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"The Housewife's Moment of Truth"

Awakening a Revolution

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You could say that Jane O'Reilly's piece in the first issue of Ms. magazine launched the "click!" heard 'round the world.

In "The Housewife's Moment of Truth," Jane O'Reilly examined the attitude from which "housewives" needed to be liberated. It was not just the fact that women were expected to do all the housework, but the attitudes of both men and women that led to that expectation.

"The Housewife's Moment of Truth" appeared in the premiere issue of Ms., which was a 40-page insert in the December 1971 issue of New York magazine.

"That Women's Lib Stuff"

According to Jane O'Reilly, a lot of men supported women's equality - to an extent. Sure, men said, they agreed with equal pay for equal work, but could "Women's Lib" really mean that men must start doing the dishes? In "The Housewife's Moment of Truth," Jane O'Reilly answers that question. The answer is yes. However, the men who argued that dishwashing was a petty concern entirely missed the feminists' point.

"Click!"

Jane O'Reilly's "click!" of recognition was a feeling of "instant sisterhood" and awakening to feminist consciousness. In "The Housewife's Moment of Truth," she described the reaction to a group meditative exercise at a retreat. One participant envisioned herself as a snake without fangs, slithering through a house where panthers lounged around enjoying a fine meal and paying no attention to her.

"Click!" Jane O'Reilly wrote. "A moment of truth." The women in the group experienced a "shock of recognition" at the description of being a housewife. The women asked the men in the group if they understood, only to learn the men had not experienced quite the same moment of revolutionary awakening.

"Click! Click! Click!"

Jane O'Reilly described various other "clicks" in her essay. One woman watched her husband step over a pile of toys that needed to be put away before he angrily asked her why she couldn't keep the house picked up. Another "click!" occurred when a man wrote to cancel his wife's subscription to a magazine because he disagreed with an article. The next letter was from the wife, who wrote that she would not cancel her subscription. In describing these moments, Jane O'Reilly concluded that the "parables" of the group meditation exercise were unnecessary for recognizing the "blatant absurdity" of reality.

Among the questions Jane O'Reilly asked in "The Housewife's Moment of Truth":

  • "What sort of bizarre social arrangement is post-industrial-revolution marriage?"
  • How could two people in a relationship share their lives with so little understanding of or appreciation for what the other does all day?
  • What will the "ideal suburban housewife" do once she realizes that the housework is less important than organizing the tasks so that she can consider her own life?
  • "What if we finally learn that we are not defined by our children and husbands, but by ourselves?"

Jane O'Reilly's answer to her last question was that women would finally be able to control their own lives.

"Click!" became a recurring theme in the women's movement during the 1970s. The word was often used by readers of Ms. to describe the moments when they realized their own need for liberation, or when they chose to do something about it.

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