Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wife = Servant

"I need a wife."

I've heard more than one woman say this, and it makes my skin crawl. As this NY Times piece notes, women, as they move up in the world are hampered by balancing work and home responsibilities, while men can rely on their wives to pick up the slack while they race ahead in their careers.

Working women, whether married or single, also see their lack of devoted spousal support as an impediment to getting ahead in their careers, especially when they are competing against men who have wives behind them, whether those wives are working or staying at home. And research supports their argument: it appears that marriage, at least marriage with children, bolsters a man’s career but hinders a woman’s.

I first read of this phenomenon in the Chronicle of Higher Education over two years ago. A study was conducted on tenure statistics for men and women, and found that married men were more likely to get tenure than married women. Why? Because they had a wife to wash their socks and make them dinner while they labored on their research.

All of this points to the unspoken conclusion that a wife is not a person, but merely a service worker. She cooks, cleans, raises children, mends holes in clothes, waits around for the plumber to show up, etc. etc.

In my marriage (yes, I know I've only been married legally for a month, but really, I've been common law married for years), there isn't this sort of inequality. My husband knows that I am very dedicated to my career, and to this end, supports me. When I was in graduate school, I could come home after work and classes to a clean house and dinner on the table. Now that he's in graduate school, I try to return the favor. It's a balanced equation, with each of us focused on certain things, be it washing dishes or keeping books, papers, and general clutter in order. We do errands together on weekends.

In the parlance of the women in the article, I'd say I do have a wife. But in more accurate terms, I have a balanced marriage, to a wonderful and equal husband. I think the problem is that everyone else is still thinking in terms of men being unable to be household managers. This is one thing that definitely needs to change.

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