by Libby Anne cross posted from her blog Love Joy Feminism
Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 77-80
You might want to start out by getting a glass of wine. You’re going to need it. This week Debi tells us about the first of her three types of men, Command Men.
A few men are born with more than their share of dominance and, on the surface, a deficit in gentleness. They often end up in positions that command other men. We will call them Command Men. They are born leaders. They are often chosen by other men to be military commanders, politicians, preachers, and heads of corporation.
Notice the word Debi chooses there. These men aren’t born with more than their fair share of leadership. They’re born with more than their fair share of dominance. That distinction is something you should bear in mind through the rest of this post. Anyway, before going on, Debi describes Command Men as “created in God the Father’s image” and names Winston Churchill, George Patton, and Ronald Reagan as Command Men. So, how do Command Men relate to their wives?
They are known for expecting their wives to wait on them hand and foot. A Command Man does not want his wife involved in any project that prevents her from serving him.
Oh. That’s how. That’s . . . not okay. Basically, Debi says, a Command Man expects his wife to be his own little personal slave, ready to drop anything and do just as she’s told any minute of the day. Just the idea of being in a marriage to a man like that makes my skin crawl! Also, I’m pretty sure this is an insult to any man who displays leadership qualities. Being a natural leader is not the same as being an uncaring asshole. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s usually the opposite. Does Debi take issue with Command Men’s tendency to treat their wives like personal slaves? Of course not.
If you are blessed to be married to a strong, forceful bossy man, as I am, then it is very important for you to learn how to make an appeal without challenging his authority. We will discuss how to make an appeal later in this book.
Because the most important thing to bear in mind when you want to make a request of your husband, or offer a suggestion, is how to do so without challenging his authority. Duh. I have to say, Debi is really good at making things that should be simple and straightforward needlessly complicated. Also? Way to cement the whole master/slave dynamic here.
Command Men have less tolerance, so they will often walk off and leave their clamoring wife before she has a chance to realize that she is even close to losing her marriage. By the time she realizes that there is a serious problem, she is already a divorced mother seeking help in how to raise her children alone.
If a man leaves his wife before she even realizes there is a problem in their marriage, there has to have been a stunning breakdown in communication. Is it that hard for a man to say “I have concerned about the way our marriage is going, I think we should talk about it or perhaps get counseling”? And also? Way to lay down the threats again! Debi has just informed her readers that if they are married to Command Men, it’s their job to be good little slaves. Now she has to remind them of the consequences if they don’t comply.
A woman can fight until she is blue in the face, yet the Command Man will not yield.
A lot of my readers have been trying to read through the lines of Debi’s text to see what can be inferred about her own marriage and relationship with Michael. To be honest, the more I read and analyze the more I get Taming of the Shrewvibes. Taming of the Shrew is a play by William Shakespeare about a controlling and abusive man who marries a headstrong and free spirited woman and proceeds to “tame” her. It’s a horrifying play, really, and from what snippits of Debi’s personal life she reveals I wonder whether Michael did something similar with Debi. The above line, coming as it does directly after Debi states that Michael is a Command Man, is especially telling.
He is not as intimate or vulnerable as are other men in sharing his personal feelings or vocation with his wife. He seems to be sufficient unto himself. It is awful being shut out. A woman married to a Command Man has to earn her place in his heart by proving that she will stand by her man, faithful, loyal, and obedient. When she has won his confidence, he will treasure her to the extreme.
Once again, I find myself reading between the lines. Perhaps this is unfair of me, but when she says “it is awful being shut out” I find myself feeling that Debi is speaking from experience. Also, I have to say, I am highly uncomfortable with the phrasing Debi uses here—the idea that a woman must “earn” a place in her husband’s heart. It smacks too much of the emotionally abusive line “if you really loved me, you would . . .” If your partner says you have to “earn” his love—or her love—that should be a big flashing neon warning sign.
She is on call every minute of her day. Her man wants to know where she is, what she is doing, and why she is doing it. He corrects her without thought. For better or for worse, it is his nature to control.
Once again, I feel like Debi is talking about her own experiences being married to Michael—and once again I am getting Taming of the Shrew vibes. Also, I again feel like this should be offensive to anyone who is what we call a “natural leader.” Natural leader does not mean control freak or insensitive bully. And finally, since when are we bound to do things just because they are “in our nature”? Because of bad relationship patterns I learned during my formative years, it is “in my nature” to be emotionally abusive. But you know what? I fight that tendency. But a controlling, micromanaging husband? That’s his nature! Don’t ask him to fight it!
Here too I think is part of the man/God problem Debi has going on here. The New Testament talks about how Christ’s sacrifice allows us to turn away from our fallen natures. It’s just that Debi doesn’t think the controlling and abusive nature of the Command Man is fallen. And that’s in part because she is equating the Command Man with God the Father, and because she believes that God the Father is an angry control freak ready to literally render people mad if they step out of line. And if that’s the nature of God the Father, then it’s clearly not a fallen nature, but rather the way an upright Command Man should be. Man, God, ouch.
