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?
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.
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.