CTBHH: Subordinate, But Not Inferior

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 23-24

The role of being a perfectly fit helper does not make one inferior to the leader.

Okay, so think back to everything we’ve read so far. Debi says that women were created to be men’s helpers. She also says that when a woman obeys her husband, she is being obedient to God, that when she reverences her husband, she is reverencing God, etc. And now, coming right on the heels of all of that, she is insisting that women are not inferior to men. This is key, because it is a distinction Christian Patriarchy, and even its slightly less rigid brother complementarianism, absolutely have to be able to successfully make if they are to succeed. If they, in this day and age, were to come right out and say “women are inferior to men,” or “men are more important than women,” they would not only be in for a major PR disaster but also lose much of their following. In other words, they absolutely have to successfully make the case that women can be created for profoundly different roles from men, and yet that these roles are still nonetheless somehow equal. That is, quite simply, the case Debi is going to try to make in this passage. Let’s see if it works.

Theology Gone Wild

In order to make this case, Debi starts with some theology.

Men are created to be helpers of God.

I’m not even sure really want to make of this. I mean, I don’t believe I was ever taught that men were created to be “helpers” of God. Rather, I was always taught that humans (men and women both) were created because God wanted company. I mean, what is it that God would need men to “help” him with? And didn’t he sort of create the angels for that anyway? Either way, stating that men were created to be helpers of God, and women were created to be helpers of men, as though the two were parallel, infers that the relationship between husband and wife is supposed to mirror the relationship between God and humankind. Given how fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals view the relationship between God and humankind, this definitely does not appear to be a good way of backing up the claim that women are not inferior to men.

Jesus willingly became a helper to the father. The Holy Spirit became a helper to the son.

This is just weirder. First of all, the three mentioned here – Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit – are supposed to also be one. The idea that one part of a being could be the “helper” of another, and that the father had to ask Jesus to help him, when Jesus is him … this isn’t a Debi problem really, it’s more of a Trinity problem. But what’s weird here is that Debi is drawing a parallel between the relationship between husband and wife, the relationship between God and humankind, the relationship between the Father and Jesus, and the relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In other words, husband is to wife what God is to man, what the Father is to Jesus, and what Jesus is to the Holy Spirit. That’s just … weird.

There is no loss of dignity in subordination when it serves a higher purpose.

Remember what Debi said way back at the start of this post? She said that “The role of being a perfectly fit helper does not make one inferior to the leader.” Well, here Debi describes the relationship between husband and wife as one of wifely “subordination.” There’s just one teeny little problem here. The way she is using the terms here, subordinate and inferior are synonyms. More on this in a moment.

The Corporate Examples

A little bit earlier on Debi talked about how the employees at No Greater Joy ministries have to obey her and follow her instructions (she go co-runs the ministry with her husband). Debi insisted that the fact that those employees have to do what she says does not make them inferior to her. They just have different roles. What Debi is doing here is playing fast and lose with definitions of the word “inferior.” The common factory worker is inferior to the CEO just like a private is inferior to a corporal. Debi’s employees are, in the same way, inferior to her. And this is how Debi started out using the word inferior, as we saw above: “The role of being a perfectly fit helper does not make one inferior to the leader.” Actually, it does.

You are not on the board of directors with an equal vote. You have no authority to set the agenda. But if he can trust you, he will make you his closest adviser, his confidante, his press secretary, his head of state, his vice-president, his ambassador, his public relations expert, maybe even his speech writer – all at his discretion.

Remember that in the beginning of this section Debi set out to prove that having a different role does not make a wife inferior to her husband. The trouble is that Debi has to prove this while simultaneously arguing that the wife’s role is one of submission and obedience service while the husband’s role is one of authority and leadership. And the trouble is that by describing women’s position as one of “subordination,” Debi has already admitted that wives are indeed inferior to their husbands.

Debi is playing fast and loose with two different meanings of the word “inferior.” One definition is “lower in station, rank, degree, or grade (often followed by to): a rank inferior to colonel.” The bizarre thing is that even as she has insisted that women are to be subordinate to their husbands, submitting and following orders, she still insists that this role does not make one “inferior to the leader.”  The thing is, it does. The person who has to follow orders is by definition inferior to the person who is making the orders. Another definition of inferior, though, is “less important, valuable, or worthy.” This is where Debi is actually coming from when she insists that women are subordinate, but not inferior.

Debi is advocating that women are to be inferior inasmuch as they are to be subordinates, obeying the person in charge, i.e. their husbands. However, Debi is arguing that this does not make women inferior inasmuch as they are not “less important, valuable, or worthy.” This is the key distinction that Christian Patriarchy and complementarianism must make: Yes, women are to be subordinate to their husbands, but that does not make them of less value or mean their role is any less important.

This logic only works if one is ready to admit that the slave is not inferior in importance, value, or worth vis a vis the master and that the factory worker is not inferior in importance, value, or worth vis a vis the CEO. Inasmuch as every person, no matter their station, has value, and inasmuch as every person, from chimney sweep to president, has worth, Debi’s argument that wives are not inferior to their husbands holds up. However, inasmuch as the private is inferior to the corporal, Debi’s argument that wives are not inferior to their husbands fails, and inasmuch as the factory worker’s role is inferior to the role played by the CEO, her argument that the wife’s role is not inferior to that of her husband falls apart.

Conclusion

Debi finishes with this paragraph:

A perfect help meet is one who does not require a list of chores, as would a child. Her readiness to please motivates her to look around and see the things she knows her husband would like to see done. She would not use lame excuses to avoid these jobs. A man would know he had a fine woman if she were this kind of helper.

I should note that if I started waiting on my husband hand and foot he would wonder what was wrong with me and what had happened to the strong, independent and assertive partner he used to know and love. Debi seems to think that every man wants what her husband wants, and to be honest I think we’re learning more here about what Michael Pearl wants in a wife than anything else.

But more importantly, several of the paragraphs in this section just felt icky. Why? Because you could change just a few words and suddenly imagine a slavery apologist saying the exact same thing to an antebellum slave. In fact, if there was a how-to manual on being a good slave, it would almost certainly include paragraphs like this. Let me show you:

You do not sit at the master’s table and have a say in his decisions. You have no authority to set the agenda for a day. But if your master can trust you, he will make you his closest adviser, his confidant, his press secretary, his head of state, his vice-president, his ambassador, his public relations expert, maybe even his speech writer – all at his discretion.

A perfect slave is one who does not require a list of chores, as would a child. His readiness to please motivates him to look around and see the things she knows her master would like to see done. He would not use lame excuses to avoid these jobs. A master would know he had a fine slave if he were this kind of helper.

In arguing that having to obey and submit is just as good, valuable, and worthy as being in charge and giving the orders, Debi is engaging in rhetoric that has for millenia been used to prevent social change aimed at bettering people’s conditions. For centuries traditionalists have been telling people at the bottom levels of society that they are just as valuable as those at the top, they just have a different lot in life and need to embrace that rather than agitating for change. This rhetoric was used on serfs in the middle ages, on slaves in the antebellum period, and on exploited industrial laborers a century ago. Stay in your place and you are inferior to none. Your role is just as important as the roles of the people on top. Embrace it. Debi follows squarely in this tradition.

Next week we get to finally learn why Debi uses the phrase “help meet” and what she means by it. Not sure why she decided to wait for the very end of the first chapter to explain this, but I suppose we should simply be grateful that she takes the time to explain at all.

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.

  • Maggie Fowler

    You know, I am really starting to understand what kinds of women involve themselves in BDSM relationships. Some women have some sort of unhealthy master/slave pathology ingrained into them. I wonder how many of these that involve themselves in BDSM relationships came from abusive, strict, western religious based households. When I hear women make the comments you just demonstrated, I cannot help but think, they are just few concessions away from being the sort of person that would accepting of a BDSM lifestyle if their husband so choose. UGH.

    • Slow Learner

      If you want to understand BDSM, I would recommend going and reading up on it; a good, accessible starting point is Clarisse Thorn (http://clarissethorn.com). You’re not going to understand it by analogy with Christian Patriarchy.
      Because to be honest, what Debi describes is way out on the outer fringe of what ‘BDSM’ can mean – and beyond it, because I don’t think there’s any part of the BDSM sub-culture that says you have a God-given duty to act like this – so the idea that you see this and go “it looks like BDSM” is a little disturbing.
      To put a huge and complicated issue briefly, it is entirely possible to be feminist and into BDSM, it is not possible to be a feminist and agree with Debi Pearl, and yes that is important.

    • Don Gwinn

      OK, so people only practice BDSM because they are women with serious mental health issues.
      How do you explain male subs and female dome?
      Don’t forget to explain switches, who play both roles depending on mood and situation.
      You’ve taken Debi Pearl’s wild generalization of her husband’s demands, left the subject entirely, and responded with a wild generalization about somebody different from a different point of view. But does your generalization hold up?

    • http://noadi.etsy.com Noadi

      No. No, no, no, no, no, that is not how the vast majority of BDSM relationships work. Yes, there are some unhealthy BDSM relationships, we are talking about relationships between real people and that means that some people will form relationships that aren’t good for them. However it’s at no higher rate than normal.

      First of all not all BDSM relationships have female submissives. My own relationship is egalitarian but is still a BDSM relationship. The strongest pair in a Dom/sub relationship I know is female led with a male slave. People get into BDSM relationship for many reasons, the main one being that it is what works for them. It doesn’t work for everyone and I don’t know of anyone with any standing in the community who thinks that everyone should have a 24/7 heterosexual Dom/sub relationship with the man in charge. Someone who argued that would probably get laughed out of the room (unless it’s a room full of Goreans, I said not everyone is healthy and they are on the fringes of BDSM like extreme fundamentalists are on the fringes of Christianity).

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

        I was about to post that it sounded like a Christian version of a Gor novel.

    • Fina

      Except that BDSM is all about communication – and that the submissive actually has the ultimate say in what goes and what not.
      The submissive is the one who determines what aspects of the relationship are subject to the D/s-dynamic. Many chose not to apply that dynamic in their daily life at all, and any good (=non-abusive) dominant will accept that without argument.
      It’s not just safewords – it’s properly discussing what you are comfortable with, and stuff being off the table and not attempted in the first place. On other words, it’s about setting firm boundaries in your relationship.

      BDSM and christian patriarchy are COMPLETELY different.
      Because the D/s-part of BDSM is ultimately about voluntarily chosing to surrender some of your autonomy to another person who you trust and where you know that you won’t be abused.
      Christian Patriarchy doesn’t give you any choice – you have to surrender all autonomy completely, no questions asked, and if you’re abused there is no recourse or way out.

      There have been several studies that showed that the claim that submissives were abused in their childhood just isn’t true. Sure, some were – but no more than amongst completely vanilla people.

      • jadehawk

        yeah, many of the D/s relationships I’m familiar with limit the BDSM aspects to “scenes”. and when the scene is over, it’s back to egalitarianism. Not at all comparable to the total submission ordered by the complementarians/Christian Patriarchy folks

    • http://kingdomofsharks.com/ D Johnston

      BDSM generally doesn’t involve what you’re describing, save some extreme forms of power play that are rare to the point of not existing. It’s just a form of sexual roleplaying, one in which one person is dominant over the other – something that’s true of most sex acts, if you think about it.

    • http://thaliasmusingsnovels.com/ Amethyst

      Sometimes women enter BDSM relationships with other women, sometimes men enter them with other men, and sometimes men voluntarily submit themselves to women in such a relationship. And it’s my understanding that, in many cases, the dom/sub stuff is limited to the bedroom, and the relationship is otherwise egalitarian.

  • Slow Learner

    An interesting passage – it strikes me especially that, in trying to hold up a logic-busting “You are subordinate but not inferior! By being number 2 you are really number 1!” Debi Pearl reaches for another logic-busting concept in the Trinity.
    Because it’s broken in exactly the same way, but of course the Trinity is much better established, has many more clever sophistical arguments ranged in its defence, and – crucially – is something Debi’s target audience can already be expected to believe. I think that’s the value of bringing it up here.

  • chris buchholz

    Perhaps to test her theory out, we can do a word cloud on every speech on male female relations, and see how many times men, as leaders, are encouraged to be the servant and to be the lowest, and how many times women are told they are the submissive helpers, and see what we come up with?

    It is just human nature, that when there is a hierarchy, the people at the top often think they deserve their position through merit and little else, and so think they are better than the people below them. Jesus tried to teach otherwise, but not many people get it, including Debi Pearl. Did she write a book on how husbands must serve their wives and empower them to be their best, because that’s the job of a leader?

    • http://kingdomofsharks.com/ D Johnston

      My guess is Debi wouldn’t be permitted to give men instruction like that. Those books would have to be written by men. It’s all part of the subtle sex segregation that’s part of these movements. Women aren’t kept inside and out of sight like in some places in times, they’re merely socialized in such a way that they can’t truly interact with men (and vice versa).

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    The “men and women have different roles but that doesn’t make women inferior” argument works if all women naturally would rather be in those “woman roles” and naturally would rather be followers rather than leaders. Unfortunately (heh, okay, FORTUNATELY) that’s not true, and patriarchy/complementarianism runs into problems when it tries to restrict women to stay in the “right” roles.

  • http://ripeningreason.com/ Bix

    I read Rousseau’s “Emile” recently and it struck me how very similar some of the language and arguments were to those currently espoused by Christian Patriarchy, in relation to women and their role in marriage and society. There were substantial differences of course–Rousseau was more into women being ornamental rather than helpful, although he does use the world “helpmeet”, or its French equivalent–but there were parts that sounded an awful lot like Debi Pearl. A lot about women being created to serve men, they should always strive to please men (so that men don’t get angry), they should be taught obedience at an early age, they have to suffer injustice at the hands of men–but they have the power to change hardhearted husbands by being extra submissive! He also tells a young married couple that consent for sex is important “even in marriage”, and the young man reluctantly agrees to give up his rights to his wife’s body, and Rousseau tells the wife that she should refuse sex to seem chaste and therefore valuable to her husband, and also to manipulate him, basically. So nothing whatever about the wife being an actual person. All about how the wife shouldn’t seem to want sex too much, and should manipulate her husband because she has no direct access to power and consequently has to be cunning about getting what she wants. The more things change…

  • smrnda

    Subordinate DOES mean unequal. There’s no way of getting around it. The person in charge *expects* subordinates to obey. The thoughts and feelings of the person in charge counts – the thought and feelings of the subordinates do not count, or the person in charge *might* be nice a few times, but in the end, we know who gets what they want.

    Her examples of ‘subordinate but not unequal’ fail totally. Generals and politicians use soldiers as cannon fodder and pawns for their own agendas and egos. CEOs matter and treat workers like disposable trash – seriously, the CEO of a company and the Chinese worker are equal?

    What I really think is that there is a huge hatred of equality in these people, but they can’t come out and say “some people are masters and others should be slaves!”

  • ADonnaMoos

    Hah, Trinity problem. Have you ever tried explaining the Trinity to someone who isn’t familiar with Christianity? You get into the weeds pretty quickly.

  • Beth

    It is quite a project to tackle this book. Good insights.
    I would love to hear you tackle other relationship ideologies like BSDM as well.

    • Rosie

      I wouldn’t call BDSM a relationship ideology. It’s an option, sure, but I’ve never heard anybody say that it’s the only way anybody can possibly be happy in a relationship, the way Debi claims her formula is. And if you want to learn more about BDSM, the place to go is bloggers who practice it. Clarisse Thorn, Cliff Pervocracy, and I’m sure there are many others I know nothing about.

  • BabyRaptor

    This woman is…I don’t even know. Is she willfully lying, hoping that the women who listen to her aren’t that educated, or does she honestly think that words don’t really have meaning, and she can just change what they mean to suit her agenda from sentence to sentence?

    Also, my fiance would immediately lose all interest in me if I started acting like this. He would completely despise me, most likely. And my fiance is more a man than most Patriarses will ever be.

    • Rosie

      My guess is she’s trying to convince herself. I sounded quite a bit like her when I was following the religious teachings of my youth to their logical conclusion and was in an abusive relationship (with a man majoring in Bible and Evangelism at a Baptist university). Luckily, I got out of it. She hasn’t yet.

  • MM

    My mom and two sisters essentially held to Debi’s philosophy and it worked out pretty well…and by “well” I mean my mom is divorced, sister1 is divorced and now remarried to a listless shlub who she can’t motivate to get his act together because that wouldn’t be “submissive”, and sister2 is getting divorced and is on her way to become an atheist. Needless to say, this philosophy only “works” for a small percentage of women that commit to it…the rest end up in miserable marriages where the men have no incentive to tend to their wives’ needs and both people just end up hating each other, but they stay together because divorce is ZOMG the worst thing ever (sure it’s not ideal, but shit happens and it can end up being the healthiest option). In my mom’s case, this mean that my dad cheated on her, but she hung on because “god created her to be a wife.” Same thing happened to sister1, but her husband was like “peace, I’m out”, otherwise she’d have hung on too. Neither my dad nor my former bro-in-law had an incentive to actually make their wives happy, because my mom and sister always bent over backwards to play the role of good, submissive wife. I suppose decent guys wouldn’t have done such a thing, but like I mentioned in a previous comment, Christian men are raised (whether explicitly or implicitly) to expect their wives to be compliant.

    My mom is also the leader of a very large women’s bible study and I hear this type of story from her all the time…the men totally treat their wives like shit, the wives remain “submissive” but completely lose any interest in having fun (not to mention sex) in the marriage, leading the husbands to cheat or go to stripclubs or whatever…the irony is that these women are the most bitter, man-hating people I’ve ever met, yet they’ll claim, with a totally straight face, that women must be submissive and men are the leaders of the household.

    I don’t mean this to sound like men don’t share the blame…what I mean is that this philosophy breeds asshole men and bitter women…it’s just that the men largely get a pass while the women get the shaft.

    • Liberated Liberal

      No. You have it absolutely wrong.

      We Liberal Feminists hate men and are out to destroy them. And eat babies.

      That said, I’ve seen what you are talking about with some of my own family members, though not quite as badly.

      • Richter_DL

        You forget the thing with mens genitals and large, red scissors.

  • Beth

    Libby,

    I know your focus in on fundamentalist Christians and the extreme views you were raised with. Do you ever get into other beliefs (non Christian) that are controversial. Do you think BDSM is a healthy relationship?

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

      I don’t know anything about BDSM, so I can’t comment. My understanding, though I may be wrong, is that BDSM is a sort of sex-play where there are code words and one partner is in control while the other must obey, and both derive pleasure from it, not something that characterizes an entire relationship. I could be wrong, though, because like I said, I really don’t know anything about BDSM. Sorry!

      • Beth

        An example from here http://lovedandspankedwife.wordpress.com/

        “As those of you who read my blog on a regular basis know, my DH has been gone for a while with work. This has been a hard time for both of us. He is home right now for a visit before he has to go back.

        I have slipped a lot in my language and my behavior with him gone a lot these last 6 months, so it has been decided that we will be doing a mini boot camp this weekend. I am expected to obey immediately and not to argue with him. We did a maintenance spanking last night and again this morning. I am a bit sore but not to bad. I’m sure that will change by the end of the day.

        I know that I really need this time with him because last night I kept moving out of position even during the first few swats. This is a huge sign that I am not where I should be in terms of DD. I did do better this morning though, so maybe I’m not in as bad a place as I first thought.”

      • Beth

        Actually that is called domestic discipline. Either way there are all kinds of unhealthy relationship advice out there.

      • Beth

        http://www.christiandomesticdiscipline.com/links.html

        Christian domestic discipline is a form of BDSM. Just thought I would give you more info. It is an even more extreme version of helpmeet. I have no idea how popular it is. Hopefully not too popular. It is very distressing to me even reading about it.

      • Richter_DL

        It is a popular fetish fantasy, too, probably because it is so widely practiced in certain circles.

      • lucrezaborgia

        I wouldn’t take that site as the arbiter of BDSM tho from the surface that relationship looks really troubled. Here is a better site: http://thebeautifulkind.com/ Tho she’s more sex positive, she does discuss BDSM and lives it somewhat

      • Richter_DL

        There are extreme expressions, but by and large, BDSM is about people who like to treat sex as an extreme sport of some kind.

    • Beth

      BDSM is way more than sex play. Some relationships involve spanking the woman on a regular basis if she has been “bad” It is a whole relationship belief. There are even Christian BDSM relationships. You are doing a good job pointing out the sickness in the Debi’s book. I was just wondering if you are so focused on the Christian world that you do not write on other relationship extremes which I believe BDSM is. In the end maybe you could define what you believe a healthy marriage looks like. There are other marriages to examine also, like polygamists. We know Debi’s advice is not good for women but what about polygamy? Does this harm women? I brought all this up because I saw the comments defending BDSM and I didn’t know if there was some connection between the commentors and you because they felt they needed to defend the practice. I’m still trying to figure out the extend of the topics you will write on. You do have a clear focus but when you start pointing out unhealthy extremes it brings to light other controversial relationships.

      • Steve

        Not all people who are into BDSM live it as a lifestyle all the time. It can extend beyond the bedroom, but it doesn’t have to.

      • Borealis

        Beth, I’m not going to try to convince you that BDSM is healthy overall (though I think it often can be), but I do want to make sure you know that most of the people involved in it are well aware that pleasure, pain, and power are potentially dangerous. My only real contact with the BSM community has been reading, but I’ve been continually impressed by the thoughtfulness and care with which many kinksters approach BDSM. For many of them, the desires they express are very long-standing. Many have tried relationships and sex-lives without a BDSM element and found them lacking. Many were, for a time, disturbed by their own desires. As individuals and as a community they have worked to find ways to reconcile all of these facts in ways that allowed them to live out their desires in ethical ways. (Of course, not all of them are so conscientious; I recently read a series of posts by BDSM blogger discussing abuse within the community and what the community can and should be doing about it.)

        A large part of what distinguishes the sort of power-dynamic present in what I would consider to be healthy BDSM from the sort of relationships that Pearl advocates is that Pearl seems to try very hard to explain away the appearance of abuse whereas BDSMers seem to spend a great deal of thought and energy negotiating practical mechanisms to allow them to engage in normally-abusive activities in non-abusive ways. Whether you think they succeed or not is of course a matter for research and thought, but I think it is important to acknowledge that they are aware of the potential problems and put a great deal of work into solving and avoiding them. (Once they have done that, they also spend a lot of time playing out those negotiated dynamics, often with less discussion and therefore transparency. I don’t know what is going on with any of the couples you have come across but it is possible that what you have read comes from a time after most of that negotiation has been done making it invisible to you; that is perhaps not the best place to start reading.)

        (Hi Libby Anne, I hate to let my first comment participate in wandering off-topic, but I’m afraid that’s just what has happened. I’ve been reading for awhile now, but you and your commenters usually know so much more about the subject at hand [and I am so incapable of posting anything on the internet that I have not spent a great deal of time composing], that I usually stay quiet.)

      • Azelea

        Explain to me why in BDSM porn they refer to women as whores, sluts, or worse, and why this is prevalent, without mentioning misogyny. Explain to me why men find it “humiliating” to be a woman (or “feminized”) in BDSM scenarios without mentioning misogyny. Explain to me the appeal for a man to spit on the face of a woman and call her a worthless cum dumpster without mentioning him getting some sort of stupid ego boost of perceiving her as his inferior. And vice versa as well, how is sadism a positive human trait in any way, shape, or form?

        And why should I respect someone who allows another to treat them with disrespect? I certainly won’t.

      • Kali Blaze

        Ah, so your opinions are being primarily informed by porn. That’s helpful to know.

        Porn is primarily created for the male gaze, usually to the exclusion of having any regard for women. The use of the type of language you’re referring to is common across the industry, not limited to BDSM. Just looking at the titles of ‘typical’ porn would tell you that.

        What you’re describing doesn’t sound appealing to me at all (though I know it does appeal to some). But having a lover blindfold me, or tie me up, or cause the kind of pain I enjoy, that I like. It’s not disrespect. It’s respect for my desires. How? Because before any of these things ever happened, we sat down, and I explained what I liked and how I liked it. Just like vanilla sex, it is always my option to call a halt at any time.

        If anything, done properly, BDSM is profoundly respectful, because it is all based on trusting the recipient’s limits and listening to what they want. You could say that in the scheme of things, we’re all eating dinner out at a restaurant, some of us are just ordering off a larger menu. The same things that cause harm in vanilla relationships – lack of respect, lack of communication, lack of honesty, acting without consent – are the things that cause harm in BDSM relationships. The stakes are just a bit higher.

      • Fina

        First of all, BDSM refers to several things.
        The most common interpretation of the acronym is “Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/submission, Sadism/Masochism”.

        A lot of that is done very casually – if you handcuff your husband to the bed, that’s Bondage and thus part of BDSM. If you roleplay as a maid being punished, that would be Discipline. If you like scratching your partner during sex, or like being spanked, that would be Sadism/Masochism. If you roleplay being a slave who has to obey her master, that would be Dominance/submission.

        Now there IS a “relationship-philosophy”, and it mostly revolves around the D/s-aspect of BDSM. I am living in one myself, and i am the submissive one (though my Dominant is also female).
        There is still a huge spectrum to it – but we CAN draw a clear line where it does become unhealthy.
        And that’s the same part where any other form of relationship becomes unhealty – when you stop caring about your partners well-being, when you use emotional manipulation to get what you want despite your partner not wanting it, when you can no longer communicate properly, when you just want to get out of the relationship but are afraid to – all the classis parts of abuse that happen in every “relationship-philosophy”.

        And yes, the potential for abuse is more severe in a BDSM-relationship than in a regular one – just like the potential for abuse is greater if you are married than when you are casually dating (simply because you are more co-dependent on your partner and have invested more emotionally).
        But the BDSM-community is very aware of that. There’s advice on how to recognize a abusive Dominant on almost every major website and in every community i know. And advice to get out of such a relationship. It’s a recognized problem.

        Communication and caring for the others needs is also a very big deal in the BDSM-community. If you read a “advice on how to be a dominant”-list, then “be aware and respect your submissives limits and needs” is almost always somewhere on top of that list.
        And unlike christian patriarchy, those limits and needs as set by the submissive – instead of being preached as being universal to every submissive, or that a submissive has to fulfil her Dominants every need.

        As i said before – BDSM is all about communication, being aware of each others limits, being sensitive about each others needs and everything being voluntary and consensual.
        Emotionally manipulating a submissive – by withholding love, cruel comments, asking over and over again despite a clear no etc. – is a big No-Go. Whereas it is expected of the husband in christian patriarchy.

      • lucrezaborgia

        The biggest difference between the Patriarchy crowd and the BDSM crowd? “Because god says so” is the patriarchy crowds answer for everything when it comes to female submission. You cannot please god by being anything but submission. Your very salvation is at risk if you do not submit.

        BDSM is typically a consensual thing that has nothing to do with god though there are Christian oriented sites. Again, your salvation isn’t on the line. Most of the time it is also very consensual and I would argue that people in patriarchy who do greatly enjoy the power dynamic could be classified as a D/s relationship if it weren’t so focused as being about pleasing god.

        As for myself, BDSM isn’t the big bad scary thing most people think it is. Maybe you are thinking of that piece of shit book “50 Shades of Grey”? That definitely isn’t a proper D/s relationship.

      • Silentbob

        Beth, condemning all of BDSM because some people cross the line into domestic violence is like condemning all sex because some men commit rape.

        BDSM is a label for a sexual fetish that a lot of people enjoy and indulge in for fun, of their own free will. It is typically entirely consensual. Like sex, it is only “bad” if it is non-consensual, or consent is coerced in some way. (Claiming God has ordained it is a form of coercion.)

      • Richter_DL

        BDSM is way more than sex play *for some people*, usually with issues. It is highly interesting to see the similarities between what they practice (research ‘Gorean’ if this interests you) and fundamentalist approaches to marriage, as the Pearls, for instance, suggest. As such, the extreme BDSM relationships are nothing but a rehash of ultra-fundamentalist, assymetrical relationships as fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity, Wahhabism and orthodox Judaism practice them. Just for people who approach sex as an extreme sport. As such, whether they like to have sex being tied to a wall upside down is not the central element to the abusive nature of the relationship, but a model of a relationship that is a LOT older than the BDSM movement (which is a very heterogenous crowd, much like the LGBTQUI-all-kinds-of-letters crowd). Which is just as much “a type of relationship” as all kinds of non-standard gender mix relationships are, incidentally.

    • B.

      (Sorry this is a rather old post and comment – still felt this remark was needed!)

      There are some great responses demystifying the actual nature of BDSM here, definitely. One more thing to keep in mind, though, is that for many people in that community, their play extends onto the Internet. Blogs about a couple’s experiences often aren’t meant to be educational – they’re for the couple to roleplay and get a charge from the process. It’s kind of like sending “naughty” emails.

      Borealis points out that it’s possible in the specific blog you linked, Beth, that the negotiation has already played out. In this case, it could be fulfilling for the woman (and the man) to post about her experiences and put up a little fuss – but if there were actual objections, in a healthy BDSM relationship, they would talk about it with one another and stop that kind of play until the problem was properly addressed. We don’t know about the specific couple for sure, but that’s how a healthy relationship would work, and that’s the model newbies are presented with. (I will note that Christian Domestic Discipline can be rather shady, though, given the religious basis. Perhaps find a more representative example.)

      The Internet is not just a learning space but a play space for the BDSM community, and this is why you’ll come across a female sub telling her male dom that she’s in her proper place as a woman – they don’t actually believe it, but it’s fun for them, and not every post will come with a disclaimer that everything is pretend and agreed upon ahead of time.

      (My apologies, also, to be off topic! I’m really too disgusted by this book to have much to say on the matter.)

      • Azelea

        And why do you think “play” misogyny is fun? All they’re doing is perpetuating it. Yet these same feminists will cause an outcry when a rape joke is told, yet they’re making jest of misogny.

        Such hypocrisy.

    • Azelea

      BDSM is disgusting when you get down to the sexism used it. Why do you think women self-refer as whores and sluts or request for a man to call them those terms? Because of horrible negative socialization. That’s the reason you’ll see women being called cum dumpsters, whores, stupid sluts, etc in porn, but you won’t see men being called these terms unless it’s in “humiliation porn,” where the man is “feminized,” as it’s apparently so degrading for a man to be likened to a woman.

      Not only that, it’s disturbing that there’s a whole subculture that glamorizes sadism. There’s nothing nice or pretty or even morally good about sadism. The world would be a better place with the complete absence of it.

      • Kali Blaze

        Wow, you have an impressive lack of understanding. It really sounds like your opinion of BDSM is informed purely by porn. To get an idea of how skewed a perception that is, just think about the way ‘regular’ heterosexual porn tends to portray relationships – how common are the same words you’re reporting are part of BDSM? Acts like a ‘facial’ or a ‘gang-bang’ that are based on degradation?

        Referring to women as whores and sluts is known as degradation and/or humiliation. It is true that some in the community are into that. But most people who swing that way aren’t.

        I’m mildly submissive sexually (which is mildly ironic because I’m very strongly personality-dominant, particularly in my current relationship), and I find that the right kind of pain makes the pleasure of sex more intense, like turning up the contrast on a monitor – the brights and darks get much sharper in opposition to each other. I don’t tolerate degradation or humiliation, and I’m far from the only person who feels that way. Also, there’s nothing in BDSM that says that a top will be male and a bottom female.

        Having said that, if a person WANTS BDSM practices, and gets it from a sexual partner, where is the harm? It is like being homophobic simply because you are not attracted to people of your same gender. In both cases, no one is even suggesting that you should, or that there’s universality to it – all they’re saying is ‘I like it, please keep your judgment out of my sex life.’

  • Stony

    I refrained from commenting today but events conspire…..after 20+ years in industry I can equivocally say that there is zero, zip, nada, no equality in workplace culture. Not sure from your article, Libby Anne, whether you or Debi used the corporate analogy, but it is incredibly off-base. In all but the loosest, hippest companies, hierarchy reigns, and it is clearly, if often tacitly defined. Here’s a simple example: the guys in the field typically stay in extended-stay hotels. Folks at my level stay at mid-range hotels. Execs and sales guys stay at full-service hotels. Step out of those norms, and you and your expense voucher will be questioned. There are many more examples….it AIN’T equal, it IS inferior, and it IS subordinate.

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

      It was Debi who suggested the example, arguing that her employers at No Greater Joy ministries weren’t inferior to her even though they have to do what she says because she’s top boss lady.

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  • Morgan

    “Subordinate, but not inferior”… anyone else reminded of the segregationist mantra of “separate but equal”?

  • ttch

    Let’s see: Debi Pearl says that women are created to be helpers to their husbands, but that does not mean that wives are inferior to their husbands. She also says that this relationship is analogous to men being created to be helpers of God. Logically that means that men are not inferior to God.

    Perhaps this is theologically suspect but the equation Husband=God does fit all versions of patriarchy.
    —–
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2012/11/03/dan-fincke-just-didnt-love-jesus-enough/#comment-183294

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