The news may be full of prominent men who couldn't keep it in their pants — but one Wall Street Journal writer thinks it's women's lips that need zipping. Because the real problem with modern marriage is the female overshare.
Eric Felten opens his Journal column with the line, "Pity the man whose wife writes a memoir." His Exhibit A: Elizabeth Weil's Times Magazine piece about the intimate details of her marriage. I'll admit I winced a bit when reading this piece — Felten quotes Weil's mention of the "safe, narrow little bowling alley of a sex life" she and her husband shared, and I for one hope never to have my relationship problems written about in the Times. But I don't believe that men I've dated have never discussed those problems with anyone. Interestingly, Felten does. He writes,
No husband I know speaks out of school about his wife. You wouldn't trust any man who did. Say what you will about the male half of the species-famous for its promiscuous and predatory proclivities-but they can be remarkably discreet about the intimate aspect of marriage. Whether this is stoicism or a residual chivalry, it is a core part of the male code. Consider Tiger Woods's alleged transgressions: Perhaps the most appalling of them is the report that he prattled on to one of his cookies about how she connected with him in a way his wife did not. As if cheating weren't bad form enough.
Etonian diction aside ("speaks out of school?"), Felten's claim will seem pretty laughable to anyone who's ever heard a male friend complain about his significant other (I'm raising my hand). And the phrase "my wife doesn't understand me" became an old chestnut for a reason. Apparently, though, Felten is of the opinion that men remain stoically silent about their dissatisfactions while women chatter hennishly away:
Women, by contrast, seem to be at somewhat greater liberty to share private matters. This can be reflected in trivial indiscretions. DoubleX, a blog on Slate, asked its contributors for their Christmas wish lists. First up was Rachael Larimore, who proclaimed "All I want for Christmas is for my hubby to get a vasectomy. And he is!" I'm sure that made his day. Still, that's nothing compared to what gets aired in coffee klatches, where, according to writers such as Sandra Tsing Loh, the ladies get together to talk about how their husbands haven't touched them in years.
OMG vasectomy gross! And where those "coffee klatches" are concerned, if your husband "hasn't touched you in years," it seems legitimate to find some outlet for your frustration. Perhaps Felten would recommend the arms of an (appropriately quiet) mistress, but I think the ability to talk openly to friends about relationship problems is something men would do well to learn, if they haven't already. I'd also like to wag a finger at Tsing Loh, for feeding men's fear and hope that women's private conversations are all about them.
As The Daily Beast's Rebecca Dana points out, men have been responsible for this year's major sex scandals. Dana quotes Emily Gould, who says,
Men are typically seen as having agency and women are typically seen as being acted upon in romantic relationships. So then even when those stereotypical power dynamics aren't really the ones at play, the culture-making machinery will simplify whatever the real story is until it is a more familiar wronged-woman, lothario-man narrative.
But one of the ways women have been able to reclaim some agency, especially in times of great subjugation, is by talking. It's no accident that Scheherazade saved her skin with stories, or that the Little Mermaid had to give up her voice to land her prince (some view this as a metaphor for castration). Women may not actually have a monopoly on words, but men have always feared female "oversharing," because it's a way of taking back a narrative otherwise controlled by men. If women can write about their marriages in the New York Times, then the "familiar wronged-woman, lothario-man" story, along with the story about how women become asexual when they hit forty, and the one about how men need variety and women need security, and all the other patriarchy-approved stories about sex and love and female identity, have some competition. No wonder Felten wants us to keep our mouths shut.