Dependency in marriage
We are all dependent (interdependency is discussed above). There is nothing wrong with that as long as it doesn't place us in a position of feeling inferior or of being unable to cope if we are left alone, as in the marriage situation described above. Overly-dependent people put themselves, often unconsciously, in situations where they are helpless or feel helpless in order to get others to take care of them, like children. Often dependent people will refuse to take responsibility for managing their own lives, as long as someone else will. If you feel you can't survive on your own, you are dependent in the worst sense of being incompetent or helpless. Such a situation is scary, if and when you permit yourself to think about it. Even if you are a liberated woman and not helplessly dependent on a male, it may be difficult or impossible to find an exciting career, so you are dependent on the business world for employment. The unemployed can tell you how scary that dependency is. Furthermore, the employed woman often has to care for the children and manage the household because her husband is hung up on the old ideas of what is woman's work (and/or because it's easier to watch TV than to bathe the kids). Indeed, one survey of 50 two-career couples with children found that the wives worked 15 hours more each week than the husbands! Hochschild (1989) helps such couples avoid these unfair gender roles.
How are women coerced and/or lured into the vulnerable passive-dependent role? Willis (1981) says (1) women are promised the reward of security and little responsibility, (2) social pressures are exerted on females to do what is expected of women and mothers, and (3) women are subtly encouraged to avoid the stress of asserting themselves and competing in an aggressive world, especially since they aren't considered well equipped or prepared for "a man's world." A woman may give up being self-directed because she realizes she has been placed by others in an "inferior class," where her being strong, decisive, successful, and a leader are discouraged. Gradually, the idea of being independent, capable, and self-sufficient becomes scary (in Freudian terms she is castrated) and being dependent, protected, and compliant seems much safer and easier.
Letty Pogrebin (1980) says our current sexual stereotypes give children two basic messages: (1) boys are better and (2) girls are meant to be mothers. The underlying purpose is to motivate boys to excel--"be the greatest!" However, since most boys fail to be as successful as they had hoped, their frustration is relieved by exerting their superiority over women. Furthermore, since women are meant to be mothers, women cannot fulfill their roles in life without first attracting a man; this creates enormous concern in women about sex appeal and attractiveness. Too often the woman's self-esteem comes from how good a man she can attract, rather than from within herself or from her own achievements. Pogrebin believes males have sold the boring, menial job of childrearing to women by glorifying motherhood. On the other hand, she thinks the Women's Movement has made careers more appealing than homemaking, at least for the middle-class, well educated elite. Consequently, it is predicted that 25+% of women between 25 and 29 will not be married but will have careers. Gradually the old traditions are changing. And why not? Men aren't the only ones capable of "bringing home the bacon." And, women aren't the only ones capable of "taking care of the kids."
Feeling inferior and super responsible at the same time
Being considered by society to be inferior to men, some women may simply accept being helpless and become a "Door Mat" (Namka, 1989). Other women may try to over-compensate by trying to become everything to everybody, by feeling super responsible, by taking charge, by loving and giving too much, by pleasing everyone, by becoming "Superwoman." Thus, there are a spate of books about women doing too much for others while forgetting their own needs (Norwood, 1985; Bepko & Krestan, 1990; Leman, 1987; Braiker, 1989). Low self-esteem and shame are thought to underlie this self-depreciatory behavior. Bepko and Krestan say there is a "Goodness Code" for women: be attractive and sexy! be ladylike! be unselfish and thoughtful! be sure everyone is getting along! be competent! and don't be uppity or a bitch! These rules are so pervasive that they seem to "come natural" to women. But part of being "good" is believing you have never been good enough. So, built into women's roles is a mechanism for creating self-doubt, insecurity, and a tendency to take on too much.
Likewise, our culture encourages women to seek perfection in terms of attractiveness. As Rodin (1992) observes, the beauty contest goes on and on. Woman worry about their looks, feel vain, and, in turn, are ashamed of how much their bodies mean to them. It is almost immoral if you don't diet and exercise; it is impossible to look perfect all the time; it becomes a trap.
Willis (1981) notes that even "liberated" women are frequently in conflict about other things, such as dependency and assertiveness. Examples: an aggressive business woman acts like a emotional teenager in sexual relationships; a strong, powerful, dogmatic anti-ERA female speaker declares that women's' place is in the home being taken care of by a man; an egalitarian female wants a challenging career but feels guilty when she isn't the main caregiver with the children and makes more money than her husband; a feminist demands equality but doesn't want to be drafted into combat like men. Many women are still struggling with these dilemmas.
