It is 2012 and we still haven’t reached gender equality. There is still evidence to suggest that women are earning less, on average, in the workforce than their male counterparts. Culture is still rife with constant reminders that suggest that a woman’s body is, unless meticulously trimmed and sanitized, a horrifying spectacle. Unfortunately, I don’t say anything revolutionary when I suggest that much of what keeps us entrenched in a sexist culture are the ways in which women are framed in the popular media.
In that regard, I can understand why some people would get up in arms when we see, once again, a woman in the role of the domesticated housewife grace the silver screen. The “housewife” is a trope that we really ought to be leery of. The smiling, obedient and well-maintained archetype has been long-identified as an oppressive ideal that suggests and encourages women to bear the brunt of the household work, raise the kids, keep the husband/father happy, and do so with a smile; the satisfaction that is derived from putting her family’s needs before hers is “the housewife’s” reward.
Additionally, anytime a housewife enters the frame, we can assume that, unless the film is intent on flipping the status quo, heteronormativity is not far behind. Standing beside their determined, breadwinning husband, the “housewife” is one of the footsoldiers of the heteronormative, patriarchal, slut-shaming army at its most cliché.
However, a film that features a housewife is not inherently evil either. It is not fair to immediately dismiss a movie as sexist simply because it features a stay-at-home mom. There are, after all, moms, and dads for that matter, that opt to stay at home and act as the primary caregiver for a growing family. These people do exist and a portrayal of such a lifestyle in a film ought to be criticized on a case by case basis.