Book Review: Being Married, Doing Gender, by Caroline Dryden

by cherryblossomlife

Being Married, Doing Gender is a little-known book with a decidedly Radfem feel. Dryden illustrates how marriage has been ignoredin mainstream psychology to a suspicious degree. The field has traditionally been dominated by behaviorism, namely the study of rats, followed by cognitivism, the study of innate differences between the sexes. And that’s about it. Emotional experience has been completely overlooked and in her 1999 research she set about changing that.

When she embarked on her degree in the early eighties, she noticed that bizarrely, ‘the history of Western psychology this century can be seen as the history of the exclusion of emotions from the research agenda.’ She believed emotional experience was of central concern to the discipline, and created her own conceptual framework based on two facets: Gender power relations and marriage–the way that a man always belongs to the dominant caste “male”, and a woman to the subordinate caste “female”, no matter how they each behave as individuals,  and  Interpersonal and intergroup relations, defined broadly as the reluctance with which women will make connections between the subjects of gender inequality and the relational aspects of marriage i.e love, affection, companionship.

Armed with this new conceptual framework she interviewed 16 married couples, with a follow-up interview 18 months later. Excerpts of the interviews are transcribed in each chapter.

The book was very illuminating. There were many ideas and concepts I had never heard of before, but the main emotion I experienced was sadness. Gender roles had crushed these women’s lives. I was angry at the way their husbands conspired with society, ascribing to gendered expectations of women in order to keep their wives’ lives small, circumscribed and full of hard-labour. I felt frustration at the women’s innocence and their inability to catch on to the manipulations of their husbands, whose deliberate gaslighting (dressed up as the “masculine gender role”), was laid bare for the reader to see.

It became obvious that husbands constructed masculinity through the basic human traits of: selfishness, distancing, minimizing the concerns of their spouses and self-aggrandizing speech (men would talk at length about their work). But what I found remarkable was that femininity was hardly constructed at all. Feminine traits such as domesticity, self-blame, unassertiveness and passivity seemed to be foisted upon the women by virtue of their husband’s masculine “acting out”. Judging by the interviews, femininity could easily be described as women “striving to do the best they could under abusive circumstances, of the kind their husbands would never experience.”

Almost all of the men were keen to portray themselves as promoters of gender equality, or “liberated” men. This had the effect of creating cognitive dissonance in some wives because what the men said, and how they actually behaved was so very different. Take the example of Cathy:

“With two young children, highly restricted earning potential for self and a husband who was showing no signs of wanting to change, what were the realistic options for Cathy? A daily ‘realisation’ that your husband is behaving in a ‘chavinistic’ way  is a ‘realisation’ that someone in Cathy’s position may not be able to do much with. In this analysis, self-blame starts to look like a eminently sensible strategy for traversing an emotional minefield–“

 Constructing Reality

Dryden touches upon the cultural practice of woman-blaming,  reminiscent of the witch-dunkings, where no matter what a woman does, she is always found to be guilty or inadequate. For example, men’s activities were constructed as being crucially important for the family, whereas whatever women did was regarded as vicarious leisure. Husbands often constructed wives as personally inadequate by subtly suggesting that stories of work overload from women must be related to a wife’s incompetence rather than the demands of the work itself. Also, comparative processes were used by the couples, depicting the husband’s contribution to the relationship as excessive in relation to the wife.

“Male sacrifice for the family is a phenomenon on which other researchers have commented. For example, Hunt (1980) argued that women’s work tends to be rendered invisible by being treated as an expression of love…

Other constructions of reality included the notion of The biologically driven wife (“My wife with the little extra something). Women were seen as being better at domestic work for biological reasons. If they managed to step up to the plate, their efforts were dismissed because it was assumed that biology gave them an advantage. But if they couldn’t keep up with their domestic duties, they were regarded as failed women. Their efforts were always undermined.

