When I write about submission, especially in the context of Debi Pearl’s book, Created To Be His Help Meet, commenters frequently ask what Debi would say to a woman whose husband told her not to submit. I think we have our answer, or at least as close as we’re going to get to an answer. It’s an article by Debi’s daughter Shoshanna Easling.
My Dad was not the type of guy to check with you before he made a decision. We would be driving down the road when all of a sudden he would pull in to a restaurant and say, “Let’s eat!” as he was getting out of the car. Everything was at full speed; there never seemed to be any hesitation in his decision-making process, and it never occurred to him to ask your opinion when he had already deduced in his mind that this was the best choice.
Well, this confirms what Debi’s said about Michael in Created To Be His Help Meet.
When I think about my parents during my childhood, I laugh. I see Mom bouncing around Dad as this feisty bulldog personality, always full of heart and ready to start dancing. Dad, on the other hand, was cool, logical, and unmoved by others. She always had him listening to her and smiling at her, but in the end, his decision was made with biblical backing and fact-deducing logic.
Um, no. Sorry, but no. We have this cultural idea that women are emotional and men are logical, but too often it’s nothing more than confirmation bias—we see only what we’re looking for. Supposedly “logical” men can in fact be quite emotional, and women’s logic is frequently dismissed. This idea that men are cool and logical while women are feisty and emotional is central to much of the sexism still with us today.
People would look at Dad and think, “How does his poor wife put up with him?” He did not ask; he told. He liked things one way and was not open to changing them. Mom knew that Dad’s unchanging decisions were not to lord over her; they were just a part of who he was.
No, actually, Michael’s inability or unwillingness to even think of asking others for input before making decisions that affect them is a serious character flaw. If we all passed our character flaws off as “just part of who we are,” we would never have to fix them. How convenient it must be to be Michael!
When I got married, I expected my husband to be that alpha male that my dad was; but he was not. We would be driving down the road and he would say, “Where do you want to eat?” I would smile and say, “Wherever you want to eat,” expecting him to quickly turn in to this or that place without hesitation. Instead, he would smile and say, “I don’t care. I want to take you where you want to go. Where would you like to go?” I wanted to be his Help Meet; I did not want him to be mine, so I would say, “I would like to go where you want to go. Where would you like to go? I am good with anything.” Whether I made the choice or he made the choice at that point, both of us were feeling a little unsatisfied.
Yes, really. Debi teaches women that they shouldn’t have opinions or voice their desires—and her daughter learned that message well and did her best to implement it. Shoshanna ran smack up against something Debi never addresses: Most men don’t want a wife who will simply do or say as told. Most men actually want a partner—and a partner is a very different thing from a “help meet.”
My husband James is an idea man, what Mom calls a “visionary.” He comes up with all kinds of “wild” ideas. They are only “wild” because 99.9% of the population doesn’t think about what makes a car fly, or where The Cheesecake Factory gets their stainless steel countertops. He is a thinker, but usually about stuff unrelated to personal things. I am very much like my dad in personality, and I was used to submitting under a strong personality like my own.
Remember that in the Pearls’ culture, adult daughters submit to their fathers.
I was ready to obey my husband, and I tried to tell him. I did not understand why he wouldn’t just boss me. I was frustrated that he did not “lead me.”
“Lead me”=”boss me.” This is welcome honesty!
Every time he asked my opinion, I would work to help him figure out what his opinion was. I didn’t want to give him my opinion because I wanted to help him realize he was the leader of this home.
Debi claims time and again that she’s not telling women to be doormats, but here it is! Debi’s daughter Shoshanna—taught by Debi herself—was afraid to give her husband her opinions, even when asked, because that would get in the way of him being “the leader of this home.”
Both of us felt frustrated. I felt like I was trying so hard to submit, but he would not let me. That is when I really thought about what I was actually doing; it was the opposite of what God designed me to be—my husband’s Help Meet. What did James need? What did James want? What did James appreciate? What was James’ will? Well, he kept asking for my opinion. He seemed pleased when I worked with him. He liked me looking tailored and well put-together. Those were easy to comply with when I was paying attention, but what else? How could I help him? How could I make his life better? What exactly did he need? I knew he had a hard time seeing what was in front of him. He struggled with simple decisions because his brain was so busy with complicated ones. So I began to help him see what did not come natural to him. Instead of trying to make him lead, I stopped my control issues and helped him.
In other words, because James wanted Shoshanna to voice her opinions and participate in the decision making, that is what she should do. Because after all, as a help meet a woman is to be whatever her husband needs and asks of her. This fits with Debi’s teachings, but it ignores something important. If men are so individual and need such different things, how does it make sense to write a one-size-fits-all advice manual? Why not instead just tell women to be whatever their husbands need them to be—because different husbands need different things and what’s really important is to pay attention to what your husband wants and needs of you?
If he asked where I wanted to eat, I told him. If he asked my opinion, I gave it. In fact, I started telling him where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do, what my opinion was on this or that. He loved it! We became best friends. He needed me to be strong. He needed me to help him balance life. I found that it was a blast living as his Help Meet. He likes it when I am creative, working with him, and strong enough to stand on my own when he needs me to do so. We both found that we were two halves, but together we make a whole.
I feel like Shoshanna is getting a glimpse of what life is like in an egalitarian relationship, and loves it (surprise surprise!). But of course, having this glimpse is only okay because it is under the guise of being her husband’s “help meet.” How fulfilled she herself feels being an equal partner to her spouse is unimportant—what matters is what her husband wants and needs. And somehow, that makes me really, really sad.
But the weirdest part, I suppose, is that this means I could tell my mother that Sean and I have an egalitarian relationship because that’s what he wants, and I have to be his help meet. Now I’m not going to do that, and it is not true that we have an egalitarian relationship merely because that’s what he wants rather than because that’s what we both want. Still, the implications of this just seem weird to me. If submission can look like Debi’s catering to Michael’s every whim on the one hand, and Shoshanna’s voicing of opinions and participating significantly in family decision-making on the other, what does the word even mean, exactly?