Story transcripts

Housewife Superstars

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reporter: Ellen Fanning
Producer: Glenda Gaitz

Way back in the Dark Ages, in the 1950s, a woman's place was in the home. Like it or lump it, housework was the ultimate satisfying career.

If you think those days are long gone, we've got some news for you. Some women who have it all, have had enough.

More and more want to go back to the 50s to live the way mum and granny did. They're giving the old-time feminists the flick and ditching their jobs, staying home to look after hubby and the kids.

In fact, two thirds of Australian women say they'd do it if they could. Cooking and cleaning are fashionable again, the housewife superstar is back.

Story contacts:

  • For all details on Planet Cake's cake decorating courses, please refer to website www.PlanetCake.com.au
  • Sonia Williams: How you can make money in the new economy www.giveitagowhathaveyougottolose.com.au and www.showmummythemoney.com.au
  • Janine Allis is the founder and director of Boost Juice Bars www.boostjuice.com.au
  • Full transcript:

    STORY -

    WOMAN: This is your typical apron from the '60s which went out of fashion around the '80s but it's lately coming back into fashion with lots of women back in the kitchen.

    ELLEN FANNING: Welcome to the backlash. Twenty-something Aussie mums who want to go back to the '50s and '60s.

    WOMAN: And another thing that's very popular is the punch bowl, it's really, really good for parties.

    ELLEN FANNING: And they don't just want the aprons, but what went with them - the cooking and the cleaning. Their mothers might have thought this domestic drudgery, but these gals think it's divine.

    WOMAN: I think it's comforting, as children, I know, to come home and you have that warm, freshly-baked smell to come home to.

    WOMAN 2: It's just more the romantic notion, I think, as well, of that happy family that you used to see in the '50s and '60s. It sort of reminds you of that, I think.

    ELLEN FANNING: For some, that might be a myopic view, but it's catching.

    SOPHIE BACIC: I love these aprons, they're fantastic. I can I can see myself in one of those. I can - Frankie comes through the door and I'll be there...

    ELLEN FANNING: Sophie Bacic is 27 and married to Frankie. She stopped working in the fashion industry when 11-month-old daughter Ciena was born, and has no plans to get back into the workforce.

    SOPHIE BACIC: This is going to sound really old fashioned now - I believe that financially, if you can afford it the woman stays at home, cooks, cleans, looks after the child, the husband works, he comes home, you look after him when he comes home because he's been out working all day and he's the one who's paying for...paying all the bills. That's, I believe that that is the role of the women and the husband.

    ELLEN FANNING: Sophie is one of a new wave of women who DON'T want it all. Sick of struggling to achieve the seemingly impossible balance of work, home and family. So despite greater career opportunities, better pay, even sexual liberation, last month, a landmark US survey found women are less and less happy. Many want to live more like their grandma - spend less time at work, and more time at home with the kids. These are young women who don't want to turn into their own frazzled working mothers, or don't want their kids, to be juggled in the way they were.

    SOPHIE BACIC: I think when you see your mum you know, working, you know, stressed all the time, trying to run a house, feed and cook and clean, I think you sit back and think, "I don't want to be like that."

    ELLEN FANNING: Not surprisingly, Frankie, a Sydney plumber, has no complaints. His own mum stayed at home and that's what he expects of his wife. Do you ever worry that she's going to get sick of this, get sick of all these domestic duties, put the dinner in your lap and the wine over your head and say, "That's it, I'm done - you do it."

    FRANKIE BACIC: No, I guess there's always take away.

    SOPHIE BACIC: He expects, he does, he expects his dinner to be on the table for him when he gets home.

    ELLEN FANNING: And you're cool with that?

    SOPHIE BACIC: I'm cool with that because I'm not out working all day. You know, I get my housekeeping every week.

    ELLEN FANNING: So, when you say Frankie gives you the housekeeping every week how does that work?

    SOPHIE BACIC: Oh, Frankie just gives me a certain amount of money.

