‘‘I’ll be late tonight’ is a project which I made while living in a gated expatriate residence in Russia. In 2012 I relocated with my family to Russia for my husband’s job, and moved into a secluded housing community, hosting expatriates from different countries. In this community, men were typically breadwinners and the women, who quit their jobs in their own countries to support their husbands’ careers abroad, became housewives.
Spouses who move abroad for their partners’ careers are called ‘dependants’ on their visas. Worldwide, it’s estimated that 84% of the expatriate spouses are women. I have a legal background, and for me, just as for other women in the community, the shift to becoming a housewife was related to becoming a mother. Living in the expatriate community as a housewife and stay at home mother, I felt conflicted towards feeling privileged and the compromises I made by giving up my personal aspirations. I found that being economically dependent on the spouse changes the power balance in marital relationships and is overall, a disempowering experience. The negative societal perception on being a housewife lowered my sense of self-worth.
I thought that, in many respects, the expatriate community, where women were defined in narrow roles as housewives and mothers, was a reflection of the power structures in capitalist society, and of the interplay between gender, class and race in creating social inequality. In that community, men dominated the senior corporate jobs, while their family related responsibilities were largely fulfilled by women. Given the strong societal expectations that women are primarily caregivers, capitalism assigns the unpaid domestic and reproductive work largely to women, preventing them from participating fully, as peers, in the labour market.
Throughout the book, images are punctuated by texts that give an insight into my experience and reflect on how the different voices in our lives are shaping behaviour. The way women are represented in mass media, with the disproportionate emphasis on beauty and on their role as family nurturers, contributes to reinforcing the existing societal norms and stereotypes. It pressures women to conform to gendered expectations and to internalise behaviour that encourages the perpetuation of the same gender-biased hierarchy.
Making this work was therapeutic and a self-reflective journey. For me it was also a way to express feelings that were not openly discussed in the community. The pressure of perfection and of projecting the image of success, extending to femininity, home and an idealised nuclear family, made me survey my own constructed identity in relation with others.