Another quick post as the children are restless. When I hear about writers making ‘great sacrifices’ for their art such as up holing up in cabins in the woods or hotels while they churn out their novels, I must say it irritates me a little; the real test is trying to write while rocking the baby in one arm and swatting the pre-schooler away from the Delete key with the other.
But something is bothering me and I think that it warrants mention even though I feel a little like a one-note drummer. It’s the Housewife thing again. Like a wasp at a picnic, it’s annoying and it won’t go away. It also seems innocuous enough until it stings.
Yesterday, I had Dr. Phil on as I tried to decide which box to thaw out for dinner. His program was on Wifestyles and was a follow-up to an earlier show featuring a guest named Wayne who had suggested his spouse needed “wife lessons” because she was unable to follow his long list of requirements for wives.
I turned up the volume, because someone had just forwarded to me The Smoking Gun article on the crazy guy facing criminal charged in Iowa for attempting to kidnap his wife (among other things) who had drafted a very disturbing “Contract of Wifely Expectations”.
“That must be the guy!” I thought as Phil reintroduced us to Grant and his 75-point list of requirements which included: “organizing closets; organizing hallway closet; keep the car clean; grocery shopping; cook efficiently; use the oven; use the stove; get rid of the stuff you don’t use or need; sew; mend; wash; load and use the washing machine properly; basic routine maintenance on washer, dryer, oven, dishwasher, fridge, freezer, toaster; decorate windows; weekly and monthly cleaning; positioning of furniture; organize videos and DVDs; organize CDs; organize the linen; stock the linen; sanitize the bathrooms; cook Mexican food; get country dance lessons, Latin dance lessons, hip-hop dance lessons; and do preventative maintenance relating to common household items.” Grant wanted his wife to dress sexier and had suggested that she wash his truck in her bathing suit and have breast augmentation surgery. He graded her cooking abilities. And not only did Grant feel that his wife should do all 75 things on his list (in addition to caring for their three children), but that all wives should be subjected to the same expectations: “those are just things I thought that a wife in general would need to know. . . . A wife staying at home [with children] ought to be able to handle those things.” Scary.
But the really scary part was that Phil’s guest was not the crazy Iowa guy. In fact, there was no mention of the crazy Iowa guy; the timing, so it seemed, was pure coincidence. Phil had done a follow-up show because “When Grant and Kelly were on the show, they ignited a huge debate over the topic of what defines a good wife.” Debate? What exactly was there to debate?
There was, of course, the view that Grant was wrong. That expecting his partner to do all of the cooking and cleaning and dress up in sexy little numbers and take hip hop lessons after caring for their three children all day was ridiculous. But then a viewer named Amy voiced her opinion (as did thousands of others) that Grant’s wife was indeed shirking her responsibilities and not doing her “job”: “I think that what happens a lot of times in marriages is you come to an agreement of one person staying at home and one person taking on that responsibility, then the stay-at-home person, whether it’s the mom or the dad, gets into the situation, realizes it’s a lot harder than what they expected, and then doesn’t want to be held accountable for their choices of being responsible in that role.”
Ugh. And here we go again. That role. When exactly did the role of full-time, at-home caregiver morph into that of “housewife”? Why is it that there is an assumption that the person looking after the children is responsible for absolutely everything having to do with running a household? Sure, when grape juice gets spilled, it makes sense for the person there to wipe it up before it dries into a sticky mess. And, with a baby, laundry must be done. Frequently. But this notion that if someone is at home, everyone else in the family is “off the hook” when it comes to domestic activities seems so strange. And the expectation that the person at home will do all of this work with a smile while wearing sexy clothes is unsettling.
It is especially unsettling when we hear it from other women. On the original “wifestyles” show, one of the guests offered the following advice to “other stay-at-home moms”: “Be the woman your husband wants you to be. Before he comes home: dress up, clean up, have a hot meal waiting for him when he gets home. Have a shoe basket by the door to keep the floor clean, so you don’t busy yourself mopping and sweeping, so you’re with him. If your husband reaches for you, grab tighter. If he kisses you, kiss longer. If your husband loves you, love him more. There’s nothing more a husband wants than a loving wife and a good meal.” Be a Total Woman. Be a Happy Housewife. Surrender to marriage. Biology is destiny.
On the face of it, perhaps it doesn’t seem harmful. You are a woman. A mom. Look after the kids. Vacuum the drapes. Look pretty. You man doesn’t want to come home to a mess at the end of a hard day. What’s the big deal? And if everyone were smart and rational and reasonable and well-intentioned, perhaps it would be fine. But we live in a world with Grant and with the creepy Iowa guy. And women supporting — trumpeting — the message that motherhood somehow equals servitude isn’t fine at all.