What is a Wife Worth?

What, 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 print.

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 welfare.

Is there any other worker in the world who would put up with these conditions?
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, Massachusetts.

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 all?

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 dinner.
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 taking place.

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 your marriage.

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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