CTBHHM: Debi’s Abuse Meter Is Broken

Created To Be His Help Meet, p. 92

Here we come to the end of Debi’s discussion of the three types of men she lays outCommand ManMr. VisionaryMr. Steady. In this summary section, Debi compares the actions that the “Ruination Wife” can take to destroy a marriage to each of the three types with the actions the “Successful Wife” can take to heal a marriage to each of the three types. Let’s take a look:

The Command Man

The wife of Mr. Command Man can ruin her marriage by failing to honor, obey, an reverence her husband’s authority and rule.

The wife of Mr. Command Man can heal her marriage by becoming his adoring Queen, honoring and obeying his every (reasonable and unreasonable) word. She will dress, act, and speak so as to bring him honor everywhere she goes.

Here we have a restating of what Debi said in  her section on the Command Man: A woman married to a Command Man is to make herself the slave of her husband, obeying him in every word, whether reasonable or unreasonable. This is to be her lot in life, forever. And given that Debi thinks women exist simply to be a helpers to their husbands, she sees no problem with this. This is totally insane.

Notice, too, that Debi says the wife of such a man will ruin her marriage if she fails to obey her husband’s “authority and rule”—in other words, if a wife doesn’t obey her husband and that makes him upset and their marriage deteriorates, it was the woman who ruined the marriage.

The Visionary Man

The wife of Mr. Visionary can ruin her marriage by failing to follow, believe, and participate an enthusiast in her husband’s dreams and visions.

The wife of Mr. Visionary can heal her marriage by laying aside her own dreams and aspirations and embracing her role as help meet to her man, believing in him and being willing to follow him with joyful participation in the path he has chosen.

Debi here lays down the problem with her treatment of the Visionary type, which was in some ways actually quite good: She argues that women need to lay aside their own dreams and aspirations and instead support (unconditionally) the dreams and aspirations of their Visionary husbands. Saying that those married to Visionary types shouldn’t just always pour cold water on their ideas is one thing; suggesting that only the husband gets to have dreams and ambitions is another. What about the many women who commented on that post identifying themselves as Visionary types?

And also, again with the wife blaming. While it is true that being continually and only critical of the ideas and dreams of a Visionary partner will be destructive to a relationship, Debi has a very unnecessarily gendered and all or nothing view here. The options in Debi’s world are either each person having their own completely separate dreams and aspirations independently, or else the woman just giving up her dreams and aspirations and simply embracing those of her husbands. The idea that couples might make dreams and visions together, cooperatively, seems to evade her.

The Steady Man

The wife of Mr. Steady can ruin her marriage by failing to appreciate, wait on, and be thankful for her husband’s pleasant qualities.

The wife of Mr. Steady can heal her marriage by joyfully realizing what a friend, lover, and companion she has been given and living that gratitude verbally and actively. When she stops trying to change him, he will grow. She can, then, willingly take up tasks that will fill her time and give her husband joy and satisfaction when he sees her productiveness.

Honestly, my only real qualm with Debi’s treatment of Mr. Steady is that she’s not okay with a woman married to a Mr. Steady having grand dreams and bringing him along, or having a more leadership personality, or what have you. It seems to me that a Mr. Steady could benefit from a more take-charge sort of wife—something Debi comes close to admitting, but doesn’t quite get to. A concern for the male being the “leader” overpowers Debi’s ability to realize that every relationship is as different as the two people in it—and that it only makes sense for people to capitalize on their strengths and distribute the duties and obligations in a given relationship or household accordingly.

Oh, and when it comes to wife blaming, can I take a moment to emphasize how very different the way Debi says the wife of a Mr. Steady ruins her relationship is from the way a wife of a Command Man does so? I mean, Debi’s actually correct here—failing to appreciate and be thankful for a partner’s good qualities is indeed a sure fire way to ruin a relationship. What she misses is that this is true regardless of who is what gender.

Conclusion

Debi argues that men are fixed types and that women’s role is to fit themselves to the types of their husbands. Men are like rock, and women are like water (Debi does admit that most men have one dominant type but also some aspects of one or both of the other two types). In fact, Debi has even said that, before they marry, women shape themselves into complements of their ideal of what a husband ought to be like. In other words, even women who are not married still fit themselves as complements of male types.

