Wife, yes housewife, never!

Susanne Trowbridge

February 26, 1993|By Susanne Trowbridge

THE young woman behind the counter at the auto-repair shop was insistent. "I need two telephone numbers," she said.

I pointed to the number printed on the check. "That's a day and an evening number," I explained. "I don't have a second number."

She nodded knowingly, picked up a red pen and printed the word "HOUSEWIFE" on the face of the check.

Housewife! I spent the rest of the day moping about the fact that the dreaded H-word had been applied to me.

When I was a teen-ager, I could never quite decide what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew what I didn't want to be -- a housewife. My mom was one, and I was grateful for it; several of my friends aspired to have kids and stay home with them, and that was perfectly OK. It just wasn't right for me.

Actually, it seems that the word has fallen out of favor lately; when was the last time you heard someone describe herself as a "housewife"? Perhaps it had something to do with that TV commercial a few years back in which a woman defiantly declared, "Don't call me a housewife. I'm not married to my house!"

During an audience-participation segment on a recent episode of "Late Night With David Letterman," Dave interviewed a self-proclaimed "domestic engineer." This term conveys a satisfying sense of high-tech hustle and bustle, a woman busy vacuuming and microwaving and ironing, whereas the simple housewife may be content to spend her days drinking coffee and watching "Oprah."

Women with children often choose to call themselves full-time moms or stay-at-home moms. Good Housekeeping magazine is pushing "New Traditionalist," which brings to mind a former lawyer or business executive who has ditched her high-powered career for a life of cookie-baking and car pooling.

These days, when people ask me, I say I'm a free-lance writer, which, granted, is often just a fancy euphemism for "unemployed." Until recently, I was fortunate enough to serve as the research assistant to a famous historian, the sort of &r occupation which always impressed the people I met at parties. However, I accepted the job knowing that it would only last two years, which seemed like a very long time at first but actually went by in a flash.

Now, I'm just trying to determine whether or not I should look for another research job, write the great American novel, or apply for one of those always-available positions at my neighborhood Royal Farms Store. In the meantime, yes, I am a wife, and I do spend most of my time in the house, but please don't call me a housewife.

The next time somebody demands a second telephone number from me, I've decided what to do. I'll give 'em the number of my

fax machine.

Susanne Trowbridge writes from Baltimore.

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