Nobody wants to be the 'wife'

I’m a big fan of Sandra Tsing Loh and her rant-a-rific works. I was especially inspired and adjusted my way of thinking about scary urban public schools after laughing out loud all the way through Mother on Fire.  Yesterday’s op-ed in the New York Times offered another example of Tsing Loh’s stellar ability to bring humor to a much bigger social issue – a woman’s role.

Unfortunately, as she defined “wife” for the second time in the last year I felt I might be moving further away from Tsing Loh’s worldview even as I nodded in agreement with her sentiment that something’s gotta’ give. (Her Atlantic essay on her affair and subsequent divorce put the first dent in my fantasy of becoming her wine-drinking, inside-joke-sharing BFF.)

Still, a return to a life more like the 1950s, with one breadwinner and one homemaker, is an unreasonable expectation. It is particularly so since, as the breadwinner, I wish to be the husband, and hence what I’m looking for is a wife — a loyal helpmeet who keeps the home fires burning and offers uncritical emotional support when I, the gladiator, return exhausted from the arena. Who are the (actively listening!) men without money who can adapt to such a role?

via Op-Ed Contributor – My So-Called Wife – NYTimes.com.

I know there are still women out there who relish being in control of the domestic sphere, but until those women are paid what they are worth it’s a position lacking in respect and economic power felt most keenly post-divorce. I wouldn’t want to be in that position and I wouldn’t want to relegate my partner to that role either. So I respectfully disagree with Tsing Loh’s first sentence:

In the end, we all want a wife. But the home has become increasingly invaded by the ethos of work, work, work, with twin sets of external clocks imposed on a household’s natural rhythms. And in the transformation of men and women into domestic co-laborers, the Art of the Wife is fast disappearing.

via Op-Ed Contributor – My So-Called Wife – NYTimes.com.

Rather than pine for a wife, what we really need is a complete value shift in our country. Those who are lucky enough to be gainfully employed and receiving health care benefits are working 60+ hour weeks and not taking vacation and paying people to clean, cook and care for their children. Those unlucky in America are working two to three jobs and praying no one in their family gets sick or injured. Neither scenario is good for raising healthy families or keeping the house in order.

We need a majority that demands or just allows men and women to make their family a priority by flexible schedules for both sexes when your children are young and at home instead of penalizing anyone who dare take maternity or (the as-common-as-a-Yeti-sighiting) paternity leave. What we really need is an equal amount of legislation protecting familes when they’re at their most vulnerable as lip service paid to “family values.” Nobody should have to be a domestic servant, everyone should have time to spend taking care of their children, their spouses and  – admittedly, less important – their dishes. Other civilized nations seem to get this, what’s our problem? Really, I’d love to know because I just don’t get why working yourself to death is a value more important than creating healthy human beings. And having a wife catering to your cocktail needs won’t change the fact that families in this no-win situation are suffering from financial and emotional stress that cannot be fixed by an angry, servile woman organizing the refrigerator.

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6 Responses to Nobody wants to be the 'wife'

  1. Caitlin Kelly says:

    Capitalism. You and I live in a nation devoted to power of money and a loathing of government intervention, help or thoughtful and helpful social policy. The feds are throwing billions at the bankers who are raking in enormous bonuses to pay their maids, nannies and au pairs — so their lazy-ass wives can do more yoga and shop more. Yeah, that sounds like a plan.

    I do think Loh makes a larger point for people who don’t have kids — we all need daily, consistent nurturing and a cocktail is a metaphor for that. My partner out-earns me and faces a long daily commute so, much of the time, I’m fine doing most of the housework and a fair bit of the cooking. Seems only fair to me, when my “commute” from bedroom to computer takes about 10 seconds and my time is my own to control. I could rant about feminist principles but I couldn’t care less how retro our model is as long as our needs are met and we’re both happy.

    When a family needs two people working full-time to meet its basic needs – and childcare costs a fortune and commutes are long and destructive of family time — you’ve got a problem. Most employers could not care less.

  2. solfish says:

    Hahahah. That’s cute. I agree completely. Also people should stop dying. It makes me awful upset. There should be a law.

  3. Ms. Peveteaux,

    Since the 1970’s the income of the average American working family has declined. This is largely driven by the decline of high paying blue collar jobs in manufacturing due to “off-shoring”. Women joined the workforce in huge numbers mainly due to economic necessity, however with two bread winners, the apparent income per family seemed to increase, masking the underlying problems. Over the years, the marginalization of US workers has increased apace putting more pressure on those with jobs to accept fewer and fewer benefits, such as maternity or paternity leave, and work longer hours. This is larger problem, the entire US economy is being reduced to an international “technical support staff” for manufacturing elsewhere. There is just less of everything to go around.

  4. parson says:

    No mention of the risk of being a husband – false accusations during divorce, loss of children, home and income. I’d like to be the wife if I could have that escape hatch always at the ready – Family Court is a place where women routinely lie about abuse and domestic violence, and men are ignored when they face false accusations or are victims of domestic abuse.

    Women seem to think “equality” means take all the benefits and leave all the liabilities behind when it comes to gender.

    95% of all workplace fatalities are still men dying on the job, as are the fatalities and disabling injuries in unjust wars in the Middle East.

    When will women really step up and contribute on equal footing with men?

    Looking forward to my lifetime alimony and 18 years of tax-free child support down the road when they finally do.

    Meanwhile, keep pretending you are oppressed, college-educated white American women – the echo chamber can’t be silent for a minute.

    • April Peveteaux says:

      Parson, if you’d read my piece rather than simply spewing your anti-woman propaganda (not accurate, by the way – lifetime alimony? what year are you living in? and I know just as many men with custody of their kids as I do women) you’d see the larger point is equality for both sexes. For both men and women to be allowed to take care of their family members rather than relegating one person to domestic servitude.
      If both partners are allowed to be equally invested in the success of their home, that’s a good thing. A healthy thing that perhaps would lead to the raising of healthy children without a giant chip on their shoulder. Instead you perpetuate the stereotype of a woman-hating man who can’t stand it if a woman might want to be seen as an equal, after contributing as much or oftentimes more to the household.
      As far as a woman’s idea of what equality is, perhaps you should actually talk to a woman before deciding you know what they’re thinking.

  5. Caitlin Kelly says:

    Lifetime alimony may still exist — as it has — in some states, April, just not ours.

    I love the rage. Men still make and adjudicate most of the laws affecting men and women. Don’t like ’em? Change ’em.

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