I Read Wifework So You Don’t Have To
If you throw out all the bullshit and the intro-level patriarchy-blaming, Susan Maushart’s Wifework magically transforms from a 247-page eye-roller into an insightful 10-page essay. I will now extract the most interesting points from that essay, so that you’re excused from having to slog through her excruciatingly uncritical presentation of her favorite evolutionary just-so stories.
Maushart starts by establishing that wives, on average, do more work – household labor, emotional caretaking, spousal ego-boosting, childcare – than their husbands. They are less happy about their marriages, and gain fewer of the tangible benefits (longer lives, more money) that accrue to married men. This takes her some time; there are various interesting factoids along the way, and quite a bit of repetition which should be unnecessary for an audience that’s gotten past Feminism 101. To be fair, that’s not the audience of the book, but it is largely the audience of this blog so I feel no compunction in complaining about the mismatch.
Anyway: this inequality persists despite our best efforts. It is not affected by relative earnings within a household.
Wifework explains the two trends of happily submissive wives, and embittered divorced MRAs, with one fell swoop. Maushart’s crucial observation is that even though most marriages aren’t really very egalitarian, we have a lot invested in the illusion of equality. Actively maintaining the illusion of an equal, happy marriage is part of wifework. If a wife does a good job, her husband has absolutely no idea that their marriage is unequal or unhappy – which means that many men are completely blindsided when their wives decide to stop doing the wifework and get a divorce. Male privilege plays a role in this blindness, of course, but this is one of many cases where women collude in their own oppression.
Contrariwise, if women openly take a submissive position in marriage, they no longer have to work to maintain the illusion of equality. Cognitive dissonance is a big downer, so it shouldn’t surprise us that these women really do find their married lives more satisfying than their “egalitarian” counterparts.
She sneaks in some practical advice:
- If you want to see the inequalities in your relationship, don’t compare your situation to that of other women; compare it to that of your husband.
- Unless you’re making temporary amendments to an existing, explicit division of labor, don’t offer to “help” your partner with the chores. That only reaffirms the idea that it’s her job in the first place. If you think you’re not doing your fair share, start cleaning, or ask to renegotiate the division of labor so you can take on more responsibilities.
- Don’t expect to solve all your problems by hiring a maid. There’s still the emotional division of labor, which makes waaaay more difference to the health of a marriage than the household division of labor.
That’s it! Unless you’re super-keen to hear Maushart’s take on what kids do to marriage (surprise! they make it really difficult, especially from a gender-equity perspective!), what marriage is good for anyway (kids), or why women evolved to be nurturers who seek a mate who’s a good provider (blech), you’ve got no reason to read the book.