CTBHHM: Michael Pearl’s Stamp of Approval

Created to Be His Help Meet, pp. 13

Created to Be His Help Meet, a popular evangelical/fundamentalist marriage manual, begins with a one page introduction by author Debi Pearl’s husband, Michael Pearl. This is important, because it signals that Michael approved of his wife’s writing a book. In evangelical and fundamentalist circles, whether they embrace “complementarianism” or actually use the word “patriarchy,” women aren’t supposed to write books, etc., without their husband’s “blessing.” They use the word “blessing” rather than “permission” because it sounds better.

This book has been ten years in the making – four years in the actual writing. It is at my encouragement that my wife wrote it.

See what I mean? Michael encouraged her to write it. Told her she should write it. And that means that it is okay for her, as a woman, to write a book. While most evangelical or fundamentalist marriage advice manuals for women are written by women, there always has to be some sort of male stamp of approval. And that is why, quite simply, the two sentences above are the first ones in the entire book.

Many times as she was going verse-by-verse through the Scripture, she would say to me, “I’m not going to include these verses becasue if I do, teh ladies of ______ (some religious group) will not like or promote my book.” I would tell her, “If God thought it was important enough to put it in his Word, then you shouldn’t exclude it.” So she would cringe and add one more controversial subject after another. I am proud of the great job she has done.

More stamping of approval. Michael basically deflects any criticism of the book as too controversial from Debi onto himself. “Debi was wanting to go too easy on you,” he says. “I told her not to hold back.”

Debi is my sweetheart and best buddy, my best friend and my only confidante.

Finally, a line I actually like! Let’s see what comes next!

She is not by nature a passive, “lie down and roll over” woman. In our early marriage, she challenged my authority and occasionally stood against me – sometimes with reasonable provocation – and sometimes because she was just stubborn and self-willed. Admittedly, we didn’t start out with a perfect marriage; we grew into it together. Debi has strong opinions that she solidly believes in, but she has learned to be her husband’s helper in every way that a man needs a woman’s support.

Oh. Okay then.

Usually marriage advice manuals like this one go through great lengths to assure their readers that the are not saying women are supposed to be doormats, all the while telling women how to be doormats. But by saying that Debi “was not by nature a passive, ‘lie down and roll over’ woman” and going on to talk about how she has changed, Michael seems to imply that that is what she was supposed to be and now is.

Note the use of the phrase “she challenged my authority.” At the core of complementarian or patriarchal evangelical and fundamentalist marriage advise manuals is the idea that a wife is to be under the authority of her husband – i.e., she is to submit to and obey her husband. As a young wife, then, Debi did not want to do this. She stood up to her husband rather than rolling over. Over the years, though, she learned her place – to be “her husband’s helper.” I find myself thinking that I might have really liked young Debi, and I also find myself wondering exactly how and why she made the change from independent and assertive young woman to seeing her primary identity as being her husband’s helper. I suppose I may find out as I go along.

Back on topic, Michael says that when Debi “stood against him” she sometimes had reasonable provocation – presumably meaning that sometimes he himself was in the wrong – and that sometimes she was simply “stubborn and self-willed” – i.e. she herself was in the wrong (although we could have a whole conversation about what is being implied by the phrase “self-willed”). But regardless of the fact that sometimes Debi sometimes had a point, she was still in the wrong for standing up to Michael in the first place. In the patriarchal formula, regardless of who is in the right the woman must submit. And so, even as Michael admits that Debi sometimes had just cause, he emphasizes only that she refused to simply submit to his authority as she should have and he is quick to call her “stubborn” and “self-willed” while only admitting that he was sometimes at fault in a backwards manner. (Why doesn’t he say that he was sometimes “stubborn” or “self-willed”? Oh right, because he’s the one in charge, so he’s supposed to be “stubborn” and “self-willed.”)

In other words, whether a woman does right or not depends not on whether she is in the right on an issue or regarding a decision, but simply and only on whether she submits to her husband’s authority or not.

