When I discovered an opinion piece floating around my Facebook feed on marriage and the “alpha female,” I had no idea what hot garbage I was about to unearth. The column was titled, “Society is creating a new crop of alpha women who are unable to love,” and was sourced by none other than Fox News. I should have stopped there, but I was more or less intrigued.
The author of the column, Suzanne Venker, describes herself as a cultural critic “who writes about relationships, marriage, and work-family conflict,” according to her website. Her newest book, which the column mentioned above is adapted from, “The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men & Marriage,” was released on – you guessed it – Valentine’s Day.
In her column and book, Venker argues that the “alpha female,” while prospering in her work environment, struggles in her role as a wife at home. According to her, the alpha female is assertive and is always in control. In contrast, as a wife, she micromanages and becomes too bossy for her husband’s liking.
Venker essentially correlates women’s growing successes in the workplace with the increasing number of couples getting divorced. The column claims that 69 percent of divorces are initiated by the wife. But as a self-subscribed alpha female, she says that with some practice, women can fully master the art of loving a man.
And thank God. For minute there, I was getting worried that I might die alone.
This “art” involves women becoming “soft instead of hard,” and claims that women must “find their feminine,” because every relationship “requires a masculine and a feminine energy to thrive.”
Don’t worry, ladies—this doesn’t mean you must be beautiful or wear high heels all the time, although according to Venker, “those things are nice.” This does mean, however, that you do have to be nice, but she awkwardly clarifies that you shouldn’t become a mouse, because even though that’s what the culture sells, that doesn’t make it true.
This part of her column was poorly worded and doesn’t initially make sense, but I think Venker is trying to save face against critics who will argue that she believes women should be the submissive in the relationship. Quite frankly, that was my gut reaction.
By telling women to “be nice” and let your man always be in control, it allows for an unstable and one-sided relationship to fester. Taken to an extreme, this deeply flawed argument makes room for emotional abuse or even domestic violence. Some may think I’m going too far here, but Venker is essentially telling women they need to stay in their place when it comes to their husbands. Don’t cross the line. Men don’t like, and often can’t handle, a woman who dominates or takes control.
Venker was invited on “Fox & Friends” with two male hosts and a third female host to promote her book. To me, the two men seem to be lapping up everything she says, possibly with their inner dialogues saying, “Finally, a woman who knows her place in the home.”
And maybe I’m not so far off.
Steve Doocy of “Fox & Friends” sits next to Venker during the interview. Doocy, a co-host of “Fox & Friends,” was a longtime collaborator with Gretchen Carlson while she also hosted the segment. Carlson has since left Fox News after filing a sexual harassment lawsuit against the now-former Fox News Chief Roger Ailes.
In the suit, Carlson claimed that Ailes retaliated against her and fired her for refusing his sexual advances, as well as for her complaints of repeated sexual harassment from her former co-host, Steve Doocy.
The suit alleges that during their time on “Fox & Friends,” Doocy “engaged in a pattern and practice of severe and pervasive sexual harassment of Carlson, including, but not limited to, mocking her during commercial breaks, shunning her off air, refusing to engage with her on air, belittling her contributions to the show, and generally attempting to put her in her place by refusing to accept and treat her as an intelligent and insightful female journalist rather than just a blond prop."
While Ailes resigned from Fox with a $40 million exit agreement in his pocket, Doocy still sits cozily on the “Fox & Friends” couch, freely asserting women’s roles in marriage as “the beta.”
I also took the liberty of checking Doocy’s Twitter account. He seems to be doing quite well in Trump’s America.
I also discovered where Venker’s anti-feminist influence might have originated – with her constitutional lawyer and feminism-opposing aunt, Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly, who died in September 2016, was widely known for her staunchly conservative political and social beliefs and who once called Roe v. Wade “the worst decision in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court.” Before today, I admittedly had never heard of Schlafly, but when I mentioned her name to my parents, my mom described her as “the opposite of Gloria Steinem, but worse.”
According to an obituary dedicated to her aunt, Denker said the women in her family “did not view marriage and motherhood as a liability; they did not believe American women were oppressed…so by definition, they couldn’t have been feminists.”
This is problematic in so many ways that it becomes cumbersome for feminists to continue repeating: just because sexism may not exist for you personally, that does not mean it simply doesn’t exist whatsoever, nor does it allow for us to close our eyes and pretend it isn’t there.
I am reaching a point at which everything this woman puts into print is becoming too much to unpack, too tiresome to denounce. It’s a grotesquely narrow, heteronormative viewpoint on marriage that urges us to revert to the good ole’ times in which the woman stayed at home and the man was the main breadwinner of the family.
In previous opinion pieces, Venker has argued that the only way for women to be happy is to forgo full-time work and become a proper wife, that women still need their husbands, and that in order to be happy, we need to admit women and men aren’t equal.
Venker fails, however, to acknowledge major career hurdles for women like the gender pay gap, or the fact that, despite progress, women still bear a heavier load than men in balancing work and family. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, 51 percent of mothers with children under 18 say being a working parent makes it harder to advance in a career, as compared to only 16 percent of fathers who say the same thing. The study also found that mothers, more than fathers, experience career interruptions when caring for a child or family member.
If Venker’s idea of a happy life and marriage is taking the larger responsibility at home, then that great for her and other women like her. However, she also fails to recognize her own privilege – not all wives can afford to take time off solely to fold their husband’s laundry on a day-to-day basis, and that becomes true for more middle-income American households each year.
We should all know by now that a healthy relationship should exist between two equal partners, not an “alpha” and a “beta” or a “feminine” and a “masculine.” Women can be assertive and successful and simultaneously be capable of love without fear of stripping away her partner’s masculinity. I haven’t even touched on the fact that not all women need marriage to be happy or to consider their lives to be fulfilled, but I digress.
Venker’s notions about relationships and women’s roles in society and the workplace are misleading at best and severely damaging at the absolute worst. I have no interest in how she conducts her marriage; that is between her and her husband. It’s her calm, seemingly rational demeanor during her interview on Fox that is so unsettling. She speaks as if the assertions she makes about relationships are absolute truths, that it truly is the woman’s job to be compliant and feminine while her husband wields all the control.
I am frustrated and perplexed to hear a woman utter these archaic words, but then I remember that 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump to become the leader of our nation.
Clearly, we’ve got our work cut out for us.