In Debi’s parlance, “complement” does not seem to mean “balance out” or “offer a skill set currently lacking” but rather “reinforce.” In other words, the wife of a Command Man is to reinforce and serve his need for dominance instead of functioning as a good strong counterbalance to his potential for being dictatorial, or possessing the organizational or practical skills he may lack. Debi does tell the wives of the Visionary Man and Steady Man to do a bit more of balancing and offering missing skill sets—in keeping the first’s feet on the ground and being ready to do more of the day-to-day decision making in the case of the second—but I still feel that there’s huge room to debate just what it means to “complement” another person’s type. Even accepting this framing, being the complement to another person’s personality, skills, and interests is not so simple as Debi might think.

There’s something else I want to bring out, though. I feel like there’s a sliding scale of abuse in these three types, as Debi portrays them. Her portrayal of the Command Man is textbook abusive, but her portrayal of Mr. Steady has hardly any abuse to be found—I mean my goodness, she even says the Mr. Steady will likely want to bestow some of the decision making on his wife, and elevate her to equal partner beside him! Mr. Visionary appears to be in between, at least if you consider Debi’s demand that women give up their own dreams and throw themselves into the dreams of their Visionary husbands.

What does this say about Debi’s conception of the world? For one thing, I think it says that Debi’s ability to see abuse when it stares her in the face is broken. After all, she sets the Command Man alongside the Steady Man as though they’re just two types, completely unable to see that the first description is abusive beyond description while the second is almost egalitarian in framing. We saw this also in the sliding scale of the ways women can “ruin” their marriages—from not being an obedient slave in the case of the Command Man to not appreciating your husband’s pleasant qualities in the case of Mr. Steady. And this, to me, is what is perhaps most gobsmacking about this entire section.

One last note—Debi’s use of scripture continues to baffle me. She finishes this section with this verse:

Romans 12:1—I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

Is Debi not aware that Paul was writing this to men as well as to women? I mean, one would think that the use of the word “brethren” might be a tip. Still, you do see Debi’s constant focus on sacrifice emphasized here.

Next week we move on to more stories of women who failed to follow Debi’s advice, and the male victims these women left in their wakes.

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.

  • ako

    The wife of Mr. Command Man can heal her marriage by becoming his adoring Queen, honoring and obeying his every (reasonable and unreasonable) word.

    So in Debi’s world, the defining feature of a queen is how much she lets someone else tell her what to do? That’s really sad.

    The wife of Mr. Visionary can heal her marriage by laying aside her own dreams and aspirations and embracing her role as help meet to her man

    My personality fits the Visionary type pretty well, and even from a purely self-centered perspective, no. Just no. Not even a little bit. I don’t want to be with someone who has no dreams or aspirations, or who submissively follows me without any initiative or ideas of their own. There’s a difference between not immediately dismissing someone’s ideas and slavishly adhering to them.

    This is actually a sign of how badly wrong Debi gets things because she’s stuck looking through the submissiveness lens. Part of the fun for someone of the Visionary mindset is admiration, but it’s not the most important part. It’s much more enjoyable to have someone jump in with their own creative spark, bounce ideas off each other, and build up something exciting. And it’s far more useful to have someone better at being sensible and practical around who can balance things and provide a common-sense perspective. But because she insists on fitting everything into the female submissiveness framework, she both elevates admiring other people’s work to the central role and construes it in the most passive way possible.

    She can, then, willingly take up tasks that will fill her time and give her husband joy and satisfaction when he sees her productiveness.

    Because if she can’t persuade a woman to cater to an abuser’s every whim, or scrap her dreams in favor of being a passive cheerleader, at the very least she can put a pressure on them to spend all their time meeting other people’s idea of what’s productive.

    In Debi’s parlance, “complement” does not seem to mean “balance out” or “offer a skill set currently lacking” but rather “reinforce.”

    Can you imagine a relationship where someone with a strong and commanding personality was involved with a strong-willed partner who stood up to them and challenged them when they were in danger of crossing the line to unreasonably domineering behavior? Possibly even pushing them to develop gentler and more charismatic ways of leading?

