Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Wife's Job is to Take Care of Kids, Feed her Man Steak, and Shop at Victoria's Secret? This Wife Has a Response.

So, I log into Facebook today and I'm met with a barrage of sexist Tweets (no, I'm not mixing my social media terminology; these were Tweets auto-posted to Facebook). These Tweets were from an acquaintance--a college friend of my husband's. He's a guy I don't know all that well, but a guy I always thought was nice enough and intelligent. I'm having a hard time meshing that image of him with the person who said this:

Y'all don't want me to share my Thoughts on Marrige; I don't have the time for y'all to be dropping bombs in my mentions!.. but I will say..
For you Slow Asses: Marriage should only be for The Finacially Stable.. the Man should be more stable than the female...Head Of the House! 
Plus I'm Old school: My Parents have been together for 30yrs..Moms NEVER paid a Bill, Car Note, Mortgage, Light, Electric...NOTHING 
Womans Finacial Responsibilties in a Marriage should be to take care of the kids..feed me the best cut of steaks and buy things from VS 
We don't need a Pre-Nup when ur Finacially Invisible for 20yrs... ill pay Child Support but you won't fuck with my Real Estate!!!! Lmao
I made a promise to myself a while back that I would stop being a passive supporter of oppression by letting it slide. I want to believe that this man doesn't recognize the sexism dripping from these words, but I can't see how that could be the case. I wasn't in on the actual Twitter conversation, but it was framed as a debate he was willing to have. If that's the case, my response definitely won't fit in 140 characters, but it's a topic I'm willing to discuss. And here's where I'd begin:

1) That Traditional Model Isn't Always So Pretty- 
I would first like to say that I had a personal bristling to these Tweets. This guy says that his parents have been married for 30 years and his mom has never paid a bill. Someone responded with what a "blessing" that was. But look at that last Tweet: "We don't need a Pre-Nup when ur Financially Invisible for 20yrs."

I'm glad that his parents have made their model of marriage work, but that model doesn't always play out so well. Take my own parents, for instance. My parents were married for over 20 years. My dad was the sole financial provider, and he worked incredibly hard at a physically demanding job (ironically, I think it was the same place this guy's dad worked, but that's neither here nor there). My mom stayed home, had three kids, cooked dinner (yes, often steak) every night, and cleaned the house. Their marriage, however, was not a happy one. My dad became increasingly abusive, and when she finally left him, she had nothing to fall back on.

She had no work history, she had no contemporary skills, no advanced training or education, and no work connections. She had three kids and a high school diploma. This guy brags that his mom has never had to pay a light bill. Do you know who paid the light bills in my house? Me. At fifteen and sixteen years old I was working and contributing to the household so that we could pay the bills and keep food on the table. And it didn't always work out. My mom got a job in retail paying just over minimum wage. She still works there a decade later. She doesn't have a retirement plan, and what should be minor financial burdens (like a car breaking down or a leaking roof) have the potential to derail her entire life.

And I'm not trying to blame the victim--many of my dad's actions towards my mom are indefensible--but this system was taxing on him as well. He was constantly under the pressure of providing, and he had very distinct ideas about what providing should look like. Many of my memories of him (he passed away a few years ago) are of him trying to find a way to do something bigger, better, more. I can't imagine what that pressure was like.

2) Even When It Is Pretty, It's More Than That
But even when the traditional model of a male breadwinner and female homemaker works out (and I see nothing inherently wrong with this model if it's what both husband and wife want to do), the wife's role should never be reduced to "tak[ing] care of the kids, feed[ing] me the best cuts of steak, and buy[ing] things from VS."

Traditional women's work has been traditionally undervalued. Tasks like taking care of children and keeping a house are often not seen as the physically taxing or mentally involved work that they are. If the division of labor truly does fall along traditional gender lines in a household, that doesn't mean that the respect for those positions needs to be unequal. If the man is doing the work out of the house and the woman is doing the work in the house, each member is contributing equally to the overall function of that household, and each should be respected (by each other and by society) for those efforts. (The flip side is also true; men who are take care of the home while their wives/partners work outside of it should be equally valued for the work that they do).

