One American woman is on a mission: To convince working women to take on even more domestic duties or, at the very least, accept that her husband will do less of them.
An “alpha woman” can be defined as a “strong-minded, take-charge woman who likes to be in control at all times,” said Suzanne Venker, author of the new book “The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men & Marriage” (published by Post Hill Press) coming out next week. “She makes her own rules.”
It is much more common now to see women taking the lead at work — for three years straight women have been taking over more CEO roles than they had before. But being an alpha woman is about more than succeeding in a career, and Venker, who lives in St. Louis with her husband of 18 years and two teenagers, argues women should shift gears and be softer toward their husbands, something Jack Jones sang about way back when (1964, to be exact).
Venker has written other books on gender roles, including “The War on Men,” “How to Choose a Husband,” and “The Flipside of Feminism.”
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Venker spoke with MarketWatch about how to drop the “alpha woman” mentality, and why it’s better for your marriage in the long run.
The bedroom is different than the boardroom.
MarketWatch: In your book you say alpha women were a rarer breed back in the day — what does this mean for men and women now?
Suzanne Venker: The world was a very different place in my mother’s day. It was an exception to be in the marketplace. It isn’t just what you do during the day — it could be some variation of what you do every day, and your personality and attitude toward men and marriage. And whatever role you’re in that puts you in ‘boss mode’ will struggle when you slip into wife mode. When it comes to shifting into wife mode, it’s hard because you invariably boss your husband around and men don’t like to be bossed around.
MarketWatch: What about women who don’t like to be bossed around?
Venker: Nobody should be bossed around. The reason I hone in specifically on that in this book is because I am speaking directly to a problem a lot of women have, and to get out of that mode. Most men don’t boss women around, and If he is a high alpha naturally that’s not okay either. In this book, I talk about a spectrum so not everyone is the same degree of alpha or beta.
MarketWatch: So how do women handle both approaches?
Venker: It doesn’t happen overnight. But we do it all the time when we move from different environments, such as a party to an job interview. The idea that you behave differently or act differently in different scenarios is not that unusual. We have a mental block that we shouldn’t do it with our guys. The bedroom is different than the boardroom or life at home with kids. You can teach your brain to think differently with a mantra, so for me it was moving slower or not saying something when I felt the urge to say something that didn’t necessarily have to be said.
MarketWatch: How do you apply these lessons to your own life?
Venker: This book is of my journey of looking at this myself, and struggling with it. My husband as well. We were finding a happy place. And it works — it just works. I saw with my parents, it didn’t happen — they were fighting about the same things 40 years down the road. That’s not something I wanted for me.
MarketWatch: I know you said it isn’t all about the woman’s career, but how does a woman’s financial or professional success change the relationships with the men in their lives?
Venker: It makes it harder. Marriage becomes competitive by nature, whereas if you’re not performing the same exact roles it is more complementary. Women who work at home full-time struggle with this just as much because their job during the day is to be in charge.
MarketWatch: But what about the money aspect of it all?
Venker:Research shows once women make more than their husbands, problems start to happen because women tend to use that money as a means of control. Psychologists say there are more fights about how the money is being spent when the man makes more but when she makes more, the fights are about who has the power, and that is a huge difference between the male breadwinner and female. It’s complicated. Also, men are programmed to provide — that’s where they get their identity so if you usurp that role, it’s going to be difficult because it goes against human nature.
[This study says couples rarely fight about money, and another psychologist says when couples do fight about money it’s usually not on the items bought themselves but anxieties driven from the past.]
MarketWatch: So how do we get a good balance?
Venker: I know it sounds like it is on the woman but I’m saying not to worry about what he’s doing, just worry about being the best wife you can be. That’s just my approach. By focusing on yourself and not worrying about what he is or isn’t doing and focusing on your best, it will follow. That’s the male-female dance. It is a win-win in the end. Not worrying about things like whether or not he filled the dishwasher or how many diapers he changed or did he leave socks on the floor — harping on what he isn’t doing right now will backfire.
MarketWatch: So what about the women who may criticize this mentality, saying men should instead be less alpha and more beta?
Venker: There is such a thing as human nature and it’s not politically correct to say but that doesn’t make it less true. Men and women are different. Role reversal works for some people, it does not work for many people in its entirety because it doesn’t move with the nature state of who men and women are. Men like and need to protect the family, and women are very relationship-driven, so they’re coming at marriage with totally different tools.