About that “not degrading” submission thing . . .Posted: September 25, 2010
It boggles my mind that complementarian pastors like Joshua Harris stand in front of congregations that admire and respect them and have the audacity to claim that what’s expected of an appropriately submissive wife isn’t degrading. These men know what submission entails. They know it’s a lifestyle with both explicit and unspoken rules that dictate attitudes and behavior in every aspect of marital and family life. There’s not a chance that any of these men wouldn’t consider it degrading, as an adult, to “show respect” to another person in the way their wives are expected to “respect” them.
This is the thing. Complementarians shroud submission in misleading and vague terms like “respect” and “courtesy” and “affirming leadership” – obscuring the reality of what it means to live, day to day, as a submitted wife. It’s a miserable, and yes, a degrading way to live. There’s plenty of evidence of this at sites like No Longer Quivering and Razing Ruth, which document the oppressiveness of Christian patriarchy in wrenching detail . Of course, many complementarians would object that these are extreme examples (which is sort of true), and that the leaders in these communities are extremists (also sort of true) who “don’t really understand” what submission means (yea, this I’m not buying). Real godly male leaders don’t rule harshly, the way the men in these stories do. They don’t condone abuse or expect women to be doormats. Ok, whatever.
This doesn’t hold up if you look more closely at the teachings of more “moderate” complementarians like Harris and John Piper. And it definitely doesn’t hold up if you look at the books they recommend as “godly” resources on female submission.
Take, for example, Nancy Wilson’s The Fruit of Her Hands: Respect and the Christian Woman. Here are just a few of Wilson’s claims about what submission means for married women:
- A woman shouldn’t go on a trip without her husband’s permission, because she is her husband’s helper and can’t help him if she’s not with him. (55).
- It is the wife’s job is to cheerfully submit to her husband’s decisions on all matters, including decisions about how many children she should have, about family planning, about child-rearing and education, and to support and help him in these decisions. (44-6; 60-1).
- A woman should only say things about her husband to her friends “that would please him to hear her say” (48). She should never share his flaws or mistakes with anyone, unless they are drastic enough to require pastoral or police intervention. She is always required to talk about her husband with respect, no matter what – so basically, a woman has to “show respect” to her husband even if he’s, say, an abuser or a pedophile (28-9; 34).
- A woman should not work to provide for the family, even if her husband refuses to work or they are in dire financial circumstances, unless the husband deserts the family (50-52).
- A woman’s body is like a garden tended and owned by her husband.* She is obligated to have sex with him whenever he wants, and to make sure that he enjoys it. It is a woman’s job to keep her husband constantly satisfied sexually: “A husband is never trespassing in his own garden.” “Your breasts are his to enjoy.” The wife should keep her husband “so completely sexually satisfied” that he is “like a wet noodle” – ewww. (89;91-2)
- Women who are victims of rape or sexual assault are obligated to forgive the perpetrators – meaning no matter how much trauma they might still be dealing with, or how triggering they might find sex, they shouldn’t “make [their] husbands suffer” by denying them sex (94-5).
This is a book that SGM leaders recommend to engaged and married women; it’s a book that I was given as part of our premarital counseling at an SGM church. It’s a book that teaches women that God wants them to cheerfully submit to being a man’s slave and sex toy. Joshua Harris knows this is what women in his church are being taught is “biblical womanhood,” and yet turns around and asserts that this isn’t degrading.
This is what complementarians really mean when they go on about “servant leadership” and “joyful submission.”. What complementarianism often means is enduring verbal, physical, and/or sexual abuse with a “gentle and quiet spirit.” What it always means it that a woman has little to no say in decisions that intimately affect her and her children. What it always means it that women have to “joyfully” suppress any emotion, desire, or dream that is contrary to their husbands’ wishes.
* This is followed by rather hilarious passages in which she says “Some women need to recognize the fact that they must tend their own garden.” and “Let God tend your garden.”