The struggle is real. I occasionally take Friday’s off to get chores done and have a weekend. It doesn’t mean I don’t check emails or take staff phone calls, it just means I do those things in my yoga pants while I switch the laundry.
My great grandmother had an 8th grade education and worked minimally outside the home. She cooked 3 meals from scratch every day at 6, noon and 5 like clockwork for almost 100 years. She had time to raise three children, water African violets, dust her elephant collection, play the piano, bake, sew and make every person she encountered feel seen, heard and loved. She was always happy and patient. Her house enveloped you with the same feeling you get from .25 mg of Xanax or a really good nights sleep with no where you have to be when you wake up. It smelled like Ivory soap, mashed potatoes and apple pie. One of my least favorite transitions of the day is being hungry, tired, sweaty and coming to home to a stale house that will need a little TLC before it can love me back. Usually that means sweeping, taking out the recycling, switching the laundry, walking the dog or at the very least unpacking all the bags I’ll have to repack in the morning as part of surviving out in the modern day jungle; food bag, gym bag, female saddle bag aka purse. I’m still not sure why I need the last one but it partly involves lip-gloss, my cell phone and hand sanitizer not fitting into the pockets of any female clothes. I’m not saying I’m unhappy doing housework I’m just saying I have to take a day off from my full time job to give the house a real bath. This wasn’t the case when I was single and while I’m grateful my husband helps, that’s part of the problem. His domestic contributions are viewed as ‘help’, as if to suggest the true employees of housework are women. I’m not saying men are useless, unhelpful babies. I quietly think it on occasion, maybe mumble it under my breath, but I won’t say it out loud. Why does the full weight of domestic responsibility, which includes being the primary nurturer, still fall to women? Why are judgments associated with these responsibilities for order, comfort, hygge, acceptable cleanliness, familial presentability and nourishment all directed at women? Why do the covers of women’s magazines still feature recipies for cake alongside images of airbrushed models who’ve never eaten cake in their lives? Technically not related to housework, but then again.
The expectations for women are rooted in particular beliefs about what constitutes women’s work and our value in society. My husband is pretty sure laundry, decorating, card and gift sending, vacation and event planning and a few other tasks are really ‘my thing’. Bug rescuing, trash removal, dog poop scooping, wood chopping, appliance repair, car maintenance, those are ‘his things’. He’s recently taken over food shopping since food is not one of my things, but occasionally he buys ingredients and nudges me to cook for him. I’ve never eaten them but am told I make great enchiladas. I suppose that constitutes a certain kind of balance but given my years of research on the subject I’m still inclined to direct my sympathies towards all those poor women in that awful movie Bad Moms. In his absence I rescue my own bugs, take out my own trash and chop my own wood. When we were dating clean laundry lived in a swirly pile on his bed.
Many of the expectations are unspoken, despite the progressive conversations of modern couples attempting to work towards egalitarianism. What’s disturbing in this movement is the research suggesting men who participate in housework and childcare are having less sex and harboring emasculated resentments. I call it shameful anti-feminist propaganda.
