Daily Archives: April 20, 2006

Feminism, misogyny, and husband management

I’m a big fan of Dr. Helen, and I very much appreciate her efforts as a fellow critic of male-bashing. But one of her threads last week troubled me, for several reasons.

In a post titled “The Well-Managed Husband?”, Dr. Helen collects some nasty bits of advice that a couple of men’s rights sites say women are getting on manipulating their husbands to obtain the desired results. Then, she refers to a post by a web diarist who calls himself a “Mad Suburban Dad”, expressing his dismay when he overhears his wife’s phone conversation with her sister about how “well-managed” a friend’s husband is. According to “Mad Dad”‘s narrative, quoted by Dr. Helen:

“A well-managed husband does not realize he is being managed, nor do his friends,” she said. “Usually, the only other person who can tell he is well managed is a woman who also has a well-managed husband or boyfriend.” Then I asked the question that I am afraid to ask and even more afraid to hear the answer to: “So, if you know your friend’s husband is ‘well managed,’ does that mean I’m ‘well-managed’ too?” I asked with trepedation.

Mad Mom gets this silly grin and says: “Excuse me, I have got to go to the bathroom.”

Dr. Helen comments:

Say what? If I was MadDad and I heard this, I would have been livid. No trepedation, no humiliating strikes like MadDad talks about (check out post 4-4), no asking women on my site for comments, no, nope, nada. Just a simple statement from me to this prize of a wife, “I hear you talking like that or trying to manipulate me like that again and I am out of here.”

And I would mean it.

A number of posters in Dr. Helen’s comments thread (which quickly turns to woman-bashing, or at least American-woman-bashing) blame this supposedly pervasive “husband management” on “feminists,” “gender feminists,” “misandrist attitudes and behavior,” and the like. (All of which goes unquestioned by Dr. Helen.) But in fact, it is anti-feminist traditionalists, not feminists, who embrace female manipulation of men as a positive value — a way women can wield power and achieve what they want without “becoming like men.” For instance, in the 2004 book, Taking Sex Differences Seriously, Stephen Rhoads writes:

Indeed, it’s still quite common to hear of small, feminine women who have their strong, masculine husbands “wrapped around their little fingers.” Happy women rule indirectly. They can rule because their husbands love and want to please them. They can also rule because, as psychological studies have demonstrated, women can read men better than men can read women. What matters, then, is only that men be the ostensible heads of households. In such cases, both parties emerge happy.

I have yet to read Harvey Mansfield’s new book, Manliness (highly acclaimed in the conservative press), but I suspect he gives the same advice. In a November 3, 1997 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Prof. Mansfield opined that “gentle” feminine authority should “defer to the manly sort”, and added:

This does not mean that men have to decide, only that they have to appear to decide.

And it was not a feminist but conservative pop radio doyenne Dr. Laura who had written a book with the repulsive title, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands.

There is another issue as well. “Mad Dad’s” diary post goes on to say:

“I think of our marriage as a corporation. I may be the CEO, but you are the Chairman.”
I realize Mad Mom is also the Chief Financial Officer, the Executive Secretary and the Chief Operating Officer too. But, hey, that was the deal we struck when we decided I would keep my job which required a gazillion hours a week, while she stayed at home.
“I mean, I know you have a lot of the responsibility around the house, but that was the agreement we made when you quit your job.” I said. “That was a mutual decision.”
“So what are you worried about,” said Mad Mom, as she gets down on the floor to help five-year old E with her puzzle. “You are still the head of the family.”
“Yeah,” E said. “And mommy is the neck.”
Thinking Mad Mom had been insulted I said, “That’s okay E, because the neck is just below the head.”
“I know,” E said. “And mommy told auntie that the neck controls the head, telling it which way to turn.”

It seems to me that “Mad Mom’s” manipulative ways are more than well-matched by “Dad’s” unrepentant male chauvinism. Doesn’t this fact merit a comment from Dr. Helen, too? Personally, if I was married to a guy who ever told our child that I was “below him,” I’d be out of there myself.

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