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Revolt of the Enjoli Woman: If I Bring Home the Bacon, Why Do I Have to Fry it Up Too?

angry housewife

 

“I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never, never let you forget you’re a man!” This commercial jingle, like so many others, is engraved indelibly on our collective consciousness.  The Enjoli woman was corporate, sexy, and of course, as attentive to her husband’s needs as any 1950’s housewife. In the 1980s, teenage girls accepted her as an ideal of womanhood. At the time, I didn’t know that boys watched that commercial too, but they did.

“Oh, I want one of those,” they were all thinking.  “She’ll make money and cook me dinner too!”

Yeah, we all want one of those.  We just don’t want to be her anymore.

So women are supposed to work all day, and then work all evening too, while our husbands relax in front of the TV? Who made that rule?  Maybe the housewives cut a backroom deal with their husbands back in the ‘60’s.  I imagine the conversation, getting irrationally aggravated like it’s real.

“Oh, please let us have jobs,” the housewives begged in their little beehive hairdos. They were so feminine in their starched aprons and high heels. “Your dinner will be on the table at six just like it always was!”

Excuse me while I take a moment to recover my sanity.

Now we’re free to pursue careers, but, as any woman married to a man can tell you, we still do most of the housework.  Oh, and we’re supposed to be proud of this fact, girls.  The Enjoli woman can do it all!  At least until we get sick of it, and most of us are already there.  How long until we decide that men are obsolete?  Consider this: if we make enough money to support ourselves and our children, what do we need them for?  I’m just not getting that warm and fuzzy feeling from picking up some guy’s dirty socks, and last I heard, a little vial from the sperm bank was about twenty bucks.  As far as I’m concerned, if he’s not nice, (and damned helpful), he’s on a slippery slope toward the front door.

The thing that really gets me is that we women are our own worst enemies.  Working women who are the most annoyed with their husbands for slacking off will be the first to leap up after dinner and do the dishes themselves.  Last week my husband and I were invited to dinner at the home of another couple, Gina and Tom. (By now you can tell I’m kind of neurotic, but I swear this really happened.  Exactly like this.)  Gina graciously served our husbands wine and then walked them right over to the big leather couch.

“Now, you just relax while we get dinner on!” she chirruped.

My husband is a decent sort.  He shot me an uneasy look, ready for lightning bolts to fly in his direction.  Gina firmly pushed him into his place on the couch, wine glass in hand. What could I do?  It wasn’t my house.  I followed her into the kitchen, feeling weird.  The men put their feet up and turned the on football game.

“I can’t believe Tom,” Gina hissed when we were out of earshot.  “He never helps, and I work all day, too!”

She took out her frustrations with a meat tenderizing mallet, sending Salmonella-laced droplets of raw chicken juice into my face. All I could do was back out of range. Gina vented about her husband until dinner was ready, then sweetly invited them all in.

After the meal, she shooed them off again. “Don’t worry about the mess, the house elves will get it!”

I am not making this up.  She literally said “house elves.”  Do you ever want to just grab your best girlfriend and slap her?  As long as I’ve known Gina, she’s bitched about Tom, but she won’t do anything about it.  She’s obviously the cause of her own problem.  If it was up to me, I’d have both our husbands working in the kitchen right alongside us.  Bitchy?  Maybe. Fair? Yep.  I’m okay with that, and if he’s not, there’s always that slippery slope.

Gina’s extreme, but most married women still get screwed when it comes to the division of labor. I got to wondering about it, and did a little research.  (‘Cause, even though I’m neurotic, I did finish college.)  Sociologists apparently get paid to study stuff the rest of us just rant about.  One study showed that wives, even those employed outside the home, did 70–90% of all household labor.  The usual deal is that men promise to do the yard work if the wife does the housework.  You’ve heard that one, I’m sure.  Don’t fall for it.  Dr. Francine M. Deutsch, author of Having It All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works, says that, “husbands are not making up for their lack of “women’s work” by doing more “men’s work.”

My ex-husband once tried to justify this by claiming that, since he made more money, I should have to work more hours to make up for it.  (You can see why, for him, I greased that slippery slope.) According to Dr. Deutsch, that attitude is pretty common. Husbands who make more money than their wives do actually do less housework.  No surprise there, but did you know that wives whose income is higher than their husbands do more housework, not less?  That stunned me until I really thought about it.  A woman who gets a good education and a good paying job is the type to get things done.  Her husband just relaxes and lets her handle it all.

So what are we going to do about it?  I’m not the kind of woman who whines and then does nothing.  Women are being treated unfairly, and we need to change this.  If we make some waves doing it, so be it. Is it fair that the only really egalitarian relationships out there are between same-sex couples?

Let’s organize the rebellion.  Step one: if you’re young and haven’t moved in with a guy yet, get ready.  The very first day he sets his suitcase down in your hall, you’d better give him the, “I am not the maid” speech.  Enforce it from the beginning.  If you do everything for him when you’re wildly in love, there’ll be trouble when you finally get tired of doing it all.  He’ll think you don’t love him anymore, when, in reality, you’re just exhausted.

If you’re already married to one of those slackers, it’s way harder.  Husbands tend to duck housework by only doing what they are specifically asked to do and ignoring the rest.  If you have to, make a list of things he has to do every week.  There is one bright spot in all this.

“When men contribute more domestic labor, their wives may be more likely to get in the mood” for sex, says Dr. John Gottman of the University of Washington. “Wives may be less stressed over balancing work and home, and interpret his domestic contributions as a sign of love and caring.”

If you have children, it’s even more important to stick to your guns. Sociologists Scott Coltrane and Michele Adams found that kids who do housework with their dads get along better with other children and have more friends.  “When men perform domestic service for others, it teaches children cooperation and democratic family values,” says Coltrane.

I know, you don’t like conflict, and maybe it’s just easier to do things yourself than fight about it.  I say, get in touch with your inner bitch.  It’ll be worth it in the long run.  And don’t forget, we have it on good authority that you’ll get laid more, too.