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Husbands and Wives: Is there really equality?

standard February 2, 2008 2 responses

On my drive to work this morning, I caught the tail end of a local radio conversation about feminism and marriage.

I don’t know how this conversation began, but I listened intently as the male deejay argued with a female caller about the expectations of men and women in marriage.

It seems the female caller was ranting about men’s demands of their wives. She fumed about how men expect their wives to be patient, kind, understanding, offer blow-jobs willingly and still be modest and good mothers.

She went on to say that this is a new millennium and women should not be pressed to work outside the home if they have children, and that men are responsible for providing the women with a beautiful home, a brand new mini-van and an allowance for nice clothes. The children should have a well-rounded upbringing, great education and all their needs should be met, she said.

I actually pinched myself to make sure I was really driving in my car and hearing these words.

The male radio personality asked this female caller several questions.

“Isn’t the feminist movement about making your own choices? Women have fought for equality in the workplace for years and now you’re saying that once you have children you should no longer have to work? Isn’t this a bit hypocritical? You fight and fight for what you think you want and now you’ve got it and don’t want it any more?”

“What about helping support your husband and family financially? Is that null and void because you’re a woman and men should pay for the mistakes of the 50s and 60s?”

“Because I’m a man, I’m expected to buy my wife a big house, a new car, let her stay at home and I can’t have any expectations for her? If I tell her she can stay home, should she not at least clean the house and do laundry and cook meals for me and our children? I go to work and she does what?”

“And if my wife doesn’t agree with these tasks, and she doesn’t like it, she can divorce me and she keeps the house, the cars and the kids and her new boyfriend can move in and I’m the guy paying for it all? Is that fair?”

“When did our society become so anti-men? Men want to stay home with their children, too. We’d like custody of our kids after divorces. We want these feminists to pay us alimony and child support.”

The woman was bent out of shape. She went on to quote feminists Gloria Steinem and Naomi Wolf.

I found myself thinking that perhaps this man was on the right track. Just a little. Before you get crazy on me, hear me out.

In the 1950’s it was rare for a woman to work. It was rare for a household to have two cars. Women were homemakers and mothers and men were the bread winners.

Images of Leave It to Beaver come to mind. While this show is somewhat too perfect to be real, it’s the reference I think about when discussing the “olden days”.

The 1960’s brought forth the Sexual Revolution and the Women’s Liberation Movement. Women fought for equal rights in government, in the workplace, in choosing when and with whom to have children, and deciding whether or not to get married or to be single.

I often think of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Mary was a single woman and she didn’t seem to mind. She loved the freedom to do what she pleased and date the men of her liking.

Over the course of forty years, women’s lives have changed. We know what we want and how to get it.

We stand in no man’s shadow. We hold no man in power over us. If we want to have a career we can. If we want to stay home with our children we can. If we want to practice a religion we do. If we choose to be atheist it’s okay.

We hold the power over our lives. We are in control of our futures.

We detest when someone comes along and tells us we can’t do this, we can’t do that, we should do this, we shouldn’t do that. We don’t like to lose our control. We fight for our rights. We stand up for what we believe in, because the many women before us did so, and taught us to never give up the fight.

But in the Women’s Movement, did we somehow alienate the men? Has our society really decided that men are no longer important and women rule the roost? Is this what feminists were fighting for? Instead of equality, we have a shift in power?

Is it now our turn to make the men suffer? Will there, someday, be a men’s movement? Will men fight for the right to stay home with their children while the wives head off to ABC Corporation?

My thoughts about this subject are like a tornado in my brain. I’m surprised I managed to blog them all.

I think back to my friend Joel and the rough divorce he went through. His ex-wife, Mindy, was domineering, manipulative and somewhat hostile. She refused to give up any control in the raising of their daughter Alexa, now 8 years old.

Mindy was a nurse until she became pregnant. Before the baby was born, Mindy agreed to work part-time. Once Alexa arrived Mindy refused to work. While this was her choice, Joel had a rough time making ends meet on his income alone. He had to get a second job.

Ultimately Joel believed Mindy’s change of mind was a breach of the contract they agreed upon and grew upset. Understandably, so. But as their marriage fell apart and divorce grew near, Joel began to see a side of Mindy he never knew.

She insisted on making all decisions about Alexa. Mindy often grew angry and during the divorce demanded alimony in addition to child support and she got it.

