Sunday, 3 July 2011

on househusbands

IF you want to get ahead, maybe get a househusband. Or so, apparently, says the woman behind a new initiative to get more women into the boardroom.
The City fund manager Helena Morrissey, whose own husband Richard decided to stay home after their fourth child was born, reportedly told the Sunday Times yesterday that 'the idea that a woman can have a family and friends and hold down a difficult, high octane job when both partners work full-time — that is a very tall order. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s a bit unrealistic.' Something has to give and, it seems, that something is increasingly husbands: men staying at home was, Morrissey added, 'one of the things that definitely helps unlock that pipeline of women' into the top ranks of business (she founded the 30 Per Cent Club, dedicated to getting more women on boards, which holds its first meeting today).
Admittedly the Morrisseys aren't quite your average family: they have nine children and she manages funds worth almost £50 billion, putting her pretty much at the extreme edge of working motherhood. But still, it's hard to argue with her logic: there are some jobs that can't be done unless you have someone at home doing all the domestic backup. You can't work an 80 hour week and be willing to jump on a flight to New York at an hour's notice unless you have either a fleet of nannies working around the clock, or a spouse at home taking care of absolutely everything. Once upon a time that would have been a wife, but as more and more women start doing these kinds of punishing long hours jobs in the senior reaches of business, law and politics, you can see why househusbands are proliferating: as far back as 2001, the American magazine Fortune found 30 per cent of the women at its Most Powerful Women in Business summit had househusbands. And for some couples it undoubtedly works, so long as they're both doing what plays to their natural strengths.
But there's something about this argument that troubles me nonetheless. To say that men will only get to the top if their wives stay at home sounds snortingly reactionary: we assume nowadays that women are perfectly entitled to careers of their own, thanks very much. So why is it fine to suggest that women can only get to the top by pushing their husbands back into the kitchen?
The real question is surely whether it's fair for a job to consume quite so much of anyone's time that they need a second adult devoting their lives to making that job possible - perhaps at the expense of their own ambitions. Should families have to reorganise themselves around the kind of schedule Morrissey describes, rising at 5am and putting in 60 hours a week? Or would it be healthier to reorganise the crazy hours instead? I can't help wondering whether the rise of the executive househusband is actually letting some employers off the hook.


  1. I agree - surely a husband and wife can both have careers (if they want to), there should be more flexibility in the workplace. Obviously this is why I don't have a high octane job or a massive salary!

  2. Yes, what happened to the goal of equality or egalitarian relationships? It's almost bizarre that after years of ridiculing the "traditional" family model of one at work and one at home, it is now being presented as the ideal. But only of course, if the one at home is male. I think it is much too late now to advocate that men should give up their careers, after having spent the last 50 years insisting that women who stay at home are all miserable, unfulfilled, dependent, financially vulnerable, unequal, "wasting" their education, etc. If we really believe in "gender neutrality" we should no more advocate men staying at home than we do women today.

  3. I agree, but I come from a rural, sheperd's culture in which a marriage was very much a construction to make possible jobs, as the only chance to guarantee some sort of bare survival to the whole family and kin. Until 100 ys ago husbands used to call their wives "My mistress" because the only way they could afford some longlasting material possessions was to have a wife at home managing house, animals and material possessions, as the poor men had a nomadic life 9 months a year.

    So I always see the choice to live together and share love, happiness and lesser moments as the only way to get in life more than you would be able to make by yourself. It is really so that 1 + 1 in this case makes more than 2 (in the caser you quote, it obviously makes 11).

    Does this justifies a job that takes everybody's energies and time? It depends, some jobs are worth it, not only in terms of salaries but also of personale development, satisfaction, things you leave for the world (I am thinking here of writers, scientists and artists for example).

    Does it justifies a huge turnover and happy shareholders at the cost of disrupted families of the CEO and CFO? Don't think so, but hey, it is my opinion.

    So, whatever gives chances to a family not only for the immediate (new car, big house, extra holiday) but for the future of your children (better education, chances in life) is in my opinion OK if this is Ok with everybody involved.

    In this respect I also see for example a family organising their life and job if one of the children shows an exceptional talent in sports and the whole family moves and changes activitis in order to give them the chance to train with the best trainers. I am not wishing this for us, but if this would happen I would be ready to make the choice.

    Still in the name of the same principle, I belive that the chance to develop themselves should be open to all members of a family and not only to the one bringing big bucks at home, so I guess I agree totally with you.