A letter to my clueless husband - this is why I don't have a job

"I know you work hard, but you have never stopped to consider that we could have long ago alleviated the financial ...
"I know you work hard, but you have never stopped to consider that we could have long ago alleviated the financial burden on our family by simply no longer trying to keep up with the Joneses" Photo: AFR

It's the letter that's dividing the internet. A British man has written an angry, anonymous message to his wife for refusing to get a job while he "works himself to death". Here's what we imagine his wife's reply might look like.

I remember the thrill of seeing you at law school - one of the 80% of the entire law school class that was male and vying for my attention. I actually liked your quiet, underachieving friend better, but you stole the show with your intelligent forthright wit and gregarious manner that overshadowed everyone around you. We studied for the bar exam together - me cooking us dinner while you read cases and paraphrased them for me. We started our career as newly minted lawyers, a future bright.

You had been offered a job straight out of law school, but even though my marks were much better than yours, I was overlooked. I visited a few law firms but they were full of such misogynistic men that I couldn't imagine working there. Meanwhile, you settled into the brash masculine high pressure culture. I almost gave up, but the heavy weight of student loans and feminist pressure not to rely on a man wore me down, and I eventually started applying for jobs more suitable to someone with half my education and intelligence and far lower pay than would have been offered to a man in the same position. At least here I was less often required to make coffee, flirt with the seniors and wear suits that showed more cleavage and more thigh than I would have liked. I watched the few female classmates who had managed to secure those coveted jobs in law leave due to bullying, harassment and stalled career progression, while our male colleagues thrived, and was glad I had decided not to pursue this life.

Pregnancy came in due course, and while you continued to climb the corporate ladder, I toddled to my unfulfilling job in heels, belly swelling and haemorrhoids aching. I continued the majority of house cleaning and cooking during this time as your work was too busy for you to help, and imagined how we would manage this with a small one, and who would hire me after I had had a child. Fortunately you earned enough that the lack of maternity leave or pay didn't weigh too heavily.

One baby came, followed by another, and I stared down the tunnel of empty years and a law degree that felt wasted. Your career was going so well, and I was at home with fulfilling vomit stains on my clothes and spaghetti in my hair.

You were not the worst husband around - you would occasionally mind the children while I got some much needed sleep, and occasionally do some housework, but I knew that if I returned to work, your contribution to the household would not increase to 50%, and I would be left with 80% of the housework and nearly as many hours as you, while our children went to care. I didn't mind the care, but the possible strain on the whole family unit seemed too great a cost given I had long been forced to give up the dream of the career I wanted in law school. You suggested I return to work but had no idea what work I would do or any suggestions as to how we would manage it as a family. The idea of shared part time work was still a distant dream, and had I suggested you leave your high flying career or work fewer days to spend more time with the children, you would simply have laughed, as would all your male colleagues.

You've climbed the corporate ladder well and we have the trappings of a successful family - a nice house in a middle class neighbourhood; annual holidays; happy healthy children; money saved for their college years. But it has come at enormous cost to me. While your responsibilities increased, mine did too. You missed the primary school tears and the teenage fears. Your free hours have become increasingly few, and although spent with the children, do not amount to real engagement or participation. And while you have asked me to work, you, and your colleagues, have not offered or supported my ability to have any meaningful career of my own. I know that gender stereotypes cut both ways, but I would have felt less used and abused if I had been able to have a sexism free chance of a career of my own. Even a little modest one.

That's not going to happen. It became clear years ago that for me, working was about earning money, but for you it was about career progression. And that you were willing for me to either prostitute myself at the feet of a highly gendered profession, or work myself to the bone to 'have it all' while you continued to enjoy your career and white male privilege that meant you could claim 'household duties' credit just for taking the kids to a ball game.

I realised that I could at least contribute to our community by volunteering and so this is what I, and many women like us, do. We use our postgraduate degrees and intelligence to work for nothing, but because we earn no money, this does not count as 'work' to you, or anyone else. I exercise because I hope that if I stay skinny and fit this will stop you sleeping with your size 6 secretary, and pursue some hobbies to stop myself from going insane with boredom, but I know these things likewise mean nothing to you. All you see is the high stress career that you wanted, and could have given up at any point. Because we never needed the bigger house or the holiday every year. I know you work hard, but you have never stopped to consider that we could have long ago alleviated the financial burden on our family by simply no longer trying to keep up with the Joneses, by being more frugal, and learning to enjoy each others company rather than material possessions.

I know that 25 years later you want me to get a job - not so you can buy a Jaguar or a holiday home, but so you can take a different position and keep up the same standard of living. You keep saying this even though I keep telling you that we don't need the same standard of living, and we can downsize, and be happy anyway. You keep telling me to get a job, as if there is any job I could now get, 25 years after a law degree that didn't get me a job I could have survived in, 22 years after I last worked at a job that was far below my capabilities. As if I could get a job with nothing but the useless title of 'mother' on my resume for 22 years. As if I could get a job on the basis of the volunteer work that even you, my husband, doesn't value, or on the basis of the life skills that I acquired raising a family but you never even noticed.

I want to get a job so that I don't wake up at night and worry that one 25 year old is all that lies between me and financial ruin. I wanted a genuine partnership in my 20s so that I could work AND raise a family with your support, without having to try and get it all, all on my own. I want our daughter to have hope that she lives in a world different to the one I lived in, where she is valued despite being a woman, and where the man she marries will stop telling her to get a job and will actually support her to have a career.

But mostly I wanted to be loved enough to be supported - to have gotten a career 25 years ago.

This response was originally posted in the Essential Kids forums.