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Reel Mama: I Need a Wife

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I Need a Wife

"I Want a Wife" was Judy Brady’s groundbreaking feminist manifesto that first appeared in Ms. Magazine in 1971.  In it she enumerates the many qualities she would hope for in a wife: loyalty, selflessness, efficiency, dedication, to name a few.  The subtext is a scathing commentary on the traditional concept that a wife must do it all: be attentive to her husband’s needs, maintain a spotless home, take full charge of the children, and even work.  The standards she described for a supermom haven’t changed in 40 years, but there has been a shift.  What Ms. Brady described in the essay were expectations that husbands traditionally had for their wives.  Reading the essay now, I realize that these have become the expectations that we as wives (and girlfriends) place upon ourselves.  We still want to be perfect, even though husbands’ roles today have shifted too.  Today’s husbands, and I’ll include mine here, are sweet, supportive, take a much larger role in caring for the kids, and even do the dishes.

Nevertheless, “I want a wife” is still a wish uttered over blown-out birthday candles by women the world over all these years later.  It sounds strange at first, but supermoms’ “I need/want a wife” mantra has nothing to do with Big Love.  To me it means that women, many of them supermoms trying to do it all, still need a third party in their lives, someone to handle all the things a wife traditionally does: laundry, dishes, thankless errands, and maybe the unglamorous side of parenting like changing diapers and emptying out the Diaper Champ.  The wife is preferable to a housekeeper because you don’t have to pay her.  She’s more like a personal assistant, one who’s available 24/7 at no charge.

I’ve thought about this concept in my own life.  Introducing a third party into any marriage is tricky, even though the worry-free prospect of someone else emptying out the dryer’s lint rack is highly enticing.  Suddenly my husband and I wouldn’t have to nag each other about those unpleasant household chores neither one of us wants to do, because my wife would do it.   

But where would my new wife live?  Presumably it would be under the same roof.  Would she eat her meals with us?  And where would she sleep?  Would we really have to make it legal?  It gets complicated.

Perhaps the problem could be better solved with the time-honored fantasy of cloning oneself.  My favorite example of this (and how the concept can go awry) is in the film Multiplicity, where each clone gets progressively worse, kind of like photocopying an original, then making a copy of a copy ad infinitum yields progressively poorer quality.  The first clone is fabulous, the second clone is just okay, and the third is a stinking bum.  When I think of myself first thing in the morning, then consider the possibility of a third clone of what I see in the mirror, well, the prospect is frightening.  But then again, maybe I can learn to delegate to my clones in spite of their shortcomings.  The first clone would be in charge of the high priority tasks like balancing my checkbook (and this one could have a driver’s license), the second would be in charge of tasks of less import such as weed-pulling or pan-scrubbing, and the third would only be in charge of removing said dryer lint. 

Works for me.  Kind of.  Because suddenly I’m facing the prospect of having to feed and clothe three extra people.  Three extra mouths to feed… Where would they sleep? Suddenly we are maintaining my clones, like three overgrown adopted children.  Would we have to make it legal? This could get complicated.

Okay, back to one.  Looks like it’ll have to be little old me.  I’ll just have to wait until my daughter is old enough to clean out the dryer lint, and then she can use it to create interesting sculptures.  It will be great for her creative development.  And everybody will be happy.


At August 8, 2011 at 8:20 PM , Blogger Leticia Alaniz said...

I have always attempted to do too much in the domestic arena, until I decided that some things are just not worth my time. So I decided to choose what gave me greater satisfaction without acting out on selfish wishes. I'm much happier now and those around me are happier. Like you say, we imposed all of the extra work on ourselves wanting to be superwomen and please everyone, and then we feel as if we're the only ones doing all the work. But I have never heard of supermen or superdads. Just plain husbands and plain dads. And that makes them happy. So I did the same. Great article!

At August 11, 2011 at 11:13 PM , Blogger Lauren Ivy Chiong said...

Thanks so much for sharing your insights, Leticia! It is important to be able to delegate and to lighten up on ourselves. Those dust bunnies can stay under the sofa a little longer. It's so important to find time to enjoy life, and to do things for ourselves as moms to renew our spirits. Thanks for reading!


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