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.

But.

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?

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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.


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