02 March 2009

A good what?

I have married friends. Many of these friends work, though not all do: some are stay-at-home moms, some are stay-at-home dads, some are not able to work for one reason or another.

What I commonly hear from the lot is a desire to be a "better wife". I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean, but it generally means that they think that should cook more, clean more, do more of the laundry, contribute more, or be more organized.

In general, I think it's a fairly reasonable sentiment to want to do more to be a better partner. Specifically, the things my friends mention that makes them feel like "inadequate wives" makes me angry. So far, I've held my tongue. So far, I've been careful to listen patiently and be supportive of their desire to want to live in a cleaner home, eating food made from scratch. But when they seem to insist that it has to come from them in order to exist, I have a hard time not yelling, "WHAT YEAR DO YOU THINK IT IS?!"

Yes, I've read a book about it. The Meaning of Wife by Anne Kingston. I definitely don't agree with everything she says, but she makes some great arguments about the social constructions of the word. She points out that the word "wife" has no other meanings, and gender-specific synonyms are basically non-existent. I guess that's why it's so hard to break out of past presumptions that once you're a wife you become responsible for all the housework and child-rearing. Which would explain why some of my friends kind of crack under the notion that not doing so well makes them akin to failure as opposed to properly supported by their partners.

I think it's totally ridiculous that, as a woman, I should have to remind anyone that it's time to do anything that even mildly resembles cleaning. I find it preposterous that I should have to tell another adult not to leave a wet towel on the bed, to put their socks in the hamper, to put dirty dishes in the dishwasher, or to wipe the counter when they've spilt something. I also find it ridiculous that I should have to feel fully responsible for cooking something that doesn't come out of a box in the freezer.

So, why do so many women my age seem to feel inadequate for not automatically doing these things? Why does asking someone who should be able to feed, clothe, and bathe themselves to help out become "nagging"?

I understand that it will take a while for some of the increasing equality we teach our children to take root, but I don't think that anyone should be considered to be or should even entertain the notion that they are somehow inadequate as a partner because they're slack with the dishes, or they leave the floor un-vacuumed for a few weeks (or months, ahem). In the meantime, why do we have to feel like we're doing something wrong just for agreeing to take on the mantle of a word. If a word like "terrific" can have such vastly different definitions, then why is is so hard to break the shackles of a such a little word like "wife."


Tricky said...

Yeah. I don't have married friends, which i suppose is somewhat peculiar.

I'm in a relationship with a partner. This is a person who cooks, cleans, and does household things. Neither one of us is responsible for specific chores - we fell into him doing the kitty litter and me doing the fridge cleaning because of the other's 'ick' factor. There's some tension here and there about who could do what - but living with another person is like that.

I could not be with someone who was not a partner.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

I assume that a lot of women and men continue to grow up with a specific and very traditional idea of what husbands and wives are supposed to do, and though they find it easy to say that they reject the ideas, they end up falling into those roles when they actually become married (due to one or both of them insisting on adopting and/or enforcing those roles).

In some cases it might be one partner enforcing the role on the other partner, but when it comes to the people I know, it seems to be a more subtle negotiation that goes on, involving passive aggression and "little hints."

I've been amazed to see some very independent women suddenly become "little wives," and very carefree men become "breadwinners," all in the space of a month or two. It's like a Stepford Concept was waiting for activation in their brain for many, many years.