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Can Breadwinner Wives Be Happy?

Can Breadwinner Wives Be Happy?

Oct 11 2012
That's the central question of Sandra Tsing Loh's latest 'Atlantic' essay. As a stay-at-home wife, I have a few suggestions.

In many ways, Sandra Tsing Loh and I couldn't be more different. The Atlantic writer is feminist, liberal, foul-mouthed, and cosmopolitan. At 50 years old, she has a successful career and a boyfriend.

I, on the other hand, am not too many steps removed from what my college friend called "a prairie muffin." You know, the stay-at-home Christian mom who bakes whole wheat goodies while wearing a modest denim dress.

Tsing Loh is divorced, due in part to her own infidelity, and subsequently wrote an anti-marriage tirade. My husband and I have a date this week to exchange love letters and celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the night he got down on one knee and proposed.

"The Weaker Sex" is Tsing Loh's latest skeptical look at marriage. Her Atlantic article has an intriguing subtitle: "How the new gender economics has more and more professional-class women looking at their mates and thinking: How long until I vote you off the island?"

Earning money is complicated when it's wives who are doing most of it.

If we met at one of her DPM (divorced professional mother) dinner parties, Tsing Loh probably wouldn't admit to having much in common with me. But she and I are not so far apart. We are both daughters of Eve, and, surprisingly, many of the things that have hurt her relationships are the very things that I struggle with, too.

Her frustration with her partner, her tongue-in-cheek fantasy of not one but four different husbands to meet her various needs, her inner selfishness that demands something from her mate in return for her efforts—all of these are familiar even to my complementarian, housewifely self.

She places the blame for her tense relationships on economics: "If the woman still does the bulk of the household management and financially supports the household—what is to keep her from becoming … the monster?" She describes her attitude toward overflowing laundry ("is that my job?") and what she calls her economically liberated "unwifeableness."

She contrasts this to her imagined 1950s housewife who cheerfully brings her hard-working husband a "pipe, Manhattan, roast beef, potatoes, key-lime pie."

Except for a period of one year, when I was our family's chief breadwinner in order to allow my husband to complete his master's degree, I am a modern approximation of that economically dependent 1950s housewife.

But I don't think Tsing Loh's wife of yesteryear, with her unquestioning hero-worship of her husband, ever existed. She certainly doesn't exist in my house.

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