8…10…13 ways to perpetuate the ‘good wife’ patriarchy

If you are on, um, any social network ever (but chiefly Facebook) you will no doubt have been subjected to the sharing of a particular type of internet post about good men, women, husbands, girlfriends and so on. One that is on my timeline right now is “13 ways you know you’re dating a high-quality woman“. Others that have cropped up in compulsive sharing waves over the last year or so are “Don’t date a girl who travels” [spoiler alert: the bottom line here is date a girl who likes to travel] and “10 ways to know your woman is a keeper“.

These are universally (on my timeline at least, I like to believe) shared or posted in absolute earnestness with good intentions. Usually they are shared by a man who is so clearly besotted with his significant other and so excited to find that she vaguely matches to some outside criteria (My girl travels! Look she reads! I can take her home to mother!) that he shares it in a fit of googly-eyed emotion and intends it as an absolute compliment. It is the “look, I read stuffs” equivalent of just posting “I love you, boo” on your SO’s page. It’s very sweet, guys.

Women, you are not blameless though. I see a bunch of “good man” posts circulating too, and these good-wife-pretending-to-be-good-man posts: Remember “Marriage isn’t for you“? This seemingly adorable little post on old-timey advice about putting your loved one first has a genuinely nasty subtext: the good wife doesn’t react with righteous anger when you’re a dick; she sublimates her response and soothes you instead. More on this another time, let’s talk about the “ways you know you want to be with this girl” (this never-ageing perpetual girl) as per the posts mentioned above.

Let’s get serious about what these posts are REALLY saying.

1. “She encourages you to pursue your goals, but she doesn’t micromanage. She trusts you to make the right decisions in your own life. She’s the cheerleader, not the coach.” (From the 13 ways post) — Forget that she might have a point, or experience, or is trying to be helpful in a meaningful way. Your girl should just break out the pompoms (yay, you!). She is a supportive structure to your success.

2. “In a healthy relationship, two people should be able to work out their differences via mature conversation and discussion. This does not mean bringing up nonsensical past issues or dwelling on small events that they’ve been emotionally harbouring, waiting for the right time to unleash. A mature woman won’t throw the past in your face or use it as ammunition against you, especially if she has already forgiven you for your mistakes.” (From the 10 ways post) — God, chicks can whine! Regrets, mistakes and past hurts have a shelf life determined by you, even if she has the audacity to “emotionally harbour” something that you have declared a past issue.

3. “She doesn’t try to make you jealous” (13 ways) — You would never be jealous of your own accord if she didn’t carry on like such a tramp, talking to other guys, with her mouth!

4. “You wouldn’t think twice about inviting her into different parts of your life: a barbecue with your college friends, a dinner with your parents, a fancy work party — she knows how to handle herself in different settings.” (13 ways) — She won’t embarrass you by not laughing at your boss’s racist jokes. She’s not a downer — up for drunken fun with your varsity mates — but your mother is likely to approve. Does anyone else hear the undertone of “a maid in the living room, a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom”? You’re probably right, it is best that she is whatever you need her to be…

5. “She has opinions more than ‘idk’ and she can talk calmly and non-hyperbolically about them.” (13 ways) — See above. Plus, passion and strong opinions are best left to the stronger sex. Don’t worry your pretty little girly brain about politics, religion, abortion, sexism or other such manly things. And if you must, please don’t be shrill.

6. “You feel lucky to be dating her because you know she would never date anyone just to date them” (13 ways) — She chose you. You’re a special unique little snowflake.

And over and over again in so many different ways of saying it:

7. “She puts in effort for you … her putting in effort doesn’t have to be much. It can be something as simple as keeping her hair or nails done to look good for you. It’s no secret that sometimes the romance wears off of longer term relationships, but you shouldn’t let it — and neither should she. If a woman continues to do what she knows attracted you in the first place, even after she got you a long time ago, it shows she cares about keeping you around.” (10 ways) — Nails and hair?! You’re giving me nails and hair?!

If my mother continued to do what attracted my father in the first place, she would still have iridescent blue eyeshadow and bellbottoms. People and bodies change. You’re not a spring chicken yourself anymore. Granted, I am not condoning giving up all pretence at personal hygiene, but this isn’t really about nails and hair, is it? This is a dressed-up perpetuation of the long and tired virgin-mother-crone dichotomy (trichotomy?). Call it what it is. After all, we all know that it is okay to be attracted to silver foxes like George Clooney, but not ol’ tired-around-the-eyes Meryl Streep, right?

No one knows but you how to “choose the girl for you” (ignoring her autonomy completely). No list of traits will guarantee a happy relationship. Can we please stop trying to reduce ourselves and our partners to this?

I want to ask men (and women) if they want (want to be) a Stepford wife or a genuine, flawed, nuanced partner, but I’m scared I won’t like the answer.

Image – James Vaughan (flickr)