THE WEAKER SEX
In the October issue, Sandra Tsing Loh explored what happens to a marriage when, as is increasingly the case, the wife becomes the primary breadwinner.
I’m happily married to a man who is actually the four-husbands-in-one-man Loh says all women really want. Our marriage is not perfect. We disagree on big issues. Sometimes he doesn’t wipe the counters down just as I would. But he challenges my views in positive ways; he reminds me that I take myself too seriously and that the kids will be okay if I don’t pack every lunch, or if I miss a school event or two. Loh does not understand what it means to commit your life to another. It’s not about what is best for you; it’s about sacrificing your desires and wants for the good of another. While that might sound terribly moribund, nothing brings me greater satisfaction or a better sense of purpose than serving my family. Loh is an entertaining writer, but I can’t figure out why she continually attacks an institution that undergirds everything that is valuable in society.
I couldn’t help but notice how low love and sexual chemistry ranked on Loh’s list of romantic priorities. In fact, they apparently didn’t make the list at all. Neither appear in the rundown of her four husbandly ideals, although Mr. Y, who gets the most ink, scores points for being so sexually disinterested that “he could even be (or appear to be …) gay.” Could this explain her only partially ironic idealization of the 1950s, that golden age when couples slept in separate beds and no one wasted time talking about their messy emotional or physical needs? Does Ms. Loh really think that Mad Men–era husbands or wives were content? I wouldn’t trade places with anyone on that show for all the gin in Manhattan, but then, my marriage is just getting started. Is this what we foolish, passionate youngsters have to look forward to—a love life where we end up commodifying the ones we care for like so many line items, and where marital gallows humor is our only recourse?
Suppose you’re the purportedly perfect man—a guy who has the qualities of Messrs. X, Y, Z, and Q all rolled into one. Why would you want to spend 90 minutes, much less a lifetime, with someone who’d rather scream at you than change a lightbulb herself?
Perhaps these Atlantic pieces are assigned and written with only women in mind, and this columnist is the only heterosexual man who finds them interesting enough to read all the way through. Another possibility is that the magazine’s actual editorial mission is to disabuse bachelors of any notion that it might be nice to be married.
Excerpt from a Wall Street Journal blog post
What I increasingly read in The Atlantic is a hammering-away at feminism that is told only from the perspective of upper-class professional women. In their control-freak worlds, men and children never measure up—mostly, it would seem, because these women haven’t had contact with young men, who are not like the straw men so frequently scorned.
The idea that feminism is over because it has succeeded would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. The No. 1 killer of women in Afghanistan is childbirth; four women every five minutes are raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I could cite more evidence, but since you can’t seem to get your women writers to look up from their navels, perhaps they haven’t taken a look at the rest of the world. Oh, and there are class issues in this country, in case you haven’t heard.
Perhaps it’s time to bring in some fresh voices to write about women; the constant reflection of a world that looks exactly like your feminist correspondents’ is no longer interesting.
Sandra Tsing Loh replies:
I think many readers missed my point. This essay was not on the institution of marriage in general, but on what happens when the wife becomes the primary or sole breadwinner, working 50 or 60 hours a week to bring in a high-six-figure salary. While representative (as I indicated in the piece) of only the highest 5 percent or so of the U.S. population, the example of my friend Annette was, I thought, striking, as it etches our gender issues in sharpest relief.
Although Heather Dill’s love of serving her family is commendable, nowhere in her letter does she say that she is the primary or sole financial supporter of the household. If she were, would it not be up to her to forgive her husband’s failure to pack the children’s lunches or attend every school function, rather than the other way around?
James Taranto seems to have skipped over the definitions of the four husbands to conveniently recast the wife as a simple shrew. The “perfect man,” a combo of Messrs. X, Y, Z, and Q, would not have to be reminded four evenings in a row to change a lightbulb. (Detail-oriented Mr. Z or Mr. Q change lightbulbs without being asked twice—if that’s something Taranto can’t even imagine, then I suspect he is more of a feelings- and conversation-oriented Mr. Y.)
Lorraine Berry’s apparent definition of feminism (a term not used in the essay) mixes apples and oranges. Perhaps the most applicable Third World parallel to this First World piece (which cites similar gender dynamics in Japan) would explore what marriage looks like in a country such as Rwanda, where, because of severe genocidal loss of the male population, women have had to take over many jobs. The cultural metrics would clearly be different, but I think that study would be very interesting.
Finally, to the young and still wonderfully in-love Erik Yates, my advice for keeping your romance fresh over the next few decades? Don’t have children! Or don’t have children in the context of a dual-career marriage. Then neither party will come under the type of trying-to-do-it-all stress that makes one, on a harried weeknight in a dark garage, scream over a lightbulb.
Continue the conversation: For an ongoing discussion about the new gender economics, visit TheAtlantic.com’s recently launched Sexes channel.
The October issue featured a special report on American schools.
As a teacher of writing for 43 years, I agree categorically with Peg Tyre’s “The Writing Revolution” and the program at New Dorp High School, which focuses on teaching the basics of analytic writing, in every subject matter, in order to increase student performance. Teachers at every level, in every discipline, should stress that all good writing is creative: it creates understanding in the reader, and it may create goodwill or, in the case of an application letter, a positive introduction to a person who would make an excellent employee.
Phillip H. Hey, M.F.A.
Professor Emeritus, Briar Cliff University
Sioux City, Iowa
I remain wary of the one-size-fits-all tenor of Peg Tyre’s article, as if we’re supposed to think, Oh, it’s the writing, it’s the linking words, it’s the sentence structure—that’s the answer to our national educational challenges. It may very well be that New Dorp’s success depended less on identifying this silver bullet and more on the school’s methodical approach to uncovering precisely where its own population of students was most deficient; locating an appropriate, proven solution; and implementing it with buy-in from teachers who were part of the problem-discovery process. Would every school reach the same conclusion about the importance of teaching writing skills? Perhaps, perhaps not; maybe some schools would be correct to identify other areas more worthy of attention.