Kudos to Sandra Tsing Loh for recycling an old joke into an article in the New York Times for which she was no doubt highly paid. I remember my divorced mother and her divorced and nondivorced friends sitting around laughing about how they wanted wives of their own so that they could come home to dinner cooked and kids behaving. Tsing Loh’s piece echoes a famous feminist satire by Judy Syfers titled ” I Want A Wife ” that ran in the first issue of Ms. magazine. Of course, Tsing Loh and Syfers were making different points. Syfers was using humor to expose the male selfishness that perpetuated women’s oppression in the home, and Tsing Loh is taking for granted many feminist gains. And Tsing Loh is so funny that she squeezes some freshness out of that old lemon.
Being the dork that I am, I can’t help but point out to those who make jokes about wanting wives that non-lesbian-identified women have, on very rare occasions, been able to live the dream. Just last night, I read about such a household set-up in the course of reading a history of comic books. Dr. William Moulton Marston, who created Wonder Woman under the pen name Charles Moulton, was married, and he and his wife Elizabeth had another wife named Olive Byrne, who played the role of housewife while Elizabeth Marston was the primary breadwinner for much of the marriage. Each woman in the marriage had two children, but Olive raised them all, and I have few doubts she also aped the role of the Manhattan-shaking, slipper-bearing, enraptured-listening housewife. So Tsing Loh and other straight women who long for this, know that it’s possible to have the housewife of your dreams, if you’re willing to let your man sleep with someone younger and more compliant than you. Of course, putting it that way makes mixing your own Manhattans seem like not that much work at all.
(I don’t want to paint William Marston as a patriarchal monster, however. He was just a weird dude, and was devoted both to fantasies of BDSM and his strong belief in female superiority. He explicitly saw Wonder Woman as propaganda aimed at ushering in a new era when men would relinquish rule to women, whom he saw as naturally more gentle and wise. All of which casts the feminist adoption of Wonder Woman into a comical light, since very few feminists want more than mere equality with men.)
Of course, the catch to all this is that even for those of us willing to swallow our jealousies and control over our homes to collect a conjugal third to play the role of housewife, there probably are even fewer takers than you’d get in the 1930s. Nowadays, even men who are willing to settle for uninteresting, unambitious women who’ll play housewife have trouble finding any takers. Good luck hitting that jackpot of someone open-minded enough to be your third but unambitious enough to give up any hope of a career.
Photograph of woman by George Marks/Retrofile RF/Getty Images.