Kings, Queens, Spheres, and Kingdoms

I remember being over at a friend’s house when her dad called to say he was on his way home. My friend’s mom immediately went into motion: “The king is coming, the king is coming! Quick guys, clean up, make everything ready, the king is coming!” I also have memories of my mother saying that my father was the king, but she was the queen. Even Debi Pearl herself has used the king/queen husband/wife motif inCreated To Be His Help Meet.

But a recent commenter drew attention to something interesting in yesterday’s post. See, there’s a weird sort of tension in this king/queen husband/wife analogy, and we see this tension all the time in Debi’s work.

I think the Pearls must be outliers even in their ultra-patriarchal community, which is terrifying. Their teaching goes beyond even some of the most fundamentalist I’ve heard. As a Christian, I reject the teaching that women must only be in charge of domestic life, but most teachers in the movement try to appease the women by saying they are in charge of the home sphere, while the men are in charge of work or public life. They say women are the queens and managers of their homes. But in Debi’s world, even the domestic sphere belongs fully to the man.

This commenter is right, and before I ran out of time I was planning to mention something in yesterday’s post about the idea that Debi was rather contradicting the idea that a wife’s sphere is the home while the man’s sphere is the  public realm, an idea quite common in evangelical and fundamentalist culture (and an idea, I might add, that originated in the antebellum period among the emerging middle class). This idea is all over in evangelical and fundamentalist culture, and it uses rhetorical flourishes to suggest a relationship between two equals, two individuals who simply have authority in different spheres.


Saying that the wife is the queen and manager of the home is almost always a feint. The reason is that the wife is still required to submit to and obey the husband, even in the home. She is never granted (by the church, that is) the authority to dictate to the husband even in matters related to cooking or cleaning or household management. I saw this with my own parents as my father responded to various tensions in his life by attempting to control how my mother did things around the house—and while he was not always successful, my mother did believe it was his right to do so (and not just because she read Debi Pearl).

The commenter I quoted above hints at this, too:

Instead of a scenario where man is a king and woman is a queen (which is weird enough), Debi wants wives to act like subjects, peasants of the kingdom who enjoy none of the privileges of royalty and are at complete mercy of the king’s whims. Debi doesn’t even say your husband is the president and you are the First Lady (antiquated enough). No, you are a random citizen, and how weird of a marriage analogy is that? Why does she think this way? She gains nothing out of this, did Michael just brainwash her?

The thing is, while queens historically did enjoy some privileges of royalty, they were in practice often no less at the mercy of the king’s whims than were the king’s subjects. The queen made decisions regarding how things were run in the women’s quarters, and she had some degree of influence over the king if they had a connection (and if they didn’t, she didn’t), and she was the one who would bear, raise, and influence the king’s heir, but that was really it. The king ran the kingdom, and the queen had to abide by his will.

And maybe that’s why I look askance at the king/queen husband/wife motif. Debi moves the king/queen relationship (something she has used more than once) toward a king/subject relationship, but really, how much of a move is that? Queens were always expected to live their lives subject to their husbands’ whims and desires, and even those fundamentalists and evangelicals who speak of women being “queens” or “managers” of their homes usually turn around and reaffirm that yes, a wife must submit to her husband’s desires even in domestic matters.

How about you? If you have had experience with evangelicals or fundamentalists or have been one yourself, how have you seen this king/queen husband/wife motif used?

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.

  • Space Blizzard

    ““The king is coming, the king is coming! Quick guys, clean up, make everything ready, the king is coming!””

    I literally stared at my screen and said, out loud to an empty room, “what the f***????” when I read this.

    • Katherine Hompes

      I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who did that…

      • Kat

        Me too.

    • alwr

      See, I didn’t. It reminded me of being at my aunt and uncle’s house around 4 p.m. on any weekday. A bit before, cousin #1 would be dispatched to watch the road for uncle’s truck to come around the corner. When it did, he would yell out that he was coming. Cousin #2 would run to the special beer refrigerator and get a can of beer which would have to be opened and set in front of his bar stool the moment he crossed the threshold. Aunt would hurry to make sure the newspaper and the day’s mail was in order and also placed there and all would have to become quiet in deference to him. Except this family was not in the least religious. They were merely enablers for a raging alcoholic. It is all dysfunction. Doesn’t matter what it is wrapped up in, that is all it is. And it doesn’t have to be cloaked in religion to happen.

      • Levedi

        Yeah. That was my first thought too – this is the reaction of fearful slaves, not joyful family members.

