What is a Wife
then, is a woman worth when she performs the never-ending
tasks that keep a household, any household, ticking along
from day to day, year to year?
Until recently, the answer was zero.
We have lived for a long time with a zero-value approach to
the woman as a homemaker.
No matter how many hours she puts in each week on the essentials
of running a household, her pay at the end of the week is
zero. He pension rights are nil. Her sick benefits are nonexistent.
She has no days of, with or without pay. Overtime? Forget
it. Double time for weekends and holidays? Don’t be
silly. Unemployment insurance? Never heard of it. Disability
benefits or workmen’s compensation? Not even in small
The bottom-line truth, as many a displaced homemaker has learned
to her dismay, is that the woman who makes possible the domestic
pursuit of happiness for her family is just one man away from
Is there any other worker in the world who would put up with
It is truly astonishing, when you think about it, that so
few women have spoken out in protest against the zero valuation
of homemaking. Yes, the rhetoric has heated up from time to
time at women’s meetings. Bills seeking wages and other
benefits fro homemakers are introduced in Congress and wend
their way obscurely through committees and hearings. Now and
then a lone housewife goes on strike or marches along her
suburban street with a picket sign to protest unreasonable
hours or nonexistent pay. But her only reward is to be treated
as the novelty of the day on the TV evening news, rather like
an eccentric who has climbed a high-rise in spiked shoes or
a child who has written a poison-pen letter to Santa Claus.
In 1980 some serious people decided to stimulate interest
in the plight of the unpaid homemaker. Babson College, Babson
Park, Massachusetts, and the Edward L. Bernays Foundation
offered an award of $3,000 in an essay contest on A Practical
Program to Achieve Economic Justice for Homemakers. More than
1,500 completed entries were received and thousands of additional
letters poured in. The first-place winner was a woman in California.
After the award was made, all entries, letters, and copies
of speeches about the competition and its results were preserved
for posterity and scholars at the Elizabeth Schlesinger Library
on the History of Women in America at Radcliffe College, Cambridge,
But did you hear any of the suggestions that were offered?
Did a story appear on the front page of your local newspaper,
or even on an inner page among the obituaries and lists of
lottery winners? Did the homemaker’s world change at
Not so you would notice.
But in unexpected and largely unheralded way, there has been
a major change. In most states certain old rules relating
to a wife’s worth have been overturned and exciting
new concepts have been explored and activated.
You have probably not noticed the change because, surprisingly,
there have been no headlines, no announcements in mailboxes,
no speeches at meetings. This major turnaround in legal thinking
has taken place so quietly that few people are aware of the
reversal of our conventional views about women, their work
and their worth.
Yet now at long last a value has been placed on all that bed
making, dish washing, car pooling, picking up of roller skates
from the stair landing, and inviting the boss over for a boring
The change has taken place in our judicial system.
Courts throughout the country have been empowered to recognize
the value of homemaking, and as a result thousands of women
have been awarded property, bank accounts, securities, pension
rights, houses, and monthly payments that they have “earned”
through their household services.
Neither the Equal rights Amendment nor its failure of passage
had anything to do with this shift. Nobody picketed the White
House or rallied to a mass meeting. In fact, few people were
alert to the shock waves of change that were and still are
Why has this judicial revolution been kept so quiet? Why all
the mystery and secrecy?
No, there’s no conspiracy. It’s only that lawyers
and judges who have been working with the new concept have
viewed it technically for the most part, as a way of settling
certain kinds of monetary disputes. They have not looked at
the broad implications it has for altering long-held, almost
sacred societal values.
Now it is time for women to be let into the secret.
That is what this book is about. It’s not about sex.
It’s not a self-help book. It’s not a marriage
manual or a divorce manual. It’s a book about change-
one that will alter the way you look at yourself, the way
your husband looks at you, and the way both of you look at
Once you grasp the changes that are already in place and the
ways they affect your daily life, you will emerge with a new
sense of self-worth and a fresh opportunity to firm up the
foundations of your marriage and defend it against the destructive
forces that now imperil all marriages.
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