As our June 16 wedding day approached, my fiancé got a lot of advice from married coworkers and friends about how to navigate his future relationship. It boiled down to two similar messages: “Do whatever she says” and “She’s always right.”
He smiled and nodded at these bits of “wisdom” but with a few weeks to go before we took our vows, he told me he was getting a little concerned. Was I going to change into some sort of bossy she-monster after our wedding day? Was he signing up for a life-sentence of being wrong and apologizing?
It’s the dead-man-walking trope that is so common in our modern discourse about relationships: Once a man gets married, he’s doomed.
Everybody Dumps on Raymond
This is the backbone of situation-comedies: On Everybody Loves Raymond, each episode catalogues another bit of husbandly stupidity and the wife saves the day. King of Queens, The Simpsons, it’s the same thing: Cartoon or human, if it’s a husband-and-wife combo, the men are portrayed as stupid until they agree to whatever the women want.
When we embrace the stereotype that men are mamma’s boys, invalids and bumblers, we’re falling into a dangerous trap: We’re emasculating the men we profess to love.
“I thought we were supposed to think and engage with issues together, and that our marriage was something we both had responsibility over,” my now-husband said to me a few days before the wedding. He’s right-and we’ve made a pact not to perpetuate the all-too-common popular misandry surrounding modern marriage.
Misandry is not a word you’ve probably heard before. Literally, it is the hatred of men, and it’s comparable to misogyny, the hatred of women. But more commonly, when someone talks about misandry, they are referring to the idea that men are inferior to women, dolts incapable of helping around the house, idiots who just fart and burp.
According to a 2007 study conducted by FathersAndHusbands.org, men in prime time television are viewed far more often than women as sources of marital discontent, as inadequate parents, and as “corrupt” and “stupid”. By a factor of over 11 to 1, wives are portrayed more often than husbands as “justifiably dissatisfied with” their spouses and by 17 to 1 that men are more often portrayed as “corrupt”. Women were significantly more likely
to be seen as intelligent (5 to 4), good looking (7 to 1), and inspiring (5 to 1).
Do the fictional interactions on TV reflect reality for the majority of American nuclear families? It seems likely: Get a group of married women together and tell a story about a stupid husband. Watch the others chime in with their own version in an instant. It’s hard to know what goes on privately between married couples, but in the female for-public-consumption version of stories, the man is usually the butt of the joke.
What happened? Just two generations ago, a wife was advised to defer to her husband’s wishes, to smile sweetly and not burden him with her trivial problems, and to abide by his decisions as man of the house.
With the rise of feminism, the idea that father knows best went out of fashion with poodle skirts. As higher education and career opportunities became available to more women, the social imbalance of marriage began to change. A woman’s paycheck meant subservience wasn’t necessary.
Gender equality in relationships is the goal, yet somehow we’ve tipped the balance past the point of equanimity. Now the advice given to a man getting married seems to have a retro ring to it: demur to your wife’s wishes and abide by her decisions as mistress of the household.
A young, educated woman getting married in 2007 doesn’t need a husband to pay the rent. She’s a bit older when she gets married, she’s lived alone and knows how to take care of herself. And once married, she’ll continue to support herself, and increasingly, support her family as well. Indeed, more than half of women earning more than $50,000 outearn their husbands, according to U.S. Census data. But just because a woman has as much (or more) education, earns as much (or more) money as her husband, does not make him a bumbling idiot who should defer to his always-brilliant wife.
It was wrong to advise women in the 1950s to demur to her husband in all matters, and it’s wrong to advise young men to take a subordinate role today.
Women may be strong, successful and powerful, but for those of us who are choosing life-long relationships with men, we must not buy into a conventional wisdom that emasculates and infantilizes the men we chose as partners for life.
Neither of us made a promise to “obey” in our marriage vows, but we did promise to honor each other. My husband already has a mother, so he doesn’t need me to treat him like a child.
It’s time to stop joking about men’s subservience to their wives—and for this generation of strong, accomplished women to be secure enough not perpetuate this misandry in our own relationships.
What Do You Think?
More than two years ago, this column was the home for some lively debate about whether men were intimidated by smart women (SWANS: Strong Women Achievers No Spouse). I have a feeling this topic will spark some similarly strong feelings.
Guys: Do you feel like your wives or girlfriends aren’t recognizing what you bring to the relationship? Do you feel bossed around? What kind of advice do other men give you about your relationships?
Ladies: Is this a problem in your relationship? How do you and your boyfriend of spouse deal with issues of power and equality? Who wears the pants in the relationship? Do you think this is a problem—or just something for sit-com humor?
Share you thoughts below to keep the discussion going.