Have you bumped into the “butthole wife” controversy? “Stop Being a Butthole Wife” laid down the law with Christian wives: stop your bickering and finger pointing and just pick up the dirty socks already. It got lots of likes and hearts and “SO TRUE!!!!!” from complementarians on my social media feed.
Then Christian Feminist Daddy fired back with, “Nope. Don’t you dare call my wife a butthole.” And that got lots of likes and hearts and “THANK YOU!!!!!” from the egalitarians.
At first, I didn’t read either. I kept coming across them in public spaces, and assumed “butthole wife” was something too embarrasingly kinky to risk a stranger looking over my shoulder. Then I learned that “butthole” is now (apparently?) a hip and holy version of “a**hole,” and (who knew?) it’s an adjective?
(Side rant: Christians, stop with the sanctified vulgarities. A**hole has a known meaning. Butthole conjures up the grossest of images. Please — swear, or don’t swear. Pick one.)
Well, now that I understood this was about jerk wives (and I certainly feel like a jerk more often than I admit), I read the piece. And I am still reporting that I am very much confused.
I get the part where blaming, shaming, and complaining day in and day out is a toxic thing for a marriage. But then there was the running theme of dirty laundry, to the point where many people easily made the takeaway that her worst offense as a “butthole wife” was complaining about picking up his socks every day.
If I was going to call myself a modified swear word, this wouldn’t be the offense that triggered it.
I support the article’s general idea of not nagging, nagging, nagging about everything your husband is and does, because such nitpicking shows a lack of perspective. But this is what I find most interesting and troubling: her confusion of being a butthole and feeling ticked off that she has to clean up after her grown husband like he’s one of her four kids.
Honestly, many women are juggling the roles of wife, mother, and homemaker — sometimes as their primary or sole identities — and those roles lack distinct boundaries from the other. Wives, as wives, hate feeling like they are their husband’s mother, but they’re so used to picking up after kids and tending the home that they feel guilty about not picking up their husband’s dirty socks. If you’re staying at home all day anyway while he works his butt off at a job, isn’t it your responsibility to pick up the slack?
(Side note: Is it just me, or is there a subtle implication, even by those who swear to the power and importance of homemaking, that a man’s career outside the home is more consequential than her unending labor in the home?)
Maybe I am a butthole wife, but I don’t consider picking up after my husband to be within the scope of marriage or homemaking.
In my marriage, we each retain a level of individual responsibility in many areas of life: I clean up the clothes I dump on the floor, he cleans up the clothes he dumps on the floor. If I make a mess, I pick it up. I keep track of my own stuff, he keeps track of his. If my car breaks down, I take it to the garage, if his car breaks down, he takes it to the garage. I keep track of my phone bill, he keeps track of his. We are responsible for putting our dirty dishes in the sink, our trash in the trash can, our books and toys and electronics away.
And if one person fails to act responsibly with their stuff, that is definitely grounds for husband or wife to confront the other person and say, “Look, you’ve been slacking to the point where it’s creating extra work for me. Can you not?”
This is kindergarten-level responsibility. I teach my own kids this: it is not my job to clean up after them. They wipe down their tables after lunch; they throw away their trash; they pick up their own mat; they fold their blankets; they clean up their toys when they’re done playing. It is not the teacher’s responsibility to clean up after them. It’s theirs.
And that is a sanity-saver — to hold my kids responsible for their own messes. It means I’m not the frazzled teacher running around with the sole purpose of picking up after nineteen six-year-olds.
I should think it’s the same for grown ups on the equal footing of marriage.
This isn’t to say I never pick up my husband’s socks or refuse to clean up after my kids. I just don’t consider it my responsibility, and don’t factor it into my evaluation of whether I’m a good wife or teacher. When I don’t pick up after them , it’s not abandoning my duty, and when I do pick up after them (and I do), it’s an act of solidarity: we are united in the common goal of educating your little brains or marriage, and I am happy to further that goal.
If the kids have to rush off to Spanish right after finishing worksheets, I’ll pick up their pencils and papers for them. If my husband and I are cleaning the house, I’ll toss his stuff in the correct place. If I’m doing laundry or straightening our dorm-level disaster of a room, I’ll fold and sort his clothes.
But it’s key, for me, to realize that I am doing no favors to my husband or my kinders by enabling them to think that somebody will be and should be there to clean up their own messes. That’s perfect ground for frustration and burn-out for the party always picking up the slack, and for ingratitude and entitlement for the party always let off the hook.
Neither bodes well for a healthy marriage or individual growth.
Now, I will say I have this easy for two reasons: one, both of us work full-time, so we share an equal amount of homemaking and breadwinning. (Read: no guilt.) If I were a stay-at-home mom, I would probably feel guilty if I didn’t clean up my husband’s messes (because that is a cherished virtue among women — household, motherhood, and wifely guilt).
And two, I am not a neat freak. I don’t require my husband or myself to keep an immaculate house. Some women seem compelled to pick up messes every five seconds, so walking past a husband’s pile of dirty laundry on the floor would be a Herculean test. It’s not for me, so we minimize our spats on clutter and reserve our energy for blowing up at each other if someone was supposed to do the dishes and didn’t.
(I kid you not, the dishes are the bane of our marriage.)
In a sense, then, I do treat my husband like a child: I expect the same responsibility and thoughtfulness from both my husband and my class, as they have a right to expect from me.
If that makes me a butthole, then so be it.