Molly Fisk: Renting A Wife

Long, long ago, I think it was the 1980s, a business appeared on the radar called Rent-a-Wife. It did not involve, let me say at once, prostitution. Not that kind of rent and not that kind of wife.

As I recall it was started in Seattle by a couple of women who saw a niche. For a reasonable sum per hour, they’d pick up your dry cleaning, wait for the plumber, return videos and library books, maybe do a little grocery shopping. I don’t think cooking or cleaning were part of the bargain—that niche being already filled by chefs, house cleaners, and maids. Likewise, they didn’t do yard work. The concept was merely racing around town running errands a working person probably couldn’t leave the office long enough to do, like getting your tires rotated.

Many of us second-wave feminists felt mixed about this business model. On the one hand, we scoffed at the name, with its sexist slant and assumptions about what wives did with their time. “Good grief,” we muttered to each other. “Really? In 1985!?” Everyone we knew, male and female, was working, and small-size entrepreneurial ventures hadn’t really become a thing yet, nor the now-ubiquitous home office, so the tradition of a person staying home all day was not part of our world. Back then people didn’t tend to marry right out of college, if they went to college, so no one had actual wives or husbands yet, either, nor kids to be looked after.

On the other hand, it being the ’80s, a lot of us had dry cleaning. (It was not a decade of wash-and-wear, you’ll remember: women wore suits with huge shoulder pads.) Many of us wished there were someone around to go get the oil changed (if you lived in California), or pick up dinner (if you lived in Chicago). Another body to help with life’s many chores sounded heavenly.

I checked on Google this morning, and there are still outfits called Rent-a-Wife providing these services. I didn’t click on the one in Thailand. You can also Rent-a-Husband, if you need a drain unstopped or anything else on your so-called “honey do” list. Try not to let that soft porn plot begin to unspool in your head…I mean it. Turn your mind to outrage instead. People still think women can’t unstop their own drains? Really? In 2017? There is also Rent-a-Spouse, which sounds more promising, but the jobs are divided strictly along gender lines.

The world is a very strange place and full of surprises. Today, you can apparently rent a mom or dad to stand in at your wedding. You can rent good-looking fake friends to populate your Instagram photos. Cats, dogs, expensive cars, cockatiels, even grandchildren are available to boost your social media image.

I can’t tell if this is hilarious or just incredibly sad, or both.

Probably both.

The punchline, though, goes back to the mid-’80s, because — maybe you saw this coming — far and away the majority of people who rented wives were, of course, women.

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Deb Lundstrom August 5, 2017 at 10:01 pm

    There are some things about polygamous marriages I find appealing. This idea being one of them, having other women to share the work with instead of being on your own for everything. I, for example, don’t like to run errands, but another “wife” might, so more could be accomplished with less stress. It would be great to have close friendships always available. There are other parts I would not be so fond of at all . . . But, I’ve always said that I wanted to wife, too. Maybe it would work better if neighbors could share their chores this way. No need to cause anyone to “unspool” any sort of porn.

  • Shirley Harrison August 5, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Molly, There was an article in MS. magazine back in the 70’s entitled, “I Want a Wife,” written by a woman. I think she was married. Was really the first time I saw anything like it. Became a classic instantly, of course.

    • Susan B. Apel August 5, 2017 at 9:52 pm

      Judy Syfers, now Judy Brady, wrote that essay.