I have never met or read another author who I thought was more qualified by life and experience to write a book to women on how to become the help meet God intended. She exemplifies all that she has written. Every word of this book comes with my blessing and wholehearted agreement.

More of Michael stamping the book with his approval. By stating that “every word” comes with his blessing and agreement he is once again saying that if someone has issue with the book, they have issue with him. Once again, this is important in evangelical and fundamentalist circles, because Debi needs a stamp of approval from her male authority in order to convince people to read and consider her stuff rather than just dismissing her.

And with this stamp of approval from her husband, Debi can now actually start the book. She starts with the story of how she married Michael. You’re going to want to stay tuned, because they got engaged on their first date (if Michael giving Debi a ride home from a revival meeting counts as a “date”) and got married eight days later. Oh yes.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • John Small Berries

    “So she would cringe and add one more controversial subject after another.”

    What, exactly, is the intent of this sentence? Is it to portray her as basically a cowardly person? Or is it intended to signal that a “proper” woman will (or should) avoid controversial subjects unless forced to do so?

    • Nicholas Kapur

      I think sort of both. By phrasing it this way, Michael Pearl deftly asserts the book’s place (and author) within a bunch of gendered expectations.

      He quickly establishes that Debi Pearl has the “correct” view on subjects (which is good), that she is disinclined to speak up about her views, especially if “controversial” (also good, for a woman), and that all of the actual impetus for voicing these opinions truths comes not from a woman (bad) but directly from a man (very good).

      Over on the secular entertainment side, the most obvious parallel that comes to mind is the “reluctant action hero” archetype, which solves a similar problem: The audience wants to see him kill a bunch of people, but we have to be reassured that he really doesn’t want to, so the whole framing of the film/book/what-have-you is designed to put him in situations where he has no other choice. Similarly, Michael and Debi Pearl have to present the book in a context that is palatable to their readers, even if it doesn’t necessarily hold up under scrutiny.

    • http://ripeningreason.com/ Bix

      I think she’s also cringing because he admonished her for not fully trusting God.

    • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

      I took it to mean that, deep down, she knows the verses are nonsense and harmful, but is being bullied into including them anyway.

      • Elise

        I think I actually saw a sort of punishment in there. I got lots of messages out of that one sentence.

    • Mogg

      In the church I went to which was heavily into patriarchalism, that line would have been meant as a signal acknowledging the belief that women are usually too emotional and therefore soft on others, and would prefer to avoid the “hard” subjects, which is why you need male headship to come in to say what needs to be said without any of those feelings and crap getting in the way. They wouldn’t have used the word ‘crap’, though.

  • Nicholas Kapur

    She is not by nature a passive, “lie down and roll over” woman. In our early marriage, she challenged my authority and occasionally stood against me – sometimes with reasonable provocation – and sometimes because she was just stubborn and self-willed. Admittedly, we didn’t start out with a perfect marriage; we grew into it together. Debi has strong opinions that she solidly believes in, but she has learned to be her husband’s helper in every way that a man needs a woman’s support.

    That one paragraph also doubles as the saddest short story I’ve read in a long time.

    • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

      Meh. Having read (via here) some of Debi’s attitudes to people who don’t measure up to her standards, I’m not inclined to be sympathetic to her. The only question is whether she got that way due to submitting herself to this oppressive system, or started out like that (but I suspect the latter).

    • Emily

      I think this paragraph and the work that follows is a textbook example of oppressed people becoming oppressors themselves.

      • wanderer

        agreed. I wonder how she is not clinically depressed.
        Also, it struck me that Michael Pearl was speaking about his wife in this paragraph as I would expect a parent to talk about their child. I can’t imagine a spouse telling everyone about their partner’s stubborn & self-willed tendencies. Those are things people say about children.

      • Elise

        At least, they would never say that today. Lots of that sort of thinking….in the 17th century.

    • John Small Berries

      So wives shouldn’t stand up to their husbands even for “reasonable provocation”?