    • Hat Stealer

      I took it to be a bit tongue-in-cheek. That might just be the fact that I’ve had very little personal experience with fundamentalist families, but in most of the families I’ve directly observed, such a statement would be made somewhat sardonically.

      • herewegokids

        Yeah no. You have NO idea. Which is a good thing. For you.

    • Kellen Connor

      I would have, but I’m in a public library.

    • Nancy Shrew

      There’s the joke that the fastest land animal is the teenager who realizes that their parents are going to be home in ten minutes and they still haven’t emptied the dishwasher, but that is just… wow.

  • sylvia_rachel

    “The king is coming, the king is coming! Quick guys, clean up, make everything ready, the king is coming!”

    WHAT?! O_O

    • Kate Monster

      This to me seems more of a way to make cleaning up part of a game than a real coronation of fathership. I think it’s just a way to introduce the topic–like, “Here’s a game some people play when it’s time to pick up toys, and some people take it LITERALLY?!?!”

      That might just be me though.

  • Christine

    I know I’m just echoing what everyone else has already said, but WTF? They actually referred to him as the “king”?

    I need to stop being surprised by this. I read all the stuff here about modesty culture being about protecting the men, and thought “hmmm, yeah, that’s probably a good point about the origins of this stuff”, and then saw that there are actual arguments in favour of modesty made, which openly says it’s about the men. (I had assumed that it was just a more extreme, more judgy version of normal modesty teachings.) I heard about purity culture, and thought “gee, that’s awful, I wonder why people can’t see that’s what they’re teaching.” Then I came across a blog from someone who was immersed in it (and thought it was good) that explicitly said “purity”.

    Those of us outside of the conservative Evangelical subculture really don’t realise that those of you who broke out aren’t analysing what’s happening, you’re just describing it straight up. (Yes, I know Debi says “king”, but it looks like more of a metaphor to the rest of us.) “Yeah, that’s a messed up way to see the world. Wait, they actually know that they see it that badly?!”

  • Starlady

    I’m another who thought, “????????????????” because I couldn’t imagine my father trying that on. Then I did imagine it, and my mother’s probably reaction, and I got a tremendous fit of the giggles.

    Or have I misunderstood? Did your friend’s Dad actually expect this as his due?

    Seriously, if I’d come across that in a novel or something, I’d have thought it was wildly implausible. No adult could possibly expect that level of deference unless they were seriously delusional.

    I suppose it would depend on your definition of “delusional”.

    I’ve seen 4-year-olds thinking they could pull this off, but not adults.

    (Although, come to think of it, purity culture assumes hat men have as much self-control as the average 4-year-old, so…)

    • ako

      It does sound a lot like when my niece was five, and playing at being queen. One of my cousins was picked to be the royal servant, and she’d call for him shouting “Royal Servant!” in hilariously demanding tones. (I started an anarchist revolution, and after everyone started shouting “Anarchy! Anarchy!”, the rather confused queen began going “NRQ! NRQ!” to join in, so we all agreed the revolution had succeeded. Much more fun than the fundamentalist version, although my mom was a bit annoyed at no longer being Prime Minister.)

      • Tracey

        NRQ? That’s adorable!

      • AndersH


    • MrPopularSentiment

      My dad sort of tried it (he told my mom that he shouldn’t have to cook because that was “women’s work”). So my mom left, and my dad had to do all the cooking for the family for two years before she came back with a custody suit :P

      As for the “the king is coming!” stuff, I could totally see doing that as part of a game, as a way to get imaginative kids to enjoy getting dinner ready and the house cleaned up. I could even see maintaining it through the evening simply because it seems like fun, and because I’m a total medieval history buff. But it absolutely would not confer any special status or authority to my husband, and it would end as soon as either I or the kids got bored.

      • Mel

        I prefer the “Clean Up!” song. It works in lots of circumstances.

      • MrPopularSentiment

        This may change as my son grows, but the song stuff doesn’t work for him. Whereas turning into a game (and, as he gets older, increasingly he prefers imaginative games) does.

        But yeah, there’s a world of difference between a game and an enactment of the relative power positions in the family.

  • MrPopularSentiment

    Just a little quibble from a history buff, the queen may not have actually had any say in the raising/influencing of the heirs. Common practice when monarchy was in vogue was for the royal children to be raised by servants in infancy, and then sent off as wards as soon as they were old enough.

    Really, a queen’s power came largely through a) grants from the king, and b) the power of her family (and the king’s need/fear of them). There have been queens who’ve taken power in a pretty major way, but they were anomalies.

