and show what they’re putting in the air-fryer for dinner. You get the idea. Housewives are having a moment.

Here’s the thing: I cannot imagine anything worse. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a basically housewife-less family: my mum and dad both worked on and off, my mum more often, as a result my dad made more dinners and picked us up from school. But staring at the four walls of your own house every day, or relying on someone else’s money if you want to leave those four walls and go buy like, a coffee, sounds like hell on earth. Obviously nobody likes to work – yes, Cosmo, even when your work is writing silly little columns where you argue in a mainly good-natured way with other people – and obviously the dream would be to live independently of having to work, while still not being disgustingly rich enough to trigger any tendencies towards total amorality (voting Tory, not wanting to pay taxes etc).

But the dream is definitely not to have a husband Monzo you a set amount of money for Zoflora and acrylics. I’d much rather win a non-insane amount of money on the lottery, or maybe have some sort of internet pay-pig scenario. At least then I wouldn’t have to justify my every financial decision to someone else, like: “Hey, why did you spend £43.00 in Starbies in one day?” or “Why are you paying for an app that gives you daily astrology advice?”

It should be uncontroversial to say that fetishising a feminine ideal of the housewife is obviously dumb, but it’s actually kind of problematic because by the logic of the internet modern-day housewives are lauded as somehow both inherently feminist (it’s a choice!) and inherently anti-capitalist (no work!). Actually, they’re neither. The kind of housewives celebrated by TikTok and Gemma Collins might seem vaguely glamorous and free, but in practice existing within the constraints of the nuclear family where you’re expected to perform constant unpaid labour is less chic than might first appear. It’s the preferred choice of a small group of women only, insofar as being a girlboss or getting extensive cosmetic surgery is a choice.

I’m always surprised to see zoomers embrace tradition like this, in the belief it’s novel and modern, when in fact it’s a fundamentally boomer notion to fetishise the idea of the housewife (Cosmo, hope you can confirm). Maybe we’re more alike than we’d first thought. Which is actually pretty terrifying!

Cosmo: Róisín, there’s so much about your piece I just don’t understand. Who is Gemma Collins? (Is she related to Joan Collins?) Who is Monzo (a rap artist?) What is Zoflora? (a new butter substitute?) Who are Starbies (a girl band?) And what have you got against housewives?

I pity the poor housewife: nobody likes these domestic slaves of the patriarchy. To the sisterhood such women have the souls of robots and the morals of a scab. Even housewives are anti-housewife. When, at parties, you ask these women what they do they apologetically say, “I’m just a housewife.”

But why “just”? Why is a life centred around bringing up children, cooking and creating a lovely home looked down on? Is being a career woman and climbing the ladder of success and bumping your head on the glass ceiling, working super-long hours for less pay than men, really such a superior way of life?

For some women, yes it is. Great. But for other women being a housewife is a much better gig. The singer Lily Allen wrote that she preferred being a housewife to being a pop star. “This isn’t some silly retro fantasy of wanting to be the little woman with the pinny and the feather duster and the perfect hair… It’s about saying that being at home, looking after your family, taking pleasure in cooking and being house-proud, are all valid and valuable. I do it because I enjoy it.”

What’s wrong with that?

When it comes to diversity and inclusivity – especially when it involves women – you’re usually a champion of a woman’s right to choose. (Please note: choice is the crucial word here). You’re happy for a woman to be a “sex worker” servicing men with blow-jobs, but baking cakes for the man you love is unacceptable! You’re so weird! And yes I know you’re going to say; being a housewife is being a sex worker and cleaner in one!

But things have changed since the 1950s, Róisín! They’re not all Stepford Wives imprisoned in suburbia staring at “the four walls” and begging their spouse for spare change to buy a cup of coffee. They do have lives and interests outside of the home and making hubby happy.

There’s a whiff of hypocrisy when affluent career women sneer at the housewife. They don’t have to play the role of the housewife because they can afford to pay other women to play that role for them – it’s usually a poor, immigrant woman who does the cleaning, the cooking and takes care of the children.

And by the way, it wasn’t us Boomers who fetishised the housewife – we challenged the whole concept (cf Germaine Greer, Spare Rib magazine). I do share your fantasy of having a wealthy benefactor to support me. Oh, for a life devoted to light dusting and silly column writing! If there are any wealthy female benefactors out there who would like a nice house hubby, I’m your man. I can happily do all the domestic chores, prepare meals, tidy, polish, take your morning tea in bed, provide foot massages, back rubs, engaging conversation, multiple orgasms, cocktails, lots of laughs, tons of love and I always put the loo seat down when finished!

Róisín: Cosmo, apologies for mixing up boomers with pre-boomers (at some point you go back far enough that all the older generations start to blur), that was a misunderstanding. Now, to clear up your own misunderstandings. Gemma Collins is an icon. Monzo is a banking app that people use to passive aggressively ask you to pay them back £4.12 for taxis and flat whites. Zoflora is a product used by fascist cleaning influencers. Starbies is the place where I drink three litres of iced coffee daily.

And the last misunderstanding: housewives are not the downtrodden alternative to affluent career women. In fact the modern housewife is the opposite: a performance of comfortable affluence, an escape from capitalism. In the past (pre-boomer, I get it) it was possible for one person, a husband, to provide for a whole family on one wage. Now, during a cost-of-living crisis, the idea of one person making enough money to support even themselves is laughable. Sneering at 2022 housewives is not a sneer at “poor” women performing free labour, it’s a sneer at a society that has convinced us that either staying at home or working is a choice at all.

Cosmo: Róisín, I don’t want to be difficult but I still don’t understand. Gemma Collins is an icon for whom? Not me. But then, you millennials call everything iconic when in fact they’re merely colonic. And why do you need an app to ask for money owed for flat whites and taxis? How petty is that! Do your lot also expect payback for a pint of beer you buy a mate? And hello, “Zoflora is a product used by fascist cleaning influencers” – what in hell are they? I can tell you, young lady, there’s nothing fascistic about Ajax and Cif cream! They do a fantastic job on your sink and floor as any aspiring house-husband like me well knows! Here’s a little tip for you to help your forthcoming marriage: ammonia works best on cleaning glass and mirrors.

Journalist Cosmo Landesman believes that journalists should not bore readers with lists of publications they’ve written for or books they’ve published

Róisín Lanigan is a writer and editor based in Belfast and London

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