Thursday, October 04, 2012

Sandra Tsing Loh: monster wives

I'm not quite sure how to process the latest column by Sandra Tsing Loh. It's about the dissatisfaction that she and her professional female friends feel with their relationships with men.

They are not dissatisfied because their men are too patriarchal or macho. In fact, they are living the feminist dream life, in which they are the breadwinners supporting their husbands/partners.

On Sandra Tsing Loh's account this makes them:
  • resent the free time their husbands/partners might have
  • equally annoyed when their husbands are too focused on domestic things or not focused enough
  • unimpressed with their husbands' efforts to earn money
  • keen to transform their husbands into something else
  • more likely to value men as non-romantic, platonic home help than as spouses
  • nostalgic for the sense of home that their grandmothers enjoyed

It's not just an anti-male rant. She doesn't like what she and her friends have become: she uses the terms "unwifeableness" and "monster wife".

One interesting point she makes is that in the past when women needed men to support them, there was a reason for women to feel gratitude toward their husbands and that this helped to make marriage more stable. In contrast, for a financially independent woman like herself, it is very easy to dismiss a romantically underperforming partner:
I made the mistake of asking “How was your day?” and he made the mistake of responding, and as I watched his mouth move, I felt my trigger finger twitch and thought those awful words only a woman who needs a man neither to support her nor to be a father to her children can think: How long until I vote you off the island?

In short, this new unwifeableness is exactly what all those finger-­wagging 19th-century British men thundered against. Mundy espouses this brave new world in which, freed from the usual economic and societal constraints, emancipated women can choose males based strictly on romantic feeling. But the flip side is: if romance is all the woman is in it for, the man had better BRING IT—or else. And how much easier is it to put on your hat in the morning, get on the train, and drag home a monthly paycheck than to consistently evoke heady romantic feelings in a (hungry! bloated!) woman?

In fact, very, very few adults possess so much charm that they can long be supported by another adult based on that attribute alone.

And here is Sandra Tsing Loh on missing a sense of home that her grandmothers enjoyed:
The gentle, almost Beatrix Potter–y images make me feel weepy; they actually draw a tear as I remember my own German grandmother—the homemade chicken soup with fresh-from-the-­garden parsley, the warm strawberry crumble cake in the afternoon on a rolling glass tray, the doilies on couch arms, the polished, chiming grandfather clock....

Day by day in our frenetic, chaotic modern homes, how many of us become inexplicably unglued, suddenly losing our equilibrium in a disproportionate vale of anguish, as we open our refrigerator door ... and confront the spillage from the leaking Ziploc bag or the microwave-deformed GladWare that forever will not close. On the one hand, these are a simple technical malfunction; on the other, they are another small but precise omen pointing to a world without the deep domestic comforts—and care, and arts—not of our mothers (many of whom were in a transitional leaving-home-to-go-to-work generation) but of our grandmothers, who still ruled the home with absolute power. No one is taking care of us! No one! And that is no small thing.

But Sandra, why would anyone take care of you if you have told them over and over that you are, above all else, independent? And how could we expect the art of homemaking to prosper if it is treated as an inferior sphere to that of career?


  1. One doesn't know whether or not to hope Lo's partner reads her columns. How can a marriage/partnership last where one party says such spiteful things about the other. And in public too! Obviously no mutual respect in that relationship.

  2. Back in the bad old days of patriarchy, did men routinely take to the pages of major periodicals and write long screeds complaining that their wives were unappealing, shallow, and dull? The dingbat wife was a stock character on television, until Edith Bunker jumped the shark, but I don't recall anything like the self-pitying narcissism of a Lo, or the contemptuous loathing of a Rosin. To me these are just further examples of uniquely female horribleness that has been unleashed by the rise of women to power.

    I remember early feminist telling me that everything in the old man's world was a phallic symbol, but it took some fancy hermeneutics to bring this out. In the Age of Woman we have Naomi Wolf publishing a book about her vagina !

    From the reviews I've read, Wolf's book is a sort of mix of Popular Mechanics Magazine and the Penthouse Forum. Now both of these are, I admit, distinctly male forms of literature but men never mixed them together with defamation of their own spouse and published it in a major periodical!

  3. Interesting how she pines for the memories of her German heritage, yet probably comes home to an Asian one...

    My bet is she is childless so at least there will be no children hurt.

  4. She has two daughters, one 10 the other 12 (she is 50 so she had them quite late). Her father is Asian and her mother is German.

  5. It's easy to process this story: whiny-ass impossible-to-satisfy feminist is not satisfied.

    My God, after reading about these awful women, my answer (if I were married to one of them) to "How long until I vote you off the island?" would be "why the HELL did I get on the island with a shrill, demanding termagant like you in the first place?" Note that there is no discussion in this article of flaws that women have. It's all about them not being haaaaapy.

    in post-marriage, both parties are forced to be realistic and rigorously accountable regarding kids’ schools, lessons, and pickups and drop-offs, and of course the finances

    Lost in all this accounting is any concern for the emotional well-being of the children, of course.

