Friday, March 03, 2006

Who's The House Spouse Now?

You walk through Manhattan, you look around, and everywhere you see waiters feeding Yuppies, serving them martinis and cleaning up after them; laundry workers delivering snazzy dry-cleaned clothes back to Yuppies' sterile lodgings; paid dog-walkers pulling Yuppies' expensive pure-bred dogs along; and babysitters busy ignoring Yuppies' spoiled babies - not to mention hordes of masseurs, therapists and other purveyors of the kind of support and comfort that, once upon a time, spouses got from each other. Well, at least a few did. Surely some still do.

But did any of these fast-lane male and female metrosexuals remember to take over the traditional, fulltime, housewifely roles that women have left behind? Do Manhattan men and women find any time to make their rented apartments cozy and nourishing? Or are they too busy earning double salaries so they can afford to outsource the chores of good homemaking to dry cleaners, gourmet bistros and childcare dilettantes?

11 Thoughts:

Blogger pawlr said...

Where I live its the opposite. To paraphrase the New Yorker, here its about "life" rather than "lifestyle", ambitious families looking to give opportunities to their children instead of individuals looking to better themselves. I'm not judging either one, but the people I meet around here are generally more giving of their time, perhaps because they're more secure in their goals?

Unfortunately this area is slowly changing as wealthier careerists take up residence. That's why I hesitate to reveal where I live - you think I want a stampede? I'll never be able to get coffee at the Colombian bakery anymore since the line will be too long! Either that or the rising rents will push them out of business entirely. Either way, I'm dubious.

But hey, life is change and change is good, right?

Friday, March 03, 2006 7:39:00 AM  
Blogger Demotiki said...

The outsourcing is related to two social changes. The first is that it takes two incomes to keep a family. Stay at home wives are no longer economically feasible. The second factor is that yuppies now work far longer hours than they did in the past. A New York attorney works 60 or 70 hours a week. Who wants to do the laundry during their ten hours of free time. It's not about laziness, it's about slavery.

Friday, March 03, 2006 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger brooklynmum said...

Hi. First time here and wanted to chime in on the current topic. Being a new mom myself (hence the name) I take offense to the assumption all 'metrosexual' parents are outsourcing their lives so they can pursue careers. Granted, that seems to be the current trend among many, but there are a few of us traditionalists left who actually prefer to do our own cooking and cleaning. And, yes, my child is in daycare but not because I'd rather work than care for her myself but out of financial necessity.

And since when is catering to 'yuppies' something new? As long as the rich and spolied have existed there's been someone to cater to them. It's just more obvious now because of the ever widening gap between the haves and have-nots.

Okay, so I DO have some snazzy clothes dry cleaned every week but I drop and pick them up myself! Really.

Friday, March 03, 2006 2:04:00 PM  
Blogger pawlr said...

Welcome to the party, brooklynmum, good thoughts!

Yeah, I agree with you - "that's life". With gentrification, as rents rise, people who used to live in an area get bought out or kicked out, the new $ comes in and the service industries become more necessary.

The haves and have-nots problem can be treated with domestic investment and quality education, something that our present government has dropped the ball on.

I also think Bspot is picking up on a percieved parenting deficiency in the East Village that doesn't reflect your personal situation.

As long as we're sharing domestic habits - I hereby admit that I drop off ALL my laundry.

Friday, March 03, 2006 2:22:00 PM  
Blogger brooklynmum said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Friday, March 03, 2006 2:58:00 PM  
Blogger brooklynmum said...

I certainly didn't mean too imply bspot was making the assumptions, but rather, people in general.

Being an ex-East Villager myself- who was priced out by the influx of 'yuppies'- I can completely relate to the frustration!

Thanks for the welcome.

Friday, March 03, 2006 2:59:00 PM  
Blogger Bspot said...

Hey, welcome (from me too)!
Yeah, I certainly don't think all metrosexuals are outsourcing their lives. Some are more, some are less -- we all are to varying degrees and no single instance of it is really a bad thing. I was just thinking that when this kind of outsourcing of homemaking gets very extreme, in the cases of some households or neighborhoods, it takes away something from us.

Agree exactly with your points, that we're pushed into this outsourcing lifestyle by the need to work overtime hours and have both people in a couple working fulltime. I know there are various factors causing this, but sometimes I wonder whether the biggest of them all is marketing. (Obviously, there are other factors causing marketing, being caused by it, operating alongside it, etc...; but, looking just at marketing...) Don't we all have standards of material quality and quantity in our lives that are, actually, way higher than we need? And I don't even just mean "need." I mean, we could literally do without them without being one iota less happy. Then we could save a lot of money. Then we could work less. Then we could home-make more.

The examples of quantity are easy to spot around one's apartment, or even in the number of times one goes out to movies rather than reading a free book or meeting free friends at each other's places or to go for free walks, or play free sports, etc...

