Darren and I are watching Grey’s Anatomy, season 3. *Spoiler alert*
We’ve just watched the bit where Christina agrees to marry Burke. You know, the “I don’t do rings” bit. She tells him that she is a surgeon too, that she won’t change. She is trying to explain how their marriage will be affected by them both keeping their high pressure, high power, high paying careers. Her one-liner to sum it up is “We’ll have money, we can hire a wife”.
Sometimes that is how I feel about my marriage. I’m not a “traditional wife” – I’m not a good cook, I am pants at cleaning, I’m not a trophy wife type either. I do have a brain. I am a good mother (I hope!) and I love my husband. We are a team, we are both good at different things, and in many ways he is better at the “traditional wife” stuff than I am – he remembers birthdays and buys cards, he books the shopping deliveries, he arranges household stuff, he chooses the decoration of our home and the appliances we buy. I do the family finances, I am the stricter one with the children, I deal with the medical crises and the therapy for N, I do the washing and sort, fold and put away clothes, and buy things that the children need. And I have a career – albeit a part time one at present.
So in these days of feminism, of equality, why do I feel inadequate as a wife? Aren’t we supposed to be “allowed” to have more equal marriages, where the woman isn’t the cook, cleaner, and childcare, whilst wearing heels and makeup of course? Sometimes feel like our relationship is missing a “real woman”, like what we need in this household is a wife. I struggled less with it before the children, before maternity leave put me in the home 24/7, and before I went part time so I could spend some time with my children before they were 20. The vague guilt started when I spent more time outside the office environment, it crept up on me and whispered to me that I “ought” to be able to manage more because my mum did it whilst my dad went out to work, because that’s what the non-working partner should do (forgetting of course that childcare is a full time job in itself), and because somehow my identity as a woman includes expectations I put on myself about running the home.
I hope that says something profound about the nature of feminism in the 21st century, the nature of growing up and the role models we see in childhood and adopt as norms.
Maybe it just says something about the fact there should be more housekeepers, cleaners, nannies and au pairs in the world. For surely they are the “wife” in the three person modern marriage. It’s fascinating to me that we value these roles so much less than we value the corporate roles, the lawyers and doctors and accountants. Is it any less skilled to entertain a toddler for 8 hours than to negotiate with difficult collegues? To plan a balanced menu for a week than to close a deal? To use your muscles to scrub rather than your brain to understand? No. They are just different skills. If we look at real value, its actually the caring roles that have more worth than the profit seeking ones. Why do we write them off as a society? And why do I write myself off for being better at the corporate role than the domestic one?
Another alternative presents itself… perhaps my judgement has been clouded by my recent enjoyment of several episodes of “Upstairs Downstairs”. What I really want in this marriage is a Mr Hudson, a Mrs Bridges and a Rose. Shame I don’t have the inheritance to afford them! And, in the words of Lady Diana Russell, “I believe marriage should be something more than agreeing to share the same house and butler.”