In today's Times of London, Shane Watson attempts to navigate the minefield that is the term "good wife," by exploring what it means and providing a "Good Wife Charter" to help women find a sense of balance within their marriages.
Watson begins by acknowledging that the words "good wife" are saddled with centuries of baggage: "In a postfeminist world, the word 'wife' on its own sounds quaint enough," she writes, "and 'good wife' conjures up images of blissed-out 1950s housewives admiring their hostess trollies. Good wives are what women had to be before we fought for the right to be good at something else." Still, she argues, there's a difference between being a subservient wife and being a "good wife," and she offers a four part charter to help women separate the idea of being a "good wife" from being a Stepford one, pushing women to make their husbands a priority, to find time for sex, to "beware resentment" and to "be kind and supportive."
Watson's argument, backed by authors Lionel Shriver and Ayelet Waldman, is that women often treat their husbands poorly, putting them last in line when it comes to attention and affection: "Even women who would never call themselves feminists have bought into the idea that men are bottom of the list after their personal fulfilment, fitness routine and, of course, the kids," she writes. Watson's charter is filled with tips and tricks from the likes of Waldman, who claims that couples should create "who does what?" questionnaires to get a sense of how the domestic chores are split, or from Shriver, who says she has to remember to "to remember to treat my husband as well as I treat other people."
The "Good Wife Charter" itself seems to be steeped in marital stereotypes: women withhold sex from their husbands, women put their kids above their spouses, etc. It's meant to be a piece that celebrates healthier partnerships, I suppose, but something feels a bit off about it. She's trying to prove to women that being a good wife is more about being an engaged, caring partner than adhering to the 1950s relationship playbook, but it reads as though marital roles are still centered around a lazy, chore-inept husband and a frazzled, overworked wife.
In fairness, a "How To Be A Good Husband" piece, written by a man, is tacked on to the end of Watson's article, but that's steeped in stereotypes as well: "Talking is important. Talking and listening. I know it can be excruciating, but wives need conversation. They cannot exist on grunts alone. You must save that for the pub. If you don't, you will be nagged. And nagging, as we all know, is the marital equivalent of waterboarding." Yikes.
Overall, Watson's piece offers advice that could really apply to either partner in a relationship: be kind, be involved, be willing to help out. I'm not sure it's entirely helpful to continue to strive to be a "good wife," as much as it would be helpful for both partners to try to bring as much as they can to the relationship. "We have become socialised and media-ised to think it's all about us," Watson writes, "Ask yourself, why did I marry this guy in the first place? But the other questions to ask are, why is he married to me? What's he getting out of it?" Perhaps a better question would be "Why did we marry each other? How can we help each other out?" A "good wife" or a "good husband" is really no match for a "good partnership."
The Good Wife Charter, And How To Be A Good Husband [TimesOnline]