by Libby Anne cross posted from her blog Love, Joy, Feminism
Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 67-72
Debi’s purpose in this entire section is to make her readers terrified of the thought of divorce. Her goal is to make sure that her readers won’t even think of leaving their husbands (no matter how miserable they are or whether they are abused) and that her readers will be so afraid of their husbands leaving them that they’ll do anything to keep them. Her purpose is not to help her readers learn how to foster healthy relationships or a healthy sense of self, but rather to keep them so scared they’ll stay put no matter what.
So, continuing in this theme, Debi offers a letter of warning from a reader named Carolyn. This is one of those letters that I highly suspect Debi is making up.
I would like to tell you my story that others might be warned. I am 52 years old and have been alone for 23 years. I never thought this would be my lot in life. It never crossed my mind that my husband would leave me. I made many mistakes in my relationship with my husband.
Today, I see and hear young wives, and older wives as well, thoughtlessly making those very same mistakes with their own husbands. They take for granted that he would never leave them and file for divorce. This sense of security seems to give them the feeling that they have the liberty to take their stand, in myriad ways, against the wrongs, failures, and inadequacies of their husbands. I see it as either ignorance or a refusal to obey God’s injunction to wives, or a combination of both.
This is why I write my story—to open the truths to the wives who are truly ignorant, and to warn the resistant wives. I cannot answer for my husband’s responsibilities and duties. That is between him and God. But if I had known then what I do now about God’s commands to wives, i.e., what a man needs and what I could do to fill those needs, it would have made a big difference.
Weirdly, this letter is written as though the author is fully aware that it’s going to be featured in this book. Huh. How about that.
Anyway, look at the use of threat here: If wives remind themselves daily that their husbands could leave them at any moment, then they won’t dare to “have the liberty to take their stand.” Reading that line literally made me sick to my stomach. And that’s what this is—utterly and absolutely sick. If you are living your life in fear that your husband will leave you if you stand up for your own rights and needs, you are in an abusive relationship.
Next comes a whole lists of bullet points of all the mistakes Carolyn says she made in her marriage, mistakes that resulted in her marriage falling apart and her husband leaving her. This list reads like it’s written by Debi as a list of things not to do. Let me offer a few of them by way of example:
When my husband acted selfishly at home, allowed his temper to flare, and sometimes said curse words, and then went to church and acted spiritual, I wish I had prayed positively for him instead of withdrawing a little emotionally from him and letting my cynicism and lack of confidence in him be so manifest. I wish I had openly showed love and acceptance of him for himself, not impatiently waited until he acted right.
When he acted like a jerk, I wish I had remained quiet and prayed for him, loved him anyway instead of letting him know what I thought about him and his actions.
When he spent money I thought we didn’t have, I wish I had remained quiet and trusted God. I wish I had shown continued confidence in him, regardless of his decisions.
When he needed a woman to believe in him, admire him, approve of him, accept him, regardless of his failures, I wish now that I had been the one to give him those things.
It’s the usual, really. She should have admired her husband even when he “acted selfishly” or “acted like a jerk,” and she wishes she had approved of his financial decisions even when she thought them unwise. Her supposed failings lay in not offering her husband unadulterated praise and in offering her own input in family decisions. This is really Debi’s modus operendi here.
A couple struck me as falling in a slightly different category, though:
When he tried to make up to me for some failure, I wish I had not been so cool, waiting for him to “suffer” a little more and be more intense and sincere about his apology.
When we were in the company of his family or our friends, I wish I had not taken on a martyred air when he left to go off and do something on his own.
It is generally wrong to rake someone over the coals when they’re trying to apologize and wrong to try to control someone using emotional manipulation rather than just talking to them about things that bother you. These things are wrong totally regardless of gender. But one thing that strikes me here is that these are the sorts of tactics that women following ideas like Debi’s frequently fall back on. After all, if you’re not able to just talk about things that bother you, it’s only natural to use what other means you’ve got to address them, and when you’re married to someone who rarely admits failure, it’s only natural to respond by making the most of those times they do. These things don’t happen—and definitely shouldn’t happen—in a functional relationship.
But then there’s this:
When he wanted me to do something, and I didn’t want to do it, I wish I had cheerfully complied instead of making him sorry he asked. Hardheadedness is not a trait to endear any woman to a man.
