Ladies of the Law and Husbands who Keep House

Mummy in Law wonders how we working legal mums have snared our house husbands. I could not possibly reveal my methods, but it involved a student union bar and a nomination form. He ended up being Vice President to my President, and he succeeded me as President when I went on to start my legal training, so I suppose we have always operated as a dynamic duo, moving between roles and problem solving together…But I can’t disclose all my methods: we’re just about to reach our tenth wedding anniversary and I wouldn’t want anybody to steal him away before I can collect my tin anniversary present (I think in the current climate its likely to be a can of Heinz’ best).

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In truth it was for us a combination of serendipity and pragmatism. We couldn’t have afforded to do it the traditional way – but in fact this freed us up to the idea of a ‘role reversal’ – and it works well for us, subject to all the work-life balance issues that exist for any family with a working parent. Whilst I’d love to be at home more than I am, I’d probably have been miserable at home all the time, watching my career wither on the vine. As it is, we’re both pretty good at what we do: he is patient, moderately organised and far less highly strung as a parent than I am.

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MIL asks if “these men [house husbands of legal wives] eventually become petty and emasculated, or are some men truly better suited to life at home”? My view is that for those who are suited to full time childcare, who are fulfilled by it and who are supported in their role there is little reason for them to become petty or emasculated. I say why should they? Our traditionally gendered roles are the social not essential. We find it hard to separate the parent from the gender and so an unhappy parent may experience anxiety about their masculinity / femininity. Being stuck at home with kids when you desperately want to be back at work or when you are unsupported by your busy fulfilled partner surely won’t do much for anybody’s self esteem, sense of identity or general wellbeing. All parents have experience of feeling, when you hit rock bottom, that you are a failure as a mother, ergo as a woman; a failure as a father, ergo as a man. You can intellectualise your way out of it, say it shouldn’t be so – but it is how we understand or articulate our place in the world, our role in the family. You can turn tradition upside down with a role reversal but it doesn’t suddenly eradicate the gendered world we live in.

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Well, I’d best be off. Him indoors is nagging me to change a lightbulb and he’ll only get all emotional if I don’t sort it out for him. [kidding]

12 thoughts on “Ladies of the Law and Husbands who Keep House

  1. I am sincerely jealous.

  2. It is really interesting how you have switched ‘traditional’ roles.

    You are certainly right in your view that it is a result of luck and pragmatism. There are no doubt a lot of men who would not take well to the ‘house husband’ role.

    You may also be interested in my article on the topic. http://www.icl-legal.co.uk/2010/10/financial-planning-for-female-lawyers/

    Kind regards,

    Andrew

  3. “why should they?”

    You can’t think of any reason why men should be unhappy at home? That’s odd since you just stated that you would be miserable at home all the time, watching your career wither on the vine. So you would be miserable but you can’t understand why anyone else would miserable. You wouldn’t want your career to wither, but you have no problem with your husband’s career withering. Yeah, it’s a gendered world all right. Because if you reverse the genders, you would never have written what you just did.

    How do we spend the past 40 years telling women that the only way to be a fulfilled, independent person with self respect and equality in a relationship is to have your own career and income, and then tell men we can’t understand why they would be unhappy without their own career and income? Have you ever read The Feminine Mystique? Please do. It will tell you quite clearly how someone who is at home all day would be miserable.

    • B Friedan I think you misunderstand me.

      I can think of lots of reasons why some men would be unhappy at home. I don’t see any reason why all men should be, in the same way that not all women are unhappy at home. Fundamentally its about choice and balance and what each individual is suited to, regardless of their gender. I would have been unhappy at home all the time in the long run but would have loved to be able to take longer off and take more of a part time approach to my job. But the bar is a bit all or nothing and is not something that is easy to pick up once left for any length of time, unlike some careers.

      Incidentally, lest you were concerned that I am operating some feminist micro-dictatorship, the arrangements in our house were reached by agreement and after discussion about what was right for us as a family and as individuals. My husband’s career is not withering at my say so, or at all. In fact he just has a rather more non-linear approach to work than some of us, and prefers to focus on job satisfaction rather than career. His job as full time daddy gives him satisfaction and is just as valued as mine.

      I find my job fulfilling. But I don’t think that career is the only way to find fulfillment. My family gives me great fulfillment and I am often envious of my husband’s role, without forgetting the drudgery it can often involve.

  4. You can’t think of any reason why all men should be unhappy at home? That’s odd because no one seems to have any trouble thinking of reasons why all women are unhappy at home: no income of your own-leading to financial dependency; dependency leading to inequality in the relationship; not having your own income means you are unable to support yourself thereby forcing you to stay in an unhappy marriage because you have no ability to financially support yourself and/or your childdren; no daily interaction with other adults; lack of self esteem; etc, etc. Just read any of the thousands of books, magazine articles, and lectures since the ’60s giving all the reasons why women without their own careers are miserable.

    You say it’s a matter of choice and what each individual is suited for. Can you explain how any individual is “suited” to be in a state of dependency and inequality, and why is it those individuals seem to be all male? Because I haven’t seen feminists asserting that there are women who are “suited” to be at home. Have you?

    The bar is not easy to pick up once left for any length of time. So what? Why does it matter if your career takes a hit? After all, a paying career is not important. If it is why doesn’t your husband have one? Can you explain why it is so important to sustain your career, but not your husbands?