I Want a Wife
Judy Brady wrote a cheeky essay in 1972 about why she wanted a wife. I’ve shared it at bridal showers for fun and even once dared to discuss it with my dad. He had a habit of whimpering at women like a lost puppy throughout my childhood. He’s very french, was a musician in the 70’s and for now I’ll leave it at that. The essay conveys that a Wife is essentially a helpmate designed to support the daily needs, desires, socially valued productivity and goals of a man. Wife is a full time, unpaid job. After I got divorced I remember rephrasing alimony to all-you-owe-me. I didn’t seek payment from my ex person as I wanted to no longer have interactions with him. The businesses we built are, I’m guessing, still making money somewhere but I didn’t stake claim to any of that either. In short, he’d expressed the limits of his emotional growth ceiling while I was determined to pursue my evolution. Sometimes evolution involves nearly drowning in a muted, helpless rage also known as depression. I’ve always empowered myself by researching, so I researched divorce. The bitterness of women talking about all they’d done for their ex male spouses got expressed through the demands they made in divorce blogs or article interviews. ‘I raised the kids, kept the house and dealt with his mother all those years..he’s finished his law degree, off having a career, he left me for that slut, I’m stuck parenting, he owes me. I’ll make him pay.’ They seemed to considered alimony a kind of severance for years of servitude. The injustice is disturbing but how we’re pursuing it is equally so. Re-prioritizing might help. Women are still, in too many parts of the world, considered property. Having worked as a therapist for roughly ten years I heard generationally codependent women expressing a collective belief about love being this dysfunctional transaction. The quote isn’t from any particular client but a general expression, possibly the result of out-dated enculturation which taught us to believe it was our job to be a good wife in exchange for a particular sized diamond ring, comfortable lifestyle or at the very least a Diet Coke or coke diet delivery man. There are fragments of similar expectations for a fee-for-service helpmate you can sleep with except now, on top of that women have careers and children. Wine bottles are getting bigger while our waists continue to be expected to get smaller. Why are we still trying to meet impossible expectations? Incidentally I feel guilty having my nails done at a salon so while I say I want a wife, I’m not sure I’m capable of using someone for my own personal gains, comfort or support. I felt simillar about being a child, sorry for all the mess of my existence. It’s hard to imagine throwing the full weight of my wants and needs onto another human being, sort of how Miranda Preistly threw her bag and coat on Andy’s desk each morning. But men seem to be fantastic at this.
My best guess is it benefits an opportunistic, capitalist system to have us believe we need to be every woman. (Side note: Any other cis women a tiny bit jealous of trans women? They get to choose, they have amazing skin, hair, nails, bone structure, height. I’ve never seen a trans woman with cellulite and many get to bring their inherited male privileges into their new female life.) Women under a patriarchal construct play an important and exploited role. Articles will state I’m allowed to lower my standards and cut myself some slack but the media messages remain crystal clear: hustle at all of it. Which is not to say men are excluded from social pressure but they generally only have to please themselves and their boss. There’s an ever-present notion that women must be striving to please multiple audiences. The bar is set so high we often turn on each other or ourselves. That Scary Mommy blog is scary. No wonder. We’re always one perfect meal, car seat, outfit, presentation, post or facial product away from some unachievable seal of approval. You chopped your hair? Wavy manes are in now. Meanwhile while we were landscaping body hair, our husband was working two jobs to get out of the job that was killing his soul to take on something much more fulfilling. Congratulations. I’ll bake you a cake. Convincing women we need to work just a little bit harder has had some major perks over the years. Just ask Paula’s Choice, Organic Bunnies, Clearance Queens, Weight Watchers, Revlon, Ideal Image, Joseph Pilates, Pantsuit Nation, Vogue, Betty Crocker, John Wesley, Napa Valley, American Express and Philip Morris.
Mabel was a domestic goddess because that was her whole world. Her husband seemed to appreciate her, by their sunset years anyway. I’m not sure how the early years went but they always struck me as morning people. She didn’t have to compete with millions of half naked women on Tumblr, Instagram, or Steak and Cheese.com. Just Mrs. Pike and Mrs. Sherrick across the street who were also married and not gardening over their cleavage in see through spandex. Edward hadn’t been raised to objectify women. Catholic guilt probably helped. Her world was simple and genuinely kind. Watching the way she loved and cared for our family, even total strangers instilled some desire to model those behaviors in my own life, minus giving birth to three 14 lb babies on a kitchen table. I made a conscious decision in second grade that I would never, ever, EVER become a parent. A combination of my trauma history, the way society treats children like exploitable accessories, the way society treats mothers like unpaid servants to the giant cog and daycare costs solidified my choice. It seemed clear doing it all was impossible, especially without money; and we didn’t have any. According to the CDC it costs an estimated $200,000.00 to raise a healthy kid from birth to 18 in America, and that doesn’t include college, a car or name brand anything. It’s fair to say breeding is another experience with limited access based on privilege or unquestioned biological urges. We could argue that but I’d rather live in reality and claim authority over my uterus and resources. On the flip side look at how many wealthy men leave their wife for the nanny; seems like confirmation that having it all at both ends of the spectrum is a strangely perpetuated myth. Sorry to be a bummer; your kiddo is adorbs.
