“I want a wife!” This declaration was met with the bewildered stares of my friends and a few stammered expressions of inquiry. They could not understand what I was talking about. I think a few of them were afraid I had suddenly decided to become a lesbian. Previously, while they had been discussing the probability of some quantum physics phenomenon, my mind had wandered to the dire state of my room. In an effort to avoid fixing the problem myself, I simply followed the formula instilled into all our brains from the time we are born: wife equals housekeeper which equals someone who will cook and clean. Unfortunately, the rest of the world cannot forget the first part of this equation which states woman equals wife. It is a social stigma that has been in place for thousands of years. Once the human mind has decided something is equivalent to something else, it tends to cling to that idea for as long as it can. After all, it took us centuries to grasp “earth does not equal center of the universe.” Women need to learn to fight against this classification and establish themselves outside of the role of housekeeper.
Almost inevitably, humanity tries to explain its reasoning by referring to history. The origins of the housewife extend back over thirty thousand years with the establishment of the hunter-gatherer societies. During this time, woman as housekeeper was started for reasons necessary to survival. Since a woman’s childbearing years were few, she had to spend most of her time pregnant just to keep the population steady. Because of her physical condition, she was unable to hunt large game; as a result, she stayed and gathered other foods, and once dwellings were established, took care of the dwellings as well (Tannahill). However, advancements in medicine and increased life expectancy have made it so women of today do not need to spend nearly as much time pregnant. Furthermore, advancement in food production has turned gathering into a quick and easy stop at the grocery store; therefore, the role of woman expanded.
She has been allowed to join the man in the hunt. Even though in the mid-twentieth century, the only acceptable occupation for a woman was that of housewife, modernity has allowed a woman to be whatever she wants including: chemist, astronaut, lawyer, even the leader of a country. Unfortunately, there is a catch. She is still supposed to play the role of housekeeper. A bachelor is able to take care of himself for years, but the instant a woman with the magical title of “wife” is brought into his house, he suddenly forgets how to cook, launder, vacuum, and everything else he has been doing since he moved away from his mommy. Case in point: my own sister. Her fiancée is eight years older than she and had been living alone for about three years before he met my sister. Now she takes care of all his housework for him. I don’t know what it is, but there must be something really magical about that word “wife.” She cannot do a thing to contribute to keeping her family’s house clean, but because she is a wife-to-be in his house, she gains all these magical abilities to do the housework. On top of this, she works two full-time jobs, while he only works one part-time job.
Let’s face the facts. A man is using the magical properties of this word “wife” even when he proposes to a woman. Traditionally, the phrase you hear in proposals is not “Will you be my lifelong partner?” which would suggest equality in every aspect of life, but “Will you be my wife?” Essentially, what he is asking her is “Will you cook for me, clean for me, and be positively docile and servile while I sit on the couch, hang with my buddies, drink booze, and drop crumbs all over the floor you just finished sweeping?” There is something blinding about this magical word “wife” that disguises all the hidden meanings, and the woman, trapped within its spell, generally agrees to this proposal.
Men tend to point to biological and/or psychological differences between the sexes in order to justify any oppression they may have placed upon women. Men have been attempting to control women ever since they finally discovered their role in the process of continuing the population. The so-called psychological differences between men and women have no bearing on whether or not a man can learn how to mop the floor. Surely if man is so intelligent, he can follow the few simple steps of put water in bucket, put soap in water, put mop in soapy water, and finally, drag mop across kitchen floor. Despite claiming to be so much more psychologically advanced, it seems rather difficult for men to grasp such simple concepts. For biological differences, men and women both have hands that can be used to wash dishes or use surgical instruments. You know, it did take man a long time to figure out what his role in procreation was. Maybe he still has yet to grasp the fact that he can do something with his hands other than play with his toys.
I’m not saying men should have to do all the work either. The ideal solution is for men and women to share equally in the housework. However, as long as women are working outside jobs and still expected to do all the housework, it is just another way for a man to ensure his power over a woman. After all, she cannot fight him nor cheat on him if she’s too exhausted from doing her job and cleaning the house. If society cannot break the chains binding the term housekeeper to wife, then perhaps it is time for women to remove the yoke of the term wife and utterly reject that bewitching word.
Tannahill, Reay. Sex in History. Scarborough House/Publishers, 1980.
This piece was originally written for my Freshmen seminar class. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed rediscovering it.