September 5, 2010
I am faced with the self-inflicted task of reviewing a new “gender” relationship guide for a sister site. Oy! Haven’t we seen this kind of thing many, many times before? Uh huh! (Read: Valspeak.)
The problem – aside from the misuse of the word “gender” in place of “sex” – is that, much like Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, that classic from the vault of self-improvement literature, this new guide makes use of rigid stereotypes. Hey, stereotypes come from somewhere! Far be it from me to contradict that notion. But as I began reading some of the scenarios in the text – “Couple 1: After the Party,” for instance, when a hetero couple has an argument about how the woman is upset about something and has been “pouty” without explaining the reason behind her mood, I realized that my husband and I are guilty of that exact conversation…in reverse.
How is that possible? I mean, the author of the text has a post graduate degree and decades of professional couples’ counseling experience under her belt. There must be something wrong with my gender. It doesn’t correspond to my sex. I am not behaving like other women, it appears; nor is my husband behaving like other men. We are therefore not feminine and masculine respectively, but have switched roles. (For clarification, the book is about relations between the sexes and not the genders because the author is claiming that men and women act with certain reliable patterns rather than claiming that feminine/masculine people do. Ergo, she is basing her advice on the assumption of gender on both sexes: women are feminine [passive-aggressive, nagging, oversensitive] and men are masculine [insensitive, daft, acquiescing] by default and consistently. She’s really talking about how one personality type relates to another, but claims to be talking about how one sex relates to the other.)
What is wrong with me? What is wrong with my husband? I’m the one who’s always asking him to explain his moods. I’m the one who usually says “whatever you want” when it comes to picking restaurants and movies. He’s the one who pouts and doesn’t explain himself. And, while I would describe myself as “oversensitive” – one who has feelers out in preemptive self-defense to pick up on signals that often aren’t even there to be read, he’s the one who often fails to alert me to the little insensitive things I’ve said along the marriage path: like when I tell him that his pants are too big and sloppy looking, or when I correct his attempts at yoga on the Wii Fit. He bottles them up and then gets cranky many days later. And I, like a puppy who just wet her bed, tilt my head to one side and genuinely think I understand what he’s upset about when really I’ve been listening to another language: the language spoken by a person who is frustrated with me for things I said many months ago.
Of course, I hold onto to some things too: I’ve never been able to let it slide completely that he has a longtime friend who invited my husband to his wedding but did not include me. (The couple was trying to save money, so they asked friends to come alone. But when it came time for dancing, there were tables of singles sitting around who didn’t feel comfortable dancing with people who weren’t their significant others.) So my husband flew across the country to a wedding without me. Tacky? Uh huh! Anyway…
The difference between my resentment and his is that mine rears its ugly head right away and relentlessly for several hours/days/weeks/months/years until it’s out of my system. But my husband will go the same period of time without telling me what’s bothering him and then explode one day with a laundry list of small insults, which usually culminate in one precise character flaw belonging to me: my expectations are too high.
What expectations are those?
- I’d like it if he’d organize his shoes. He has a half-dozen pairs. They can usually be found strewn all across the vestibule waiting to trip somebody.
- I have asked him repeatedly to use the word “well” as an adverb instead of the word “good.” (I mean, he is a literate person with a great career…he might run into somebody who’s a grammar nerd like me and offend them too.)
- He leaves drawers and cabinets open or ajar. This is a daily occurrence.
- His socks never match each other and many of his undershirts are ripped and stained, which he doesn’t notice or doesn’t mind.
- He says one thing but means another. He says: “I’ll do it first thing tomorrow.” Translation: “You’ll do it in three weeks when you get tired of reminding me.” He says: “I’ll be down in 10 minutes.” Translation: “I’ll be down in 45 to 50 minutes, or whenever I can tear myself away from work.” He says: “I’ll make dinner tonight.” Translation: “Would you like ketchup on your fish sticks?” or ” Do mashed potatoes count as a vegetable?” or “What toppings do you want on the pizza I’m ordering?”
I would never make the assumption that all men, married or single, leave their shoes around; or don’t talk good; or fail to close things; or don’t take care of their clothes; or don’t say what they mean. Not every kitchen has a row of condiments against the back-splash that are easy to reach yet out of the way. So not every husband fails to put the PAM back when he’s done spraying a pan. Most of the time, that scenario plays out like this: I sigh and put the can back inline. Once, I mentioned it to him – I expect you to put things back where they belong, I said; and he told me he doesn’t even see the can left out. It’s not in his realm of consciousness.
Certainly, not every wife is a neat freak and every husband a slob. I know a couple that are engineered in the exact opposite way: she’s the terribly messy one. And opposites don’t always attract: there could be a pair of perfectly marvelous and affectionate slobs married and living just next door (probably the same people who have a very powerful sub-woofer, God love ’em!). Even though biology does dictate certain traits for each sex – male testosterone makes for physical strength in many cases and female estrogen can make for moodiness, being one or the other sex does not imply adherence to the socially accepted gender binary. Not every man is a well-intentioned simpleton and not every woman a lunatic shrew.
The title of this essay is “My wonderful/lazy/thoughtful/crazy husband.” Let me explain that despite his shortcomings, my husband is primarily wonderful. He doesn’t beat or rape me, which should be a given, but is not – so I mention it, even though it doesn’t earn him extra points. He often tells me how wonderful/loving/beautiful/smart/strong I am. He sometimes brings me flowers, which he thinks to pick up on his way home from a grueling day at the office. He remembers to say “I love you” every day, even if I’ve already removed my makeup. And, when at the supermarket, he always returns the grocery carriage to its nearest stall so that it doesn’t block traffic in the parking lot. In short: he is a lovely person!
At the end of the day, shouldn’t every relationship guide be about helping two different people get along rather than reducing people to the expectations of their respective sexes? Shouldn’t the book tell of scenarios between “Person One” and “Person Two” rather than “Man” and “Woman?” Because aren’t we all special…if not in the grand scheme of things, at least to the person(s) who love(s) us?
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?”