Marriage based on a dictatorship is doomed to fail


4/13/1989 I remember a conversation with a man sometime ago who was not getting along with his wife. They were both in their middle 50s and he simply said that his “wife was not the same sweet woman she used to be.” During the course of our conversation he said she was not willing to receive his counsel. I asked why?

“Well,” he continued, “I give her advice on how she can improve in what she is doing. I tell her how she can be a better woman and spouse.” Then he casually mentioned, “I believe it is the responsibility of the husband to train and educate his wife.”

I thought for a moment and then asked, half in jest, “When was the last time you saw ‘My Fair Lady’?” He wanted to know why.

The movie, released in 1956, was based on the play “Pygmalion” written by George Bernard Shaw in 1912. The theme of the play and movie, as I understand it, was “women are the creations of men.” The play was based on the Greek legend where Pygmalion, King of Cyprus, became disgusted with the women of his day and carved an ivory statue of a beautiful woman. Then he fell in love with his creation . . . the statue. In answer to his prayer, the goddess Aphrodite made the statue into a living woman named Galatea whom Pygmalion later married.

The suggestion that men create women brought back vivid memories of “My Fair Lady” where Henry Higgins struggled with Eliza Doolittle in trying to “help” her overcome her cockney accent and elevate her to a standard of living to which she was unaccustomed. Remember the lyrics, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”  And who can forget that final moment in the movie when Audrey Hepburn descended down the staircase in her elegant gown much to the triumphant delight of Professor Higgins, played by Rex Harrison, and his associates.

The husband thought for a moment and then suggested the Greek legend was accurate. Women become what they are through the efforts of men. I asked, however, if the opposite was also true: Men are what their wives help them become. I reminded him of the adage that every woman has two husbands: the one she is given and the one she creates. He disagreed and suggested that it was improper for a woman to “train and educate her husband in anything.”

I sensed the middle-aged, struggling husband held a common but outdated belief . . . that men are, by nature, superior to women. Since he believed men know more and have superior intellect, logic and judgment, I better understood his stated belief that he should “train and educate” his wife.

And I also better understood his wife’s frustration.

The “male superior” concept, I believe, is a major cause of marital disruption and dissatisfaction in America today. Of course some men are more capable than some women in some things. But the opposite is also true. Some women are much more capable than some women in some things. But the opposite is also true. Some women are much more capable than some men in some things. It is not a battle of the sexes. Some individuals have some skills and attributes that others do not possess. Almost everyone is skilled in something that others are not, regardless of being male or female.

In their book, “The Mirages of Marriage,” William J. Lederer and Don D. Jackson observe: “The rigid, male-dicated marital structure of the 11th and 12th century cannot function in today’s environment . . . The question of who has the right to do what to whom – and when – is the pervasive, nagging issue which must be worked out by every couple, for it arises daily. A set of relationship rules must be agreed upon. In the formulation of these rules, each individual must feel that he or she has a right, equal to the others, to determine what goes on.”

They conclude, “History of both marriage and nations repeatedly has shown that systems based on the unequal division of power eventually fall. To survive, a system requires mutual responsibility, reward, security and dignity.”

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