Cooperation: the Engine of Success in Marriage

This is the third article in our series about feminine virtues. See the introduction here.

cooperation for success in marriage: enjoyingwomanhood.com

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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How to be Kind (Without Being a Doormat)

This is the second article in our series about feminine virtues. See the introduction here.

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You’ve all seen the nice girl. She’s nice to everyone. If anyone asks her to do anything she’ll do it. If someone says something mean to her, she won’t say something mean back. She’ll go along with whatever everyone else wants. She desperately wants love and friendship, and she’ll do anything to get it, but somehow everyone just uses her and then leaves her. When she needs help, friendship, comfort, there is no one to turn to, though she has always been there for others.

You’ve probably also met the mean girl. She demands what she wants. If you don’t like it, you need to get out of the way. She always gets her way, if not by physical force then by criticizing, demanding, and mocking. She would like to find love and friendship (she is human after all) but her abrasive personality drives away everyone but mindless groupies she despises. When she wants help, friendship, comfort, there is no one to turn to, as she has driven away anyone she would respect enough to confide in.

Are these the only two options? Sometimes it seems like this is the story that we are being sold. There are two stereotypes: the “Liberated woman” who will stand nothing from anybody, or the “Submissive woman” who will submit to anything from anybody. If you don’t want to be one, you have to be the other.

But what if I don’t want to be either? What if I want to have real true friends, both men and women? What if I want life to be pleasant both for myself and those around me? Isn’t there another option? There must be….

First of all, let’s look at the two stereotypes we have presented, and see what’s really going on.

The Nice Girl

The nice girl on the surface seems about as close to saintly perfection as it is possible to be. But if she is, and virtue leads to happiness as Aristotle says, then why isn’t she happy? She’s always nice to everyone, she wants everyone else to be happy—so far so good. They say happiness comes from making others happy, so she should be positively delirious with joy… But she’s not. She cries, she’s frustrated, she might end up with a nervous breakdown. And the people around her aren’t necessarily actually happy either.

The submissive girl’s difficulty is that she has no inner sense of what is her due, and what is her identity. She wants to love and be loved, like and be liked, but she has no respect for herself. Her sense of self-worth comes from being of use to others, being approved by others, being loved or liked by others. Because her self-worth is founded on this unstable ground, she is terrified of saying no to anyone. If she says no, they might not like her anymore. Wendy Shallit in her book Girls Gone Mild, tells stories of girls who give sexual favors they would prefer not to give, get in cars with drunk drivers, and are generally completely incapable of saying no to a man for fear that they will be rejected, either by the men or by society. They bend over backward to give people exactly what they want, whether it is good for them or not.

But in being unable to say no, the nice girl sabotages her chances of happiness. In everyday interactions she is seen by friends as lacking personality. She adds little to conversations and decision making processes for fear of offending or bothering someone else. Thus her friends are deprived of her thoughts and talents.

In relationships with men, she is often the victim of unscrupulous or abusive partners. She is too afraid to stand up for her rights or leave, afraid that she will not be able to find another partner, and dependent on the sense of self-worth that her abusive partner’s attention gives her. Sometimes she is even genuinely convinced that she is “making him better” and that it is her mission to stay and help him. In reality, she is enabling his dysfunctional behavior, and simply submitting to his abuse will never make him better, and will likely make him worse.

As a mother she is hopelessly wishy-washy and terrified that if she disciplines her children, they will hate her. As a result, she (and they) are unhappy and stressed.

The submissive woman, or “nice girl” is unhappy, and also fails to bring happiness to those around her. So what is the solution? Should she do the opposite? Force her ideas on everyone else, be aggressive and domineering?

The Mean Girl

The mean girl realizes that the “nice girl” system doesn’t work. Sometimes she is even a reformed nice girl. She is determined not to be a doormat. No one will force her to do anything she doesn’t want to do. She wants to be happy and independent—so far so good. She chooses her own way, and does her own thing, and gets what she wants. Sounds like a recipe for happiness, doesn’t it? Except that she too, is never happy. Why not?

While the submissive woman’s trouble is that she has no sense of self-worth that is not given to her by others, the “mean girl” has no trouble knowing who she is. She knows, and everyone else had better know it too.

The mean girl’s trouble is more that she has no sense of what is due to others. She forgets that other people also need to feel valued and respected. She has no patience for other’s shortcomings. She takes everything personally, because she wants everyone to value her as much as she values herself. She has no trouble pushing others out of her way in her quest for what she wants. She is, after all, the most important person, and no one else’s ideas or desires really matter.

But, as Aristotle says, “Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.” And the mean girl wants friends just as much as any other human. Meaningful relationships are essential to human happiness.

But she sabotages her own chances of having these relationships. In everyday social interactions, she is is considered abrasive and domineering. She allows no one else to add their ideas and talents to a situation, and thus impoverishes her life without even realizing it.

In relationships with men, she often drives away potential partners with her controlling and derisive behavior. She demands that everything be her way, and sensible men run for their lives, leaving her with wimps who someone to tell them what to do, rather than real men who want life companions.

As a mother, she is controlling and demanding. Her children have to be perfect, strong, and submissive all at the same time. They must act like her perfect imagination of them, or else they are failures. The stress of trying to live up to this expectation damages the child, and the mother is constantly frustrated by the incompetency of all who surround her.

The Kind Woman

Both the “nice girl” and the “mean girl” fail to be happy, make friends, or find love because they look for it in the wrong places. The nice girl looks for happiness in fulfilling the desires of others. The mean girl looks for happiness in fulfilling her own desires. What is missing?