The examples of quality are sometimes harder to recognize because we've forgotton what the objects we owned were like in the 70's or 80's. I don't know about all of you but all my clothes then were old clothes. All my household technology was, of course, a couple decades behind today's times, but I have a feeling those technologies might have required fewer labor-hours to produce (separate from the technical advances that have made higher quality cost-effective). Hardly anyone had Danish Havarti in their fridge. I mean, Oreos were the norm; Pepperidge Farm cookies were a special treat. Gourmet ice cream didn't exist until Haagen Dazs. And so on.

Without marketing, telling us what all our peers possess or want to possess, and what we should want, couldn't we go back to far cheaper modes of living, without any loss of contentment with life -- but with the bonus of more homemaking time?

What is this about the East Village? I lived in the East Village once many years ago but haven't lived there since then.

Any men out there open to being fulltime househusbands? Realistically? Letting go of career goals? Feeling no diminution of self-esteem by having no career? Having serious hobbies instead? Any modern, educated, liberal, atheist women who, despite all those adjectives, would also consider being housewives now? How about you do it for a couple years, then I do it for a couple years? How about we move to rural areas and, despite the fact that wages there are far lower, we find some way for a couple to support a simple life by each doing wage-earning work for only 20 or 25 hours a week? Does this part-time-working household have to mean no more travel to foreign lands, no more visits to big cities, no more CDs, radio, cable TV, local theatre, books and magazines, local music, and so on and so on? No. But less feeling of status, in the marketing-soaked world, yes.

Friday, March 03, 2006 4:17:00 PM  
Anonymous GM said...

I relish the thought of living in a world less soaked by marketing. I am the "modern, educated, liberal, atheist women" you describe and I've been doing the housewife thing for five years now. Giving up my career was strange at first but I've found ways to make my life even more interesting than it was in it's previous incarnation.

My husband and I are currently working toward getting away from the big city and simplifying our lives. I love the idea of taking turns doing the "stay at home" thing and I honestly believe that my hubby would be totally fine with the switch in traditional responsabilities. Unfortunately he possesses far more earning power than I do so for now we are tethered to his job.

We both work very hard, he at his job and I at my various home/family responsibilities. I hope that soon we will be able to establish a life where the home and outside work duties are more evenly distributed. I'd like my daughter to know that moms can go to work and dads can do the laundry, right now she doesn't see much of that.

Friday, March 03, 2006 7:56:00 PM  
Blogger Bspot said...

Hey GM!
You've inspired another one of my long comments here, which I assume are now infamous for their length. But I don't care. It's easy for a reader to skip a long comment by scrolling past it; I'm not getting paid to edit; and there's no expensive ink or paper being consumed by this habit.

I just want to tell you it feels so good to read your comment. I know "feels good" sounds weird, but it's like a vicarious appreciation for the way I imagine your lifestyle is, from what you say. (Surely I'm idealizing it, but what's the harm?) Although my posting "Who's The House Spouse Now?" and subsequent comments were framed as impersonal observations about society, I'm sure it's obvious they came from some personal feelings I have about homelife.

I am a man who would love to be a househusband. Probably not for my entire working-age life ... but maybe half of it, give or take some. I have never had a woman bringing home the rent and grocery money, relieving me of that pressure, while I made our home beautiful, folded her laundry lovingly and made dinner for her, to be waiting for her when she returned home from a stressful day. I know very well that my romantic tone here would not, realistically, apply to the everyday chores of housework ... every day. In fact, with kids, it's a hell of a lot of work and it doesn't let up all week long, I know. And when I say "relieving me of that pressure," re the work world, I have no illusions about the different but equally challenging (or sometimes more challenging) pressures and difficulties of homemaking. After all, like many single people, I play both roles for myself, and much of the time do not enjoy the housework parts (to such a degree that I sometimes "outsource" them, despite my better judgement and my knowing it's a damn waste of money).

Moroever, I know the labor of homemaking expands exponentially when there are kids to take care of, even if that part has its long-term rewards.

But all this has to be compared with the downsides of either single life or the life of a couple in which both people work fulltime outside the home.

I did have one experience with the of sharing of roles, albeit in the traditional division by gender: I was the career guy, and my girlfriend was the housegirlfriend.

Alas, in this case, it was the suspect, traditional pattern of oldtime sex roles. I had just landed a fairly high-paying job (by my standards), she had just moved from California to live with me, leaving behind the life she'd built for herself there, and she was a struggling actress; so it made sense for me to do the earning while she networked and sought out auditions. Neither of us had any doubt that we'd both happily reverse roles whenever our respective career circumstances warranted it (particularly in the unlikely but happy event that she were to become a rich superstar ... I'd love being a superstar's kept man).

