cover image WIFEWORK: What Marriage Really Means for Women

WIFEWORK: What Marriage Really Means for Women

Susan Maushart, Author . Bloomsbury $24.95 (281p) ISBN 978-1-5

Wifework, "the care and maintenance of men's bodies, minds and egos" is a one-way street, says Maushart, something wives do for husbands at great cost to their mental and physical health, with minimal reciprocation. According to her, even fully employed wives do a disproportionate amount of housework, in addition to "child-care drudgework," "monitoring His physical well-being," "deferring to His agenda in day-to-day conversation," maintaining "His extended family relationships," etc. Maushart (The Mask of Motherhood) counters that he, in contrast, is merely a "volunteer" in the marriage; apart from providing an income, he's really only expected to "turn up" at family events. That such inequality endures—at least in Maushart's view—despite feminism and economic progress for women, is a question the author explores here. This Australian writer asserts that while men use various denial mechanisms to avoid wifework (like trivializing the importance of cleaning), what's worse is that most wives seem to collude in "maintaining positive illusions" about the inequality in their marriages. Her solution? Readers may expect a call for the end of marriage, but Maushart pleads for the interests of the children, for whom she says divorce is worse than living with marital discord. Instead, she advocates that couples relieve some wifework by assigning broad areas of responsibility (laundry, cooking, etc.) to husbands. And women should expect less, she says; they should realize that "marriage entails a sort of base level of unhappiness that couples need to learn to anticipate and accept." Though that's a downbeat ending for an often funny dissection of modern marriage, it is 100% honest—like the rest of this smart and witty book. (Mar.)