highly educated women should quit their jobs in order to guide and “sculpt” their husbands to professional triumphs (that he might not be able to achieve on his own), and that women should constantly “celebrate his attempts as well as his victories” as their full-time gig.

Colour me surprised, but I’m with AskSam* in questioning whether this is really a good thing. I don’t have a subscription to Madison magazine so I can only assume that it is real, not a tongue in cheek article. I’d love someone to prove me wrong – about the article that is. I don’t think I’m wrong in thinking this is a bad idea.

Of course there is a book out about it: “Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman’s Guide to Having It All” authored by Megan Basham (haven’t read it, probably won’t)

Basham cites studies that conclude that relationships actually thrive when the bloke sees himself as the breadwinner, despite his university-educated wife having the ability to make more dough than him. Basham also says that if women do follow her advice to quit their careers and focus their skills solely on her man’s career ambitions, that these men will go on to earn a staggering 31 per cent more than if their wives focused on careers of their own.

Wow, 31% more. I wonder if their wives wages are more than 31% of theirs? That, of course, isn’t taking into account their wives well being, mental health, sense of job satisfaction, social networking, friends, your own money or any of the other benefits you can get from working. It also assumes that you are married to a man so thankful and devoted to you that he won’t ditch you for a younger model once you start to age a little or just take you for granted and expect to be treated like a prince. I’m not saying that this is a bad idea for every woman, but I don’t think it is a good idea for every woman either. Of course if you are outside the het/cis paradigm or not “highly educated” or are in any way unable to “sculpt your man to professional triumphs” because of a lack of spoons apparently you don’t need to worry.

[Warning anecdata] In my personal experience I just got bitter and felt like I was wasting myself and my talents (and my modest nature obviously!). Sure I can iron a basket of shirts while watching Oprah and I do get a kick out of having a clean house, but I still wanted more for myself. Like self respect [eta] and what I needed, personally, to get that was a job and the knowledge that I was making a monetary contribution to the household, not just thinking about having lunch at home instead of down the street or how to use up what was in the fridge because then I could put off spending [his] money at the supermarket for another day. I got bored and sick of waiting for him to come home. I don’t know if the book mentions that if he’s going to be 31% more successful that’s likely to translate into 31% more time spent at the office or away at meetings, conferences etc. There is a sting in the tail to success and it is time away or caught up doing other things when your family want to see you too. So sure, my Nigel could be 31% more successful but I would be 100% more unhappy. Guaranteed.

*although she does waver at the end. But I’m not in her situation either. I’m in a long term relationship with two kids under my belt so I can’t be critical of someone who is still looking for Mr Right and wondering how to keep him.

SotBO: This lifestyle may suit some women down to a T. If this isn’t about you, it’s not about you. It’s about giving this sort of advice to all women as if it is a holy grail to happiness. As the article points out, men are never counselled to do anything like this. [eta] This is not having a go at SAHM’s or women who for whatever reason don’t have paid work outside their home. I am not suggesting that the only path to self respect is a paid job, just that it was my path to self respect and happiness. If you can find that as a SAHM you have both my respect, my admiration and my envy because I found it too bloody hard and if you’ve never felt like you have failed as a parent because you can’t play with your child then please understand how lucky you are. At least thanks to the blogosphere I know I’m not alone.

ETA: In fairness to my Nigel, he didn’t ask me to do any of this. It was a joint decision made mostly because a) he had a career going and I didn’t or it was something I could move around with like teaching or b) because we had a new child and I wasn’t ready to go back to work and have them in childcare so moving somewhere else to support his career which supported me to be a SAHM wasn’t a big deal. It was just that once I started to want to go back to work and had trouble finding good childcare options and work options that the unfairness of the situation started to bite. It was not a situation of his making. For the record I think we are both much happier when we are both working. It works for us and benefits our children who have two generally happy parents.

