CTBHHM: Subordinate, But Not Inferior

by Libby Anne

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 23-24

The role of being a perfectly fit helper does not make one inferior to the leader.

Okay, so think back to everything we’ve read so far. Debi says that women were created to be men’s helpers. She also says that when a woman obeys her husband, she is being obedient to God, that when she reverences her husband, she is reverencing God, etc. And now, coming right on the heels of all of that, she is insisting that women are not inferior to men. This is key, because it is a distinction Christian Patriarchy, and even its slightly less rigid brother complementarianism, absolutely have to be able to successfully make if they are to succeed. If they, in this day and age, were to come right out and say “women are inferior to men,” or “men are more important than women,” they would not only be in for a major PR disaster but also lose much of their following. In other words, they absolutely have to successfully make the case that women can be created for profoundly different roles from men, and yet that these roles are still nonetheless somehow equal. That is, quite simply, the case Debi is going to try to make in this passage. Let’s see if it works.

Theology Gone Wild

In order to make this case, Debi starts with some theology.

Men are created to be helpers of God.

I’m not even sure really want to make of this. I mean, I don’t believe I was ever taught that men were created to be “helpers” of God. Rather, I was always taught that humans (men and women both) were created because God wanted company. I mean, what is it that God would need men to “help” him with? And didn’t he sort of create the angels for that anyway? Either way, stating that men were created to be helpers of God, and women were created to be helpers of men, as though the two were parallel, infers that the relationship between husband and wife is supposed to mirror the relationship between God and humankind. Given how fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals view the relationship between God and humankind, this definitely does not appear to be a good way of backing up the claim that women are not inferior to men.

Jesus willingly became a helper to the father. The Holy Spirit became a helper to the son.

This is just weirder. First of all, the three mentioned here – Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit – are supposed to also be one. The idea that one part of a being could be the “helper” of another, and that the father had to ask Jesus to help him, when Jesus is him … this isn’t a Debi problem really, it’s more of a Trinity problem. But what’s weird here is that Debi is drawing a parallel between the relationship between husband and wife, the relationship between God and humankind, the relationship between the Father and Jesus, and the relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In other words, husband is to wife what God is to man, what the Father is to Jesus, and what Jesus is to the Holy Spirit. That’s just … weird.

There is no loss of dignity in subordination when it serves a higher purpose.

Remember what Debi said way back at the start of this post? She said that “The role of being a perfectly fit helper does not make one inferior to the leader.” Well, here Debi describes the relationship between husband and wife as one of wifely “subordination.” There’s just one teeny little problem here. The way she is using the terms here, subordinate and inferior are synonyms. More on this in a moment.

The Corporate Examples

A little bit earlier on Debi talked about how the employees at No Greater Joy ministries have to obey her and follow her instructions (she go co-runs the ministry with her husband). Debi insisted that the fact that those employees have to do what she says does not make them inferior to her. They just have different roles. What Debi is doing here is playing fast and lose with definitions of the word “inferior.” The common factory worker is inferior to the CEO just like a private is inferior to a corporal. Debi’s employees are, in the same way, inferior to her. And this is how Debi started out using the word inferior, as we saw above: “The role of being a perfectly fit helper does not make one inferior to the leader.” Actually, it does.

You are not on the board of directors with an equal vote. You have no authority to set the agenda. But if he can trust you, he will make you his closest adviser, his confidante, his press secretary, his head of state, his vice-president, his ambassador, his public relations expert, maybe even his speech writer – all at his discretion.

Remember that in the beginning of this section Debi set out to prove that having a different role does not make a wife inferior to her husband. The trouble is that Debi has to prove this while simultaneously arguing that the wife’s role is one of submission and obedience service while the husband’s role is one of authority and leadership. And the trouble is that by describing women’s position as one of “subordination,” Debi has already admitted that wives are indeed inferior to their husbands.

Debi is playing fast and loose with two different meanings of the word “inferior.” One definition is “lower in station, rank, degree, or grade (often followed by to): a rank inferior to colonel.” The bizarre thing is that even as she has insisted that women are to be subordinate to their husbands, submitting and following orders, she still insists that this role does not make one “inferior to the leader.”  The thing is, it does. The person who has to follow orders is by definition inferior to the person who is making the orders. Another definition of inferior, though, is “less important, valuable, or worthy.” This is where Debi is actually coming from when she insists that women are subordinate, but not inferior.

Debi is advocating that women are to be inferior inasmuch as they are to be subordinates, obeying the person in charge, i.e. their husbands. However, Debi is arguing that this does not make women inferior inasmuch as they are not “less important, valuable, or worthy.” This is the key distinction that Christian Patriarchy and complementarianism must make: Yes, women are to be subordinate to their husbands, but that does not make them of less value or mean their role is any less important.

This logic only works if one is ready to admit that the slave is not inferior in importance, value, or worth vis a vis the master and that the factory worker is not inferior in importance, value, or worth vis a vis the CEO. Inasmuch as every person, no matter their station, has value, and inasmuch as every person, from chimney sweep to president, has worth, Debi’s argument that wives are not inferior to their husbands holds up. However, inasmuch as the private is inferior to the corporal, Debi’s argument that wives are not inferior to their husbands fails, and inasmuch as the factory worker’s role is inferior to the role played by the CEO, her argument that the wife’s role is not inferior to that of her husband falls apart.

