What Does it Really Mean?
Many studies have shown that stay-home mums who have kids aged between 5-12, have a punishing daily 14-hour / 98 hours a week / seven day schedule, with no weekends, personal or sick days. That is the equivalent of holding two and half full time jobs! And they are required to do all that, while looking great and having the sexual drive of a teenager, let us not forget. If they want that husband to stay…
Art & Words by Fanitsa Petrou
Marriage is still often prescribed in terms of women, as a universal remedy that cures all social evils and safeguards “traditional values”, but it is still an unfair deal for them. Not to mention a proof that patriarchy still has a hold on them: we might as well realise that society’ s inability to acknowledge a heterosexual woman’ s right to live her life without a husband, is rooted in the common and age-old belief that women are not whole human beings unless their existence is validated by the fact that they were chosen by one of them. Which is to say, unless they are sexually useful to a man – and economically dependent on him.
Men have been for centuries smugly suggesting that they are doing a woman a favour by making a “decent woman out of her”, offering her a way out of the apparently utter misfortune of living a husbandless life. This notion implies not only that a man (any man!) is the panacea in a woman’s life, but also that he is the one who is loosing more in the bargain, and she is the one who is gaining, which is ironic for a number of well-documented reasons (see below). Marriage for one, contributes to women’ s lesser financial, professional and political power. A woman is still today, likely to give up on the majority of her dreams as soon as she gets married, as she will be expected to perform the majority of child care and (life-long) unpaid domestic labour that will ultimately cause a blow to her professional goals, as well as her ambition and health – not to mention self worth. (See below actual statistics, before jumping onto that #notmyhusband, #notallmen #notmymarriage train)
She will of course attempt to balance work and family, but it won’ t be long before this business of having two full-time jobs (actually two and half jobs according to statistics – see below) will leave her exhausted and spent, all ambition knocked out of her (one tedious domestic chore at a time). Each minute of her time spent at home being accounted for, each hour she spends at work, becoming a source of guilt and turmoil, and each accomplishment turning into a bitter win. And if she is passed for a promotion (and she will be) she will feel both cheated AND relieved. By the time the kids are out of the house and not in constant need of her, she will be considered too “old” to be out there (men not only marry younger women, but tend to hire younger women as well, for many of the same reasons: because they love having a young body around – that they will spend their days contemplating how to fuck – plus younger women are less self-aware, less brave and more insecure and naive, and because of that, less demanding, on top of being easier to control, considerably more grateful and easier to impress! Not to mention they are paid less!) Which is to say: by 45, regardless of education, ability or talents – she will be “unhirable” or loose her momentum and will no longer be seen as an asset in a company. She will also be too spent, too exhausted, too fed up to go after the same promotion (if by a miracle some lesser version of it is still available and not offered to the well-rested married guys who have the luxury of having normal working hours and then going home and chilling). She will carry on her shoulders the thankless duty of a wife as well as that of a mother (and possibly that of the caring daughter too, who is also looking after her parents, or even her husband’ s parents as well). The brunt of invisible / unpaid domestic work, on top of keeping a job, (and keeping her looks too, while she is at it, let us not forget), will just leave her spent. On the other hand, her husband will be congratulated, praised, and practically hero-worshiped each time he boils an egg, or (The Horror! The Horror!) changes a nappy, or “baby-sits” his own children, even if it is for an hour every eight months…
Before she reaches that crucial 45+ stage, she is very likely to eventually give up on work altogether, and become a housewife (or according to the popular, modern-day term: “stay-home mum”), who will of course get neither payment nor appreciation for her work, and will daily be reduced into a child who is asking for an allowance each time she needs to buy something, delivering in this manner all her power nicely into her husband’s hands. Because of that, she will of course start feeling obligated to satisfy her provider’ s every need… (Especially in terms of sex. Which is to say, she will finally become the “perfect” little wife! The kind that also feels obligated to defend men from those vicious feminists…) Or else she will gravitate towards less demanding positions, or part-time jobs with lower pay and no prospects, so that she can spend more time with her family. Unless she goes for the third option: keep her long hours, and her dreams somewhat intact, and so be faced with non stop guilt and with being judged by everyone as a heartless bitch, a bad wife and a cold mother who doesn’ t put her family first…
Marriage on the other hand, is for men – despite popular believe of the opposite – a pretty cushioned deal. Regardless of their age, most men expect to be “taken care of” by females (mothers, wives, daughters) for the entirety of their lives. And this has a serious impact on women, especially married-with-kids ones: it is not the having kids that keeps them from going after their professional dreams, it is the fact that husbands refuse to do their share! (To quote Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”) Even though men seem to contribute to house chores and child care more these days, the truth of the matter is that they still contribute considerably less than their wives, even if their wives work full time jobs. According to a research made by Beatrix Campbell (see: “End of Equality” -see*17) “over the past three decades, the time that men dedicated to child-care rose at a rate of about 30 seconds per day, per year. Their contribution to housework rose at a rate of one minute per day, per year” Any way you look at this, it is frankly quite ridiculous!
