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Sunday
, April 28, 2002
Article

To nag or not to nag is the question
Mohinder Singh

When his wife nags the civilised man goes to a club instead of reaching for one.

THE unflattering stereotype of a nagging wife has persisted through centuries. She is a figure of ridicule whose sole preoccupation is to correct and improve the husband.

Illustration by Sandeep JoshiWomen, men make out, remain engaged in persistent, petty faultfinding as if they are under some compulsion to treat their husbands as kids. "Use your hankie, not the napkin, to blow your nose." "Again you left your book open upside down." "At yesterdayís dinner you started nibbling at your food before all the ladies had been served." "Youíre overtaking from the wrong side." And it goes on endlessly.

Of late, a novel development has occurred. Some women writers have come up with self-help books cautioning wives against the perils of nagging. Prominent among these publications: The Surrendered Wife by Laura Doyle (Simon & Schuster) and Surrendering to Marriage by Iris Krasnow (Talk Miramax).

 


Laura Doyleís book, a bestseller, is the most provocative of all. It starts thus:

"At first our marriage (she married at 22) was blissful. Then, I started to see Johnís imperfections more glaringly, and I began correcting him. It was my way to helping him improve. From my point of view, if he could just be more ambitious at work, more romantic at home, and clean up after himself, everything would be fine. I told him as much.

"He didnít respond well.... The harder I pushed the more he resisted, and we both grew irritable and frustrated."

When none of her "mothering" and nagging changed her husband, she changed herself, becoming a "surrendered wife". She stopped finding fault with his driving ó conceding he had been driving all right for years before marriage. She stopped instructing him on what to wear. And let him manage his own health. She even avoided giving him a disapproving look ó husbands familiar with their wivesí body language can easily read a scowl. All in all, it meant treating her husband as an intelligent adult than a irresponsible youngster.

To feminists, nagging is a male word and a way of debasing female speech. Women, being conditioned to be effective in matters of detail, canít help pointing out when their men are found wanting.

A nagging wife is often an indication that the man of the house is inconsiderate or lousy. Hasnít it been rightly said that a man who has faults he doesnít know about probably doesnít listen to his wife ó because she is the person who knows him best in the world.

Conceded, women may be doing more than their fair share of nagging but men nag too; in their case itís more like bullying. Conceited men actually prove to be the worst naggers.

Indeed, the popular notion that women are natural naggers is more of a myth. Just because wives keep reminding husbands of what they should be doing, their talk is construed as nagging. Feminists anyway make out that nagging isnít natural to women; itís a consequence of womenís subordinate position in society. Having less power than men, women at times have to nag out of necessity.

Nagging as a way of self-assertion by either party can remain a light-hearted affair if indulged in in private. The problems start when itís done in front of others, even oneís children.

And a good nag is plainly preferable to a sulk.

To nag or not to nag? Thatís the question on which the final word has still to be said.

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