Editor’s Note: This essay is an homage and COVID-era update to to Judy Brady’s classic satirical feminist manifesto, “I Want a Wife,” which originated as a speech at a San Francisco protest in 1970. This essay appeared in the first issue of Ms. in 1971.
“I Want a Wife” was funny, yes, but it also made a serious point: Women who were “wives” did many considerate things for their families, usually without any recognition. Of course, these wifely tasks could have been done by someone who wasn’t a wife—like a man.
Read Brady’s original essay, “I Want A Wife,” (1971) at the end of Trinkle’s.
I’ve been on the single motherhood scene a while now, not all that fresh from my years ago divorce. I have two teenagers who, of course, are with me most of the time.
So, upon receiving my honorary pandemic home-teaching credential, I decided our first history assignment would be to reflect on Judy Brady’s iconic manifesto “I Want a Wife,” first delivered 50 years ago at a San Francisco rally to mark the 50th anniversary of American women’s suffrage.
It occurred to me nothing much has changed. In fact, it’s gotten worse.
So, I don’t want a wife anymore. I just want a goddamn functioning society. Why do I want a functioning society?
Because if society just operated like us ladies do, I wouldn’t need a wife, nobody would, and we’d all be better off, and here’s why:
For most of my life, I bought into the trope that women are supposed to do it all and make it seem effortless—so it’s only fair that society finally fulfills its side of the bargain.
After throwing a helluva brunch with endless dietary accommodations and bottomless gluten-free Bloody Marys to honor our mothers’ generation’s hard work, I want a society that finally fixes the decades-long stagnant 61 to 80 cent wage gap.
I want a society where divorce doesn’t still result in a 20 percent decrease in standard of living for women and children, while men’s increases by 30 percent—and while mothers still carry the burden of child rearing.
I want a society that nurtures our children, that values education and ensures they have a safe social life without the fear of mass shootings or the trauma of lockdown drills. I want a society that helps them process the existential threat of a pandemic, which causes them to change on a dime how they’ve been indoctrinated to learn their entire lives. I want a society that does not, in the face of said global crisis, expect me to be the default proxy teacher while my ex-husband focuses on work.
I want a society that will not shame me when my kids don’t brush their teeth, or when they play on their phones during dinner because the second shift is still a thing, and I’m now even more tired from taking on a third-shift running a virtual high school in between a fourth-shift as household pandemic expert that specializes in sterilizing all incoming groceries—and burning cardboard boxes on my “off” hours, while teaching myself how to sew masks because my underlying medical-conditioned self hopes to leave the house someday.
I want a society that—should I have a health scare—will provide medical care if I take reasonable time to heal, without burdening my business, losing my job, home, declaring bankruptcy, or dying because I can’t afford treatment despite a lifetime of hard work, leaving my children behind far too soon. I want a society that collectively deals with things beyond our control or imagination, like pandemics or the sixth mass extinction.
When I go into society with friends, I want a world that doesn’t shame me for wanting a social life while also being a mother. I want a society that knows that sometimes I need solitude, or a night out by myself without fear of violence or harassment.
I want a society that supports complete access to birth control—because it’s proven that all genders and future generations benefit when we have control over if/when we have families.
When I meet people I want to entertain, I want a society that hasn’t created such unattainable standards that nobody will care if my home doesn’t spark minimalist joy or if I didn’t get hors d’oeuvres even though I knew you were coming, like, over a week ago.
I want a society that knows that you bearing witness to my exhaustion from getting less sleep than any other generation before us is a gift. Because we’re just now figuring out that Title IX and Roe v. Wade wasn’t enough to send us on our merry way.
I want a society where I can cry in the driveway of my father’s trailer and not feel I failed him for not keeping him home longer before I held him as he passed at a care facility. And in the aftermath, I want a society that forgives the latchkey generation children of divorce for our choices because someday we will have to do this all over again. I want a society that doesn’t make me puke from the guilt I feel for setting my children up to inherit this same fate, despite everything I worked so hard to avoid.
