January 24, 2011


Rebecca from the visa service called with an update. She wanted to let me know that by listing myself as a “writer” on my application form, I was putting myself in a category that would require five to seven weeks of scrutiny. “The consulate will read everything you’ve ever published. They’ll want to know what you might be writing about the country.” I protested that I also put down that I’m unemployed. “Doesn’t matter,” she said. “They’ll consider you part of the news media.”

I let out a deep sigh. I’d need the visa in five — not seven — weeks to make the flight. I didn’t want to risk a delay. I didn’t want to lie, either. But the truth of my professional identity is layered and multiple. Any number of labels fit. The squirrels in my brain did a few backflips.

“What if I were to put down ‘housewife?’” I asked.

“Perrrfect,” Rebecca purred.

I filled out the forms again, FedExing them to New York. Five days later, my passport returned to me in the mail, visa affixed.

“Housewife.” The term traditionally refers to a woman whose sole role it is to tend a home while her husband earns a living in public. Feminists have objected to “housewife,” preferring, instead, the term “home maker,” because the latter doesn’t presuppose dependence on a man. Either way, the assumption — as the consulate concluded — is that housewives and homemakers are harmless. Whom would you rather let into your country: a writer or a housewife? A writer might be dangerous, cause public trouble. But a housewife? Can she bake a cherry pie?

An obscure British definition of “housewife” refers to a sewing kit, complete with needles. I like this one. A lot. Self-contained. Portable. Able to provide valuable assistance with the most ordinary of objects. Handled unwisely, capable of wreaking havoc and causing pain.