Conclusion

Debi finishes with this paragraph:

A perfect help meet is one who does not require a list of chores, as would a child. Her readiness to please motivates her to look around and see the things she knows her husband would like to see done. She would not use lame excuses to avoid these jobs. A man would know he had a fine woman if she were this kind of helper.

I should note that if I started waiting on my husband hand and foot he would wonder what was wrong with me and what had happened to the strong, independent and assertive partner he used to know and love. Debi seems to think that every man wants what her husband wants, and to be honest I think we’re learning more here about what Michael Pearl wants in a wife than anything else.

But more importantly, several of the paragraphs in this section just felt icky. Why? Because you could change just a few words and suddenly imagine a slavery apologist saying the exact same thing to an antebellum slave. In fact, if there was a how-to manual on being a good slave, it would almost certainly include paragraphs like this. Let me show you:

You do not sit at the master’s table and have a say in his decisions. You have no authority to set the agenda for a day. But if your master can trust you, he will make you his closest adviser, his confidant, his press secretary, his head of state, his vice-president, his ambassador, his public relations expert, maybe even his speech writer – all at his discretion.

A perfect slave is one who does not require a list of chores, as would a child. His readiness to please motivates him to look around and see the things she knows her master would like to see done. He would not use lame excuses to avoid these jobs. A master would know he had a fine slave if he were this kind of helper.

In arguing that having to obey and submit is just as good, valuable, and worthy as being in charge and giving the orders, Debi is engaging in rhetoric that has for millenia been used to prevent social change aimed at bettering people’s conditions. For centuries traditionalists have been telling people at the bottom levels of society that they are just as valuable as those at the top, they just have a different lot in life and need to embrace that rather than agitating for change. This rhetoric was used on serfs in the middle ages, on slaves in the antebellum period, and on exploited industrial laborers a century ago. Stay in your place and you are inferior to none. Your role is just as important as the roles of the people on top. Embrace it. Debi follows squarely in this tradition.

Next week we get to finally learn why Debi uses the phrase “help meet” and what she means by it. Not sure why she decided to wait for the very end of the first chapter to explain this, but I suppose we should simply be grateful that she takes the time to explain at all.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Comments open below

Read everything by Libby Anne!

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Libby Anne blogs at Love, Joy, Feminism
The Beautiful Girlhood Doll by Libby Anne

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

The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

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

 

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  • Lois Brown Loar

    I couldn’t even get through all of this. She clearly twists scripture by describing man is a “helper” to God, as Jesus as a “helper” to the Father, or the Holy Spirit as “helper” to Jesus. The Holy Spirit is a “helper” to US, helping us to have a close relationship to God by prodding us when we are in sin, giving us strength to do the “right” thing, etc. I just can’t waste my time on anything else she has to say when she’s got fundamentals so very, very wrong.

  • madame

    I’ve always “got it”. You are subordinate but not inferior in value. That sounds plausible on paper, but in the practice, subordinate = inferior in value. Your needs, your wishes, your will, your insight, your perspective, are all inferior because they can be trumped by the one who is “in authority” but theoretically not superior in value. You give up your dreams, you subordinate your will, you ignore your fears and doubt your insight and wisdom to support your man. You depend on him to lift you up and see your value.
    Even Debbi says it: you can be his most valued friend, companion, adviser…. AT HIS DISCRETION.

  • Nightshade

    Exactly. The wife’s rank is entirely dependent on what her husband decides it will be. She may be able to influence (manipulate?) his decision, but the bottom line is if he decides she is to be his slave according to Debi she has no choice, no options, nothing that her Great and Mighty Husband does not allow. Sounds inferior to me. Methinks we have some Orwellian 1984-style newspeak going on here…war is peace…freedom is slavery…ignorance is strength. Any of that sound familiar?

  • http:///krwordgazer.blogspot.com Kristen Rosser

    Yes, and all animals are equal, but some (the ruling animals) are more equal than others. That’s also Orwellian, and very fitting here.
    The thing is that Christians believe that God designs things for their purpose. So if a group of humans is intended by God to always fill a subordinate role, then that group has also been designed for that role– meaning that that group has an inherent, inborn lack in the area of authority and leadership which the other group possesses. So it then becomes contradictory to claim that they are not also inferior in nature as well as position. “Equality” is just a word to make us all feel better about it.
    Also, a “role” that you are designed to always fulfill is not a “role” at all. It’s a “caste.” Women are a lower caste than men in this mindset, and using pretty words like “role” and “equal” doesn’t change that.

  • ssohara

    Re. the Trinity – I come from a Hindu tradition. (I became a Christian in college.) Anyway, the Trinity never was a problem for me because I thought it akin to Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva – three aspects of the Godhead in Hindu tradition. Of course, Father, Son and Holy Ghost have a different aspect, but it never bothered me that they could be three and yet also one. :)


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