Categories: gender & feminism, media, relationships

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17 replies

  1. I just have to comment on this. A long time ago I actually thought this idea had merit. I was married to a professional man who charmed me with his ‘I just want to look after you. You are the mother of my son and he needs you. Earning an income and having a job is not the most important path. etc’ You get the idea. So, that’s what I did, ditched my fledgling career to take on the ‘important supporting role’. With complete conviction.
    It started slowly: ‘Didn’t we eat this earlier this week? No desert? Why can’t you greet me with a smile when I come home? It’s been a week since you gave me sex. What was this withdrawal from the account for? etc.’ All true statements.
    If a man needs the idea that he is ‘the breadwinner’ to validate himself as a man at the expense of his partner’s personal independence and personal development, than he has a major issue with self-confidence. Run like hell. You are there to validate him.
    Besides that, on a more practical level, it is utterly incomprehensible why anybody would want to take on the sole responsibility for the financial survival of a family. Anything can happen to completely change the ability of either partner to financially contribute.

  2. Leaving aside the argument about self-respect and dignity-in-work with which I entirely agree:
    One partner takes a 100% pay cut, the shared income (assuming equal incomes to begin with) takes a 34.5% pay cut, and that’s supposed to make a relationship thrive? Even on the economics of it a mere 31% increase in one income is a terrible, terrible argument for one-income relationships.
    This is one article that would have benefited from some of those excess economic rationalists they’ve got lying around at Fairfax.

  3. But when I am so often being told that I’m not getting any younger, and that I’d better start looking to settle down and get married soon (“You’re going to start sagging and then no-one is going to want you!” a man told me yesterday; while the cab driver the other day said that at my age I should already have two kids under my belt), I wonder if maybe we should be more supportive of our men … if indeed we want a happy one …

    “Other men have been poking at me to get with the socially-proscripted program; I wonder if we should quit my career and go be supportive of our men?”
    I suppose that I’m glad that the book is controversial, as it means we’re somewhat better off than when it was just expectedly-normal.  (For a particular subset of women.)  Still, what would be genuinely controversial would be a book just like this, but with all the arbitrarily het/binary genders reversed.

  4. Like self respect and the knowledge that I was making a monetary contribution to the household

    This part really bothers me. First of all, making a monetary contribution to the household is not something that everyone can, or wishes, to do. The idea of tying self respect to this concept just strikes me as very ableist. And it’s great if you are both willing and able to work outside the home, and it’s nice that you make a point of saying that for some people this works, but, again, by using the phrase “self respect” the way you do, you are implying that people who do not work outside of the home don’t, or shouldn’t, have any. There’s a way to describe your experience without deriding those whose experiences are not your own.

  5. Rosemary self respect and making a monetary contribution was what I wanted, and I think that is reasonably clear. Also I stated that “if this isn’t about you, it’s not about you.” I do not believe that anyone who doesn’t work outside the home is not entitled to self respect and I don’t think my post says that.

  6. Liam: the economic rationale might be rather plastic depending on earning capability and how much domestic work would be otherwise outsourced, mightn’t it? It can be easy for two full-time parents with middling sorts of incomes to spend $20-$30K/year on childcare, cleaning, and pre-prepared food. For individual homemakers, however, the financial risks are of course huge, especially looking forward at the future. That family law doesn’t mitigate this effectively yet is a big problem.
    Mindy: I think where I came up a bit short is where I read your “This lifestyle” in your SotBO as referring to ironing shirts while watching Oprah and scraping meals from the bottom of the fridge while waiting for a spouse to come home. Homemaking can be a lot, lot more than that, from planning to budgeting to crafting to preparing children’s learning environments, to everything that a life can hold incidental to the actual homemaking – ongoing personal education, social life, political engagement, and volunteer work. I, for one, get a fair kick just out of being home every day when my kid gets home from school, and out of the small bits of volunteer work I can manage to do because I can be near a keyboard and available. And I neither iron nor watch Oprah, ever.
    Certainly within the Feminist movement at least, women who are homemakers have suffered a huge amount of denigration and repudiation often on very personal levels and are quite rationally attuned to criticisms around respect, even when there are motions at attenuationt. This year’s blowups in the feminist blogosphere around mothers and mothering have been pretty illuminating of this issue. If you would have no respect for yourself based purely on your status as a homemaker vs working for pay, why should I trust you to have respect for me as someone who is primarily at home? I think “that particular life was not for me” is rather different from “I wanted more […] like self respect”.

