In the late 1960’s, and early 1970’s, the second wave of the Feminist Movement hit the United States of America. During this time, women were fighting for an equality of rights in every aspect: political, social, and economical. One woman, Judy Brady, spoke out against the stereotypes of modern society when she wrote her piece entitled, “I Want a Wife”. This literary work breaks down the duties of a wife and mother while identifying many stereotypes women fall victim to in society then, and even now. Through her use of repetition and irony, Brady makes her mark on this part of our history, and definitely gets her point across.
The Feminist Movement “promote[s]gender equality and oppose[s]the perpetuation of gender discrimination in economic, political, legal, and social structures”. At the time Judy Brady wrote her essay, women were fighting for the right to become an equal in the eyes of society, and winning the battle in more ways than one. Women had earned the right to vote, and finally the right to an abortion. While still lesser than men in several aspects, women were covering new ground. Brady’s essay brings light to how women are perceived, speaking as a woman, looking through the eyes of a man.
“I want a wife who will work and send me to school” (Brief Bedford Reader, 288). Right here, Brady says that she wants a wife who will work and send her to school so that she would not have to work as hard while working to become more economically independent. While it is worthy of respect to have a man want to become more economically independent, it is just as worthy of disrespect that he would expect the woman to work to support the family by herself during the time it takes to do this. Irony in this situation is that while he wants to better his family, said husband wants to burden it.
“I want a wife who is a good nurturant attendant to the children…who arranges to be around when the children need special care, because, of course, I cannot miss classes at school. My wife must arrange to lose time at work, but not lose the job.” (Brief Bedford Reader, 289) Not only does the wife need to work to support the husband and children, but the wife must take care of the children’s every need, so that the husband does not have to worry himself with such trivial issues while he’s attending courses. The man can pretty much do as he pleases when he pleases, while the wife must stress and make sacrifice after sacrifice.
On top of being expected to work and care for the kids, the wife must also cook, clean, and arrange social activities for the family. “I want a wife who cooks the meals, a wife who is a good cook. I want a wife who will plan the menus, do the necessary grocery shopping, prepare the meals, serve them pleasantly, and then do the cleaning up while I do my studying.” (Brief Bedford Reader, 289) Here we have the beginning of a classic wonder woman scenario. The workload is heavily placed on the wife and mother figure, while the man focuses on one goal: school.
“I want a wife to go along when our family takes vacation so that someone can continue to care for me and my children when I need rest and a change of scene” (Brief Bedford Reader, 289). Ironic that a vacation indicates a break from the monotony of a daily routine, while the wife is expected to continue with hers-just in a different setting, and likely more stressful for her than being at home.
“I want a wife who is sensitive to my sexual needs, a wife who makes love passionately and eagerly when I feel like it…who will not demand sexual attention when I am not in the mood for it… a wife who will remain sexually faithful to me… who understands that my sexual needs may entail more than strict adherence to monogamy” (Brief Bedford Reader, 289-90). A wife is expected to be a slave to her partner’s sexual desires; while not always having hers met. Should she not be sufficient or satisfactory, it is acceptable to find other women to fulfill those desires; however, if the man is not sufficient or satisfactory, the woman has to deal with it. If she strays, she can be tossed aside as an adulterer. This is one of the best examples of double standard out there, and it exists even today.
“If by some chance, I find another person more suitable as a wife… I want the liberty to replace my current wife… I will expect a fresh, new life; my wife will take the children and be solely responsible for them so that I am left free.” (Brief Bedford Reader, 290). Basically, a woman is disposable. When a man gets tired of a woman and the life he has created with her, she must continue to do as she does, while he can move on without a single glance back. She’s taking care of the kids and doing everything anyway though, so it should not be much of a change for her if she is tossed away like the garbage.
“When I am through with school and have a job, I want my wife to quit working and remain at home so that my wife can more fully and completely take care of a wife’s duties.” (Brief Bedford Reader, 290) Quit work so you can better fulfill your duties?! Gladly! It is one less thing to have to deal with everyday. Working a job outside the home gives a woman a break from her duties inside the home, but does not make life any easier, in the sense that she has still has to do those when she gets home.
Based on what Brady describes a wife to be in this essay, is a perfect woman who does everything in loving support of her husband and children, regardless of how it makes her feel, and where it leaves her in the end.
Many of these stereotypes that Brady mentions are still true in today’s world. It is very sad, but it is true. Many women work outside the home to supplement the husband’s income, because it is very hard to survive on one income with the living expenses of today. There are many women that stay home by choice, others who have to due to daycare and gas expenses outweighing their income potential, and still others who stay home because their husband wants them to. There are more men that are willing to accept women as their equal now as compared to the time when the essay was written, but many are still of the chauvinist mindset who would completely identify and agree with Brady’s essay. Even men who claim to see women as equals still display chauvinist tendencies. For instance, both people work a full time job, yet the wife still comes home and cooks and cleans, while the husband comes home to relax and says he is too tired to do anything else for the day. When the wife is tired from working and all the home maintenance she does, the man suddenly is not too tired to make love to her before going to sleep at night, and sometimes this is just another thing to do for the woman. If the woman expresses her distain and wants to wait another night, the man may become angry.
A great example of what a wife a mother is worth financially can be found at Salary.com. This calculator displays what Mom’s work is worth based on the number of children, ages of children, and whether or not she stays home. For example, a stay at home mother of a three year old (or any child up to age five) would earn anywhere from $78,856 to $198,380 per year for all the duties she performs as a mother, based on a national average. This is calculated using a number of base hours spent doing various jobs, such as daycare teacher, chief executive officer, cook, computer operator, van driver, etc. This covers the Mom’s basic duties as a care giver, a driver/errand runner, family organizer, house cleaner, cook, and even a few more. (salary.com) If you give it some thought, a wife and mother really does perform all of these duties, many at the same time, with no thought of monetary compensation, just because it is her job to do so.
Without the Feminist Movement women might very well still be objectified, belittled, and treated as though they were slaves to men. This time in history earned women respect, and even coined the term “male chauvinism”, which is defined as “an attitude of superiority or dominance by men over women, regardless of all factors being constant”. A male chauvinist is a man who “discriminates against women by applying stereotyped ideas”. If the Movement did not occur in the time which it did, it is hard to say where women would be in the world today. Surely by now, women would have the rights they earned then, but certainly it would have a different impact if it had occurred more recently.
There is still progress to be made, and this will come with time. The United States is one of the only democratic governments to have not yet seen a woman president– but we have women in many positions of power that would not have gotten there without the precedents that came from the Feminist Movement. Still we see many things, such professional sports that do not allow women. The few women, who have made it, like Mia Hamm in professional soccer, are icons in our history. Hopefully the upcoming generation will be able to continue moving forward with truly equal rights for women, breaking the mold, barring women from nothing, and eliminating all double standards.
The Brief Bedford Reader by X.J.Kennedy, Dorothy M. Kennedy, and Jane E. Aaron., 2006; “I Want a Wife”. Judy Brady, pgs 288-91.
Cott, Nancy. The Grounding of Modern Feminism. 1987
Payne, Elizabeth. Reform, Labor, and Feminism: Margaret Dreier Robins and the Women’s Trade Union League. 1988.
Schultz, Rima L., and Adele Hast, eds. Women Building Chicago: A Biographical Dictionary.