Oh, Suzanne Venker.
So you decided you needed to become more feminine because it worked in your marriage, you have decided that that’s what’s wrong with women today. We’re all bossy like you, and now you want to help us with your new book, The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men & Marriage and retro advice.
“Men are so simple to love. All they want is sex, companionship and respect. If you supply these basics, your husband will do anything for you — slay the dragons, kill the beast, work three jobs, etc. Men will happily do this if, and only if, they are loved well in return.”
If only love were that simple!
Venker, a self-proclaimed author and cultural critic who claims to be an “nationally recognized expert on America’s gender war” (and let’s not forget, the late Phyllis Schlafly’s niece), reduces relationships down to stereotypes that are offensive to men and women. Particularly women. Like many so-called “experts” — from Steve Harvey (Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man) to John Gray (Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus) — it’s always the women who need to be different to make their marriage work.
Venker’s message is just a different version of the same story; if a wife just changed her ways she could make her marriage work. But it’s not a one-way street; studies show that when husbands make a few tweaks, wives are not only happier, but also healthier.
And, you know what? Women would like “sex, companionship and respect,” too. We’d also like an equal partner, one who will supply “the basics of a relationship,” which also happens to include the day-to-day realities of being a couple, living together and perhaps raising children as co-parents. To me, knowing what needs to be done to make a household work well also falls under respect. For too long, much of that has been seen as “women’s work” — which is why marriage has traditionally been better for men than women. Women finally are demanding the same benefits out of marriage that men have traditionally gotten. Why shouldn’t we?
But, OK — let me cut Venker some slack. She writes, “I agree a real man can handle a strong woman. In fact, many men prefer strong women — if by strong we mean a woman who’s confident, who knows herself and can hold her own in a conversation. But a strong-willed woman who has to have her way all the time isn’t enticing in the least.”
Ditto for a strong-willed man.
Sex, companionship and respect
Is “sex, companionship and respect” all a man needs?
Let’s look at companionship. As sociologist Lisa Wade has detailed, “adult, white, heterosexual men have the fewest friends. Moreover, the friendships they have, if they’re with other men, provide less emotional support and involve lower levels of self-disclosure and trust than other types of friendships.”
So they often look to their wives to provide them with intimacy they don’t get elsewhere. Women often have an extended group of friends; we don’t necessarily look to our partners to provide all our companionship.
What about sex? Venker and society will lead us to believe that all men want sex, and want it more than women do. “Say yes to sex” she lists in her dos and don’ts for alpha women. But just reading comments by frustrated women in sexless marriages who’ve written to me is enough to bust that myth. Women want sex, too — sometimes more than the men; who’s telling them to “say yes”?
As for respect, well, who doesn’t want that? That’s at the heart of every good relationship. But, let’s delve deeper into what respect means. The dictionary definition is “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” Now, here’s where that gets tricky for women. In Venker’s world, women will probably have to downplay our “abilities, qualities, or achievements” so we can be beta — what she calls laid-back, patient and easy-going — around our hubby.
She’s not the first to say that; as I’ve written before, many men want women who are warm, affectionate, nurturing. But there are many men who are more nurturing then their wives — if that works in their marriage, then it’s a good marriage. In other words, to tell women they should be one way — or even worse, suggesting it’s “natural” for women to be a certain way — ignores the fact that no two marriages are exactly the same, and what’s working for Venker may not work for anyone else.
Alpha women aren’t necessarily bossy
Still, no one wants to be married to a boss or a dictator, especially an angry one. Few people want to be married to a person who makes all the decisions (although perhaps that would work in some marriages — who knows?). But strong women aren’t necessarily angry, bossy people nor are strong men.
The fact that Venker and her husband were butting heads has nothing to do with marriage or even gender. They just didn’t know how to be kind to each other, cooperative, collaborative and respectful. That speaks more about them as a couple than marriage per se.