This is the third article in our series about feminine virtues. See the introduction here.
The proper role of woman has been the great social question of the last hundred and fifty years. In particular, what is appropriate for a married woman? She is said to have the duty to obey, to submit, to inspire, to respect, to give life, to make the home, to be interesting and charming, to communicate, to demand her rights. But many of these activities are difficult to reconcile to one another, if they are not downright contradictory. If she is a passive, submissive piece of furniture, how is she supposed to make the home, or inspire her spouse? If she is demanding her rights constantly, how is she supposed to be loving and respectful?
The answer is that you must break free from the false choice between submission and independence. The rational woman does not yield silently to her husband’s every whim, nor does she demand to control every aspect of his life or angrily resent anything she did not initiate. She instead builds a relationship of cooperation–and not a servile, pragmatic, or manipulative cooperation, but a cooperation founded on respect.
Respect: The Foundation for Cooperation
To respect someone is simply to recognize their worth as a human being. It is possibly the one most important predictor of success in any relationship. It is impossible to treat others well, to communicate with them properly, or to love them, if you are thinking of them as being less than yourself. Stated this way, it seems fairly obvious. But it is often lacking in relationships.
While all relationships require respect, there is a special kind of respect in the relationship between a husband and wife. The husband and wife are partners in the foundation of a family, a fantastic and unique institution in which new people sometimes come into existence and must be inducted into the mysteries of the world. While other institutions, like hospitals and fire departments, save lives, only a partnership between a man and a woman can create lives. Thus the family is the most important institution, the foundation of all other institutions, the institution that all others depend on for their existence.
If you were going to found a hospital, a fire department, or even a clothing company with a partner, you would certainly make sure that your partner was someone you respected. Mr. Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is a good example of this. He has such a high opinion of his company that he wants to ensure that each employee matches certain requirements. The person in charge of hiring people is supposed to ask himself three questions about new applicants, the first of which is, “Will you admire this person?” He wants to make sure that all his employees can respect each other, and thus cooperate at a higher level.
Cooperation: The Engine of Success
What would happen to a business venture that was missing the mutual admiration so important to Mr. Bezos, if the partners did not trust each other’s abilities? Clearly, there would be problems.
So the relationship between partners in a business venture needs to be one of respectful cooperation. If one partner always runs around behind the other’s back, spending money, making hiring decisions, and changing company policy without discussing it with the other, the company will quickly disintegrate.While they might cooperate for a time–perhaps they might defer to the largest shareholder, or the one with the biggest mouth—eventually, productivity-killing conflicts and a toxic work environment would undermine the company and it would fail.
A marriage will similarly fail if cooperation is missing. So, how can a woman practice cooperation in her marriage?
People form partnerships because one person has certain resources or talents that the other lacks, and together they make a good team. Perhaps one partner is good at coming up with new ideas for products, while the other is good at creating a business plan. Both are equally necessary for a successful business. A marriage should be similar. There will be a difference in the talents and resources of the husband and wife. Perhaps your husband is good at home repair and you are good at accounting. Both of these are important aspects of home life. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe you’re a DIY queen, and your husband is better at keeping track of money.
A cooperative wife, unlike a merely submissive one, will actively work with her husband on an equitable and mutually supportive division of labor. It may well happen that the woman will end up bearing the brunt of housework and childcare while the husband works at a job outside the home. When children are infants, this is almost definitely going to be the case. The feminine virtue of cooperation will help the woman to realize that this she is not “relegated to the home” or somehow less than her husband because of this division of labor. She will realize instead that she and her husband are working together at the most important work in the world, and that they are in partnership, each using their talents to contribute what they can.
The virtue of cooperation will also help her to objectively and respectfully discuss with her husband what the best division of labor will be. Will she do the accounting and shopping, or will he? Who will plan the family vacations? There is no right answer. There is only what is right for your family.
Other tasks must be done together if they are to be successful. Educating and disciplining children must always be done by both parents (if both are present) in order to succeed. Decision on these matters will also require the virtue of cooperation, which will allow the wife to discuss options with her husband. Her respect for him and his respect for her will allow them to value each other’s insights and opinions, and to come to a decision they can both agree with.
The virtue of cooperation will further help the woman in living with the decision that has been made in this way. If she finds it does not work, rather than changing it unilaterally, she will work together with her husband to find a new solution.
The woman who possesses the virtue of cooperation will be far more effective in building a marriage than either a merely submissive woman who adds little of her own ideas and talents to the relationship, or an aggressive woman who refuses to allow anyone else to contribute.
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