everybody wants a wife – new gender roles are hard

This is not strictly parenting or Sweden related, but I liked this op-ed piece by Sandra Tsing Loh, especially now that I am a temporary stay-at-home Dad who spent 30 minutes staring angrily at the Christmas glitter that keeps appearing on our floor no matter how much I vacuum. Still, that aside, I have no desire to be a Wife, or have my wife be a Wife, which means lots of sharing of roles and standards, from housework to parenting, especially in our 500 square foot apartment and its constant need for organizing. Works for us, but maybe we are at the front end of a bigger transition …

What can turn into a second shift is not just negotiating the splitting of this labor with another person, but the splitting of decision-making authority. Two co-workers in the home also have the opportunity to regularly evaluate each other’s handiwork, not always to a positive effect. (Suffice it to say, stacking food in the fridge with precise geometric elegance is apparently not among my talents.)

In short, as the Tupperware totters lopsidedly about, in the domestic equation, the work I do at home is no longer a gift, but the labor of a mediocre colleague whose performance could be better.

Still, a return to a life more like the 1950s, with one breadwinner and one homemaker, is an unreasonable expectation. It is particularly so since, as the breadwinner, I wish to be the husband, and hence what I’m looking for is a wife — a loyal helpmeet who keeps the home fires burning and offers uncritical emotional support when I, the gladiator, return exhausted from the arena. Who are the (actively listening!) men without money who can adapt to such a role?

One could ask, who are the modern women who are content with such a role? These are times when mothers with newborns watch “Oprah” episodes that feature a harried mom just like you who became entrepreneurial with her jam, and is now head of a multimillion-dollar company in addition to being a great mom!

In the end, we all want a wife. But the home has become increasingly invaded by the ethos of work, work, work, with twin sets of external clocks imposed on a household’s natural rhythms. And in the transformation of men and women into domestic co-laborers, the Art of the Wife is fast disappearing.

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