On that Michelle Obama clip, marriage’s bad rap, and why we are so wedded to the patriarchal institution
As a young woman in her early 20’s, I find the discourse on motherhood and how much everyone is finally pulling back the curtain fascinating. I saw the strain and struggle in my own mother due to an absent paternal partner, and as I grow older I’ve been trying to figure out how to best navigate the institution of marriage and motherhood through the generations ahead of me, heeding their warnings and absorbing their hard-learned lessons.
This part rang loud and true for me:
“ …I just hear a woman desperate for help and society has told her she cannot get it from her spouse. And that is the part I want to fight against. We should not be told to let it go. We should be told that we deserve more from a partnership.“
Thank you for this article. It was illuminating ❤️
This resonates with me. I found the Michelle Obama clip to be distressing. Maybe esp bc I want to keep thinking Barack is a wonderful partner and father, and this reveals that he was kinda shitty! But also, what the hell are you talking about Michelle? Of COURSE you should leave a one-sided partnership that doesn’t change for a decade and makes you boil w resentment. I did, and I’m grateful every day. Of course not everyone can afford to, which is part of the trap.
I’m curious what percentage of the family’s expenses are covered by the author’s spouse?
She seems to be making the argument that even if that number was 100%, her husband would be “getting a pass” and she would be “held back” if his contribution to the household were, say, “only” 40%.
If that is indeed the argument she is making, it may be unwittingly making Michelle Obama’s point for her. Which isn’t to resign yourself to accept an imbalanced marriage. It’s that if you narrowly keep score in the area where you are above 50%, and ignore or discount the areas where your spouse is above 50%, you aren’t really being a partner. You are choosing to reverse engineering your resentment.
Ironically, this is exactly what men who are, in fact, “getting a pass” do. They overvalue the money they earn and ignore or devalue the work in the home. Treat it as a baseline they are inherently entitled to … not something of value contributed by their partner. But doing the same thing along a different dimension isn’t feminism. It’s just a different flavor of individualism.
What I would argue (and I think might be part of Michelle Obama’s point), is that fairness in marriage requires coming together with your spouse and agreeing on how to value *all* of those constituent parts of what is contributed into the relationship. Not just money and housework, but things like emotional support and space for personal fulfillment, as well. And then find an equilibrium that feels as close to fair to both sides as possible – realizing that being 50/50 across every dimension is nearly impossible.
And then acknowledge that this will be a constantly moving target, and will require some level of grace and communication to fine tune over time. And that slipping back into narrow score-keeping in the area where you happen to be “leading” at any given time will feel very enticing. Especially if you don’t realize that this type of conversation still leaves room to ask your partner to give you more. It just allows that request to happen from a starting point of partnership and gratitude, rather than anger and resentment.
No one is truly “getting a pass” until they refuse to have that conversation openly with their partner.
If the author has indeed had that broader conversation with her spouse, I think a very interesting post would be on how that discussion went. How open each side was to listening to how the other weighed each of those constituent parts. Where they felt like they were carrying too much. Which they felt most equipped to give. What equivalences seemed reasonable. What compromises were reached. If that did indeed take place already, I’d be curious how the discussion of what is “fair” in the marriage moved from the breadth of that discussion to the narrowness of this piece.
I could also imagine and understand an aversion to having that kind of conversation. Because it might undermine the righteous indignation afforded by valuing what you disproportionately provide. Again, the same trap that many men fall into with their financial roles within the family. And while that path may feel preferable to the ceding of narrative control required of authentic partnership … it's ultimately a much more lonely and unfulfilling path. Which I believe was the point Michelle Obama was endeavoring to make.