    ELLEN FANNING: So does he decide how much you get, or do you decide together?

    SOPHIE BACIC: No, I didn't have a choice in that.

    GERMAINE GREER: If you make somebody else responsible for you, then you've given up your life. You're not having a life.

    ELLEN FANNING: 40 years ago, Germaine Greer wrote a best-selling book, 'The Female Eunuch', in which she described a generation of castrated women - sexually repressed, isolated in suburbia, frustrated and bitter.

    GERMAINE GREER: And the women would say, "Oh I don't know, you'd have to ask my husband," and I'd think, "Oh what do you have to do to get into these women," you know. What's two and two? "Oh I don't know, you'd have to ask my husband."

    ELLEN FANNING: Now 70, Greer is impatient with the sentimentality of some young women, like Sophie, for white picket fences and pretence about the past.

    GERMAINE GREER: We want to think they'd never watched 'Desperate Housewives'. They're going to turn into that housewife who gets everything right and who is murderess in her heart. What you would probably say to somebody who has that rosy notion, that she can have the tickety-boo house, is that it's an illusion. It was never there.

    ELLEN FANNING: But what if you're just doing what grandma did?

    GERMAINE GREER: You don' really know what grandma did without asking grandma, and she might turn out to have some very bitter reflections.

    ELLEN FANNING: But try telling that to these stay-at-home mums who are more than content with their domestic lot. Do you see yourselves as domestic goddesses?

    WOMAN: Oh when you've got everything going, like the house is clean, the meals are cooked, the washing's done... then you feel great.

    WOMAN 2: Absolutely.

    ELLEN FANNING: And what do you give up to stay home?

    WOMAN 3: Well, I was a receptionist, and um, oh, it was that long ago I don't even remember. Isn't that terrible?

    ELLEN FANNING: So what's wrong with the juggle - the career and the kids? WOMAN 4: Personally, for me, I just think, you know, I have friends that do juggle a career and do juggle the home life and I see them struggle.

    ELLEN FANNING: What do you think of the fact that women are coming to the conclusion, even some of the ones who are doing it, this is just too bloody hard, this juggling?

    GERMAINE GREER: I agree. When people say to me, "Nowadays young women have it all, what have you got to say to them?" And I say what I've got to say to them is, "They've got all the work, that's the only thing they've got all of."

    ELLEN FANNING: Well some of these women say that's your fault.

    GERMAINE GREER: No they don't.

    ELLEN FANNING: They've tried it and they can't have it all, and they're cranky with you for saying they could.

    GERMAINE GREER: But I never did. I never argued for a career. Never. What I wanted for women was a different thing, a life, and there are lots of different ways of having a life.

    ELLEN FANNING: Where does this sort of misty-eyed nostalgia for the 50s come from, do you think?

    JANINE ALLIS: Oh look, I don't know, it's incomprehensible for me. But I do think... I look back when I was 25 and 26 and 27, you're a different person at 26 than you are at 36 or when you are at 46, so I think maybe you think you're invincible and you have this sort of ideal of a fairytale life at that age, maybe, I don't know.

    ELLEN FANNING: Janine Allis is the very antithesis of the domestic goddess. She is living a life made possible by Germaine Greer's feminist revolution. In the last eight years, this 43-year-old mother of four has built her Boost Juice business into a corporate empire worth $100 million in 16 countries around the world.

    JANINE ALLIS: I need everything. I need the corporate life, I need the family, I need, I want it all. Funny that, I just want everything.

    ELLEN FANNING: Before Janine started the business, it was her husband Jeff who had the big career, but she wasn't content being a 'handbag' at his work functions. As Boost took off, she was soon working longer hours than him.

    JANINE ALLIS: Jeff used to complain that, you know, at 2 o'clock in the morning I'm tapping on a computer and I learned to tap quietly so he can sleep.

    JEFF ALLIS: Yeah, that's right, yeah. The frenetic typing, you know, quite often until 1 o'clock in the morning every night, it just drove drove us all mad.

