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Joan Garry Headshot

Would You Call Yourself a "Homemaker?"

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It was one of those rare trips to the bank when we needed to speak to a teller. I'd almost forgotten what that was like. This teller, Anna was her name, was very nice. Eileen had opened an account a while back and we had to go in person to link me to it. Being Eileen's very favorite legal stranger in the whole wild world. We've had a Citibank account for 25 years but the teller needed to know factual information about me. "Are you employed full time?" she asked pleasantly. "No," I responded, feeling stripped of a real identity. "Would you call yourself a homemaker?" And there it was.

I have no trouble whatsoever telling anyone that I left a high power non-profit job to come home and spend time with my kids. I can tell them that I wanted to get home to be sure to have ample time to harass my teenager before she left for college. But I had never been presented with that question. And so I took a deep breath and said with pride and enthusiasm, "Yes. I could call myself a homemaker."

I do many homemaker like things. I've been doing them all morning in fact. I went to the grocery store. We were out of milk and toilet paper. I did some laundry. I tidied up after my kids after they went to camp. I gave some real thought to what I would make everyone for dinner (I'm at the beach and have opted for pasta and clams). I picked my daughter and her friends up from camp and just set out a nice lunch for them. June Cleaver has nothing on me today.

A few weeks ago I was at the gym and was reading an article in the paper about Al Gore. It was just before lunch. The man on the elliptical machine next to me barged into my personal space with his comment -- "He IS running for president, don't you think?" I like my peace and quiet at the gym. I am extremely chatty but not at the gym. But now he has suckered me in. And so we begin to talk. I learn that this very tall African American man has lived in my town for many years and is in marketing. I learn that he and I have very different political points of view. He is in that shrinking 29% of Americans who believe W is doing a good job. He is in that shrinking minority of Republicans who believe that the Iraq war is important and that we are right to be there.

It was hard enough to hear what he was saying but it was how he was saying it that bothered me most. He interrupted me and he held little regard for my point of view. Now it is quite possible that he is just an arrogant fellow but I found myself being treated like (dare I say it) a homemaker.

He talked down to me. I couldn't possibly be well informed or have valid opinions. The pilates classes rid you of those. I then found myself trying to figure out a way to prove that I wasn't just any old homemaker. So I began to talk about race. I asked him how he could possibly feel welcome in the Republican party. I went on to say that, as a lesbian, I had trouble understanding gay and lesbian Republicans. I felt that the GOP does not appreciate, respect or embrace America's rich diversity.

So now I was not just any homemaker. I was a lesbian homemaker. The modifier didn't seem to make any difference. So I tried one more effort to distance myself from the label. I finished my workout and indicated that I was on my way. This guy clearly felt very good about himself and that he had pummeled me in our elliptical machine debate. As I walked off, I told him that Bill O'Reilly let me get more of a word in edgewise than he did. And I didn't look back.

I left feeling quite smug. Ha. But the more I think about it, the more I see that these protests of mine were ultimately not for his benefit. They were all about me. There was no way I was going to let this guy think I was a homemaker.

Well, Anna from Citibank called the question. She asked and I answered. And the truth is that being home with my kids feels like one of the most important jobs I've ever done.

Bill O'Reilly wouldn't even debate me on that.

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