  7. Further thoughts!
    I think I’m just getting old or something, but there’s one part where I really don’t agree with your post, and that’d be the part where you question whether it’s a good thing for women to “support their men” — to quit their jobs or careers in order to support the men.  (As a generalisation, and especially in reaction to the first paragraph of the essay, I do hastily note.)
    (Interesting cross-link: )
    “Here’s a wacky idea, ladies: even though you have your own career, you should quit it, so you can support your man’s career!  So that he can be happy!
    “What about you?”
    I’m tempted to go find a copy of the original magazine article, so I can see just how controversial it really is.
    Plus, and I am sure this is a symptom of me getting old, but I really don’t have much sympathy for someone being fretful due to being in the position of looking for a man to keep.  Largely because I don’t entirely understand the position of looking for a man to keep, and I am deliberately ignoring the usual het-oriented nature of all this stuff.
    …yes, perhaps I’m too cranky for the internet today.

  8. Sounds to me like one of those last-gasp efforts to get women out of the job marketplace so men don’t have to deal with the competition.
    I think the bitterness comes from the advice to women to quit their job to focus on their (of course, male) partner, aimed specifically at women who have jobs (“highly educated women should quit their jobs”). Just women with jobs. Just “highly educated” women, at that. I guess those of us without degrees (or jobs) can merrily go our way, knowing we aren’t threatening the Patriarchy by our mere existence (Who are we kidding, right?).
    Second wave feminism really failed SAHMs, and a whole host of other women who weren’t the educated white middle class, but for some women, like my mother, her job was a neccessary as breathing. In fact, she kept the job and ditched the husband – and never married again, preferring independence. The article is aimed specifically at women like my mother, who are competition for the kinds of jobs that white middle/upper class men think are theirs by right of penis, or something. The article comes off like the “news” stories chuntering about how more women are graduating from college than men – because under the Patriarchy, men are always supposed to be the ones that benefit, even if they haven’t worked that hard.

  9. These sorts of things always seem so far divorced from my own reality.
    At the moment, in my household, my partner is the primary breadwinner. He is doing this in order to support my career (ie, he’s supporting me while I finish my PhD thesis). He is also very much looking forward to the day in which I have an established and steady full time job, which is when he hopes to be able to take some time off work in order to pursue his own dreams — so basically, at some point in the future, I will be working full time in order to help him achieve his own professional triumphs (just as he is currently doing the same for me).

  10. Holy -can-of-worms-Batman
    Okay, the “bitter” is referring to me, personally because that’s what I became when as I saw it stuck at home. I do not generalise this to other women and their choices at all. I really admire and would love to be a mother who enjoys time at home with the kids and can play for hours and get lost in their imaginary world. But I can’t, and believe me I have tried. I love my kids to the end of the universe but I really really need time away from them too. When they worked out how to unlock the door to my bedroom it was a crushing moment. Now I just have to work on instilling the idea that sometimes Mummy can’t be there 24/7 because she needs a few moments alone.
    Also, when I was a SAHM blogging was just getting started and I didn’t in fact find out about it until I got a job and someone said ‘hey look at this stuff’ on Club Troppo. I was only just around when LP started. I know that internet stuff had been going on for eons before that, but I wasn’t ‘plugged in’ to that so for me it wasn’t an option. Doing the ironing and watching Oprah are my two main memories of that time. I had also just moved to a new community and my social ties were non existent. I’m not generally good with throwing myself into new situations. All stuff that I knew writing this post but you guys obviously didn’t.
    I get that being a SAHM is really rewarding as a choice for some people, and as Rosemary pointed out may be the only option someone without the means to work outside the home. But again, I stress, this post was about me.
    @ Xstina S – I’m not sure I get what you mean? I shouldn’t have questioned it but instead denounced it? I didn’t do that because I know that some women choose to take that path and it is a valid choice. I was questioning the validity of advising that for all ‘highly educated’ [whatever that means, although it may be defined in the book] women.

    If you would have no respect for yourself based purely on your status as a homemaker vs working for pay, why should I trust you to have respect for me as someone who is primarily at home?

    Mainly because I am able to make the distinction between myself and everyone else. I can admire stylish women without being one myself, I can admire confident women without being one myself, I can admire SAHM’s without being one myself and still not look down upon any of them. I can easily understand that what makes me happy bores someone else to tears and vice versa and I don’t think any less of them for that. I just accept that we are different and move on.

