What’s in a Name?

Written by Father Bill 6 Comments

homemaker housewife motherAnthony Esolen over at the Touchstone blog Mere Comments ponders  the way we name things and how this affects our perception of what is named, particularly when speaking of women in marriage and family. His meditation was launched by a friend’s lament that among women she encountered at a school reunion, she was the only “stay-at-home-mom.” Esolen first notes that this term “… seems to describe somebody who lacks the imagination to do anything other than stay at home.” He goes on to consider the senses attached to homemaker, house-wife, and mother, as terms used to denote the nature or vocation of women today. He concludes by reflecting on the term hook-up, used commonly today for what a previous generation would have called fornicating.

What Esolen considers here goes beyond simple words. Try using Google  or Live Search  to search for images associated with the terms housewife or homemaker. Be sure to set the sexual filters provided by these search engines engaged.

As you scan the results, you’ll see one strata of images such as the ones in this blog. Homemaker or housewife often find graphical representation that signifies that they are archaic callings, antique avocations, redolent with sights, sounds, styles, and activities of an era half a century or more in the past. And, most such images of housewife and homemaker are rendered in a way that is graphically condescending or patronizing.

homemaker housewife motherNow, what do you suppose happens when a married woman who devotes herself to her husband’s and children’s well-being fills out an application for credit, or a bank account, or an application for insurance, or any of the multiple forms the public schools insist parents fill out. Invariably, there’s a blank line labeled “Occupation.” Read the comments to Esolen’s blog to learn what some women think when confronted with this blank on an application.

There was one ray of hope down in the comments of Esolen’s blog. One woman commented:

I never liked home-maker” because … it makes me feel guilty: it evokes images of a peaceful, orderly haven presided over by a serene woman, with smells of something baking wafting from the kitchen …

In her situation, evidently, seven children contributed to a different effect. But, I cheered because in her mind, at least, was the notion that “homemaker” – at least in its ideal expression – is a serene woman, presiding over an orderly haven. It reminded me immediately of what Paul sets before older women to teach younger wives, and I think this particular woman may find herself one day achieving what looks to her, from the trenches, as a presently unrealized goal.

To get there, she will need to keep that serene woman and her peaceful haven clearly in her mind.  The world despises such women and seeks to redefine the term homemaker for all of us.


  1. Michael McMillan   |  Wednesday, 04 June 2008 at 11:30 am

    > I cheered because in her mind, at least, was the notion that “homemaker” – at least in its ideal expression – is a serene woman, presiding over an orderly haven.

    I like “homemaker” (though it sounds rather gender-neutral today). It implies she is actively making the house into a home, and definitely not “somebody who lacks the imagination to do anything.” It also implies she is not stuck at home, but out doing whatever it takes to improve it.

    > [Laura A’s Mere Comment:] Now, as to what I am, I don’t know. I only know that introducing myself as a homeschooling mom at parties kills the conversation fast!

    Try saying instead, “I work in a lab where I produce weapons of mass reconstruction.” [as in Psalm 127:4]

    Love those pictures, Fr. Bill! Nothing like a nice apron.


  2. Neopatriarch   |  Sunday, 13 July 2008 at 9:13 am

    How about “domestic engineer”?

  3. Kamilla   |  Sunday, 13 July 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Blech – unsuitable and an entirely silly name designed for the sole purpose of boosting something called “self esteem”.

    “Engineer” is all wrong for the sort of vocation being written about here – it is cold and technical. What is needed is a warm-blooded term – something that conveys homeliness (in the older meaning of that word), comfort, etc.

    I don’t know what’s wrong with “homemaker” – because only a wife and mother who makes it her vocation can truly make a house a home.


  4. Lauren D   |  Tuesday, 16 September 2008 at 11:27 pm

    How about “full-time PARENT”?

    Is there some reason why one’s devotion to home and family has to be saddled with a bunch of gender-role expectations? Think about it: isn’t it enough that you spend your days lovingly caring for your children? I think that defines my vocation/life’s-work better than any list of domestic chores possibly could. Besides, really, in this day and age, don’t most couples SPLIT the chores to some extent (without that split defining either of their lives)?

    I think, if done well, a woman or a man might equally be proud of ‘parenting full time’ — no matching-kitchen-appliances or 50s hair-doos required.

    – Lauren D.

  5. Michael McMillan   |  Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 8:26 am

    > How about “full-time PARENT”? Is there some reason why one’s devotion to home and family has to be saddled with a bunch of gender-role expectations?

    Lauren D,

    I couldn’t tell where you were going with that. Sure, everything isn’t cut-and-dried. But are men and women designed differently? If two things have different designs, they must have somewhat different uses intended by the Master Designer. (I don’t expect my wife to change flat tires because it is easier for me to change them.) Then there is the Instruction Manual, which makes distinctions. It doesn’t advocate blurring distinctions and creating androgyny. Women are designed to care for babies in ways men aren’t. Why do we deny the obvious? Then there is also a hierarchy clearly delineated in the Manual.

    No problem splitting some chores, but there is a problem with promoting total interchangeability.


  6. Pink Shoes » Blog Archive » I am domesticated   |  Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 10:29 am

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