I want a society that just gives women a rest already.
My God—what divorcee, ex-wife or mother wouldn’t want a functioning society?
Judy Brady, “I Want a Wife” (1971)
I belong to that classification of people known as wives. I am A Wife. And, not altogether incidentally, I am a mother.
Not too long ago a male friend of mine appeared on the scene fresh from a recent divorce. He had one child, who is, of course, with his ex-wife. He is looking for another wife. As I thought about him while I was ironing one evening, it suddenly occurred to me that I, too, would like to have a wife. Why do I want a wife?
I would like to go back to school so that I can become economically independent, support myself, and, if need be, support those dependent upon me. I want a wife who will work and send me to school. And while I am going to school. I want a wife to take care of my children. I want a wife to keep track of the children’s doctor and dentist appointments. And to keep track of mine, too. I want a wife to make sure my children eat properly and are kept clean. I want a wife who will wash the children’s clothes and keep them mended. I want a wife who is a good nurturant attendant to my children, who arranges for their schooling, makes sure that they have an adequate social life with their peers, takes them to the park, the zoo, etc. I want a wife who takes care of the children when they are sick, a wife who arranges to be around when the children need special care, because, of course, I cannot miss classes at school. My wife must arrange to lose time at work and not lose the job. It may mean a small cut in my wife’s income from time to time, but I guess I can tolerate that. Needless to say, my wife will arrange and pay for the care of the children while my wife is working.
I want a wife who will take care of my physical needs. I want a wife who will keep my house clean. A wife who will pick up after my children, a wife who will pick up after me. I want a wife who will keep my clothes clean, ironed, mended, replaced when need be, and who will see to it that my personal things are kept in their proper place so that I can find what I need the minute I need it. I want a wife who cooks the meals, a wife who is a good cook. I want a wife who will plan the menus, do the necessary grocery shopping, prepare the meals, serve them pleasantly, and then do the cleaning up while I do my studying. I want a wife who will care for me when I am sick and sympathize with my pain and loss of time from school. I want a wife to go along when our family takes a vacation so that someone can continue to care for me and my children when I need a rest and change of scene.
I want a wife who will not bother me with rambling complaints about a wife’s duties. But I want a wife who will listen to me when I feel the need to explain a rather difficult point I have come across in my course of studies. And I want a wife who will type my papers for me when I have written them.
I want a wife who will take care of the details of my social life. When my wife and I are invited out by my friends, I want a wife who will take care of the babysitting arrangements. When I meet people at school that I like and want to entertain, I want a wife who will have the house clean, will prepare a special meal, serve it to me and my friends, and not interrupt when I talk about things that interest me and my friends. I want a wife who will have arranged that the children are fed and ready for bed before my guests arrive so that the children do not bother us. I want a wife who takes care of the needs of my guests so that they feel comfortable, who makes sure that they have an ashtray, that they are passed the hors d’oeuvres, that they are offered a second helping of the food, that their wine glasses are replenished when necessary, that their coffee is served to them as they like it. And I want a wife who knows that sometimes I need a night out by myself.
I want a wife who is sensitive to my sexual needs, a wife who makes love passionately and eagerly when I feel like it, a wife who makes sure that I am satisfied. And, of course, I want a wife who will not demand sexual attention when I am not in the mood for it. I want a wife who assumes the complete responsibility for birth control, because I do not want more children. I want a wife who will remain sexually faithful to me so that I do not have to clutter up my intellectual life with jealousies. And I want a wife who understands that my sexual needs may entail more than strict adherence to monogamy. I must, after all, be able to relate to people as fully as possible.
If, by chance, I find another person more suitable as a wife than the wife I already have, I want the liberty to replace my present wife with another one. Naturally, I will expect a fresh new life; my wife will take the children and be solely responsible for them so that I am left free.
When I am through with school and have a job, I want my wife to quit working and remain at home so that my wife can more fully and completely take care of a wife’s duties.
My God, who wouldn’t want a wife?
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