We also expect a lot of boys and men
High expectations of men can be enormous burdens for them too (Farrell, 1975). Remember, they are to be God-like, omnipotent, and successful. Examples: Real men are expected to be tough--"big boys don't cry"--and fearless. Men, in turn, become demanding of others too, inclined to criticize and direct or advise rather than empathize. They are supposed to be logical and practical, not emotional and idealistic. They are expected to pretend to be women's equals except whenever they "have to put their foot down" to avoid doing housework or to keep her at home. They must be successful in their trade and have a superior answer to all problems at all times. They must look confident and impress people. They must be aggressive and approach attractive women. And, they must, of course, be a sexual powerhouse--a "stud." Taken altogether those are impossible standards to meet. Anyone (including the liberated female) compelled to be so competitive and so superior has become an unhappy slave to a demanding stereotype (more about this in chapter 9).
What about innate dependency needs?
Sex-role stereotypes and social pressures may not be the sole causes of dependency. Indeed, emotional dependency may not be learned at all, it may be a basic need. Eichenbaum and Orbach (1983), psychoanalytic therapists, argue that males and females have innate dependency needs--needs for love and emotional support. In terms of these needs, men hide their needs more than women but women are raised to meet those needs in men. In short, women learn to be depended upon, not dependent! According to this theory, women may be economically dependent and mechanically (fix the car) dependent, but they are trained to deny their needs and become the emotional and interpersonal caretakers and controllers of the family. The entire family depends on mother; she is the family organizer and therapist. But, there is no one to take care of mother's emotional needs. Certainly men aren't trained in our culture to attend to feelings and to discuss emotional interactions at length.
If we grow up in a nurturing, loving family which gives us self-esteem and teaches us self-reliance, we are fortunate. However, if our innate dependency needs were unmet as a child, we may grow up yearning for the impossible--a soul mate who will love us constantly and make us whole. Many wives provide this emotional support; many husbands do not. Thus, self-sacrificing women look needy. And bewildered men wonder, "What does she want?" According to Eichenbaum and Orbach, much of the dependency problem in marriage goes back to basic deficiencies in the mother-child relationship. The push-pull in mother-daughter relationships is especially strong; for the daughter it involves needed love and unwanted control. Boys, starting at 4 or 5, can reject some of the emotional involvement with mother as they identify with father; girls don't have that way out of a consuming relationship with a powerful person (mother). Sometimes the intimacy with a lover at age 20-25 revives in a woman the old dependent, push-pull struggles she had with her mother. Sometimes intimacy with and dependency on a good spouse is scary (reminding us of our need for mother), sometimes dependency keeps us in a bad relationship. Sometimes we think we are secure and independent but it is a childhood facade, the bravado of a 9-year-old boy. We all need love, which is something our hormones prove to us at 13 or 14 years of age. We can't escape our biology; our "nature" helps explain our behavior but we can learn to handle these needs and drives.
Women are making progress
Partly because of the Women's Movement and partly due to economic necessity and fewer children, substantial progress is being made in the status of women (Sacks & Rubin, 1982). In 1970, 38% of women had some college. In 1980, 63% have some college. In the late 1980's, about half the BA's and MA's (in all areas) were earned by women and 45% of the Ph. D.'s went to women. By 1995, 75% of BA's in psychology went to women, 70% of MA's, and 60% of Ph. D.'s were awarded to females. In 1970, 4 in 10 white women worked for wages; in 1980, 5 in 10 did, and in 1990, 6 in 10. 20 years ago women earned only 65 or 70 cents for what a man got a dollar for, but recent surveys show that they now earn 85 to 95 cents for a dollar's worth of men's work. Low paying service jobs are still dominated by women, however. One third of the children under 6 had wage earning mothers in 1970; in 1980, one half had wage earning mothers; in the 1990's about 70% of these mothers worked outside the home. In 1970, one third of the women between 20 and 24 were not married; in the 1980's, more than one half were not married at that age. Still about half of all marriages end in divorce.
As more and more women break away from the stereotype of marriage, homemaker, and motherhood, women in general will be freer to chose their own life-style, including not marrying, not having children, having children with parenting shared equally, or having children with one parent--the male or the female--doing most of the child-rearing. In spite of dogmatically held personal biases, so far as we know, all would be equally good options in a society free of antiquated stereotypes. The child needs care and love; gender of the lover doesn't matter to the child. (There is evidence that children benefit from having both a male and a female caretaker.)
An independent person will not only decide about life-style but he/she will be self-sufficient. That doesn't necessarily mean earning half of the income but it does mean being capable of earning an adequate income if you needed to do so. It means being socially and emotionally strong enough to live alone and/or find another partner if you needed or wanted to do so. It means having a fair division of labor, and the knowledge and skill as well as a positive attitude towards your partner's duties so that you could easily exchange or take over his/her role. Great personal security comes from knowing you can handle problems that might arise.
There's an old joke: Where does an 800 pound gorilla sleep? Anywhere it wants! Likewise, what is a woman's (or a man's) place? Whatever she wants it to be! Yet, there are powerful forces opposing women being equal; men, being competitors, like their superior position and are threatened by talk of change; already successful women, hoping to keep their status, may not welcome more competition from other ambitious, capable women; the women themselves, wanting good relationships, are hesitant to be assertive and seek advancement. However, since unequals are not likely to be true friends, both men and women have much to gain from being equals (Miller, 1976).
