Rent-a-Wife: Perpetuating Warped Gender Roles
STORY BY Emily Kirkpatrick
Published: November 11, 2013
A new LA-based business has women across America seeing red. The operation at the heart of so much feminist rage is called Rent-a-Wife and allows customers to hire a “wife,” i.e. surrogate mother/maid/woman to perform various household duties and chores for the child who never grew up.
Ironically, despite the unmitigated misogyny in their name, it seems this service is actually primarily targeted at women who have become overwhelmed with house, career and family. As the website states, “The Rent-a-Wife is not just for busy mothers, we also cater to single dads, overwhelmed executives, and anyone who needs more time and eight more hands.”
The website DesignTaxi has also confirmed that the service is, in fact, predominantly used by mothers. Despite the mail order bride connotations of their name, the list of what precise duties a Rent-a-Wife can perform is exceptionally tame, reading a bit like a 1950s housewife’s resume. A Rent-a-Wife can organize your home, plan a party, bake cupcakes, pick up the kids from soccer, be a sounding board for ideas, be an “Ikea shopping mate,” or simply “make things pretty.”
The service also comes in various packages to suit clients financial and lifestyle needs. Customers can choose from “The Starter Wife,” for five hours a month, “The Good Wife” for ten, or “The Trophy Wife” for 15. If we’re going by generic female caricatures, those number of working hours seem to be reversed.
It’s not the role that this service fulfills in a busy person’s life that bothers me; after all, who doesn’t need someone to be, “your Girl Friday, your Handyman, your Suzie Homemaker, and your Rosie the Riveter all rolled up into one.” My problem lies with the naming of this business and the way in which it reaffirms that it’s a wife and women’s job to be a homemaker, caretaker, babysitter and general doer of unpleasant, mundane tasks.
Women, especially wives, should not be relegated to the domestic when we are just as complex and diverse, if not infinitely more so, than the hoards of undoubtedly incompetent men who are sure to be attracted to and call upon this service based solely on its name. To some my reaction may seem extreme, but when these types of relatively blatant digs at womanhood and what constitutes the feminine realm are allowed to persist, society accepts the negative stereotype and then perpetuates it by teaching a whole new generation of men and women their warped gendered roles. Rent-a-Wife is clearly not the source of all feminist problems, but it is symptomatic of a larger universal and societal tendency to dismiss women and the work they perform.
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