Poor job performance? Get a wife!

Gary Player, famed and aged professional golfer, recently offered some advice to twenty-four-year-old Rory McIlroy, a golfer many believe has failed to reach his full potential.

“[T]he thing is for a man like Rory with talent galore he’s got to make sure he has a woman like I’ve got, who has been married [to me] for 56 years, that has only encouraged me to do well and made sacrifices. He’s got to be intelligent and find the right wife. If he finds the right wife, if he practices and if he’s dedicated, he could be the man.”

Of course he could.

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Gary Player: golfer, relationship guru, nude model.

On the one hand, Player isn’t wrong to suggest that successful people need a support system behind them. No man (or woman) is an island. But the idea that a woman who’s “only” job is to encourage her man and to make “sacrifices” on his behalf is the perfect solution to a lack of professional success is one that belongs in a different century. When my PTI friends Tony and Wilbon discussed this topic, they shared my disdain for Player’s views. They discredited Player’s ideas by pointing to famed bachelors Derek Jeter and Wilt Chamberlain as examples of stars who’ve done just fine without wives to guide them along. My thoughts went more to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, McIlroy’s girlfriend of three years. It’s pretty clear to me that Player doesn’t believe Woz is the “right wife.” Why? Because she’s busy focusing on her own career and presumably making sacrifices intended to improve her own professional standing rather than McIlroy’s. As far as I know, however, no one’s suggested that finding a man, “the right husband,” dedicated solely to advancing Wozniacki’s professional success would be a surefire solution to her recent string of poor performances in Majors. When Chris Everett and John McEnroe and Brad Gilbert and others comment on Wozniacki’s fall from her previous number one ranking, they focus on her serve, her movement, her confidence, not her romantic status. The responsibility for her success is her own, not that of some fictional future caretaker willing to table any personal aspirations so that his mate might succeed. And my suspicion is that Player would be shocked if someone were to suggest a man take on such a role.

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Woz & McIlroy, a dual-career couple, common to the 21st century

Player’s ideas are not new – and they suggest the stale ideas of yesteryear still have some traction. Literature of the 1950s spoke directly to the idea that a woman was fundamental to a man’s success (and, of course, this idea held great power well before the 1950s as well). Mrs. Dale Carnegie, not even credited with a first name of her own, published numerous articles in ladies magazines of the era and in 1957 published a book-length set of prescriptions, How to Help Your Husband Get Ahead. From getting along with his secretary to keeping a clean house to giving him alone time to watching his weight, a wife’s primary endeavor was to make a man’s life as conducive to professional success and personal satisfaction as possible. Her greatest individual desire should be that he was able to fulfill his.

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By all accounts, having a wife of this kind would be awesome. And so I give you a perennial feminist favorite to argue why we should all have one. For those of you who’ve read this before, say hello to an old friend. For first-timers, you’re welcome.

“Why I Want a Wife,” Judy Syfers (1971)

(This piece appeared in the premier issue of Ms. Magazine.)

I belong to that classification of people known as wives. I am A Wife.

And, not altogether incidentally, I am a mother. Not too long ago a male friend of mine appeared on the scene fresh from a recent divorce. He had one child, who is, of course, with his ex-wife. He is looking for another wife. As I thought about him while I was ironing one evening, it suddenly occurred to me that I too, would like to have a wife. Why do I want a wife?

I would like to go back to school so that I can become economically independent, support myself, and if need be, support those dependent upon me. I want a wife who will work and send me to school. And while I am going to school I want a wife to take care of my children. I want a wife to keep track of the children’s doctor and dentist appointments. And to keep track of mine, too. I want a wife to make sure my children eat properly and are kept clean. I want a wife who will wash the children’s clothes and keep them mended. I want a wife who is a good nurturing attendant to my children, who arranges for their schooling, makes sure that they have an adequate social life with their peers, takes them to the park, the zoo, etc. I want a wife who takes care of the children when they are sick, a wife 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 and not lose the job. It may mean a small cut in my wife’s income from time to time, but I guess I can tolerate that. Needless to say, my wife will arrange and pay for the care of the children while my wife is working.

I want a wife who will take care of my physical needs. I want a wife who will keep my house clean. A wife who will pick up after my children, a wife who will pick up after me. I want a wife who will keep my clothes clean, ironed, mended, replaced when need be, and who  will see to it that my personal things are kept in their proper place so that I can find what I need the minute I need it. 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. I want a wife who will care for me when I am sick and sympathize with my pain and loss of time from school. I want a wife to go along when our family takes a vacation so that someone can continue care for me and my when I need a rest and change of scene. I want a wife who will not bother me with rambling complaints about a wife’s duties. But I want a wife who will listen to me when I feel the need to explain a rather difficult point I have come across in my course of studies. And I want a wife who will type my papers for me when I have written them.

