CTBHHM: Debi Takes Us Back To The 1950s

by Libby Anne cross posted from her blog Love, Joy, Feminism

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 154—156

Debi begins this section with some history.

Liberated to Sorrow

Beginning with the women’s “liberation” movement of the 1960s, women have been taught and are expected to resent men in authority.

Um . . . no.

There is a great deal of diversity within feminism, as there has always been, and there is also change over time (all of this Debi conveniently ignores, along with the suffragettes and Seneca Falls and Mary Wollstonecraft, and, well, everything before second wave feminism). It is true that there were some feminists in the late 1960s and 1970s who wanted nothing to do with men and felt they couldn’t be reformed, but this has never been the majority view. In my experience and my understanding, what most feminists have wanted since the 1960s is a world where relations between the genders are based on equality and respect rather than sexism and misogyny.

As for resenting “men in authority,” I think Debi is missing some nuance. If a man is in authority just because he is a man, I indeed will resent it. And with good reason. But if he’s there because he earned it fair and square, I won’t resent it. In my experience and understanding (and again, there is diversity), feminism is not about resenting men, it’s about wanting a better world than we have now—for women, especially, yes, but also for men. And while we’re at it, I’ll be perfectly honest: from my reading of Debi’s book, I’m pretty sure I like and, yes, respect men more than she does. I don’t think men are overgrown babies who need coddling, for one thing. I would prefer to approach them as equal human beings with their own desires, needs, quirks, and abilities.

All media, magazines, movies, and popular books have promoted eradication of the distinction between male and female.

What. WHAT. Has Debi read Twilight? I mean sure, Harry Potter and the Hunger Games have prominent female characters, but both have faced significant feminist critique. But seriously, what movies? What books is she talking about? I want to live in this feminist utopia where all media, magazines, movies, and popular books treat men and women as individuals without buying into or perpetuating gendered stereotypes! My word, if Debi really thinks popular culture is totally feminist dedicated to breaking down the patriarchy, she needs to spend a week in the feminist blogosphere. That ought to set her straight!

Next, Debi references promotion of the eradication of the distinction between male and female. What exactly does Debi mean by “distinction”? I suspect she means that men are supposed to be macho while women obsess over their looks, or that men aren’t supposed to show emotion, or that women are supposed to be nurturing while men are independent, etc. These things are largely socially created (i.e., children are socialized into them rather than being born that way), but the bigger problem is that they are harmful—to both genders. I want people to be seen as individuals first, not locked into gendered boxes of dos and don’ts. Does that mean I think men and women should be identical, to eliminate all “distinctions”? Debi would probably say so, but I, perhaps not surprisingly, would disagree.

The established churches, as always, are only about one decade behind the world, so Christian books and ministers have followed with their own female liberation theology. Ministers and theologians have devised ways of dismissing the authority of the words of God found in Scripture that speak about the nature and duty of men and women. It has gone so far that the churches are now convinced that the Bible supports this modern view.

Notice that Debi doesn’t actually try to engage or rebut liberation theology, which, yes, does actually have biblical arguments and a biblical case. Instead, she just writes them off entirely and insists that her biblical interpretation is correct and theirs is not. But then, I don’t think Debi thinks she’s interpreting the Bible. I think she thinks she’s just reading it.

When I was a child, no one in our large, extended family could ever remember a divorce on either side of the family, including many aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Neither was there a case of wife abuse or child abuse. In the last fifty years, all that has dramatically changed.

And Debi knows there wasn’t any wife abuse or child abuse how, exactly? She’s already explained that her grandmother was the very model of the quite and submissive and silent wife she’s promoting in her book, and if the others in the family followed the same patterns and beliefs, how exactly would Debi, or anyone for that matter, hear about any cases of wife abuse?

More generally, though, I see what Debi’s doing. She is suggesting that wife abuse and child abuse was rare before women’s liberation and have since increased dramatically. Yes, I can read behind the lines. And you know what? That’s absolute baloney. Anyone who has actually studied history will know that wife abuse has essentially always been common (and frequently legal!). And you know what? Child abuse—which has always existed, by the way—was only actually acknowledged as a thing that is, you know, bad, in the middle of the nineteenth century. Part of why we hear so much today about these problems is that we finally see them as problems and something that needs changing rather than as simply the unfortunate facts of life.

Moving right along . . .

It is hard to believe, but the following assignment was found in a 1950s public high school home economics workbook. When I was in school, this is what the general public was being taught! Can you imagine what an outcry it would cause if someone put this in a public school textbook today?

Yes, yes she does. That how to be a good wife thing floating around that is supposedly from a 1950s home economics textbook? She reprints it. (Interestingly, Snopes rates the text as “undetermined,” which makes Debi’s reprinting of it rather hilarious in my opinion.)

  • Have dinner ready: Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal – on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him, and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospects of a good meal are part of the warm welcome needed.
  • Prepare yourself: Take 15 minutes to rest so you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.
  • Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives, gathering up school books, toys, paper, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too.
  • Prepare the children: Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and faces if they are small, comb their hair, and if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.
  • Minimize the noise: At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of washer, dryer, dishwasher, or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Be happy to see him. Greet him with a warm smile.
  • Don’t greet him with problems or complaints.
  • Don’t complain if he’s late for dinner. Count this as minor compared with what he might have gone through that day. Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.
  • Listen to him. You may have a dozen things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.
  • Make the evening his. Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment. Instead try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his need to be home and relax.
  • The Goal: try to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.

I’m not going over this text line by line, since it’s not actually written by Debi. What I want to highlight is something I find fascinating. As several commenters have noted, Debi’s “biblical” model for husband and wife looks quite a bit like the stereotypical 1950s model. And as Debi makes clear in this passage, that’s not accidental. She really is gunning for the 1950s. On some level, this isn’t about being biblical, it’s about returning to an era Debi has put on a pedestal, conveniently ignoring things like Jim Crow or the threat of nuclear war.

Which brings me to another point. One thing scholars point out when discussing conservatives’ elevation of the 1950s as the ideal decade is that, for many, this was the decade when they were children, so they idealize it and forget all the bad things. Debi was born in 1950, and she brings her own childhood into this idealized portrait of the 1950s in a way that is entirely consistent with this argument. For people like Debi, it was a pristine and perfect time bereft of domestic violence or gang warfare or “kids these days” or financial struggle. Except that it wasn’t.

Comments open below

Read everything by Libby Anne!

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

 

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