Feminist Masquerade
Mardi Gras type of mask

Image by Kerri Lee Smith via Flickr/Creative Commons


I envy Ann Bauer’s life.

I began reading her piece for Salon, “‘Sponsored’ by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from,” in late January, when it was published and when I saw it my Twitter feed. I finished reading it and writing about it today because I don’t have her life.

I feel bad for wanting her life, or perhaps just hypocritical. Sure, I’m breaking a commandment not to covet, but I’m on the fringes of Christianity anyway, so that’s not my issue. Desiring Bauer’s life makes me feel like an impostor. I’m a traditional girl masquerading as a feminist.

Bauer’s husband works hard at a job that pays enough for both of them and their children to live well, allowing her to write full-time, not as a journalist employed full-time at a magazine, or as a teacher or professor, but as a novelist, contributing columnist, and consultant—the kind of writer who writes from a desk at home and attends yoga at noon and who doesn’t make much money from the books she publishes but keeps doing it because she loves it.

I long for such privilege, but I also long for a marriage that would be a partnership. I remember attending AWP in 2013 and hearing a panel of writers who didn’t have an MFA confess that they’re able to write because they married someone who had a good job with benefits. More than a year later, I went out on a dinner date with a man I never went out with again (his choice, not mine), and I told him what I had heard at AWP and that I had accepted that, due to the abundance of writers out there and the near impossibility of monetary success within the profession, whether I went for an MFA or not (because that’s more a predictor of debt than it is “success”), I likely would need to depend on my spouse to make enough money for both of us if I was going to do what I love.

He asked me how I would reconcile my feminist vision of having a marriage that was a partnership with having a husband earning almost all of the money. Who would control the household finances? If you wanted to buy groceries or new clothes, it would be with your husband’s money. Wouldn’t that be like your husband giving you an allowance? What would you contribute to make the marriage equal?

All good questions, but none of which I was prepared to answer. I hadn’t really thought this through, and I attribute my lack of preparedness to two things: 1) Spending five years in an on again/off again relationship with a man who liked career women but wanted to enable his wife to stay home if she wanted to. I didn’t think all men were like him; I just began to think, Well of course that’s the type of man I’ll end up with. 2) Spending nearly 30 years thinking I was exceptional, that no matter what I did, I was going to be the one who beat the odds, captured the fame, and made the millions. When writers at AWP—and later instructors at VONA who said none of them, even the MacArthur award-winner among them, made a living strictly off of writing but also teaching—burst my bubble, I hadn’t had time to seriously consider the alternatives.

I firmly believe, and did express to the dinner date, that marriage is much more than a financial partnership. It’s moral support, companionship, sex, sometimes raising children. It’s building a life together. Just because I’m at home writing all day—which is work, in case anyone reading this doesn’t know, because he didn’t seem to get that—doesn’t mean I would have nothing to offer in support of his dreams and goals. It just means I would be unlikely to contribute to those goals monetarily.

But I admit that seems lame. And very kept womanish, and not very feminist, and also very un-Strong Black Woman-like. I hear about people all the time who work two jobs, have kids, go to school, and are either single or stellar spouses. I’m just not sure I can be that person. When I was in college, I marveled at the women who pulled a 4.0, served as officers in various organizations, maintained strong friendships, and seemed sleep-deprived but unphased. I felt like an under-achiever. “Different strokes for different folks, honey,” a woman I admired advised when I expressed my discontent.

Today, I don’t necessarily want to be different. I want to write. And blog more than once a month. And sleep. And exercise. And finish reading articles the same day I find them. And read books that aren’t on a syllabus. And have a clean house without time created by a snow-induced four-day weekend. And I want a husband, and kids. And I want people—lots and lots of people—to read my writing. And as long as it’s not via uppers, I want some of what everyone else who has all that is doing to get or maintain it.

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One thought on “Feminist Masquerade

  1. It is certainly possible to be a feminist and a no/low-earning partner in a marriage. As you point out, modern marriage is not – or at least should not be – all about money and division of labor. A lot of the most valuable work in society, including most artistic endeavors and caring for home and family, are not rewarded with money, or at least not much money. It used to be that one full-time salary could support a family, freeing one spouse to spend most of (usually) her time working at home or volunteering. One spouse earned money for the family, not just for himself. The non/low-earning spouse was being “paid” for their work through the wages of their spouse, recognizing the social value of what they were contributing to the family and the community. Unfortunately, the social compact has fallen apart, with many jobs not paying wages sufficient to support even the employee, much less a spouse and children. Many feminists and progressives have been fighting for years for living wages and for social policy which recognizes and aids families in their caretaking responsibilities. We have been losing ground, but with 1920’s level income inequality in the US, something needs to change to put us back on a more just and sustainable socioeconomic path.

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