Sheryl Sandberg wants us to Lean In. Marissa Meyer wants us to come in (to the office, that is.). New York Magazine wants to reignite the Mommy Wars by re-branding them as being between those who lean out and those who lean in.
But the truth is, the distinction between leaning out or in, working in the home, from the home, at an office, virtually or not at all…it’s all moot. There is a whole new category of working woman: the digital housewife.
There are precious few women these days who are leaning all the way out. Even self described stay at home moms are digitally connected. They write blogs, they tweet, they organize through Facebook. They shop online, keep track of schedules on their smartphones, organize charitable auctions online. And they do it all from home.
What’s leaning out about that?
I had an out-of-the-home career for twenty years. My leaving that career and starting my life as a “housewife” happened to coincide with the start of the social media revolution.
I started blogging and tweeting and somehow, four years later, ended up starting a tech company with a woman I met in the virtual space. We have part time employees. We have vendors, and clients, and more than one dozen investors. And we work long hours– and we do it all (mostly) from home.
True confession: many’s the time I’ve made a meatloaf, cut some potatoes, and readied some broccoli for the microwave while on a conference call. Folding laundry while strategizing with a client? Sure. Making the beds while making deals? Why not?
Because the way I see it, tech start up or not, I’m still a wife and mother, and there’s still a house (well, apartment, anyway) to maintain. The family still needs to be fed. And I want to be the one to do it. If that makes me a housewife, I don’t have a problem with that. It’s the perception of housewifery that I have a problem with.
The word Housewife conjures up images of endless, selfless hours spent baking cookies. Of a woman incapable of having an opinion about anything other than the correct way to fold a fitted sheet. Housewives, we imagine, are just one step above slaves: unable to escape the drudgery.
Most full-time stay at home moms I know are bloggers, or big time volunteers, or political activists, or are so involved in their children’s school that they ought to be paid.
They are leveraging technology to make their lives easier – buying their kids clothing online, keeping up with the news in real time, using apps to streamline errands. And then using the free time they have to take care of themselves and others. This isn’t drudgery. This is making a life for yourself and your family. Neither leaning out nor in, but digging in and pulling out what life has to offer. Those are the (digital) housewives I know.
Do I live in a more privileged world than most? Yes, I do. This is Manhattan, after all. And, like me, most of my friends are college educated. But let’s face it, most of these discussions about leaning in or out, about needing to be at work to collaborate and generate ideas, aren’t about factory workers. If you have any kind of choice at all about working or not, you are, by definition, lucky.
Am I luckier than most? Yes I am. My husband is super-involved: every morning he makes coffee, sets the breakfast table, and gets the kids out of bed. And I have housekeeping help, too. I’m not the only one doing the laundry and picking up after the kids.
But does being lucky mean I’m any less of an entrepreneur, any less a mother or wife? I don’t think so.
I think being a woman in the 21st Century isn’t about either leaning in, or choosing to lean out, but about finding your own balance between work and home, colleagues and kids, cooking and creating. It can be a precarious balance. And it’s different for everyone. It is hard; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But the beauty of being a Digital Housewife is that it helps us to be less off balance than the women who came before us.
Technology allows me run my business from my home: to supervise workers from afar, to Skype instead of traveling to meetings, to figure out what to make for dinner simply by inputting the ingredients I already have into a program and hitting enter. And yes, to make a meatloaf while I negotiate prices with vendors.
Is it perfect? No. Have I found the exact balance that makes it all work seamlessly? Don’t be ridiculous. I miss soccer games and sometimes have to push back a deadline. I worry that I work too much, and play too little. But so do lots of men with more traditional jobs – and you can bet they aren’t making any meatloaves from behind their desks.
So lean in and listen to this: I work. I write. I run a company. And I’m a housewife, and damn proud of it.