  • Sheryl Westleigh

    Little historical quibble: some queens were incredibly powerful in their own right and not through the king. Eleanor of Aquitane for example actually ruled a larger piece of real estate than did either of her husbands (first the King of France and then the King of England). It makes their argument about the queen being in charge of the domestic sphere even more laughable in the historical context. When kings and noblemen were away their wives ran things and that was quite frequent during the Crusades, noblewomen were often well educated for the reason that they were expected to be in charge in their husband’s place.

    • Gillianren

      Though we shouldn’t be citing Eleanor as an example of a great parent, either! That was probably one of the most dysfunctional royal families in English history, and I’m counting that of Henry VIII. And no argument can be made that his wives had any power that Henry didn’t give them. Anne of Cleves was lucky to get out as “the king’s good sister,” after all.

      • Sheryl Westleigh

        I would never hold her up as a model of parenthood (notice nowhere did I mention her parenting) but her role as an incredibly politically powerful woman in her own right is impressive. Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine of Aragon is interesting in that she did fulfill that traditional role of acting as the king’s regent when he was away, it’s interesting (and horrifying) how he later picked women he could exert a lot more power and control over than he could over Catherine.

      • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

        I think you make a good point – Henry couldn’t execute Katherine without going to war with Spain. He never made that move again, and made sure to marry women he could behead at leisure.

      • Lucreza Borgia

        Catherine’s mother Isabella wasn’t a pushover either and was quite powerful in her own right. It must have been maddening to be married to Henry.

      • oregonbird

        Yes, she *chose* to be locked away from her lands and her courts. Because power.

      • Sally

        Right, we have to remember all the years she (Eleanor) was under house arrest. It’s hard to separate general palace intrigue from oppression of women in these cases (same with Mary Queen of Scots), but one thing studying history has cured me of was the wish to be a princess! In fact, if you were a prince, your life was always in danger. If you were a princess, you would probably have to marry for political reasons. Not fun to be a queen to a king you were married off to, in most cases. The ones who made it into the history books by having actual power are rare. Remember Elizabeth the I didn’t marry for the very reason she didn’t want to give up her power.

      • Gillianren

        Sure, but what I’m saying is that Eleanor–and Catherine of Aragon, and Isabella–are historical anomalies. I mean, Mary Stuart was a reigning queen, and she did a lousy job at it. Marie de Guise was regent during her daughter’s youth and then first marriage, and most of what she did was antagonize the nobles. There were a lot more queens with no power than there were women like Eleanor, and most of the queens with power caused conflict because, at the time, a woman in power was an inherent source of conflict. No wonder Elizabeth I never married!

      • Elise

        It’s also important to note the major shift between the Middle Ages and Renaissance compared to the Early Modern Period. The courtly lady was indeed educated, in part to be able to take her husband’s place when required. But that culture was slipping away during Henry VIII period–all over Europe. Katherine of Aragon would have been one of the very last ones.

  • Mira

    Thank god I’m atheist. And feminist. And grew up in a home where my dad stayed at home (worked from home), cooked, we all cleaned (four kids make cleaning easy), and took care of us. Mom worked, sometimes leaving the house at 0545 and getting home at 1900.
    Totally different home, totally different world. I can’t even fathom a home like this. I just can’t. My dad is the emotional one: he cries at graduations, weddings, etc. Mom is very unemotional and seems rather aloof at times.
    Along with that, both parents seemed to become quite awkward when they realised the four girls they had each eventually became women, and with that came periods. Eek!
    But to the main point. This lifestyle and homestyle just sounds so bizarre to me. As it is right now, I am staying at home while I finish my thesis while my boyfriend works. AND I AM GOING NUTS. I’m not the type to sit around and clean, and be happy staying at home. I just can’t do it! When my thesis is done, I have GOT to get a career or I will go utterly bonkers.

    • Kate Monster

      Have you heard the good news of Our Lord, Cable Television? Through the salvation of the Almighty, I have endured many a hard-writ essay.

    • Holly

      “Thank god I’m atheist.”
      Good gravy that is hilarious.

  • c

    Oh, thanks for quoting me! It definitely stuck out to me and other commenters that Debi’s train of logic was “if you act like a servant, he’ll treat you like a queen” which makes no kind of sense. I do agree that it would still suck to be the wife of like, Henry VIII, but it does seem like in general queens enjoyed a place of power and privilege that servants would never see. Either way, not a healthy analogy. I don’t want my husband to act like a king nor treat me like a queen, that just seems entitled and bratty. I’ve never been one of those girls that wanted to be a “princess” to my dad and boys I dated. Gross.

