The “Nagging” Stereotype Causes Emotional Inequality, And It’s Time We End It

I hate the stereotype of the “nagging” woman. It’s another way that women are solely responsible for domestic bliss and function without considering what that really entails, perpetuating emotional inequality. After all, women should be able to juggle all the demands of work, childcare, and home life, while somehow maintaining a clean and orderly home, right? And all of that is to be done with little to no complaint, as though this is the status quo of emotional equality in a relationship.

There’s no question that women do a lot. Stats tell us that 83% of women and 65% of men do daily household activities. The skewed reality of women taking on the lion’s share of household responsibilities made sense once upon a time. There was a time when more of a woman’s responsibilities were at home, so associating them with domestic chores made a little sense. 

But times they changed. Women work outside the home more and more. Women now outpace men in college attendance, and some 49% of women are the main “breadwinner” of the family. It’s awesome to hear news like that, because it means we’ve come so far toward gender equity, at least on the surface.


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As you start to dig deeper, that breadwinner status doesn’t sound so sweet. It becomes clear that 60% of women would/should earn a higher salary if they were actually being paid on-par with men with the same education and experience. What’s even more disheartening is that women are still taking on the bulk of domestic responsibilities, even when they are the “breadwinner.” 

We’ve seen so many examples of this lopsided household behavior this past year, as women left their jobs in droves either by choice or by circumstance because they needed to fill in the gaps on the home front. In hindsight, we should have seen it coming. Women were already 8x more likely to take time off during work to manage or facilitate a child’s schedule or sickness.

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Historically, women have also been more likely to seek out more flexible schedules and even change career trajectories (with lower salaries) to support the demands of parenthood and/or caretaking for elderly family members. If there’s ever a time when a woman should feel overwhelmed, it’s now. 

The pandemic is barely past. As society continues to open back up, there’s a real sense that women (in particular) are holding their collective breaths. It’s not quite over yet, as the reduction in the overall number of working women continues to impact the labor supply. And, it may not be really over until kids are back in school and the flux and groan of the workplace settles back to some new sense of normalcy — an example of time controlling emotional inequality. 

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Women have worked from home or navigated the workplace realities (quitting or being laid off) to ensure that our children are cared for and safe as the entire world shut down. Women have gathered groceries, schooled children, and kept homes running like well-oiled machines. All of that was accomplished against a backdrop of uncertainty, loss, and isolation. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that we need to rely on each other more. We need to ask for help and to better encourage those pleas for help, and we need to understand why the perception of “nagging” is so hurtful. What does it even mean? And how does it relate to emotional inequality?

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What Is Nagging? 

If you look up the dictionary definition for nagging, you’ll find references to complaints, annoyance, and even torment. Derived from the Scandinavian “nagga” (meaning “to gnaw”), we associate the word with finding fault or causing anxiety or worry in others.

And the image of a nagging woman isn’t much better. It’s the concept of a shrewish woman who harps on her partner/husband/significant other and children to do simple chores and have domestic responsibilities. 

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In her Wall Street Journal article, Elizabeth Bernstein defines nagging as “the interaction in which one person repeatedly makes a request, the other person repeatedly ignores it and both become increasingly annoyed.” There’s more to the label of “nagging” than just annoyance, though. There’s also the impression that there’s an associated lack of appreciation and understanding.

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So, there are two usual ways that women respond to the perception that a significant other sees her as “nagging.”

1. Ignore it, and go on with the day. With this response, the woman may complete the task herself rather than wait to see if the significant other will do it. 

2. Get angry, and either say something or let the anger simmer until it become explosive. 

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Neither of these responses is positive or uplifting. It’s just poor communication on both ends, which can lead to a greater feeling of emotional inequality. We’ve become so accustomed to this nagging-woman and confrontation perception that it may be difficult to imagine any other way. But, there is another way.

Communication Is Key

Here are some top tips for communicating in a way that avoids the perception of nagging and encourages emotional equality. 

Think before you speak.

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The intentionality of speech is one of the first lessons we learn as children, but it’s still easy to let words slip out in the heat of the moment. It’s also easy to THINK you’re saying it in a kind way when it sounds rude and condescending on the receiving end. In the realm of positive communication, here are a few of the possible ways you can start your request. 

  • “I’d really appreciate it if you would ____.” (You’re expressing your gratitude for the help, but also being clear with your request.)

  • “Let’s tackle the ____ today.” (You’re making clear it’s a shared responsibility, and you’ll take on any project together.)

How you make your request (your tone of voice, facial expressions, and context), as well as what words you use, do make a difference. And it’s not about subjugation, martyrdom, or anger. It’s about speaking with emotional intelligence to the person you love.

Share your domestic responsibilities better.

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You’re in a relationship, which means that you’ve probably made many other shared decisions. Why hold back in your domestic spheres? It may not get done the way you’d prefer, but this is a process, which starts with a willingness to open yourself up to the possibility that shared problem-solving and responsibility are possible with a little help from empathy and communication. By opening yourself to this, emotional inequality lessens and overall equality increases.

Ask for it.

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Mind reading is really not a reality. You may know each other well. You may even be able to guess what your significant other will say or think, but you can not read another person’s mind. You also cannot expect another person to read your mind OR to understand your needs by noticing your non-verbal cues. Think about the best way to ask, and make it a shared decision, but be sure to say the words. 

Get expert advice.

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It’s not a bad thing to ask for input from an expert counselor or therapist, particularly when it comes to better communicating with your significant other. While the perception of “nagging” may be the straw that broke the camel’s back, it’s likely that there are other conversations and situations that have just gone all wrong. 

Communication is a two-way street. It’s a give-and-take, and it’s also learned behavior. Just because you’ve always communicated in a certain way doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong. It just means that it might not be the most effective way to communicate with your partner, which can lead to the resentment of emotional inequality. Find out what works for the give-and-take of your relationship.


What are your thoughts on “nagging women?” How do you communicate with your significant other to prevent emotional inequality? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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