The Fem Spot

Fiscal feminism and the married woman

Posted in Feminist Theory, Marriage, Personal Essays by femspotter on September 25, 2008

September 25, 2008

How much money is enough?

When answering this question, single women might have an easier time of it than do women who share their private lives with partners. You go to work and apply 100 percent of your time and earnings to YOU. The right salary is whatever you say it is; whatever keeps you living the life you want to live.

But if you’re a married woman like me, with a husband earning an impressive salary (more than our parents have each ever made per year, to put it in perspective), you might start to find yourself taking “flexible” jobs…or part time jobs. Either of these types of “careers” afford you time to do the chores you used to reserve for weekends: laundry, grocery shopping, house cleaning, etc.

I don’t know exactly how it happened, but over time, my professional life has morphed, and I now spend alot of time trying to make sure that, in addition to running the aforementioned errands, I put a healthy and tasty meal on the table each night of the week, not to mention breakfast and lunch on the weekends. My husband helps. He takes out the garbage. He takes out the recyclables. He loads the dishwasher. And after I’ve spent the day washing and folding our clothes, he always says, very politely, “Thanks for doing the laundry, babe.”

I think that originally, when I decided to pursue a master’s degree on a part time basis, I entered a flexible schedule job (real estate sales) so that I could accommodate a school schedule. I didn’t think to myself, “Hmm…I’ll be getting married soon so I better get ready for the shackles.”

No. I’m emancipated. One day, however, the laundry and the cooking and the picking up his shoes and the long afternoon walks with our dogs, etc. became second nature to me. I don’t regret this change in me. I’ve embraced married life in this way. I am very proud that my husband earns as much money as he does, having navigated the rough waters of Corporate America. And I’m proud of me for making our home a comfortable place to be when we’re not at work or school.

But he earns money…MONEY. And since I don’t charge him for every shirt I fold or picture I frame and hang, I have no way to feel as if I’m entitled to the things that money can buy. I want to get a manicure. It’s a little luxury. I could ask my husband for the money. He would say “yes.” But inside, I’d be telling myself the whole time, “You don’t deserve this. You haven’t earned it.”

If you’re a single gal you know that, for instance, $60,000 per year keeps you in Nine West and Kenneth Cole. You’re happy with that. For a married gal whose husband has bought her the shoes and the handbag for her birthday, how much money is appropriate? What will make me feel like I’m contributing? $20,000? $40,000? $140,000?

I don’t have a hangup about being a housewife, or “domestic engineer” as some say. J*** and I have always agreed that if we decide to have children, one of us will stay home and raise them. I could not assume all the home chores I do, bring in $50,000 per year and have to worry about bringing up well-balanced kids too. No way! I have no idea how my mother did it. For me, the exchange of a real job for a life at home would not be a luxury but an absolute necessity. I get tired just thinking about it.

And let’s be realistic: it’s not like I’m going to drop everything and watch “Oprah” all day long. In fact, women who start sentences with the words “Oprah says…” are to be avoided. They’ve lost the ability to draw conclusions for themselves. I won’t even sit next to them at the park where our kids play together in the afternoon. Instead, I’ll read…literature.

I have a friend with two children in school who considers herself a “full time volunteer.” It’s true. You can never pin her down. She’s always helping to organize school plays and fundraisers, serving on various civic committees for the betterment of the environment or local arts, and assisting women and children in a battered women’s shelter in a nearby urban area. All of this is unpaid and I know that she and her husband feel the pinch. But honestly, is her life any less important than mine because her daily work is not validated by a pay stub?

I don’t think so…but something in my gut drives me to achieve a moment in my life when I can stand up straight and tall, take a deep breath through my nose and grin with the knowledge that I have achieved a six-figure income all on my own. Selling real estate has been lucrative, but not that lucrative. And when I went back to a full time, yet flexible, job as a reporter in the last year, I earned the least amount of money for that year than I’d ever earned since completing my undergraduate degree seven years ago. A few weeks ago, I gave up that job and my first thought was, “Now I know when I’ll be able to do the laundry.” Later, however, I wondered how I would afford my manicure.

What is fair? I’m taking a new job in a related industry for a lot more money. It uses many of my school-acquired skills and many of my street-acquired skills too. I’m really excited about this new venture. But when I get home at the end of the day, the last thing I’ll want to do is pick up my husband’s shoes and whip up a gourmet feast in the kitchen. And I’ll want at least one day on the weekend to play: see a movie, window shop at the mall, lunch with a girlfriend, etc. But I won’t have time to do those things if Saturday becomes the new laundry day and Sunday the day for grocery shopping.

How do I ask for help? Do I even have the right? As hard as I’ll work, my salary won’t beat his. And it’s not that I’m competing with my husband…I’m just competing with me. Does the amount of money we earn directly correlate to the amount of home chores we’re responsible for?

I’m not wishing for a single life again. I’m wishing for an answer.

If you’re married, and your husband earns enough, then how much is enough for you? What’s the magic number that makes a 21st Century wife’s life valid? When does it become okay to let the husband bring in all the dough so that you can bake it…after a long day of charity “work?”

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