Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Women Want Wives, Too

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A few years ago, I read a wonderful essay by Anne Lamott about the ugly, dull side of parenting that no one tells you about before you have kids. Before Anne (I feel that I can call her Anne) launched into her spot-on, hilarious tirade, she offered a disclaimer. Basically, if your child was really driving you nuts and you thought you might harm him or her, you could contact Anne in care of her publisher, and she'd get help for you.

I'd like to offer a similar disclaimer for this essay: If you are overwhelmed, exhausted, heterosexual, and your male significant other is unrepentant about not pulling his weight around the house; if he thinks, "Sure I'm perfectly capable of [insert "woman's work" household chore here], but why should I, if I don't have to have to?"--then my apologies. This essay is not for you at this time. For you, I recommend a labor strike until such time that contracts can be re-negotiated, and fair and equitable terms agreed upon. And a nice glass of white wine for you. And candles.

If that doesn't work, read on.

If we, heterosexual women, can agree that we are damn good, generally speaking, at the work we have been traditionally expected to do, why continue to squabble with men about doing their share? Why not replace them with wives?

Hear me out...

How men and women function (or don't function) as domestic partners is often less a matter of biology than it is socialization. But whatever the root cause, many of us accept our roles without question, though not always without complaint. A lot of what we do feels like second nature, but a little help wouldn't hurt. And sometimes the help we need is simply encouragement, appreciation--something women are presumably better at than men.

For example, I hate taking out the garbage. Frankly, that's a man's job. Yep, I said it. A man's job. It's dirty, manual labor. Of course, a woman is just as capable of taking out the garbage as a man. But why would she, if she doesn't have to? If you have a husband, and you take out the garbage, the magnitude of that moment would be lost on him. You might get a "thank you." Your wife, on the other hand, would bake a little celebratory cake to reward you for your sacrifice.

With phrases like "a man's job" and talk of women baking, am I pandering to stereotypes? Hardly. These scenarios are not prescriptive, but rather descriptive. In my scientific study (of about eight heterosexual female friends), not a single woman surveyed balked at the notion of having a wife. The appeal of such unions is not so much that a woman does certain things better than a man. It's that another woman is more likely than a man to do things the way we would do them. Another woman would have her priorities straight; that is to say, they would be the same as ours.

To wit: One male friend, a dad, observed, "Women choose to do a lot of extra, unnecessary things, and then obsess over them." Such as? "Well...what is it with baking cupcakes to send to school on your kid's birthday, in addition to the birthday party outside of school, which is a whole other production?"

Now, you would not have to explain to another mother how devastated your child would be if she had no brownies, cupcakes, or doughnuts to share with not only her first grade class, but the other first grade class too. You would not have to tell another mother that you didn't have to bake the treats yourself. Another mother would remember that the grocery store closest to the school had stale bagels the last time you shopped there, so it would be best to get the treats from the bakery around the corner. You would not have to admit to another mother that, honestly, you had no idea where this little tradition came from, but all the other mothers do it, so far be it for you to be some kind of rebel at your kids' expense. Another mother, your wife, would instinctively understand this and all the other alleged minutiae which pass beneath many dads' radars.

"What is it with baking cupcakes...?"--not so helpful. "Here...I'll bake, you do the icing and the sprinkles."--helpful.

Lest you think this is merely about pastry, here's what one surveyed friend had to say on the subject of women having wives: "Can you imagine how many female CEOs there would be?" Often, it is the stay-at-home mom or the mom pulling second shift who frees a man up to climb the ranks professionally. More blatant forms of discrimination aside, women with wives would help level the playing field.

Having a wife of your own would not only yield a smooth-running household, satisfied children, and shattered glass ceilings, your social life would get a boost as well. Let's say your best friend becomes your wife. You already share a lot of the same interests; you'd just spend more time together than you do now. What could be simpler?

Now, of course, I hear naysayers asking, "What about sex?" Sex with men is vital enough to some of us as to make this little mental exercise of mine a moot point. The question of sex presents a rather revealing impasse: no relationship is a panacea. Therefore, this could be one case where running around on your wife could be deemed acceptable.

Whomever you choose to share your life (and household drudgery) with, there must be tradeoffs, give and take, compromise. The catch is striking a balance; the clincher is that rarely is that balance 50-50. If I had a wife, hopefully she would consider my delicious home-cooking a fair trade for her doing all the dirty, manual labor.

A final disclaimer: This is not anti-male diatribe. Some of my best friends are male. But can any of them cook, clean, parent, run a small business, volunteer, maintain a sense of humor, and look good doing it, like the wife of my dreams? I think not.

Deesha Philyaw’s writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Brevity, TueNight and elsewhere. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, her collection of short stories about Black women, sex, and the Black church, is forthcoming from West Virginia University Press in fall 2020.

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