Tag Archive | "Walter Mitty"


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Henpecked Husband

“Cluck, cluck!” goes the woman who intimidates and nags her husband in order to better domesticate him.   Let’s face it: most men are not particularly fond of doing household chores.  Heck, neither are women, but as responsible, evolved souls, we do what needs to be done.  However, there are only so many hours in a day, and Abraham Lincoln, as you will remember, outlawed slavery well over a century ago.


My husband and I have come to an equitable agreement concerning housework; we are both of the mind that the household must run smoothly.  And because he has more free time than I do, he often does the grocery shopping, will cook upon occasion, and vacuums the house.  I do not consider my mate henpecked.


However, many women must resort to nagging, or worse, to move their hubbies off the dime.  Some withhold intimacy, serving lousy dinners or no dinner at all, give their husbands the cold shoulder, or threaten to get themselves some retail therapy.  Each man has his own unique buttons, and those who refuse to help around the house will, sooner or later, have those buttons pushed.


Television has found and exploited both comedy and pathos in the henpecked male.  There was poor Nels Oleson who ran the general store on Little House on the Prairie, while his wife ran him.  She constantly nit-picked at him so that he found that the safest avenue was usually to keep his opinions to himself.  We had the boisterous Roseanne on the sitcom of the same name.  She was so domineering that she constantly ran husband Dan’s life.  And then, of course, there was poor Al Bundy, Married with Children’s father and husband.  Like Red Skelton, Al never got a dinner, as Peggy was always blowing his salary on frivolities.  Then again, if my husband were a couch potato with a penchant for doing poor imitations of Napoleon Bonaparte, I might be out on shopping sprees whenever the mood and coffers struck me.


Before TV, the practice of henpecking was featured in fairy tales.  The wife in Hansel and Gretel carried on until her husband abandoned his children into the woods for the witch to prey upon.  The woman in The Fisherman and His Wife kept pestering her husband to wish for more elaborate possessions.  And the protagonist in James Thurber’s short story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, was a meek and mild man who harbored fantasies of being strong and heroic.  He never got to live out his dreams, however, because his wife’s harping always interrupted his musings before he could save the day, at least in his own mind.


This is not to say that men are incapable of bullying and browbeating.  In the old situation comedy, Gilligan’s Island, the Skipper kept Gilligan under his thumb because the hapless First Mate’s respect for his captain was tempered with fear.  And the headlines are rife with horror stories of men who beat, torture, and murder their spouses.


When taken to extremes and used to diminish the self-respect or snuff out the lives of those on the receiving end, henpecking is no laughing matter.  Perhaps that is why so many jokes about the practice abound, to soften the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.   Here are a few one-liners that I have heard:


1.         She snaps, “Are you a man or a mouse?  Squeak up!”


2.         He was a dude before marriage.  Now he is subdued.


3.         He married her for her looks, but not the kind that he’s getting now.


4.         She leads a double life: hers and his.


5.         He used to be a man about town.  Now she has turned him into a mouse around the house.


6.         He can’t even open his mouth to yawn; she complains he is causing a draft.


7.         The last big decision she let him make was to wash or dry.


8.         He wears the pants in the house (under his apron, that is).


9.         He has two chances of winning an argument with her: slim and none.


10.       He comes right out and says what she tells him to think.


11.       He put a ring on her finger and she put one through his nose.


12.       She tames to be pleased.


Obviously, some men opt to placate their wives with murmurs of “Yes, honey” and the execution of household tasks.  Braver souls may hang out at the local bar, commiserating with others plagued by wives who want to intimidate them.  Although it has been said, “Behind every great man is a woman,” I am sure that many men would trade gladly lower profiles for a little peace and quiet. 

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