TV & Radio
The New York Times
Never Mind Mars and Venus: Who Is 'the Decider'?
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
Published: April 26, 2006
When President George W. Bush referred to himself as "the decider" last week, there was the ensuing list of dinner party queries: Is "decider" an actual word? (It is.) Is it applicable in the world of presidential politics? (Sure, whatever.) Doesn't everyone, politics aside, secretly believe that in interpersonal dealings, he or she wears the "decider" badge?
It seems the president, who thought he was simply fending off pressure to dismiss Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld — "I'm the decider, and I decide what's best," he said, adding that he had no intention of letting Mr. Rumsfeld go — has unwittingly added to the lexicon of marital relations.
Anita Willoughby and Jeffrey Naiditch were just polishing off their papaya mousse cake at a dinner party in Lower Manhattan last Sunday night when Mr. Naiditch decided it was time to go home. His wife was not quite ready to leave.
"He said, 'I am the decider, I get to say,' " Ms. Willoughby said. The small group dissolved into laughter, and a bit of nervous chatter.
Sure, "The Daily Show" has featured "the Decider" as a comic book character. But while spouses are often quick to say they jointly consider where to vacation, how many children to have, what car to buy and where to live, each is often quick to lay claim to some, if not all, of the domestic terrain.
Amy Popp, who stays home with her two children in the suburbs of Chicago, says she and her husband, Greg, consult on most things. Except the important ones.
"I decide what we can realistically afford," said Ms. Popp, 38. "I decide if the kid really needs to go to Joey's birthday party even though we never see him outside of school. I decide to buy Mother's Day cards for great-grandmas and send them. I decide when and where most things happen because I'm the one driving there, or wrapping the gift or whatever. Most decisions in this household affect me more than Greg, therefore I make them."
Vickie Taylor decided in a telephone interview that she and her husband, David, were both the deciders, except when it came to a recent party she wanted to give in their backyard in Austin, Tex. He vetoed it because he thought that it would be too hot and that their space was too limited.
"We agree on so many things," Mrs. Taylor said. "If he doesn't agree on something, it must be important."
Mr. Taylor, 66, decides what to watch on television. Mrs. Taylor, 65, simply leaves the room.
In many cases, women make the call, then men seal the deal. Debbie Busby, a technology consultant in Manhattan Beach, Calif., has made every decision in the extensive remodeling of the family's home (except where the speakers in the walls will be), but left the financial details to her husband, John.
"When we got an equity line on our house, I wanted him to do it," Ms. Busby, 41, said. "I am a little more of a diplomat. It is hard for me to be the one getting the best price. As for our car, I made the decision that I wanted the Audi. We were both there, but he did the talking."
People with items to sell are keenly aware that women play a crucial decider role in household purchases. According to the advertising agency Ketchum, women in the United States buy more than half of all new vehicles and influence more than 80 percent of all new vehicle purchases.
However, according to the 2005 Monitor study by Yankelovich, which tracks consumer trends, of 3,612 men and women surveyed, 73 percent of the men said they made the final decision on what make and model of car to buy, while 54 percent of the women did; 32 percent of the women agreed that their spouse was the decider.
"Given the way marketing and pop culture go together, I would definitely think that advertising firms would latch on to that phrase, 'decider,' " said Jonathan Jordan, an account supervisor at 919 Marketing, in Holly Springs, N.C. "I can see someone making a campaign in a mock setting, given the president's approval ratings."
But dubbing oneself "the decider" is often much less about the end product — a new stove, a vacation, a cabinet member — than it is about expressing power. Normally, in articles like this, you would have arrived at the part where a marriage therapist and sociologist would weigh in. But what about a dominatrix, whose trade revolves around power relationships?
Mistress Jennifer Hunter, using her professional name, says that many women who work for her enjoy exerting power, while male customers are more interested in "creating the illusion of giving up control."
"It has been the case that I have had a staff of women disproportionately weighted with nurses," Ms. Hunter said. "Time and time again, they would tell me that they were really under the sway of rude doctors and they absolutely loved wresting control."
Yet in practice, it seems that many contemporary marriages hew to a corporate management template.
Donna Perry Keller said that she and her husband, Rob Keller, who live in Kalamazoo, Mich., "defer to each other's core competencies." Mr. Keller, 38, a trained accountant, pays the bills. Ms. Keller, 37, a former schoolteacher, calls the shots with their 5-year-old twins.
"In situations where core competencies are irrelevant," Ms. Keller said, "we usually defer to the one who feels most strongly about the decision to be made."
When Mr. Keller wanted to go to Paris to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary, but she preferred a town she had never visited, they went to Paris and Provence.
"A year or so after the twins were born," Ms. Keller said, "Rob clearly communicated that he would like another child if I felt up to the challenge. I didn't, so we didn't. He could tell that I felt strongly, and he never pushed the issue. For us, marriage is more a finesse game than a power game. It requires 'the suggester' and 'the discusser' as much as it does 'the decider.' "