“The wives feel they don’t have as much worth because they don’t work, and the husbands agree. Because they’re bringing in the money, it’s ‘No, you can’t buy the boots for $250!’ A lot of these women have husbands who make millions of dollars a year, and they still say, ‘You can’t get the boots.’”
Even when husbands are nice about it, women who had been accustomed to supporting themselves can find it unexpectedly galling to play such an infantilized role.
“It’s really hard to ask for money,” says Claire Matthews*, who gave up her career as an actress when she and her husband adopted two children. “If I want to stop and get a chai while I wait for the results of my allergy tests at the doctor’s office, I feel guilty. The other day, I had to ask my husband for money to go buy some new underwear. He wants to know every little penny I’m spending and what it’s spent on.”
When this loss of power dawns on dependent wives, it often causes great unease. “My sister is a stay-at-home mom, and her husband is a very successful physician. She doesn’t need to work, but being financially dependent scares her,” says Susan Robinson*, an executive who lives in New Jersey. “Her husband keeps all the financial information from her. He has literally awakened her in the middle of the night and told her to sign the tax returns, so she wouldn’t review them.”
Robinson herself is a telecommunications executive, and is appalled by such subservience. “I don’t think women realize how easy it is to get into the mode of asking as opposed to stating. When the husband says, ‘I’ll let you know,’ you’re waiting for permission.”
Apprehensive about whether they will receive it, wives frequently resort to subterfuge in order to get what they want. “In my business, I see the shell game women play with their husbands, particularly where there’s this imbalance of economic power,” says Darcy Howe, a Merrill Lynch investment advisor in Kansas City, Missouri. “Women who don’t have economic power feel this need to sneak around if their husbands might not approve of the ways they’re spending the money. It’s a little game they’re playing.”