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In her essay, “I Want a Wife,” Judy Brady explores society’s expectations on women’s roles in a marital household during the early 1970s. Using rhetoric, she strategically places a rather impactful, new viewpoint into the minds of her readers in just under two pages. The entirety of the essay is one long satire, reading like a list and pinpointing example after painfully accurate example of society’s collective disregard for the value of women. While the most evident objective of her essay is to unveil the culture’s errant perspective on gender roles, it is certainly not the only target of her writing. Brady also resolves to convict the hearts of her male audience, ultimately, convincing them to reevaluate their covetous attitudes toward women, and to educate and vex the emotions of her female audience, whom she intends to influence deeply. Throughout the course of the essay, Brady employs numerous rhetorical strategies to accomplish these goals.
Quite plainly, Brady lets her audience know right out of the gate which side of the argument she identifies with, saying “I belong to that classification of people known as wives,” as her opening statement. This ensures that she has already captured the attention of her female readers. She uses this method to seize her desired patrons without hesitation. She goes on to say “And, not altogether incidentally, I am a mother.” This second remark is the first time the reader sees Brady point toward a stereotypical standard with which women of this era were not so gently urged to uphold. This is Brady’s way of cynically alluding to the wayward belief that a man is entitled to having children with or without the sanction of his wife, simply because she is his wife. This bold statement effectively conveys the first of many compelling messages Brady expresses to both sides of her audience.
While her dissertation already surpasses a multitude of feminist writers of her time in a matter of mere sentences, it does not simply end there. She continues with “Not too long ago a male friend of mine appeared on the scene fresh from a recent divorce. He had one child, who is, of course, with his ex-wife.” This audacious comment only awakens the dramatic facet of the reader further. She uses this phrase to insinuate that after a divorce, the woman is typically left to fend for the needs of any children the couple may have conceived together single handedly. She points to how the woman is expected to make ends meet on her own while the man is free to be artlessly “looking for another wife.” Her sarcastic tone illustrates her belief in an underlying societal issue effectively, without blatantly stating it.
Brady then comments, “I thought about him while I was ironing one evening.” This alludes again to one of the countless standards pressed to housewives that she wished to revoke. She adds this detail, because it determines how she portrays herself as the writer. She depicts herself doing housework. This reinforces the entity that she, herself is held to the very axiom of her writing. She is disclosing to the reader that she is just like them. This makes it personal. This takes her paper from being all about the audience, to referring equally as much to the writer.
From there, she goes on to describe rather acerbically all of the reasons why she wants a wife. She does this in tremendous detail, referring to each of the specialized expectations put on women as a whole, making it appear as if those certain duties fulfill the purpose of having a wife, because often times, that is how it was perceived. This is her way of using common ground to make it appear, even if for a moment, that she is in agreeance with the male side of her audience. After being overwhelmed by her caustic approach, one would only have to read a few lines to come to the conclusion that this is not the case. In fact, she does not aim to be taken literally; she solely wishes to be heard. This is a recurring strategy throughout the duration of her paper that she wields to paint a grotesque picture of just how demanding of, yet degrading toward the ascribed roles of women society had become.
Over the course of her paper, Brady lists numerous general duties the average housewife would fulfill. She arranges them somewhat sporadically, seemingly in no order of importance. Her list jumps from emphasizing motherly responsibilities, to outlining binding household chores, to describing the sexual expectations of the usual matron without any regard for structure. However, this causes the essay to read like a rant, which in turn, more adequately gets her point across. This writing style is effective in riling up her female readers as well as adjudging her male audience. Here, Brady demonstrates the use of organization rhetorically to make a better case.
In addition to these rhetorical strategies, Brady also exerts the use of parallelism to emphasize a very specific attribute of her writing. Each time she introduces a new aspect, she begins with the phrase “I Want a Wife.” While the idea of a feminist writer, and mother of the 1970s wishing to attain her own wife may seem ridiculous, the essay is, in fact entitled this to serve a purpose. Obviously, Brady has no actual desire to marry a woman and does not long for marital female companionship in the slightest respect. What she does want is for her male spectators to read the phrase continually and understand that she is poking fun at the way they, themselves speak. She wants them to look at their own views in a foreign light so that their eyes will be opened to their arrogant and superior attitudes. She wants them to recognize how absurd the idea of this much entitlement actually is, in hopes that it would render each of them subject to change accordingly.
Brady concludes her essay with a rhetorical question: “My God, who wouldn’t want a wife?” This question is intended to be thought provoking, and does not require a response. She aims for this, being the last read portion of the essay, to stick with the reader and leave a lasting impact, engraved into his or her brain, to be brought back to the surface each time the topic is brought up in his or her future conversations. She uses it to cause the reader to mull over the entirety of her essay, without having to direct them to. While reflecting upon this rhetorical question, it is evident that all of the reasons one might want a wife that come to mind after reading Brady’s paper are all of the wrong ones. This realization is the glue that sticks together her entire argument. This is the potentially life changing point in her essay that brings together all of her previously stated thoughts and re enforces their rhetorical purpose.
After reflecting on these points, it is palpable that Brady did not simply spout out random, sassy comments while writing this paper. She carefully placed and knitted together each and every last rhetorical aspect of her essay for a specific motive. She not only sways both sides of her audience successfully, but she also propitiously meets her own goals for the direction of this paper. Brady uses this essay as her hands and feet to impact a multitude of readers, easily swayed by her charming and eloquent use of rhetoric to shed light on a societal dispute that she believed in the future betterment of. Her paper contains endless exemplary illustrations of rhetorical strategies being put into action, and is an outstanding example of the use of rhetoric.
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