Philobiblon: Take the quiz: is your husband treated as a child?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Take the quiz: is your husband treated as a child?

A recent post of mine about the weaknesses of men has been picked up by the very reasonable Hugo Schwyzer, who disagreed with my conclusions about the effects of early marriage in infantilising men. Some of his commenters have, however, got rather more hot under the collar.

I was looking around for some material for a post on Seventies feminism (for the upcoming Carnival of Feminists on Sour Duck - check out the call for nominations) when I came across one of my all time second-hand bookstores best-buys, Media She, by Patricia Edgar and Hilary McPhee, published by Heinemann Melbourne in 1974. (It was practically falling apart when I bought it, but for $2 - even then - was a bargain.)

Very much a product of the early Second Wave feminism, it charts the rampant, open misogyny then to be found in the media, advertising, and other public arenas.

I'll probably be quoting more of this soon, but for an example of how society encouraged men to behave like children, I present this quiz, about "how good a wife are you, and could you manage paid work and a husband?". You are supposed to answer to each question with one of: never, sometimes, average, often, always.

1. Do you keep his clothes clean and mended?
2. Give him a good breakfast on time - and share it?
3. See he gets plenty of rest and sleep?
4. Relax with friends in the day so you can do things he enjoys together at evenings and weekends.
5. Make him feel you are really interested in his work - not jealous.
6. Co-operate sensibly in handling the pay packet?
7. Praise his accomplishments and keep quiet about failures?
8. Help when he has homework or overtime by avoiding complaints?
9. Finish as many chores as you can so he doesn't have to do them?
10. Greet him with a smile and a kiss instead of moans about your day?
How to score: Never 0, Sometimes 1, Average 2, Often 3, Always 4. You can hardly give yourself the perfect 40, can you? At best, you will probably score somewhere between 20 and 30. So pick out your low scores and go to work to improve them. And then, maybe, go out to work.

My first thought is "who was your slave last year?" my second "this is a description of a mother (of a small children), not a wife".

Now of course this is a silly magazine quiz, but it is also a careful reflection of society's expectations.

If someone continued to do all of these things for you well into adulthood, or you even thought they should, you'd probably find it pretty hard to learn to take responsibility for yourself.

(In case you are wondering, the original source is not given.)

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Blogger Hugo said...

This is classic -- I'm going to give it to my women's studies students... Thanks for the link, Natalie!

11/11/2005 03:28:00 am  
Blogger RJ said...

What really pisses me off about this syndrome is the way that it's reinforced by other men as a way of policing each other's gender.

I went off on this at length a while ago, but the short version is that a lot of it can be summed up by the whole "pussy-whipped" accusation: any man who's willing to act like an adult in his relationship risks getting ridiculed by his peers. The strength and maturity that leads him to behave like a grown-up is used against him by other men who accuse him of being weak and childlike.

It always feels to me like the ridiculers fear that the ridiculee is threatening their privilege to act like children and have their wives and girlfriends clean up the mess.

"Dang it, Phil's started putting away his dirty socks and driving the kids to birthday parties--if our wives catch wind of that, we're sunk. I know, let's call him "pussy-whipped" and impugn his masculinity so he'll cut it out before it spreads to us."

Which, I guess, boils down to homosociality, like so many other problems of masculinity do. Calling Phil "pussy-whipped" tries to force him to make a choice between his relationships with females and his relationships with males. Or rather, it attempts to predicate his relationships with other men upon his acceptance of a certain kind of relationship with women. This is understandable in 12 year-olds ("if you're going to be all nice to Becky Vandiver at lunch time then we don't want you in our culb!"), but really tragic in adults.

11/11/2005 04:07:00 am  
Blogger Mapo said...

And I was born in that decade? Feels like the victorian era.

11/11/2005 08:42:00 am  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm thrilled to say that the only thing I do is the laundry. The rest of it is a big, fat never.

11/11/2005 12:03:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Thanks Hugo. And Robert, I think you make a good point about each gender policing their own. A lot of the "policing" of women goes on similarly. In this era in the Sixties and Seventies, the women I knew often felt enormous pressure from their mothers and mothers-in-law to be "good" wives and mothers. (It took me a long while to talk my mother out of ironing underpants! for this reason.)

Similarly with fashion; women often don't "dress up" for men, but for the women who will judge them, often in minute detail.

11/11/2005 01:22:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was in my late teens, I remember having a conversation with a nearly-retired Architect who stated quite bitterly that feminism was responsible for the collapse of family and family ties in society. After some pursed lipped listening, I realised he had recently divorced and that, in a way, he was right. Perhaps it is due to the nature of my own relationships over the years that this conversation has resurfaced in my memory time and time again.

As an artist, and an activist, my relationships (intimate and professional) have lived within a realm wherein one might not expect to struggle with gender roles and issues, sexism and other "isms" of such nature. In environments where awareness and critical mindedness is abound, I can only attribute generational conditioning to the seemingly endless "ism" implications I have encountered.

Of the many examples I could provide, I'll simplify by noting that my nine year old son is struggling with his fathers insistance that he use manners only in the presence of "girls", gets wacked over the head for not opening doors for "girls", and is told that women are "lazy" as is evident in their lack of interest in sports. While also complaining that his mother (myself) refuses to treat him as a priority or to accept his guidance (his words) in our seperated circumstances as parents. I'm relieved to report that my son finds these notions abstract and confusing and that I've found no need for counter-coaching. But am sorry to report that boys still have such a complex and disaffected journey in relationship to their fathers.

A common complaint from women of my generation (and those before me) is that they experience their romantic partners as severely immature. Granted many of these women still expect men to exhibit some pretty stereotypical "maleness"... and many still play out the roles that contribute... but to say that the mothering of boys into and throughout manhood (in a broad generalization of course) is hardly debatable. It is evident in expectations, outlooks, dynamics, and in what is considered "normal". It is evident in the conflict that then arises. I think there is rather a broad concensus on the matter among women age 30 (if not younger) and upward.

Moreover I am reminded of the elder man who opened this debate to me as a teen, whom might as well have been stomping his feet and drooling a pout. He did not have the skills to approach his relationship with his children, his inlaws, or even his own parents and siblings... his wife had always done this on his behalf. Thus he was left on the brink of retirement, learning to manage his time, cook and clean, and form personal relationships. In his maturity, he assumed only that this was the fault of feminism (for changing women's expectations of marriage) and did not question his own (social) education and role in his relationships.

Feminism succeeded to change a lot things, but it is now up to the individuals and their strengths of character, to transform theory into healthy dynamics and relationships. For their daughters, yes, but seemingly most detrimentally now - for their sons.

11/13/2005 06:47:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

About ten years ago I was a tutor in a university college with lots of 17-20-year-olds. I did have a feeling that at least some of the men were more ready to take emotional responsibility in relationships (of all kinds, not just sexual). But they were still a minority.

11/13/2005 07:06:00 pm  

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