Jessica Grose is not amused.
The New York Times has just revealed that mothers who succeed on Wall Street invariably have husbands who stay home, care for the children and run the household.
To Grose, this is not progress. Perhaps, it does not fulfill her illusions of a gender-neuteredl world, but, sad to say, it is reality.
It is also a personal choice, one that may or may not work out well for those involved.
But, Grose does make an important point. Rather than representing a great leap forward to a new gender-neutered future, the practice actually affirms the old structure. It proves the old point that for one spouse to succeed in the world he or she needs a spouse at home. Now, women who do not want to be full time housewives and mothers will be able to tell themselves that their insistence on shared housework is undermining their husbands' careers.
I definitely believe women can and should be ambitious in their careers, as ambitious as their male counterparts. But it somehow doesn’t feel like progress when women can only succeed at the highest levels because they’ve got a stay-at-home spouse. It just feels like the same old story with a gender twist.
And yet, doesn’t this situation give the lie to the notion that both husband and wife can have successful careers while sharing the housework? And doesn’t it suggest that the role of housewife evolved because it was a more efficient use of resources, especially in a competitive marketplace.
Having to choose between one great career accompanied by a stay-at-home spouse and two mediocre careers where both spouses share housework, people might believe it best to choose the former.
The spouse who is not worried or preoccupied about what is happening at home will have more time, more energy, more focus and more concentration to devote to work. This spouse will thus be more likely to succeed in a competitive arena.
The Times explains:
Many discovered that even with babysitting and household help, the demands of working in finance made a two-career marriage impossible. The arrangement can be socially isolating, they said, leaving both partners out of a child-rearing world still full of “Mommy and Me” classes.
But, is this an anomaly or a trend? After all, people who have big careers in finance make a lot of money. Does the same principle apply to couples that have less competitive and less demanding careers?
Having focused on people of privilege, the Times suggests that it might not be such a good idea for everyone else:
But the solution that turns out to work so well for these women is an inaccessible option for many others, since it requires one spouse to give up a career and the other to earn enough money to support the family. Rather than changing the culture of the banks, which promote policies on flexible hours and work life balance, these women say that to succeed they must give in to its sometimes brutal terms, from 4:45 a.m. wake-ups onward through days of ceaseless competition.
Interestingly, when couples reverse roles, the person who stays at home becomes more nurturing while the person who works outside the home becomes a fierce competitor.
Does this show that the sexes are interchangeable or that people are capable of adapting to circumstances?
Along the way, the couples have come to question just what is male behavior and female behavior, noting how quickly their preconceived notions dissolve once they depart from assigned roles. The men echo generations of housewives, voicing concern over a loss of earning power and car pool-induced torpor but also pride in their nurturing roles. The women describe themselves as competitive, tough and proud of every dollar they bring in.
Of course, everyone is wondering how stable these role reversal marriages are. After discussing marriages that seem to be working well—or at least want to present themselves that way to the readers of the New York Times—the article offers a counter example:
Not every marriage proceeds as smoothly. One female banker told colleagues that she recently became irritated with her husband, who works part time, telling him, “I wish I had a wife.”
“You can get one when I can get one,” he replied.
By all accounts the women who have made great strides in their careers are thriving. One suspects that they are exaggerating, but, so be it.
They are realistic about the harm that this situation is inflicting on their husbands. This presents itself most clearly when househusbands find themselves among other men:
Still, his wife, along with other women in the same situation, suspects that the arrangement is harder on the men. Some of Mr. Langley’s peers say the chatter at backyard gatherings about bonuses can make them wince: If a half-million-dollar salary is considered unimpressive in some Wall Street circles, where does that leave them?
When people ask what he does, Mr. Langley could say artist — he gives the buildings and landscapes he paints expressive personalities of their own — but he has just begun trying to sell his work. Other fathers in similar situations say they often tell white lies: They are retired, they are consultants, they work at home.
Mr. Langley generally goes with “stay-at-home dad.”
“That’s what I call myself,” he said over lunch at a restaurant in Rye, the other tables filled with groups of women. “I wouldn’t say I like it.”
What response does he get?
“There’s usually a long pause,” he said.
These househusbands are especially uncomfortable when socializing with their wives’ alpha male colleagues:
Few of the men are willing to take on corporate spouse duties, like attending or hosting Wall Street dinners with the alpha men who work at the banks.
Naturally, the men and women who told their stories to the Times were going to put a good face on their choices. One suspects that the situation is unstable and fraught with dangers, perhaps for the husbands, perhaps for the children, and perhaps even for the wives.
For example, if Mom is a hard-working, hard-driving executive, will her sons avoid emulating her example because she is a woman? Will her sons lack drive and initiative, in imitation of their father?
For now we don’t really know how its all going to play itself out.