Advice Goddess Blog
« Previous | Home | Next »

Everything's Coming Up 1950s
Cathy Young analyzes Dr. Laura's new book, which takes the notion "don't be a controlling bitch" a step too far:

Schlessinger has a point, and to some extent her message can be read as one of equality: If you want your husband to treat you well, be nice to him, and don't forget that he has feelings too. Some of the callers mentioned in her book could definitely benefit from the advice to respect and appreciate their husbands more. One woman bristles at the suggestion that her husband should have input in decisions about purchases for the family. Another expects her husband to be "understanding" when, between kids, job, and all sorts of other activities, she has no time for sexual or emotional intimacy.

Alas, the sensible stuff here comes with a lot of baggage. Thus, reminders that marriage is a two-way street are intended mostly for wives who forget about their obligations: Schlessinger is emphatic about her belief that the happiness of the marriage depends on the wife, and if the husband is neglecting her it's probably her own fault.

There's also her irksome propensity to present grossly simplistic caricatures of the sexes as eternal verities. She is particularly fond of one male caller's comment, "Men are only interested in two things: If I'm not horny, make me a sandwich." Little deviance from traditional roles is tolerated: women cook and make a happy home, men are out in the workforce "slaying dragons"; a husband's demand that a wife give up her career to spend more time with him is treated as an expression of love.

What's more, Schlessinger's catalog of wifely sins ranges from wanting to take an extended vacation sans husband to failing to take an interest in his hobbies. And while she is certainly right that it's not "subjugation" to love a man or take pride in your marriage, must she approvingly cite a listener who writes, "Remember that without him, you are only a sorry excuse for a person"?

Suddenly, I feel like taking 12 showers.

Like The Surrendered Wife, this book addresses (and exascerbates) the symptom, not the problem: women who have low self-esteem. That's what makes a woman controlling. Thus, the answer isn't to grind a woman into a ground for refusing to be the epitome of subservience, but to encourage women to go entirely the other way: to be about "Who am I?" instead of "Who am I with?" -- the shortcut too many women take, thinking marriage and children are an easy way out of the hard work of developing a self. Of course, that's merely a shortcut to misery and controlling bitch-hood -- one that's about 5000 miles away from a fun, loving relationship.

Posted by aalkon at February 4, 2004 8:18 AM

Comments

So, the working mother speaks out against working mothers? Schlessinger is a hypocrite, so what else is new?

Quite frankly, the women being described by Schlessinger (and Young) sound like selfish immature shrews who shouldn't be married in the first place. "One woman bristles at the suggestion that her husband should have input in decisions about purchases for the family."

Excuse me??? Is there a problem with this? This domineering harridan needs to be inflicted on a man like al Qaeda needs to be in charge of a control tower.

"Another expects her husband to be 'understanding' when, between kids, job, and all sorts of other activities, she has no time for sexual or emotional intimacy."

If by "no time," this means "no time tonight" or "no time this weekend," there's no problem. These things happen, and a man should understand this. But if she means "no time until we're both members of AARP," she is obviously using sex as a control or as a means of being spiteful.

"She is particularly fond of one male caller's comment, 'Men are only interested in two things: If I'm not horny, make me a sandwich.'"

You know, I don't care if a man wants to indulge in a little self-depricating humor. It has its charms, within bounds. It's the ones that have to drag the entire gender down with them that are so annoying. If a man is so shallow that has no needs beyond the basic invertebrate, no reason to assume that the entire species is similarly so uninteresting.

It's little wonder that Schlessinger herself could not make a marriage work and spent a significant portion of her life unrepentantly ruining someone else's. She needs to give marital advice like Hitler needs to conduct classes on race relations.

Posted by: Patrick the male who respects men at February 4, 2004 2:16 AM

You again with the "fun" and the "loving". Amy, it's starting to seem like this is a big theme with you.

It's not that I think marriage should be joyless and cold. What's worrisome is that the language of fulfillment suffuses every description of the arrangement nowadays... Or at least the first 500 descriptions a young woman is likely to hear. (Men can be expected to be stupid about it anyway, and I speak from experience.) In times of public safety and economic plenty, a couple generations have looked to marriage for more than it should be expected to offer, so of course they're disappointed. It's a tool for getting certain needs met. Applied properly it works wonderfully.

This is why your protestations seem misplaced. I know many, many people who're deeply nourished by marriage. One loving marriage in my family just ended in death after seventy years. It's just silly to say "marriage doesn't make sense." Millions and perhaps billions are happily married.

Were western girls stripped of their Disneyland illusions about fulfillment, and boys liberated from their narcissistic presumptions, things would go better in many marriages.

I love Cathy Young, but here's another strong take on Dr Laura:

http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2004/01/flanagan.February 04, 2004

The doctor is of course unlistenable. Even PAGLIA thinks she's brusque. And she's not that kind of doctor. But sometimes when slipping over the mountain to work in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, I'll turn on her show for a minute and be clearly reminded of why she's popular....

Her callers are NINNIES. Dim, selfish, spineless worm-people who can barely muster the wherewithal to brush their teeth. They NEED her masculine, judgmental, reflexive views slammed into their skulls with the clarity of crackling thunder. Don't believe it? Tune in today!

"Um... uh Hi Doctor Laura... I'm having a little problem... See, my daughter is upset because her Dad has been throwing whiskey bottles again... Well he's not really her Dad, he's the other ones Dad. The other girl I mean. Two of her brothers have yet another Dad, too. But anyway, It's not always a problem, because he's only here every other weekend. Last weekend his Johnny Walker Green Label bottle bounced off her eyebrow and gave her an nasty cut, but she seemed OK with it. But now he's been laid off from the plant up in Ypsilanti and I'm afraid when he comes back next time he might be a little angry because he's missed three payments on the trailer here, and uh, I just blew a fourth on formula and Pampers. Do you think I should leave him?"

Plummeting down the Valley side of the 405, I'm nodding furiously in my car. "Yes... Yes she should leave him. Tell her, Doctor Laura! Go ahead, tell her to leave him!"

Posted by: Crid at February 4, 2004 10:11 AM

Leave him? Crid, she should have him arrested.

Posted by: Patrick at February 4, 2004 11:44 AM

Posted by: Crid at February 4, 2004 11:50 AM

I've always disliked Dr Laura because she appeals to the most base desire in people to be told what to do. And she's a big champion of simplistic, "common sense," quick-fix solutions. I thought that the function of psychological theory (which she's studied, right?) was to give us a more nuanced understanding of behavior. She acts like there's always one solution to every problem: Hers.

Posted by: Lena at February 11, 2004 8:09 AM

I guess they don't teach the psychological nuances in exercise physiology, which is, I believe, what she has her degree in. Now, I'm no one to be complaining about those who don't have a degree in their chosen field. Just note that I call myself Miss Amy Alkon, not Dr. Amy Alkon. Then again, at least she has a real degree -- not the mail-order doctorate John Gray has.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 11, 2004 8:57 AM

And here I was, a-fixin' to call Dr. Laura and ask her if it was appropriate to ask a young lady for a spanking on the first date.

Bark like a dog, Laura.

Posted by: Buford at February 17, 2004 8:13 PM