The wifely duty from the Telegraph.Co.UK

Reader Response to “Don’t Marry Career Women” – The wifely duty from the Telegraph.Co.UK

The wifely duty from the Telegraph.Co.UK
Regular Contributor
Why is it suddenly fashionable for women to brag about how little sex they have with their husbands? Because in their quest for independence, writes the provocative American writer Caitlin Flanagan, today’s exhausted working women have neglected one thing…

Recently, during two strange days in New York, three married people – one after another – confessed to me either that they had stopped having sex or that they knew a married person who had stopped having sex.

Like a sensible person, I came home and chalked the whole thing up to the magic and mystery that is New York. But no sooner had I hung up my coat than it started again. Mothers in my set began making sardonic comments along similar lines. The daytime talk shows to which I am mildly and happily addicted worried the subject to death, one proclaiming that sexless marriages are an ‘undeniable epidemic’.

Mass-circulation magazines aimed at married women rarely go to press these days without an earnest review of some new sexual technique or gadget, the information always presented in the context of how to relight a long-doused fire. Books with titles such as Okay, So I Don’t Have a Headache and I’m Not in the Mood have become immediate hits.

It seems that a large number of relatively young and otherwise healthy married people are forgoing sex for long periods of time and that many have given it up altogether.

The marital therapist Michele Weiner-Davis’s book The Sex-Starved Marriage is certain to puzzle generations of social historians.

The book is not particularly interested in the cause of this strange turn of events, although Davis tosses around the expected observations about the exhaustion that dogs contemporary working parents and the reduction in lust that has always gone along with marriage.

Hers is not a deep-thinking, reflective kind of book, but, rather, a get-cracking-and-solve-the-problem kind of book. Solutions? She’s armed to the teeth with them. She has created a ‘passion-building toolkit’ filled with ‘field-tested’ techniques.

Most important, though, is a recommendation based on exciting new ‘research’ revealing that, for many people, waiting for the urge to strike is pointless; better to bash ahead and hope for the best.

What’s odd here is not the suggestions themselves, but the generation that apparently needs them. Yuppies, with that winsome arrogance that is all their own, proudly describe their premarital couplings with a specificity matched only by advanced seminars on animal husbandry.

But let these inebriates of nooky enter marriage, a state in which ongoing sexuality often has as much to do with old-fashioned notions of obligation and commitment as it does with the immediate satisfaction of physical desire, and they grow as cool and limp as yesterday’s rocket salad.

All of this makes me reflect that those repressed and much-pitied 1950s wives – their sexless college years! Their boorish husbands, who couldn’t locate the clitoris with a flashlight and a copy of Gray’s Anatomy! – were apparently getting a lot more action than many of today’s most liberated and sexually experienced married women. In the old days, of course, there was the wifely duty.

A housewife understood that in addition to ironing her husband’s shirts and cooking the Sunday roast, she was, with some regularity, going to have relations with the man of the house.

Perhaps, as some feminists would have us believe, these were grimly efficient interludes during which the poor humped-upon wife stared at the ceiling and silently composed the grocery list. Or perhaps not. Maybe, as Davis suggests in her book, once you get the canoe out in the water, everybody starts happily paddling. The notion that female sexuality was unleashed 40 years ago, after lying dormant these uncountable millennia, is silly.

Jane Greer, a sex therapist with a thriving New York practice, told me that she has seen many married couples who have gone without sex for periods of time ranging from six months to six years. Why? ‘Marriage has changed,’ she told me. ‘In the old days the husband was the breadwinner. The wife had the expectation of raising the children and pleasing him. Now they’re both working and both taking care of the children, and they’re too exhausted and resentful to have sex.’

I asked Greer the obvious question: if a couple are not having sex because of job pressures and one partner quits working, does the couple have more sex? The answer was immediate and unequivocal: ‘Absolutely!’

This is the general plot of Allison Pearson’s book I Don’t Know How She Does It, which has the heroine, Kate Reddy, playing dead in the sack for a world of nights until, at the book’s end, she resigns from her job and runs into her husband’s arms. The dominant feature of Kate’s attitude towards her husband before this sexual reunion is blistering contempt.