Constructing Women’s Insecurity

Of all the abusive behaviour cited, I found the construction of women’s insecurity to be the most disturbing. Husbands used a variety of behavioural tactics such as “distancing” in order to construct insecurity in their wives. One man went to remarkable lengths. Richard spent many evenings down the pub, claiming he needed time to himself. But when his wife went on holiday for a week with her mother and the children, he found he couldn’t stand being alone so he took the train down to meet them. As soon as he arrived Richard said a quick “hi” then disappeared off fishing, leaving his wife alone.

Dryden analyses this bizarre behavior and concludes that this husband found it impossible to create insecurity in his wife, when she was not around. Though he was now free to go out to his heart’s content, it transpired that this was not actually what he wanted. In order to undermine his wife’s confidence—the hidden agenda behind his disappearing acts—she needed to be present.


I have chosen one interview, where we learn about the (typical female) life of Rachael. In a previous chapter we learned that Rachael had been hospitalized for depression after the birth of her second child. The discussion moves onto her mother:

When her father died her mother’s mental health deteriorated rapidly, and she soon became unable to look after herself. In the joint interview with Rachael and Gordon, they told me how the problem came to a head when Rachael’s mother had a fall, and had to be taken to hospital with a head injury. Since that day, she had very little memory and most of the time does not even recognize Rachael. Rachael and Gordon told me that Rachael was granted power of attorney over her mother’s estate, and they sold her rather large house and bought her a small flat close to their own house (her mother didn’t want to move). Rachael’s mother cannot do anything for herself. Rachael has to go round to the flat each morning and get her washed and dressed. Fortunately, the Social Services now provide transport each day to take her to a local day centre. She is then dropped off back at Rachael and Gordon’s house in the afternoon. She stays and has tea with them and at 8 o’clock, Gordon takes her home (Rachael cannot drive), puts her to bed and locks her in until morning. When they had told me this, Gordon made the following comment:

GORDON: One of the things we were—we were quite concerned n— n— you know, w— wouldn’t happen. W— w— we didn’t want her to go to a home, because if she went to a home, what they would do, what the state would do, would be to confiscate all her [pause] her property and assets—sell them, fund the home until there was less than $3000 left and then, you know, that would be her, well, all the things [pause] that er, her husband had, had built up over the years, would be forfeit, and we were quite determined not to let that happen. So there was, you know, a l— a number of reasons why we [pause] were prepared to put the input in. You know, we live in er, uncertain times [laughing]. Like,we, we’re blowed if we’re gonna see it all sort of bl—/
CAROLINE: Blown down the
GORDON: Blown down the—you know, down the drain.
CAROLINE: Yeah, right. Gosh, that’s quite a handful.
[Gordon laughs, Rachael doesn’t say anything]

Then, later on, Gordon and Rachael are talking about their crippling schedule at the moment, with Rachael’s mother and the two children:
GORDON: But, as, as I keep saying—it’s the [pause] I appreciate—we appreciate this is perhaps one of the busiest times of our lives [pause] because we’ve got lots of people to look after.
GORDON: It won’t always
RACHAEL: There’s a lot of people depend on us
GORDON: Yeah, we got—we won’t always be like this. We appreciate that. But in working hard now, eventually we will—gain—a certain degree of financial security. Um, and also, we are young enough at the moment and we’re heal—sort of fit enough—we’re young enough to carry it off, to do it. And I, I’m quite prepared to put the input in, you know.

All the way through the above dialogue, although Rachael has said virtually nothing, Gordon has been using ‘we’ to describe the decision that was made to put Rachael’s mother in a flat. However, later on in the same interview, Gordon has just been talking about the fact that although Rachael now gets her mother up in the mornings, he had to do it for a whole year. Rachael and Gordon then have this exchange:

RACHAEL: Yeah, I, I couldn’t. That’s why I was taking these tablets, you see. I couldn’t. When Mum went senile, you know, I mean, I just couldn’t. As I went into her flat, to get her up, you know my heart rate would go up, and I’d, not be getting panic attacks, but that sort of road, you know, that kind of avenue I could think, oh my goodness, a few more months of this and I, I, and I resented the way that I could feel that—I consciously resented the way that um [pause] you know, my, my response to Mum. I couldn’t help my response to her at the time. And it was undermining me. I could feel it was undermining me and that irritated me. I thought oh I’m going down this particular road, and I—the only way I can do it is to avoide the situation. I mean, the old fight or flight thing.
GORDON: I resented that a very great—greatly at the time though because I—when [pause] when [pause] her mother did fall over in 1985, Rachael was saying oh well that’s it, you know. Find her a home sort of thing. And we had quite a serious, difference of opinion, but I was absolutely adamant that the [pause] the estate—should not just be, sort of wiped out….

