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How to Put Your Wife Out of Business

Michael Lewis / DOMESTIC DRAMA

March 06, 2005|Michael Lewis | Michael Lewis is the author, most recently, of "Moneyball."

With women now paid as much as 90 cents on the dollar for the same work as men, it is increasingly difficult to shut down your wife's commercial activities and get her to focus on household chores. Many men don't even bother, but simply accept that their wives will keep their jobs. But those of us who don't -- those men who want to bring home the bacon in the spirit of our fathers, and their fathers before them -- have very little in the way of guidance or support. Women seeking counsel on how to get the most out of their husbands can dip into a river of self-help books, tawdry daytime TV shows and features that dramatize the female author's plight in women's magazines. Every week, it seems, women are offered ever more expert advice on how to manipulate their men. Men, however, are expected to figure it out all by themselves. And so they don't.

There are many good reasons for putting your wife out of business. One is you want someone to pay careful attention to your children, and you don't feel like doing it yourself. Another is the sheer amount of time it frees up for her to pay attention to you. But the best reason is the pleasure you will receive from proving to the outside world that you can do it.

There was a brief time, from about 1985 to 1991, when high-powered males demonstrated their status by marrying equally high-powered females with high-paying jobs. That time has passed. The surest way for a man to exhibit his social status -- the finest bourgeois bling -- is to find the most highly paid woman you can, working in the most high-profile job, and shut her down. Bonus points if her job is typically viewed as a "man's" job. Find, for instance, a female professor of science at Harvard and persuade her to swap her Bunsen burners for your Viking gas ones; you will earn the degree of respect typically reserved for CEOs and movie stars. Bonus points for making her unemployment stick. Warren Beatty briefly made a flagrant display of his stature when he married Annette Bening and took her out of movies -- but now, alas, she has returned to her acting. And where does that leave him? A bit lower than he was, I think.

What men need, really, are role models. Other men who have done it and lived to tell the tale. Consider, for example, me. I hope I don't need to remind the reader, but I will anyway: When we met, my wife -- Tabitha Soren -- was a hotshot. She walked from her offices at MTV into Times Square and people shrieked her name and bayed for her autograph. She made pots of money. She couldn't swing a dead cat in the television business without hitting a job offer. And now -- behold! Two children later, she has happily abandoned fame and fortune and is making a second "career" as a fine-art photographer.

"How did you do it?," I can hear you asking. I can't claim to offer a comprehensive answer. Just a few pointers:

* Never mention money. It sounds counterintuitive, as money is the source of your power. But you must cede apparent control of the loot you bring in. (This is different from actually ceding control of it.) When you see the credit card charge from the shoe stores, or the charitable donations to women's causes, wince to yourself, by all means. But say nothing. She's just testing you. She too knows the value of a dollar, as she once made money. She suspects that you plan to use your money-making as a weapon against her. Once she sees that you won't -- at least, not overtly -- she'll rein it in.

* Cushion her fall. The fact is, she'll suffer a bit, psychologically. Our society attaches an absurd importance to the way people get their money. After you've put your wife out of business, she will go from feeling the center of attention to feeling slightly neglected. At dinner parties, people will want to know all about you and nothing about her. Pleasant for you in the short term, the extra attention is disastrous in the long run. You must become expert in a kind of social jujitsu: taking the energy aimed at you and redirecting it toward your wife. Learn to say things like, "Yes, it's true, I painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but see that woman over there, she cleaned the floor! Why is it that no one ever looks more closely at the floor? That's where the beauty is!" It's very important to sound sincere. If you let other people have their way, you'll lose yours.

* Lie. A lot. Women obviously love high- status males, and so they secretly love the fact that you are acquiring status by putting them out of business. But they may not be entirely conscious of the pleasure; they may even believe that one day, after they are finished having children, they would like to return to work. Indulge this fantasy. Allow them to believe that their unemployment is temporary. Say things like, "You can always go back, whenever you want" or "You're probably in more demand now than you were when you were working, you just don't see it." The longer you have her believing this, the less true it becomes.

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