Contempt for his work; contempt for his inability to notice when the family has run out of toilet paper. Contempt for his very existence in the household. If bestselling novels succeed because they ‘tap into’ something in the culture, surely this woman’s helpless anger at the man who she thought was going to share her domestic burden accounts in part for the book’s immense popularity.

Pearson told an interviewer, ‘Until they programme men to notice you’re out of toilet paper, a happy domestic life will always be up to women’ – a sentiment almost unanimously held by the working mothers I know. What we’ve learnt during this 30-year grand experiment is that men can be cajoled into doing household tasks, but will not do them the way a woman would.

They will bathe the children, but they will not straighten the bath mat and wring out the flannel. They will drop a toddler off at nursery school, but they won’t spend ten minutes chatting with the teacher. They will, in other words, do what men have always done: reduce a job to its simplest essentials and utterly ignore the fillips and niceties that women tend to regard as equally essential. And a lot of women feel cheated and angry and even – bless their hearts – surprised about this.

It turns out that the ‘traditional’ marriage, which we’ve all been so happy to annihilate, had some pretty good provisions for many of today’s most stubborn marital problems, such as how to combine work and parenthood, and how to keep the springs of the marriage bed in good working order.

What’s interesting about the sex advice given to married women of earlier generations is that it proceeds from the assumption that in a marriage a happy sex life depends upon successful housekeeping.

Marabel Morgan’s notorious 1973 book The Total Woman has lingered in people’s minds because of the seduction techniques it recommends to unhappy housewives.

But long before she describes any of these, Morgan gives a quite thorough accounting of how a housewife ought to go about ‘redeeming the time’ and the energy so that she is physically and emotionally able to make love on a regular basis.

A housewife should run her household the way an executive runs his business: with goals, schedules and plans. In a household run by an incompetent wife, however, ‘by the time her husband enters the scene, she’s had it,’ Morgan writes. ‘She’s too tired to be available to him.’

This seems a fairly accurate depiction of many modern two-career marriages, in which dinner is a nightly crisis (what to eat?) and an endless negotiation (who to cook it?) for two people who have been managing crises and negotiating agreements all day long and who still have the children’s homework and baths and bedtimes to contend with.

The modern professional workday is far more demanding than its predecessors. It lasts much longer, and the various technologies that were supposed to liberate workers from the office have in fact made the whole world an office.

When a professional person crosses the threshold at the end of the day, the commute hasn’t provided a transition from work; it has been a continuation of it. Now there isn’t just one spouse who has had such a punishing day; there are two of them. No one has spent even a moment planning a gentle re-entry into home life, let alone plotting a thrilling seduction.

For many modern women, the notion that sex might have any function other than personal fulfilment (and the odd bit of carefully scheduled baby-making) is a violation of the very tenets of the sexual revolution that so deeply shaped their attitudes on such matters.

So pity the married man hoping to get a bit of comfort from the wife at day’s end. He must somehow seduce a woman who is economically independent of him, bone tired, philosophically disinclined to have sex unless she is jolly well in the mood, numbingly familiar with his every sexual manoeuvre, and still seething over his failure to wipe down the worktops after cooking the kids’ dinner. He can hardly be blamed for opting instead to check his email, catch a few minutes of Match of the Day and call it a night.

Given the curious alchemy of feminism, which transforms anything women choose to do into a crucial element of liberation doctrine, confessing that one has given up sex has become a very right-on and empowering act. The notorious essay collection The Bitch in the House is filled with such gleefully tendered admissions, including that of the writer Jill Bialosky, whose account of a lunch with an old friend is featured on the book’s jacket: ‘My friend asked me about my marriage. “Are you guys having sex?” she asked bluntly… I wanted to laugh.’ What’s interesting about these public admissions is that they are utterly humiliating to husbands.

Granted, Bialosky has protected her husband’s privacy by referring to him as ‘D’. But perhaps, if her heart had really been in it, she would have written under a pseudonym. Every account I’ve ever read in which a married woman admits that she’s not having sex any more begins with a red-hot account of the sex she used to have with her husband before they had children. But now? ‘A little faucet had turned off inside my body. My veins were cold. I didn’t want to be touched.’ And here, with that little faucet, is the heart of the matter.