. . . wut. Somehow I can’t read this without assuming that Debi—oh, I mean Carolyn!—is talking about sex here. And that is so not cool. Although I get a small feeling of the above here too—making someone “sorry they asked” is never a good idea, but simply complying with whatever wants you to do is not the only other alternative.
After going through all of these bullet points of failings, Debi—or Carolyn—moves to the conclusion of her story:
Time passed. The marriage strangled to death from the load of mistakes, sin, and selfishness on the part of both of us. One day, to my shock and surprise, he just left. And what do you think happened then, dear reader? The children and I were plunged into near poverty.
Say it ain’t so.
Look, I’m not trying to make light of the fact that single moms are disproportionately living in poverty, I’m really not. I’ll have more to say on that score in a minute. It’s just that this is the thing Debi is holding over women’s heads here, so I’m not surprised that that’s what Carolyn—or Debi—or who knows, maybe it’s Mike!—chooses to lead with here.
He no longer felt the natural desire to protect and support his family. I received the minimum child support. It was never enough. When the house and the car needed repairs, there was little or no money to have the work done. Things slowly fell apart. People would help, but no one quite knows what to do with broken families.
I’m not going to quote the entirety of Carolyn’s letter, but she explains that she had no job training and had to take entry level positions that paid very little. And . . . this is why education is so important for women. This is also why being a stay at home mom can be a very dangerous choice—the stay at home mom is dependent in her husband’s income. If she and her husband trust each other and have a strong and loving relationship, and preferably an egalitarian one, things can turn out just fine. But if not, well, the woman ends up with no resume, no job skills, possibly no education—and thus no choice but to either stay in a miserable marriage, perhaps with an abusive husband, or to leave and face huge challenges when entering the workforce and quite possibly a life of poverty. It is this choice that Debi is holding over her readers’ heads as a threat.
Some of you don’t believe that this could happen to you. In fact, you may well be thinking that it would be a relief if you could get him out of the house. You think, “Well, I’m healthy and strong. I’m emotionally secure. I can handle it. I am pretty and will find a good man. I have a family who will help me. I have a good church to support me, and could get counseling, etc. At least I would have peace in the house and could then live as I wanted to. I wouldn’t have all the problems to contend with.” These are all things that foolish wives may think. But I know better. My experience, as well as thousands of others, proves this outlook to be a lie. Carolyn.
And . . . this is why I think Carolyn is Debi. I mean, this is supposed to be Carolyn’s personal letter to Debi, and she’s leading her conclusion with “some of you don’t believe that this could happen to you”? Really?!? This entire last paragraph makes utterly no sense in a letter written from Carolyn to Debi. It just sounds like, well, Debi.
And it’s Debi once again—once again—making her threat explicit. If you don’t roll over and be a good submissive wife, well, your husband will leave you and you’ll be thrown into grinding poverty. So forget about silly things like your “rights” or “needs” and set about smiling at your husband.
I really want to stop here, but if I do then I have to write about this same garbage again next week, so I’m going to blow through the rest of this so we can finally move beyond Debi’s threats of the horrors of life as a divorced woman.
Look around you. There is a new breed of women today. They serve your table at the local restaurant they mow grass, work in the hospitals, and direct traffic. There are thousands of these ladies; they are everywhere doing anything they can find to do. They are mostly single moms. they dress cheaply; their hair has a ragged cut, and the dark circles under their young eyes testify to their faded hope. They are a new army of workers. Employers can underpay them because they are desperate for work You can depend on them because they would not dare take the chance of losing their job. they are distracted because they are thinking of their unhappy children or the baby-sitter’s new, weird boyfriend who comes over when she is at work.
Debi’s right on one score: there are legitimate problems with the situation faced by many single moms in our society today. They often face huge economic disadvantages. But there are ways to solve this and help mitigate the problems these women face, and guess what? Telling them that the solution is just to be good submissive wives staying in their husbands’ homes isn’t one of those solutions. The real answers are things like education and job training and more flexible career options. Debi’s solution, in contrast, is to give each one of these” faded” and “ragged haired” women as a gift to a man, and tell him to keep her fed, tucked away safely indoors, and securely in her place.
While Debi doesn’t discuss welfare here, I’m pretty sure she’s against it, because it helps lessen the threat she and other teachers like her have to hold over women’s heads. Allowing women, especially those women who are mothers, to be happy and financially secure without being married, whether that’s through education and career training or through programs like welfare? That’s definitely a bad thing in Debi’s book. The greater the grinding poverty faced by single mothers, the greater the threat Debi has to hold over women’s heads.