Assertiveness and Excuses For Not Acting
In the 1960's and 1970's the Women's Movement blossomed, not just in books but in millions of families. Women went back to school, got jobs, and asked their husbands to help with the housework and the child-care. One big strength of the movement was the personal support available to women from friends or from consciousness-raising groups. These groups preached equal rights--the right to be treated with respect and have an equal voice in all family decisions, a right to have and express your own feelings, a right to be listened to and taken seriously, a right to set your own priorities, a right to get away from the children for a while or develop a career, the right to have a social life independent of their husband, a right to say no without feeling guilty, etc. (Bloom, Coburn, & Pearlman, 1975). More importantly, perhaps, the consciousness-raising groups encouraged and coached each intimidated and dominated group member. Every small step in each life was discussed and practiced in these groups: how to get a job and how to share more equally child care duties, cooking, cleaning, financial decisions, etc. Remarkable changes were made in many families. Some men resisted but most profited from a happier, more confident, more interesting, and more self-sufficient partner.
The next step in human liberation flowed naturally: several books on assertiveness training appeared, starting with Alberti and Emmons (1970) who wrote, "If you must go through life inhibited, bowing down to the wishes of others, holding your own desires inside you, or conversely, destroying others in order to get your way, your feeling of personal worth will be low." Assertion training is not just a method for overcoming insecurities and submissiveness. It is a philosophy of life involving self-respect, self-confidence, self-direction, and meeting one's own needs and values without offending anyone's dignity or violating anyone else's rights (see method #3 in chapter 13). That sounds perfectly reasonable and harmless, doesn't it? So, what keeps us from standing up for our rights? We have our excuses.
Just like the Asch and Milgram studies of conformity, Moriarty (1975) documented how reluctant we are to confront a person who offends us or is inconsiderate of us. Only 5% of college students studying for an exam insisted that a neighbor turn down loud music. Another 15% asked the neighbor nicely once to turn it down (which did no good). But 80% said nothing and put up with the disruption. Likewise, loud neighbors in a library were asked to be quiet by only 2%, 23% moved away, and 75% simply endured the disturbance. Most of us just don't want to make waves. What are our excuses?
You will remember that we tend to have excuses for not living up to our values (chapter 3), for procrastinating (chapter 4), for being hostile to others (chapter 7) and now for being passive. Here are several common excuses for not asserting ourselves (Bower & Bower, 1976). See if the shoe fits:
- "Maybe I'm overreacting--I'll be quiet." You have a right to expect quiet in a library or movie or dorm or your own house, so admit your frustration to yourself and firmly insist on quiet. You have lots of rights.
- "Everybody has rights." Yes, but their rights end where your rights begin. This comment is just an excuse for not confronting the aggressive, thoughtless person. Stand up for your rights.
- "Oh, well, it won't happen again." This may be true but it is an excuse. You should be assertive (a) for your own self-respect and (b) to help the offender be more considerate of others.
- "I don't want to make a scene." Tactful and rational assertiveness should not degenerate into a loud fight. If you are being overcharged or under serviced, it is your civic duty to point out the unfairness and request better service.
- "They'll get mad at me." Could be, many people have learned to intimidate others by getting angry. But look at it as another manipulation that doesn't need to upset you and does represent a silly, unfair way of controlling you and others. Don't get angry, just be firmly assertive.
- "Why haven't others complained?" Like 1 this thought raises our self-doubts. Remember the studies in this chapter that show how very conforming and passive people are. Suppose the napkins in a bar degrade women and when you express your disapproval to the manager, he says, "No one else has ever complained. In fact, many people think they are funny. Maybe you've got a hang up." Don't let this insult put you on the defensive. Tell him that just because most customers don't say anything doesn't mean they like the putdown of women. And to prove your point, if he doesn't change the napkins, tell him you will write a letter to the editor of the local paper asking people's opinion of his attitude towards women. If you are in public and in doubt about how others feel, conduct your own poll but word your question so that people taking no action appear to support your position. For example, suppose you would like the loud music to be turned off at a picnic, you might ask everyone: "How many here want to listen to the radio?" rather than "How many want to turn the radio off?" That way all the non-responders, for whatever reason, look like they do not want to listen to the radio.
- "I can't do anything about it." This helpless attitude is the major cause of compliance. It is a self-putdown. It is also a condemnation of "the system" which is seen as unchangeable. Blacks, women, and other minorities "went along" for a long time. Victims give power to the oppressor by doing nothing. Do something! Write letters, talk to the owner or manager, ask a politician to change things, start a group to correct some situation, etc. Chapter 13 gives detailed suggestions for being effectively assertive. The first task, however, is to deal with your excuses and decide that you have a right to take action.