The Jill Bialoskys of the world may feel that they belong to the most liberated group of women yet to stride the earth, and assume that in the very act of confession, they are wearing the mantle of freedom.

What they don’t understand, and what women of an earlier era might have been able to tell them, is that when the little faucet turns off, it is time not to rat out your husband, but rather to turn it back on. It is not complicated; it requires putting the children to bed at a decent hour and adopting a good attitude.

The rare and enviable woman is not the one liberated enough to tell hurtful secrets about her marriage to her girlfriends or the reading public. Nor is she the one capable of attracting the sexual attentions of a variety of worthy suitors.

The rare woman is the one who has not only maintained her husband’s sexual interest in her, but managed to return it in full measure. How the modern woman, with all odds stacked against her, achieves this connubial hat trick is anybody’s guess.

09-10-2006 03:32 PM

Re: The wifely duty from the Telegraph.Co.UK

I must say you are a bit mistaken about the modern woman in general.
Coming from the third world country and still living there I must say things are a bit different here for us women.
In the article it is all about the men and pointing fingers at women. Women fail to do this that’s why men are behaving this way……This is quite defeatist. In the village here, women do most of the work while men still around being men. But at the end of the day they hold the bank accounts and so the women despite working hard at the firms have no say about the usage.
I must say it takes two to tango. Piting men against women or vice versur is not going to help anyone in the society and neither marriage.
I have seen many men who are depedent on women and vice versur so it does not matter who provides the butter as long as respect for both exist.
As a woman who grew up in the village and so the gender imbalance I would really not want to be there. This is where women are beaten to pulp and they only know how to be submit to the man. Is this what men want really? As a kid who grew up in such a state, I would not wish anyone to go through that.
About sex: For a fact it is not only the woman who opts for a sex less marriage but also men. I have gone through that and the man has said that he is tired.
For me things will be greatly improved if women and men stopped speaking at cross-purposes but communicating, and once they stop having a war of U agaist Us things will be better in marriages.
The only thing I know that what you experienced in Europe 40 years ago is what we are experiencing right now. While I think that some Western women are more privildged and it would help if they acted more unconfrotational, I know matters of marriage here are not better. We persevere on.
The next time you write such an article please think about both sides of the coin.

09-11-2006 05:12 AM

Re: The wifely duty from the Telegraph.Co.UK
Regular Contributor
Wester families have been thrieving with men holding the bank accounts, because men are RSPONSIBEL. They do not buy tons of clothes they do not spend it on closets full of shoes. A woman gives a *ats @ss about the family and spends the way she feels like. Just look at singel mothers with high incomes. How come their children are left with zilch ? Because therer is no man around, because the woman is a woman, thats why. Women need the leadership of men. Tell me what is better ? Giving your hard earned money to the mall or your husband ?

09-11-2006 09:40 AM

Re: The wifely duty from the Telegraph.Co.UK
Regular Contributor

That’s probably a phony post. She didn’t name her “third world country” for some reason, and it is most likely because we could evaluate the truth of what she’s saying if we knew any specifics. I think it’s one of the American women who is desperately trying to stop the direction that this board has taken

09-12-2006 02:33 PM

Re: The wifely duty from the Telegraph.Co.UK
Regular Contributor
The article posted certainly calls into question the “research” from the pro-marriage lobby about married men being happier and having better sex lives.

One of the more memorable men in my life was a sixth grade science teacher, a Mr. Whitson. The second half of the year in his class was sex-ed. Besides dissecting a pregnant pig’s uterus, I remember him telling us that if a married couple put a marble in a jar every time they had sex during their first year of marriage, and then took a marble out of the jar every time thereafter, that they’d never empty the jar of marbles. At 11-12 we of course had no real idea what he was talking about, but for some reason I remembered that little rule of thumb. I’ve never seen any data which invalidates it, and the article seems generally to confirm it.

Yet another reason not to consider marriage under the current circumstances.

“The loudest, most strident voices calling women weak, stupid, and incapable of competing in the world at large are the feminists.” – zed the zen priest

09-13-2006 12:26 AM

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