Here is a woman struggling a great deal with her assigned gender role as caregiver, living with a man who ignores that struggle to further his own ends.

As Dryden records and analyses the subtle, almost imperceptible, abuse of wives, we find that superficially a husband always comes out smelling of roses–but the emotional impact of his words, actions or behavior is devastating to his wife’s mental health. Women’s isolation from other women in nuclear family units compounds these problems.

Gas-lighting wreaks havoc on a woman’s self-esteem. Eventually she may lose confidence in her ability to gauge reality. Depression ensues. It bears repeating: Marriage supports men and destroys women. Married men are the happiest group of people, followed by single women, then married women, with single men coming in last, as the group most likely to commit suicide (Greer, 1999)

After reviewing Dryden’s research, I would like now to add a final ingredient to the mix. The concept of transgenderism.

I suggest that the feminine gender role of subordination is based on little more than the silent suffering of women. Gender depends–for its very existence– on the annihilation of women’s will. It is rooted in female pain; in women’s fears of losing their children, the roof over their head, or their sanity. Most women cannot identify the source of their suffering until it’s pointed out to them, whereupon something inside them wakes up and they think, “Yes! that is it.”

This buried pain and fear is what keeps women–Adult Human Females–firmly boxed into femininity. Gender is pernicious and serves to reinforce the suffering of women like Rachael. No male, trans or otherwise, would carry out the gendered work that has been assigned to this woman via her sex: that is, of full time caregiver to two small children plus an elderly parent with dementia. And what is often overlooked is that she is doing it all FOR FREE, with the added bonus of zero social status, unless we’re counting her derivative status of “wife” and “mother”. Depression is her mind’s way of protesting. Before women can ever be free, gender, in its current form, must be destroyed .When the enforced feminization of all females has been eradicated, transgenderism will no longer exist.

When women spend time together without men, there much less “doing” of gender and lot more  just “being”. But masculinity requires a feminine “opposite” as a yardstick to measure itself by. Heterosexual marriage serves this purpose well. As we saw in the example of Richard who needed his wife next to him in order to hurt her, the “othering” of women is often a necessary prerequisite to masculinity. Women, on the other hand, are just trundling along trying to survive. That so many women are miserable in their marriages is a testament to the fact that women’s well-being and their gender are diametrically opposed.


24 Responses to “Book Review: Being Married, Doing Gender, by Caroline Dryden”

  1. Amazing, informative post CB! Thank you!

    I will try to get a copy of the book.

  2. Wow, that is fascinating stuff!

    .”…..femininity was hardly constructed at all…….femininity could easily be described as women ”striving to do the best they could under abusive circumstances…..”

    Isn’t that the truth? I’ve been observing this more and more. What is femininity? I can’t really give a definition, it’s more of a response to abuse than an actual thing. I joke about it, femininity is simply the state of doing everything wrong. It’s like a catch 22, you can’t ever attain it since you’re always going to be doing it wrong. If you can never do it right, if it can never be achieved, than it doesn’t exist at all. Femininity than just becomes a mirror with it’s only purpose being to reflect and affirm masculinity.

    I remember Jack Nicholson in the Witches of Eastwick where he is asked about marriage and he says, “The answer is no, I don’t believe in it. Good for the man, lousy for the woman. She dies, she suffocates. I’ve see it! And then the husband runs around complaining that he’s ****ing a dead person, and he’s the one who killed her!”

    Yes indeed, “Gender depends–for its very existence– on the annihilation of women’s will.”

  3. Excellent review. I will definitely be getting this book (when I get back to work). It sounds even more on point than Marriage Shock which I read years ago. If it’s that good throughout I will be buying multiple copies and handing them out as gifts.

