Feminist Philosophers

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Aiming to please the big earner October 29, 2009

Filed under: gender — Jender @ 2:29 pm

Vishal sent us a link to an article entitled “When She Earns More, Men Aim to Please”. It profiles some couples in which the woman is the main earner. Reading it, I just kept feeling a little creeped out. Let me try to explain. First we get this anecdote:

Derrick Hayes’s wife, an oncology nurse, makes twice the money he does in his job as a juvenile corrections officer in Columbus, Ga.

And he since she brings home much of the bacon, he wants to make sure he’s offering her some perks too. He leaves affectionate notes around the house for her and tries to keep the house tidy. And he wants to make sure he shines in one special area.

Since she is “handling certain areas of the relationship” like making most of the money, he said, “you’ve got to handle your business.” By “business,” Hayes means sex. “You’ve got to be creative. You’ve got to be good!”

Now, it’s really great that Hayes is doing housework and caring about pleasing his wife in bed, don’t get me wrong. But it’s creepy that this is *because* she earns more money than he does.

Then, at the end, we get an anecdote about Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm and her husband Daniel Mulhern. He now stays home with the kids, and he’s admirably honest about the way that he feels conflicted about this. We do in fact live in a culture that stigmatises this, and it’s not surprising that he finds it a bit uncomfortable at times. But somehow I still found this anecdote creepy, and I’m not entirely sure why:

“One of the things we did,” Mulhern said, “is that we now have time at the end of the night when Jennifer has half a glass of wine and she gets me my tea. I may be inclined to do it — she is busy working, emailing — but I make her get my tea. It is the one classic traditional feminine thing that Jennifer does and we both tip our caps to the power of culture and a time long gone by.”

I think, but I’m not sure, that what bothers me is how important it is to Mulhern that he *makes* Granholm get him his tea. Still, they’re a couple struggling with the oppressive norms they grew up with, and maybe this is a good and harmless outlet for that. what do you think?


10 Responses to “Aiming to please the big earner”

  1. j Says:

    Both anecdotes bother me, too….. dunno exactly why…maybe because it all seem so kind of forced? And the men involved sound like they think they deserve some kind of medal?

  2. DavidC Says:

    “One of the things we did,” Mulhern said, “is that we now have time at the end of the night when Jennifer has half a glass of wine and she gets me my tea. I may be inclined to do it — she is busy working, emailing — but I make her get my tea. It is the one classic traditional feminine thing that Jennifer does and we both tip our caps to the power of culture and a time long gone by.”

    To me, it’s not creepy as long as they know what they’re doing and it’s consensual. If their playing at this power dynamic comes from a process of self-determination/consent.

    It seems like they do have that, but the description doesn’t make it completely clear. That’s what’s creepy: Since consent is so important (and often so lacking), portrayals of this stuff should make the consent completely clear and explicit.

  3. DavidC Says:

    I meant that about the second one. The first: yeah, creepy! A similarly creepy quote:

    “I’ve never said this to her, but I try to provide that sexual feeling for her to give back for what she does for me with her work.”

    Along the lines of my above comment which values being explicit, I’m going to bet that this view of what they’re doing as an ‘exchange’ is going unexamined.

    Also: I have to admire Mulhern for his honesty about gender roles being confusing, and not quite knowing what he wants.

  4. Noble Savage Says:

    Gold Star Syndrome, through and through.

  5. Sara K Says:

    The second one is freaky because it sounds like Mulhern feels the need to make a simple kindness–getting him tea–into a token act of self-abasement. I mean, I can imagine a political spouse insisting that his/her partner bring him/her tea every night because it makes him/her feel appreciated–being a politician’s spouse seems to entail providing nonstop support. But Mulhern specifically says that it’s “the one classic traditional feminine thing” she does and that they tip their hats to times gone by or whatever. It’s like he needs her to remember her place once a day. Ick.

  6. jj Says:

    Another take: someone’s giving one things that are uncustomary can make one feel quite uneasy. Things can seem out of balance. If I give X a gift worth $25 and she gives me one worth $50, then I’ll feel uneasy even if she can afford that as well as I can afford $25. We like to keep things in balance. One thing this might do is to leave one saying odds things. So the first person might really not be reporting his motives so much as assuring himself and us that he’s not a mooch. The second couple might also be struggling a bit to find a place in their values for the unusual situation.

    A friend of mine is doing on-going research on this; it turns out that if someone gives us something, we may find outselves feeling oddly positive about something about them, and we may reciprocate without quite realizing what we are doing or why we are doing it. Drug companies have certainly worked out that if they wine and dine doctors, their merchandize will get perscribed.

  7. jj Says:

    I just saw David C’s comments, and I think we’re getting at some at least of the same thing.

  8. amy Says:

    Very interesting. Many gender traditionalists argue that men and women can have truly equal relationships when the woman stays home and the man earns the money. As long as they both value the work that each of them does, there need not be any feeling that the man has more power in the relationship, or that the woman needs to be especially pleasing to him in order to compensate for her lack of earning power. But these examples show that when one person is making more money in a relationship, even if both people are working the same number of hours, the person making less *does* feel pressure to do more to make up for the fact that the other person is “bringing more” to the relationship. I’m sure there are many couples who manage to escape this feeling, but at least this shows that it’s not crazy to think women who are housewives are likely to feel some inequality in the relationship. Furthermore, it could also show that these “little things” women have traditionally done to please their husbands are not just coming from women’s natural femininity and desire to please; they’re being motivated by unequal earning power.

  9. hippocampa Says:

    And I keep thinking, man, why half a glass of wine?
    But seriously, the part of “I make her get my tea” is icky.

  10. tess Says:

    I really don’t get what is “feminine” about getting a cup of tea..femininity is servitude??? Not in my book.

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