    ELLEN FANNING: So there was a point at which you thought, "Stop!"

    JEFF ALLIS: Yeah, I mean there's always that thing called sex that wouldn't be bad to have from time to time.

    JANINE ALLIS: I think it's like you're going into a theme park. You either choose the roller-coaster or the merry-go-round. I think it's as simple as that. So my life is more of a roller-coaster. I think a life of being a housewife or that type of role is more of a a slower ride, but I like the roller-coaster. But with the roller-coaster comes the high highs, but the low lows.

    ELLEN FANNING: At 35, stay-at-home mother of two Sonia Williams tried the corporate roller-coaster but quickly came to the conclusion that having it all - being that mythical superwoman - was impossible.

    SONIA WILLIAMS: It's bollocks. It's hard trying to do it all. Some mums believe they have to have a career, a corporate career, and be seen to be juggling and managing it all, and if you're not seen to be doing that and be happy about it all, God forbid, there's something wrong with you.

    ELLEN FANNING: And when you...when everybody walks out of the house with shiny shoes, I mean, do you actually think, "Oh, don't they look good, they all look good."

    SONIA WILLIAMS: Yeah, yeah.

    ELLEN FANNING: You're an intelligent woman.

    SONIA WILLIAMS: Yeah, it's resulted down to this.

    ELLEN FANNING: Sonia used to be an accountant, but now spends most of her day doing domestic chores for her family, and actually resents the years she spent at university and the thousands of hours in offices, climbing the corporate ladder, only to find it completely incompatible with motherhood. What about a young women saying, "Well, I don't want to give up my career, "he doesn't have to give up his career, "why should I have to give up mine?"

    SONIA WILLIAMS: And that's where, that's where the crossroads is, isn't it? Is that like what happens to the children? And you've got two partners there who are competing with careers, but what about the children? Like, who's going to raise them? And that's the conundrum that the feminists haven't really covered, is that ultimately, whilst the women can have their career, someone has got to take care of the children.

    GERMAINE GREER: Women are good at guilt. We're capable of feeling guilty no matter what. We weren't juggling, we'd be guilty that we weren't juggling. We are juggling, we're guilty that we are juggling. Everything that goes wrong is our fault and we've got a whole nation of psychotherapists who will tell people that everything that goes wrong with our children is our fault.

    ELLEN FANNING: So you can't win?

    GERMAINE GREER: No. You're a woman, take it as read.

    ELLEN FANNING: Sonia's found what she thinks is the perfect compromise, a way to work from home once she has clocked off from child rearing and the housework. She's a writer who has just finished her third book telling women how to set up businesses they can run from home. In the end, for women then, is there always a sacrifice?

    SONIA WILLIAMS: We bear the children so I think that we, we do make the sacrifice eventually because, whilst there might be some stay-at-home dads out there, putting their hands up and saying, "Yeah well I've given it up," the majority of men don't give up their careers so that their wife can go out and flourish with their career.

    ELLEN FANNING: But older feminists are going to be tearing their hair out listening to you.

    SONIA WILLIAMS: Oh, if I could get a hold of the older feminists, let me tell you, what a crock. They set us up for a fall. How were we to know that we were going to have these careers and then have to sacrifice? Until you actually decide to become a mother you don't realise that huge sacrifice that you do make and that's where the dilemma comes in and that's what the feminists never told us.

    GERMAINE GREER: She'll soon find out that housework is a crock, I'm telling you. You get to 50 what then? You're going to live another 40 years lady, what are you going to do with that?

    ELLEN FANNING: So it seems we've come full circle. Young women proud to be housewives, forsaking the corporate catfight in favour of this. Reviving the lost secrets of the domestic arts. Sophie's ambition extends only to baking the perfect designer handbag.

    SOPHIE BACIC: It is old fashioned. It is. But I'm not ashamed of it. I'm not ashamed of it. I'm a housewife. That's what I am. Domestic goddess? Well, I'll let my husband answer that.

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