The World Championship of Wife Carrying

This weekend, Finland will host the 11th annual World Championship of Wife Carrying. For a description of this championship and a meditation on its possible meaning, check out William R. Mattox Jr.’s essay in today’s Opinion Journal. Here’s his conclusion:

Over the past half-century, our official gender debate has often forced people to choose between gender equality and gender-specific roles. You could be against misogyny. Or against androgyny. But you couldn’t be against both. At least not in the official debate.

But in our private lives–especially in those leisure pursuits that often (unconsciously) reveal our deepest hopes and aspirations–I get the impression that most couples somewhat paradoxically want both gender equality and gender-specific roles.

Perhaps this is why a high-powered lawyer friend of mine insists that her husband do the often-grimy “blue” jobs around the house (like grilling burgers on the Fourth of July) while she opts for the traditional “pink” household chores. Or why a recent University of Virginia study of more than 5,000 couples found that the happiest wives are those whose husbands earn at least two-thirds of the household income.

“Women today expect more help around the home and more emotional engagement from their husbands,” observes W. Bradford Wilcox, one of the study’s authors. “But they still want their husbands to be providers who give them financial security and freedom.”

In fact, curiously, this preference for husbands to carry the primary responsibility for providing household income could be found even among the most feminist-minded wives, according to the University of Virginia study.

Now, I realize that it is foolish to treat a wife-carrying competition with a great deal of seriousness. And I recognize that over-analyzing frivolous diversion can potentially threaten the carefree spirit that makes leisure play so enjoyable in the first place.

Nevertheless, I think the couples who annually gather in officially androgynous Finland for the World Championship of Wife-Carrying may be unintentionally making an important statement.

They may be expressing–in an admittedly peculiar manner–that they want to live in a world where husbands and wives are equals, but their roles aren’t completely interchangeable.

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