I’ve been watching The Good Wife, a TV series that takes its plot inspiration from American political sex scandals. Alicia Florrick stands by her husband Peter, a former State Attorney as he serves jail time and after being a stay at home mum returns to the workplace to become a litigator. It’s fairly standard stuff in terms of a drama; a somewhat imaginative office structure combined with out there cases and a simmering undercurrent of sexual tension. But the exploration of a woman being stoic as prostitutes sell their story and her marital problems are sold as entertainment is pretty gripping. Alicia is not religious and her reasons for being “the good wife” are complex. She’s far from stupid or lacking in options.

Then there are a growing number of women in America who have intelligence and options and are choosing to forgo further education or employment in order to be stay at home daughters. There are also many that lack choices and are trapped in abusive relationships where (for now) the bully is her father rather than her partner. Here I’m curious about the girls who seemingly make the choice willingly.

I could no more have stayed at home to serve my father while he chose a husband for me than I could stand by a man who publically humiliated me but I can understand the wife more than the daughter. I’d struggle to support the politician who dragged me through the mud because I’m not cut out to be a politician’s wife. Those that excel at the role often have faith in something bigger than their marriage; they have faith in the cause. It’s rather like a business that is bigger than the partnership. When Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana ended their romantic relationship they maintained their brand. It must have been hugely challenging but there was a passion for their work that sustained them. Is a political marriage not similar to that? The husband and I are nothing more than a love match. Take away love and we’re just two people. The same was not true for Bill and Hilary Clinton. The Clintons are a brand and a business in a country where spouses and offspring are as essential as a campaign manager to political success.

I think my struggle to comprehend the stay at home daughter is that I see little distinction between them and more conventional Christian daughters. The Christian Patriarchy Movement is largely the work of Vision Forum, an organisation that appears to have its roots firmly in commerce.* The stay at home daughter movement is fiercely anti-feminist in that it makes subservience to men the only goal but most of the things these girls are meant to aspire to, is aspiration in much of religious America.

What I find most difficult to stomach is the utter reduction of female capabilities. I’m pretty liberal in my views on relationships; for instance I find the distinction between marriage and civil partnerships in the UK to be unnecessary and overly bureaucratic (why have two sets of laws when you can just have one?). Yet within my own life I’m fairly traditional. I truly believe that one of the greatest contributions I make to my stepsons lives is cooking meals that are eaten with family around a table. Yes I’m a feminist but I choose to put time and effort into my homemaking.

The thing is, it’s not rocket science. I mastered some of the qualities (I confess I cannot knit) of a good wife by Vision Forum’s standards alongside a career. I learned solid family roots at home and have put them down in my married life. I learned to cook and clean and decorate while studying and working. The fact I have a PhD is completely compatible with the fact I make amazing carrot cake.

Homemaking can be fun but it only takes up so much time (unless you’re going to eschew dishwashers and washing machines, vacuum cleaners and electric irons). Jerry Hall’s observation that women should be maids in the living room, cooks in the kitchen and whores in the bedroom actually only covers some of what I think is to be aspired to (if we’re going to go down this route). In my marriage I have played a key supporting role in hearing out the husband’s daily news and being able to be constructive due to having also worked in an office and having managed people. Sure a fresh apple pie served to him on a polished dining table by me in a negligee would be appreciated (it might happen one day) but my real world experience is what makes me a wife that truly supports her man.

Obviously I’m looking at this the wrong way. The stay at home daughter movement is about weak men intimidated by women, men that need women to be brought down a couple of notches in order to for them to manage a relationship with them. Religion is simply an excuse and plenty of non-abusive Christians take issue with the movement.

This is a subject often claimed by those with extreme or bizarre views. I want to be clear that when I say the question of how to be a good wife/partner is important to women I hold the equal view that the question of how to be a good husband/partner is important to men – it’s just that here I’m just talking about women.

I mean, I assume the majority of people enter matrimony (or civil partnership – being a good wife to your wife is no different) they do so hoping that in addition to their needs and desires being met that they will support and inspire their spouse. So how do you do that?

I personally like Benjamin Franklins words to his friend Jack Alleyne on hearing news of his marriage.

Pray make my compliments and best wishes acceptable to your bride. I am old and heavy, or I should ere this have presented them in person. I shall but make small use of the old man's privilege, that of giving advice to younger friends. - treat your wife always with respect; it will procure respect to you, not from her only, but from all that observe it. Never use a slighting expression to her, even in jest; for slight in jest, after frequent bandyings are apt to end in angry earnest. Be studious in your profession, and you will be learned. Be industrious and frugal, and you will be rich. Be sober and temperate, and you will be healthy. Be in general virtuous, and you will be happy! At least you will by such conduct, stand the best chance for such consequences.

* Sorry if I appear excessively cynical.

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