Sunday, January 21, 2018
A book review.
Happy Housewives is a 2005 book by Darla Shine, who is married to a TV producer Bill Shine and used to be a producer herself but quit her job to take care of her children. As of now, she runs a website called Happy Housewives Club (I linked to it several times), and as far as I know, she hosts a radio program for housewives and mothers, too (or, at least, she used to several years ago).
Darla wrote her book as a reaction to the Desperate Housewives show, which in her opinion, promoted a very distorted image of women who chose to stay home, alongside with immorality such as adultery. She even calls the characters of the show "whining, spoilt rotten bitches" (H.H., Regan 2006, p.11). In fact, Darla is rather blunt in her language, the fact which caused some women to give her negative reviews on Amazon.
The book claims to transform you from a miserable to happy housewife in 10 easy steps, and Darla uses her own story as an example. When she first stayed home, she used to be miserable all the time, spending her day going to salons and beauty shops while the housekeeper cleaned and the babysitter babysat, but after being told off by her mother, she got rid of hired help, and found happiness in mastering the art of homemaking and child-rearing.
I think you've guessed by now that Darla's book won't teach you how to live on 50$ a week or save money on electricity. In fact, it could be properly subtitled How to be a good upper middle class wife. Some women, again, criticised this aspect. Personally I don't think there is anything wrong with it, but her own social position has probably influenced her thinking to a certain degree, as she had a specific group of women in mind while writing it.
Happy Housewives is not a comprehensive guide on housekeeping but gives some good, solid advice for beginners, yet, I'm rather ambivalent about some of it. I'll start with things I liked. Darla is not afraid to speak her mind. She plainly states on p. 19 that any mother who could afford it should be home with her babies: "You brought these little people into the world, so go home and raise them. It's not your mother's responsibility." (emphasis mine). She criticises feminist movement: "Most of the feminists out there promoting working, career, having it all, being a superwoman they're full of it. You cannot have it all. They know it but won't admit it." (p.25).
She encourages women who chose to stay home to start taking good care of themselves, exercising and eating right and not believe everything the conventional medical care practitioners say. She tells the wives to invest in their marriages, to look good for their husbands, not to nag and not to deprive them of sex. She promotes homemaking, gives an example of a practical schedule with chores divided into daily, weekly, etc, and even says that you shouldn't expect your husband to clean since "it's your job anyway" (p.86).
There is a whole chapter devoted to cooking with tips, ideas and recipes. There is a section on entertaining and another one on gardening. Darla's style is spunky and engaging, and the book is incredibly easy to read. It's like talking to a good girlfriend, plus her enthusiasm about being a good housewife and mother is really catching. Yet, there are some things which I found dubious.
Some of these things are rather minor, like her advice on always wearing makeup or her insinuations that health care system is somehow unfair to women in particular. Others sound manipulative, like the story of Darla's friend who made her husband "open his wallet" by paying attention to him or the idea that "husbands are for sex, girlfriends are for communication." Many a traditional homeschooling mother will probably disagree with the suggestion that mommy needs a break from her kids and should go out with her girlfriends for a drink or two.
What I personally dislike is the way she treats the relationship between the husband and wife, especially things she says in Ch.7. I get the point of having a circle of friends, and an identity besides just wife and mother. Friends and relatives are important though nowadays we often tend to forget it. However, Darla appears to go beyond this when she states that you should rely more on your girlfriends than on your husband because it's them who will be there for you in the end.
I get this whole divorce thing and that your husband could die and you should have some support system in place, yet I disagree strongly with the idea that I should rely more on other women (and not even those related by blood) than my own husband. That is the book's biggest flaw in my opinion. I think husband and wife are a team and should always present a united front to the outside world. May be I'm wrong, I don't know, and I'd love to hear the opinions of others.
In the end, I think the positive advice in the book outweighs its real or perceived drawbacks but if you are offended by all things mentioned above, than this book is probably not for you.