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florence pugh in dune part two
florence pugh in dune part two
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How The “Nag” Trope Hurts Women

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Conn chapter.

If you are an avid connoisseur of old sitcoms like I am, then you are no doubt familiar with the “nag” trope. We’ve all seen it: the demanding wife constantly finding fault in her emasculated husband. While it may seem like a funny, harmless TV trope, the truth is that this trope has harmful effects on women in real life. So take a seat, and let’s talk about how the “nag” trope hurts women.

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why do women nag?

So, why do women nag? While it may seem like the “nagging housewife” is the one in control and her husband is beholden to her in many “nagging wife” stories, the reality is quite the opposite. According to The Nag Trope-It’s Time to Write it Out, “In reality though, it’s men who have historically held most of the power in marriages. So the wife’s nagging is actually an expression of her powerlessness. Since she can’t actually control her family’s destiny in actions, she uses words to vent her frustrations and at least attempt to push her husband to do what she deems necessary.”

Personally, I feel like women nag because they feel like they aren’t being understood by their husbands. What I mean is women don’t feel like their husbands really understand nor appreciate the emotional labor, or mental activity, required to perform the routine tasks necessary for maintaining a relationship, which women tend to do more of in relationships. And if women try to talk to their husbands about the emotional labor, they are seen as nags.

Kelly Burch says, “My partner feels irritated and defensive by the fact that I’m always pointing out what he’s not doing. It shuts him down. I understand why it would be frustrating from his perspective, but I haven’t figured out another way to make him aware of all the emotional and mental energy I’m spending to keep the house running.” It’s also hard to ignore the gender roles and double standards at play here. When a woman takes care of her kids and does work around the house, she gets no praise, she gets no acknowledgment because she is simply doing what is expected of her as a woman. When a man does the same things, they get lots of praise. Men get praised for doing the bare minimum when there are lots of high expectations for women. It’s clear that women nag because they don’t feel in control, and are trying to get their husbands to at least understand all the emotional labor they have to carry.

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how the “nag” trope gets weaponized against women

One of the ways the “nag” trope hurts women is how it gets weaponized against them. While the idea of women being condemned for being “shrews” or “scolds” or just not for fitting the ideal of being a pleasant, dutiful, wife and mother has been around for centuries, it’s noteworthy that the nag trope really emerged in earnest during the 1960s — right when second wave feminism was starting to gain momentum. According to The Take, “She’s a symbol that exists to put women back in their place.”

Not only that but “nag” has also been used against women in politics. According to The Take, the nagging wife trope is “insidiously mobilized to discredit women’s political speech, especially if a woman’s tone is perceived as angry, complaining, nagging, or rude.” I must note, that having one’s tone of voice be weaponized against them is seldom something male politicians have to worry about. Not only that but the “nag” trope gets weaponized against feminists too. In The Feminist Trope, Explained, “frequently, onscreen feminists are painted as overreacting to non-issues. Many depictions reduce their concerns to silly trivialities, thus obscuring the very serious issues real feminists are concerned with.” From these examples, it’s quite clear that the “nag” trope is used to dismiss the very real issues women are trying to bring up that others don’t want to deal with by painting them as “annoying,” “shrill,” or “naggy.”

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How being labeled the “nag” hurts women

So, from what has been discussed so far, it’s clear how the “nag” trope is used to silence and discredit a woman’s oftentimes valid complaints, simply because of her tone of voice and also because the men around her don’t want to be reminded or deal with the problems she is bringing up. As you can guess, the “nag” label certainly hurts women.  According to Aman in Nag: The Word Men Use to Control Women, “Women want to be smart, sexy, successful, caring, funny, important, beautiful, classy and charismatic. We want to exude all these things, all of the time, and at any cost. The cost is usually our own self-worth, sanity, and self-esteem.” It’s sad that in order to be seen as “desirable” and “worthy” by men, and by society in general, women must sacrifice their own needs and their own voice to not be seen as “difficult” or a “nag” by the men around them. The fear of having this negative label put upon us can make us more afraid to voice discontent and speak up for ourselves, out of fear of being negatively labeled.

“the cool girl”

According to the same article, “It is meant to make us what men want us to be, and to silence our own needs and goals.” Conversely, this reminds me of the “Cool Girl” trope — basically, a female character who is “not like other girls.” She’s effortlessly pretty, she enjoys stereotypically “masculine” hobbies, like watching or playing sports, she judges more feminine women, and she enjoys eating junk food, and can stay effortlessly thin while doing it! But lastly and most importantly, she’s very easygoing and never gets angry at her man.

According to Gillian Flynn, cool girls are “hot and understanding — never get angry, they only smile in a chagrin, loving manner and let their men do what they want.” This is important because “Cool Girl” is written by and for guys. She is what guys want in a girlfriend, and it seems the “ideal girlfriend” for guys is one who doesn’t get mad at them or demand anything from them. In addition, the cool girl is used to put down another type of girl, one that is more emotional, more uptight, more naggy if you will.

With this, the message is clear: guys don’t want a girlfriend who gets mad at them, demands anything of them, or has their own needs in the relationship. In addition, even though the “Cool Girl” is created by men, she is perpetuated by women. Women try to be her, however unrealistic she is, to be the girl who men want. According to Aman, she was scared to be a nag because a nag was someone who was “persistently annoying” and she wanted to be the “cool, alluring, easy-going woman in a man’s life.” As you can see, “nag” hurts women by making them afraid to voice discontent or disapproval out of fear of being negatively labeled.

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To sum up, while the “nag” trope can seem harmless on the outside, it can have a harmful effect on women in real life and can be weaponized against them or used to control them whenever they say things people don’t want to hear. Women nag, not because they are the ones with the power, but rather because they feel powerless in their relationships, and don’t feel listened to or appreciated by their husbands. We need to appreciate women for the work they do around the house and acknowledge the emotional labor they carry. We need to stop praising men simply for doing the bare minimum. Wives and mothers do a lot around the house for their husbands and kids and we need to acknowledge that, and help them where we can. They deserve it.

Nicole is a junior at the University of Connecticut studying communication and gerontology. Her hobbies include playing the flute, biking, and drawing.