I want a wife who will take care of the details of my social life. When my wife and I are invited out by my friends, I want a wife who take care of the baby-sitting arrangements. When I meet people at school that I like and want to entertain, I want a wife who will have the house clean, will prepare a special meal, serve it to me and my friends, and not interrupt when I talk about things that interest me and my friends. I want a wife who will have arranged that the children are fed and ready for bed before my guests arrive so that the children do not bother us. I want a wife who takes care of the needs of my quests so that they feel comfortable, who makes sure that they have an ashtray, that they are passed the hors d’oeuvres, that they are offered a second helping of the food, that their wine glasses are replenished when necessary, that their coffee is served to them as they like it. And I want a wife who knows that sometimes I need a night out by myself.

I want a wife who is sensitive to my sexual needs, a wife who makes love passionately and eagerly when I feel like it, a wife who makes sure that I am satisfied. And, of course, I want a wife who will not demand sexual attention when I am not in the mood for it. I want a wife who assumes the complete responsibility for birth control, because I do not want more children. I want a wife who will remain sexually faithful to me so that I do not have to clutter up my intellectual life with jealousies. And I want a wife who understands that my sexual needs may entail more than strict adherence to monogamy. I must, after all, be able to relate to people as fully as possible.

If, by chance, I find another person more suitable as a wife than the wife I already have, I want the liberty to replace my present wife with another one. Naturally, 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.

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.

My God, who wouldn’t want a wife?

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Michael Wilbon, how could you? (I still love you.)

Full disclosure: I am a great fan of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption (PTI). More generally speaking, I find much of ESPN’s programming in which sports journalists play a prominent role to be very compelling. The conversations and debates on shows such as PTI, Around the Horn, and The Sports Reporters often raise issues beyond the sports world and towards questions of media responsibility, journalistic ethics, and the nature of celebrity as it intersects with race, class, gender, and sexuality.

All that said, a story this past week came directly into my wheelhouse when PTI hosts Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser debated the ethics of Redskins phenom quarterback Robert Griffin III (RGIII) accepting gifts fans had sent him and his fiancé after The Washington Post linked their Bed, Bath, and Beyond registry online. Wilbon and Kornheiser went back and forth on the legitimacy of a major sports celebrity accepting expensive gifts from fans.

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RGIII tweeted his thanks to fans and posed before a mountain of empty boxes to show his appreciation. When criticized, he expressed shock that “Because you are rich you are not allowed to receive gifts…?” I’m not so much interested in the should he/shouldn’t he debate over whether RGIII should return the gifts or donate them to charity (although, like Kornheiser, I’m surprised he and his fiancé chose to register at Bed, Bath, and Beyond – but that’s beside the point).RGIII_boxes

What grabbed my attention more was Wilbon’s commentary about how this wasn’t really RGIII’s registry. Wedding registries, he asserted, are the domain of the bride-to-be. “Oh, Wilbon,” I thought. “You’re so much better than that.” Is the view of pre-wedding planning (and the unpaid labor it entails) as primarily women’s preserve one that is widespread across the population? Yes. Is this view an accurate one? I say no. More, I would argue, it’s one of the tired stereotypes about the world of weddings that we come back to time and again because it’s a) easy; b) often supported by some anecdotal evidence; and c) doesn’t do anything to challenge notions of appropriate expressions of masculinity and femininity. However, a quick look to the past provides evidence to suggest that registries are not only for brides-to-be. During the 1950s, when the notion of marriage evolved to suggest that the marital partnership should be the primary relationship in American adults’ lives, many brides and grooms were feted with “mixed” showers at which guests (male and female) provided any number of gifts, either gender-neutral or explicitly masculine (bar accessories, lawn tools, grilling paraphernalia) pre-selected by the bride and the groom. During the late 1960s, as Bride’s magazine planned to expand its circulation to reach more prospective brides, the marketing team assigned to pitch ad space to prospective buyers highlighted how the registry – now often computerized – was regularly selected by both brides and their grooms. And from the 1970s on, much of the world of wedding planning – and its associated literature – has spoken directly to the expectation of egalitarianism in marital pairings, egalitarianism often established well before the wedding and frequently demonstrated in the labor leading up to the celebration.

While it may be easier to imagine an easy dichotomy between masculine and feminine (and groom and bride), the reality is that the egalitarianism that increasingly has marked American marriages and overall relationships between men and women has meant that there is greater fluidity in gender roles and categories. As such, it is far more acceptable and far more likely that men will, in fact, express tremendous interest in the goods requested of their wedding guests, especially as men have found greater welcome in the world of home life and decor. And even for those uncomfortable with challenges to “traditional” ideas of what a man should be and do, registries have continued to allow for the stereotypically masculine offerings requested of those attending mid-century mixed-showers.

PTI often features a segment called “Report Card” in which Wilbon and Kornheiser assign a letter grade to a recent event or action suggested by “Professor” Tony Reali. If I’m scoring Wilbon on his registry comment, I go “D.” He submitted a response, and I guess I’m an easy grader. Besides, I like to leave some room for improvement.

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