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A homemaker is a person whose main job is to take care of his or her own family home and children. Traditionally, the job of homemaker is done by women and the job of provider is done by men, but both men and women can be providers and homemakers.
The term "homemaker"
Because it has been the traditional job of a woman to be a homemaker, a woman who spends most of her time caring for the family home has been called a "housewife". This word is not used on government forms any more, because it is "gender specific language". (A gender specific word is one that tells whether a person is male or female, for example: "Headmistress" is gender specific, "School principal" is not.) From the 1970s onward, gender specific words are regarded as discrimination. The word "housewife" is still used in ordinary speech. If a man is the main homemaker, then the word "househusband" is used for a joke. The word started being used in the 1970s to show that gender specific language could sound silly. Other terms that started being used in the late 1900s are "housegoddess", "homeprofessional" and "home and family facilitator".
For many thousands of years, men have been thought of by society as the main "breadwinners" in families. This means that it has been the job of men to do work in which animals were hunted for food by one or more men, or the men grew food crops or earned money to pay for food, while the women have cared for children, prepared food for eating, cleaned the home, and made and cared for clothes.
In societies where people are hunters and gatherers, for example the traditional society of the Australian aboriginal people, it is the men who do the hunting of animals for meat, and the women who do the gathering of other types of food such as grain, fruit and vegetables. One of the reasons is that a married woman usually had children and babies for a large part of her life. It is much easier to gather fruit with a baby on your hip or back than to hunt a fast-moving animal. So the men were able to raise up sons and daughters and the life of the community could continue into another generation. Even in a society where homes were very simple and people did not own very many things, men and women did different jobs. In the extreme conditions of the Arctic North the hunters must know how to hunt in extreme cold (among ice and snow); the women must maintain home life in huts made of ice ("igloos") and clothing needs to be made out of animal skin and insulated with moss and other plants. Babies live very close to their mothers so that they can be kept warm.
In rural societies, where the main work is farming women have also taken care of gardens and animals around the house, brewed weak alcoholic drinks (such as ale and mead) and helped men with heavy work whenever a job needed doing in a hurry, usually because of the season.
Examples of the heavy work that a traditional "housewife" (homemaker) in a rural society would do are:
- Picking fruit when it was ripe for market
- Planting rice in a paddy field
- Harvesting and stacking grain when it became ready
- Cutting hay
An urban society is when most people live in towns and cities. In urban societies, since ancient times, most men did work that earned money. They worked in workshops, trading, banks and other businesses as well as in churches, schools and the town council. It was seen as the job of a woman to be a "housewife" (homemaker).
But often, what really happened was something different. Often, if a family had a business, then not just the husband but also the wife would work to make money in the business. This has been happening since ancient times.
Every society always has some women who never marry. They might stay at home and do housework for other family members, or they might work outside the house like a man. In many urban societies, there have been few jobs that a woman was allowed to do. In modern society there are still strong traditions about the jobs that women should do.
In the 19th century (1801-1900) more and more women began to stop being homemakers and began to do jobs that men usually did. At this time many big factories were set up, first in England then in some other European countries and the United States as well. Many thousands of young women went to work in factories.
Other women, like Florence Nightingale, stopped being housewives and did dirty dangerous jobs, even though they were not poor and did not need to work. In most families where there was a husband and wife, everybody thought it was the job of the husband to earn money and the job of the woman to be a "housewife" (homemaker). Women were often very proud to be a good homemaker and have their house and children spotlessly clean, their husband's shirts neatly pressed, and tasty meals to eat every night.
In the first half of the 20th century (1901-1950) there were two big wars (World War I and World War II) that were fought by men from many countries. While the men were at war, their wives went to work to keep the countries running. Women, who were also homemakers, worked in factories, businesses and farms. At the end of both wars, many men had died, and women kept doing many of these jobs.
By the 1960s in western countries there was still an idea that it was all right for a woman to work and be a "career girl" (which was what they called a young woman with a well-paying job) until the woman got married, when she should stop work and be a "housewife" (homemaker). Some jobs like teaching were only done by unmarried women. Many western women in the 1970s believed that this was not treating men and women equally and that women should do whatever job they were able to do, whether they were married or not.
At this time, when more and more women had good educations and were able to earn a lot of money, in some families (usually if there were young children to care for) the husband would be the person that was the homemaker. (See above:The term "homemaker)
In the late 20th century, it became harder and harder for a family to live on the wage of a man who has just an ordinary job. Many women who are mothers cannot stay at home and make homemaking their first job. Nowadays, in many families where both the husband and wife do paid work, both partners share in the "housework" and caring for the children. In other families, there is still a traditional idea that housework is only a woman's job, so that when a couple get home from work, it is only the wife who works in the house, while the man takes a rest after his day's work.
What does a homemaker do?
The job of a homemaker is to take care of a family and the place where the family lives. The usual things that a homemaker does are:
- Planning meals
- Buying food
- Preparing and cooking food
- Serving food
- Washing-up after meals
- Cleaning the house
- Organizing the home
- Decorating the home
- Doing seasonal cleaning like washing all the curtains
- Decorating (arranging the furniture and ornaments, and choosing the colours of things)
- Washing clothes
- Ironing clothes
- Mending clothes (and sometimes making them)
- Shopping for new clothes and other family needs
- Getting children and partners ready for school and work
- Volunteering for school canteen and other jobs
- Bathing and dressing children
- Feeding babies
- Playing with children
- Comforting babies, children and partners
- Doing first aid
- Caring for sick people
- Caring for pets
- Entertaining guests
- Planning for guests and holidays/celebrations
- Remembering everybody's birthday.
- Driving the kids to school, sport etc.
- Helping with homework
- Supervising music practice
- Reading storybooks
- Stopping fights
- Putting people to bed
- Cleaning out the garage
- Maintaining and watering household plants
- Preparing a budget
- Researching ways to use the household's income most efficiently
- Bill pay
- Lucy Diamond "If you were an Eskimo baby", in: The Book of a Thousand Poems. London: Evans Brothers, 1942, p. 409