Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: How to be a good wife

Although it's not the 1950s any more, it's worth noting the pitfalls associated with marriage that can still lie ahead for the unwary. Photo / Getty
Although it's not the 1950s any more, it's worth noting the pitfalls associated with marriage that can still lie ahead for the unwary. Photo / Getty

An essay entitled Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid was a revealing portrayal of California-based writer Rufi Thorpe's struggle to reconcile the drudgery of motherhood with the creative life.

She recounted her bitterness at having to manage the cooking, cleaning and childcare while dealing with an unaware and ostensibly unsupportive husband. "I would never willingly enter into this state of servitude again," she said. Additionally, "the idea of cooking some idiot man dinner for the rest of my life makes my skin prickle with rage."

Her sentiments resonated with many modern women.

It doesn't say much for progress to realise that a 2016 essay (which Canvas ran in abridged form) is echoing concerns with which women have struggled for decades: how to balance competing demands between home, work, family, art, self.

And it just goes to show that a marriage, which presumably starts out as a way of expressing love for and commitment to another person, can sometimes end up appearing less like a legal-binding of two equals and more akin to a master-servant relationship.

So, although it's not the 1950s any more, it's worth noting the pitfalls associated with marriage that can still lie ahead for the unwary.

1. Servility

This was not the main point of Thorpe's essay but it was so bizarre that it remains my lingering impression.

Her husband "consistently" drops his underwear on the floor and she picks up after him.

She's smart, she's articulate, she's successful, she's angry, she has a job, she has two small children - and she picks up her husband's dirty undies.

Maybe that's why she's angry. (He also leaves wet towels lying around; I'm guessing she deals with these, too.) Mind you, just quietly, if someone picked up after me I'd probably discard used items all over the place, too. It would be almost rude not to.

2. Housework

Fifteen years ago I wrote about how women do more than their fair share of the domestic housework.

As far as I can tell that's still true. One more recent article reported that men put out the rubbish and change light-bulbs but blithely ignore 36 other household chores that need doing.

Women may be fighting valiantly to be seen (and remunerated) as equals in the workplace but the battle for equality at home seems to have barely started.

Men put out the rubbish and change light-bulbs but blithely ignore 36 other household chores that need doing, a recent article reported. Photo / Getty
Men put out the rubbish and change light-bulbs but blithely ignore 36 other household chores that need doing, a recent article reported. Photo / Getty

3. Childcare

"Until raising children is more about parenting and less about mothering, women won't be able to achieve true equality", I wrote in 2012.

It astonishes me that it's still widely believed that women should be the primary caregivers of children. Existing biological imperatives might dictate that a woman has to physically produce the child but nowhere is it written that, once the child is born, fathers can't be the main caregiver or at least take on fifty per cent of the responsibility.

And, yes, I know dozens and dozens of loving, highly involved fathers. But the presence of these men has not meant that the day-in-day-out burden of childcare has shifted from women. In most cases, the involvement of these dads is a benefit, a bonus, a "nice to have", rather than a game changer.

4. Emotional labour

Last November I wrote about the uneven burden of emotional labour.

There are no prizes for guessing which partner in a relationship is responsible for "[p]lanning what is for dinner, remembering birthdays, arranging children's playdates and thinking about buying new sheets because the old ones are getting tired".

To the uninitiated these tasks may sound trivial but there are hundreds of them and they all take time in pondering and executing. Furthermore, this little inequality "gives men the freedom to go out every day with minds unimpeded by the minutiae of daily life".

5. Surname change

If entering into a marriage means that a woman puts her needs last and acts as an unpaid cook, cleaner, childcare worker and emotional labourer, then, in the scheme of things, sacrificing her own surname on the bonfire of male vanity can be viewed as not a big deal.

There's clearly been a lot of that thinking going on, judging by the fact that the old-fashioned "Mr & Mrs" is still an actual thing rather than a relic from a patriarchal past.

The anti-feminist truth is that women are abandoning their surnames upon marriage in droves. It's as if they've been waiting all their lives to be part of some man's personal branding exercise. But then there's no contest between male ego and female submissiveness - especially if Stockholm syndrome is a factor.

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Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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