And now, if you don’t already have that wine I mentioned, you might really want to consider getting yourself a glass, because this is actually the point where this entire section takes a turn for the worse—and you already thought it was bad.
A woman married to a Command Man wears a heavier yoke than most women, but it can be a very rewarding yoke. In a way, her walk as his help meet is easier because there is never any possibility of her being in control. There are no gray areas; she always knows exactly what is required of her, therefore she has a calm sense of safety and rest.
You know what was awesome? Being an African slave in antebellum America! You knew just what was required of you and you never had to worry about the possibility of being in control of your life! Ah, the bliss—the calm sense of safety and rest.
You want the real irony here? Debi Pearl actually wrote a children’s book as a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. It’s astounding that she can’t see that the rhetoric she is using to keep women in their place is the same rhetoric that was used to keep African Americans in their place.
Next, Debi praises the Command Man for being “willing to take the chance” while other men are held back by their fear of making mistakes or lack of confidence. She also calls Command Men “king-like.” She then discusses Todd Beamer, who took down one of the hijacked plans on September 11th, and describes him as a Command Man. Debi says that Command Men make decisions, bear responsibility, see the big picture, and sacrifice for the greater good. But then she says this:
If he is not an honest man, he will be selfish and use the resources of others to further his own interests.
Say it ain’t so, Debi, Say it ain’t so.
Sadly, Debi just drops this one line and then moves on without following up.
A King wants a Queen, which is why a man in command wants a faithful wife to share his fame and glory. Without a woman’s admiration, his victories are muted. If a wife learns early to enjoy the benefits of taking the second seat, and if she does not take offence to his headstrong aggressiveness, she will be the one sitting at his right side to be adored, because this kind of man will totally adore his woman and exalt her.
First, why is it that Debi says a Command Man wants a wife to share his fame and glory? So that she can admire him. It’s like being a piece of furniture, only better, because you get to smile! Second, what is it that Debi says a wife has to do in order for her husband to admire her? Get used to taking second seat and not complain about his headstrong aggressiveness, of course! Why am I again left feeling like a piece of furniture?
If you are married to a king, honor and reverence is something you must give him on a daily basis if you want him to be a benevolent, honest, strong, and fulfilled man of God.
Earlier, Debi said that a wife has to earn her husband’s love. Now she says that a husband doesn’t have to earn his wife’s honor or reverence—those are things she must simply give him, regardless. In both cases, Debi is wrong, and she is also wrong to gender this whole love and respect thing, though it’s not surprising that she does, as the idea that women need love while men need respect is a common one in her circles. Anyway, anyone who says you have to “earn” their love is being emotionally abusive, as is anyone who says you owe them respect. Love and respect simply don’t work that way!
Now look out, here come more threats!
If the wife of a Command Man resists his control, he will readily move forward without her. If he is not a principled Christian, he will allow the marriage to come to divorce. Like King Ahasuerus of Persia, if she defies him, he will replace her and not look back. If his Christian convictions prevent him from divorcing, he will remain stubbornly in command, and she will be known as a miserable old wretch.
Debi is of course referring to Vashti, the wife of King Ahasuerus. Vashti was banished because when Ahasuerus ordered her to come dance before him and his drunken companions, she refused. King Ahasuerus then ordered a search of his kingdom for the most beautiful women, and ultimately married Esther. The moral Debi is holding out here is simple: Obey your husband completely and without question, or he will leave you and replace you with a newer, younger model without a thought. And if he’s a Christian and doesn’t believe in divorce? Well, then he’ll be stuck with you as you turn into a miserable old wretch—perhaps driven mad, who knows! Debi’s insistence on threatening her readers in an attempt to cow them into unthinking obedience is really starting to make me angry here. But then, what do I know? I’m the one who thinks Vashti was well rid of the petty and dictatorial King Ahasuerus!
But it’s about to get worse.
A Command Man who has gone bad is likely to be abusive.
Finally! Finally! Debi admits there is such a think as an abusive husband! And now she’s going to address what to do if you’re married to an abusive husband! At last! Right?
It is important to remember that much of how a Command Man reacts depends on his wife’s reverence toward him.
When a Command Man (lost or saved) is treated with honor and reverence, a good help meet will find that her man will be wonderfully protective and supportive.
In most marriages, the strife is not because the man is cruel or evil; it is because he expects obedience, honor, and reverence, and is not getting it. Thus, he reacts badly.
When a wife plays her part as a help meet, the Command Men will respond differently.
At least now we know that Debi’s first response to the problem of abusive husbands is to engage in victim blaming. I honestly can’t say I’m surprised. Still, it somehow leaves me feeling saddened inside, like somewhere, somehow, a flower just died.
