Friday, December 5, 2008

"Are you a good wife?"

by Elizabeth Winkler

A friend recently forwarded me an online quiz: “Are you a good wife?” The quiz is accompanied by a picture of a smiling woman dressed in pink from head-to-toe with pink curlers in her hair and a feather duster (pink again!) in her manicured hand. After some snickering and rolling of eyes, of course I had to take the quiz to see just what is required to be a ‘good wife’ in today’s world.

Three or four multiple choice answers were provided for each question, answer which seemed invariably divided between submissive, devoted wife; wife-is-equal-to-(and loves)-husband; and wife is angry, pissed and selfish. After answering each question, the website provided a percentage breakdown of women’s responses. The responses were delightfully balanced, with the vast majority of women falling into the middle category (except when it comes to cooking – “I always have something ready for him when he comes home” – and laundry – “I take pride in properly folding all his clothes so he looks good when he wears them”).

An interesting paradox: American women experience a considerable level of equity in marriage (according, at least, to their responses) and yet, this ridiculously outdated, phallocentric, Stepford-wife-esque quiz still exists.

Are you a good wife? Because if you’re not, you better be worried and you better fix it. Nothing worse than a wife who doesn’t cater to hubby’s every whim! You don’t spend all day cleaning the house for him and preparing his favorite meal? You don’t play dumb when you discover his affairs? What kind of woman are you!?

Perhaps what the quiz reveals most obviously is a perpetual female insecurity about living up to the standards of acceptable womanhood and femininity. These online quizzes and similar magazine confessionals perpetuate the assumption that feminine identity is a perpetual struggle with dissatisfaction about oneself. Self-doubt becomes the root of her search for approval, an approval that is doled out by social mandates, themselves rooted in the satisfaction of male desire and demands. The feminine identity, in its perpetual sense of insufficiency, thus becomes centered on lack and potential disappointment, absence and negativity.

I looked over the website’s list of other quizzes: there wasn’t a single variation of “Are you a good husband?” to be found. Of course, it must exist somewhere, but how many men can you really imagine taking it? Their masculinity, social acceptability and sense of identity are hardly staked on the role of husband. How often can we really say the same about American women?


At December 5, 2008 at 6:24 PM , Anonymous Dan said...

I beg to differ with you. Being a good husband *is* important to me, and to many other married men I know.

I wouldn't attach any weight to a survey though.

At December 6, 2008 at 12:06 PM , Anonymous Sophie said...

There probably isn't a "good husband" quiz because the quizzes are geared toward women. I also don't really think it is socially acceptable for *men* to be "bad" spouses either. As for chores, I know plenty of people (myself included) who have dads who cook. My mom does cook often too, but it's not treated like her job. I think the pink feather duster wielding housewife image is widely considered antiquated, but if someone really *does* take pride in making sure her family is taken care of (because that is a legitimate task), that shouldn't be a problem. I do see what you're saying though, about the residual ideas of femininity, but I think that "traditional" femininity shouldn't be a bad thing, it's definition should just be expanded, albeit a lot!


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