Created to Be His Help Meet, a popular evangelical/fundamentalist marriage manual, begins with a one page introduction by author Debi Pearl’s husband, Michael Pearl. This is important, because it signals that Michael approved of his wife’s writing a book. In evangelical and fundamentalist circles, whether they embrace “complementarianism” or actually use the word “patriarchy,” women aren’t supposed to write books, etc., without their husband’s “blessing.” They use the word “blessing” rather than “permission” because it sounds better.
This book has been ten years in the making – four years in the actual writing. It is at my encouragement that my wife wrote it.
See what I mean? Michael encouraged her to write it. Told her she should write it. And that means that it is okay for her, as a woman, to write a book. While most evangelical or fundamentalist marriage advice manuals for women are written by women, there always has to be some sort of male stamp of approval. And that is why, quite simply, the two sentences above are the first ones in the entire book.
Many times as she was going verse-by-verse through the Scripture, she would say to me, “I’m not going to include these verses becasue if I do, teh ladies of ______ (some religious group) will not like or promote my book.” I would tell her, “If God thought it was important enough to put it in his Word, then you shouldn’t exclude it.” So she would cringe and add one more controversial subject after another. I am proud of the great job she has done.
More stamping of approval. Michael basically deflects any criticism of the book as too controversial from Debi onto himself. “Debi was wanting to go too easy on you,” he says. “I told her not to hold back.”
Debi is my sweetheart and best buddy, my best friend and my only confidante.
Finally, a line I actually like! Let’s see what comes next!
She is not by nature a passive, “lie down and roll over” woman. In our early marriage, she challenged my authority and occasionally stood against me – sometimes with reasonable provocation – and sometimes because she was just stubborn and self-willed. Admittedly, we didn’t start out with a perfect marriage; we grew into it together. Debi has strong opinions that she solidly believes in, but she has learned to be her husband’s helper in every way that a man needs a woman’s support.
Oh. Okay then.
Usually marriage advice manuals like this one go through great lengths to assure their readers that the are not saying women are supposed to be doormats, all the while telling women how to be doormats. But by saying that Debi “was not by nature a passive, ‘lie down and roll over’ woman” and going on to talk about how she has changed, Michael seems to imply that that is what she was supposed to be and now is.
Note the use of the phrase “she challenged my authority.” At the core of complementarian or patriarchal evangelical and fundamentalist marriage advise manuals is the idea that a wife is to be under the authority of her husband – i.e., she is to submit to and obey her husband. As a young wife, then, Debi did not want to do this. She stood up to her husband rather than rolling over. Over the years, though, she learned her place – to be “her husband’s helper.” I find myself thinking that I might have really liked young Debi, and I also find myself wondering exactly how and why she made the change from independent and assertive young woman to seeing her primary identity as being her husband’s helper. I suppose I may find out as I go along.
Back on topic, Michael says that when Debi “stood against him” she sometimes had reasonable provocation – presumably meaning that sometimes he himself was in the wrong – and that sometimes she was simply “stubborn and self-willed” – i.e. she herself was in the wrong (although we could have a whole conversation about what is being implied by the phrase “self-willed”). But regardless of the fact that sometimes Debi sometimes had a point, she was still in the wrong for standing up to Michael in the first place. In the patriarchal formula, regardless of who is in the right the woman must submit. And so, even as Michael admits that Debi sometimes had just cause, he emphasizes only that she refused to simply submit to his authority as she should have and he is quick to call her “stubborn” and “self-willed” while only admitting that he was sometimes at fault in a backwards manner. (Why doesn’t he say that he was sometimes “stubborn” or “self-willed”? Oh right, because he’s the one in charge, so he’s supposed to be “stubborn” and “self-willed.”)
In other words, whether a woman does right or not depends not on whether she is in the right on an issue or regarding a decision, but simply and only on whether she submits to her husband’s authority or not.
I have never met or read another author who I thought was more qualified by life and experience to write a book to women on how to become the help meet God intended. She exemplifies all that she has written. Every word of this book comes with my blessing and wholehearted agreement.
More of Michael stamping the book with his approval. By stating that “every word” comes with his blessing and agreement he is once again saying that if someone has issue with the book, they have issue with him. Once again, this is important in evangelical and fundamentalist circles, because Debi needs a stamp of approval from her male authority in order to convince people to read and consider her stuff rather than just dismissing her.
And with this stamp of approval from her husband, Debi can now actually start the book. She starts with the story of how she married Michael. You’re going to want to stay tuned, because they got engaged on their first date (if Michael giving Debi a ride home from a revival meeting counts as a “date”) and got married eight days later. Oh yes.
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Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the religious right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving fundamentalist and evangelical religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the problems with the “purity culture,” the intricacies of conservative and religious right politics, and the importance of feminism. Her blog is Love, Joy, Feminism
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce