Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's Colbert Report publicly professed his love for her. Bill O'Reilly, we assume, would want desperately to make her his housewife, but the rest of the media elite loathe Caitlin Flanagan and the premise behind her newest book, To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife. Outlets like the Los Angeles Times, among several others, point to the admitted nostalgia of her 1950s-worshiping arguments, her seeming disgust with the "advances" of feminism and, mostly, her obvious contradictions and alleged hypocrisy of being a working, stay-at-home mom ("with a nanny!" they shriek) with a job writing for The New Yorker.
Finding a good cultural contradiction irresistible, CityBeat recently spoke with the controversial, retro-conservative author:
CityBeat: Your book and the phrase "inner housewife" have had an incendiary effect in the popular media. Why do you think the phrase so enrages people?
Caitlin Flanagan: Well, I don't think it's the phrase "inner housewife" so much but the concept of loving her that enrages people. I think it's very important in our culture today that housewives are desperate, and women are depressed or miserable or taking Prozac-slash-Valium.... The notion that a woman could love her husband very much and want to make a good life for him, and... could devote herself to making a home that's nice for her children and her family-that loving that life as something that a woman could want is blisteringly incendiary.
Maybe a woman loving her life doesn't make for a water-cooler moment.
I think loving and hating it makes for a water-cooler moment, because if it was just hating it, women wouldn't be at the water cooler talking about it at all. They'd be saying, "Thank God I'm at the water cooler and not at home ironing my sheets." If women didn't feel in some elemental way deeply drawn to domestic life lived at its most elemental, they would have kissed it goodbye and marched to the workplace and never looked back. The fact that they're looking back more often is telling us more than they wish to tell us about themselves.
What about the argument that they, or we, are looking back to a time that never existed?
Well, that's exactly right. That's what I say in the introduction, that no one should be alarmed by this book because I'm describing a "ruined city." Whatever there was is now gone, as far as a 9-to-5 workday culture, an American manufacturing economy which allowed a union-job dad with a middle-class life to support a family and home ownership and a wife that doesn't have to leave the home to work. Those days are long gone, so it's a much more complicated picture.
So you're talking about a situation that precludes today's reality, where a family needs two outside incomes to even afford a home?
Well, yes. But my argument encompasses that. It's very interesting, because when you talk about a woman who's working purely to support her family-like the woman who works at Wal-Mart or a waitress-and you ask her, "Would you rather be at home raising your children?" she says, "Absolutely I would. This isn't the life I dreamed of for me or my children." It tends to be women higher up on the economic pay scale-and who do have some choices, and therefore feel torn about it-who are leading this debate.
So it's more upper-class, liberal guilt driving it?
I don't know if it's so much upper class, but professional class. And you know, guilt can be a very motivating emotion. Sometimes, say your child says something like you've been working too much, and it makes you feel guilty, and you think, "That's true, maybe I can work less," and that's your motivation. It's not the worst thing that can happen.