Who brings home the bacon?

From Caroline — Blog by
February 4, 2009

Last fall, the New Yorker ran a Malcolm Gladwell article about late bloomers. Ostensibly about the nature of genius — youthful prodigies vs. late-emerging talents — the piece was actually strongest in its assessment of what it takes to produce late bloomers.

The answer? A twist on the old adage of “Behind every succesful man is a woman.”

In the New Yorker’s case study, the answer was indeed a woman — the supportive wife of novelist Ben Fountain, who bore his children and brought home the bacon as a lawyer while he spent years trying to make it as a writer.

Statistically speaking, of course, men make more money than women. But there are exceptions to every rule. Julia Child was supported by her diplomat husband, Paul Child, while she learned to cook. That’s “traditional.” But Mark Bittman, according to an article last fall in the New York Observer, was also supported by his spouse, becoming the family cook and, eventually, a local (New Haven, Conn.) restaurant critic, which marked the start of his career in food writing.

Filmmaker Ang Lee spent years in obscurity, writing screenplays and, yes, learning how to cook to feed his family, while his molecular-biologist wife paid the bills. All those domestic skills paid off in his early films, which frequently featured or emphasized food: “The Wedding Banquet” and “Eat Drink Man Woman.”

The most recent presidential election also provided notable examples of women supporting their husbands’ thrones. Forget Sarah Palin; I’m talking here about Cindy McCain, whose family money and connections were crucial to the overall success of hubby John McCain, and Michelle Obama, who exemplifies the Ginger Rogers trope: doing everything her man does, except backwards and in high heels. Ya think Barack would’ve gotten as far as he did on charisma and talent alone? Nah, he needed Michelle, who held down the steady jobs and oh, yeah, did the mommy thing while he politicked.

Of course, there are countless women out there struggling to fulfill their true callings with the financial and emotional support of their spouses, partners, families, and the like. And for everyone, male or female, who grows up learning to cook at Mommy or Daddy’s knee, there’s plenty more of us who learned to cook in a supportive environment that provided time, space, and money for groceries — in the luxury environs of college, say, or while saving money living in a shared housing setup, or during a career lull or parenting-transition time.

Gender politics aside, let’s hear it for the oft-unsung heroes who made sure their loved ones were allowed to bloom, grow, and even cook.

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1. by hohana on Feb 7, 2009 at 9:20 AM PST

My mom has always been one of those. She went back to school when I was in high school and got her college degree and she worked when my dad decided he wanted to change jobs and went back to school. She’s always been the career person of the house, and I want to do that for my guy who wants to go back to school and get into publishing.

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