    The “women should be in charge of the domestic sphere and never venture out” analogy has always bothered me because the delineation of a female “homemaker” and a male who leaves for work everyday for a set time at an office did not even come about until the Industrial Revolution (thousands of years after the Bible was written.) I don’t really come to this forum to discuss the truth or accuracy of the Bible, because I know people have a wide spectrum of beliefs and my purpose here is to dig into the unhealthy extreme fundamentalist teaching of people like the Pearls. But I’ve always believed that if the Bible is true, it needs to be true for all people, all over the world, in any generation or moment in history. The homemaker thing is too middle-and-upper-class Western of an idea. In the Amazon jungle a man doesn’t punch the clock at the office, etc. So to see people elevate the concept of homemaker to an idol to be worshiped is beyond frustrating. The Vision Forum/Botkins of the movement know that their target market is upper-class and able to fit this mold, so they’ve made a lucrative empire out of selling books and toys that fit this lifestyle.

    • ako

      Yeah, the homemaker idea formed in response to specific (and historically speaking, relatively recent) changes in how home and work are perceived by certain cultures. Outside of that context, “This is your work, it’s totally separate from your home, and it is only done by men” would sound really strange.

  • LadyCricket

    Eh, depends on the type of queen. When you’re married to the king and given priveleges of royalty but no political power, that’s called a queen consort.

  • Rilian Sharp

    So what if the husband demands something dangerous? Is a woman supposed to just be disabled or killed at a man’s whim?

    • Mel

      Yup. Because the husband/king/idol wills it.

    • ako

      Considering stuff like Debi Pearl’s advice to a woman in an abusive relationship, I’d guess the answer is often yes. An evasive yes, buried under “But a husband should be good and loving and protect you (and if he doesn’t, you still have to obey, plus you’ll be blamed for his abuse)!” or “Trust in God, and he will protect you (unless he doesn’t, in which case you’re still required to trust)!”, but yes.

  • Mel

    Just finished reading “Sex with Kings”. Near as I can tell, Debi has another logical conundrum on her hands. A good queen was supposed to bear children and tolerate her husband’s mistresses. Debi, et al., argue that if a wife is sexy and willing enough her husband will never stray which is a pretty good description of the qualities of a mistress. So, which is it? Are you a domestic queen who bears the legitimate heir(s) / ignores infidelities or the mistress who may produce some illegitimate heirs while providing pleasure to the king? You can’t really do both well…….

    • alfaretta

      Remember, Debi tells you never to complain, even when being abused, so I’m thinking keeping quiet about a mistress would be totally acceptable to her (although she’d blame you because you’re obviously doing something wrong).

      • Mel

        You’ve described the point perfectly. In the royal courts, mistresses were expected. If Debi expects you to be a queen, she should have pages on how to interact with the mistress(es) of your husband graciously. If Debi blames you for your husband’s mistresses, then she’s describing a more middle-class ethos than royalty. She needs to pick one or the other.

  • oregonbird

    Actually, the queen didn’t raise and influence the royal children. Still doesn’t. The children are quickly moved into their own households, the king chooses the household help, including nannies, tutors and mentors, and then the princes (if not the princesses) are sent to boarding school, where the king has the final say as to everything from classes to friendship.

    I’ve never seen anything except false equivalence in conservative or fundamental households.

  • Susie M

    I think my parents mentioned that a couple times… I actually liked it at time because, as the oldest, that made me “head princess” and who doesn’t want another reason to lord over younger siblings. ;)

    Honestly, my parents mentioned/half-heartedly tried a lot of the things you mention in your blog: king/queen motif, “So Much More”, the “Created to be” series, and everything else random and inane.
    But…they never succeeded that well at those issues because they were a little too mainstream, and frankly, just genuine rebels. We also went to a fairly mainstream church (three homeschool families out of church of 500 people/people wore everything from jeans to the occasional long dress to service/public schools were just “school”, etc.)

    I’ve discovered that my parents did a lot of things that people consider extremely ideological–but just because they were interested in them at the time or had different reasons. I think I’m lucky, though.

  • Fina

    But queens are pampered with luxury! What else could a woman possibly want? Independence and free will? Don’t be absurd!

    • Heather Scholl

      Apparently, former President Carter gave a pretty good speech about subjugating women….he said they should be exalted not subjugated. I get his point but I TOTALLY disagree. Exaltation is really just a form of subjugation. Once one has been put on a pedestal…..they lose the status of partner. “I won’t bother her with this information (re: our stock portfolio just went bust and we are broke). She is lovely and sweet and ignorant. Let’s keep her that way, shall we?”