    Why do you think there has been so much emphasis for the past two generations, on how important it is for women to have their own careers, be independent, be self sufficient, have their own identity beyond their husbands, be able to support themselves? Why is it not equally important for men to have the same? Why is it understandable for women to express unhappiness at not having a career, but not understandable for men to do the same? Inequality and dependency are acceptable as long as it’s reached by agreement and discussion? Since when?

    Why is it essential for women to have careers, but not men?

    • You continue to misunderstand me, perhaps wilfully so. It’s no more important for a man to have a career than a woman or vice versa. Neither has rights any different from the other. There is nothing inherently wrong with pursuit of a career, or with homemaking (or a combination). For families who do not want their children in paid childcare day in day out and for those where one partner doesn’t earn significantly more than the cost of that childcare, the question is not whether one parent should say at home potentially sacrificing career prospects, but which one should do so. Are you suggesting there is one right answer to that conundrum, or perhaps you are advocating for the right of both men and women to pursue career to take precedence over the needs of their children and in the face of economic necessity? As far as our family is concerned it’s the needs of our family unit, not the needs or rights of the individual adult that guides our decisions.

  5. Simple: why is it essential that your career not “wither” but perfectly acceptable for your husband’s career to wither?

    There is nothing wrong with homemaking? So there is nothing wrong with your career “withering,” which is what happens when you’re a homemaker. Why is “sacrificing career prospects” such a wonderful thing when it’s done by a man? You say you make no such distinction, but it’s clear you do.

    Would you write an article about how wonderful it is for male lawyers to have wives who stay at home, and how wonderful it is for women to give up any thought of a career? And how contrary to what is now accepted wisdom, it is NOT essential for a woman to be independent and self sufficient? And how women who stay at home should be praised and encouraged? And could you also write about how a wife being completely dependent on her husband is perfectly fine?

    And could you also write about how the feminists got it so completely wrong about how essential it is to have your own career?

    I think that would clear up any misunderstanding. Thank you.

    • Dear B Friedan, Entertaining as it is to converse with the dead authors of feminist books, I sense that this discussion / inquisition / baiting could go on ad infinitum without being terribly productive. I’m not really sure what you see as the correct solution to the tensions between childcare, career and household income, but I don’t feel I need to justify my feminist credentials to you any further (and by feminist I mean a world view that sees women and men as fundamentally equal rather than feeling the need to pit the sexes against one another – I). In future you may wish to consider whether as a matter of common courtesy you should post using your real name, which I believe may be J Senso.

      Best wishes,

  6. Who or what is “J Senso”?

    I don’t know the “correct solution” to the childcare/career tensions. I only know that feminists have spent the last 50 years insisting it is NOT the solution to have one partner give up their career and be dependent on their spouse. There is no fundamental equality in that relationship.

    • Well, whatever your name is we agree that it is difficult to identify any correct solution to this conundrum.

      I don’t agree with your summary of the last 50 years of the feminist approach to work, which is a good deal more sophisticated than you suggest and which has developed over the years. And it is certainly not the idea of feminism that I hold faith with. If you have a way of dividing up family responsibilities that does not involve one partner making some sacrifice in career terms or creating some kind of financial dependence and that is economically viable for most low to middle income families I’d be pleased to hear it. Family life is about compromises for most of us – there is no reason to determine how those benefits and burdens are shared out based on gender.

  7. But this is exactly the point. Feminists have in fact always insisted on the absolute necessity of two points: equality and independence. That meant having your own career, your own income, and not being dependent on your spouse. There has never been any acceptance of the need for women to “compromise” and accept “financial dependence” and “sacrifice” careers.

    You see, you do determine how the burden is “shared out based on gender.” This whole thing started with the premise of “isn’t it wonderful for women in law to have husbands who stay at home.” No one would dare write the same about wives who stay at home. Instead it would all have been about how they need to get out of the home and get the independence and fulfillment that comes with having your own career. Then to compound the gender bias, you criticized men who dislike being at home. Again, would you criticize women who have expressed the same preference for having a career out of the home?

    It’s wrong for a woman to stay at home and let her career “wither” but no problem when it’s a man’s career that “withers.” It’s all “based on gender.”

    As I said, if it’s not possible to divide family responsibilities without creating dependence and inequality, then point out to feminists why they are wrong to insist upon it. It was not “traditionalists” who demanded that the family change in order to provide equality and independence. It was feminists. Now you’re saying it’s not possible. Please explain to them that the campaign they’ve been waging for equality in the family is impossible. Please tell them they are totally wrong, and inequality and dependence are in fact inevitable in order for families to function. Just the way it’s always been.
    Thank you for your responses.

    • I think what most feminists (both male and female) seek is equality of opportunity not equality in absolute terms which is clearly unrealisable. Relationships are about compromise (whether gay or straight) and all that I ask is that that compromise is not all in one direction just because that’s a man’s job and this is a woman’s. You have a very rigid and limited view of feminism, and seem to view it as some kind of immutable dogma (and its members as some homogenous group) that has not developed over time or varied between individuals. Feminism is an idea and a set of aspirations and it has evolved.

      I don’t think I have criticised men for disliking being at home nor women for wanting a career out of the home (or vice versa). What I’ve said is that it suits some and not others. What I do criticise is people who see working women as bad mothers or stay at home dads as emasculated wimps, or housewives as doormats or working dads as uncaring (insert stereotype here)….

      I agree that inequality is inevitable on a micro level in order for families to function – its basic economics. But why should that inequality always have to disadvantage the woman by rendering her financially dependant whilst the kids are young and leaving her disadvantaged in the workplace when they’re old enough for her to work?

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