    Or a relationship between a Visionary type and someone who was both sensible enough to keep their feet on the ground and inspired enough to contribute dreams and visions?

    Or a Steady type and someone who not only appreciated them, but brought a talent for leadership and decision-making to balance out their passive streak?

    That would be…pretty cool, actually.

  • Nea

    Debi’s underlying discontent still bubbles up every now and then… it’s only the type she subscribes to Dear Old Hubby that gets called unreasonable.

    You know, I have to give her this much – she inspires me. No really, she inspires me to be really good at my job and really serious about my career & education so that my future will never depend on having to suck up to a man like that because I have no other survival options.

  • MM

    One thing I realized is that the underlying assumption beneath Debi’s explanation here is that there is no “relationship” prior to marriage. Otherwise, the advice be more like “hey women, here are three types of dudes, and you need to be aware of these traits before you marry one” (which seems reasonable) rather than “now that you’ve found yourself in a marriage with Command Man, here’s how you deal.”

    This is what I imagine Debi’s subconscious is saying: “I married a guy with no socialization period and found out he is a complete asshole, but I delude myself with this garbage to make myself feel better.”

    • The_L

      When you look at the courtship model, though, that makes sense. I’ve known couples that dated for years before getting married; my parents had known each other for 8 months before getting married, and said they’d only been in such a hurry because neither of them was getting any younger. Then I start reading about courtship communities in modern fundamentalism, and…some of these people will meet a week before getting married. You can’t develop much of a relationship in a week.

  • Don Gwinn

    Wouldn’t Debbie argue that the quoted verse is about women sacrificing for their husbands, but for men it’s about sacrificing for Christ?

  • L

    Re broken abuse meter
    - I think many fundamentalists have their abuse meter broken. I think they believe they are all so set apart god would never let them abuse (that’s for evil people) or be abused (for people god doesn’t care about). Perhaps this is one big problem with the teaching that god controls everything…. Many people I know find it impossible to believe they could do something really bad, or that another parent who is sort of like them could be abusive. You must be misunderstanding, or bitter, or something (they seem to have no problem accusing someone of sin when they point out abuse)
    My parents were abusive but they would not believe me if I told them that. They were only seeking to please god (by breaking their children). John piper infamously chuckled when answering a question about wifely submission to an abusive husband. … But now here I am confronting the truth that my parents WERE abusive, and used the bible to do it, and that the god of love never stopped them and my brain is all messed up. … Currently an agnostic.

    • RevJack

      My parents were the same way and still use biblical verse to justify the way they tortured my siblings and I. I realize now that they would have been abusive no matter the religion they belonged to.

      • Nea

        One of the reasons I left religion entirely was realizing that people pick and choose it according to what they want to do anyway. That isn’t faith, that’s rationalization.

    • Rosie

      Yes, yes, yes, the fundigelical culture absolutely breaks (or never develops) one’s abuse meter. My parents were very loving, but because they believed the Focus on the Family stuff about the ONLY way to raise good godly well-adjusted children they did some things that I certainly experienced as abusive. Things which primed me for an abusive relationship later on, which I had quite a lot of difficulty recognizing. More recently I’ve been connecting these things with the foundational theology of fundamentalist and evangelical churches. That is, if you take the Bible relatively literally as a revelation of the One True God, old and new testaments together as revelations of His character, He also looks pretty abusive. And yet He is considered, by definition, to be Good. It’s no wonder it’s difficult for people who have grown up in these religions to recognize abuse and abusive tendencies, particularly in someone they’re supposed to trust by default.

  • Mornacale

    You point out that Debi allows for women to balance out the weaknesses of their husband for the Visionary and Steady men, but not Command dude. We already know that she identifies Michael Pearl as a Command guy, that he had to read through and give approval to this book before publication, AND that Debi relies on him for much of her theology. Could this be read as a sign of his particular self-serving influence? It seems like exactly the sort of things that a bossy asshole would try to convince their wife:

    - My need to be in control of every detail is God-given and admirable.
    - You can’t change me, and doing anything but obeying without question will ruin your life.
    - God commands you to obey me unquestioningly.
    - Sure, sometimes other wives don’t have to obey their husbands, but it always destroys their marriage.
    - Okay, fine, sometimes it improves their marriage, but that’s because those are different types of men. It’s okay for their wives not to be slaves, but not mine.
    - I’m never going to take out the trash, so just give up.