It must be said that one of the factors leading to our breakup might have had to do with her never having gotten a part-time job, which I'd urged her to do, and she now regrets not having done - only because it would have gotten her out of the apartment more often, in touch with other people, and because, as it was, our respective daily and weekly rhythms of sleeping/waking and stressing/relaxing were so off kilter with each other.

But both of us loved her making homecooked dinner for us - and our single, take-out-eating friends envied it. Both of us loved her making coffee for me in the morning and walking me to the bus stop, and giving me a massage in the evening when my day's work had totally stressed me out. She even brought dinner to my office more than once when I had to work late. And both of us loved her making our apartment so homey and nice.

Obviously, all of this broke down when we weren't getting along, and I worried (actually, I did more than she did) that she was sometimes doing homemaking at the expense of spending more time promoting her own career.

Still, she and I also both felt good that I was able to support her while she put far more hours per day into working on films, auditioning, and so on, than she could have done if she'd needed to support herself with a day job.

As for kids, I imagine that in this century, a young girl, who grows up seeing her mom and dad divide work the way you and your husband do, would not necessarily conclude she can't be an astrophysicist or, frankly, a professional boxer; or that she shouldn't expect her future lover or spouse to do their share (potentially 100%) of the housework.

To me, in our new era of turbo-careers, turbo-financial insecurity, and general cultural and moral aimlessness, I would think many a daughter or son would consider themselves blessed to have had parents who -- one, or the other, or both -- put fulltime care into raising them and making a good home.

Saturday, March 04, 2006 1:44:00 AM  
Anonymous kyahgirl said...

hi, I'm late to the party but this is a great thread so I wanted to say a couple of things.

First, on the original question; where I live, unfortunately I still see a lot of families where both members of a partnership work but the woman still does the bulk of the household chores and child care. Its a terrible situation.

I also see quite a few younger (20-30 range) couples who work and outsource housework and childcare.

Bspot-you made quite a few good points. (also, I hope my earlier comment about you being loquacious didn't hurt your feelings-I'm sorry if it did-it wasn't intentional).

I just wrote a long post here but deleted it because I'm way off on a tangent.

Oh well, one thing I wanted to say that it takes a lot of commitment and hard work on the part of all members of a family to make it work and meet everyone's needs. I see some of the outsourcing trends as an effort to find some balance. Get rid of some chores so people can have time to meet their personal needs. Unfortunately, sometimes people get too carried away thinking they need 'things' rather than intimacy.

Both my husband and I work but we still make most of our meals at home, do our own housework, accompany our kids on their activities. Its important to stay connected to the flow of daily life also teach the children about managing priorities and taking care of the basics. You really can't buy happiness.

Its always about priorities and making choices. I could get a few more promotions in my job if I was willing to work 60 hours a week or more. But, I've made a commitment to my family and they always come first, even if my career takes a hit. At the end of the road, your employer won't remember you the minute you walk out the door, but your family will be changed forever if you don't show up for them. I think that is what a lot of today's super busy families are discovering.

shit, I've gone off on a tangent again. oh well. :-)

Sunday, March 05, 2006 7:55:00 PM  
Blogger brooklynmum said...

kyahgirl -

I agree 100% with your last paragraph. It's all about making choices. Although I have worked my share of 60+ hour weeks in the past, I have no desire to be the president of anything. One of my conditions upon returning to work after having my daughter was being able to leave at 5PM. I don't care if the 'perception' may be I don't take my job as seriously as those who stay later, the reality is I'd much rather have that extra hour with my child than a promotion.


Also being one of the ‘educated, liberal, atheist women’ whom you describe, I have to admit I am very traditional when it comes to the ‘who works who stays home’ question. While my husband does the daddy daycare/housebitchery one day a week (and insists he would love to do it full time) not only would I be completely resentful if I were the one having to work every day and he got to stay home – (mainly because that's what I want to do!) but (and I’m sure I’ll take some flak from the more ‘modern’ women here for this) being the domestic goddess is MY job. He does the heavy lifting I do the housework. That’s the deal. Granted, I appreciate it when he cooks dinner on his day off or offers to do the dishes but I don’t find the thought of him bent over the loo with a scrub brush sexy in the least!

Though I will admit I was ecstatic a few weeks ago when, after having been out of commission with the flu for three days, he said to me he was going to start doing more [around the house] because he never realized just how much I actually did. Yipee! But the reality is I don’t want him to actually DO it I just want him to know I do it. There’s only room for one House Spouse here.

As for moving to ‘rural lands’, that idea sounds great in theory-being fortunate enough to own property in the country myself it’s an option we consider frequently-unfortunately, so has everyone else! Now our once in-the-middle-of-nowhere slice of rural-ness is smack dab in the middle of a new subdivision. I guess we’re not the only ones in pursuit of a simpler life.

Monday, March 06, 2006 2:23:00 PM  

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