I don’t know whether to laugh or cry…

// 14 May 2008

Martial Chart

This is the Marital Rating Scale developed in the 1930s to assess wives. Basically it’s a series of merits and demerits based on assumed gender traits (including that women should be subservient to men). Whats galling, and takes this beyond just the notion of arcane ephemera, is that the psychology PhD student (and their supervisor I assume) who draws our attention to it argues that is has “scientific” basis.

Although most people who read the test today find it humorous and obviously dated, Crane did attempt to make it scientific. His method was to interview 600 husbands on their wives’ positive and negative qualities. Then he listed the 50 demerits and merits that arose most frequently. Crane, did admit to using a personal bias in weighting the items that he thought were most important in marriage.

From the American Psychological Association Monitor

Here’s some issues I have with it:

1. There was only ever a “wife” scale (although apparently wives or husbands could complete it) thus making women responsible for the strength or weakness of their marriage.

2. This further reinforces that women should apparently make men’s concerns and desires central to their lives and that men have no responsibility in the success of relationships. Men can just be, women must fit around them.

3. The scale is based on illusory socially specific notions of femininity which are heavily classed and ethnicised. In short it’s based on a very white, urban, middle class sense of femininity.

4. The idea that the quality of a relationship can be judged on whether a woman swears or wears red nail polish is absurd and characterises men as a homogenous group without individual ideas too.

5. It also posits there is a one-size-fits-all notion of relationships.

6. Claims to “scientific” method are then undermined by imposition of the researchers own priorities on the results.

7. 600 men does not scientific research on happy marriages make. It’s a ridiculously small sample size, based on skewed notions of predictive capacities of such surveys and which is obviously gendered in it’s basis. I can (probably) find 600 men who claim that if a woman kisses a man willingly then him physically forcing her to have sex isn’t rape. Doesn’t mean that’s a scientific finding.

8. Joyce goes on to say that whilst dated there are paralells between this and how people might rate modern relationships on personal or annoying habits like not putting the top on toothpaste. I’d argue that there is a big difference (of scale for example but not just that) between toothpaste habits and a strict white, protestant, middle class straightjacketed notion of femininity and women’s roles.

Comments From You

Soirore // Posted 14 May 2008 at 1:46 pm

While I can see why this piece makes you angry I think you are slightly misreading it. The tone, to me, really did suggest that the rating scale is seen as ridiculous and old fashioned by the writers with the emphasis on Crane’s failed ATTEMPT to make it scientific.

The rating scale is American and was produced 70 years ago and hardly relevant for us as contemporary UK feminists except as a curiosity as it is clear that the scale wasn’t actually used to a great degree.

Sabre // Posted 14 May 2008 at 2:00 pm

Louise Livesey: I have to say that I don’t understand why this article has been posted. What’s the point? Raking up stuff from the 1930s to get riled up about isn’t going to help anyone. You’ve chosen to focus on the further ‘scientific’ research, while failing to make clear that this was done in the 1950s! Hardly the feminist golden age. I know that the marital stereotypes trickle down and still influence our lives today but I’m struggling to see the significance of this article alongside far more worthy feminist issues. As a bit of humour it’s fine, but really, what’s the point of the article? It looks like perfect fodder for those people who say that us feminists just want to have a rant about any old thing.

My apologies if I’ve missed something significant here and am therefore wrong to question the importance of this article.

Katylou // Posted 14 May 2008 at 2:51 pm

Someone has posted a copy of the booklet on Flickr – there are both male and female scales.


Qubit // Posted 14 May 2008 at 3:14 pm

There is also a husband scale in the original booklet and there is some overlap


Juliet // Posted 14 May 2008 at 3:45 pm

While I agree with the first two commentators that there are more pressing feminist issues to get riled about, I do think Louise was right to post this. The psychology student obviously regards this misogynist with a worryingly sympathetic amusement and states that many of his methods are still used for “matchmaking” today and still resonate with “us”.

I did have to laugh at some of the merits and demerits; “Personally” puts children to bed”..?!!! Well, now I must change out of my soiled, ragged dress and apron, paint my nails red and straighten my crooked hose because otherwise I’ll be late for the party where, as a bad wife, I might flirt with other men. Then me and husband will have a row and I’ll go to bed angry and wearing “much face cream”. And tomorrow morning I probably won’t get dressed for breakfast….

Lauren O // Posted 14 May 2008 at 5:17 pm

I don’t know what the first two commenters are on about. It’s totally valuable to look at feminism-related stuff from past decades, to see how far we’ve come as well as what is still hanging on.

I score a -2 on the wife scale. My boyfriend scores a 41 on the husband scale. To me that indicates that men have been evaluated by near-universally positive traits for longer, while women have been judged on things like nail polish and cooking skills. The fact that I’m not shunned by every man I meet even though I’d be a horrible wife by those standards is a great thing, but it’s also interesting that my boyfriend got a much higher score than I did because in both eras men were regarded as human beings that should espouse kindness and thing like that, while women were not-quite-humans who were supposed to espouse the virtues of neat clothing.

