The Gender Intersectionality of Nagging Wife Syndrome

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We wanted to add a new element to this site in the form of more editorialized musings on social roles today in light of our ongoing mission to explore how the tenets of New Humanism manifest themselves today. Specifically, I wanted to talk about something I refer to as “nagging wife syndrome” and why I believe it’s so ubiquitous in long-term relationships and, worse, reinforces the most rigid ways of talking about gender roles.

But, wait, let’s back up for a second. One of the big buzzwords in today’s Woke culture is “intersectionality,” something of a catchall term for the interconnectedness of our social categories and the oppression of various sub-groups in our society. Our shorthand way of explaining intersectionality is to quote MLK: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” But, of course, there’s a lot more to say about the subject, especially when it comes to the history and present-day experience of various sub-groups.

I’ve recently been thinking about why the nagging wife is such a common interaction between intimate, long-term, heterosexual couples. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon in terms of the ways boys and girls are socialized and the fact that anxiety is more common among women. Put simply, women are taught by society that a wider range of their behaviors are unacceptable and must be controlled or filtered in some way. This, in contrast, with the philosophy that “boys will be boys.”

A curious thing happens when an intimate, long-term relationship develops. Each person can’t help but feel like they have to “own” the behaviors of their partner. Part of this is garden-variety familial belonging. We’re allowed to be mean to our own family members, but nobody else can. But it tends to take on a different tenor and pitch with husband and wife and other long-term hetero-relationships.

That’s because any number of things a man does won’t cause him to feel embarrassed, but it will her. Because, again, society teaches a different level of permissiveness to men and women, and so this inevitably becomes a source of friction when a couple’s behavior is perceived as being jointly owned. Much of this social perception comes from other people, meaning couples can’t simply tell themselves that they’re going to remain strong independent people and, thus, this won’t happen to them.

Left unrecognized, this type of nagging can quickly escalate into a tit-for-tat barrage of insults and exaggerated transgressions. To the extent that women need to calm down, men need to understand that it’s impractical for women to suddenly not care about certain behaviors they’ve been told their entire life is some combination of embarrassing, shameful, and unattractive. Thus, this dysfunction within relationships is all too easy to fall into because of what kids today might call “gender intersectionality.” But regardless of what you call it, making these types of insights along the way can ensure that this friction doesn’t fester and lead to permanent harm to the relationship’s trust and intimacy.

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