  4. Great post. I wish I had heard of this book a few years ago. Sadness? Gaslighting? Tell me about it. The medical profession calls it depression and dulls your brain with drugs and therapists gaslight you all over again with their transference and own crap they have not dealt with. Well, my experience anyway. Alice Miller calls it ‘cheap sentimental pity’.

  5. This was such a delight to read Cherry Blossom. I always love your blog too; you’re one of my favorite RadFem writers!!!

    Gaslighting and undermining women with husbands pretending to be “for equality.” Again, we have to get back to the structure, and just having a husband in the house is damaging to women. And the whole world depends on women’s free labor and colonized selves. It becomes so obvious as I watch het women in the world, and still they don’t see.

    We really have to end marriage and create a new social system starting with women’s lives as central.

    Great job! Just loved this post!!!

  6. I’m glad this post resonated with you all! FCM suggested some changes in the organization of the original post, so it’s structured neatly thanks to her

    There is a slight possibility that women are biologically programmed to be with their babies, and from my own experience I’m guessing that’s the case for some women , but I don’t know what that’s got to do with housework! Or living with men!! Or “doing gender”!!!

    Sheila, yep, a complete reorganization of society is in order
    and thanks for liking my blog 😉

  7. Good post cherry, a lot to think about. I am not sure about some of the authors conclusions though, like the idea that men don’t come home in order to demoralise women, not that they don’t enjoy demoralising us! But it reads like looking for complex reasons because the obvious one is just to hard to face. I don’t think men actually enjoy being in close proximity to us (unless it’s for sex) but they do like to know we are in the vicinity; just like an overseer wants to be able to see his livestock from his window but doesn’t want to spend his time sitting with them! If they wander off completely though, he will soon give chase. They call us chattel after all.

    I agree with Sheila, that marriage as an institution locks in patriarchy, I would never legislate against it either, but if all its incentives and punishments were removed, most women would not stay within its confines.

    “Gender depends–for its very existence– on the annihilation of women’s will.”

    I love this line too.

  8. God what a depressing thought, zeph. Men don’t actually want to spend time with women, but at the same time they don’T want women to go off and do their own thing and they get antsy if they’re not controlling women’s every move! I think you’re on to something there.

    ON the last long-haul flight I was on, I was sat next to a right boor of a man who was going on about all his penthouse in the English countryside and how he’d take his son there to fish at weekends but his wife didn’t like it because she’d be all alone. He then started going on about how he was quite happy to “let her” come but she wasn’t interested in fishing and hunting. I was just stunned, because it never crossed his OR his wife’s mind that she should just go off and do her OWN thing, go off to Paris for the weekend if they’Re THAT loaded, or get some mates around to the house.
    But no,
    she had to be mummified in the house in a constant state of “waiting for her husband to return” His ego would settle for nothing less.

  9. It is liberating as well, Cherry. Because then all a woman has to do is focus on her own freedom and fulfilment. Instead of spending the whole of her lifetime trying to make relationships with men work on an intimate level. I have seen so many women’s lives disappear into this futility, trying over and over again to solve the impossible Rubrik’s Cube of permanent coupling. Marriage is forced on humans in order to maintain a system where women form an underclass to serve men, it is not natural, but a model imposed by the first patriarchal religions. What women need most is to walk away from this cunningly designed, enervating and hopeless task! To focus on running and changing the world. There is real optimism and joy in that, because we are the ones that have what it takes to turn humanity around. We should not fritter that ability on the endless pursuit of personal relationships, without strict social conditioning we would not even consider it.

  10. Very interesting and informative. Thank you…

    I hate it when the ‘fun’ feminists attempt to merely “reform” marriage. You cannot reform a whole system of slavery. Like prostitution, you gotta work to abolish it.

