Patriarchal blogger Lori Alexander began a recent blog post with this quote from a marriage advice book:
“Directing your husband’s traffic undermines this goal by setting up a mother/son relationship rather than a husband/wife relationship. That’s why the sex wanes. What kind of man wants to have sex with his mother? So, what does it mean exactly to not direct your husband’s traffic? It means not making any comments—ever—about what you think your husband should be doing or how you think something should or shouldn’t be done. If you find this difficult to do, keep in mind that every time you refrain from telling your husband what to do or how to do it, you’re getting closer and closer to being loved and adored rather than being avoided or ignored. When a wife takes on the husband’s role by demanding to be the one who’s right and who’s in control, the natural synergy between them dies.” (From Suzanne Venker’s new book “How to Be a Wife.”)
Lori, of course, loves the advice Suzanne Venker gives here. She’s ecstatic about it. I find that I have many, many thoughts, and not all along the same lines. There’s actually a lot going on here.
Take the bit about not being your husband’s mother, for instance. Many American women feel this way. I myself have found myself saying things along the lines of this to my husband: “For the love god, pick up your own socks, I’m not your mother!” The irony is that Lori’s advice to me in this situation would be to close my mouth and lovingly pick up my husband’s socks. Lori very often teaches wives to act as their husband’s mothers.
But there’s something else going on here. Remember, Venker said that wives should stop telling their husbands “what to do or how to do it.” She calls that “directing your husband’s traffic.” So let’s talk about that!
In modern America, wives are expected to be managers. Unpaid managers. Wives are expected to keep track of their family’s social schedule, to keep track of what errands need to be done to keep the household running, to keep track of their children’s social schedules and extracurricular activity schedules, and on and on. Wives are typically the ones that schedule the family’s dentist appointments, doctor appointments, family photos, and so much more.
What’s interesting is that I don’t like this either. But I happen to feel that the best way to push back against it isn’t for wives to just stop doing it—it’s for husbands to step up and start doing it. Not all of it of course. This kind of work should be shared. But it’s actually not great that wives currently end up doing almost all of this sort of managing.
It feels ironic, really, that I’m responding to one of Lori’s posts by suggesting that husbands take more of a leadership role in their homes. But really, it’s not about giving or taking leadership—it’s about sharing it. Because this sort of leadership—this management—is actually a lot of work. Speaking of which, I don’t think I agree with how Lori conceptualizes leadership. Leadership isn’t about calling the shots. It’s work. And that’s one of the reasons women have ended up with all this management authority foisted on them—as work of the home, it’s women’s work.
And I’d like to see the work of the home shared.
All of this makes me wonder just what Lori actually means in this post, however. For example, Lori writes as follows:
Women, God is a patriarchal God and created men to be the leaders and the ones in authority. He didn’t create women to do this. We are to rest in this, not fight it. Respect the position that the Lord has given to your husband. Stop second guessing him and begin trusting him. Try it for a couple of weeks and see what a difference it will make in your marriage.
Does she mean that women should stop scheduling their family’s doctor appointments, or signing their kids up for soccer and reminding their husband that there’s a game this weekend? Or does she mean that this labor should still be done, but in a way that is invisible—and that makes no demands on the husband? It’s very unclear. And there are many men, who, if the wive vacates this managerial role, won’t even think to step into it. Dental appointments will go unscheduled and the children won’t take piano lessons. Is that what Lori is going for?
At the beginning of each weekend, my husband and I make a list of things that need to be done. We write down chores, and errands, and projects, and then we assign these—some to the children, and some to each other. We do this all together—no surprises, no telling someone else what to do. It sometimes seems odd to me how very complicated Lori seems to want to make things that really shouldn’t be all that complicated at all.
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