Keris Stainton‘s fortnightly column on married life…
I’ve started reading a book called Wifework: What marriage really means for women by Susan Maushart. I bought it years ago, but have never felt the urge to read it, either because I was happy with my husband and didn’t want to get all riled up by reading about why I shouldn’t be or because he was driving me mad and I didn’t want it to tip me over the edge.
Last week, I decided to bite the bullet and start reading and it’s fascinating stuff. Interestingly, in a list defining what constitutes “Wifework”, I found a few things I’ve talked about in this column: disproportionate household labour, maintaining his family relationships, laughing at his jokes. I actually felt quite positive because, of the “disproportionate” issues, David is doing more than me. Yes, maintaining his family relationships is a pain, but not one that I lose (much) sleep over. And I am generally happy to laugh at his jokes (even when they’re not actually his).
The one aspect of Wifework that gave me pause was this: “Deferring to his agenda in day to day conversation (women initiate more topics, but men choose which ones will be pursued, demonstrating their conversational dominance by completing women’s sentences, interrupting and withdrawing attention when it’s the woman’s turn to speak).”
This is possibly the thing most likely to send me into a frenzy. Recently, over dinner, we were discussing a well-publicised court case which we disagree on. I was quite enjoying a “heated debate” as Mrs Merton used to say, but then my husband said, “I’m not discussing this anymore” and actually held his hand up to me!!! I was apoplectic! Isn’t that outrageous?! What gives him the right to decide what we do or do not discuss?
And it’s not just blatantly shutting me up, it’s this kind of thing too:
Me: There was an interesting thing in this book…
David: Oh god.
Me: Well excuse me for trying to start a conversation!
David: I didn’t mean to say that out loud.
What is it? Where does it come from? Is it that boys are just taught from an early age that their thoughts are more important (certainly in David’s family anything his mother’s utterances are given much less respect than anything any of the men might say). It’s taught me that I need to be careful with my son. I need him to know that things mummy says have equal validity to the things daddy says. I need to put a stop to David making comments like, “Mummy’s talking rubbish, isn’t she?” It all seems fairly innocuous at the time, but clearly it can have lasting effects and I need to nip it in the bud.
No doubt there’ll be more from Wifework in the coming weeks. That’s assuming I can bring myself to read the next chapter. Sigh.