The good wife

What does it mean to be a 'wife'? This lesson introduces you to a range of texts and terms to help you explore how notions of gender and identity are constructed. 

  1. What associations do you have with the word 'wife'? Write your answer on a sticky note and post in on a large board (anonymously) for everyone in your class to see. Looking at your class' answers, discuss why you said these things? 

  2. Watch the following video by the BBC and discuss the following questions: 
      • Why do people associate the Tradwife movement with Nazi-ism, the Alt Right or Britishness?
      • How was becoming a Tradwife a means of rebelling for Alena?
      • How are Alena's ideas about wifehood shaped by the media?
      • How is Alena helping or hurting social constructs of wifehood in the UK?

  3. Read the following three texts and discuss your answers to these questions: 
      • How are the three texts similar and yet very different in terms of style, structure and purpose? Draw a large three-way Venn diagram to capture your ideas. 
      • In Text 1, how does Judy Syfers challenge the ideas that are articulated in Texts 2 and 3? She says that she 'wants a wife' too. What does she really mean? How does this text use irony to say one thing and mean something else?
      • In all three texts, how is the notion of 'husband' constructed through language, especially in relation to wifehood?

    Not too long ago a male friend of mine appeared on the scene fresh from a recent divorce. He had one child, who is, of course, with his ex-wife. He is obviously looking for another wife. As I thought about him while I was ironing one evening, it suddenly occurred to me that I, too, would like to have a wife. Why do I want a wife?

    I would like to go back to school so that I can become economically independent, support myself, and, if need be, support those dependent upon me. I want a wife who will work and send me to school. And while I am going to school I want a wife to take care of my children. I want a wife to keep track of the children’s doctor and dentist appointments. And to keep track of mine, too. I want a wife to make sure my children eat properly and are kept clean. I want a wife who will wash the children’s clothes and keep them mended. I want a wife who is a good nurturant attendant to my children, who arranges for their schooling, makes sure that they have an adequate social life with their peers, takes them to the park, the zoo, etc. I want a wife who takes care of the children when they are sick, a wife who arranges to be around when the children need special care, because, of course, I cannot miss classes at school. My wife must arrange to lose time at work and not lose the job. It may mean a small cut in my wife’s income from time to time, but I guess I can tolerate that. Needless to say, my wife will arrange and pay for the care of the children while my wife is working.

    I want a wife who will take care of my physical needs. I want a wife who will keep my house clean. A wife who will pick up after me. I want a wife who will keep my clothes clean, ironed, mended, replaced when need be, and who will see to it that my personal things are kept in their proper place so that I can find what I need the minute I need it. I want a wife who cooks the meals, a wife who is a good cook. I want a wife who will plan the menus, do the necessary grocery shopping, prepare the meals, serve them pleasantly, and then do the cleaning up while I do my studying. I want a wife who will care for me when I am sick and sympathize with my pain and loss of time from school. I want a wife to go along when our family takes a vacation so that someone can continue to care for me and my children when I need a rest and change of scene.

    I want a wife who will not bother me with rambling complaints about a wife’s duties. But I want a wife who will listen to me when I feel the need to explain a rather difficult point I have come across in my course of studies. And I want a wife who will type my papers for me when I have written them.

    I want a wife who will take care of the details of my social life. When my wife and I are invited out by my friends, I want a wife who will take care of the babysitting arrangements. When I meet people at school that I like and want to entertain, I want a wife who will have the house clean, will prepare a special meal, serve it to me and my friends, and not interrupt when I talk about things that interest me and my friends. I want a wife who will have arranged that the children are fed and ready for bed before my guests arrive so that the children do not bother us.

    And I want a wife who knows that sometimes I need a night out by myself.

    I want a wife who is sensitive to my sexual needs, a wife who makes love passionately and eagerly when I feel like it, a wife who makes sure that I am satisfied. And, of course, I want a wife who will not demand sexual attention when I am not in the mood for it. I want a wife who assumes the complete responsibility for birth control, because I do not want more children. I want a wife who will remain sexually faithful to me so that I do not have to clutter up my intellectual life with jealousies. And I want a wife who understands that my sexual needs may entail more than strict adherence to monogamy. I must, after all, be able to relate to people as fully as possible.

    If, by chance, I find another person more suitable as a wife than the wife I already have, I want the liberty to replace my present wife with another one. Naturally, I will expect a fresh, new life; my wife will take the children and be solely responsible for them so that I am left free.

    When I am through with school and have a job, I want my wife to quit working and remain at home so that my wife can more fully and completely take care of a wife’s duties.

    My God, who wouldn’t want a wife?

    • Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they get home and the prospect of a good meal is part of the warm welcome needed.

    • Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you'll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.

    • Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.

    • Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives.

    • Gather up schoolbooks, toys, paper, etc. and then run a dustcloth over the tables.

    • Over the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering to his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.

    • Prepare the children. Take a few minutes to wash the children's hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair and, if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part. Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer, or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet.

    • Be happy to see him.

    • Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.

    • Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first – remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.

    • Make the evening his. Never complain if he comes home later or goes out to dinner, or other places of entertainment without you. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his very real need to be at home and relax.

    • Your goal: Try to make sure your home is a place of peace, order and tranquility where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.

    • Don't greet him with complaints and problems.

    • Don't complain if he's late for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through at work.

    • Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or lie him down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.

    • Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice.

    • Don't ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.

    • A good wife always knows her place.

  4. Text 1 by Judy Syfers appeared in New York Magazine with an illustration, to capture the ideas of Judy Syfer's text. What kind of illustration would be most appropriate for this article? As a group discuss your ideas and create a mock up for your illustration. Then compare it to the actual illustration by clicking the button below.

  5. Illustration from 'I want a wife' in New York Magazine, 1971
  6. The authenticy of Text 2 has been called into question by Snopes. It did not really exist as an article in Housekeeping Monthly in 1955, but the text may have derived from elsewhere with similar intentions. Read the following article on Snopes and discuss your anwers to these questions:
      • If the article was not real, why do you think it was circulated by email?
      • How does the list of Do's and Don'ts from Fascinating Womanhood from the 1960s compare to Text 2?
      • How does David Mikkelson encourage readers to interpret 'The Good Wife's Guide?' Do you agree with his recommendations in the the last paragraph of this article? 

    Snopes' article on 'A Good Wife's Guide by David Mikkelson, 2001
  7. As a creative writing assignment for your Learner portfolio, write an article titled 'I Want a Husband' to respond to Judy Syfers' article or 'The Good Husband's Guide' to respond to Text 2. Use this creative writing assignment to express modern views on husbandry.

Texts 1-3 are interesting texts for practicing Paper 1. Before you write a Paper 1 analysis under exam conditions, try writing one without exam conditions. Take all the time you need. Use text-editing software. Ask your teacher for feedback on a draft. Rewrite it. See the Paper 1 section of this Support Site for guidance on how to write a Paper 1 analysis.   


The ideas expressed by Judy Syfers and Alena (the Tradwife) in this lesson are based on principles. What are their principles? An IB learner is principled. What are your principles, as far as feminity and feminism are concerned?

Last modified: Sunday, 21 April 2024, 11:50 AM