    Marriage stems from heterosexuality, and if there weren’t as much hetero propaganda out there, there would be more womyn-loving womyn. Sad, sad world we live in…

    As for gender, it is now so deeply ingrained within the cultural psyche. Nowadays, a woman (heterosexual, at least, but also lesbian sometimes) cannot even avoid shaving her legs without being considered “disgusting by both men and other women. What is meant by “disgusting” of course is that when you refuse to shave means that you refuse to shave then you refuse to have your own self-image created by male supremacist social norms and this is considered heresy in a patriarchy…

  11. Zeph, you speak clear-eyed truth. There should be a book for all girls to read about how the basic legal rights western girls now have (due to the sufferings and strength of their foremothers) mean that despite all the pressure and obfuscation, they now and at last have another option, to be independent (in earlier times “independence” of women meant starvation and/or murder). It could explain the structure of the system and the pressures and explain how they are being constantly fed fantasies; for example, the fantasy that having a marketable skill isn’t important because they will be happiest being dependent on a male for financial and emotional support (they would learn that in fact the chances are very high that the “happily ever after” of marriage would mean that they would divorced and supporting children on their own). It would give them facts about PIV sex and their own sexuality. It would explain the ubiquity of rape and molestation, and recommend protection measures such as martial arts and even gun use. It would help them see that they need to learn the ways of patriarchy to avoid its traps, for example, becoming savvy about their business affairs. It would put into words, words which they never see otherwise, that speaking against misogyny in their daily lives, understanding that other women are not rivals but sisters who can help each other, deciding not to marry, deciding to resist the insistence on PIV sex, are precious options now available to them. It would offer them an alternative way of life they don’t hear about now until they are locked up and controlled, if then. Most of all, it would explain how the many gendered roles they have learned to play are only performances, and that there is a unique and valuable human being under the roles that they can get to know and to develop away from the patriarchal insanity.

  12. Thanks for your support, Vliet. Truth is very hard for women to hear though, because we are raised to believe that we all have a million quid in the bank, which will be delivered when we meet Mr Right! Consequently we don’t fight to protect ourselves, our freedoms, or our female friends, we firmly believe all good will come to us via men! So we walk obediently into all their traps.

    That book is a good idea, but I worry that it might not get read much because it is so easy to flick a switch and watch a beautiful film telling you how it will all work out in the end! Even women who come to the far end of nowhere to read radical feminism, want to shoot their messengers. The patriarchal illusion is created by endless repetition, no matter where you look you will find it, so we need to repeat the feminist message in as many diverse and easily accessible ways as we can.

  13. Create a world where women in no way had to depend on men for food, clothing and shelter. Create a world where jobs women did for innovative, very well paid and perfectly suited to women’s life styles… have absolutely no incentives for marrying anyone, no tax breaks, no marriage industry, nothing. Don’t outlaw marriage, just don’t promote it, and have plenty of education, free time, sabaticals and education, start-up and business training for women. Have all of this, and you’d see an end to most heterosexual marriages as we know them.

    How many of us have met elderly women who are virtually house slaves to horror stories of men? Without trying very hard at all, I can meet dozens of women in their 70s who have been completely crushed psychologically by their husbands who have controlled ALL the money for decades, dominated the family, been violent… you name it. The women are elderly and beaten down, often they are exceptionally bright but controlled economically.

    Go to Japan, and see what is happening with young women who have access to a lot of jobs now, and don’t need men to survive economically. They are simply choosing not to marry or have children. They have alternatives, and Japan, being a patriarchal horror story all its own, created some of the most committed feminists I have ever met.

    So marriage that women “willingly” enter into is a fraud. And I can see young het women in the mid-30s — they are smart, well educated, but growing frustrated by the dead endness of all those fake jobs women fall into. They are marriaged to men, but because they are not controlled by having kids, they are still somewhat free. Husbands have established careers, are in safe male dominated aggressive professions, but the wives… well, they are wavering, they feel burned out… thinking of having kids… and from there it is a slippery slope… soon they’ll give up on the work world because it is dominated by jack-ass men, or it is a dead end non-profit fake job… Close off the escape routes, and these strong het women are going to cave.

    It’s a total set up! This article really tells the story straight so to speak 🙂

  14. I agree completely, Sheila. I’m just about to read an article in the current Economist about why Asian women won’t marry any more. Can’t wait to see the spin.

