Who needs a wife?

August 27th, 2007

WifeyAs a single person whose house is always a wreck, I was totally excited for the recent New York Times article called “Wedded to Work, and in Dire Need of a Wife.” (No longer free on the Times’ site, but available via many a library database.) I related 100 percent to the opening line:

Now that women have solidly earned their place in the work force, many find themselves still yearning for something men often have: wives.

Ditto for this elaboration:

With two-income families now the norm, and both men and women working a record-breaking number of hours, the question has become how to accomplish what used to be a wife’s job, even as old-fashioned standards of household management and entertaining have been relaxed. Many men are sharing the work of chores and child care with their wives, and some do it all as single parents, but women still generally shoulder a greater burden of household business (or fretting over how to do what is not getting done).

According to 2006 survey data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in five men engages in some kind of housework on an average day, while more than half of women do.

But then the article went on to mix in the usual sad stats about how men, especially married men, fare better at work in terms of salary and promotions, and how moms get the colossal shaft in the workplace. Yes, all sick and wrong, but not exactly a news flash. And the bits about well-to-do-ish women whining about how men don’t care about a dirty house and even if a couple can afford a housekeeper, the wife is still the one who has to lift a finger to make the call to Merry Maids…? It just rang hollow for me. I mean, BFD. Cry me a river. I haven’t done a deep cleaning of my humble abode since the Reagan administration, so when my sister and bro-in-law came to visit for a week this summer I bit the bullet and called a housekeeper. Tracking down the referral from a friend and hiring a domestic fairy godmother was a luxury I felt fortunate to indulge in, not a chore.

By the time I got to the end of the Times article, which was whinging about how men with wives can throw better BBQs for their colleagues and co-workers (presumably because they have an indentured servant — aka Wife — at home) I was laughing. How hard is it to throw a freaking BBQ? In my world, the invite says, “Just so you know, I haven’t cleaned in 19 months. I bought some beer and wine and chips at Trader Joe’s. Please bring something to grill.”

Besides, unless the women the Times interviewed have shacked up with total deadbeats, 100 bucks says their partners contribute big fat chunks of non-cleaning chores to the household (as many highly functioning modern men are wont to do), whether it’s fixing broken door hinges or making bake sale cupcakes or picking up the kids from soccer practice or haggling with plumbers and electricians. It would be interesting to do a study that breaks down the various chores each partner in a domestic arrangement actually does on a weekly basis, from bill paying to home repair to kid management to cooking to negotiating property lines with the neighbors (or dealing with landlords or condo boards) and so on. It would also be interesting to include same-sex couples in this study. I bet the findings would be all over the dang map.

Entry Filed under: Balance,The singles table

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Leslie M-B  |  August 27th, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    Reminds me of the 36-year-old essay “Why I Want a Wife” by Judy Syfers.

  • 2. naomi  |  August 27th, 2007 at 8:52 pm

    all i know is that i’ve been bitching to dan that we need a wife for years! We settled on getting a housekeeper for a while and that was great. oh, and your house was immaculate, btw. i don’t think i’ve ever seen it so clean!

  • 3. Michelle Goodman  |  August 28th, 2007 at 4:50 am

    naomi, thanks. leslie, thanks for linking to that essay. i’m pretty sure it was mentioned in the NY Times piece too. and now that i’ve read it, i revise my stance: I WANT A WIFE TOO! ;)

  • 4. L.A. Daddy  |  August 28th, 2007 at 8:51 am

    God, I am the wife in our house. But it’s only temporary. LA Mommy is prego with #2 so I’ve got to do even more. Scrubbing the shower last night, before going to pick up my daugther, and then coming home to make dinner… I need ANOTHER wife.

    I’m starting to get this whole “Mormon” “Big Love” thing now :)

  • 5. Michelle Goodman  |  August 28th, 2007 at 9:36 am

    LAD, hilarious!

  • 6. Laura  |  August 28th, 2007 at 10:16 am

    In my experience, women want men who will happily help with 50% of the housework without being nagged. And men often just don’t think about it. I don’t know if this is true across the board, but in my case anyway, my fiance is perfectly willing to do some housework but I generally have to tell him “here’s a list of what needs doing. I will do A, B, and C. Can you please take care of D, E and F?” And he will do it without complaint. But leave him to his own devices and nothing will get done.

    Is it really more taxing to ask for help with chores than to do the chores yourself? I don’t think so. I feel like we should quit complaining about having to ask for help and just tell them what we want. More often than not, I think we’ll get what we ask for!

  • 7. Michelle Goodman  |  August 28th, 2007 at 11:02 am

    laura, i agree with everything you said. and besides giving them specific to-do lists, try to give ‘em items they like. (in my case, it’s Please organize the entertainment part of the room, Take care of the dog, Fix this broken piece of furniture, Figure out why my computer’s marking that horrible sound…)

  • 8. caroline  |  August 31st, 2007 at 6:21 pm

    Um…is anyone else even a little irritated that the author is basically DEFINING wife as a frickin’ maid?? Because I hope when/if I get married, my husband has a different definition than that. Grrrrr.

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Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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