Many studies have shown that stay-home mums who have kids aged between 5-12, have a punishing daily 14-hour / 98 hours a week / seven day schedule, with no weekends, personal or sick days. That is the equivalent of holding two and half full time jobs! (see:1 * ) Two and half full time jobs that consist of soul-crashing, thankless, mind-numbingly boring chores that pay nothing of course! And they are required to do all that, while looking great and having the sexual drive of a teenager, let us not forget. If they want that husband to stay… Which prompts the question: WHY the hell do they so desperately want him to stay? And would any of them want him to “stay” if we lived in societies that cultivated women’s independence and celebrated it instead of their marital status and looks? If we lived in societies that encouraged women to go after their dreams instead of husbands? If we lived in societies in which women were paid an equal to men pay? If we lived in societies that supported single mothers? If we lived in societies that did NOT force women to believe that they are nothing but body parts with an expiration date, who ought to offer their entire life as collateral so that they will be rewarded by a ring and a title? In short, if their dependancy on men was not glorified and marketed and packaged as their ideal dream? And lastly, if men did their share of child care?
And it is not just the hours spend on housework and child care and the endless chores, it is also the taking care of all the “details” that keep a family going. It is about keeping doctor’s appointments and it is about haircuts and play dates and birthdays, and running from ballet classes to football practices, and parent / teacher days and helping at school plays, shopping for special costumes (or actually sowing them), baking biscuits, organising dinner parties, being responsible for buying gifts for everyone, doing the Christmas decorations, and cooking healthy-conscious meals about each and every member of their family, cutting apples in slices and sandwiches in triangles and so on. It is also about the mental energy spent, and the constant worrying and the burden of responsibility of keeping everyone healthy and happy and fed and clean (and their husband perpetually sexually satisfied of course at all costs!) No wonder so many married women are spent and constantly on the edge of a massive passive-aggressive meltdown. (Because who has the time for a proper one, right?)
In the aforementioned study, in their top 20 “lifesavers” (things or persons that help them get through their day), American married women included wet wipes, trusted babysitters, grandparents, yoga pants, ipads, drive-thru meals, kid’s TV shows and wine. Not their husbands! (see: 2 * ) Take a minute to ponder on that! Wet wipes are MORE helpful to them than their husbands! (Apparently all those Instagram photos, all those references to their “amazing hubby” on Facebook, and all those mommy blogs are misleading…)
Not only do they not help, but husbands actually stress women considerably more than their children do, as indicated by a different study (see: 3*) In short, it is not the raising and taking care of small kids that crashes them. It is the fact that they have to take care of a grown ass man as well…
Another study set to examine what men are doing while their wives are taking care of their kids or doing the housework, concluded that they just enjoy “leisure time”. (Like we needed a study for that one!) (see: 4*)
Women with children are of course also less likely to be hired, than childless ones, while men who have children are actually MORE likely to be hired than childless ones: for a woman, having children is seen as a counteragent to being responsible (!), while for a man a sign that he is! On top of that, there is the “motherhood penalty and the fatherhood bonus” phenomenon (see: 5* ): while men’s earnings increase more than 6 % when they have children, women’s decreased 4 % for EACH child they have. Which means that 4% is only the beginning… High-income men in particular will be rewarded with a considerable pay rise and promotions when they have children. The opposite will be the case for women, especially low-income ones!
