I was interested in this post which revisits a familiar topic, namely, the wife who doesn’t treat her husband with the goddamned common courtesy you’d extend to a drunken bum pounding on your front door at one o’clock in the morning. I think we can all admit, it’s a situation far more familiar in day-to-day living, than it is in conversation; we tend not to discuss it. Even when confronted with it directly, we still don’t audibly notice it, or comment on it.
I met a young couple the other day with three little boys. The father, who was in the military, was getting ready to leave in a couple of days for Iraq. As I chatted with them, I tried to think of a way to convey my thanks to him for putting his life on the line in the service of our country; I tried to think of a way to express my concern and my empathy for him and his family. As I was half listening to the conversation and half trying to decide the best way to express my gratitude and concern to virtual strangers, something happened that really made me sad. I was speaking to the wife and the youngest son, barely a toddler, decided he wanted to try and tackle the staircase. As he attempted to go downstairs, his oldest brother got in front of him and stopped him. The toddler got upset at this impediment and started crying. The mother saw what was happening and began reprimanding her older son for upsetting the baby. Upon this, the father stepped forward in defense of his son and explained to his wife that he’d told the boy to watch his brother and not let him go downstairs. His wife’s response was to roll her eyes and yell, “Hello! Who’s the adult here? You don’t put your six year old son in charge of the baby, you do it yourself. My gosh! Am I the only adult around here. Can’t I trust you to handle anything?” Then she turned back to me, rolled her eyes and apologized (I’m sure for the alleged stupidity of her husband and not her own behavior) and politely continued our conversation.
There are lots of reasons for this behavior running rampant today. One of them is confirmation bias:
In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions and avoids information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs. It is a type of cognitive bias and represents an error of inductive inference, or as a form of selection bias toward confirmation of the hypothesis under study or disconfirmation of an alternative hypothesis.
Confirmation bias is of interest in the teaching of critical thinking, as the skill is misused if rigorous critical scrutiny is applied only to evidence challenging a preconceived idea but not to evidence supporting it.
In this case, the bias to be confirmed is that the hubby is just another one of the kids. It’s very fashionable to think this, and a lady who wants to think it will find a way to believe it.
Another causative factor seems to be that society pressures women into certain things. Among these, acquiring the proper accessories…cell phone…purse…dog to carry in the purse…husband. Meanwhile there is no opposing pressure for women to partner up with a good Joe, and really share a life with him. So it’s easy for a dude to fall into that trap of becoming an accessory. And every noun has a verb. You talk a phone, you carry a purse, you cuddle a dog, and the fella…well, if your girlfriend is scolding her fella and talking down to him, and you’re treating yours with some measure of respect — why, that’s just uncool on you. And so, there is this race among the fashion-minded. A race to be nasty, condescending, and rude. A race to bark out orders the fastest.
And familiarity, of course. Familiarity breeds contempt. The crazy bag lady pounding on your door in the middle of the night, she’s still entitled to some please-and-thank-you. Husbands, not so much.
We shouldn’t forget protocol. Women excel at learning protocol, at incorporating and becoming acclimated to a new social custom. And protocol is really nothing more than stigma. It should come as no news to anyone over the age of thirty, that our modern society has been subject to a battery of social changes in the last few years — which are new stigmatizations. Treating a man with courtesy, decency and deference has become one of the stigmatizations. It’s supposed to be all about equality. But it really isn’t, is it?
On this point, the woman henpecking her husband in front of strangers, or near-strangers, is a discredit to society in general. She demonstrates that we have elevated rudeness to a fundamental of some misguided new form of etiquette. And she proves that those among us who have not actively promoted it, have passively accepted it.
Substantial numbers among our ladies, it would appear, would rather stand accused of being impolite and even uncultured, than of being known as a Stepford Wife:
1.) Used to describe a servile, compliant, submissive, spineless wife who happily does her husband’s bidding and serves his every whim dutifully.
2.) Can also be used to describe a wife who is cookie-cutter & bland in appearance and behavior. Subscribes to a popular look and dares not deviate from that look.
This term is borrowed from the fictional suburb of Stepford, Connecticut in Ira Levin’s 1972 novel, The Stepford Wives, later made into movies (in 1975 and 2004). In the story, men of this seemingly ideal town have replaced their wives with attractive robotic dolls devoid of emotion or thought.
1.) She’s such a stepford wife, I’ve seen her greet her husband at the door after work with a beer and a kiss 4 days in a row!
2.) I just got back from the pta meeting, I’ve never seen so many stepford wives.
2b.) The SNL skit “Mom Jeans” features women dressed to earn the SW distinction.
I have never quite grasped the complete picture on what exactly is so wrong about the Stepford Wife. I’ve seen the Katharine Ross movie and I’ve seen Nicole Kidman’s version. Both of them looked, to me, like movies with happy endings in the middle, with events taking a downward tailspin toward the closing credits. I never did get the impression I was tuned in to the desired mood in either one of those; the middle events seem dark, like I’m supposed to read some kind of tragedy into a situation where a man is relaxing in a comfy chair and his missus is bringing him brandy and cigars. What’s the problem?
I mean yeah, maybe it’s not an ideal situation to have your lady replaced by a robot. But perhaps asking the question remains worthwhile, because the story that is being told, on an emotional level, strikes me as vague. I mean, what’s the problem that our heroes are supposed to solve here? That the wife has been abducted? That her role has been displaced by a robot? Or that the husband’s expectations might be raised here insofar as what’s supposed to happen in his marriage? Because I can’t help but get the feeling, things are at a low nadir because there’s something repugnant about doing nice things for your husband. Why, we can’t have that; those husbands might start talking to each other, and getting ideas!
If that wasn’t the intended message, perhaps there needed to have been some clarification. In both movies.
But the real problem, it seems to me, is that some of these wives are cultivating relationships with other women, that are more important than the relationships they have with their husbands. Even with women who are complete strangers.
I remember years ago when I was still living in Seattle, some of the other computer nerds who lived there had a joke they liked to tell. A young software engineer was being considered for a job, and he wasn’t able to set up an interview during working hours so he agreed to meet his prospective new employer at the Space Needle. He ordered an ice water for himself, and then he looked over at the next booth and saw none other than Bill Gates. He was so excited, and even moreso when he realized what a decent and approachable guy Mr. Gates was. They talked for a few minutes, and finally he worked up the nerve to ask Bill Gates for a favor. “I have a job interview, here, in a few minutes,” he said. “I’m terribly worried about how to make a good impression, and I was wondering if you could pop by a few minutes into it, and act as if you know me.” Bill Gates thought for a minute and said, “why, sure. I’m sure I could handle that.”
The interview proceeded as planned. About ten minutes in, Bill Gates was getting ready to go. But he made good on his promise, politely broke in and said to the young man, “Hey Jack, didn’t want to interrupt. Wonderful seeing you again.”
The young man said, “Gates! Piss off. I’m in a meeting.”
Seems to me to be an apt illustration of what’s happening in marriages like the one described in the above-linked article — the trashing of a person who’s supposed to be a compatriot, for sake of ingratiating oneself with strangers. It is, essentially, an exercise in making new friends — an exercise that, if it succeeds, befriends those who probably don’t make very good friends. It isn’t a problem with women being “uppity” or forgetting their place, or failing to show the proper subservience the Good Lord intended. It isn’t a matter of becoming a Stepford Wife. It’s an issue of simple human decency, good manners, and sharing your life with a person the way you said you were going to. And not wasting theirs. Socially, it really doesn’t take very much at all to make the point. A good-natured, cheerful smile, with a friendly “I don’t think that’s appropriate” can do wonders.
Cross-posted at Right Wing News.