Monday, May 2, 2016

Now that I'm engaged, I'm all like "hell no" on the whole "wifely submission" thing

A women using a computer. Image text: "To order a Christian husband, click 'submit.'" Image source.
A few months ago- before we got engaged, actually- I told Hendrix about an idea I had. And he told me no no no, don't do that, it's a bad idea. [I won't say what it is, because it turned out to be a bad idea.] And I told him no, I'm doing this, here are the reasons. And he told me, no no no that would be really bad, here are the reasons.

And we talked/argued about it for a little bit, and I decided actually he was right. It was not a good idea. So I'm not doing it.

And I wondered, is this what "submitting to your husband" is supposed to feel like?

Actually I felt good. I knew that he really really cared about me, and that's why he told me not to do that. And that he understands me and loves me, so I trust him and definitely take his point of view seriously.

But there was one huge difference between this and "submitting to your husband." A difference so huge that it makes Hendrix changing my mind a really good and healthy thing that I value in our relationship, and "submitting to your husband" a terrifying thing I would never ever agree to.

The difference is this: I "submitted" to Hendrix's point of view because he was able to explain it in a way that led me to believe he was right. I don't submit to him because he's a man, I "submitted" because, in this particular situation, it turned out that he was right and I was wrong. If I believed in "submitting to my husband", then any effort he puts into explaining himself is just a formality intended to make me feel better, but really not necessary- I have to do what he says, whether I agree with it or not.

And damn, it is terrifying to imagine a situation where I'd listen to his explanation, knowing I didn't have the option to disagree with it. Knowing from the start that I'd have to do what he said, and trying to force myself to believe whatever reasons he gave for it, so that I could at least feel like it was sort of my choice.

Hell no, I am never doing that. If Hendrix had told me why he thought it was a bad idea, and I didn't agree with him, I wouldn't have "submitted." I would have been like, nope, I'm still doing this, nobody tells me what to do. And not for one millisecond would I have thought "oh but I'm supposed to submit to him- should I really do this or not?" (I might have considered not doing it because I care about him and it might have affected him negatively. I would NEVER EVER EVER consider doing or not doing something for "wifely submission" reasons.)

(Also, there have been times when he wanted to do something, and I told him it was a bad idea and explained why, and he "submitted" to me. Basically the one who realizes they were wrong submits to the other one.)

And now that I'm actually engaged, now that I have an actual living human being who will be my husband, who is delightful and funny and imperfect and likes different movies than me and asks "why are you being a squirrel?" when I make weird faces at him- a real person rather than Perfect Purity Man- I'm kind of surprised that I ever believed in "wives submit to your husbands." Like, how did I think that was going to work?

Well, actually, back then I always wondered about that. How was it supposed to work anyway? It seemed like a big abstract concept and I couldn't imagine how it would actually play out in real life. I always wondered about this, but I never thought to question it and say "hey, maybe it's NOT true that wives submit and husbands lead." No, of course not, of course good Christians are required to believe wives submit and husbands lead.

I guess I never really saw complementarianism modelled by Christian couples. Sure, they all talked about it- or rather, I never heard of any Christian who questioned it- but I was never aware of any practical examples of what it meant. (Or maybe I'm just oblivious to most things about socializing and relationships. Yeah. That's a strong possibility.)

People would say things like "if you have a really great man who loves you, then it's totally wonderful and easy to submit." And yeah, in the example about me and Hendrix, I was willing to listen to his reasons and seriously evaluate whether I could be wrong, because I know he loves me. His opinion carries a LOT of weight. But not infinite weight- not so much weight that I'm just going to automatically do what he says without really needing an explanation.

And probably the closest thing I ever heard to a real answer on what "wives submit to your husbands" actually means was something like this: "When they have to make a big decision, they talk about it together and try to agree. And if they can't agree, they should keep talking about it and see if there's any way they can reach some kind of compromise where they both agree. But if this just won't work, then the husband has the final say. Now OF COURSE he has to value his wife's input when he makes the decision, but ultimately if ever a situation arises where they can't make a decision together, the husband decides and the wife has to go along with it." Other bloggers have pointed out how the ideal relationship described by complementarians is actually an egalitarian relationship. In the ideal case, the husband will never actually use his position as the "leader" to force his wife to do something.

Basically I believed that explanation for a while, because I couldn't imagine any scenario in which it would make sense for women not to have rights equal to men, but I believed Christians had to believe in some concept of marriage which could be [at least in a vague, confused way] described as "wives submit and husbands lead."

I think about my relationship with Hendrix and how completely ridiculous it would be to suggest that I should "submit" to him [to a much greater extent than he should submit to me]. We're equals. We're a team. We work so well together, and we complement each other. I'm more likely to get angry about something somebody said on the internet; he's more like "calm down, people will always say ignorant things, you can't force them to change." I'm more interested in big ideals like justice and equality; he's more focused on our actual relationships with family members and how we can be kind to them even when we don't agree with them. He's more of a people person and I'm not. He always says, "I hope our children will have your IQ and my EQ." I talk a lot, and he listens. I'm really really glad to have someone who complements me like that. (And it should be noted that defining what kind of person "complements" someone is based on their individual personality, not gender.)

The kind of guy that purity culture tells girls to look for- a perfect godly man who always knows what the right decision is- doesn't exist. That's become even more obvious to me, now that I'm engaged to a real human who does exist.


Note on commenting: If you post a comment that says I misunderstood complementarianism and what "wives submit to your husbands" means, and then you proceed to define it in a way that's totally within the range of very normal definitions I've heard in church for my entire life, I will probably just laugh.

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