Let's bring dignity back to the housewife

Woodrow Wilson wrote a dedication to his wife, Edith Bolling Wilson. It reads: ''To EBW -- who has shown me the full meaning of life. Her heart is not only true but wise; her thoughts are not only free but touched with vision . . . her unconscious interpretation of faith and duty makes all the way clear; her power to comprehend makes work and thought alike easier and more near to what it seeks.''

Does this sound like something written for an unfulfilled woman who did nothing?

Yet, by today's standards, this remarkable, intelligent woman who could rise to incredible demands with amazing calm and efficiency, would be criticized for ''living in her husband's shadow,'' and accused of doing ''nothing.''

We seem to have forgotten that intelligent, strong women can truly be fulfilled by enjoying their role as wife and, equally rewarding, their role as mother. It is this lack of respect for motherhood, this putting down of the housewife, that have become the sad backlash of the feminist movement.

Surely the feminist movement didn't mean for this backlash to occur. It wanted equal opportunities for all women! But housewives have become the ''mistreated majority.''

''Choice'' is a key word used, and paradoxically it is ''choice'' that is slowly being strangled.

My daughter, a junior in high school, is a very ''with it'' young lady who still can't believe one of the organizations I belong to is called Lawyers' Wives. She rightfully believes it should be changed to Lawyers' Spouses, since almost 50 percent of law students now are women.

In the past, I've become used to her telling me: ''I want to be somebody when I'm older . . . more than just a housewife.'' But, the other day, there were tears in her eyes when she said: ''I feel so pressured. I'm taking my college boards and all my teachers and all my friends want to know what profession I've chosen. They tell me because I have a high grade point I must assuredly be considering professional school; surely nothing less than a Master's program. I feel like I don't have a choice. Why do I have to decide so early?''

And I realize this very vital 16-year-old who enjoys being an independent thinker, who is very fair-minded, and who feels herself very much a feminist -- is suffering mixed emotions. The prospect of placing all attention on career is somehow overwhelming, and perhaps a little confusing.

Choosing to live life as a housewife does not have to even come close to being the drudgery and comic frustrations it has erroneously been perceived to be.

Careers are marvelous for those women who want to pursue them. Working outside the home, at least on a part-time basis, has become an economic necessity in our high inflationary era. But for women who want to be housewives -- give them that right!

Don't keep us ''low person on the totem pole.'' Don't take away our self-respect and worth and confuse our daughters, who may see there is value to what a woman is as well as what she does for a living.

Stop having television movies with ex-husband saying to ex-wife, who is now gorgeous and has a fantastic, high-paying job: ''I see you like this, and you become desirable to me once again. I left you because you looked like a housewife.''

Why can't a housewife look as beautiful as the woman who had to become divorced to turn glamorous?

And, most of all, stop the blank expressions on faces when the question ''What do you do?'' is answered with ''I'm a house-wife.''

Let's bring real choice back for women. Let's find value in whatever that choice may be: career, marriage, a combination of both, family or no family. But let's allow for decisions. And let's bring dignity back to the housewife.

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