    As I see it, western women are in a transitional and exciting position. They can now support themselves, rent or buy their own home, not marry, have children if they wish outside a marriage, become educated, enter professions like law and medicine, and vote. They cannot be legally stopped from being independent, They can write and talk. They can sue. They can’t be thrown into mental hospitals by their husbands. A hundred fifty years ago they had none of this. True, the pressures, the social ostracism, the stigmas, the whole shebang are still almost impossible to bear. But that can be worked on.

    I keep looking for some larger vision in all this. I see us as blind folk touching the various parts of an elephant (the patriarchy), which is so complex, so huge, it’s very difficult to get a grasp of the animal as a whole. It is so confusing, so difficult to cut through the tradition and culture and fantasy, and that is why I’m indebted to the discussions here, in which I find a clarity that I know has been fought for and attained only through years of powerful analysis.

    What I keep thinking is simply that women are not living according to nature. I think more and more that in earliest times, women and children lived together and men roamed the peripheries, driven off when they tried to do rape-raids. The men did the few things they could do, hunt and drive off other men, in exchange for mating and food.

    I think at some point we lost the struggle and the rapes became institutionalized as marriages.

    Anyway, just musing…

  15. Wow. That was an amazing article, thank you. No time to read other comments I’m afraid, but to this statement:

    “Gender depends–for its very existence– on the annihilation of women’s will.”

    I have just to say that having just came back from my sister’s where her oppressor boyfriend abuses her, that guy has successfully annihilated any form of will, integrity, self-possession, thought, independence, freedom that she may have had. Never in my life have I ever seen anyone so colonised in thought, mind and body, so destroyed, so emptied out of individuality.

    Gender is really nothing other than annihilating the existence and life out of women, while keeping them merely alive just enough to serve as chattel: free labour, fuck toilets and walking egoflatterers.

  16. I’m about to get married and do gender!! LOL.

    But I thought it was a great post 🙂

  17. I think the aspect of the marriage relationship that the d00d who followed his wife on vacation is illustrating is that while men give their attention where they choose they expect their wives attention to be fixed on them. One of the ways they do this is to withhold their attention. So, in that case he was unable to tolerate he withholding her attention so he followed her and then proceeded to withhold his. I know it sounds nuts but it is a behavior that comes up again and again on the abuse website. Give me your attention so I can ignore you. Once you think about that power dynamic you will see it a lot in American culture. Particularly in the work place.

  18. Sorry, typo. Should read …unable to tolerate her withholding…

  19. I always enjoy your posts on alternative societal set-ups, SheilaG

    Tiptree, I’ve met a feminist online whose major is anthopology. Fascinating woman. She’s very clued up on the brain too, and how much scientists actually know and how much is made up shit and suppositions.
    ANyway, I remember having discussion with her where she talked about what you mentioned just there: that in many of the so-called “primitive” cultures women *were* society, well, women and children to be exact.
    THen men were on the fringes and outskirts.
    That’s probably the basic set up for humans, if left to their own devices.
    Then, as zeph has pointed out before, women would mate with a select group of men, and many men would not become fathers. It is *these* men, the dweebs and the weaklings, who are desperate for patriarchy to continue–because they instinctively know that women would not mate with them.

    TBW, yes that witholding tactic is so classic isn’t it. Psychoanalysts use gender neutral language, but as Dryden points out, what we’re actually talking about is “masculinity”

  20. Cherry, I know this idea is out there, and I’m glad it’s well-known in anthropological circles. I wish we could have it fully visualized in fiction, since it may not be recoverable as history. I read a really good scifi short story where the society was like this, but the reading audience wasn’t big enough for the story to have much impact. I also saw on a men’s rights blog the complaint that men are peripheral in reality and that “masculinity” irequires forcing one’s way to the center (which is the women’s culture). I guess from that that quite a few women and men feel intuitively that a more natural society would consist clans of women with male travelers and hangers on. Like elephants!

  21. This whole debate is brilliant…..tx everyone…..

  22. Just proves my point…..housewifery/gender roles = slavery. I’d rather have equality and the freedom it brings than buy into romanticised crap, at least I’m a lesbian so I am in no danger of falling in love with someone who expects me to let myself be owned by them.


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