Last night, I put my 8-month-old baby down for the night and, as a Mother's Day gift to myself, settled in with Ali Wong's new Netflix special. Hard Knock Wife picks up where Wong's first special, Baby Cobra, left off. Wong is pregnant (again), she's wearing a fitted leopard print dress, and she can still do a mean twerk.
Baby Cobra was a first for audiences: There was something so refreshing about a heavily-pregnant comic lifting up her dress and pointing to her crotch as part of a spectacularly raunchy joke. Wong's third-trimester belly didn't take away from the humor in her special; it only enhanced it. Her set-ups were smart, her punchlines hilarious, and she was doing it all while growing a fetus. That's more than any male comic can ever say.
And, as Wong laid out two years ago, all she ever wanted was to trap her Ivy League-educated husband so she never had to work again; she was biding her time until she could become the kept "house mom" she so badly wanted to be. But, in a laughable twist of fate, the success of Baby Cobra made Wong a household name. And wealthy, too. Turns out, her husband is now living the kept-spouse life of her dreams.
Now that Wong has removed "the pressure to provide from his shoulders," her husband's job is just "an eccentric hobby."
"My mom is very concerned that [my husband] is going to leave me out of intimidation," Wong says in Hard Knock Wife, adding, "I had to explain to her that the only kind of man that would leave a woman who makes more money is the kind of man that doesn't like free money."
But, she continues, there's a catch. "Being a woman and breadwinner is not all that. You get insecure, so you overcompensate in the marriage by letting the husband have a say... and on top of that I get insecure as being seen as an ice-cold workaholic mom, so I'm the main caregiver for our daughter, too. I'm exhausted. I'm overwhelmed."
That bit gets roaring applause from the audience, but it touches on the very real, crippling guilt and shame so many working moms and successful women grapple with. Though we are now in a moment where society doesn't necessarily emasculate men if their wives and partners make more money, Wong's need to overcompensate for time away from the home — by shouldering the bulk of the childcare — is not far off from the greater trend regarding division of labor in the U.S. A 2015 Pew study found that 54% of straight couples in working-parent households report that the woman still does the bulk of childcare.
As Wong explains, being the sole or greater breadwinner puts pressure on a woman to alleviate a whole new kind of guilt: for reversing a longstanding power balance and heteronormative structure in households (men as breadwinners, women as caretakers).
When a man is the breadwinner, he has one important job. When the woman is the breadwinner, she has two important jobs. For now, it seems the best way to handle this complicated truth is with honesty and, hopefully, humor.
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