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The Good Wife

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Am I on my way to becoming a Stepford Wife?

If you're married, the assumption is you want to have a good marriage. And it's a societally accepted desire.

But if you take this one step further and suggest that you want to be a good wife, then you face feminist backlash (possibly your own!), assumptions about the low level of your IQ and abilities, and accusations of having succumbed to the evil robotic vision of Ira Levin's "Stepford Wives".

Why should there be such a taboo on this acknowledgment? And is it possible to have a good marriage without being a good wife -- or husband?

I recently taught a class of bright, talented women. All of them had left powerful and successful careers to tend to their families. All of them had embraced a deeper understanding of and commitment to their Jewish roots. All of them wanted to be good wives. And all of them struggled with their decisions.

Years of conditioning have led us to believe that our accomplishments must be quantifiable -- and take place outside the home. All of that career energy has now been channeled into volunteer projects.

Non-profit organizations are capitalizing on this pool of eager and driven women. And it feels good -- we're fighting for a noble cause.

But perhaps we're defeating ourselves in the process.

After we pour our energies into these worthwhile institutions, we may, if we're lucky enough, blessed enough, driven enough, still have energy for our children -- for homework, baths, teenage woes and a game of Boggle (our latest evening favorite).

But do we still have energy for our husbands? Are we bright and smiling when he comes home, or tired and grumpy? Too worn out to look up, to interact, to really care? After being kind and conciliatory all day, do we take out our frustrations on the person who least deserves it? Who matters the most?

Making a conscious effort to infuse our marriages with the best we have to offer is the opposite of being a robot. It's life-affirming and marriage-affirming.

When I suggested that it might be a nice idea to freshen our clothes, our lipstick, our demeanor, before our husband walks in the door, the class rose up in arms. "I want to be comfortable," "I don't want to be a 50's housewife!" and more mutterings about Stepford Wives.

I'm not suggesting create a false persona; I'm suggesting that taking time to pull ourselves together says, "I care." It says, "Your coming home is important to me." Making a conscious effort to infuse our marriages with the best we have to offer is the opposite of being a robot. It's life-affirming and marriage-affirming.

The obvious solution to the dilemma of scattered energies and impatient wives -- do less, "just say no", make fewer commitments outside the home -- is the hardest to implement. And I am the worst offender. I've rarely seen a project that didn't interest me, a 5-minute pause in the action that I didn't need to occupy or a Shabbos table that I didn't need to fill. Yet I recognize that as benevolent as all these activities may be, part of my motivation is societal approval and validation. Although I know that my marriage is the most important, you just don't get awards banquets and paychecks for it.

Perhaps a more significant accomplishment of feminism would be to make all external accolades equally valueless. In the meantime, we're trying to give attention where it belongs, where it will last.

"A man doesn't die except to his wife," teaches the Talmud. All other relationships are temporary. According to Jewish tradition, we spend eternity with our spouse -- this world and the Next -- not with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, not with our school PTA, not with our shul sisterhood. And not even with our children.

The time to lay the foundation is now.

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