'Wives should leave the alpha female in the boardroom'
For decades, women have been told that being strong and ambitious is a good thing. That knowing what you want and going after it - the proverbial 'having of it all' - will stand you in good stead.
Yet a new book is causing controversy stateside for flying in the face of such received wisdom, and suggesting that women take a backseat for the sake of their relationships.
Author Suzanne Venker is a self-confessed alpha female: directional, ambitious and fond of taking charge. And while the personality trait has stood her in good stead in life, she found that it was wreaking havoc on her marriage.
"Like me, my mother was not a perfect wife," she explains. "She was a remarkable and passionate woman, and was fiercely devoted to my father. Yet she never mastered wifedom for one reason: she was wholly unyielding. With my mother, everything was a fight."
It got Venker thinking about her own marriage, and she decided on a new tactic: to leave her alpha traits outside the house.
"I started to take a look at myself, and the struggles I was having in my own marriage in terms of basic compatibility," he reveals. "My husband is 'beta' by nature… he's more patient and doesn't feel the need to talk all the time.
"I had to learn the hard way to be more Type B," she recalls. "If ever I was having a conversation with my husband, I had to say 'don't say anything' over and over in my head. I really don't care any more about being right. I simply don't correct him. He doesn't want to be corrected and he'll figure things out on his own. I don't need to give my input, or play devil's advocate, all the time. My not rushing to fill the (conversational) space or arguing gave him the freedom to relax and say what he wanted."
Venker's central thesis, espoused in her book The Alpha Female's Guide to Men & Marriage, is that while being headstrong and fond of being in control will serve a woman well in the boardroom, it will "land them in a ditch" when it comes to love.
"Jackie Kennedy once said that there are two kinds of women: those who want power in the world and those who want power in bed," Venker writes. "American women have become laser-focused on the former and have rejected the latter. In doing so, they've undermined their ability to find lasting love.
"Alpha females abound," she explains. "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."
Within heterosexual relationships, says Venker, women should learn to cede that control.
"You can't have two people driving the same car," she explains. "If men are most comfortable driving the bus and are trying to take charge of things, you're going to clash. You can't have two people at the helm. Yes, you make decisions together, but in the end someone has to sit in the passenger seat. You go back and forth (with decision making) over a lifetime, but if you struggle with that idea, you'll struggle with marriage.
"I understand why a woman might have her guard up, based on her past or whatever, and think she needs to be in control at all times," Venker continues. "The problem is, that attitude and approach doesn't let love in. It pulls two people further apart. In other words, by choosing to be in control all the time, you're giving up the intimacy, or closeness, you ultimately crave. You can't have both."
Venker refers to 'masculine' and 'feminine' energy in a relationship: relationships need a balance of both to thrive, she says, and women should be redirecting their focus on harnessing their 'feminine' energy and making it work for them.
"Femininity to me is soft instead of hard, and being receptive instead of domineering and taking charge, and being easy instead of being difficult," Venker says.
"When we are dating and getting together with our man, he's the instigator of the relationship," she says. "He took you out, he paid the bill and you were the receiver of that masculine energy. And when it started, you probably had the best sexual energy and connected emotionally by being the receiver of his energy. After time, you gradually went into a mode where you were the one in charge. Next thing, he's in the passive role and hearing things like, 'why aren't you stepping up to the plate?'"
Yet one question begs to be answered: how much of Venker's advice has to do with salving the fragile ego of men who might feel emasculated since the rise of the alpha female?
"I don't think this is about a fragile ego; it's how men and women are made," she says. "What you might call a fragile ego, he just wants peace.
"Men don't actually care how powerful you are when you're out in the world, but if you can go out into the world and conquer, and come home at night and not carry that with you, you're as good as gold," she adds. "He doesn't want you to be the boss of him."
Venker is at pains to point out that she is not invoking women to become pushovers: "It's more about masculine and feminine energy, not being wrong or right, or bad or good," Venker adds. "It's like swimming against the tide. What are you doing it for? Are you doing it to prove something?"
"Women are always complaining that men don't do enough around the house, but you don't have to do this much either," says Venker. "As a woman, you choose to run around. Get to the laundry the next day, which is what a man would typically think in his head. Think of what we can learn from (men) about being relaxed."
The book has received plenty of criticism in the US, but Venker says that she is 'excited' about the feedback that she is receiving from both sides of the American political spectrum.
"The blowback has been about 20pc (negative), but the women who have a problem with the book will not have read it and will often go off a headline," says Venker. "100pc of the women who have read it will say, 'this changed my relationship.
"The younger you are, the more resistant to the idea you are. People who have been married for a while are more receptive and see what I'm saying because they've matured and been in longer relationships."
Much of the criticism, predictably, comes from feminists who reject the notion of women having to 'quieten down' at home and have dismissed Venker's teachings as retrograde.
"Feminism was never a big thing in my house," Venker, a noted conservative thinker, reveals. "I'm not a friend of feminists."
Surely feminism has had its uses in society? "Whatever good that feminism did back in the day, in the 1960s, ceases to be relevant any more," says Venker. "Whatever good happened then pales in comparison to how it is now doing. It's causing this huge rift, and pitting men and women against each other at all times. A version of equality states that 50pc of women should be in top positions and 50pc of men should be at home with the kids. We are being told that living these identical lives makes us equal, and I reject that."
Venker does make a point that has value for feminists and non-feminists alike: that being 'beta' isn't necessarily a negative thing, nor a subservient quality.
"There's a thing that the loudest among us are the winners in life," says Venker. "There is a wealth of value for those who are quieter observers. It's liberating to be a beta. They take their time to formulate an opinion, which is unnatural for us alphas. You definitely have to get to a place where humility is seen as an asset and not a liability."
The Alpha Female's Guide to Men & Marriage by Suzanne Venker is out now