I’m quite heterosexual, but I’ve dreamed for years of having a wife. Turns out I’m not the only one:
Now that women have solidly earned their place in the work force, many find themselves still yearning for something men often have: wives.
“The thing I most want in life is a wife. I’m not kidding,” said Joyce Lustbader, a research scientist at Columbia University, who has been married for 29 years. “I work all day, sometimes seven days a week, and still have to go home and make dinner and have all those things to do around the house.”
It is not just the extra shift at home that is a common complaint. 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.
One specialist in women’s studies dismissed wife envy as something women “are usually joking about” and another called it “a need for a second set of hands, regardless of gender.” But therapists who work with couples on equality issues say it is no joke.
“I hear it all the time,” said Robin Stern, a psychotherapist in Manhattan and author of “The Gaslight Effect.” “It’s a real concern. Things that used to be routinely taken care of during the week are not anymore.”
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).
Frankly, I don’t see this as entirely a matter of male chauvinism, although most people who know Mr. Bookworm and me would be the first to agree that, by any standards, Mr. Bookworm is a 1950s kind of guy who does absolutely nothing around the house.
Mr. Bookworm’s antediluvian tendencies aside, while there are many wonderful and devoted house husbands (I know a few), in 95% of the marriages I see around me, the husbands and wives have simply fallen, without thought, into the traditional role of the women taking on the primary childcare obligations. (I think it has something to do with the precedent set vis a vis the children with pregnancy and nursing.)
The fallout from that almost thoughtless devolution into traditional roles is that the women with paying jobs outside of the house inevitably decrease their hours, flex their hours, or give up paying work altogether. And the fallout from that change in paying work status is that, as their income declines and their hours at home increase, the women take on more of the domestic tasks. As every working mother knows, domestic tasks can be a full time job. These working women therefore
- rise at dawn,
- get everyone ready for work or school,
- get the children out the door,
- toss a load of laundry in the machine,
- get themselves ready for,
- go to work,
- pack a full day of work into part-time,
- race home to meet the kids,
- stuff snacks into the kids,
- drive the kids to their after school programs,
- race through the grocery stores while the kids play soccer,
- get the kids home from the after school activities, cooking dinner,
- supervise homework,
- tidy the house,
- finish the laundry,
- wrestle the kids into bed,
- complete the work that didn’t get down during the rest of the and
- collapse (often with that infamous headache).
Their husbands, meanwhile,
- get up in the morning,
- go to work,
- come home,
- eat dinner,
- kiss the kids and
- watch TV.
That’s why we modern women want wives — we want someone to take care of us and give us a break.