What Makes A ‘Good’ Wife – Objection #1

Thinking about how I would write this post, I envisioned starting with ‘I respectfully object, Your Honour’, with ‘Your Honour’ being the very honourable and knowledgeable people behind such messages. But when I finally started typing, I suddenly find myself at a loss as to how I should start this post, and I actually typed and deleted, typed and deleted a few times!  Would this be a writer’s version of stage fright? Perhaps the enormity of the task is making me have cold feet fingers?

Whatever it is, I pray God help me remain calm so that I can put forward the reasons behind my objections with minimal sarcasm and a neutral tone, no matter how riled up or exasperated I feel about such messages. I am aware I can be very expressive when it comes to things I feel strongly about, which the mister has reminded me about several times. He thinks a highly sarcastic or aggressive tone, which I can be prone to, could turn readers off and prevent them from being receptive to what I am trying to convey. To be honest, his well-meaning but unsolicited advice irritates me as I believe it is perfectly reasonable for me – and every other woman – to be angry, but fine, this time round I shall approach it differently and  (attempt to) control my emotions.

Alright, *takes deep breath*, here goes:

1. Isteri mesti berhias untuk suami… jangan berhias untuk keluar sahaja, tapi di rumah rambut tak bersikat, mulut busuk, pakai baju kelawar..

(Wives must doll themselves up for their husbands… don’t do it only when you’re going out, but at home your hair is uncombed, your mouth smelly, you wear that long flimsy dress with bat sleeves.)

Some people would not find this message objectionable. They would say, ‘No husband wants a messy and unkempt wife, an attractive wife would make a husband happy and loyal to her, so what is wrong with this piece of advice?’

Firstly, I believe each and every person has a desire to look good and presentable, in our own individual definition of looking good and presentable, because it makes us feel good and confident about ourselves. That desire may become more pronounced when we have significant people (parents, relatives, friends, romantic partners) around us whom we would like to please, impress or get approval from. However, the basic desire to look good and presentable exists regardless of the presence of significant others. Advising wives to doll themselves up for their husbands is redundant and patronising, because just like anyone else, they would already be making an effort to look good and presentable for themselves, without having to be reminded or needing anyone else to give them a purpose for doing so.

If wives needed husbands to give them a purpose to look good and presentable, what happens then should their husbands be away from home for long periods of time (working overseas, for example), or die? Wives stop caring about looking good and presentable because they no longer have a purpose (i.e., for their husbands’ pleasure) to do it? This is what I mean when I say such a message frames a wife’s worth in terms of her usefulness to her husband, and by extension a woman’s worth in terms of her usefulness to a man.  She is akin to an object like a crystal vase, for example, to be kept in a  polished state for its owner’s viewing pleasure, and when the owner is away or gone, it no longer needs to be so, because who is going to see it anyway? Such objectification of women is not only degrading, but also provides lame justification for extramarital affairs along the lines of  ‘my wife is no longer attractive (and hence is no longer of value to me), that is why I turn to other women’.

Secondly, combing one’s hair and practising daily oral care is basic hygiene which applies to every person, be it woman, man, husband, wife or child. To remind wives about not leaving their hair uncombed and mouth smelly, is to imply that women either naturally do not do so because they are not quite whole persons like men, or are like children who forget, and therefore need such reminders.  Talk about patronising! A wife is an adult who is ready to take on additional roles and responsibilities beyond those that concern herself; basic hygiene is a no-brainer and she does not need to be reminded about it like she is a child.

Thirdly, if attractiveness were all it takes to keep husbands happy and loyal, then logically, no attractive wife would ever be cheated on or divorced. Obviously, conventionally attractive divorcees in the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Nora Danish and Rilla Melati illustrate that this is simply untrue. Marriage is a partnership between two adults who need to work together to make it work. There is so much more to making a marriage work than good sex. Even if one is to argue that sexual attraction and fulfilment is an important factor for a good marriage, let me say again that marriage is a partnership between two adults. Both adults have needs and wants, so as partners they should work to fulfil each others’ needs and wants. Why is it only wives who have to look good for their husbands? Aren’t wives also human beings who have sexual desires and are deserving of partners who take effort to look good for them too? Yet what we see is that the emphasis is always for women to look good for their husbands, and rarely the other way around.

Lastly, who is the speaker to define attractiveness for other women and their husbands? It is possible that some women feel more sensual or attractive in baju kelawar, or that their husbands find them to be so (imagine how easy an access it provides, haha). Each individual has his or her own preferences. To cite such an outfit as being unattractive is just exposing your own prejudices.

Don’t even get me started on analysing WHY some wives end up neglecting their physical appearance when they are at home. To keep it short, it boils down to disproportionate allocation of domestic responsibilities (which I will cover in the next objection, in the next post).

Anyway, detractors could always point out that all my objections above are mere nitpicking and are of no worth in the face of zero alternatives. Like, what better advice could there be for Muslim wives?

Here is one:

‘Dear wives (and husbands), as Muslims, we are taught that God loves cleanliness and beauty. If you start by loving and caring for yourself the way God loves you to be, only then would you be able to extend love and care to the loved ones around you.’

Or, how about this one:

‘Spouses should strive to please each other because they are partners who share all aspects of their lives, including the sexual / romantic. Take the effort to look good for your spouse, to keep her / him interested and the romance going.’

It just needs some deeper thinking.


