A Housewife Learns to Code: 1/?

The title is quite clear. To pay for some things I’d like done or even to do them myself if I can’t purchase, I have to demonstrate a small degree of coding knowledge and vocabulary. I was hoping to avoid this, being a girl and all, but there’s no way around it, I have to be able to write a few simple methods so that I can explain what I want to a contractor.

Insecurity makes this very challenging. T.W.O. has been immensely patient, but then he would be. The core neurosis to push through is that I’m terrified of messing up and failing. I *still* get panicky at *other people* typing in code samples, watching them not compile and then fixing them so that they do. There’s websites will practice work for aspiring coders and when they go red because you did something wrong, all my general sense of failure and shame spiraling comes in and I don’t want to continue.

Today was a case in point. I am documenting the methods and programs I have written so far, and it is extremely slow going because very quickly with entry-level exercises you hit the point of “this could be simplified with such and such slightly more advanced method”. Anyway I hit the first one today that I could figure out a simplification for on my own without thinking about it much. And the panic set in just at the prospect of taking my pseudocode and turning it into a full program.

So I marked it as a future project and it can be something to do when I run out of examples with more advanced methods. I’m working in Java, because it’s a common teaching language, it has a lot of useful tools, and it stacks well with Python, C# and R, which are all languages I need to be familiar with in the next year.

But lots of red is the programmer’s journey. It’s not usual for what you’re working on to easily compile the first time. It’s definitely not usual for it to seamlessly work with third party components. T.W.O. had a huge laugh when I first downloaded the development environment I use when I’m not using a plain text editor because it was buggy. He said I understood enough to code, though. This was because I googled until I hit a stackexchange link about the bug and then tried the fix. It worked, and I didn’t freak out as much when I ran into other bugs later.

But I have shifted more to the text editor because of the bugginess. This is also part of the programmer’s journey, according to more than a few.

Why very low income and very high income SAHMs often treat frugality as a very part-time job

With the very low income, they have to because there’s no room for error and low enough on the income tree, it’s a real financial loss plus massive stressor to have two workers maxing out at 43k or so.

For the very high income (in W2 income terms anyhow), it’s related.  If your husband makes 400k, you get the same benefit spending 10 hours a week or even month finding an extra 25k in the budget as you would working a 50k/yr job because you only end up with a little more and you have to work 40 hours a week to get it.  You have to crack six figures yourself before the extra money is harder to find via frugality than just working a job for it.

This isn’t to say that frugality is pointless unless you only make under 40k or over 400k, but that at the extreme ends of wage income (as reflected in both extremes having the highest rates of SAHMs), it’s mostly going to be easier to conserve cash rather than earn marginally more cash.

The math is different closer to the median married income, which is partly why the median is rising.  The reason is that people who are willing to marry when both incomes are likely to be about even set up their finances differently and as a result losing one income doesn’t create the space to segue into conserving the remaining one.

Of course, another reason the median married income is rising is that if you weren’t taught household management and homemaking skills, which is a very large number of marriageable women these days, it is terrifying to figure out how to get along on a low income and marrying a higher earning man sounds like it will be safer/easier.

Labor shifting, not Labor saving, laundry edition

It is generally considered acceptable by conservatives and liberals alike to declare that SAHMs have it easy thanks to washing machines and tumble dryers compared to the grand old days of yore when they did “real work”.  This involves ignoring the explosion in ready to wear clothing that permits even lower-income households to own hundreds of pieces of clothing.  It also involves ignoring the reality that the older methods of laundering clothes were not always backbreakingly hard.  And lastly, it involves ignoring the fact that even for women in the lower tiers of the middle class, laundering their own clothing was often optional because of washerwomen who specialized in doing laundry for many families.

A side-pressing washing machine is more primitive technology than a top loading washing machine, but the former is easier on back and arms, given similar amounts of clothing washed.  Hand wringers could be more physical labor, but again, fewer clothes were owned in the first place, so there wasn’t as much total work involved on a family-level basis.

Having a washing machine perform the labor of agitating the dirt off the clothes (this is the part that cleans clothes, more so than the soap, although soap sure helps out) does save labor, but there isn’t a labor savings when you have to take heavy wet clothes out and transfer them to the dryer vs. hanging them up on a line.  In fact, the modern norm for SAHMs of washing, drying and folding multiple loads of laundry daily is not labor saving at all, no matter what people persist in claiming.  It is astonishing that it’s presented as a leisure activity and sign of how little SAHMs have to do all day compared to “the olden days”.

The feminist criticism that “mission creep” erases any potentially saved labor for housewives from a given technological advancement has some truth to it, as one can observe that creep with core household tasks like laundry.  The same conservatives who want all the women to come home pretty much never promote specialization in domestic tasks that again, even lower-income housewives used to take for granted.  And it’s a wealth problem.  Everyone has these machines that are supposedly so advanced and “labor saving”, so the idea can’t even form in the mind as an option.  People instead obsess about getting cheap machines rather than finding someone to do their laundry for them.  And there are always cheap machines around, so nobody can consider specializing as a source of income.

Part of the secret history of the domestic sphere is that “labor saving” devices are positioned as granting leisure to housewives, but do not, or do not save labor for very long.  It is perhaps the case that for a 1950s housewife a top loading washing machine saved some labor, as she didn’t have the full cheap clothing revolution that the 1970s housewife benefitted from.  But that didn’t last even a full generation before the metrics of acceptability changed, resulting in shifting rather than saving labor.

This isn’t to say that the modern SAHM has exactly the same level of physical labor on her hands as her domestic ancestresses.  It is to say that the idea that she has basically no labor is false.  Despite all the wealth and technological advancement, she still faces a great deal of physical labor to be considered an adequate or suitable SAHM.