Before we really discuss this, though, we need to know what Debi means by “abusive.” Earlier, she suggested that it’s only natural and good for a Command Man husband to be controlling and micromanaging, to want to know where you are at all times and to want you to not commit to activities that might get in the way of you waiting on him hand and foot. She clearly doesn’t think any of that is abusive. So what is abusive, according to Debi?
Of course, there are a few men who are so cruel and violent that even if the wife is a proper help meet, he will still physically abuse her or the children.
Note that Debi says that in some cases men are so “cruel and violent” that even when a wife perfectly carries out her role as help meet he will “still physically abuse her or the children.” Before I look at what Debi says to do in this case, I want to finish the thought from above, because this passage reveals what Debi means by a man who is “abusive”—she means a man who physically abuses his wife or children. A Command Man who is manipulative, micromanaging, and controlling? That’s normal and good. A Command Man who demands absolute obedience and complete submission from his wife? That’s normal and good. In Debi’s book, it’s only the physical violence part that’s not okay. That is abusive.
This adds a whole new layer to Debi’s victim blaming apologia, because it reveals that Debi’s first response to physical abuse is to ask whether a woman is bringing it on herself by not being a proper help meet. Let’s look again at the victim blaming passage:
It is important to remember that much of how a Command Man reacts depends on his wife’s reverence toward him. When a Command Man (lost or saved) is treated with honor and reverence, a good help meet will find that her man will be wonderfully protective and supportive. In most marriages, the strife is not because the man is cruel or evil; it is because he expects obedience, honor, and reverence, and is not getting it. Thus, he reacts badly. When a wife plays her part as a help meet, the Command Men will respond differently.
Debi is saying, then, that if a husband is physically abusive toward his wife it’s not usually because he is cruel or evil but rather that he “expects obedience, honor, and reverence, and is not getting it.” It’s only natural, then, that he “reacts badly.” Your Command Man husband is hitting you, smacking you, and throwing you into furniture? If you would simply “play your part as a help meet” your husband would “respond differently.” Don’t call the police on your physically abusive husband—just shape up and be a good submissive wife, perfectly obedient and reverent to your husband, and the abuse will stop.
I have to admit it: It’s getting difficult to go through Debi’s book without letting my anger at what she is doing continually boiling over. I’m running out of words to explain just how heinous this is.
Now let’s go back again to the exception Debi offers:
Of course, there are a few men who are so cruel and violent that even if the wife is a proper help meet, he will still physically abuse her or the children. In such cases, it would be the duty of the wife to alert the authorities so that they might become the arm of the Lord to do justice.
In other words, if a Command Man is physically abusive to his wife and children, the wife should first ask herself if she has provoked him by not being a proper help meet. It is only if she has behaved herself as a proper help meet and her husband is still physically abusive that she should go to the authorities about it. Otherwise, well, it’s basically her fault. (For more on what Debi says about the authorities as “the arm of the Lord to do justice,” see this post on similar comments made by John Piper on this topic.)
[Several readers have pointed out in the comments that Debi actually offers the wives of abusers and impossible situation here, as nothing an abused wife can do will ever actually satisfy her abuser. In other words, no matter how hard a woman tries to be a proper help meet, an abusive husband will always find fault with her. Thus Debi puts women in a double bind here, holding them to a standard they can never meet and ordering them to remain in physically abusive situations until they meet that impossible standard.]
In concluding this installment, I want to return to Debi’s suggestion that a Command Man rightly expects “obedience, honor, and reverence” and that the proper role of a Command Man is to give her husband these things. Remember that Debi began this section by talking about how a Command Man will expect his wife to wait on him hand and foot, and will micromanage her life and never let her have control of any pat of it (and Debi said this as though it was a good thing!). This, then, as laid out by Debi, is how a Command Man (rightly) functions, and this, Debi says, is the role of the wife of a Command Man.
Perhaps the reason this section was so hard for me to read is that here Debi lays out an abusive relationship in detail, and endorses it all as good. I’ve called Debi out on her abuse apologia before, but in this section Debi really outdoes herself. The fact that so many women read this book eagerly and take it seriously is completely horrifying. I think of the friend who gave me this book as a wedding present, writing on the inside cover that it was the best book about marriage she had ever read. She is now herself married. I can only hope that she has finally tossed her copy of the book where it belongs: in the trash.
On a slightly lighter note, Debi finishes her section on the Command Man with a series of additional bullet points. Here is one of them:
Mr. Command will not take the trash out, as a general rule, and he will not clean up the mess by the trash area. He may organize and command someone else to do it. Any woman trying to force Mr. Command into becoming a nice trash man will likely end up alone, trashed by her man.
Is anyone keeping tabs on the number of times Debi keeps coming back to the whole trash thing? I’m starting to wonder if the trash wasn’t possibly the last battle between Debi and Michael, after which Debi was finally tamed a la the Taming of the Shrew. But that issue aside, why in the world would Command Men not take out the trash “as a general rule”? That seems . . . really specific. I mean, really?
Next week we learn about Mr. Visionary.
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