Sometimes they team up with another single mom to share resources, childcare responsibilities, and troubles. Lately, I have been reading how many of these single women are turning to each other for comfort—sometimes for intimacy. Do you think anything might ever drive you do that? A new breed of women.
Yes, Debi went there. Apparently being a single mom makes a person turn lesbian.
In all seriousness, though, what in the world is wrong with single moms getting together to share responsibilities, resources, and emotional support? That sounds like a really good idea, actually.
They are independent, in charge, and stressed. They grow old early, trying futility to care for unruly children whom no man wants to stepfather. They grow bitter as they watch eligible men look over their heads at girls much younger than themselves, who have no strings attached. And they grow fearful when they realize that the men who have shown interest in them are hiding perverted intents toward their cute little youngsters. Their kids are angry and often get into trouble.
Independent, in charge, and . . . stressed. In Debi’s world, women should be glad that they don’t have to be the ones in charge, because that’s stressful. A childlike life of being taken care of, with all the big decisions made for you, is far preferable.
As for the other bit . . . Debi seems to have a very low view of men.
But all of this was not your fault. No, it was your husband who committed adultery, your husband who was angry or got into porn, but he seems to have a life of ease now with plenty of money compared to your miserable condition. He takes the kids every other weekend and spoils them, making them hate you all the more. he seems to be so vital, so alive and full of smiles. He has money to entertain them, and they know you as a grumpy penny-pincher. They think his young girlfriend is really cool.
More threats. Like I’ve said, there’s some reality behind these threats. Women do tend to suffer financially after a divorce while, statistically, men actually end up better off financially. The sad result of this sorry state of affairs is that people like Debi can use this as a threat against women as they breeze along informing women that they don’t have rights and that their needs and feelings are illegitimate.
When you discover a lump in your breast, your teens don’t care or understand the gravity of the situation. You struggle alone with your fear and take yourself to the doctor, knowing that even though this might not end in death, it is the end of hope.
Slippery slope alert! If you don’t obey your husband, he’ll leave you and you’ll get breast cancer, says Debi!
Having gotten to the utterly hopeless bottom of her slippery slope, Debi returns to the beginning:
It all started when you were mad about a TV commercial, or when he watched the car races on a Sunday afternoon. It all got worse when he wanted you to do something exotic sexually.
See, I told you Debi—er, Carolyn—was talking about sex earlier!
Divorce is never planned, but it is almost always preceded by certain avoidable reactive behavior and events. Don’t let it happen to you.
Debi’s message to women: Divorce is your fault. Don’t let it happen to you, because you will turn lesbian and get breast cancer. So shut up, forget about your needs, submit to your man, and put out.
What are the messages to take away here?
First, Debi is using the very real financial challenges single mothers have as a threat to keep women in relationships they might otherwise leave. More than that, she is using the potential of poverty-ridden single motherhood as a stick to enforce her message that women need to be submissive and obedient wives—if they think about their own needs, Debi insists, their husbands will leave them. And then here comes a life of poverty and stress.
Growing up in an upper middle class home, I didn’t truly realize until reading this section how important it is to erode the structural economic challenges ordinary women face, and also the dire situation stay at home motherhood can place many women in. College was always a given for me, and I have always known that if my marriage were to turn abusive I could leave and still maintain my financial security. For women with less privilege than I, though—and I get the feeling that these women are the target audience of Debi’s book—this is not the case. I suppose I should thank Debi for this, because she’s helped me hone my feminist approach to basic economic issues.
Next, Debi seems to have a very low view of men throughout this entire section. According to Debi, if a woman doesn’t roll over and play dead, her husband will leave her. Who are these men who can’t take criticism or input from their wives? Who are these men who leave their wives if they find they don’t get the sex on demand they thought they were entitled to? Personally, I don’t want to have anything to do with Debi’s men. They sound insecure, selfish, and feckless.
Finally, Debi’s advice runs clear against every bit of mainstream marriage advice I’ve ever heard. Her suggestion is never that couples should work on their relationships, iron out their differences, and form a cooperative partnership. No. In contrast, she over and over tells women that the way to a happy marriage is to simply obey their husbands in everything and to never criticize their husbands or offer input. How does this foster bonding or understanding or the union of two spirits? Debi’s portrayal of marriage sounds almost worse than her portrayal of single motherhood.
Ugh. Just, ugh.
Comments open below
Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Libby Anne blogs at Love, Joy, Feminism
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