“The Wifely Duty”

Not exactly relevant to the college student, but rather fascinating –

Undersexed: the state of American marriage due to “liberating” feminism?

Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic wrote an article several years ago about how modern society renders married couples undersexed. Hopefully Harvard students aren’t experiencing this, but it’s a provocative thesis. Excerpt:

…Yuppies, with that winsome arrogance that is all their own, proudly describe the nature and frequency of their premarital couplings with a specificity matched only by advanced seminars on animal husbandry. The reason abortion rights hold such a sanctified position in American political life is that they are a critical component of the yuppie program for maximum personal sexual pleasure. But let these inebriates of nooky enter marriage, a state in which ongoing sexuality often has as much to do with old-fashioned notions of obligation and commitment as it does with the immediate satisfaction of intense physical desire, and they grow as cool and limp as yesterday’s Cobb salad…

All of this makes me reflect that those repressed and much pitied 1950s wives—their sexless college years! their boorish husbands, who couldn’t locate the clitoris with a flashlight and a copy of Gray’s Anatomy!—were apparently getting a lot more action than many of today’s most liberated and sexually experienced married women. In the old days, of course, there was the wifely duty. A housewife understood that in addition to ironing her husband’s shirts and cooking the Sunday roast, she was—with some regularity—going to have relations with the man of the house. Perhaps, as some feminists would have us believe, these were grimly efficient interludes during which the poor humped-upon wife stared at the ceiling and silently composed the grocery list. Or perhaps not. Maybe, as Davis and her “new” findings suggest, once you get the canoe out in the water, everybody starts happily paddling. The notion that female sexuality was unleashed forty years ago, after lying dormant lo these uncountable millennia, is silly; more recent is the sexual shutdown that apparently takes place in many marriages soon after they have been legalized…

Although I have an amused tolerance for books like The Total Woman, I am not entirely incapable of good, old-fashioned feminist rage. The notion that even educated middle-class American women had to put out in order to get a damn refrigerator—even that they might “yearn” for one—just steams me. However, I would not advise against using sex for more subtle marital adjustments, of a type described in The Sex-Starved Marriage. Davis reminds women that one of the more effective ways to get a husband to be more considerate and helpful is to seduce him. She counsels a group of female clients who complain of angry, critical husbands to “pay more attention to their physical relationships with their husbands,” to “be sexier, more affectionate, attentive, responsive, and passionate.” Darned if the old bag of tricks doesn’t work like a charm—the ladies arrive at the next therapy session giggling and thrilled with their new powers. To many contemporary women, however, the notion that sex might have any function other than personal fulfillment (and the occasional bit of carefully scheduled baby making) is a violation of the very tenets of the sexual revolution that so deeply shaped their attitudes on such matters. Under these conditions, pity the poor married man hoping to get a bit of comfort from the wife at day’s end. He must somehow seduce a woman who is economically independent of him, bone tired, philosophically disinclined to have sex unless she is jolly well in the mood, numbingly familiar with his every sexual maneuver, and still doing a slow burn over his failure to wipe down the countertops and fold the dish towel after cooking the kids’ dinner. He can hardly be blamed for opting instead to check his e-mail, catch a few minutes of SportsCenter, and call it a night…

Keep reading.

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One thought on ““The Wifely Duty”

  1. Esther says:

    “Although I have an amused tolerance for books like The Total Woman, I am not entirely incapable of good, old-fashioned feminist rage. The notion that even educated middle-class American women had to put out in order to get a damn refrigerator—even that they might ‘yearn’ for one—just steams me.

    Yes, and it steams me too – because it’s so anti-abstinence! I’m not steamed at all by yearning for a refrigerator, because I appreciate being able to chill food and don’t take mine for granted. However, I’m glad that I didn’t need to lose my virginity to get one. I’m also glad that men’s refusal to propose marriage to me, and their refusal to even have non-marital sex with me, don’t stop me from having a refrigerator.

    “Perhaps, as some feminists would have us believe, these were grimly efficient interludes during which the poor humped-upon wife stared at the ceiling and silently composed the grocery list. Or perhaps not. Maybe, as Davis and her ‘new’ findings suggest, once you get the canoe out in the water, everybody starts happily paddling.”

    It depends on the couple, even today in some parts of the world (this isn’t just an American issue).

    Sometimes everybody starts happily paddling. Sometimes the husband keeps happily paddling like he did when he was proving his heterosexuality to the village (especially if virgin men these get suspected of homosexuality and men suspected of homosexuality get harshly discriminated against) and working hard to earn his bride (by saving up for enough of a bride price to impress her father) before his marriage and the wife stares at the ceiling and silently wonders how much longer until she can afford to take their ill child to the doctor. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A34022-2004Dec3.html for examples:

    “…In the hospital where I worked, desperate women brought their malaria-ridden children to the pediatric ward. After paying the fee for a consultation, they had no money left for food. The quinine intravenous drip might attack the malarial parasites, but the children still would slowly starve to death.

    “‘Buy food for the child!’ one pediatrician, a Congolese woman, ordered a mother.

    “‘There is no money,’ she replied.

    [Maybe her husband got laid off by his boss or his farm had a bad year? The article definitely doesn’t say this mother is unmarried.]

    “‘Find a new man,’ was the doctor’s advice.

    “The woman’s ability to provide for her children depended on her ability to attract a man to trade sex for child support.

    “Would the sex be safe? When members of the mobile Program for Mother Infant Health taught village women to use condoms to avoid getting HIV, Gabonese village men, standing at the edge of the circle of mothers and babies, heckled us: ‘Sex with a condom is like eating a banana with the peel still on!’…”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A23730-2004Nov30.html

    “…In many poor societies, teenage brides are married off to older men who promptly infect them: Surveys in African cities find that HIV infection rates are higher among married females between the ages of 15 and 19 than among sexually active singles of the same age. Because of these horrifying data, AIDS groups are right to point out that the Bush administration’s ‘ABC strategy’ (Abstain, Be faithful, use Condoms) has limits. Most vulnerable teenage brides are faithful, but they cannot abstain or negotiate condoms, particularly since they want or are expected to have children…”

    That’s why there need to be more non-marital and non-sex-work opportunities for women around the world to earn a living, so that abstinence can be more affordable!

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