    Imagine the first draft of this book including advice for how women can balance out their Command Man husbands and mellow them into being more reasonable. Imagine it pointing out that expecting complete obedience even to bad decisions is messed up at best and usually abusive. I doubt that would have gone over well at home.

    • Nea

      Of course it is. I can hear Michael’s voice very clearly in Debi’s writing. “You’re stupid.” “If you don’t obey right away, it’s Satan and I’m justified in anything I do in revenge.” “Question me and I’ll leave you in poverty.” “I can replace you in a New York minute.”

      Not to mention their child rearing system, which not only advocates beating the tar out of children but lets parents manufacture reasons to beat the tar out of their children, lest they have the slightest thought of not obeying orders.

  • Lori

    How many kids have gotten an unreasonable punishment (even abusive) from a mother who was really mad at her husband but wasn’t allowed to express that to him? If you are powerless and humiliated in your primary adult relationship, might you look for an unhealthy level of power over your children?

  • smrnda

    I dislike the whole idea of ‘personality types’ since it tends to just create boxes for people to be crammed into, but it is sometimes useful. However, there’s a difference between a personality *type* and a personality *DISORDER.* The command man is the latter, not the former.

  • http://genderhash.blogspot.co.uk/ genderhash

    I think in these kind of communities, at least in the one I grew up in, Christian men Can Do No Wrong just by the virtue of being christian and male so if something goes wrong in the family it is always the woman or the children who are blamed. In this way abuse by men never ever gets dealt with

    • Mogg

      In the one I was in, the men were equally susceptible to abuse in the form of bullying and peer pressure – if something was wrong with the family it may have been partially the wife or children’s fault, but it was the man’s fault as well for not being a good head. Being demoted down the ladder of position within the church was a very real threat – it was done to quite a few elders who were full time ministers, leaving them without income or retirement benefits, but kicking people out of the choir, volunteer positions and so forth was also common – and exclusion from any activity or meeting except the main public church service was also used to get men in particular to toe the line and display sufficient cheerful-looking support for the leaders, or if their families were deemed not sufficiently good examples for some reason.

      • http://genderhash.blogspot.co.uk/ genderhash

        That’s not really the same thing as being on the receiving end of sexual or physical abuse from the man in the family and having it totally ignored or being told it was your fault though.

      • Alix

        genderhash – no, but it’s still a very real form of abuse, and the financial abuse especially can be devastating. And if I read Mogg right, these men are told it is their fault.

        I’m generally really uncomfortable with ranking forms of abuse. For a very long time, I believed my father hadn’t abused me, because it was entirely verbal/emotional abuse, and with a relatively long time between rounds. I wasn’t physically or sexually abused, and the verbal/emotional abuse wasn’t constant, so other people had it a lot worse, and I knew it. It was “not as bad” or “not the same thing” as those other forms of abuse, but it was still abuse, and it still fucked me up good.

        These fundamentalist circles have ways of breaking their men to their system just as they have ways of breaking their women and children, and both are wrong and toxic and need to be stopped.

      • Leigha7

        Same. The worst part about “ranking” types of abuse is that a lot of people who were physically abused were ALSO verbally abused, and it’s often the verbal abuse that sticks with them. Yet for some reason, our society (not just among religious groups, though even more so there) seems to be unaware that verbal/emotional abuse exists or matters.

        But honestly, the mental ordeal of fighting with yourself about whether how you were treated really counts as abuse, since no one ever laid a hand on you, sucks. Maybe it isn’t as bad as physical or sexual abuse, but does it really matter either way? It’s still abuse. We don’t ignore people with pneumonia because hey, at least they don’t have cancer. And at least people with pneumonia don’t constantly hear/think, “You aren’t really sick. If you were, you’d have cancer. It’s all in your head, and you’re making your family look bad. Now shut up.”

  • http://www.switchingclassrooms.com Lauralee

    Ugh. This is sick. What ridiculous guidance for how to live. Sad.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X