This is a of course a global phenomenon. In an effort to examine the causes for the gender pay gap, Henrik Kleven, an economist at Princeton University, used data from Denmark (a country with model social policies) and concluded that even in a country such as this, women’s earnings drop significantly after they have a child, while men’s don’t. In fact their own earnings increase, as shown by other studies(see: 6* ).
According to the Henrik Kleven study “the cumulative effect is huge: Women end up earning 20 percent less than their male counterparts over the course of their career”. Kleven finds a sharp decline in women’s earnings after the birth of their first child — with no comparable salary drop for men.
In addition to that, consider also the fact that the gender pay gap, refers mostly to married women. According to Michelle Budig, (see*7), a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who has studied (see *8) the parenthood pay gap for 15 years: childless, unmarried American women earn 96 cents for every dollar a man earns, while married mothers earn 76 cents!
The study also revealed that even though “women outnumber men at all levels of post-secondary education“ this does’t reflect their prospects. Additionally, “women need more than a high school diploma, and ideally at least a bachelor’s degree to make family-sustaining wages.” In short, not only do they need to be more accomplished, and spend more years in their studies than the average guy, they also have to be repaying for years on end those additional student loan debts as well, a fact that puts them obviously, in an even more unfavourable position in relation to men in the same profession.
The same report reveals that nearly three-quarters of Americans who earn more than $100,000 are men.
And let us not forget the “pink collar ghetto” (see*13) : the kind of jobs dominated by women (nursing, social work, teaching, midwifery, being a paralegal, a secretary, and other forms of invisible “helpers” to men..etc) are all jobs that are in most countries underpaid, and which still require at least a two-year diploma and often a degree, yet have a low starting wage and limited or no prospects (on top of being particularly stressful and emotionally draining) A fact that cements the “feminization of poverty” (A term coined by Karin Stallard, Barbara Ehrenreich and Holly Sklar in their book “Poverty in the American Dream: Women and Children First” (see: *18)
Add to all that, the fact that while a woman’s career will take a permanent back seat the minute she breathlessly whisper “I do!”, a man’s own will flourish once he gets married: married men were found to earn between “10 % and 40 % more than single men” (see*14) In short, as they are being supported and taken care of at home like children, they are free to devote their efforts, time, and energy onto their professional goals undisturbed!
All the above, contributes of course to the perpetuation of the economic disenfranchisement of women in our societies, who therefore – ironically – have every reason to continue to see men as their “saviours”, and their body as their only truly valuable “currency”, and marriage (the very thing that causes their disenfranchisement in the first place), as their only life line. And their need to get married at all costs, is of course what keeps men from facing the mirror and being forced to evolve: Why would they? As long the world is populated with so many desperate for their attention, broken women? It’s a nice little vicious circle. A nice little arrangement. And it has kept patriarchy in business – and women in the shadows – for thousands of years…
Virginia Woolf wished for women to have some money and a “room of one’s own” if they were to write fiction (see *12). How many married women get to have that, not to mention the time to exist in it, and be themselves (the self they once knew, the self who just WAS? Undisturbed, untroubled, unburdened, unjudged, without guilt or without having to be poised and perfect and pleasant, and smiling, and perpetually youthful and slim and fit and well groomed and eager to please (which is another way of saying: sexually available) at all times? Married men love to complain about how the entire house is their wife’ s domain (usually because she gets to decorate it, NOT – God forbid – own it) and how they only get to have just one room to themselves: a garage, a study, a “den”, where they do all their major beer drinking, sports watching, video games playing (and porn-masturbating) activities. But the thing is, there is not one corner in that house where their wife can exist on her own for five minutes and be herself, in the manner that she used to, before she lost her sense of Self, before she was not being interrupted every second of the day by people who demand her time, her attention, her help, her unconditional love, her labour, her body. In fact there is no place in the entire planet where a married woman can exist undisturbed or guilt-free… (not to mention, for many of them, without the threat of violence!)
