Friday, September 01, 2000

Nagging or nuturing?

Next time your husband tells you your nagging is going to kill him, give him the news: A new study indicates that in fact nagging saves lives. Men whose wives work too many hours to nag them effectively have more health problems than those whose wives devote themselves to giving their husbands hell. We nag because we love. Isn't that what we've been saying all along?

And now we have scientific proof. Or, at least, a survey. It's the Americans Changing Lives survey of 2,867 couples that has researchers thinking about the therapeutic effects of nagging. When wives worked more than 40 hours a week, the survey said, their husband's odds of being healthy plunged 25 percent. Now, my immediate hypothesis would be that this meant the husbands were spending more time with the kids, and this was wearing them down, but the researchers don't think like me. Their supposition is that men, rather like kids, can't be trusted to eat right or take their medicine or go to the doctor. They need to be nagged.

As Ross Stolzenberg, the study's lead researcher and a sociology professor at the University of Chicago, explains: "What we saw in the study was a fully institutionalized set of gender attitudes and expectations that we learn from the time we're children. Men are taught that it is not masculine to worry about health issues while women take on a nurturing role." So all those times you've felt like your husband was an extra child who had to be coddled and monitored and mothered, you were right. Gotta nurture those guys. Gotta watch 'em every minute. Gotta make sure they don't eat too much or drink too much or exercise not enough. Can't expect a man to take care of himself.

There's a subtext here that I don't like: Women who work too much aren't taking care of their family right. It's okay to work 40 hours, missy, but then you better get yourself home and take care of that man of yours. If he gets sick, it's your fault. The survey showed that men working overtime made no difference in women's health at all, because of course all that nurturin' and lookin' after and takin' care of is women's work. Time to change those particular gender assumptions, I'd say. But I'll put all that aside for now, because an excuse to nag is an excuse to nag. And when my husband complains, I can show him I'm doing it for my own good.

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