What is a Wife Worth?

How do you figure the worth of anything- a clock, a car, a Rembrandt? No trick. You compare it with similar merchandise, you call an appraiser, or maybe you ask for an offer.

But what about a woman? A wife? What is she worth? Not in terms of her earnings (only her employer or the IRS knows for sure). Not in terms of her total assets (that’s her secret). What is she worth outside the marketplace, inside her home?

And I don’t mean sexually. This book is not about a woman’s performance as a sex partner. What it is about is sex as a gender or role. The female in our society is by and large, with certain exceptions, the keeper of the home, the baker of the bread (not always literally, but she sees to it that the breadbasket is kept filled), and the maker of the babies.

Whether she lives alone, with a spouse or lover, with or without children, with or without a job or a career, it is the woman who is almost always in charge of the home, the household, the nest, the pad.

If the coffee runs out, it’s her fault. If the socks are unmatched or the bed unmade, she has goofed. If the kids are not driven to piano lessons or to Little League, she is remiss. If the wineglasses are spotted, the collars ringed, the shower wall mildewed, she has fallen down on her job as a housewife, homemaker, executive housekeeper, whatever.

I will concede that some men are sharing now mare than at any time in the past in the ongoing responsibilities of homemaking, and that many men are aware that they ought to be sharing. However, what has come to be known as “women’s work” is still, in the vast majority of households, performed by women. The hands-on jobs are done by women.

The lists of essential tasks are carried in their heads. The priorities of the intricately overlapping and interlocking duties are established by women. (I’ll dust the living room before I pick up the groceries, put the potatoes on before I leave for the kids’ car pool, shift the clothes in to the dryer after I tidy up the bathroom, get the salad together while I listen to Judy rehearse her part I the Sunday school play, and set the table after I pry Pete away from the TV and send him upstairs to do his algebra.”)

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