This list of things that a wife should do: taking care of kids, feeding her husband steak, and buying Victoria's Secret is also telling. All three deny her agency. Taking care of the kids suggest that her role as mother subsumes her role as individual person. The idea that she needs to feed her husband demonstrates that she is subservient to him. The idea that she needs to buy lingerie from Victoria's Secret demonstrates that her primary concern should be playing the role of sexual plaything for her husband. Nowhere in here does the wife's actions reflect her own wants, needs, and desires. And--yes--she has them.

3) Gender Inequality is Rampant, Don't Contribute to It
Women are overrepresented in certain job sectors and underrepresented in others. According to the DPE Fact Sheet, women made up 74.2% of health care practitioner positions, but only 12.8% of architectural and engineering positions. Women still only make 81 cents for every dollar a man makes, and that gap is even more pronounced in women of color (African American women make 72 cents for every dollar and Hispanic and Latina women make 62 cents per dollar).

And even if this guy thinks that he is championing some kind of value system, he is not reflecting a reality. In almost every state (except Wyoming and Utah), one-third of women with children are the primary breadwinners in their families (either because they are single mothers or because they make more than 50% of their household income). When you couple these statistics with the income inequality, it highlights the problem even more.

Not to mention, demeaning women's positions in marriage as subordinate makes it easier to demean women across the board, and our social standards don't really need any help on this account. Representations in movies, television, magazines, and advertisements continue to show women as sexual objects or in equally demeaning caricatured roles.

4) Strengthening the Presence of One System of Oppression Strengthens All of Them
As scholars like Patricia Hill Collins and Kimberle Crenshaw have pointed out, oppressions don't stay neatly contained. Systems of oppression intersect. Markers such as ability, age, class, gender, race, and sexual orientation place us into positions of oppression at the hands of systems like ableism, ageism, classism, sexism, racism, and homophobia. (For an excellent overview of these issues, see this publication from the Women of Color Policy Network).

That publication also includes these charts:

These charts demonstrate the ways that macro-level discrimination (discrimination present in larger societal structures) and micro-level discrimination (discrimination present in smaller, more individual interactions) operate upon an individual in a position of oppression. While intersectionality addresses the way these systems of oppression play into one another, there are also intersections between these levels of discrimination. 

These Tweets are examples of micro-level discrimination. These Tweets alone are not really a threat to women's status in America. But that's not the way the world works. These Tweets are part of a larger cultural landscape, artifacts that operate in tangent with other texts and construct a view of women that is oppressive and damaging. Then that system of oppression operates to the detriment of other oppressed individuals as well. Strengthening one system of oppression strengthens them all. Weakening one system of oppression weakens them all. 

I take issue with these "Thoughts on Marriage" on a personal level. I am a happily married woman who works, goes to school, and cares deeply for my husband and my child. But I am writing this response out of frustration on a larger level. Perpetuating the oppression of wives hurts us all, and I won't watch it happen without a response. 


  1. To me those tweets just show a complete lack of understanding of women's general desire to have a fulfilling life. He is placing women in a category of second-ranked human beings, not individuals who might have an opinion, might want to pursue something in addition to raising children. The problem (well illustrated by your parents Jane) is that raising children only takes a certain number of years, then you have to "find something else to do". Great reply though and I admire you for the decision to not be a passive supporter of oppression.

    1. I completely agree with the "finding something else to do" thing, and I think that our culture tells us that parenting should be all-consuming. But I think that does a disservice to us AND our kids. Forgetting that parents are people first--complete with all the complications of individual wants and needs--keeps us from reaching our full potential in any of our realms, including parenting. That something else to do doesn't have to be work outside the home, but I think it does need to exist.

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