      I just can’t even imagine being married to someone who willingly becomes a human doormat. Give me a “stubborn and self-willed” partner instead of a cringing and meek subordinate any day of the week. Then again, I’m not so insecure in my masculinity that I require dominating another human being in order to feel like a real man.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Oh, but Debi Pearl thinks you DO want a “someone who willingly becomes a human doormat”! As you will see, Debi knows what every man wants. Because every man wants the same thing.

        In all seriousness, though, when I started dating Sean and he told me he wanted a partner, not someone who wound just sit down and follow what he said, I was shocked. That made no sense to me. It went against everything I’d been taught about men.

      • Elizabby

        Yes, my husband complained bitterly when I started with the “whatever you want dear” stuff a few years into our marriage. He said he married me because he liked ME not some automaton out of a book and if I wanted to know what he *really* wanted why didn’t I ask him, rather than reading a book by a strange woman? Good point.

    • KevinC

      It’s also the scariest horror short I’ve ever seen. *Shuddershuddershudder*

  • smrnda

    I think she’s probably miserable, but can’t admit it because in Fundy-world, you can’t *not* be happy with doing things the One True Way. Since she can’t be happy, she doesn’t want others to be happy – it’s kind of the ‘if I had to put up with this you will too” sort of thinking.

    Most people can get past that since they’re allowed to question the way things have always been done and to exercise autonomous moral judgment, but not these people.

    • Stony

      That pretty much sums up how I feel about religion in general. Oh, you know The One True Way? Then how come people in your same group interpret things differently? How come all the problems aren’t solved? Why does that group over there have a totally different One True Way? Why do have to shine on this happiness and why does my happiness without your One True Way offend you so?

      • smrnda

        Plus, the way you test what way things work in the real world requires that you don’t believe in a one true way since you have to test falsifiable hypothesis. I mean, as far as relationships go I think the verdict is that there is no one true way.

        Religious people tend to get around this by arguing that whether things work on earth isn’t important, but the spiritual merit of things are important, meaning if the one true way makes your life miserable, it’s only because life here doesn’t count.

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    Thinking about this, I just realized that it comes across like Tony’s reading of the Red Book ca 1950 on a Season 2 NCIS episode.

  • jillpoke

    Oh goodness, I don’t even. I just don’t understand this sort of thinking at all. I have a very egalitarian marriage and I just can’t comprehend on what words like “authority” have to do in a relationship between two adults.

  • Noelle

    Ah, so we are to learn how Debi put the passive in her aggressive. Should be interesting.

    • lucrezaborgia

      You made me scare the cat with my laughter!

      • Noelle

        :)

  • Judy L.

    The kindest thing I can say about Debi Pearl is that it’s possible that’s she’s got a chronic, deeply abcessed and festering case of stockholm syndrome.

    • Judy L.

      *that she’s got. :)

  • http://chillireception.blogspot.com/ Avenel

    Michael Pearl sounds like one of those toxic, control freak sadists. Given their advocating violence toward children, makes me wonder if Michael uses or has used violence to control Debbie.

  • http://louisebroadbentfiction.wordpress.com Louise Broadbent

    How can you get engaged after one ‘date’? (And no – I don’t think being given a lift counts as a date.) Let alone commit to spending the rest of your life with someone after being in a relationship for 8 days? And how on earth do you even plan a wedding in 8 days, anyway? Someone please explain the mentality behind this for me.

    • Christine

      Planning the wedding isn’t hard. Make sure the hymns are ones that everyone knows (so the musicians don’t have to learn them), pick your favourite readings, boom, done. At the evangelical weddings I’ve been to the sermon is random, so the pastor doesn’t really need to be consulted beyond “does this time work?” As for the reception, a lot of restaurants will cater on short notice, or they could do a potluck. I’m sure that a lot of relatives couldn’t make it, but given the overly strong focus on Michael Pearl that the couple both have, they probably thought that it was worldly and evil to make a wedding celebration about the family, and only the couple mattered, so if people can’t make the celebration it doesn’t matter at all.