    Ron contentedly chauffeurs the kids while playing world music. He walks their choleric dog and initiates home projects like (this is hard to describe, but it’s very groovy) creating a family playroom/art studio out of found and recycled materials.

    In short, Ron is a prize.

    Ron is a eunuch and a dipshit.

    When a woman supports the household, she becomes quite sensitive to how the man spends his downtime... if you are a woman who is sometimes lucky enough to pull down a large amount of money in a short period of time, you begin to monetize the man’s work time similarly.

    Can you imagine the rage if a man did this to his wife? She'd consider that grounds for divorce right there.

    I think about “the paradox of declining female happiness” and wonder what, if anything, we can do to reverse the tide.

    How about, stop thinking happiness is (and MUST BE) given to you from outside, and start thinking that happiness comes from inside yourself.

    after kids are in the picture and a household forms, giving up sex to gain domestic calm and contentment (and after all, isn’t that what marriage is all about?) may not be such a bad bargain.

    Um, what's in it for the man in this arrangement? Why would he sign up for that?

  6. Right now there are about 400 comments to that article, and not a single one defends her. They are pretty much all variations on "what man would want to marry such an awful creature"?


    Loh goes on to describe the modern woman's ideal husband, who turns out to be four men in one: "Mr. X," who is a good provider; "Mr. Y," who is emotionally sensitive and solicitous; "Mr. Z," who is handy around the house, and "Mr. Q," who happily carries out any menial task his wife assigns him to do. It does dawn on Loh that these expectations are unrealistic:

    "The problem, of course, is that no one man can possibly be all four of these people. Mr. X is notoriously bad at processing feelings, Mr. Y is notoriously bad at fixing things, macho Mr. Z hates to be micromanaged, and Mr. Q does not actually exist in real life."

    Well, allow us to inject a male point of view. Suppose you're the purportedly perfect man--a guy who has the qualities of Messers. X, Y, Z and Q all rolled into one. Why would you want to spend 90 minutes, much less a lifetime, with someone who'd rather scream at you than change a light bulb herself?

    Perhaps these Atlantic pieces are assigned and written with only women in mind, and this columnist is the only heterosexual man who finds them interesting enough to read all the way through. Another possibility is that the magazine's actual editorial mission is to disabuse bachelors of any notion that it might be nice to be married.

  8. When a woman supports the household, she becomes quite sensitive to how the man spends his downtime... if you are a woman who is sometimes lucky enough to pull down a large amount of money in a short period of time, you begin to monetize the man’s work time similarly.

    I know a woman who is like this. Her partner works in a creative field. He earns as much as her over the course of a year, but he has periods of time in which he's not working.

    I've heard her talk to him on the phone during such periods. She gets really tetchy, asking him what he's doing, how he can justify doing it and suggesting chores. She clearly has trouble accepting that she's working while he has downtime.

  9. "Shut up and make me a sammich" is really the only response to that sort of nagging.

  10. Anon above,

    I bet she'd even like it to have a husband with a back bone.

  11. Thanks Mark, Two more girls who may grow up to be like her, what's the bet the girls feel sorry for their Dad?

    I still find it interesting how she pines for her German heritage.

  12. This is just so depressing. Sure, many people will form a negative opinion of the author from the article, but I doubt many will link the situation with the broader feminist attack on traditional, complementary gender roles.

  13. Pity this woman, who brushes past the truth with nearly everything she states here and then veers off into selfish oblivion. I can only read this article as a frantic, plaintive appeal for help, for an answer. Yet the answer is in front of her face. She will never grasp it, but God knows best.

  14. I can only read this article as a frantic, plaintive appeal for help, for an answer.

    Yes, there's an "I'm lost and don't know what to do" message embedded in Sandra Tsing Loh's article.

    And I think at one level she knows what has gone wrong. For someone who belongs to her milieu she has gone bravely close to saying it: that the goal of female independence wrecks long-term male/female complementarity.

    But she is clearly unwilling to take the leap to restore this complementarity - and hence the "unresolved" way she ends the piece.

    Here's something to like about the piece. The easy option for her would be to say "Here we all are, a group of fabulous, empowered, independent women. Hey men, man up and be everything that we want you to be. It's up to you to make sure that committed relationships happen."

    She didn't take that route. What she wonders at is the difficulty that women like her have with commitment. It is women like her who have come to disrespect men in general. And she thinks that part of the problem is that role complementarity has been broken, which then leaves only the emotional/romantic connection which is too unstable a basis for a long-term marriage - not so much from the men but from the women whose romantic ideals are difficult for any single man to meet as they ideally require contradictory characteristics in men.

  15. "I doubt many will link the situation with the broader feminist attack on traditional, complementary gender roles."

    I thought a lot of the hundreds of comments at the original article did exactly that.