12 May, 2006

Breaking the Mold - Forbes.com

Reading this two-year-old profile of Sheika Lubna I found this tidbit about the proposed federal family law at the time:
Part of the draft law reportedly allows a husband to prevent his wife from working, even if she has a prenuptial agreement allowing her to get a job.
What is the law today?

What I know is that many husbands tell their wives they can have a life outside the home just as long as they personally perform all the duties expected of a traditional housewife. That of course is impossible to do, but it allows the husband to say (disengenuously) that he does not prevent his wife from working.

It is often said a country is wasting half of its people when half of them (refering to women) are not working. That view is wrong because it is saying that the work of stay-at-home mothers has no value and does not require an education. On the contrary it does have value and the quality of the work with your children is enhanced when you yourself are educated.

Yet when 70 percent of Emirati's who earn college degrees are female, I do wonder if that valuable work that a spouse does at home should be assigned to the husband, and the wife should be working outside the home.


MamaDuck said...

John, I agree with you on the social value of educated mothers, and the economic potential of educated wives, but there is a distinction to be made between working wives and working mothers.

There's a big difference between the experience, costs and benefits - personal, social and economic, for these two groups.

A childless stay-at-home wife who left the workplace when she married, or never entered it at all, may experience the frustration of insufficient stimulation; the isolation of losing school/work-based friendships, and having no basis for new ones; and dwindling self-esteem at her position as wife to a house. She starts off feeling like a wasted resource; and ends up feeling like a waste of space.

Being able to work outside the home - full-time or part-time -would benefit her as well as the GDP, and with no childcare/education overheads, she and her husband can put their money back into the local economy via restaurants, cinemas, car dealerships etc.

Alternatively, she could have a baby. Very time-consuming, endlessly rewarding, and of course, once Baby is less time-consuming, it will be high time to provide a brother or sister!

An educated mother is valuable to her children not just for her trained mind and specific knowledge, but because education opens the mind and empowers the individual. As we know, children learn by example, and, to a large degree, base their understanding of adult roles and relationships on their parents, however unconsciously.

You don't need a degree to be a good mother; indeed, a highly educated career woman faces her own challenges while life revolves around feeds, naps, toddler groups and school runs. Nevertheless, in a country developing at the pace of the UAE, there is an urgent need for each generation of the minority native population to be a springboard for the next.

Education is key, across the generations.

But what of the non-traditional or free-market childless working wife? She probably has all the stimulation she needs, and the better bargain, as long as her free-market metrosexual husband accepts parity of responsibility: equal working hours, equal domestic responsibility, equal playtime. That old chestnut.

A 'traditional' man does not tend to go for this on any level because his social status and self-esteem are tied up with being the provider or sole earner, and supporting 'his' family. (Westmeetseast's 'Respect' blog is pertinent here.)

How long has it taken to change 'traditional' thinking in the long-established nations of 'the west'? There are still plenty of couples where both work but 'the duties expected of a traditional housewife' are still expected of the housewife. Nor is it just the husbands who think that way. Cinderella can go the ball; Prince Charming is in the car waiting to go, but Cinderella's just straightening the sofa cushions and rinsing the coffee mugs before she leaves. And she only lost her slipper that night because she was rushing home to reset the microwave, which was beeping the end of the defrost programme.

Once a working couple have children, of course the ground shifts, and there have been millions of words written on every aspect, implication and outcome of 'the working mother' as a social phenomenon in developed nations.

In the UAE, where Emirati society is still based on the extended, rather than nuclear, family; where the housemaid and the driver are commonplace; and where there are ladies' bank branches, parks and pools with ladies-only days, ladies' queues, etc., the experience of the Emirati working mother may be less of an exhausting double-act than it is for her western sisters in more egalitarian but decidedly less family-friendly countries.

If she's one of your 70% female majority of Emirati college graduates, and she's blessed with a husband who supports her desire to apply it, she is in a position to recoup her investment in herself, and repay her country's investment in her.

Given her somewhat ambiguous social position in this period of rapid change, and the exploitative code of many employers in a still imperfectly regulated labour market,I wish her the very best of luck.

Erm.... 'that valuable work that a spouse does at home should be assigned to the husband' ..... ROTFLMAO. Phone the maid service!

MamaDuck said...

By the way - got no complaints about endlessly encouraging Habibi! Apart from sneaking urge - doomed to remain unfulfilled - to be pink-toenailed, diamond-flashing, extremely-made-over kept woman, at least until I get fed up of stilettos and salon appointments.... Gimme three weeks, I could do three weeks before climbing the spa walls!

John B. Chilton said...


Thanks for adding value to my post. I agree with what you wrote although I might not place the same emphasis here or there.

The suggestion of assigning the housework to the husband was serious and ironic at the same time given how unrealistic it is in practice. Glad you got the joke.

I disagree that hired help can do as well as a husband in housework or childrearing. You do realize, of course, that husbands actively try to do appear incompetent in these tasks because wives are so ready to step into the breach.

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