The Obedient Wives Club

The Obedient Wives Club was founded about a month ago in Malaysia, where it attracted a great deal of attention and 800 members, and now it’s establishing an Indonesian branch.  What is the Obedient Wives Club?  Reuters describes it as a collection of Muslim women who are “urging wives to avoid marital problems by fulfilling their husbands’ sexual desires like prostitutes.”

Well, this takes the “biblical womanhood” conversation to an entirely new level!  I can’t help but quote this portion of a piece by Nazry Bahrawi, called “This Call for Muslim Sex Goddesses is a Setback for Malaysia“:

Three factors underpin the club’s popularity. Foremost, these women believe they are curing sex-related social ills such as rape, incest, prostitution and sex trafficking. On this lofty assumption rests a second factor. Its founders believe their aphrodisiac ways are a counter to “most women’s groups”, a veiled reference to western feminism, which ignore the repercussions when a wife does not sexually satisfy her husband.

Perhaps the most compelling factor is hinged on the belief that the club does God’s work.

The Qur’an, they argue, is peppered with references to sex. To their detractors, another founding member Siti Maznah Mohamed Taufik has this to say: “God even promised sexual pleasure from beautiful bidadari [angels] in heaven for those who are good. So are you saying that God is sex-crazed or obscene?”

Men’s natural proclivity for sex can be traced to Islam’s first prophet, Adam, according to Royaha. “Eve was created because Adam had needs. Men have [sexual] needs which they can’t control. And if the needs are not fulfilled, men will find another woman. God created them like that.”

Combine all three factors and you get their panacea: make sex goddesses of married Muslim women to the point that they are better in bed than first-class prostitutes.

When I was a graduate student, it was always interesting to watch the most liberal young Harvard women struggle with their competing instincts on the one hand to condemn (rightly) the mistreatment of women in genital mutilation, honor killings and preventing the education of girls, and on the other hand to be good cultural relativists who refuse to judge the rightness or wrongness of another culture’s norms.  The most striking occasion was when a fellow doctoral student was pressed on whether or not she could condemn the practice of rape as punishment.

She wore a pained expression throughout the seminar discussion, unable to figure out what to say, then returned to the next class and gave her answer: No, she said, she could not condemn it.  She could not say that men in a different culture and a different faith were wrong to use rape to punish a young woman who looked in the wrong way at a man, or who dared to seek an education.  It was a gobsmacking moment.  But she was following her cultural-relativist beliefs to their logical consequences.

So what about this case?  Are we, as westerners, in a position to say that women are to blame for the sexual crimes married men commit because they do not give sex to their husbands as frequently or as skillfully as they ought?  Is this an example of another legitimate mode of feminism, or can we simply say that this is wrong?

Since I believe in moral absolutes defined by the character of God, I don’t have this problem.  It’s just wrong.  But does anyone out there care to defend cultural relativism in this case?  Or are we understanding the Obedient Wives Club too uncharitably?  Anyone want to defend them?

One woman who wrote in defense of the Obedient Wives Club made this argument:

It will be a very painful betrayal [for husbands] to let down the ones [wives] who virtually hero-worship you by not living up to their ardent expectations of you.

So if the wife treats the husband as a king he will acquire king-like qualities of caring, compassion, protection, magnanimity, etc, and he will always put the wife and family first and never do anything that is not in the best interest of the wife and family.

What do you think?

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  • Kubrick’s Rube

    I’ll (sort of) give it a try.

    “Is this an example of another legitimate mode of feminism, or can we simply say that this is wrong?”


    I’m no cultural relativist, but I do believe in descriptive relativism, and as such believe that cultural context must be considered when evaluating the different possible means used toward any given end- in this case “curing sex-related social ills such as rape, incest, prostitution and sex trafficking.”

    So yes, the Obedient Wives Club is wrong- wrong because they are not to blame for their own victimization, wrong because their methods will not (based on modern sociology, psychology, criminology, etc) achieve their stated aims, and wrong because the short-term effect of the club may be further objectification and marginalization in a male-dominated social structure.

    But if not this, what? If top-down efforts to curb sex-related social ills are not working (or not attempted) and women currently have no legal or political recourse to change that fact, then this type of bottom-up, grassroots endeavor may be the first step toward something better.

    So yes, given the culture in which they are operating, the Obedient Wives Club is a legitimate mode of feminism: it is women recognizing that passively hoping their community will shape up has failed, and organizing to actively better their social lot. They may not yet be Iron Jawed Angels, but my fervent hope is that if and when they see their efforts have fallen short, they stay organized and expand their tactics. I hope they look to the women of Saudi Arabia who are right now defying driving bans, and find motivation in Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s revelation when arriving in Europe that the gender restrictions of her birthplace were based on lies about human nature.

    The Obedient Wives Club is wrong, but from the comfort of my western life, I can only view their plight with sadness and possibly naïve optimism that it is a misstep on the road to something greater.

  • Morgan

    I just find the whole idea incredibly naive.

    It will be bitterly amusing when these women figure out that part of the allure of extramarital sex is that it’s… wait for it… extramarital.

    It’s always depressing (and incredibly dangerous) to see folks race to the lowest, basest solution… because most of us have no idea how deep the well is.

  • Timothy Dalrymple

    Thought-provoking comment, Morgan. And a very eloquent post from you, KR. Thanks to you both.