Thursday, 25 July 2013

A Man is Not a Substitute for All Women

Last night I watched a made-for-TV movie called Housewife, 49. It was sweet but predictable. A plump, ground-down middle-aged married woman with a grouchy carpenter husband is recruited in the early days of the Second World War to the Women's Volunteer Services, even though her husband tells her she won't fit in. And indeed at first she does not, because the other women are all madly middle-class, and one or two are snooty, but then the most patriotic social maven takes her under her wing, and our heroine feels she can ignore both her disapproving husband and the the norms of the class system.

So at 49 she begins to blossom and when the Germans bomb the Lake District and her grey-moustached husband admits, from the uncertain shelter of their Morrison (which turns out to be a big cage you set up in your house), that she is "everything" to him, she looks as bored and irritated as you can look when Jerry is dropping jolly big bombs on you.

In short, the happier Housewife, 49 gets, and the more she enjoys the company of her women friends, the more contemptuous she is of her husband. (I have to admit, I didn't much fancy him myself.) There's a sense that she is feeling rather a cut above him, now that... Hmm, now I see why he told her she wouldn't fit in. It might have been because he was afraid she would.

I don't think this sent a good message to the men of Britain, so I hope they didn't watch it. Frankly, I was quite relieved that Housewife didn't leave her husband. Almost completely demoralized, the poor old ex-king of his bombed working-class castle says he hopes she'll continue "to put up with" him. She says, "Well, why not? You have to put up with me." A very good point. All the same, it's quite clear that she doesn't realize that men are scarce and many a war widow wouldn't scoff at a nice carpenter with a home of his own, even if he had to pay alimony to his social-climbing frump of a first wife.

Oooh la la. That is not 1945 thinking! Is even Auntie Seraphic a product of post-1963 decadence? No doubt. Because divorce is just too easy these days, and therefore you must not be  contemptuous of your husband, if you have one and want to keep him. Possibly you can be rude occasionally if you apologize within a reasonable time frame. But you may not be contemptuous.

One way not to be contemptuous of your husband or, indeed, of any man whose company you enjoy, is not to think he is a substitute for all women friends. Demanding that your husband be both a man and a woman is really too much. You can remind him that you yourself are not a man and therefore should not be expected to deny your feminine genius (e.g. crying when there's something worth crying about), but you cannot expect him to be a genius at listening and commiserating the way women are. You can ask him to try, of course, but you cannot expect him to be just like your female friends.  

I think this follows for boyfriend and other men friends, too. And this is why it is such a good idea, among other reasons, not to neglect your female pals when you fall in love or "start a [romantic] relationship" with a man. You'll need them.


Anonymous said...

I read in a book I quite liked (Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell) that contempt is the #1 sign of marital trouble:

Calendula said...

I suppose this goes for fathers and brithers too.

Anonymous said...

Isn't that the one with Victoria Wood in it? She was very well cast if I remember correctly. It was based on letters from a real-life lady during the war for those not in the know. I would like to read the actual book, if only to see whether the ending with her son actually happened. It seemed a bit too 21st century agenda driven for my liking. Her husband was beneath her and her son's freedom was progress.

Indeed, contempt for a man is awful. I remember feeling that for a man once, I found him repulsive and did not want him near me. He made my skin crawl.It must be a death knell for a marriage.

I would also add that it is important to stay friends with women who have similiar ideas as you about men and marriage. Women who respect the men in their lives. It is a-ok to gently let friendships go with old friends who see men differently. I can't be the only one here who had a friend(s) from their youth who think all men are cheaters/liars etc. Rotten apples and all that, it's ok to let them go.


Anna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anna said...

@philologia: That's John Gottman!

Elisabeth said...

@Anna and @Philologia: you're both right! Blink contains a wonderful chapter on John Gottman and the ways we communicate without even knowing we're doing it.

Anna said...

@Elisabeth: Yes, I wasn't saying that she didn't see it in Blink.