Wednesday, May 26, 2010

1950s Advice For Wives. In 2010.

I'm sure you have seen this 1955 advice column, all on the topic of how to be a Perfect Wife. It's pretty funny:

* Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready, on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal (especially his favourite dish) is part of the warm welcome needed.

* Prepare yourself. Take fifteen minutes to rest so you'll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.

* Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.


* Don't ask him questions about his actions or question his judgement or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.

* A good wife always knows her place.

I looked it up because this post on Lemon Drop reminded me of it:

Yesterday a post on Psychology Today caught our eye: Why Men Use Porn (And How to Get Them to Stop).

Interesting, we thought. Porn is a divisive issue in a relationship. It can help. It can hurt. And it can also be hard to talk about.

Now a real psychologist would provide real insight: Dr. Mark Goulston, a former online couples therapist and, more recently, author of a book called "Just Listen: The Secret to Getting Through to Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime." OK.

We listened long enough to get to the bottom of his response to a woman who had written in, complaining that her husband was addicted to pornography. Now they have an 8-month-old daughter and, she writes, "It's hurting me. When I make love with him, I'm flooded by all these images and I get sick to my stomach."

What turned ours was Goulston's reply.

Before we get to that reply, please think about how psychiatrists and psychologists treat their patients. Who is it that they prioritize in the treatment, the patient or other people around him or her? In short, whose side do they take if they take sides?

Keeping that in mind, here's Goulston's reply. First he argues that he has some secret hidden evidence that men need orgasms to reduce stress whereas women just need to talk a lot to get the same outcome. Then he turns the tables on the woman asking the porn question:

"To give you an idea of the stress men feel, one man asked me a few months ago if I knew what the definition of a shower was. I told him I didn't. He told me: 'A shower is the place where grown men go to cry when they're afraid they can't keep the promise they made to their wives and children to always take care of them and don't want their family to see how afraid they are.'

If you can show your husband that you understand the pressure and responsibilities on him, he may feel less alone and less stressed out. And if he feels less stressed out, he may not need to resort to pornography as much. Take him aside and say to him, "Nobody, including me, knows how awful the pressure from all your responsibilities makes you feel. And nobody, including me, knows that sometimes -- even though you love me and our children -- you wish you could be single and have nobody to worry about but you. Isn't that true, honey? I'm sorry it's so tough." From there, you may be able to start a dialog about what is worrying him and help him find positive ways of dealing with the pressures in his life.

Didn't that sound a bit like the 1955 list of womanly duties?

But notice how it takes something like a nasty goddess to make that clear. His advice doesn't sound terrible if you ignore

a) that nowhere does he show any sympathy toward the woman who presents the problem in the first place,

b) that instead he adopts her husband as the patient and assigns the responsibility for the treatment to the woman,

c) that he employs a theory of all men needing porn for stress reduction and all women just needing to talk to someone (and in this case Goulston isn't even listening to her) without telling us how he knows that this is supposed to be true,

d) that he diagnoses the husband's porn use on some nebulous basis as stress-induced while paying no attention to the likelihood that a new mother of an eight-month-old baby is surely under stress, too, and

e) that he assumes the husband is out there working very hard for the family whereas the wife's not.

It's like a lot of icky spider webs sticking to your face, that list of mine.

And then the necessary declaration: Of course loving partners want to listen to each other and to help each other cope better with stress. But that thing is supposed to be mutual, that love bidness. And therapists are also supposed to have ethics and more than just biased opinions to offer.