No matter where a feminist goes, men seem to be ahead of her. In the early days of the movement, I recall driving to California from Oregon and stopping at a road side café, one of those places with red vinyl booths and a sign as you entered that said, “Please seat yourself.” On that day, I took a booth behind 4 men, their golf clubs piled like an obstacle course In the aisle. They were in good spirits, ribald laughter rising from their table as I seated myself where I could hear their remarks but not see their faces.
If they paid attention to my presence, it didn’t slow their conversation. They were talking about their wives and how the woman’s movement had improved a man’s lot. Instead of tending their shops, these guys were out on the golf course while their spouses, eager to proved they could manage the business, were standing behind counters or taking inventory. “Here’s to all those liberated gals” said one, and the sound of what I imagined was clinking beer glasses followed.
I never forgot the lesson those golfers taught me and will never underestimate a man’s ability to home in on his self-interest. That’s why I paused to read a debate being stirred by anthropologist Wednesday Martin. Her book, Primates of Park Avenue, is a study of Glam SAHM (Glamorous Stay At Home Moms),” aka women who are paid an annual “wife bonus” by their rich, Wall Street husbands. The question under discussion was, were women finally being recognized for the work they do as homemakers; or is this trend some sort of feminist dystopia that makes women the employees of their husbands? (“Wife Bonuses,” The Week, June 12, pg. 17.)
One women, who’d left a lucrative career to stay at home, was proud of the contract she’d negotiated with her husband. It gave her 20-percent of his annual bonus which she called fair, considering what she’d given up. Another woman worried that wives shouldn’t have to depend on their husband’s good will to be compensated for the duties they perform — a comment which caused me to wonder what wifely “duties” might be included in the annual evaluation. Another woman was ready to do away with bonuses in favor of negotiated salaries. I wondered again. Would a wives’ union be next? Or government regulation?
No matter how this feminist debate gets resolved, I’m putting my money on the men as the ones who will benefit. History is proof. Whatever bricks liberated women choose to throw in this new debate, I’m confident the men will gather them up and build a better fortress.