The Haves and Have-Nots. of Backstage Support for Work
The trends I have described constitute the stall in the revolution and stack the cards in favor of husbands not sharing the second shift with their working wives. Once all these forces are set in motion, one final pattern keeps men doing less: womens lack of “backstage support” for their paid jobs.
It sets up a cycle that works like this: because men put more of their “male” identity in work, their work time is worth more than female work time—to the man and to the family. The greater worth of male work time makes his leisure more valuable, because it is his leisure that enables him to refuel his energy, strengthen his ambition, and move ahead at work. By doing less at home, he can work longer hours, prove his loyalty to his company, and get promoted faster. His aspirations expand. So does his pay. So does his exemption from the second shift.
The female side of the cycle runs parallel. The womans identity is less in her job. Since her work comes second, she carries more of the second shift, thus providing backstage support for her husbands work. Because she supports her husbands efforts at work more than he supports hers, her personal ambitions contract and her earnings, already lower, rise more slowly. The extra month a year that she works contributes not only to her husband s success but to the expanding wage gap between them, and keeps the cycle spinning.
More than wages, what affects a mans contribution at home is the value a couple puts on the husbands or wifes job. That judgment depends on the investment in education, the occupational status, and the future expectations each partner has with regard to the other. In general, the more important a mans job, the more backstage support he receives, and the less backstage support for her job a woman receives, the less important her job becomes.
The inequality in backstage support has received little notice because most of it is hidden from view. One cannot tell from sheer workplace appearance who goes home to be served dinner and who goes home to cook, any more than we can tell rich from poor these days just by how people dress. Both male and female workers come to work looking the same. Yet one is “poorer” in backstage support than the other. One irons a spouses uniform, fixes a lunch, washes clothes, types а гёвитё, edits an office memo, takes phone calls, or entertains clients. The other has a uniform ironed, a lunch fixed, clothes washed, а гёвитё typed, an office memo edited, phone calls taken, and clients entertained.
Women (with traditional or transitional ideologies) believe they ought to give more backstage support than they get. Career – centered egalitarian women gunning for promotion feel they deserve to receive as much as they give. But family-oriented egalitarians— men and women alike—aren’t eager to clear the decks at home for more time at the office. They consider the home as their front stage. The rise of the two-job family has reduced the supply of housewives, thus increased the demand for backstage support, and finally somewhat redistributed the supply of that support.
There is a curious hierarchy of backstage ‘wealth.” The richest is the high-level executive with an unemployed wife who entertains his clients and runs his household; and a secretary who handles his appointments, makes his travel arrangements, and orders anniversary flowers for his wife. The poorest in backstage support is the single mother who works full time and rears her children with no help from anyone. Between these two extremes lie the two-job couples. Among them, the husbands of working wives enjoy less support than husbands of housewives, and the men whose working wives do all the second shift enjoy more support than men who share. In general, men enjoy more support than women, and the rich enjoy more of it than the poor.
In a study I did of the family life of workers in a large corporation, I discovered that the higher up the corporate ladder, the more home support a worker had. Top executives were likely to be married to housewives. Middle managers were likely to be married to a working spouse who does some or most of the housework and childcare. And the clerical worker, if she is a woman, is likely to be single or a single mother and does the work at home herself.4 At each of these three levels in this company, men and women fared differently. Among the female top executives, 95 percent were married to men who also worked and 5 percent were single or single parents. Among male top executives, 64 percent were married to housewives, 23 percent were married to working wives, and 5 percent were single or single parents. So compared to men, female top executives worked in a disadvantageous environment of backstage support. As one female manager remarked: “It’s all men at my level in the company and most of them are married to housewives. But even the ones whose wives work seem to have more time at the office than I do.” As women executives at this company often quipped, “What I really need is a wife.”
In the middle ranks, a quarter of the men were married to housewives, nearly half were married to working wives, and about a third were single. Among women in the middle ranks, half were part of two-job couples and carried most of the second shift. The other half were single or single parents. Among lower-level clerical workers, most were single or single mothers.
Being “rich” or “poor” in backstage support probably influences what traits people develop. Men who have risen to the top with great support come to be seen and to actually be “hard driving,” ambitious, and “committed” to their careers. Women who have had little support are vulnerable to the charge of being “uncommitted.” Sometimes, they do become less committed: Nancy Holt and Nina Tanagawa withdrew their attention to work in order to take care of “everything else.” These women did not lack ambition; unlike Ann Myerson, their work felt very real to them. They did not suffer from what the psychologist Marina Horner calls a “fear of success,” in her book Womens Will to Fail. Rather, their “backstage poverty” raised the emotional price of success impossibly high.
In an earlier economic era, when men entered industrial life, their wives preserved for them—through the home—a link to a life they had known before. By “staying back,” such wives eased a difficult transition for the men who were moving into the industrial age. In a sense Nancy Holt is like a peasant new to a factory job in the city; she is part of a larger social trend, doing what others like her are doing. In the nineteenth century, men had women to ease the transition for them but in the twentieth century, no one is easing the transition for women like Nancy Holt.