As an undergrad, I studied theater at UCLA. While UCLA was giant and somewhat anonymous, the theater department was intimate. Incestuous, you might even say. We were young, pretty, gifted and well, a little nuts. You know, actors.
My sophomore year, I rented an apartment in Westwood with a few actress girlfriends. It was on Ophir Drive (pronounced O-FEAR) and our male counterparts took to calling it the "House of Phir". We were indeed fearsome. I saw it then and I see it now. We were a whole lot of crazy beauty concentrated in one spot (emphasis on crazy or beauty depending on the day). A Shakespeare-spewing female tornado. We could suck you in and spit you out. We traded boyfriends and even occasionally girlfriends, we had screaming fights heard 'round the neighborhood, we boogied to Prince at three in the morning, tossing our yards of shiny hair. We were fun but, well, a little scary.
We had a private term used only in the house. And here I risk alienating you, Constant Reader. That term was - brace yourself - "cunt". As in, "Come on, cunt, time to go to the party." Or "Cunt, did you eat all the Top Ramen?" or "I love you. Cunt." It was an endearment. We used it as Ben and I use "honey" today. It made us laugh because it was so shocking. It was the worst word we could think of in association with ourselves. We never used this word outside of the apartment and never inside it if there was a man present. It was ours and it was not up for outside interpretation, or god forbid, misuse. It was an amulet we held against the boys club that was the Theater Department, the microcosm of the male-dominated Hollywood just outside the university walls. It was a little like gay men calling each other "Fag" or gay women lovingly addressing each other as "Dyke" or even African-Americans using the dreaded "N" word within their own community. It is owning your own slander - taking the knife out of the hand of the enemy and keeping it safely for yourself.
I so hate the term "stay-at-home mom". It's ridiculous, really. Demeaning. I'm a mom and I stay at home. That's all I do. I never go out, I never do anything that isn't related to my children. Staying at home, being a mom, that's it. Of course, I'm struggling with more than just the term. I, along with most mothers I know, struggle with personal identity beyond motherhood, balancing this most important job with the rest of who we are. I love that question "Do you work?". I always want to answer, "Aw, no, I'm just a laundress, short-order cook, dish-washer, chauffeur, maid, cruise director and personal hygienist for these three screaming people you see before you. I'm on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, I don't get coffee breaks or vacations but it's pretty awesome." For those of us who aren't "working", for those of us "in the home", there is little time, let alone energy for the rest of ourselves - our creativity, our intellectual pursuits, even just our desire to have a little cash that's our own.
So when people ask me what I do, what's the short-hand answer? I've been thinking lately about "housewife". Talk about demeaning. It almost infers other wives. Like a guy has a housewife but he also has an officewife in case he's in need of a back-rub or cup of coffee while at work, or a boatwife in case he wants a cocktail while sailing or, I don't know, a golfwife to carry his clubs. The housewife, of all these wives, probably has the worst job, always stuck at home. But, could I perhaps own the term "housewife"? Could it become my forties equivalent of "cunt"? As in, "Hey, housewife, what's going on? I love those jeans!" or "Housewife, you just gotta tell him you're not going camping again until he buys an air-mattress" or "Meet me for a glass of wine in an hour, housewife, these kids are making me insane!"
When I was in high school, I ran with the most terrific, wonderfully dorky group of girls. There were a handful of us, give or take, depending on the year. We floated in the middle of the social strata. We weren't the self-possessed, derisive girls at the top but we weren't donning renaissance garb, either. Megan, my beloved Megan, was the tallest and loudest of us all (and that's saying something, given the height and volume possessed by each and every girl) and one day one of the surfer boys - the boy that Megan and I had silently worshiped for years - shouted, "Oh, look, it's Megan and her fag crew!" This is just after he yelled at her, apropos of nothing, "You're a dyke - spell it - D-I-K-E!"
The absurdity of the title of "fag crew", given that we were girls, given that calling anyone "fag" by that time (the mid-eighties) in that place (the San Francisco Bay Area) was viewed as totally ridiculous, was, while at first humiliating, in the end, liberating. Really, dude, that's the best you can do? You, king of the surfers, blond bowl-cut Adonis? Clearly you're not as smart as we are.
From that day forward, we were the Fag Crew. We're still close, for the most part, and at any gathering, there's always a toast yelled above blasting Eurythmics, "To the Fag Crew!" We took that name, we took that arrow thrown at us and we loved it because, almost impossibly given our age and hormonal status, we loved ourselves. We loved each other. To some we were second-class but not in our own eyes.
That's what it's all about, housewife.