What is the perfect wife? Is there such a thing? Discuss.
I went to the launch of international best-selling author Katherine Scholes’ latest book last week. She is also a Tassie girl. Can’t wait to get into this novel set far away in Tanganyika, 1947, amidst the doomed British groundnut scheme in a land where the soil wasn’t the only uncooperative character.
It’s titled The Perfect Wife.
So, as I settled down to begin, admittedly during the AFL Grand Final (sacrilege!), I wondered whether I would be enlightened much on just what it takes to earn such an accolade.
The perfect wife of 1947 was very different to the perfect wife of 2013. About as different as the Stepford Wives and footy WAGs. I tend to think wives of this era have a lot more contradictions to navigate than ever before. She has the polish and domesticity of the ‘40s while also juggling a few ankle-biters, a career, a Masters degree and a clean eating diet.
I read of a plastic surgeon in the US who ‘sculpted’ his perfect wife with what he called a “Wonder Woman makeover” which comprised a Brazilian butt lift, vaginal rejuvenation, labiaplasty, a G-spot shot, liposuction to her chin, arms and legs and botox injections – she’d already undergone three breast augmentations at this point. Then, he married her. I kid you not. And before you ask, no, I have no idea what a G-spot shot is, nor do I care to find out.
A few years back, scientists from the Geneva School of Business landed on a formula for the perfect wife. They found that wifey should be five years older, come from the same cultural background and be at least 27 per cent more intelligent than her husband. Fellas, if you wed a woman of this description, apparently your marriage is more likely to last the distance.
There you go.
When I went hunting for a Biblical definition of ‘the perfect wife’, I found it quickly, then wished I hadn’t found it at all. The 21-verse description found in Proverbs 31 (10-31 MSG) left me feeling somewhat inadequate.
– “She’s like a trading ship that sails to faraway places and brings back exotic surprises.” (v14)
– “She’s up before dawn, preparing breakfast for her family and organising her day.” (v15)
– “She senses the worth of her work, is in no hurry to call it quits for the day.” (v17)
– “She’s quick to assist anyone in need, reaches out to help the poor.” (v20)
– “When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say, and she always says it kindly.” (v26)
Obviously, there is a cultural context to the passage, and the feminist in me protested a little at references to knitting, sewing and home decorating. But I was struck by how empowered, purposeful and productive the Proverbs 31 woman is.
There is one thing that really should be said about this Biblical Wonder Woman: the writer never called her perfect. The passage is actually titled The Wife of Noble Character.
“The greater the emphasis on perfection, the further it recedes,” philosopher Haridas Chaudhuri once said.
What is the perfect wife?
She is a myth, or at least, she is undefined, an unhealthy apparition that we clutch at. But a wife of noble character – she is strong, generous, fruitful, compassionate, focused and wise. She is known for her character rather than her beauty or skills.
Even as I begin to read the first pages of Scholes’ novel and am introduced to ‘40s glamour and poise, there is the sense that the title is a brittle façade, that perfection will soon recede.
First published in The Examiner newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday October 7, 2013.