According to statistics, a woman who says “Yes” to a marriage proposal, will also get to live a SHORTER, MORE STRESSED and LESS HEALTHY LIFE than she would have, if she were to remain single (see: 15*) At the same time, her husband will get to live a LONGER, more stress-FREE and much more HEALTHY life than he would, if he were to remain single! (Yeah! who knew that being taken care of by someone who has been groomed from an early age to think it is her duty, would actually add to a man’s quality of life, and that spending your life constantly catering to someone else’ s needs, can eventually take a toll on your health?)
A different study conducted by Caterina Trevisan at the University of Padua in Italy (see*19), revealed that Italian widows “perk up” after husbands die, their quality of life and health improving exponentially: “ ITALIAN WIDOWS HAVE BETTER LIVES THAN WIVES, they suffer less stress and physical frailty than women whose husbands are still alive”, who found their role to be“restrictive and frustrating”as they spend their entire life being the care giver to their husband.
The study also concluded that single women also have “LESS anxiety, GREATER job satisfaction and HIGHER activity levels at work”. It also revealed that “widows cope better than widowers with the stress deriving from the loss of a partner and widowhood” (Possibly because the Italian widower is loosing a domestic slave, while the Italian widow a tyrant…) (see: 20*)
Another study (published in an article with the telling title: “Marriage is good for your health? Not if you’re a woman…” ) concluded that “NOT marrying or cohabiting is less detrimental among woman than men”. (see: 10*)
A different study examining the correlation between heart decease and marital status, revealed that the ones who are more likely to have poorer health are those who suffer from “high stress levels at home as the result of being responsible for domestic unpaid work, and not being the primary income earner”. And “these patients were predominantly married women” In short, it is the traditional gender roles within marriage, the loss of power and autonomy and the burden of the invisible, lifelong, unpaid domestic work that are literally killing women (and not just their spirit) (see: 11*)
THIS is what a man is – more often than not – offering to a woman, as he extends smugly that little red box with the ring, thinking he is offering her the world, expecting her to get weak at the knees! This is the real deal. But the brainwashing is so damn powerful, (because it started so early and lasted for so many generations) that chances are, she WILL get weak at the knees and be unable to refuse. Even if she doesn’t really love him. (Or even remotely like him) Because she will instantly be rendered unable to think about what is actually good for her, what he is actually “offering”, what being a wife really means.
All those archetypal fears about spinsterhood, about her inability to survive on her own, about ageing that closes in taking away her options, will catch up with her, and stop her in her tracks. So that no choice, no path – but the one leading to that aisle – could ever be seen as a valid one. All those fairy tales, and all those rom-coms and novels and magazines, all those social media posts with engagement rings and wedding gowns and flower arrangements, and three-tiered vanilla cakes; all those other bragging women telling her she is a reject with their #feelingblessed hashtags; all those dreams which were planted in her head first by her mum then by the entire world; all those plans she’ s been having ever since she were a girl about the “perfect wedding day” and her “real purpose” in life; in short all those lies which were perpetuated by men looking to keep their privileges and by other frustrated married women looking to validate their choices will steal her options – and eventually, gradually, her rights.
(Never mind about a “special life”… Who needs it, when you get to have a “special day”, right?)
January 26, 2021. “What does it really mean?” – Art & Words Copyright © Fanitsa Petrou. All Rights Reserved.
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Footnotes – Links / Statistics / Suggested reading: