Patriarchy: Character Flaws or Systemic Problems?

Back in 2010, author and speaker Stacy MacDonald offered the following definitions:

Patriarchy - Father-rule (lead, love, sacrifice, provide, disciple, cherish, faithful, tender)

Patriocentric - Father-centric (selfish, demanding, egocentric, self-serving, rebellious, arrogant, lazy, harsh, tyrant)

In the comments, a reader asks Stacey this:

So what would your counsel be to a woman who was married to a patrio-centric husband? What are your thoughts? Should a biblically-submitted wife refuse to submit until her husband begins to serve?

Stacey replies as follows:

Should a godly servant-leader husband refuse to love his wife until his wife submits to him? Obviously not. We expect him to love her because that is what he’s called to do.

We aren’t responsible for the sins of others, we can only do what we are called to do. And sometimes that means responding to frustrating, sinful people in a loving way. She may certainly need to (respectfully) confront him, but her behavior will go further than her words.

A wife in the situation you describe should be able to go to her elders for help, but if he is an unbeliever, or if he is in rebellion, God gives the following instructions to wives:

“Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.” (1 Peter 3:1-2, NKJV) (emphasis mine)

I’m not trying to minimize her very frustrating situation, but life isn’t quite that simple. Sometimes it’s very messy, but we’re still called to honor God with our own behavior.

Obviously, if a husband asks his wife to sin, or if he is truly abusive, she must not submit TO such a thing. She still must be respectful, but she should go to her elders or to the civil authorities for help.

Stacey argues that men should be loving and tender in how they lead their wives, but when it comes down to it she embraces male rule regardless of whether the man doing the ruling is a good man or not.

Okay, thought experiment time!

Dictatorship is the best form of government. Dictators should of course be kind and loving in how they rule their subjects, and ideally a dictatorship should be a benevolent dictatorship. A dictator who treats his subjects badly does wrong. What should be done about a dictator who is not benevolent? Should the subjects rebel and rise up? Of course not! A subject’s role is to obey, period. A dictator being a bad leader doesn’t give his subjects any excuse for being bad followers!

See what I did there? I mean, does that make any sense at all?

Stacey argues that the problem is not the system she sets up—male rule—but rather individual character flaws. She neglects to realize or fails to admit that those character flaws tend to be exacerbated and magnified by the level of power and control offered by the system she sets up—and that at the very least her system guarantees that those who do have those character flaws will be enabled to do the absolute maximum damage possible.

In our modern world, we tend to recognize these systemic issues when it comes to dictators. Yes, a dictator can be benevolent, but the system allows for such extreme abuses that its best avoided entirely. Further, even if a dictator is benevolent, his subjects are deprived of self-rule. We tend to see this as a problem. And so we advocate for political systems that allow for popular input and rule by election and representation.

Why would anyone think a system that offers absolute power and is bereft of checks and balances is a good idea?

I want to draw attention to the huge imbalance between “love” and “obey.” Stacey says that a man is to love his wife whether or not he is submitting to him and uses that to justify that a wife is to submit to her husband whether or not he is loving. She seems to see these two things as equal, but they are not in fact equal in any sense. I mean think about it—if you are in an egalitarian relationship, you probably have a lot of practice loving a partner who does not submit to you. Loving a partner who does not submit to you is neither hard nor painful nor a problem. It’s healthy and, I have to say, pretty normal. If a patriarchal man has a problem with this, he’s the problem, not his partner. But rendering absolute obedience to a partner who is unkind, demanding, and selfish? There is nothing healthy, easy, or okay about that.

The past point I want to hammer on is that even as Stacey calls out selfish and egocentric patriarchs she simultaneously reinforces the system that gives those patriarchs power over others by telling her readers that they must submit to their patriarch regardless. What’s the point of being against patriarchs who are selfish and egocentric if you simultaneously support the system that gives them free reign to be so in the first place?

What Stacey is doing here is akin to someone arguing that a slave society is the best system for all involved, and responded to people pointing out that some slaveholders are cruel by saying that slaveholders really ought to be kind to their slaves, but that slaves must obey their masters regardless of whether they are kind and cruel. Further, unkind and cruel slaveholders should not be unseated unless they, say, kill their slaves, and even then they should be unseated by other slaveholders, not by their slaves.

I’m so done with analogies here, because I shouldn’t have to use analogies to show show how ridiculous Stacey’s system is here. I realize that my regular audience doesn’t need the convincing, but I rather hope that posts like these might be useful to at least a few people predisposed to think Stacey may have a point. Because she doesn’t. All she’s preaching is more female submission and more male rule, regardless of the abuse and pain that flow naturally from such a system.

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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