Last month a Medium piece called ‘I hired a wife. And my career took off.’ went viral. In the story, a lawyer wrote about how hiring a fulltime nanny empowered her to free her mind and time of quotidian child-rearing tasks and take on more demanding projects, work longer hours and generally go the extra mile at work. It was, she said, like having a wife at home. Someone who took on the mental load of scheduling doctor appointments, carpooling kids to birthday parties and doing groceries. A few months into this freeing arrangement, the author of the piece wondered if that was one of the reasons why so many of her male colleagues at work were successful.
They had a wife holding down the home front, while they could focus on work, unencumbered by worries of ‘are those red spots a grass allergy or measles?’ or ‘does everyone have clean underwear for tomorrow?’ The idea that working women need ‘a wife’ to get everything that needs doing done is not a new one. I’ve joked about it myself. (Even when I wasn’t working.) Many mothers reading this have no doubt relied on the help of other women to raise their children — mothers and mothers- in-law, cleaning help, cooks and didis. In India, this is the norm, especially with the concept of equal parenting more of a hashtag than a deeply embedded belief system. Read any Father’s Day article and you will find men who talk of playing with their children and getting them ready for school as proof that they are pitching in. Across the world, it’s amazing how little fathers do and get away with as being ‘helpful’ and ‘involved’ fathers.
It is nowhere near the emotional and physical load of mothers. So the ability to succeed at the workplace for women of a certain socio-economic class is built on the labour of other women. All mothers — single or in relationships — need every set of able and willing hands to help. But what does it mean when we deem the tasks they help with as ‘wifely’? As ‘women’s work’? Will we truly be able to make choices and decisions for ourselves primarily and our families till we de-link the word from its gendered connotations? Shouldn’t clean socks be everyone’s prerogative?
- A few months back, I noticed how after dinner the ‘men’ of the family (which in our house is everyone other than me, dog included) would wash their plates and hands and then saunter off to read or pack school bags or just ‘chill’, while I wiped down countertops and put things away. Initially, I fumed and fretted silently. Banged shut cupboard doors. And then I exploded.
- In the aftermath of the said explosion, everyone started taking on these wifely duties of mine. No questions asked.
- It’s exhausting to have to frequently explode for things to be done, but I can see the change it’s enabling. And perhaps, one day in the future, women will no longer need to explode or hire wives or scale back at work. Everyone will realise they need to do their bit. That when we will help each other we hold each other up and allow each other to succeed. With a wife or not.