"The Stepford Wife is making a comeback!” bellowed a headline in the latest issue of Madison magazine. Yep, according to the article, highly educated women should quit their jobs in order to guide and "sculpt" their husbands to professional triumphs (that he might not be able to achieve on his own), and that women should constantly “celebrate his attempts as well as his victories” as their full-time gig.
The story reminded me of the tale of my girlfriend Erika who soon after getting engaged to the man of her dreams, was told he was being posted to New York for a job opportunity that was too good for him to resist. In order to support him, (and act like the “good wife”), Erika quit her job at a top-tier law firm, left behind her friends and her life and swapped it all to support her man.
“It’s for our future,” she insisted before she left. And she’s never looked back.
I once thought I could do the same. Give it all up to follow a man to another country and let him live out his dreams while I sat on the sidelines and supported him. Deep down, I’d probably known that ditching everything I’d worked so hard for would end up making me feel resentful, miserable and under-appreciated. I also knew that somehow, as much as I would try to make it work, I’d probably end up exiting the relationship to get back to my own passions and living a life that didn’t centre on a man. Which is exactly what ended up happening.
While for some, being the sidekick is a fantastical notion best left to the 1950s housewife, for others it makes complete sense.
Take Michelle Obama. Once the vice-president of the University of Chicago Medical Centre with a degree from Princeton, she gave it all up in 2007 to support her husband's bid for the presidency. Or women like Kate Middleton. Or my friend Erika. Has it worked for them? So far, it seems that indeed it has.
Which is exactly the theory expounded by author Megan Basham in her book Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman’s Guide to Having It All – the book which inspired the Madison mag story.
As I picked up Basham's book the other day, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had made the right move after all. Especially since Basham cites studies that conclude that relationships actually thrive when the bloke sees himself as the breadwinner, despite his university-educated wife having the ability to make more dough than him. Basham also says that if women do follow her advice to quit their careers and focus their skills solely on her man’s career ambitions, that these men will go on to earn a staggering 31 per cent more than if their wives focused on careers of their own.
But is this really what makes men happy? Having an abnegating woman by his side supporting his every move while she ditches her own career ambitions to stay at home and tend to his every whim? Is this what contributed to the breakdown of my own relationship – the fact that I had a more flourishing career than my partner and didn't put all my energy and focus into his?
I think back to when my partner complained that I always put my work first. That he didn’t want to be second best to anything – especially not my profession. So did I make the wrong decision? I’m still not sure.
Yet as I look at my almost forty-year-old girlfriend who’s switched dating and sex for a life dedicated to her work, I wonder if there is in fact such a thing as a balance. Or if Basham is indeed correct when she tells modern women not to put their careers first. Or even have one at all. That is, if they want to have a happy marriage.
Of course men don’t seem to face these issues. In fact, even Oprah Winfrey mentioned in a break during the live taping of her show the other day at the Opera House, that her partner Stedman and her live very different lives. “He doesn’t come to my work. I don’t go to his,” she said when asked if he had accompanied her to Australia.
Of course I know plenty of men who say that having a successful wife or girlfriend is incredibly sexy, rewarding and such an agreeable quality that they would never give up for all the cookies and home-cooked meals in the world.
But when I am so often being told that I’m not getting any younger, and that I’d better start looking to settle down and get married soon (“You’re going to start sagging and then no-one is going to want you!” a man told me yesterday; while the cab driver the other day said that at my age I should already have two kids under my belt), I wonder if maybe we should be more supportive of our men … if indeed we want a happy one …