Inspired by this question, what are are the feminine and gender-neutral equivalents of a ‘henpecked husband’?

Would it be correct to say ‘cockpecked wife’ (even though that sounds dreadful) and ‘birdpecked’ or ‘bepecked spouse’?


4 Answers 4


Cock-pecked is the traditional counterpart, as the cock (or rooster) is the male counterpart to the hen.

The Oxford English Dictionary puts its first use in 1753:

1753 An Essay on Celibacy 96 Male usurpation, or being cock-pecked, depends for the most part on the want of good nature, and a little submission in the female.

The 1912 Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English puts it thus:

Cockpecked. Masculine home-rule: spec. of a tyrannical kind: cf. Hen-pecked.

It is uncommon today, thank God, but it comes up occasionally in song lyrics and other places. Here's Yoko Ono:

So don't try to make cock-pecked people out of us


If you need a gender-neutral alternative you can use alternative words such as:

  • Nagged
  • Browbeaten

I don't believe there is one that doesn't carry significantly more negative connotations. The term comes from how one chicken (hen) will peck at others in order to establish dominance. The imagery is of the wife pecking at the husband and him complying because she's dominant.

So reversing the gender roles would have the wife submissively giving into being harangued by the husband, and that will be a significantly more negative image in most western societies. The general reaction would be that a henpecked husband is a bit sad and amusing, but a wife in a similar situation would be viewed as verbally abused, at best.

  • 6
    Unfortunately, until recently the reversed role was not "significantly more negative" to many people, but normal and not worthy of comment, or of any special name. That has to a large degree changed in the last few decades, but there are still plenty of people around with that outlook.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 26, 2019 at 15:43

In addition to the accepted answer, I frequently see the word cowed wife to describe these women even back to the Victorian Era.

To cow someone is to destroy their resolve or courage, typically through violence or intimidation. Intimidation can also be the same type of verbal abuse that henpecked husbands receive.

Henpecked husbands tend to be cowed by their wives, too. So, apart from the alliterative appeal of henpecked husband, they could also be cowed husbands.

  • 1
    You'd almost expect the opposite of a cowed wife (feminine) to be a bulled husband (masculine). But I'm not sure a steered spouse (neuter) would sound quite right. :)
    – tchrist
    Oct 23, 2019 at 21:53

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