In order to be happy and make those around you happy, you need an internal principle which will lead to balance. In other words, you need to have standards. There should be some things that you won’t do, no matter who asks you. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries. Recognize that there are things that no one has the right to ask you. No one has the right to demand that you give up your conscience, your health or your values for them. Determine what is genuinely important, set your boundaries, and don’t budge. A polite refusal to budge on core values is one of the most admirable traits any man, woman or child can have.

Secondly, understand that everyone else also has the right to set boundaries beyond which you cannot go, and that everyone has feelings that are just as valuable as yours. So when you say no, say no politely but firmly. If the person you are refusing to change your values for is offended by this, that’s okay. You probably didn’t want them as a friend anyway.

It’s also important to be able to care deeply about other people and to do things for them and give things to them. This is an extremely important part of life and happiness. Just don’t give everything to just anyone.

In everyday social interactions the kind woman confidently presents her ideas, but often agrees to other’s suggestions as well. She listens to others opinions, and uses courtesy in agreeing or disagreeing.

In relations with men she is not afraid to say no, but when she says no, says it courteously, unless a courteous refusal has been disregarded. She tries to make the people she is with feel valued and respected. These traits will make honorable men admire and respect her.

As a mother, she is firm and caring, setting boundaries and goals and maintaining discipline. She treats each child as an individual and helps each one feel loved and cared for, and confident to try to do good and even great things.

The kind woman, liberated by her principles from the stress of trying to please everyone, will be able to please the people she cares most about in the world, and will be able to achieve her own goals of happiness and fulfillment. She will be valued by those around her, and will know how to value herself.

Graph, illustrated with characters from Pride and Prejudice

 

The Qualities of the Ideal Woman

What is a woman supposed to be like? This is a fascinating question that has been answered in radically different ways over the course of history. But there must be an answer that works in all places and in all times.

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How does one determine what any given thing is supposed to be like? How do we know what a chair is supposed to be like, for instance? We determine what the purpose of the thing is. For a chair, the purpose is to be sat on. So, therefore, the chair which is best, is the chair that fulfills that purpose the best. A chair that has no seat would not be considered a good chair. A chair that had a spike sticking out of the backrest would also not be an ideal chair. These traits would prevent the chair from being sat on comfortably.

Living beings, being more complex, have more complex purposes than chairs do. So, if we want to know what makes an ideal woman, we need to know what a woman is for. We know that she is a female of the human species, and like all humans therefore has some traits in common with animals of other species. Humans are not mere animals though, but are capable of culture, thought and altruism.

Still, we can often learn about ourselves from the traits we share with animals, so it might be helpful to briefly study the traits of females of other mammalian species.

As a mate, or spouse

The first and most obvious purpose of the female in any animal species is to provide one half of the reproductive equation. The male and female work together to produce offspring. If either is missing, the species does not continue. In the animal realm this is called mating. It is obviously necessary for the good of any species that reproduction occur. So, how can we apply this to humans, who are not mere animals, and have purposes beyond mere survival of their species?

Because humans do have a purpose beyond reproduction, “mating” for humans has historically been enshrined in the institution of marriage, which is a cooperative lifelong endeavor. What qualities would a woman need in a marriage, or for that matter, in any relationship of trust and commitment? Cooperation is a necessity. Communication skills would also be necessary, as humans don’t act instinctively as animals do, but emotionally and rationally. Loyalty also would be important, as marriage requires trust to function well, and trust presupposes that each party will respect the other’s dignity, property and secrets.

As creator of the home culture

What else does the female do? In species as widely disparate as rabbits and gorillas, the female is also the nest builder. While pregnant rabbits dig a burrow, line it with grasses and other vegetation, and finally with their own hair, thus providing a warm, safe place for their helpless young.

Among humans women are also usually the ones who create the environment for the children to grow up in. While rabbits are limited to their instinctive nest-building behavior, and can only make one kind of nest, and care for their children in only one way, human women on the other hand are capable of thought and artistic expression, and the homes they make are not merely shelters for the bodies of their family, but also homes for the mind. A good home is an environment which stimulates, forms, and civilizes those who live in it, and only a woman can make such an environment.

To do this well, she will need many talents, like resourcefulness, using what is available to make something better; frugality, using what there is well; and last but not least, an appreciation for beauty. The ability to recognize and deliberately create beauty is a uniquely human trait, and one of the most important skills for a homemaker.

As giver of life

The female in every species is also the one that gives birth to the young and nurtures them from her own body. She is provided with special organs which allow this. For humans, it is hard work, requiring endurance and patience to get through the pregnancy and labor, which require a special sort of toughness, but also gentleness and as it deals with fragile and helpless beings who require constant feeding, protection, and love.

As teacher

Once the young are beyond the helpless stage of infancy, they begin to learn the skills of their species. Female cats will teach the kittens how to hunt their own food by dragging dead prey back to the nest and eating it in the presence of the kittens, later she will bring back live prey for the kittens to experiment with. This is not particularly enjoyable to watch, but it is an important part of a kitten’s learning development. Finally, the mother cat will bring kittens along on a hunting trip and they will soon be ready to hunt alone. Chimpanzees will show their young how to build nests, and other species will teach their young the skills they need to survive.

Humans however, need to do more than just survive. They have to build, think, connect, and grow in ways that other animals will never do. And human mothers have to be ready to teach their children how to do these things. As G.K. Chesterton put it in his entertaining book What’s Wrong with the World, she must “be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes and books, be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene…” A challenging task to be sure! And she will need patience, tact, patience, wisdom, patience, and a strong sense of humor, if she is to do it well.

While not all women want to become spouses or mothers, these same virtues, or good qualities—cooperation, communication, loyalty, reserve, resourcefulness, frugality, order, appreciation of beauty, kindness, endurance, patience, wisdom, and tact—are necessary to any woman who wishes to be a well-developed human.