Recently, the New York Times ran an article featuring highly successful women on Wall Street and their stay-at-home husbands. I found the piece annoying, not because of the couples themselves, but because of what I, correctly or not, read as a patronizing tone by the journalists.
In an age where marriage is optional and having children is often derided, I applaud the profiled couples for organizing their lives so that earning money, marriage and raising a family coexist. While I personally think that in most cases marriage and parenting partnerships works best with the man being the main income earner and the woman the main homemaker, if the opposite choice is working for these couples, I wish them success.
My problem lies with what I perceived as the snarky tone of the piece. I’d appreciate hearing feedback from others, but I picked up an underlying air of irritation on the part of the reporters. The New York Times authors seemed to radiate anger that even in these “enlightened” families, men and women aren’t interchangeable. Here’s an example:
The husbands often feel excluded from the social infrastructure that women have built up over generations to make stay-at-home life more manageable and fun. (“You want awkward? Try a swim play date,” one father said.) Every man interviewed said that many school notices, invitations and Girl Scout troop updates were still sent to their wives, a river they are constantly trying to divert.
When Ed Fassler, married to Marcie Fassler, a vice president of operations at PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh, was helping out with a school wrapping paper sale, the mothers gathered to go over the order — and excluded him. “My husband wouldn’t be happy if you’re in my house with us,” the organizer told him.
Firstly, I don’t think that women have built up a social infrastructure “to make stay-at-home life more manageable and fun,” in the same way that hospitals might have a lending library to make a difficult experience less dismal. For many mothers raising a family is not a miserable experience that requires “treats” to endure; the social infrastructure is an enjoyable bonus, not needed compensation.
Secondly, while adjusting an email list so that notices are sent to the parent at home seems reasonable and shouldn’t be difficult to engineer, wishing that mothers and fathers could freely mingle at activities ignores reality. A friendship that sprouts from sharing school-related tasks such as a wrapping-paper fundraiser can easily become problematic. With so many forces pushing against successful marriage, it isn’t unreasonable that some husbands or wives don’t want to increase the peril.
A coed swim date is awkward – and it should be so. For some women, having a man present will cause them to focus on the ten extra pounds they are trying to lose, lessening the relaxed enjoyment. Unless you blindfold the man, he is biologically programmed to focus more on swimsuit-clad women’s body parts and not on their personalities. If you remove that tendency, he is also less likely to enjoy a conversation that entertains the mothers. Expecting him to relate to the other women as if he is one of them, and vice-versa, is absurd.
Was I simply being curmudgeonly as I read the article? Or did it actually reveal less about the highlighted families and more about the authors’ wish to remake human beings in their own desired image?
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