• It figures. Western economies take a nosedive and the call goes up to bring back the 1950s house frau, with her Cupid’s bow of lipstick and dog-like eagerness to please.
Send your woman to obedience school to cure her of those nasty feminist habits. Get her hooked on Botox so she can’t frown, even if she wants to. Make sure she knows you may no longer be a master of the universe but you’re an absolute ruler in the home.
A number of “advice” books are now selling in the US, telling women they should play a submissive role in marriage to avoid the divorce courts.
On no account must we complain if he cheats on us. On no account must we lose our figures or dress for comfort. And on no account must we nag him about DIY jobs. Cook, clean and smile until lock-jaw sets in is the core message. Provide enthusiastic sex on demand, no matter how tired we are from shouldering the lion’s share of household responsibilities after a day at work.
Oh, and never mention our higher salaries, should we happen to earn more than he does. If we’re more successful than our men, hide it. Otherwise he’ll feel threatened.
I could go on, but you get the drift. And surely it’s no coincidence that people are paying some attention to this loony litany of dos and don’ts, rather than recommending the authors go away and lie in a darkened room until the dizzy spells pass.
In a downturn, when confidence ebbs, strange ideas become seductive. But the men behind these cynical books need shrinks, not publishers. Letting them loose on the public is a crude publicity stunt.
Their manuals are manipulative — designed not to help solve a problem but to point the finger of blame. Deliberately sensationalist in tone (one refers to ‘broads’, while another claims it’s a wife’s fault if her husband strays), they champion what you’d like to believe is a hopeless cause.
Except they are selling. They are selling because they strike a chord, feeding into our insecurities — male and female alike.
Some women do wonder if juggling children, marriage and a career is a Faustian pact. Especially in the current climate when, however hard they work, too much month is left at the end of the money.
Some men do feel unmanned by successful women. We saw it recently during Hillary Clinton‘s tilt at the Democratic nomination, when gloating misogyny was allowed to run rampant and a spate of sexist jokes circulated. “When Hillary speaks, men hear take out the garbage”; “she’s like everyone’s first wife standing outside a probate court”.
And now we have these books, backed by chat-show appearances on opinion-forming shows such as ‘Oprah‘, urging women to reclaim their house frau in the interests of social harmony.
But men don’t need to change their behaviour, they don’t even have to try and honour their marriage vows. Their Stepford Wives will reward them for playing away by buying lingerie and suggesting an early night.
It is no coincidence this debate should resurface at a time of mounting fiscal crisis, when people tend to become more conservative. Nostalgia for the past is a common reaction to anxiety about the future.
But what’s being proposed here is a giant backwards leap in time. Doormat dogma is the proposed ideal, with women sacrificing everything from their identities to career aspirations.
Spurious promises are made about this advancing the happiness of both male and female: everyone will know where they stand and what their roles require of them. On the contrary, all it could ever promote is long-term resentment.
It’s a master-slave relationship and the only males who could truly enjoy such a warped balance of power are men in name only and human beings only in passing. Still, it’s a philosophy that’s attracting attention. And not just on the outer fringes of the blogosphere but in mainstream circles.
That tells us something about the way the recession is biting, in a less headline-grabbing but just as pertinent way as the crash of Lehman Brothers. It’s mystifying why women are among the customers for these knee-jerk books. Until you remember women are just as shocked by the global realignment as men. Everyone’s certainties have been shaken. And people are looking for answers, albeit in odd places.
What has been the defining film of 2008 for women? ‘Sex and the City‘ — in which women cheered as Carrie married Mr Big, even though he had caused her humiliation and heartache by jilting her at the altar rails.
Not only did she forgive him, she shared the blame for his appalling behaviour. She was too caught up in the bells and whistles of a fairytale wedding to consider his reservations about the razzmatazz — no wonder he bailed out.
Astonishingly, people bought into this warped reasoning and the film company is making noises about a sequel. They won’t get their hands on my money, but I’m in a minority. Many women accepted that manifestation of macho culture offset by female frivolity.
Still, I can rally myself up with the thought of how Mr Big would be toast now, following the Wall Street meltdown.
As for these silly, simplistic books — undoubtedly problems crop up in male-female relationships, but attempting to brainwash women into subservience will solve nothing.
That route will lead to people taking out dog licences instead of marriage licences.