While one might think that a reputable news source would not publish an article beginning with the overdone and sexist portrayal of women as sandwich makers, The Wall Street Journal has proved to be susceptible to the common underlying belief that sexism can be trivialized and made comical.
If coming from a woman, repeated requests are deemed as nagging, but if coming from a man, these same requests are simply viewed as talking. At least this is what a recent article, “Meet the Marriage Killer” by Elizabeth Bernstein, would like readers to believe. With the subhead “It’s More Common Than Adultery and Potentially as Toxic, So Why Is It So Hard To Stop Nagging?” readers are introduced to the main topic of the article by way of shock and potential disbelief. As immediate questions could be raised in regards to the actual power of nagging within a relationship, the first red flag is the author’s use of an anecdotal story in the first paragraphs.
The story begins with a woman who packs a lunch for her husband and leaves a Post-It note in the sandwich in order to remind him of a place he was supposed to be later that night. But whatever humor or creative appreciation that could be dragged from this story disappears as the anecdote ends with the husband bluntly stating “I don’t need a reminder in the middle of my sandwich.” Not only does this story depict a woman who gets rejected after going out of her way to make food for her husband, the reasons provided for this attempt at a creative reminder prove to be even more disturbing. Towards the end of the article, the author reveals that the woman began writing her husband Post-It notes with “little smiley faces or hearts” so as not to “speak in a way that is not threatening or offensive.” The husband commends this approach most of the time as he says “The notes distract me from the face-to-face interaction…There’s no annoying tone of voice or body posture.”
This display of forced passivity and the imminent power struggle within this relationship is not only distressing, but completely mind-boggling. While the author normalizes this kind of interaction, nothing about the situation is questioned and the “understanding” between the couple is made out to be the “solution” to the wife’s “constant badgering.” When viewed through a lense that is not clouded by the dominant ideals of men in positions of authority and women as complacent and accommodating, nothing about this situation should be considered normal.
The author goes on to present a second example of a “solution” to nagging, as a wife says “I don’t take it personally when he doesn’t respond.” Through this example, the discrepancy between what the wife comes expect and what the husband simply receives is even more stark and pitiful. Throughout this article, women are presented as learning to tame their tongue, to shut up, sit quiet, and hope for the best. As nagging is a word that cannot be separated from gender, the article supports the idea that women will forever be at a loss when trying to get a point across.
This article not only forced me to try and understand how women can be indirectly labeled as “marriage killers” but why this author would weakly try to stage the issue of nagging as something that both men and women do. Although she hides behind such phrases as “the couple’s issue” or “their nagging problem,” the only examples she presents revolve around a woman protagonist who annoys her husband to no end. Even at the close of the article, where she tries to offer solutions to the “death by a thousand reminders,” her advice centers around women “naggers” as she says, “Let him tell you when it works best for him” and “Tell her honestly if you can do what she asks and when. Then follow through. Do what you say you will do.”
Not only is nagging a word that is used to keep women nonthreatening to some convoluted and illegitimate power of a man or a husband, the common depiction of women as naggers is prevalent and mostly unquestioned in society. The real headline of this article should read “Women Nag: How to Keep Them Silent and How You Should Convince Them They Deserve To Stay That Way.”
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