Saturday, May 01, 2021

Petticoat Tyranny

I have said that the stage and literary humor of the domineering wife occurs mainly in Europe and its descendants, back through Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist (1838) when the unhappy spouse of a domineering wife is told in court that "...the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction", and he replies: "If the law supposes that," said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, "the law is a ass - a idiot". Or to Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle, who arising from sleep after twenty years finds he is now free of two tyrannical governments, King George and the "petticoat tyranny" of his now-deceased wife.  The joke goes back through the Taming of the Shrew, or the "Wife of Bath's Tale." I have wondered if this is from the influence of the Northern pagans, where women could own property and practice trades in some of the tribes.

Yet now I wonder if this is true at all, and I only think it is Western because that is the only tradition I know.  Is it more universal?  What do you know of yourselves?


james said...

Maybe not entirely the northern pagans:

Zachriel said...

james: Maybe not entirely the northern pagans

Heh. A bit older example would be Lysistrata by Aristophanes. The following are a bit farther afield.



A certain official underling one day drew upon himself the wrath of his wife, who scratched his face so severely that when he presented himself before his chief the next morning, that officer asked him the cause of his wounds. With ready wit the underling replied, "While taking my ease in the garden last evening a portion of the vine-trellis fell on me and scratched my face." The officer, who knew something of his domestic relations, at once divined the true cause," Don't talk nonsense," he replied; "it was your wife who scratched you. Send a policeman to bring her before me." As it happened, his own wife had been listening to this interview behind the door, and in defence of her sex burst in upon the scene. The officer, terrified by this invasion, said hurriedly to the underling, "Go away, never mind your wife; my vine-trellis is about to fall on me."

Chinese (sung by a boy about his parents):

The small chilies
How could they not be bitter?
When my father catches sight of my mother, he is afraid
He kneels down with a lamp on his head,
And is also afraid lest the oil should run down, or the candle should fall
When my mother wants to wash her feet
My father runs forward
When he has taken down the socks he says that it is scented
If he says it is bad smelling he gets a slap on the face
When he has filled her pipe
And handed over to her a cup of tea
My mother is so delighted that she shows her teetch
My father has once called her: o mother of my children
Old lady, forgive me, now
If you are going to get angry again, I will roll away
And from now henceforward I will never come back home


Then there's always Aristotle and Phyllis

Grim said...

It’s more the introduction to the Wife of Bath’s tale. The tale itself is about the joy and wisdom to be had from accepting the leadership of the wife. It’s Arthurian.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I learned early while going on vacation and setting up the campsite, that in none of these families were the children taking something out of the van and asking their father where it was supposed to go. At very young ages, they knew better.

St. Paul only said those things to give men a fighting chance.

To make the serious comment, this is always an inside joke among the decent people where men are not violent toward women. In that verbal-only context, women can eventually achieve equality or even rulership. But emphasising that is a bit unfair to the women under violence for whom this would be a cruel joke.

mc23 said...

I understand there's Chinese symbol for trouble that depicts two women living under one roof.

The people are wearing 'skirts' underneath a horizontal line (roof).

I work with a Chinese guy raised in America who brought back a bride from China. He's got quite a "Honey Do" list. No down time unless she kicks his butt in Ping pong. She was a regional champion.

Grim said...

“I understand there's Chinese symbol for trouble that depicts two women living under one roof.”

There’s definitely a character, 安 “ān,” which means “peace” and is the roof radical combined with the woman radical. I had a professor named Dr An, from Korea, who used to explain his name with reference to the alleged character with a roof over three women that was supposed to mean “calamity.” However, I’m fairly sure that’s just a joke.

Grim said...

To speak of the northern pagans, as you put it, the classical text is probably The Saga of Burnt Njal. I did a series on it at one time, years ago. The one wife carries on a feud with the other, literally arranging the murders of each others servants, so the put-upon Viking husbands have to keep making peace between their households. This happens over and over, until Gunnar finally smacks his wife to try to get her to see sense.

Much later, they are set upon by their enemies, who are trying to burn them alive in their homes. He kills many of the attackers with his halberd and bow, and is making a good show until his bowstring breaks. He asks his wife to braid some of her hair into a replacement string. She asks if anything important depends on it, and he says that yes, their lives do. She refuses, stating that this will teach him to raise a hand to her.

They both die in the fire, but she got the last word. Or so the story says; since they both died in the fire, who knows what really happened inside the house?

Texan99 said...

I'll pitch in from the puzzled female perspective. Men give me impression that they are uncomfortable acknowledging how desperately they need the sexual services of women. Many men resent the one-sidedness of the situation, given that most women don't need sex in the intensely undeniable way most men do.

Men obviously know they'll win almost any open physical contest, but if they don't plan to keep their sexual partners literally tied up 24 hours a day, they also know they're not safe if they turn their backs on an abused partner. This leads to the intolerable conclusion that they have to keep their partners at least moderately happy, which means they're at risk of losing the power struggle. Now they face the task of offering things to women that men don't happen to agree are all that important, like intimate communication, emotional availability, and improved accoutrements for the nest.

It doesn't seem like this should be an insurmountable challenge; women face the reverse problem all the time, if they want to be physically protected and fed, especially when they're pregnant and vulnerable. It may be harder for a man, because it's humiliating to have to please someone he can so easily dominate physically. Suddenly the negotiation is "unfairly" skewed toward the weaker sex.

Maybe things would be better if women tried to empathize a little more in how difficult this contradiction is for men, and men tried to empathize a little more in how difficult it is for women to have to depend on men for physical protection--not to mention trusting men not to kill them in the occasional domestic fracas. A man presumably would like to think that his female partner offers sex generously and without ugly strings. A women similarly would like to think that a male partner offers protection on the same terms, but few couples are up to the task of preventing power struggles from infecting their intimacy 100% of the time.

Grim said...

Woman, you have a way with words. Although, I have to tell you, my wife has never been in the least moment's danger from me; but there have been moments when I've feared for my own life!

Texan99 said...

I don't find that these generalities apply very well to people I'm in personal contact with, most of whom have long since found good ways to compromise lovingly with each other and so to limit the brutality of their negotiations. But it remains surprising to me how much open rage I read online, from men who resent the difficulty of trustworthy and exclusive sexual access, as well as the threat of having property extracted from them, and from women who resent the difficulty of extracting trustworthy property and protection rights, as well as the relentless pressure for sexual access. It's as if both sides of the bargain aimed to go their graves as baby birds with their beaks perpetually open.

Pictander said...

I've often wondered why "the law is an ass" has become the famous quote. What Bumble says directly after that is more fitting: "the law is a bachelor".

stevo said...

I like the way you think

stevo said...

Men are not that bad. It was easy for me to realize that there is no point demanding sex when your wife doesn't feel like it. When she does it it heaven. One thing I resent is the catholic approach to birth control which was ( at least when we took our pre marriage course) that we could control our fertility (nfp) by carefully keeping track of her cycles. What this meant in reality was we could only have sex when she didn't feel like it.

Texan99 said...

Women are not that bad. It was easy for me to realize that I needn't demand money from my sexual partners, nor grant or withhold sex as a means of control. Most of the people I spend pleasant time with figured all this out a long time ago. Nevertheless, I continue to read a surprising amount of rage on the net from people who can't get it.