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Why Gabrielle Reece’s retro recipe for marital bliss is, uh, wrong

I’ve never really followed Gabrielle that closely, but she’s always been on my radar as a solid, inspirational role model for young women—someone strong, disciplined, and self-possessed. Someone who hasn’t been seduced by her own her fame and glamour. Given that the archetype of women that’s most often celebrated in the media is often complete opposite, I’d say some of the words I associated with Gabrielle were “fresh” and “modern.”

Well ooooh wee, did I ever back the wrong horse! Because as you might have heard, her new book My Foot is Too Big for the Glass Slipper advocates an “old-fashioned” marriage dynamic and that women take on a submissive, serving role in romantic partnerships and in the home.

In the past few days, Reece has been making the rounds on TV and in the blogosphere to explain herself. On NBC’s Rock Center, she said:

“I’m clearly the female, Laird is clearly the male. I’m willing and I choose to serve my family, which means dinner and laundry and organizing his schedule as well as mine. And I’m choosing this because it works well for us.”

To top that off, she threw in that “To truly be feminine means being soft, receptive, and — look out, here it comes — submissive” and that “the language men understand is food and sex.”

This was a point she underscored in an internet he-said-she-said “Secrets to a Happy Marriage” list where her #5 is “Put out” and her #9 is “Did I say put out?”

Yeah, you did. And it made my skin crawl the first time. Because while these might be her choices—they are just that. Something that works for her and her (very possibly Neanderthal) husband. Which is why I’m bummed that they’re being framed as solid advice for young women.

I mean, ’80s supermodel/the former Mrs. Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall, famously said keeping a man requires women to be “a maid in the living room, a cook in the kitchen, and a whore in the bedroom,” but she didn’t hawk it as a blueprint for marital success (which, might I add, it seems to have turned out not to be in her situation anyway).

Y’know, I get it. Everyone wants to preserve that sexy spark from the early days of their relationships. Plus, no woman wants to become the drudge who’s more about menial tasks than making out. But is going retro really the way to make that happen?

Ultimately, the person I really want to hear from right now is Reece’s husband, famous surfer dude Laird Hamilton, whose #5 in the aforementioned Happy Marriage list is “Don’t tolerate too much s**t” and his #8 is “Don’t treat her like your wife or your mom, treat her like your chick.”

If he’s so busy treating her like some hot chick instead of a wife or mother, what the heck is Reece doing slaving over loads of family laundry, menu planning, and booking his haircuts/doctor appointments?

And how does he feel that his wife, who has been an undeniable icon of strength and independence, is publicly talking about the sacrifices she’s making so that (it would seem) he can continue to top out in his career?

Maybe he’s fine with it. I mean, I guess I’d be fine with having someone standing by to satisfy and help me, too. But in this moment, when we’re all figuring out just how much we should be Leaning In in our lives and professions, Reece’s advice seems more out-out-touch and unpalatable than ever.

3 thoughts on “Why Gabrielle Reece’s retro recipe for marital bliss is, uh, wrong

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  1. Gabrielle Reece clearly likes playing house — “serving” the family, she calls it — and hey, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with it, as long as she’s clear that this is her particular proclivity and not a relationship recipe for everyone. (To be fair, I’ll bet there are ways that Laird serves their relationship, too, so maybe the arrangement isn’t quite as lopsided as it sounds.) But telling girls that men speak only the language of food and sex? And that women must somehow accommodate this strange form bilingualism? Isn’t it time we expect a little more of men? Hold them to the same standards we hold ourselves to? “Maintaining” men (sexually, gastronomically, or any other way) cannot be our job. It just can’t be. Everyone needs to grow up, men and women both.

  2. This is turning out to be a funny post for me. A colleague of mine shared it on his FB page…and a crazy, hate-filled thread of comments ensued. Wow.

    So here are some more of my thoughts:

    First, Reece has written a ‘How-to’ book, and I consider that fair game for commenting on/critiquing. I mean, if it were just some comments somewhere about her personal life, yeah, then maybe I (or anyone else) would just pipe down. But considering she’s advocating this approach for other young women… well, I feel that pretty squarely falls in the public domain and is up for discussion. Plus, people judge. That’s what happens. When Amy Hua (last year’s Tiger Mom) went public about her parenting style, people weren’t like “Lay off. They are her kids and her choice.” Nope, there was instead a lot of debate about her parenting choices, her morals, and what effect they will all have on her kids. Similarly, no one is writing off Sheryl Sandberg’s as just a personal choice (“Don’t judge”)–and I don’t think we should. I think we should have an open conversation about Leaning In, with some people defending it and others trashing it… so that we can all pick and choose which parts work for us personally. And I think the same process should be allowed to take place surrounding Gabrielle Reece’s recommendations.

    Second, there probably ARE many ways Laird is holding up his part of their bargain, which is precisely why I mentioned in the post that I sure would love to hear him speak up about the how and when. So if anyone happens to come across some commentary from him, please do post the link here.

    Thirdly, I don’t think there’s a mother out there (myself included) who doesn’t actively serve her family–no matter what approach to marriage etc she takes. That role of serving doesn’t seem to have changed that much (as proven by the billion Mommy Blogs that exist as a way for mothers to make sense of what it means to serve their families as they still pursue the personal and professional goals that might hold).

    Ultimately, I don’t think anyone (again, myself included) should publish their thoughts without being able to explain–or take some heat!–for them. So I truly thank everyone for reading this post and sharing their opinions!

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