The XX Factor

Let Us Now Praise Helpful Wives

It would have been so much easier for me to find the time to write this post if I had voice-recognition software, a sophisticated self-built database with all my contacts including my Double X blog posting instructions, which I keep losing, and most of all if I had an administrative-assistant-type of husband who handled all the household bills and dental appointments and child-care challenges and playdates and grocery shopping and left me free to spend more time at the keyboard.

But I don’t have these things. I mean, I do have a husband, and he does what he can, but he leaves for work earlier than I do, so this morning I was the one who took the cat to the vet. Despite the resulting time crunch, I am posting anyway to say that I was fascinated by David Pogue’s column in the New York Times revealing his work efficiency secrets. In addition to high-tech solutions like software that completes the typing of certain words, enabling him to get to the next word faster (what if Jack Kerouac had had that? Would it have been possible for him to write On the Road even more rapidly than he did? Is it possible to write so fast that your words spontaneously combust?) and a cellular laptop modem stick that enables him to keep working in the X-ray line at the airport, he also has another, rather more low-tech productivity secret weapon: his wife.

“I’m lucky enough that I don’t spend time on bills, taxes, travel arrangements, kid-activity scheduling, and so on; my sainted wife takes care of all that administrative overhead,” he allows at the end of his column. I read that sentence and wondered what that sort of life would be like. It’s so hard to imagine, being a wife myself. Like reading about a distant country, or Antarctica, or a very, very expensive restaurant, or any place that sounds exotic and sort of wonderful but that you are pretty sure you will never visit. It must be pleasant living there, though risky; though I’m sure they both have strong and extremely functional marriages it does strike me that both Pogue and Dan Baum (whose wife helps him plan and edit his reported pieces) have a lot to lose in the event of divorce, so I hope they are very nice to these wives who assist them so readily. I am sure they are. Flowers, guys, tonight! It’s a good thing neither of them married Sandra Tsing Loh -they would be so up a creek, right about now.

Reading the column, I was moved, as I periodically am, to reflect on the lasting brilliance of “Why I Want a Wife,” the 1971 essay by Judy Syfers that ran in Ms. almost 40 years ago. Go back and read it. Feminism never gave us that one thing Syfers put her finger on, the spouse who smoothly takes care of your personal life and enables you to maximize your professional potential, did it? The wife? I know, I know-lots of men don’t have that level of assistance, either. But so many of the women I know literally run from the office to the bus stop to take up the second shift of driving to hockey practice and preparing dinner; while driving home, they conduct business discussions using hands-free cellphones. I was also interested by the fact that Pogue works at home, but unlike women I know who work at home because it enables them to more easily dash out and take the kids to doctor’s appointments, etc., he works at home because that way he can work more.

But how beguiling is this foreign country? What if feminism had given us full-time domestic and logistical helpmeets? Would we react well? I sent the link to Pogue’s column to a colleague who knows all too well the experience of juggling child care and work assignments. Her first comment was that she had no idea what most of the technology he was talking about even was. Just the other day she could not figure out why her Internet was not working, and discovered that her modem had been unplugged so her son could plug in something or other.

That’s the way I live, too. But thinking about it she also felt a life devoid of domestic distractions had little appeal. “Chained to a home office, to all that technology … and no breaks to schedule a vacation or think about a kid’s activity? Much as I’d like to jettison some logistical responsibilities, I’d go nuts without those interruptions.” Me too. The column raises that hard to answer question: If I had somebody to free me from filling out school forms and planning the kids summer activities, would I want that? If I could write more words each day, would they be better words? Are there any women who get that level of support from their husbands, and if so, can you name them?