A FRIEND once confided that the word "housewife" makes her see red.
A stay-at-home mum who chose raising kids over getting a job with her two degrees, she hates the term when forced to tick boxes in the "occupation" section of forms.
"It makes me sound like a slave to the house," she said.
Her outburst surprised me a little. Having made the transition from a stressed-out reporter to childminder-cum-housekeeper after marriage, I had always basked a little in the simplicity conjured up by the title of "housewife".
It sounds so old-fashioned, with mental images of frilly aprons and apple pies cooling on window sashes.
But, of late, I have to agree that as far as job descriptions go, the designation "housewife" just doesn't cut it.
When the father of my son's classmate asked if I were a housewife, I found myself stammering that I "stay home most of the time". Not exactly a clear, concise or classy answer.
After all, married women and mothers have a whole host of work-life options available to them these days: Flexi-hours, part-time positions, telecommuting, just to name a few.
Staying home with the kids doesn't equate to being a jaundiced cleaning-cooking machine.
Part-time maids, nannies, childcare centres and playschools are available to lighten the load.
Plus, our men are required to pull their weight at home in a post-feminist world. So what are the alternative titles?
"Homemaker" - popular as a euphemism in the United States - always reminds me of stuffy home-economics classrooms and a Stepford Wife-like instructor.
"Housekeeper" suggests that you are paid help. And "domestic engineer" is plain silly.
"Stay-at-home mum", "work-at-home mum" (WAHM) and "full-time mummy", while all currently in vogue, are a bit unwieldy and still do not convey exactly what a woman does.
Think about it: Two women stay at home, one does household chores all day long, while the other brokers public-relations deals via phone and e-mail.
Call them both WAHM and you're not wrong, nor do you accurately express the difference in their realities.
When I mentioned this etymological dilemma to an ethnomusicologist friend of mine (who also has a weird habit of thinking about social minutiae), she noted how the word "housewife" has acquired negative connotations over the years.
"It's either Ah Sohs (Hokkien for dowdy aunties) in floral housecoats, or bored suburban housewives having sex with plumbers," she said.
Add to that the recent associations with television's Desperate Housewives, and you get the picture about women with too much time, hormones and flair for the murderously dramatic, on their hands.
My friend and I wondered what was the opposite of a housewife.
"An office husband," I decided.
It cracked us up as to how redundant it sounded. We've been so conditioned into thinking that husbands naturally worked in an office and brought home the bacon.
Can one be a long-distance wife? Or, in these IT-savvy times, a remote-access wife? Or if I have a maid whom I supervise, can I be considered a housewife- by-proxy?
It struck me anew then how the word "housewife" is a subtle way of fixing women firmly into one place, one mode of existence.
Then again, it is just a word. And words, while powerful in their own way, are still dependent on the meanings, emotions and attitudes you invest in them.
I have embraced the H-word with a sense of irony. I'll use it until a better word comes into fashion.
For now, I'll stick to telling people I am a housewife, because, deep down inside, I know I am so much more than that. And that's enough.
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