Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gender Role Casserole















That’s what I titled one of the “recipes” in my forthcoming book, Secret Recipes for the Modern Wife. It describes how many couples, fresh from the altar, vow never to fall into stereotypical gender roles . . . and we know how that goes in many cases, especially after a child or two.

A January 9, 2009 article in the New York Times titled
Daddy’s Home, and a Bit Lost talks about the economic impact on high-earning families in NYC and its suburbs. The focus is on the Berry family living in posh Darien, CT. Mr. Berry lost his job in the financial sector in Dec. 2007, so Mrs. Berry has returned to work. She, having gotten used to a certain lifestyle as a stay-at-home mom, is none too happy, but does what she’s got to do. The article points to a trend among other such wives, who file for divorce after their breadwinner husbands lose their high-flying jobs. I find this incredibly cynical—they apparently married a lifestyle, rather than a life partner. But then what do they do, once out on their own?

What happened to all those trends that started percolating in the 70s and 80s— part time hours, flextime, excellent on-site day care, extended family leave? When the economy is strong, do women feel more secure in making the “choice” to stay home and play the more traditional role? I wonder how they feel about that choice when all their assumptions and expectations are upended. As the NY Times article observes: “For many couples . . . the assumption of what their marriages would look like; the traditional model— executive husband and stay-at-home wife — may be a little dated, or unworkable.”

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Living in Florida, which is so transient, I see a lot of moms doing part time work at their kids schools, or for their self-employed husbands, myself included. I think it allows them the pleasure of being stay-at-home, with a little less pressure on the financial state of their union. There is no traditional model anymore, I know lots of stay at home dads, and many parents who choose to live with less, work more flexible hours and keep the family priority one.

Anonymous said...

My husband is a realtor, and therefore, not very busy these days! What work he does is done from home and he slides easily back and forth from "Mr. Mom" to realtor. I am a nurse and work full time - 12 hour shifts in the hospital. It is actually easier for my husband to flow from one role to the other whereas I seem to get engulfed in work or home. This is a recent change for us and we are acclimating to our now changed roles. We have both discovered some hidden pearls in our new roles and i hope other families have done the same with their new situations. By the way, I love your site on vegetarian lunches! Thanks, Val

Sherry said...

Nava, I first heard of your up-coming book on Amazon, so came to your site to find out more about the content. The cover hooked me--as have all your other books that I have--lovelovelove the artwork. Could you post more info on the book for everyone either here or on Amazon? I just wondered if it would also be either vegetarian or vegan. I am fascinated with your exploration of our past with gender roles, and the question, have we REALLY come a long way, Baby?

Nava Atlas said...

Sherry,

I do hope that the publication of Secret Recipes for the Modern Wife won't cause major confusion for my readers! It is not an actual cookbook; the "recipes" describe various aspects of contemporary marriage and motherhood, ie Gender Role Casserole, Way Too Much on Your Plate, Beans 'n Weenies of Sexual Tension, Mid-Life Stress-Stuffed Cabbage, etc. There are also some bizarre altered ads. It's a dark humor book, in other words. You definitely wouldn't want to actually eat these recipes, though everyone will be able to identify with some of them.

In a few weeks there should be more information on the book on its Amazon page.

Susan G said...

About the couple in Darien, what struck me was that she was not willing to compromise on her lifestyle while the family savings trickled down the drain of designer clothes for the kids, huge mortgage, etc. For all her ability to be the wage earner, she hasn't come any 'way' -- she'd a throwback.

Sherry said...

Nava, thank you for your response. I DO love dark humor, too! I remember many side notes in your cookbooks, and wasn't sure if this would be along those lines, too--tying in some actual recipes with commentary and reflection. I have your VEGAN SOUPS & HEARTY STEWS on preorder, & am anxiously waiting for it's release next week! (smile)

Ricki said...

I do find that incredibly hypocritical--clearly, that woman valued the lifestyle more than the husband! Canada is far from perfect, but one thing that's great over here (and, having no children, I can't even take advantage of it): parents get ONE YEAR of parental leave, meaning that their employer is REQUIRED to hold their jobs, or a similar job with equal pay, for them if they choose to take a year off after having a baby. And this includes both parents, too; they can choose one parent to take the entire year off, or both parents to take 6 months each. I know a few dads who leapt at this chance and felt they'd changed for the better for having done so. So maybe that 1970s impetus for change is still around in some form.