Why do Americans joke about hating their spouse?
I'd like to point out that this type of behaviour is a) not specific to the U.S., and b) perhaps an understandable response to situations where leaving a spouse was not viable/allowed/economically or socially feasible, and the most available vent would be chewing the bones over and over. I am in no way excusing bad behaviour (i grew up listening to various family members spleen-venting and it affects everybody). But when my aunties and mother got married (farmers and working class) the career-, marriage- and pregnancy-related options for their social strata were very very limited; frustration, resentment and fear do not as a rule create harmonious situations. Such bad habits take root and linger, even when circumstances have improved.
I'm a year late to this party but I wanted to comment anyway. I divorced my husband of 25 years for his lack of participation in taking care of the house and our kids. It stopped being a joke when I started getting migraine headaches from repressed anger.
I read a piece by a male psychologist who had finally realized that his wife divorced him because not taking her complaints seriously came across as a complete lack of respect and consideration for her feelings.
My husband is 74 so of that generation brought up to be the “man” and not do much housework, etc. I could bitch plenty (can they even see dirt?) but he does try. As mentioned before I had knee replacement surgery 3 weeks ago. He has had to do pretty much everything. I’m so grateful for all he does and at the same time going bonkers seeing how he does things, what he doesn’t get and so on. He actually is doing the best he can and has been loving and patient with the drugged pained creature I am. It saddens me to see women so much younger having to deal with men who still don’t get it. I don’t know if I’d even get married these days. Stand your ground ladies!
This reminds me of a bit I saw on twitter which honestly really highlighted why I disliked stand up for *years*. (see: https://twitter.com/Ryan_Ken_Acts/status/1405167675307925505?s=20).
This article takes the relational inequality even deeper which I'm grateful for.
I think it's often a way of checking with other people for perspective. If I join in complaint time and say, "hahaha, totally agree, my husband is so X that he Ys," I might be seeking information about whether Y-ing is a part of every relationship or is something to worry about.
And this is why I never got married. Although for a long time, I wanted to. When my partner and I got together, he came to a few parties with me, then begged off saying it weirded him out the way that social group self-segregated by gender. I hadn't noticed, but he was right.
I agree with everything here (although following some of the links I'm not so sure there's enough evidence to conclude that it's getting worse, but that's somewhat beside the point because the status quo is bad enough). I don't know how it gets better until you improve the pool of men. It starts with how we raise our sons, I think. That's probably the most important thing anyone can do for feminism. Unfortunately, I think the culture rarely changes by individuals changing their attitudes and behavior; it changes by the old dying out and being replaced by younger people who are different.
There are so many pervasive and toxic ideas about relationships in our culture - that relationships should be hard, that being married means being 'tied down', that all woman want to be married but men want to avoid it for as long as possible, that a man who compromises for his wife is 'under the thumb'. It's no wonder we've normalized this kind of behavior.
I used to bitch but I sure as hell wasn’t joking. I once had a husband who was all for sharing the housework but only when he didn’t have more “important” things to do, which basically meant he never did anything till he plain old felt like it. I ended up paying for a cleaning person, and food delivery and even outsourced our common laundry but all at my expense so as to not turn into the dreaded nagging harpy: we all know that’s the worst fate that can befall a woman, right?
I should have just left when I saw how it was going to be but no one I knew was doing any better, so it seemed like I was just intransigent.
I am happy to be intransigent from now on, tho. If I weren’t a widow I’d be a divorcée.
Thank you, and yes, jokes can be unhelpful - and we underestimate their power, for good and bad. When I was studying English, more than three decades ago now, I did a short paper on jokes as a survival mechanism - and it was easy to see how similar certain types of Jewish jokes were to Native American ones. (An example of the latter: A flying saucer appears and an alien tells a Native American, 'We come in peace' and the NA answers, 'Oh, no, not again.')
Survival humour is absolutely essential. The kind of 'grudge joking' you mention is sometimes harmless, and maybe not unhealthy, but when men joke about women (be that their mothers, or wives, or bosses), there is often something much darker going on, not that far below the surface.
I know she is now considered one of Those Who Cannot Be Named but I owe a lot to Germaine Greer. We had her books at home and I started reading her, age twenty or so, and she opened whole new worlds of ideas to me, new ways of truly seeing the world, that was as welcome as it was necessary. So while I deplore her strange descent into intellectual rigidity and blindness, I won't deny her earlier importance. Anyway, one thing she wrote has always stayed with me. There are times I want to make light of it, or call it hyperbole, but then I think of the world as it is and I cannot dismiss her. What she wrote was, 'Women have very little idea of how much men* hate them.'
It's not a nice thought to carry with you - but when I look at those 'jokes', I always see Greer's piercing eyes and her raised eyebrow, and then again I fear that she is right.
*Insert a 'Not all men' here.
"On a personal level, it turns my stomach a bit—I don’t think you should shit-talk your partner behind their back (they’re supposed to be the person you shit-talk with!)." <---- THIS Statement!!! Bitching about your spouse is a pet peeve of mine and something my husband and I talked about early on before we were even married. The disdain that comes through in so many of those conversations and it keeps people from addressing whatever the issues are so they just fester further. I stopped going to a certain group of friends once a month dinners because they were just husband bitch fests and I refused to participate.
Thanks for putting this so well into words! I've always been made to feel I don't belong when in the context of groups at work or conferences I refuse to make fun of my spouse. Most of the time these are mixed-gender groups and it's almost like an icebreaker. And it happens here in the UK, too. But sometimes in just being clear about refusing to play one can bring the whole game to an end. I've also started interrupting: can we please play let's make fun of our partners on our own time? I'm here for a meeting.