Caitlin Flanagan thinks you're a bad wife

Caitlin Flanagan turned in a singularly odd performance as a champion of husband’s rights on last night’s Colbert Report. She railed against the modern concept of Date Night for married couples, the idea that a man might “have to take his wife out for dinner and a Meg Ryan movie just to get some nookie.” Growing up, she said, her dad came home from work, her mom got dinner on the table, and there was no Meg Ryan, just nookie. “If my dad ever took my mom out for Date Night,” she said, “I would’ve been shocked.”

Her basic point was that women should put out for their husbands and not make demands. Think of England, ladies. What she presupposes, however, is that tons of women are in sexless marriages, think that they are doing everything right, and need a wake-up call. But where are those women? Where are the feminists standing on street corners with signs reading, “Celibate and loving it”? I’m willing to bet that most women in sexless marriages already feel bad about it. Women speak regularly in public forums about their loss of libido and desire to reclaim it; they never express pride about resisting their husbands’ advances.

Then again, Caitlin Flanagan is an expert at playing on guilt. She’s got a well-paid gig as the little voice in the back of your head that says you’re not being quite good enough. This role is constricting for Flanagan; I could see it when Colbert forced her to agree with him that women should be dependent on men. She couldn’t break character and disagree with him, much as she seemed to want to; the result was an eerie scene of one persona interviewing another.

Women already have plenty of guilt. We don’t need a smart, articulate woman like Flanagan telling us things we already heard from our nasty high school home ec teacher (“If you don’t cook him a hot meal, he’ll leave you.”) We need her to share with us some of the ambivalence she glancingly alludes to — her postpartum depression, her crippling fear when her mother went back to work, her need to remember her Berkeley childhood as an ultra-traditional, Date-Night-free existence. She is a woman who has struggled with the conflicting demands of family and ambition, not to mention cancer, and who seems to have come out ahead. We need wisdom from her, not finger-wagging.

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2 Responses to “Caitlin Flanagan thinks you're a bad wife”

  1. Sheiva Says:

    Anna North. It’s been a long time. But it’s awesome to see you haven’t lost your brilliance. Nice website, and great post.

  2. Martha Says:

    Word, Anna. Though I did enjoy Mr. Colbert (I have tix for the June 13th show!) backing her into a bizarre little corner, you are right on the money: how could Flanagan have such a complex life–and reduce it to snappy quips?

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