The shrew—an unpleasant, ill-tempered woman characterized by scolding, nagging and aggression. As they are alive and to be found everywhere, it is time for men to learn, if not how to tame them, then at least how to avoid entanglements with them. There are reportedly over 400 “shrew” stories in literature from all cultures. And “taming” in these stories takes many forms; in some the male denies his “shrew partner” sexual relations; in others, sweetness and light, including sweet food and flowers are employed in a campaign to tame the shrew.
Regardless of the method, an important aspect of any taming of any shrew is that it must be done immediately upon being first noticed, Of course, when the tale of the shrew implicates a domestic partner, the confines of the story are clear, easily defined and observed. When the shrew, however, in contaminating the culture of an organization, too many men holding positions of responsibility fear any intervention, less they become the object of a sexual harassment complaint.
Some of the observed behaviours of shrews include:
· obstructing normal protocols for professional deportment, knowing or at least counting on impunity from authorities, defaming the character and reputation of male(s) upon whom the shrew has projected her contempt for men; physical beating of the spouse, or a targetable son
· defaming the character of male spouse or son
· undermining the integrity of a person or even an organization
· temper tantrums at the slightest provocation
· engaging in gossip especially of the variety that seriously libels, defames and even destroys another
· protracted periods of silence within the family, or the office, or the organization
· subverting the authority of and responsibility for an organization
· re-arranging schedules and appointments whenever and wherever possible to inconvenience those scheduling and those trying to keep those appointments
· misrepresenting reality to suite their distorted view of who someone is, or what someone’s motives are
· Finding ingenuous and unexpected stumbling blocks to any perceived successful project
· gossip that paints another woman as the “boss’s favourite" or even mistress,
· flipping from unctuous affability and support of a person or project to complete undermining of that person/project, as soon as the shrew discovers she is no longer “compatible with either the philosophy or the modus operandi of the responsible group
All of these behaviours, among other things, are partially calculated to generate as much public attention as possible, without acknowledging that the shrew is, in fact, totally sabotaging herself in the process. Of course, the strangling by the archetype of the ‘shrew’ herself is so complete that sabotaging the self is not even registering on the radar of the ‘shrew.’ The whole world is responsible for all of the injustices the ‘shrew’ believes she has been, continues, and will forever be subjected to. (Churchill reminds us never to end a sentence with a preposition, sorry!) She is the ultimate and the archetypal victim, one assumes never having discovered or permitted her ‘warrior’ to be released.
Without attempting a clinical diagnosis, one has to wonder if at the root of most shrews’ attitudes, behaviours, beliefs and spoken words, lies a profound, immutable and deeply toxic self-loathing. The source of the self-loathing, of course, could be a million influences, many of them combined in a toxic cocktail of self-perceptions that in fact, imprison the ‘shrew’ tragically, and perhaps even permanently. Projecting self-hatred, unconsciously, onto others, by the time the shrew has attained adulthood, has become the established, and therefore preferred attitude to all experiences, for the shrew; consequently, the shrew is deeply experienced in the wrath, the contempt, the ennui, the disgust, the alienation and even the revenge of others. It is the script to which her life gives voice: the reciprocal exchange of ugly, negative, abusive, and contemptuous, as well as contemptible words, deeds, attitudes and perceptions, without, in too many cases, adequate balancing of experiences that affirm, support, encourage, even praise the shrew.
Paradoxically, the shrew is also highly adept at presenting an extremely charming visage, often very attractive to innocent, naive and vulnerable men who, too often, are wrapped into her narrative for decades. And too often those men neither seek nor find support for their agency to “tame” the shrew, or to escape her venomous clutches. It takes an extremely self-possessed, courageous, and mature man to find both the words and the strategy to bring this demon to heel, and perhaps one of the more effective tactics, as it is for taming the anger demon, is, rather than attempting to wrestle or box, or stab or shoot the demon to the mat, one attempts to tickle this demon, play with it, as if it were indeed another character inside of the woman who presents as a shrew. I make this tentative suggestion after decades of living with, writhing under, and even hating the ‘shrew’ who also was my parent. Nothing I or my father ever did was adequate to penetrate the mask of the shrew in our house; so complete was the control of her person was the archetype that she literally never apologized for the torment she inflicted on others, some of whom sought refuge in psychotherapy, so deep was their angst and their powerlessness in coping with that specific shrew.
Is the ‘shrew’ inherited in the genetic code? There is some evidence that a ‘shrew’ tends to at least breed others, whether or not there is a specific gene, or cluster of genetic material that points to this archetype. As a young boy, taking apples from the ground under a tree, a group of us heard loud wailing from the voice peering around the doorway of the back shed. We were unaware of the ‘shrew’ archetype at 10, but we were made aware of our “evil behaviour” by this elderly woman, who took serious offence at our “theft”. And of course, being young boys, and knowing how our behaviour provoked this response, we delighted in repeating our prank, even running up the lane away from the house to the screech of her voice. Did she also carry a broom? Who knows, we did not wait around to find out.
One inevitably encounters other less offensive shrews through such social strategies as blind dates. On one such, I recall barely being able to look into the face of a young woman whom a friend had introduced to me, for the purpose of a ‘blind date’....so cold and so detached, and so empty were her face, her conversation and her general demeanor. As we both undoubtedly knew, before the date was even half-hour old, we would never see each other again. And then there was the teacher colleague who, in the words of another female colleague, “drove everyone nuts” with her attitude, her behaviour and her attitude, without even just once invoking anything remotely resembling a reprimand. And then there were the church treasurers, all of them seemingly cut from a die cast in the mold of the shrew archetype, so miserly and so tight-fisted, and so obnoxious were there resistances to any suggestion to engage in authentic ministry, using some of the funds so dedicated. It was as if they were holding tight to God’s treasure, as if their pathway to heaven were going to be paved through their parsimony, their coldness and their capacity to disdain all legitimate efforts a ministry.
The ‘shrew’ stalks every organization, every family, and every school and college in North America, and, with the convergence of both political correctness and the feminist movement, increasingly, both men and other women take such a wide berth around these creatures that they are permitted free reign on the playing field of whatever game they are involved in, as paid employee, or even as volunteer. Perhaps, in employment, there are some levers by which Human Resources can modify ‘shrew’ demonstrations. However, in voluntary organizations, there are no such levers, and organizations are left to limp along while attempting to find end-runs around these shrews, all the while knowing that their reputation is so strong and so ubiquitous that it cannot and will not be denied, except by the ‘actress’ herself.