"The Occasional Wife"

That's the name of a business (actual logo, left) that has sprung up in New Orleans to help busy professionals "do all the things you don't have time to do." According to founder Kay McCaskill-Morrison, quoted in the New Orleans Gambit, the idea of the company came to her when she was helping her divorced male friends organize their homes and take care of their kids; "There's a sense of bringing back the past, when one person took care of all the details," she said.

What are the "details" these "wives" (yes, the company's employees are all women) perform? Oh, just womanly stuff like "tedious tasks," "organizing and streamlining work and personal environments," "car[ing] for and manag[ing] your errands, tasks, and other daily responsibilities," planning kids' parties, shopping, and taking care of "holiday" chores (like buying gifts for your real wife, one presumes).

OK, let's unpackage this, because it's not all bad. Outsourcing chores you don't want to do? Fine, as long as it's nonexploitative and you can afford it. (Or even, in some cases, if you can't: May I introduce you to my army of interns?) Outsourcing chores to someone under the guise of "wifely duties"? Not so fine, especially when those "tedious" chores are things like decorating your Christmas tree or spending time with your kids. So why didn't the women who started this company call it something like "Life Management Consulting" or "Problem Solvers Inc."? Because those arguably more accurate titles don't convey the imagery that "renting a wife" does: The idea that you can buy a woman ("Order as many as you'd like!" the company's web site winks) to do things that you won't do and that your own wife is too uppity to do herself. There are obvious parallels in everything from porn (watching actresses do things no "real-life" woman would) to more mundane fee-for-service systems--many couples I've known have hired a maid because he would never think to clean the house and she resents being expected to.

Of course, "I want a wife" has been a trope in feminist since the 1970s, when Ms. Magazine published a piece with that title by Judy Syfers. The difference is that when Syfers said "I want a wife," her tone was biting, sardonic, biting, and self-aware. ("I want a wife who will not bother me with rambling complaints about a wife's duties. But I want a wife who will listen to me when I feel the need to explain a rather difficult point I have come across in my course of studies.") When the "Occasional Wives" say "You need a wife," they mean, you need a servant who will do the things you don't wish to make time for, for minimal pay ($40 an hour for one "wife," $65 an hour for two), and who will disappear when her services are no longer needed.

H/T Shaker Kelly.

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