I also like how men get 20 points for being good in bed, but women only get 10 points.

Now if only I could get my boyfriend to stop writing on the tablecloth in pencil…

Louise Livesey // Posted 14 May 2008 at 5:17 pm

I was focussing on the representation of this on the APA website and in their publication Monitor on Psychology Volume 39, No. 5 May 2008. And much of my comments relate to how it is being reused in a modern context and the paralells being drawn.

Also I had a short window and thought it would be an interesting ephemeral discussion on the blog. Which after all is about lots of things.

Faith // Posted 14 May 2008 at 5:45 pm

I got a -14. I’m a terrible wife. Yay!!

Anne Onne // Posted 14 May 2008 at 5:49 pm

It’s relevant because people still insist on judging women today, and forcing their standards of looks, behaviour and morality onto women in a way they would never do to men. It’s relevant because similar things (whether they want to have children, how they look after the house, whether they look good) are still used to judge women today. We can laugh at it being antiquated, but looking around us, can we really say women are free of judgements made on them today?

Yes, it’s not the biggest, most pressing issue, but it has just as much right to be here, and we have just as much right to discuss it, as anything ‘important’.

james // Posted 14 May 2008 at 9:02 pm

“There was only ever a “wife” scale (although apparently wives or husbands could complete it) thus making women responsible for the strength or weakness of their marriage.”


Soirore // Posted 15 May 2008 at 11:07 am

I stand by my objections. I am all for looking to the past; seeing how far we’ve come or analysing parallels but this was not the research that enables this.

My main issues are that the article from the Monitor on Psychology is clearly a piece on the history of American psychology, is presented in a light hearted way and appears to be nothing more than an advert for the work of the listed academics. They say that the scale is illuminating on the personality of Crane (ie a patronising sexist) and the conclusion applying it to today is tacked on and seems more like an attempt to justify funding or to excuse such a frivolous research topic

You failed to discover that there was a husband version, whether either version was used seriously at the time or whether or not there were British equivalents. My feelings are that wives and husbands of the time would have laughed derisively at the scale as we have. I know that this is what my grandparents (married 1938 and 1940) would have done. It is patronising to assume that they would react any differently to how we would now to a Cosmo “are you fantastic in bed” or “what kind of girlfriend are you” survey

Placing such importance on the research of archaic American ‘psychology’ like this is drawing attention away from real, relevant academic research into to the lives of women during this period which would generate discussion more pertinent to feminism

Sabre // Posted 15 May 2008 at 1:08 pm

I guess I now have to eat my words somewhat. The London Metro today published an article on this very thing, and I am incensed! (I can’t actually find the link to the webpage though, sorry!)

Like the writer of this article, the Metro writer also fails to recognise the equivalent husband test, although they are kind enough to concede that the test ‘may be sexist today’.

MAY?!! And wasn’t it also sexist back then?


Louise Livesey // Posted 15 May 2008 at 5:35 pm

It was also on Radio 4 this morning.

Nick Joyce // Posted 15 May 2008 at 8:42 pm

This is Nick Joyce, author of the original piece.

After the publication of this piece, it has made its rounds on the blogs. Due to this exposure a reader was able to produce the husband scale as well, which has been put up on that blog. The original piece did not pubish the entire scale due to copyright concerns. I am very grateful for that reader’s find, since the husband scale definately adds to the historical record. I always assumed there was a husband scale as well, it just did not exist in our archival record.

Both husband and wives scales are biased due to the nature of the times, the point of this mothly column is to highlight psychology’s history, and often it is scary to see what we believed.

Reading the comments on this blog, I am glad to see the type of discourse this small piece has developed. It is very insightful for me to view a feminist angle on this.

A sample size of 600 is rather large for the social sciences, especally during this period of publication. I believe that the way Dr. Crane attempted to put the scale together is more scientific than it is not, especially given the way I have seen what was considered scientific research done in psychology’s past. Research methodology has come a long way over the past 100 years in psychology and such an instrument would be developed in a much more “scientific” way today.

Regardless of ones feelings about the scale(s) I do believe that they are an important part of psychology’s history. I am glad I could share that with the world. Working in the Archives I come across odd bits of history all the time. Dr. Crane was a very conservative Chrisitan from Indiana, and I am sure his sample was from that area as well.

Enjoy the discourse!


Louise Livesey // Posted 16 May 2008 at 9:22 am

Just to say, as a social scientist who has attained their PhD, yes in the context of the time 600 is a medium-large study. Methodologically, now, it cannot be justified as rigourous or valid however. Psychology has many problems with the way it interprets notions of “science” not least the heavily gendered and masculinised notions it promotes. But yes feminism, and feminist psychology, needs to be acknowledges by researchers more openly and more thoroughly than it currently is.

Nina // Posted 17 May 2008 at 3:50 pm

My “husband” did very well on the wife scale.

Nail Polish // Posted 20 August 2008 at 5:11 pm

Thank you for such great information..


Nail Polish

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