OPINION By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Columnist Heidi Stevens gives her thoughts on Suzanne Venker's new book "The Alpha Female's Guide to Men & Marriage." Venker is making waves for contending that her marriage style, playing beta to her husband's alpha, is the way to achieve a successful union.
Suzanne Venker is free to conduct her marriage however she sees fit.
I can think of nothing more personal and less appropriate for public debate than the daily dance two people engage in to keep their souls forever entwined, not to mention their careers cultivated, bills paid, dishes washed and children (if they're present) fed.
But Venker, whose book, "The Alpha Female's Guide to Men & Marriage" (Post Hill Press), that hit shelves on Valentine's Day, is making waves for contending that her marriage style, playing beta to her husband's alpha, is the be-all and end-all. I respectfully disagree.
"Society is creating a new crop of alpha women who are unable to love," announced a headline last week atop a much-debated excerpt from Venker's book.
"Alpha women aren't exactly new, but they were once a rarer breed," Venker writes. "Today they abound. There are several reasons why, but it's in large part due to women having been groomed to be leaders rather than to be wives. Simply put, women have become too much like men. They're too competitive. Too masculine. Too alpha.
"That may get them ahead at work," she maintains. "But when it comes to love, it will land them in a ditch."
No it won't.
All-consuming, soul-filling love does not require an alpha and a beta. It doesn't demand that one person wield more power than the other. It can, and does, very often exist between equals.
In her marriage, she writes, "my alpha ways were bumping up against his alpha nature."
"We were like two bulls hanging out in the same pen together, and there was too much friction," she writes. "And because I had zero interest in my husband adopting a more feminine role, I set about to become the feminine creature our culture insists women not be."
This is incredibly misleading, even irresponsible, I would argue, advice.
It imagines marriage not as a partnership between two humans who cherish each other's happiness and sanity, but as some sort of hero/sidekick setup in which the star must be lovingly groomed and propped up for the good of the unit.
It argues: You can't both shine, ladies, so suck it up and stand in his shadow. You might even like it.
"It's liberating to be a beta!" Venker writes. "I'm an alpha all day long, and it gets tiresome. ... Self-reliance is exhausting. Making all the decisions is exhausting. Driving the car, literally or figuratively, is exhausting."
Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends" hosted Venker recently to talk about her book.
"The husband needs from the woman softness instead of hardness," she explained during the segment. "So happiness instead of anger, being more compliant and less dictatorial. Basically not telling him what to do. I don't know how else to put it."
These are straw-man examples. She spells out marriage-killing traits ("dictatorial," "anger," "making all the decisions") and attaches them to strong women.
No one, male or female, wants to live with a dictator. Every relationship suffers when anger is present. In a healthy marriage, neither person makes all the decisions.
If Venker's marriage improved when she began to acknowledge those truths, that's lovely. Ideally, her husband takes a similar approach. I wouldn't call it softness or compliance as much as kindness, something every marriage needs in spades.
But to the young women and men looking for cues on creating and sustaining loving marriages, know this:
Women who are groomed to lead are not unable to love, and a marriage doesn't need a beta. You can each help the other shine, and you can bask equally in each other's light.
And it's a whole lot more fun that way.