To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife

To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner HousewifeTo Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife by Caitlin Flanagan

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

I have mixed feelings about this book. I’m like the author in some ways; I work from home as a writer. I am the main “keeper” of our house. Unlike her, I don’t have a cleaning woman and I wouldn’t have a nanny/won’t have one when we are blessed again with a child in our lives. There is something that kept me from connecting with her, though, and I got the feeling she was one of those hypocritical women I feel like you always have to watch out of the corner of your eye for the knife about to be tossed in your back. To be fair, she owns up to her own hypocrisy, admitting moments when she’s been the one assisting with or wielding that knife, but that makes it even worse somehow, as though she’s not ashamed of it’s existance as I would be if that urge lurked inside of me.

The book begins as a sort of academic manifesto on the ways marriage – and in particular weddings – have changed over the last century or so. What once was a simple affair has become lavish, what was once an expected, tolerated committment has become rife with complicated comprimises and everyone-out-for-themselves-ness. It reads like a thesis, and if you’re into reading those for pleasure, you’ll appreciate the numerous quotes and historical references. Or you might get a little bored and drift.

The middle section reads as a memoir of the author’s relationship with her nanny – or nannies, plural, as she went through several short term ones as well as her long term one while raising her twin boys from babyhood to pre-school age. Though she didn’t work, and admits that she abandoned her writing for mothering, she marvels at how easily the nanny can do a job that exhausts her while the nanny is away. Interestingly, her nanny is also the mother of two small boys, and seems to take caretaking of children and homekeeping in stride, which is a cause for envy and stress to the author. I can understand feeling overwhelmed by the sight of your child reaching for the nanny instead of you, but when you’ve previously explained how you watched from a safe distance in the doorway while she earlier took care of your sick child, I find it hard to garner sympathy or any other emotion.

The last section flows from the effects of being orphaned by the deaths of her parents to the ways in which she balances her work with her motherhood, and here is where you see her claws, as she alternately puts down both working mothers and stay at home mothers.

I often see my friends struggle with the feeling that they just “can’t win” – if they work they’re a bad mommy, if they stay home they’re a boring, bad person. While the overwhelming notion at the end of the book seems to be a glorification of her childhood and how happy a whole family is if only they have a homekeeper – male or female – in charge of making the house into a sanctuary, she equally seems to think Martha Stewart style lives are merely a fantasy rich women like to think about but not truly live. The only consensus I could draw is that the author thinks everyone should have either a mother or nanny to take care of them and their households their entire lives, but no one should ever take on this job themselves because it is demeaning, demoralizing and depressing. Unless you’re being paid fairly and have your taxes and social security benefits paid by the rich chick you work for.

With all that said, the book is well-written, and the author has a turn of phrase which she admits in the afterword came to her in her bootcamp training writing at The New Yorker. I like The New Yorker, and its style, and that must be part of the appeal to me. I also found the beginning third of the book, discussing the evolution of the wedding and marriage to be enlightening, and wish that the rest of the time was spent discussing the ramifications of this on the modern woman rather than drifting into emotional memoir-ism.

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