Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Life Goal #1: To Be A Happy Wife

I'm not adept enough to figure out how to link the text of the article to this blog since it's on Lexis, but I was curious to see what people thought of Tierney's article yesterday on "Happy Wives," especially after last night's Work-Life Panel where most of these issues were discussed.

The article really bothered me and I'm still trying to think through all the issues tied up in it, but a few of my problems with it are:

Tierney seems to be gendering an issue that isn't necessarily about gender as much as it is about division of labor in marriages (which is currently gendered, but doesn't have to be). Last night we discussed how the current workplace is modeled on an "ideal" worker, and this worker was a man who had a stay at home wife to take care of the house and kids. This model clearly doesn't work in today's society (and never worked for much of society that had to have two wage earners to make ends meet). Thus the workplace has to undergo a massive change to accomodate today's worker, who may need more flexibility in order to take care of children, or elderly parents.

With regard to the article, I would argue that the issue isn't that women are happier being housewives, or taking on more housework even if they work outside the home, but that if you have two parents working outside the home all that extra house and child care will stress any marriage, no matter which partner takes it on or how it's divided. I wonder how Tierney's theories hold up in houses with stay at home fathers, or in lesbian and gay households. I would bet that any household that has one stay at home partner generally has less stress on the marriage because there is just less work overall for the two partners to take care of. And given Ellickson's claim that above a certain level increased income doesn't correlate to increased happiness, maybe all marriages would be happier if the partners were only dividing up two jobs (one outside the home and one inside the home) instead of the two outside and one inside that is common today. This could mean both partners working half time, or switching off years of working outside the home and working inside the home, rather than forcing one partner to choose family over career and vice versa.

Another major issue I had was the underlying assumption that somehow what women most want is a happy marriage. I'm sure most people who get married are hoping to have a happy marriage, but the idea that women want to grow up to be happy wives is pretty blatantly sexist. No one would ever write an article about how what makes for happy husbands, because men are always seen as people first, and husbands and fathers second.

I hope that as we go through school and out into the working world we continue to think about these issues, and the extremely limited choices our government and society give us for being both happy spouses/parents and happy workers. It was a wonderful step to push for women to enter the work force, but we still need equal pay for women (to allow a meaningful choice of which parent will stay at home), government sponsored quality child care (for those families where both parents want or have to work), and flexible jobs/careers that allow part-time or part-year work, if we want to "have it all" as the feminists of the 1970s promised. So if we could now push men (especially those who make the laws ) to be as invested in their families as women are getting in their careers, and to find a way to make work accomodate life, we can reach our goals of being happy wives and husbands :)


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