14 thoughts on “What Makes A ‘Good’ Wife – Objection #1

  1. I agree with you on the baju kelawar! Just because it’s meant to be worn at home it doesn’t mean it’s unattractive. We both really like it actually, ahem! 😀

    I recently chatted to a senior social worker from Singapore. She recounted to me a case of a husband who cheated on his wife, and gave the excuse that it was because his wife was “sloppy”. After a few sessions of counselling she started to doll up and he became happy again. This disturbed me deeply for 2 reasons:

    1) She is a stay-at-home mum with 3 kids. Can we all accept that when you have young kids the house will never be perfect, and that wives cannot always look like how they did in the days of courtship?

    2) Is this man really that shallow? I must be missing something here. Did he pursue another woman because he can, or because he wanted to look at something pretty?

    Is it because of such teachings that we think it’s ok for a husband to cheat on a wife that doesn’t ‘berhias’? Or that we think it’s OK to give such a reason for cheating? How can this be? Why do people in positions of religious authority still say this crap and we just take it in?!

    PS: I am taking you up on the call for sex advice!

    • So such things do happen! I was basing my argument on stuff I see on television dramas (I watch too much television I think, haha), but for real? That’s such a lame excuse! It’s just convenient to blame one’s wife instead of taking responsibility for one’s actions. I say, he’s just doing it because he can; the fact that his wife isn’t dressed up enough just happens to be a convenient excuse.

      I am of the opinion that spouses who stray and say they do so because they are not satisfied with their partners for whatever reason, have not addressed the issue upfront by communicating their dissatisfactions directly with their partners. Or, they have not tried hard enough. It’s a partnership, you work on it! Not turn to someone else. If you have tried various attempts to make it work and sought help from professionals, and it still doesn’t work out, then end it nicely FIRST before you seek happiness in another relationship.

  2. Personal desire to look presentable aside, I think it is possible sometimes that when couples reach a certain level of comfort in their relationship, they become complacent and tend to put in less effort to impress each other. While I agree that reminding an adult to comb their hair and brush their teeth indeed is patronising, I personally think it’s ok to remind women to doll up for their husbands — but only if the session was meant specifically for women. If there were men amongst the audience, then I think the speaker should take a more general standpoint and remind BOTH parties to look good for each other, because it truly goes both ways.

    There are generally more religious talks on how to be good wives than how to be good husbands (in this part of the world anyway), so as a result of this imbalance many men have been misled to think that the onus is on the wife to make a successful marriage. I think this really needs to be undone. What we need now is more education on how husbands can truly be good husbands and make their wives happy.

    Happy wife, happy life forever!

    • I personally prefer that marital advice be directed to spouses in general and never be made gender specific (except when it comes to biological roles and differences), because why should it be so? Both are adults, and the decision to get married to each other is a mutual one. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses, both are humans, and both need reminders. Which is why I think it’s high time that any talk on marriage is addressed to an audience of spouses and not husbands or wives separately.

      Somehow, saying that it’s ok to be patronising to women as long as the others hearing it are also only women, does not cut it with me. Being patronising is being disrespectful, in my opinion. It’s a little like saying it’s ok to belittle a group of people as long as it’s only them hearing it.

      • I think you may have misinterpreted me here. I most certainly did not say that being patronising to women is ok as long as the others hearing it are also only women. That does not cut it with me, either.

        My main point was that it is ok in my opinion for women to be reminded to doll up for their husbands. Or for husbands to make the effort to look good for their wives, for that matter. This advice in itself to me is hardly belittling, and is actually good if we were to look at it objectively, but the essence of it was lost in this speaker’s — and I even reiterate your point — patronising delivery. Advice is only as good as its delivery!

        And as somewhat of a sidenote, I expressed another view — (as long as there should still be gender-specific talks on marriage around) perhaps it would be better if women-directed talks like “What makes a good wife” be exclusively attended by women, because a lot of men in our culture lack the prerequisite knowledge on the part they first need to play to be truly good husbands to be moving on to learn about what makes good wives.

        I hope this clears it!

  3. I agree that patronising = patronising. Plus I don’t get the focus on appearances, really, honestly, truly. We should know that no matter how cute/pretty/handsome someone is, it doesn’t last. Faith, character, humor and other aspects of personality (calmness in face of drama/tragedy, attentiveness, being caring — applies to both women and men yes) is much, much more important. If we were told to dress nicely so that we would feel good/sexy about ourselves and hence be a better wife/mother, that’s a different argument than simply saying we need to look pretty for someone else.

    “Berhias”. We decorate houses, buildings, and cars. We are people. How come no religious teacher will tell you to develop a sense of humour or an intellect in order to be attractive?

    Religious talks on how to be good wives are practically universal. Because an overwhelming feature of (patriarchal) society is that the attitude that women’s bodies are to be owned. I don’t think it’s the fault of religious talks, they are the symptom of a time when our men increasingly feel insecure about their place in society. The few times I have heard advice specifically targeting men to be kind and dress well were in a secular setting, by a counsellor who may be Muslim but not giving Islamic advice specifically.

    In Muslim communities especially, there is a collective amnesia on the kinds of wives that we should be. I can’t count the number of times that an event features the story of Fatima and Ali, Khadija and Mohammad, and Hajar and Ismail, AND portray them as self-sacrificing wives. There were many more strong women who had their own minds and opinions vis-a-vis their husbands, especially the Prophet’s wives Aisha and Hafsa.

  4. Can I just say that this blog fkn rocks?

    I’m just reading through – got a referral from Sya T. and it’s amazing. Lovin’ the thought processes and conversations xx

    • Oh my, thank you for the compliment! You are welcome to add to the discussion and thought processes.

      And Sya’s blog is so much better argued and substantiated. I’m only using mere logical thinking. Don’t mind my other (long-winded) frivolous posts! 🙂

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