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November 7, 2011 / Anna Louie Sussman

Virginia Rometty has a wife.

It’s impossible to read Friday’s New York Times story about Mark Rometty, husband of newly-designated I.B.M. CEO Virginia (Ginni) Rometty, and not think of the classic feminist Judy Brady essay “I Want a Wife,” in which she details precisely why she wants a wife, and what that wife would be good for:

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.

From the NYT story:

Acquaintances say the intensely private Mr. Rometty deserves tremendous credit for pursuing a career that gave him the time and flexibility to support his wife’s ascension to the pinnacle of global business — as, for that matter, do the vast majority of C.E.O. spouses of both genders. Still, the C.E.O. husband remains a rarity in American business.

…..

The Romettys aren’t the only couple reluctant to discuss the husband’s role in his wife’s success. There’s still a social stigma for the stay-at-home or less successful husband that women don’t face. And management experts say that that has to change if women are going to be represented in the top jobs at a level commensurate with their numbers and talent.

Asked at a Barnard College conference what men could do to help advance women’s leadership, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of the landmark “Men and Women of the Corporation,” answered, “The laundry.”

My guess is that neither Mrs. nor Mr. Rometty are doing much laundry with their own bare hands. But his pursuit of “a career that gave him the time and flexibility to support his wife’s ascension to the pinnacle of global business” is still something notably rare at the top echelons of CEO-land. Sounds like he’s been a terrific wife.

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9 Comments

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  1. Janet Elise Johnson / Nov 7 2011 10:28 am

    Hmm. I thought the whole piece missed the systemic problem with the way that we in the US conceptualize work. The Swedes are working on work flexibility so that everyone can leave at 4:30 to go home to their families, especially important when you have young kids. The NYT has rich people thinking about more ways to hire poor folks to do labor for them.

    • Anna Louie Sussman / Nov 7 2011 11:22 am

      Hi Janet,

      For sure, the piece doesn’t go into the problematic assumptions of dividing labor along gendered lines, or a lack of quality day care, or even the basic concept of work-life balance. In fact, that’s precisely why it reminded me of “I want a wife.” It’s assumptions were so old-fashioned that the parody sprung immediately to mind.

      Thanks for reading! -A

  2. kb / Nov 7 2011 12:33 pm

    I feel like saying that he’s a wife just makes this problem worse. It’s encouraging feminization of housework and carework. I know it is only a problem because of our patriarchy, but can we please stop calling men who care “womanly”? Or saying they have a woman’s role.
    I hate having to write this, because it does come from the common cultural idea that being called a woman is an insult. Which it shouldn’t be. But still. Let’s just say he’s a caretaker? or talk about what he does, and not just make this about flipping still rigid gender roles, please?

    • Anna Louie Sussman / Nov 7 2011 9:04 pm

      Did you read the “I want a wife essay” which had a link in the post? I used the term “wife” in the sense that the author does. By using that term and exaggerating the very specific duties it entails (cooking, cleaning, waiting on the husband hand and foot, etc), I was aiming to parody the old-fashioned view that the author of the NYT story takes, which is that because Mark Rometty was flexible about his career, that somehow emasculated him. It was a joke but I guess I was not clear enough about that.

      Thank you for reading.

      -Anna

      • kb / Nov 7 2011 11:50 pm

        I am familiar with the piece. and I agree with the spirit. I think it’s a question of, when does humor help vs. hurt, and this is one of those cases where I fall on the wrong side of the line there.

      • Anna Sussman / Nov 8 2011 12:11 am

        There’s no such thing as a “wrong” side! Everyone’s entitled to her opinion, and thank you for sharing yours. -A

  3. Bern / Jan 10 2012 8:04 am

    It’s very telling that men have not caught up yet. Lesbians have known this secret for ages. Many of the very successful women of the 1900’s-2010’s do and did in fact, have wives. See Anna Howard Shaw (suffragette) & Lucy Anthony; Carrie Ann Chapman (suffragette) & Mollie Hay; M Carey Thomas (one of the 1st presidents of Bryn Mawr) & Mary Garrett; Susan B. Anthony (suffragette) & Anna Dickinson (and later Emily Gross); Frances Willard & Kate Jackson; Jane Addams (Hull House) & Mary Rozet; Emily Blackwell & Elizabeth Cushier (pioneering women doctors), and as just one of many examples from the modern day, Suze Orman (the Suze Orman show) & Kathy Travis. All sources are taken from Lillian Faderman’s remarkable history, “To Believe in Women”. As Faderman writes, “Because we [lesbians] chose other women as the objects of desire, we were confirmed in our conviction that we would have to find a way to support ourselves.” They paved the way for women, straight and gay, to make their way to the pinnacle of the professional and business world.

  4. dp / Apr 6 2012 3:41 pm

    I agree with kb. The title is potentially embarrassing to Ms. Rometty’s husband. As a feminist, I am familiar with the Judy Brady essay but please bear in mind that most people who come across this piece when googling IBM or some Ms. Rometty will not be feminists. They, especially men, will take the title as confirming that it is ‘feminine’ and wifely for a man to support his career-minded spouse and won’t bother reading any further. The title is really not a good way to encourage more men to take a backseat in their careers – please consider altering it.

    • Anna Louie Sussman / May 22 2012 10:55 pm

      Thank you for your feedback but I will not alter the title. Describing his decision to support her career as being a “wife” is specifically intended to make people question the meaning of the word “wife” and think harder about the language we use and what we mean to connote with certain words. That was the intention fo the Brady essay and the intention of the title. You don’t have to be a feminist to think about how language affects and shapes gender roles and identities.

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