Bringing Home the Bacon

Today’s book is Bringing Home the Bacon: Making Marriage Work When She Makes More Money, by Harriet Pappenheim and Ginny Graves.  It was on display at Powells when I visited over Thanksgiving, and the cover literally made me swivel my head as I walked by.  As soon as I got home, I hunted down the book and requested it from the library.

I’ve been taking an excellent free course at Barnes and Noble online on Thinking Like An Editor and it’s helped me understand why this book was appealing to an editor.  Improving your marriage is one of the perennial hot-selling book topics, and this book is aimed at a clearly defined and large group of women (1/3 of married women earn more than their husbands) that hasn’t been addressed before.  The authors’ credentials are impressive — a therapist and a journalist.  On the book jacket, they promise to address such important questions as "why working women still do more housework than their husbands — even when their husbands stay home" and "how couples can navigate financial decisionmaking when the breadwinner’s reins rest firmly in the wife’s hands."  They promise to answer them based on Pappenheim’s professional experience and interviews with 100 couples.

Unfortunately, all this didn’t actual make for a very good book.  As it turns out, 100 interviews is a challenging number to write a book about.  It’s not enough to say anything statistically valid about overall trends, but too many for individuals to stand out from the mass.  All the Susans and Bills and Daves blurred together, so you never got a clear picture of any one couple across the topics covered in each chapter (sex, money, housework, etc.)  Pappenheim and Graves never really answered the gripping questions that they posed.   And the advice they offer is so generic as to be useless.  (Their top recommendation for how to make marriage work when she earns more is "Make mutual respect priority Number one."  As opposed to every other marriage, where mutual respect isn’t important?)

Overall, I think the problem is that they discovered that marriages where the women earn more than their husbands don’t necessarily have that much in common.   As I could have told them, a lot depends on whether it’s voluntarily chosen.  In other words, is the husband a SAHD, a low-earning artist, or umemployed?  Some of the generalizations they reached for totally missed the mark for me (fatigue and lack of time may interfere with our sex life, but not lack of respect), while others seemed right on target:

"Women’s hunger for options, for leeway, for relief from the relentless grind, were recurrent themes in our interviews.  Perhaps when women pine for a male provider, what they’re really craving is greater latitude in a life that’s come to feel too restrictive. What’s clear is that when a career becomes just another kind of trap, limiting our options, dictating the course of our lives, many of us become disenchanted and start trying to find a way out… It’s possible (maybe even probable) that male breadwinners feel the same way about being trapped in the daily grind, but unless they are very wealthy, it never occurs to the majority of them that they have an option to stop working… They certainly don’t seriously feel that they are entitled to be taken care of by their wives.  But many women, consciously or unconsciously, feel entitled to being taken care of by their men."

3 Responses to “Bringing Home the Bacon”

  1. Danigirl Says:

    Ooo, very interesting. This post had the same effect on me as the book had on you in Powell’s – made me snap to attention. I fall into this demographic, too, as my husband is a part-time SAHD who also teaches part-time. Even if he were teaching full time, I’d still make about 20% more.
    I’m disappointed that the book wasn’t better. I checked online, but our local library doesn’t have it, so you probably just saved me $25.
    I was actually quite surprised by your stat that 1/3 of women earn more than men – I wouldn’t have expected it to be that high… although in retrospect I don’t know why I would think that. I guess because so many women I know right now are SAHMs.

  2. Anne Zelenka Says:

    Hmmm. Interesting. We all need relief from the relentless grind, but unfortunately our economic structure is set up to rely mostly on full-time jobs that take over your life. I have suggested at times to my husband that he may want to stay home at some point while I work full time but he’s never seemed very interested. It’s not that he thinks the option is unavailable, just that it’s very unattractive to him to think of not having the prestige that comes from a high-powered job.
    Elizabeth, I hope you are taking the “thinking like an editor” course because you are going to write a book. You are such a talented and thoughtful writer. I thought of your blog recently when I heard about BlogBurst (www.blogburst.com), a service that is syndicating high-quality blogs to major newspapers and other publishers. I don’t think there is any pay involved, but it’d be a great way to build up your readership. It says on the blogger page that they are specifically looking for writers on women’s issues, and I think your practical approach would be appealing to a wide range of people.

  3. maggie Says:

    I second anne. You should reach a wider audience. We should start a “replace dear abby with elizabeth’s blog” movement!

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