I recently read a blog post from several years ago that had me doing that whole “but . . . wait . . . what . . . NO” thing throughout my reading of it. I thought I’d share, because illustrates something we’ve seen before—the idea that anything good in a marriage must of necessity be a result of following the gender roles God laid out, not, you know, a result of things like communication or compromise. I’ve covered posts in the past by women who are functionally living in egalitarian marriages based on mutual respect and yet credit the health of their relationship to their verbal acceptance of patriarchal gender roles. I have a problem with this, and I have my reasons.
Now in this particular blog post, the author argues that traditional gender roles lead to good sex. We’ll get there in a second. First, she starts by describing her family and her relationship. She writes that she stays home with the kids while her husband works, and that they’re also caring for two elderly relatives. She goes on to note that as Christians, they believe the husband is the head of the house and that the wife is to submit to the husband. She describes their approach to submission as follows:
My husband and I are Christians and therefore I believe that it is my calling to be a “submissive” wife. So what does submission look like for me? I am submissive in that while my husband and I openly discuss all major decisions that impact our family, I ultimately yield to his decisions. We agree on some things; we disagree on other things. That’s marriage, but when it comes down to deciding time, I defer to him.
In my experience, this is typical for mainstream evangelical couples. While they verbally embrace husbandly headship and wifely submission, in practice most decisions are made through discussion and compromise and the wife has to defer to the husband only rarely.
While this is getting off topic, I would note that in any relationship there are times when one partner defers to the other, irrespective of gender. You know what I’m talking about—“I’m still not convinced that we need to do X, but you clearly feel very strongly about it, so okay, we can do that.” I mean, in combining our Christmas traditions, my husband and I have both given over on certain things, mainly in areas where we can tell the it means a lot to the other. In other words, it is normal to sometimes defer to your spouse, and in healthy relationships (and I would guess in the author’s own relationship) it goes both ways.
I mean from reading the author’s post, I would imagine that there are times where her husband says “Honey, I don’t understand why you feel so strongly that you need X for the kitchen, it seems unimportant to me, but I get that it’s important to you, and the money’s there, so let’s get it.” In other words, from the way she describes their relationship, I sincerely doubt the author is the only one doing the deferring in this marriage. And yet, I doubt the author would see situations like that as her husband yielding to her rather than as him being a leader and making an executive decision, even as she would see the opposite situation as her yielding to her husband.
Okay, end tangent.
What was it that got me all bothered about this blog post? The sex bit. I mean good grief, the title of the piece is “Why Being a Submissive Wife Is Hot.” The author explains that submission does not mean doing whatever your husband wants in bed, but that it does improve a couple’s sexual union. Here’s how:
Because I submit to my husband, I feel confident in his care and love and this gives me sexual confidence as well. We have a mutual sense of safety and trust that can’t help but lead to great sex. I believe God gives good gifts to married couples to be savored and enjoyed, not ignored and treated carelessly. My husband and I do enjoy a tremendously satisfying sex life, because we have grown in our sexual confidence and because we are secure in our roles for our marriage.
Another way that submissiveness outside of bed lends itself well in bed is that my husband and I have grown in our vulnerability. Without a doubt, because I am a submissive wife and my husband “loves me as Christ loved the church,” we have really learned to listen to each other with respect. This equips us to be able to say what we like sexually and to really listen to one another. We have a foundation that allows us to be able to say when we make love, “I like it when you (fill in the blank with random exciting sexual details).” It’s so reassuring to have that kind of vulnerability that leads to great sex!
Do you see what I mean? I had expected some Doug Wilsonesque bit about how husbands feel more confident in bed when they are in charge and “conquering” and their wives are being submissive and obedient, but instead I get this. The author writes that she and her husband have a great sex life because they have a relationship built on mutual respect and trust. And somehow, the author argues that this is because they are “secure in our [gender] roles for our marriage” rather than because they have a relationship built on trust and respect! In fact, she claims that because she is submissive and because her husband loves her “as Christ loved the church,” they learned to listen to each other with respect. Really?
My husband and I have everything discussed in these two paragraphs—we have a relationship built on respect and trust and have, over the course of our marriage, come to listen to each other with respect. And you know what? We don’t believe wifely submission and we don’t take Christ and the church as our role model for marriage. And you know what else? I know couples who do believe in wifely submission and in modeling the relationship between Christ and the church, and yet have troubled marriages riddled with distrust.
In other words, the author’s gendered marriage roles do not by themselves lead to trust and respect, and they are no way necessary for achieving trust and respect. I am getting really tired of people describing relationships that are successful because they are built on healthy relationship skills and then attributing their success to traditional gender roles. Think of the message this sends young couples or unmarried individuals! Don’t worry about working on healthy relationship skills! No no! Those aren’t the key! The key is traditional gender roles! That is what will make your marriage successful and happy!
How about no.