What is a Wife
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
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.”)