I notice that our world has a whole lot of older women who dominate, badger, nitpick, and browbeat their husbands—who tend to be withdrawn, compliant, generally agreeable, and weary. I saw this initially in my maternal great-grandparents, followed by my grandparents, and now in my own parents. My parents were the only ones I’ve known when they were young, so I don’t have a very good comparison set for my theory, but I’m also looking at strangers, people I see out in public.
And I keep seeing the same thing: domineering women and agreeable men. It’s strange because our people have lived under patriarchy for thousands of years, where men have all the power, and wield it every day in myriad micro and macro ways. They have privilege in practically every sphere, make almost all the decisions, get to take up as much space as they like wherever they are, regardless of who else is there. Most of the Internet conversation I’m hearing right now is about male privilege and how they abuse it, and how women are the victims. And yet.
And yet something happens in the home. The traditional “woman’s domain” where what the woman says is law. A place where Mom knows the location of all things, can do all the things, and manages nearly all activity things. She has near-total power here, which is totally not true in the outside world. It’s like The Patriarchy Board decided to throw women a sop and make them all powerful but ONLY in this one place. To try and make up for all the power the men get in all the other places. Or something.
But they didn’t count on The Crone. They forgot the terrifying power of a woman compressed from all sides for 40, 50 years. They go about their lives happily working and dressing themselves and having all the privilege they can handle until one day something snaps. And I don’t know if the snap happens in the woman or the man, or whether it sorta sneaks up from the side and surprises them both, but it happens.
And all of a sudden the man can’t seem to dress himself properly or comb his hair (she wearily points out). He forgets to buy The Important Thing at the store (even though she sent him with a list). He leaves crumbs on the counter every time after making toast (how many times do I have to remind you?). Maybe he just doesn’t care anymore. But the woman cares and this time (THIS TIME) she’s not going to let it slide. This time she’s mad. She remembers a life of having no power and no voice and no real opportunities, and she starts taking it out on him. All that resentment unspoken for decades comes out in Technicolor and she badgers the crap out of him. Picks at him. Treats him increasingly like a child.
The men? They seem resigned about it; they take it, almost as their lot. Is that it? What’s happening there? Again – maybe they just don’t care anymore. Maybe they’ve been listening to her nitpicking for 30 years already and haven’t got any fight left in them. I don’t know.
But it’s this funny thing about patriarchy and unforeseen consequences. Because if you give women power in only one space, in narrowly-proscribed ways, the pressure’s gotta give somewhere. It’s going to leak out and it stands to reason that there’s gonna be some collateral damage.