Rosies of the recession

As their hubbies are laid off, Wall Street wives are reportedly entering the workforce.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

Published January 12, 2009 10:20PM (EST)

This weekend, a New York Times trend piece delivered a dismal dispatch on the current state of matrimony -- at least among Wall Street families. "As unemployment has hit a 16-year high and Wall Street shakes off tens of thousands of jobs, affluent couples in the New York area find their families suddenly in flux," writes Peg Tyre. "It’s not only the high-flying income and the attendant abundance that have evaporated. For many couples, it’s also the assumption of what their marriages would look like; the traditional model — executive husband and stay-at-home wife — may be a little dated, or unworkable."

In other words, as high-powered men are getting sacked or having their salary reduced, gender roles are shifting in these well-heeled households. Former housewives are being forced to either enter the workforce (call them the Rosies of the recession) or suffer a lifestyle downgrade, and it's causing some marriages to fall apart. One woman -- "who is married, at least for now, to a Wall Street executive" whose salary was cut from $800,000 to $150,000 a year -- tells the Times: "My job was to run the household and the children’s lives," she says. "His job is to provide us with a nice lifestyle. Let me just say this: I'm still doing my job." I believe a colleague had the best response to that particular quote: "What a charmer!"

However, the only actual piece of evidence that Wall Street wives are considering a mass domestic exodus is Manhattan divorce lawyer Amy Reiss' claim that she has "seen a spate of women seeking to end their marriages after they reentered the work force or expanded their careers to replace their husbands’ income." I guess we're supposed to take her word for it, because the article doesn't talk to any of these women.

Reiss goes on to say that many of these wives aren't so much peeved about having to opt into the workforce as mad that their hubbies "sit on the couch all day, holding the remote and watching TV, unable to step up and take over some of the household tasks and chores associated with raising the kids." Again, I guess we're supposed to unquestioningly buy this as a legitimate trend -- and it would be so easy to do, since it caters to our stereotype of the absent father and slobbish male.

I'm certainly not saying that it isn't believable that some women — especially those in marriages that seem to be based on a clear, if unstated, financial agreement -- would consider leaving their husbands because the cash flow has slowed to a trickle. (Salon recently published a personal essay by a woman who did just that.) I'm just saying this article does not provide any real evidence of a widespread trend.

Beyond that, it's funny that the piece refers to how gender roles have "softened," just as it introduces us to women who are either resentful of being forced to be the breadwinner or are considering leaving their emasculated, unemployed husbands. And then there are the men who are so lost without their masculine role as provider that they can't manage vacuuming or taking care of the kids, so they aimlessly sit on the couch clicking the remote. If anything, the article would seem to show just how rigid gender roles are -- at least within these particular, largely hypothetical, families.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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