Funny story: I just wrote how I don’t have anything to write about, and then I remembered something that’s pretty relevant. A while back I was talking to a couple. The husband is in his residency and he’s working like crazy. The wife is in school – she’s behind after transfering to follow him to his residency. WHILE I was talking to them, the husband mentioned that he might stay here for a certain number of extra years, which was new information to his wife. He didn’t talk to her about it as if they would make the decision together – he was telling her. Not in a mean way, but it was clear that the decision was up to him. This is perhaps understandable, given that by that time she would be out of school and so less tied to a particular location, while it would apparently be difficult for him to move and still be able to do this program he wanted to do. And doing the program sounded like a great idea. But still. I don’t think I need to tell you where my hypothetical future husband would be sleeping if he pulled that on me.
They talked a lot about their hectic lifestyle. He never gets enough sleep. She’s his support system. But she needs one of her own, and he can’t be one for her. The amount of stress she deals with due to his lifestyle, added to the amount of stress in her own life during this past year, is enough to give most people a heart attack. I’m not kidding. She’s very fit, and it’s a good thing.
At one point her husband said he couldn’t do it without her and talked about how he didn’t know how his unmarried friends did it. I told her that she needs a wife. I’ve seen people say that before, and I think it explains a lot. The Chinese character for wife is (or was originally) the character for woman with the character for broom. In many cases, a wife is a woman who takes care of a man’s personal duties while he works. Then wives started to work, so now we’ve replaced them with…other women. A woman to clean your house, a woman to take care of your kids, a woman to schedule your meetings. The wife still does most of the cooking, cleaning, and childcare that’s left over. It’s a wonder these men still tie their own shoes.
But it’s not all their fault. It’s partially their fault, because even in families where both parents work, women spend more time in caretaking activities with kids while men spend more time in play activities with kids. But even if this husband I met wanted to share duties equally, he physically couldn’t. It’s a miracle he’s able to do all of his work; how could he possibly do more? Maybe he was exaggerating, but probably he wasn’t. The personal is political: the imbalance in this and many other households is enforced to at least some degree by society, a society that expects workers to work as if they have nothing to do but work. After all, all the stuff that isn’t work used to be somebody else’s unpaid job. Since men tend to have higher paying jobs than women, a lot of times it makes sense for the wife to take on more of the home duties while the husband works late. But it’s not fair to either of them. By extension, the husband’s job is more important, more worthy of moving for. Our liberation seems to have us kind of in the same place we were before, except somewhat less so. Of course it’s not like this for everyone, but there are trends.
I don’t know what I would do if I were married to a person with that job. I would hate the imbalance, but I couldn’t do anything about it, short of leaving him. It’s not in his power to change the system. He could of course quit, but who would want to after working so hard to get there? And finding another job is never easy. The only way to make things better is to change the expectations on people in jobs that work insane hours. (My boyfriend is supposed to work something like 25 hours a week, according to his school. He works twice that when he’s slacking off. One deadline week, I counted up about 125-130 hours that he worked.) Each individual should have the ability to take care of his or herself, like a grown-up, without losing their job.