Since Joel’s is the sole income and must hold a job to pay child support, he didn’t get custody of Alexa and only sees her every other weekend. Holidays are a fight because Mindy believes she should have their daughter at every holiday gathering.

And so, I wonder: Has our society given men the shit end of the stick?

Sure, we have deadbeat dads in this world. We have fathers who have done nothing when it comes to childrearing, and would sooner sign off paternity rights than help to raise their children and pay child support. Sperm donors, my neighbor once called them.

But what about the wonderful fathers out there who have to fight tooth and nail just to be there for their sons and daughters? What about them?

Do we as women really believe we are entitled to the lifestyles we want just because we are female? Do we feel the world, the patriarch, owes us something? Are we defending a movement that we had almost nothing to do with?

Our mothers fought these injustices. They were the first feminists. Are we just following suit because it is expected of us?

When I look at my own marriage I see the following:

My husband and I both work. Dawson is in daycare four days a week. Doug stays home with him on Tuesdays and I’m home on the weekends.

We compromise in our roles as parents and as husband and wife. We each participate in cleaning the house, yard work and other tasks.

While I am the primary decision maker about Dawson’s health and welfare, Doug is the primary decision maker about our finances.

However, when one of us has input for the other, we make it our duty to listen and come to an agreement before making a decision. Not one of us is more in power than the other. We are equally responsible for our family and our future.

If I were to stay home and Doug were to continue to work, would I really be put off if he expected the house to be clean and dinner to be made? Probably not, simply because I would want to feel like I am contributing to our marriage and family. But do other women feel this way?

The female caller claimed that women have been controlled for years and it’s time for us to stand up and tell men where to go. The male deejay went on to talk about the gripes of women, and made a reference to the “glass ceiling in business”.

He said that this wage war in the workplace, women vs. men, is not nearly as common as the inequality men have when it comes to raising their children. That’s when I began to see his point.

Yes, women are underpaid in the workforce. I agree with that. But I also believe that men are left hanging in the rafters when it comes to fatherhood. I know many men are in the shadows of their wives when parenting.

I know it is difficult for me to let go of the reigns when it comes to parenting. I like to be in charge of Dawson’s well being. In my mind I know that my husband is fully capable of parenting our son and his decision making skills are more than adequate. But it is true that I like to be in control. Is that really so wrong?

The radio guy eventually asked his lady caller if she was married.

“Yes,” she said. “I’m married and my husband knows his place.”

“Not for long,” he replied. “With an attitude like yours, you won’t be married for long.”

Instead of Mommy Wars, we now have the new Gender Wars.

This post is part of the February blog exchange, in which the theme is “Rerun”. Dana originally posted this at her blog, The Dana Files, May 3, 2007. You can find Jessica at Dana’s place today. If you’d like to participate in the March blog exchange, click here for details.

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2 responses

  • I’m with you on this one. If one person is the sole bread winner then the other should contribute to the marriage by taking care of the home. It doesn’t matter if that perosn is male or female. Now that person need a break every so often too. Just becasue they stay home doesn’t mean they have it easy. It takes a huge amount of work to manage a household and children. My husband and I both work full time and we do what you do. We approach it as a team effort. I really think that should be the approach for any marriage. Different members of a team bring different strengths to the table and you should always play to your strengths. But one person can’t carry the entire team. It all comes down to expectations. What are your expectations from your marriage. Wouldn’t it be great if people wrote a list of honest expectations from their spouse prior to getting married? I wonder how many marriages wouldn’t happen once the other person knew what was really being planned by their future spouse?

  • Loved your post. Sorry about your friends- definitely short end of the stick with his daughter. I struggle as a divorced now remarried mom. I wanted sole custody but dont think it was best for my son. So I split 50/50. Now not so sure that was a good idea…Elijiah hates going back and forth, therapist says studies show child should stay in one house and other parent come and see as often as can. But the tug a war of moving a child between houses shows long term ill effects. He loves his dad, dad is a great dad, but still I see how hard divorce is on my son, the issues that are coming from it already and hes only 5.
    I too work full time, and have a marriage that is a partnership…how else can it be? If I were to stay home you bet my job would be to not only do all the housework and cooking, and running around, but support my husband with his work too…your post is exactly the kind of thing we should all think about…how are we each contributing regardless of the work / or work from home situation….thanks for your thought!

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