When a waiter in a Boston restaurant asked a group of teenage girls from Colorado what convention they were attending last week, they replied, Future Homemakers of America.
"Homemakers??" the incredulous waiter asked, trying to square these energetic high schoolers with his matronly stereotypes. As Lindsey Levenberger, one of the students, says, "When he thought of homemakers, his image was what people thought about in the 1950s - aprons, sewing, working in the kitchen."
A day or two later, the young women could have given the waiter a more modern answer. By a huge majority, the national student organization voted last Tuesday to change its name to Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, or FCCLA.
Goodbye, homemakers. Hello, dual-career families.
The acronym FCCLA may not roll off the tongue as easily as FHA. But in its complexity it neatly summarizes the sweeping societal changes of the past 30 years.
Students hope the name change will increase membership, which has fallen 14 percent in five years to 217,000. They also hope it will attract more young men, who currently number 44,000 and make up 20 percent of the group.
Conversations with more than two dozen teenagers attending the convention reveal just how easily this generation takes multiple roles for granted. Young women and men both speak matter-of-factly about fathers who cook and do laundry, and of single mothers who wear many hats.
As they talk, two phrases recur again and again - "pitching in" and "sharing responsibility." Echoing many others, Kim Oakes of California, says, "We all just pitch in together. It's made us stronger as a family." Adds Keri Malone of Colorado, "It's a shared responsibility now. Mom will start cleaning and Dad will cook supper."
These changes might amaze Edna Amidon, who founded the Future Homemakers of America in 1945 as a sister organization to the Future Farmers of America. Today both names have a quaint ring, symbolizing how vastly the country has changed in 55 years as it has lost both its agricultural base and its domestic focus.
As the offspring of working parents and as the children of divorce, these students sprinkle their idealism with liberal doses of realism. Even those who voted against the name change ("FCCLA sounds like a business," complains Joni Culberth of Texas) expect to pursue careers, at least for a while. As April Miller of Texas says, "Even if you don't have to work, you still need to know how to support yourself."
Homemaker isn't the only word undergoing change. Alice Lammly, an adviser from New York State, explains that the term home economics "was done away with in the early '90s." Taking its place is "family consumer sciences," which, she says, "is a better focus for what we as educators do with students. We're preparing them for a very diverse world out there."
All social revolutions are a work in progress, and this one in particular will probably never be complete. Yet as the word homemaker disappears from the group's title, taking with it comforting images of domesticity and fresh-baked brownies cooling on the counter, no one disparages that important role.
Describing the New American Family, circa 2000, Joel Mateo of Hawaii, says, "It doesn't matter which sex you are, everybody is capable of roles, both traditional and nontraditional. Women are just as capable of going out and earning a living as men are. And men are just as capable of staying home and taking care of the family and doing household duties, if that's where their expertise is." Call them teammates.
Tiffany Crook of California breezily sums up the millennial family this way: "It's the '90s. Everybody cooks and cleans."
Or nobody does, as the case may be.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society