Monday, October 21, 2013

On “Daring Wives” by Frances Cohen Praver ***

This book discusses why women cheat on their husbands, using mostly cases studies arranged by type of household (stay-at-home wives, working wives, older women with younger men, remarriages, same-sex affairs, and sexually hungry wives). I read the book mostly because I was curious as to why women cheated but also to see what sort of men their husbands were. I found myself identifying with the men in the stay-at-home section of the book but not with the men in the rest of the book.

The two husbands in the case study in the stay-at-home section could be described this way. The first one was a hard worker who supplied for his wife materially, but he was not very passionate. The second husband was one who was not very motivated to improve his life but who on the whole was a morally stand-up guy. In both cases, the wives found their husbands boring and wanted more from them in terms of passion. In the first case, the wife resented the fun and adventure her husband got to have at work while she stayed at home and took care of the house; he'd come home tired and not want to entertain her. In the second case, the wife pushed the husband to better and better jobs. She got off on the power this made her feel, but such also caused her to lose respect for her husband. The first woman had an affair with a man who she felt appreciated her more, especially physically. The second had an affair with a classic bad boy, a man into the drug culture who lived on the edge. What I learned is that if I were to ever marry, I do need to pay attention to my wife's need to feel desired--not something I would necessarily be very good at, I've learned, since I may not always be in the mood to “desire.” I also need to remain motivated to keep improving myself, but outside of that, I don't know that I could do much to prevent something like the second situation.

The other sections of the book either focused more on the women and their personal problems or presented husbands that were very unlike me: controlling, domineering, angry, and so on. In most cases, as the author brings out, the women were looking for something missing in their marriage, not necessarily or primarily sex. Even in the case of the women who wanted sex that their husbands couldn't or wouldn't provide, the route cause of this generally came from some need to feel heavily wanted or to avoid feeling inferior and so on.

While I enjoyed the case studies quite a bit, I don't think my views align with the author's at all in terms of morality. She stresses throughout that extramarital affairs are not a sin, and that women should not be shamed into thinking such. We all need to find what fulfills ourselves. This whole idea runs contrary to how I would say our society should be structured. If sin is breaking a law, and law is ultimately about showing love to our neighbor (as well as to ourselves), then sin is a breaking of love. All's well and fine, I suppose, to go off and have an affair to fill your own needs if that's all you care about, but marriages are about supplying for your spouse and family, and if we can't do that, then there is something desperately wrong. Extramarital relations damage that ability to supply love. A better way to seek such fulfillment is to find a way to communicate those needs to those around us, without resorting to hurting them.

And while the author seems bent on saying there is no sin, it's interesting that she'll use loaded vocabulary in places to describe certain kinds of actions or people. Women were once in the “cruel clutches” of doctors, for example, who tried to cure them of being overly sexual. If there is no morality, then there is not cruelty. There is only action and reaction. Of course, the author doesn't really mean that there is no morality, as becomes plain in her conclusion, wherein she spells out a new morality based on women's needs and a more egalitarian sense of power within marriage. All well and fine, but that means that there is such a thing as right and wrong, good and bad--and sin. The issue I have with “new morality” is that it often throws out the “old morality” because of some twisted ideas that got connected to it (e.g., women's inferiority), when in fact the morality as a whole (putting others' needs before our own) makes a lot of sense.

So while I value the book for its specific examples, I can't say I came away feeling like we're moving to a better place, when an academic is telling us to simply do what feels good no matter what those actions do to others.

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