  11. It can be easy for two full-time parents with middling sorts of incomes to spend $20-$30K/year on childcare, cleaning, and pre-prepared food

    Goodness yes, childcare especially. There’s a massive disincentive against twin-income parenting built into the way Australia funds childcare, daycare and preschooling. But it’s notable that the book Sam de Brito’s quoting from doesn’t seem to mention children or parenting (or indeed, caring for dependent adults, or anybody else)—domesticity’s about sacrificing one’s career and identity to that of another adult, independent person for the sake of that person’s happiness and success in a capitalist economy. Which is perverse, in all the senses of the word, and as I mentioned before, economically backward as well.

    the “news” stories chuntering

    I’m stealing that verb.

  12. Mainly because I am able to make the distinction between myself and everyone else. I can admire stylish women without being one myself, I can admire confident women without being one myself, I can admire SAHM’s without being one myself and still not look down upon any of them.

    It’s still that “self-respect” bit that is bothering me, though. If someone were to tell you that they just couldn’t respect themselves if they worked outside the home, would that not lead you to believe that they do not respect others who make the same choice?
    Another way to phrase what you say you meant is “I just wasn’t happy staying home” instead of “but I still wanted more for myself. Like self respect..” I can 100% understand you not wanting to stay at home, needing to work outside the home. But not being able to *respect* yourself if you stayed at home? It just really rubs me the wrong way.

  13. would that not lead you to believe that they do not respect others who make the same choice?


  14. Enough of the hating on 2nd wave feminism already. They didn’t despise SAHMs, they fought against people (of one gender) being *forced* into the role. Like I said years ago in a blog post, it’d be like every boy being forced to be a motor mechanic because he was male. Some people here may forget, or be too young to know, that for a large proportion of the white collar jobs which women were able to get up to 1966 or thereabouts, you were *sacked* when you married. Not when you had children, even- when you *married*. Besides all the other stuff. They weren’t even allowed in the front bar of a hotel or pub, like apartheid. Abortion was a backalley procedure that often led to death. That’s the sort of thing they were up against. The people commenting here aren’t.
    Sheesh, it’s really been open season on second wave feminism in 2010, hasn’t it? I’ve been reading sneers about them in the US blogosphere continually. It’s as if because some of them weren’t fully on board with how things are done in 2010, we can kick them to the curb.

  15. Some people here may forget, or be too young to know, that for a large proportion of the white collar jobs which women were able to get up to 1966 or thereabouts, you were *sacked* when you married. Not when you had children, even- when you *married*.

    Yep. My mum had to resign in 1960 when she married. I wasn’t born until 1963.

  16. Helen: only one person here has mentioned second wave feminism – is that “open season”, here? My comment was talking about right here, right now, not about decades ago.
    eta: in other words, I think we’re both talking about who modern Brand Feminism is kicking to the curb, and about the very narrow definition of who gets to represent that brand, and who gets paid to represent that brand: primarily 25-35 yo white currently-nondisabled middle-class first-world cis women who are conventionally pretty and/or engage in certain amounts (but not too much!) of approved grooming rituals. Casual ableism and racism abounds (just as entrenched transphobia was just fine in the 2nd wave), and there is a strong sentiment that if you’re not Going For IT! Cosmopolitan-style in a promotion-oriented career, with all of the privilege that that entails, or if you’re fat and hairy-legged, or old, or gimpy, or buy cheap clothes, or don’t get a Pap smear every year, or any of a number of other major and trivial deviations from this incredibly artificial and unattainable norm, you don’t really look good for the Brand.
    These Brand Feminists will quite happy converse on an intellectual level between themselves about how children shouldn’t besmirch their nice airplanes and restaurants and public spaces, about how parents these days don’t control their children properly, about whether disabled children should be sterilised, will whine at length about “lazy” “couch potatoes”, will produce “But fetuses who will be disabled!” as a Justified-Abortion trump card, and so on.

  17. No, two – but my point is that I’ve seen a lot of it all over the blogosphere, particularly, but not confined to, the US blogosphere. Not that there are a lot of such comments on this particular thread, but it’s like, the 2001st instance that you see that moves you to respond with “hey look, this is a bit of a pattern.”

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