Why I Want a Wife

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Weddings are often a time of celebration, especially for my family. This past summer, as we prepared for my sister Gini’s wedding, the festivities extended to good-natured teasing of the bride- and groom-to-be. For example, WITH knowing smiles, my parents--self-proclaimed experts on marriage courtesy of their own wedding almost thirty years ago--dispensed advice about everything, including how to improve her cooking skills beyond instant rice and grilled cheese. Gini’s typical responses included "That was a long time ago," "Things are different now; times have changed," and "Jason can do a lot of things for himself."” It was with particular delight that my family took to rubbing in one of Jason’s smoother moves. He waited until a few short weeks before the wedding to inform Gini that his Mom had always done his ironing for him, and now he expected Gini to take over that task---after all, he couldn’t wear wrinkled clothes to his new job, could he? Poking fun at the responsibilities involved in marriage is similar to the attitude presented in Judy Brady’s 1971 essay, "Why I Want a Wife."

In "Why I Want a Wife," Brady offers hypothetical criteria for an ideal wife in a satirical commentary on how the work of wives is often taken for granted. The humor of the essay lies in its structure: on the surface it seems to accept the criteria it puts forth, while the meaning actually operates in the recognition that the narrator is being sarcastic.

Using writing as one of her tools for activism, Judy (Syfers) Brady has established herself as a supporter of the women’s movement since she began more than thirty years ago. In "Why I Want a Wife," she narrates a setting that mocks the situations and obligations wives find themselves immersed in. The narrator draws on her own experiences to present examples of how “good” wives are expected to behave. The satirical critique emerges as the narrator thinks through her reasons for wanting a wife. The language used has a satirical edge evident in both the author’s emphasis on certain modifiers (indicated by italics) and in the surface structure of the sentences, which belies the underlying criticisms. The audience should recognize the sarcasm from the language and attitude of the narrator. Now let's consider all the elements supporting her satirical point, beginning with the author's long history with this style of writing.

Judy (Syfers) Brady has established herself as a supporter of the women’s movement, and critics point to this essay as typical of her career. "Throughout the article, [Brady] lists characteristics that she would like in a wife…She never comes out and says that the way that women are treated in family situations is wrong. She implies it by sarcastically creating her ideal wife. This technique works because it forces readers to realize it for themselves" writes Diego Vasquez on a webpage titled "A Rhetorical Critique of ‘Why I Want a Wife.’"2 Vasquez’s analysis includes the supposition that the essay first appeared in pamphlet form, and suggests that Brady was a "…radical feminist writing for other radical feminists." Vasquez also notes that Brady is reported to have said, "I am married, am a housewife, and have two female children; all three of those factors keep my anger alive," and that "[Brady] tried to persuade other housewives to take a step back and look at how they were being exploited." Judy Syfers Brady, who was born in 1931 and later studied at the University of Iowa, now lives in San Francisco.3 In 1972, "Why I Want a Wife" appeared in the first issue of "Ms."3 Although at that time, few critics expected the magazine to last4, almost twenty years later it (re-) featured "Why I Want a Wife."5 Another decade later, almost thirty years after the essay first appeared in Ms., Ms. Brady is still active in women’s movements. Her more recent work can be found in "Greenpeace Magazine"6 and in the "Women’s Review of Books."7 Through all these works and critical...
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