The Angel of the House wants a checking account of one's own
I cannot wait for the day that David Brooks comes out and plainly states that he thinks that in order for the race, I mean, the nation to be strong, women must gracefully accept a subservient position. Through Steve Gilliard, we find that he's taken one step closer, pushing on from his columns in the past complaining how American women aren't making enough Aryan babies to keep our morals high and our finances strong to a column today complaining that the joint checking account is in decline. Apparently, if women control their own money, that means that the family is on the verge of collapse.
He warms us up by explaining the importance of "self-abnegation and sacrifice", the sort of loving female sacrifice that he illustrates with a story from Tolstoy. For without a woman at home, firmly under the thumb of her husband, with all herself turned over to children and husband and not a thing for herself, there is apparently no such thing as the pleasures of hearth and home. Sometimes I have to wonder if Brooks has put himself on a reading diet and allows himself to read nothing written after that nightmarish day that Virginia Woolf picked up a pen. He is a firm Victorian, completely convinced that a man's life is empty without the rustle of petticoats in his home, soothing the tired brain after a day of man-work.
It also illustrates how the family is a countervailing force in society. Public life is individualistic. It's oriented around goals like self-development, self-advancement and personal happiness. (This is, of course, even more true in America today than in the Russia of the 19th century.) The goal of family life, on the other hand, does not revolve around individual choices but around the unconditional union of souls. When we get married, and then when we have kids, we learn, sometimes traumatically, to say farewell to the world of me, me, me.
What this has to do with joint checking accounts, I couldn't say. But this paragraph does wipe away any notion that Brooks is alluding to anything but the Angel of the House philosophy from the Victorian era, a belief that there were two realms, the private/feminine one and the public/masculine one, and that women were to be relegated to the private one with their main duty to be subservient to men and make the home pleasant for men who were doing the hard, manly work in the public realm. Brooks avoids using gender-specific terms in this paragraph, but the fact that the only examples he uses of spouses who are too fond of their independence are wives makes it clear who he thinks has the duty of sacrificing for the private realm.
But some of the people quoted in Shellenbarger's article seem unaware that there may be a distinction between the individualistic ethos of the market and the communal ethos of the home. A Texas woman celebrated her family's separate accounts, remarking, "It's so freeing to be your own person, and not feel like someone is looking over your shoulder." It's not clear whether she's talking about a marriage or a real estate partnership.
What is wifehood if it's not having someone controlling your every decision, preferrably by hanging onto the purse strings? Brooks tries to horrify us by counting out a number of instances where married women dare maintain their own accounts and don't have to answer to a husband as if they were individuals with rights, sure that his audience understands that women's independence and marital intimacy are mutually exclusive.
The irony of all this is separate checking accounts have probably saved many a marriage, by making it easier for couples to avoid fighting about money.
If it weren't so infuriating that he has a column in the NY Times, these editorials detailing how women's independence threatens the home and therefore the morals of the nation, editorials where reguritates arguments used over a century ago against the peril facing the nation if women got the right to vote, it would be worth laughing off. I wish I made this much money rehashing fears that were disproven by 1950. But Brooks does have an influential platform and it's important to note that he's using it to convince us that things were better in the days of corsets and robber barons, even if he doesn't come right out and say it.