A few years back I remember reading a proposed solution for all working women, mother’s or not, was to lower our standards. Right. Rather than expecting our mates to pitch in or spend half our hard earned income hiring help we should learn to let go of the notion of rightly folded laundry. If we couldn’t accept compromises the onus was on us to work harder. This year I forgot my best friends birthday. If I have to choose between a sink full of dishes and being there for the people I love, bring on the stink? Which is reason 10,001 why I support a child-free life. There are lots of people already here in need of love; why make new ones? Amassing more seems to be part of the problem. More kids, more stuff, square footage, accomplishments, selfies, money, things, channels, activities, epicness, perfection, recipes, appliances…we don’t seem to be filling the void.
Less is More.
It’s one of my favorite concepts and not in the self-righteous, unachievable, death by elocution, minimalist way. Just shorter to-do lists and the occasional deleting of mental clutter. I have to be careful of my own tendency towards rigidity but overall it’s about peace. My godmother has a wooden slab on her kitchen wall, decorated with wildflowers that says ‘A crust of bread with love, is better than a whole loaf without.’ Until we arrive at shifted paradigms, the eradication of systemic dehumanization and oppression let’s try doing less with more love.
2 thoughts on “The Work,Wife Balance”
Well, thanks for providing marvellous Saturday morning breakfast reading for my husband and me. We loved it. Lots of discussion points. He was saying, “Yeah, a woman workmate is going through that and I don’t get it – she’s a nice person, works hard, two young kids, and he’s just so immature – forgets the kids’ birthdays, goes and buys a boat without any consultation when that will make them struggle financially, treats her with so little respect. Now they’re separating, and she’ll be left with all the work and financially worse off. But better off without him. Why do people have to be like that?”
Been there, done that myself as a young adult, except I didn’t have the kids, which made the awful process much simpler. (It’s so hard to type when our sheepdog wants her tummy rubbed and is paddling her feet around in the air and making monkey faces until she gets this service! 🙂 ) Like you, I was happy just to get away and money at that point meant nothing to me, which in retrospect is actually so unfair, since that means abusive men often get a financial benefit out of their poor behaviour, and women often get dragged back into poverty again and have to work their way out of that all over. A friend of mine lost all the money she put into a house she and her ex were building together when he chucked her out the day it was ready to move in. It was built on his parents’ property and she had no proof that her money wasn’t a gift, is how it was legally seen – so idiotic. Plus he got out of paying maintenance for his two kids by simple virtue of not handing in his tax returns, and meanwhile she was supporting the kids on her part salary in a low-paid job while he lived it up on a high-paying mining job and still demanded access to his children, whom he actually didn’t care about as far as we could see, it was just a way of constantly annoying our friend with little jibes and insults and threats and stories about his “new, improved” girlfriend.
Yes, lots of guys like that exist, unfortunately. (And just look at that stupid rape culture thing happening presently…and then some people complain about feminisim.) And it seems they are usually considered successes and alpha types and leadership material, when they actually fail hopelessly at being decent human beings and treating others with respect. Strange culture we have, where we live and where you live – we agree with your analysis of all that. Very nice to be with a decent guy on an equal and respectful basis. Let’s make a toast to that!
Best wishes from us two to you two.
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Hi Sophie! My apologies for the delayed response. My grandmother passed on Friday and it was a complicated loss. I continue to appreciate your insight and comments. Yes, cheers to finding some equality in our domestic partnerships. Glad to hear a man agrees with me haha. We’ve still got a long way to go in leveraging the responsibility of raising children. Lots of denial and oppression still. The story you share about your friend is so upsetting; loss on top of loss with a side of insult. Grrrr. ! Men like that do not ‘win’ but the pain of their public escape? and being left to quietly handle the responsibilities they leave behind are maddening to say the least. Rape culture is alive and well, sadly. We had a recent case which proved if you are white, male and wealthy you are not held accountable. So we celebrate what is good and we continue to calmly speak and share on what is true. Yes? Oh and we love our fur children! You said you have a sheep dog? They’re beautiful. Nothing like the unconditional love from our four legged friends. ❤