I am not, by the traditional definition, a “trophy wife”. I have worked for most of my marriage and I would have utterly failed if I my most important role in this relationship had been to “smile and look pretty”.
However, I have, on occasion, played the role of dutiful wife at my husband’s side for work functions. Whether it’s a company holiday party, charity dinner, or backyard barbecue at the boss’s house, I am instinctively aware of my job when I accompany my husband to these events.
Make him look good.
That may mean biting my tongue when politics comes up, or playfully giving the boss a hard time about his favorite sports team. It may not specifically be my job to talk up my husband’s talents and skills, but I compliment him just the same by being polite, charming and appropriately funny.
Is this patriarchal? Misogynistic? Sexist? Antiquated?
Maybe. No one ever told me to act this way, I just do because that’s what one does.
At least, that’s what one does when they are the wife.
But what about when they are the husband?
My husband, who has attended numerous work functions with me over the years, joined me for a work dinner recently and I was struck by how undefined his role there was. He seemed unsure whether he should join in the conversation or attempt to fade into the background. After dinner, we were discussing the difference between the way I see my job as the wife of a working man vs. the way he sees his job as the husband of a working woman.
Namely, I actually see it as a job. Not a chore, necessarily, but definitely a role that comes with specific responsibilities and expectations.
He, on the other hand, doesn’t really see it as anything specific and doesn’t have a lot of examples to follow or help define the job of “accompanying husband”. In fact, the most consistent message men get about how to behave when joining their wives somewhere is “act as if you were dragged along, and OH isn’t it funny the things she makes you do!” In some circles, it’s completely acceptable for a man to disappear into whatever room houses a TV, quietly biding his time until it’s time to leave. These aren’t the only examples, and certainly this isn’t the way all men behave at social/professional functions with their wives (or the way my husband behaves), but it is a message that gets played over and over again in our society.
What doesn’t get played is a clear message on how a male partner can be supportive of his wife at her work functions. What’s the right level of charming and clever without crossing over to stealing the spotlight or making a fool of her? (Because gentle teasing is good, making fun of her for being too tired for romance is bad.) I might lose my feminist card for saying this, but the fact is that I know how to play second fiddle when necessary without quitting the band all together. I can, to use yet another metaphor, be an award-winning supporting character when the time is right.
Husbands, on the other hand, don’t seem to have a lot of training in how to be a supporting character without being accused of being emasculated. With woman having been a permanent fixture in the workforce for sometime now, it seems it’s about time that our husbands had some positive messages about how to handle it.