      • http://louisebroadbentfiction.wordpress.com Louise Broadbent

        But what about the dress, the flowers, the cake, the venues (wedding and dinner/party, which I’m told are usually booked a year in advance), the menu, the seating plan…

      • Leigha7

        Dress: Had it made already, or used their mother’s or sisters
        Flowers: Covered by Christine, use the church’s
        Cake: For a small wedding, a simple sheet cake (or 2) is perfectly fine, and that only takes an hour or two or can be bought at a grocery store
        Venue: Church, for both wedding and reception (church hall)
        Menu: That’d be a bit trickier, but maybe the church has people
        Seating plan: Could feasibly do that in a matter of hours, especially for a small wedding

        I have no idea how *they* did it, but it’s certainly doable.

      • Christine

        I suspect that Debi and Michael’s church was small enough that it wasn’t booked a year in advance, because so few people would be getting married there. And we don’t even know if they had a reception. If you’re having a church wedding flowers aren’t necessary (I was shocked to find out that some people had to worry about them) because you can just use the church flowers. It’s quite feasible to me, if you don’t actually care about your family and friends.

    • The Ridger

      You can’t plan something huge in 8 days, but lots of people manage to married without the catered reception and the expensive venue, the multiple parties and the huge show. Even when they’ve know each other for years.

      Also, my parents had known each other for a week. They didn’t make it to 60 years because she died… of course, it was WWII when they met, so things were different than they are for Debi & Michael.

  • http://www.seditiosus.blogspot.com Schaden Freud

    Huh? Is this giong to be a BDSM manual?

    • Sarah

      The undertones of this “introduction” are heavy with hints of abuse and a touch of brainwashing. BDSM has absolutely nothing to do with either of these things, and to suggest it does- jokingly or otherwise- is offensive and further stigmatizes an already misunderstood community of people. BDSM relationships are based on consent, fulfilling the admitted desires of another person, and pleasure. This relationship, obviously, is not.

    • Richter_DL

      While it might be interesting to a BDSM afficiando as a scenario, I think both Debbie and her dom would be appaled at this sinfiul interpretation of their relationship. It’s not like she is his collared sub. She wears a ring to find her and forever bind her instead. And BDSM scenarios usually are just that; they’re nothing to actually live in. When what’s been negotiated is done everyone walks (or, if someone screwed up, limps) away.

      Actually, that relationship sounds Gorean. BDSM folks generally think Goreans are dangerous to criminal.

  • Sue Blue

    That paragraph about the Pearl’s early marriage makes me cringe and wonder exactly how he brought his “willful” wife into submission. Did he beat it out of her, isolate and verbally abuse her, or simply prey on her insecurities and the psychological damage from her patriarchal fundamentalist upbringing? Probably all of the above. These extreme patriarchal beliefs are a license for domestic violence and abuse.
    The damage these beliefs cause is also extremely pervasive and long-lasting. For years after I left my church, I found it difficult to speak my mind to a man. When I was dating my husband-to-be, he’d ask where I wanted to go, and I couldn’t say. I hadn’t even given it any thought. I automatically expected him to make all kinds of decisions, large and small, for me. He would get angry and tell me that he didn’t want a blow-up doll for a date, he wanted someone who had her own thoughts and opinions and will. He didn’t want to be the one who always had to be in charge. When I finally realized he really meant this, I opened up – but it was difficult. I also observed how my devout mother was a doormat for my father, always twisting herself into contortions trying to please him, never doing a thing for herself or asserting herself in any way. I didn’t want to become her. It took me years to become more openly assertive, and I’m still sometimes bothered when men call me a “bitch” or assume I’m a dyke because I stand up for myself and express myself strongly. Self-confidence is still an issue for me.

  • Georgina

    “So she would cringe”, definitely sounds like Stockholm’s took over somewhere along the line, and now she’s shouting to all those other women out there – who might even be enjoying the freedom she once had – “come on in the water is lovely, and the sharks are only showing their affection.”

  • Richter_DL

    The more I read about these people, the less difference from Taliban I see.


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