More Than a Coin Toss

Usually Bill and I consider ourselves lucky to have come of age during the 1970s when both genders were encouraged to break molds. But we are also fortunate not to have married one another until 1984 when we each no longer needed to prove our iconoclasm and could, instead, divide tasks mostly by preference. Bill cooks because we both prefer his cooking. I clean, put clothes away, and enjoy digging trenches or moving heavy furniture when necessary. Generally I'm better at diagnosing car ailments. Bill, thankfully, runs the power saws and electrical lines, both of which scare me.

Tasks we both hate--like calling service people and babysitters--we usually sulk about, postpone, or flip coins for. Perhaps our biggest gender deviation is that for the first 14 years of our marriage, I provided the income we lived on. Ten years ago, we'd have said we made this decision because we only needed one income to support a simple lifestyle. But there was a subtext--Bill's tax resistance made it unlikely that he could keep property in his name. Since I wasn't liable for his premarriage debts, the income, the car, the house all ended up in my name.

Initially this reversal of traditional roles may have been a healthy rejection of patriarchal norms, but recently we realized that it was taking a toll on our marriage. We weren't suffering because we'd refused the 1950s middle-class mold of "father" heading out to work, but because having one primary wage earner made our family economics lopsided. With my name on everything, it seemed I called the shots and, not coincidentally, as though I was the partner more captive to consumerism. (I wonder how many wage-earning men have felt this same oppression.)

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1998
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