Modern Wives, Retro Problems


We moms have recently had a darn good run as far as scintillating, empowering, enraging mommy commentary in the media goes, even without the Sheryl Sandberg explosion.

Take this blog you are reading right now, which is going to review an article about a magazine – all about the frustrations of modern day motherhood! Extra bonus: thousands of comments from real live moms that accompany each article, blog and sidebar.

First came “The Feminist Housewife” in New York Magazine. In response: the utterly brilliant article “Do Women Stay Home Because It’s Easier on Their Families?” recently flamed on The Daily Beast. NY Mag writer Lisa Miller and Beast author Megan McArdle took a complex issue and boiled it down to essential stock ingredients.

Here they are:

  • Once married, most American men and women, no matter who is the primary breadwinner, continue to tacitly value gendered patterns of behavior.


  • The cultural pressure to conform to traditional gender roles applies mainly to married females, no matter whether they work or not, when logically it should be men who expand historical parenting and housekeeping roles.


Or as one pithy friend says:

“Marriage is a sucky institution for women.”

  • Objective bystanders can be found in gay couples, who offer insightful if envious commentary that marriage is easier (albeit more constricting) for straight couples, because hetero roles, although unfair, are more clearly defined.


  • In the absence of responsibilities set by gender, the constant transactions and negotiations among couples who try to split child and household responsibilities 50/50 are draining, frustrating, and eventually, deeply boring to everyone involved.


  • Bottom line: for women/wives who are agitating for change in at-home gender roles, the constant negotiations will most definitely take a heavy toll on your relationship’s serenity, not to mention your sex life, and maybe won’t help your career or financial security or happiness one iota. Maybe you should just head home – and stay there.


Does all this ring a few bells?

In my house it sure does.

My husband and I have equivalent professional degrees, MBAs from Wharton, 1992 and 1993.

Despite lifelong ambition and competitive zeal, I left my last corporate job in 2006 in part because I was sick and tired of the endless, fruitless tug-of-war at home.

Regardless of skills honed at The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, I was always the parent who stayed home with sick kids, the one who did daily daycare pickup, the crazed cell phone addict who finagled evening rides to far-flung elementary school gyms for our basketball-obsessed son, and the clenched-jaw-owner who was always furious at my husband for being so ridiculously happy every night at 9pm when he walked in the door from a productive and relaxing day at the office.  I was so frustrated I had to write an entire book about it, logically titled Mommy Wars.

My Wharton and Harvard professors may call it negotiating, but a better transitive verb is “begging,” and it simply didn’t work.

Another pithy mom, Joan Williams at UCHastings Center for WorkLife Law, knows workplace gender discrimination upside down and backwards. She famously declared:

“Women will never have true equality until we get equality at home.”

Unfortunately, we don’t have laws to regulate gender-equality at home.  We can’t sue for at-home discrimination, yet (can we, Joan?). Our choices seems to be to duke it out, shut up about it, or head to divorce court.  Or, at least this week, read about it and know at least none of us are alone in this war.



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