The Trials of the 21st Century Wife
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However, it seems most husbands are not like this, even if they started out that way. "When we moved [for the third time] for his career, I lost my job and became a full-time stay-at-home mom," Nina says. "Welcome to the ’50s, minus the pearls and heels. Now that I’m home he leaves the dishes on the table when he’s done eating and expects me to take care of house and kids … I often feel like a servant in my, granted, very lovely and paid-for-mostly-by-my-husband, home."
Even when they work, though, wives can’t escape doing more housework than their husbands. A recent UK study showed women do an average three hours of housework a day, compared to their husbands’ 40 minutes. And, as the recession continues, they can expect more, since housekeepers and maids have become a luxury. This trend is being called "insourcing," says Kate Harding, a blogger for Salon who married recently.
"If you believe domestic work is worth X dollars when you can afford to have professionals do it but zero dollars when you can’t, what does that tell us about how much we value ‘women’s work’?" she writes in a recent feature for Broadsheet. "And if women are usually the ones who end up taking on that zero-dollar labor, what does it tell us about how much we value women’s time?"
Some of that time, apparently, should be spent taking care of your husband, as if, perhaps, he is a fixture in your home that needs buffing and polishing. Susan, a health and nutrition professional who has been married three years, puts it best: Wives, she says, are automatically expected to have an "animal husbandry degree, department primate, homo-sapien."
"If Paul has gained weight, I’m ‘feeding him too much,' and if he goes out of the house looking less than band-box perfect, I’m the one ‘not dressing him properly,’" she says. "He’s not at fault if I gain weight -- then I’ve ‘let myself go’ -- or wear ugly clothes. But somehow when we married, people expect that he got a full-service personal trainer, chef, and valet."
This only gets worse, apparently, when children come into the household. Parenthood -- should you choose it, though society rarely presents it as optional -- changes the dynamics between many couples, and not necessarily in a good way. Martha Brockenborough’s recent article on parenting.com, "Mad at Dad," generated thousands and thousands of comments, and hit many nerves. She wrote about a survey conducted by the magazine that showed many women were utterly frustrated by their husbands’ inability to co-parent:
"I know I’m not the only one who gets Mad at Dad," she wrote of her own experience with the phenomenon. "Whenever I see the phone number of a certain close friend on the caller ID, I know she needs my understanding ear because her husband has dropped a wad of cash on electronics while telling her she can’t have someone in every other week to help clean, or because he let the kids eat junk food and play video games while she was running errands, and now they’re glassy-eyed and glued to the ceiling. Meanwhile, his whiskers are in the sink and his boxers are on the floor, making her feel like she’s married to nothing more than a hairy man-child."
In short, even the most equal relationships between husband and wife can devolve when kids are involved. "My marriage went into the toilet after we had our son," says Olivia, who now has two children with Jack. Suddenly, she felt Jack was shoving most of the childcare burden on her. It was a combination, she says, of exhaustion, his fears of inadequacy as a parent, and biological issues, since she was breastfeeding.