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manipulation by any other name

September 4, 2010

As I’ve admitted before, I never did do very well in the submission stakes.

This is not surprising considering who I am and to whom I was married. While I admit I didn’t manage to pull submission off very well at all, my efforts to submit to my husband were pretty heroic at times. Still I came in for a fair bit of criticism for not looking or not sounding as submissive as I ought.

This brings me to a particularly distressing and frankly, in my view, nauseating aspect of the QF doctrine of submission. While some of the men I knew in QF families were domineering bullies, a good number of them were weak-kneed ninnies. Except they were the only ones who didn’t seem to know it. This was because their clever and seemingly super-submissive wives concealed that inconvenient truth from them. These women managed to run the show while contriving to trick their men into believing that they were in fact in charge.

Consider the following interaction between one sweet wife and her lazy whimp of a husband. J had all the submission boxes ticked: floral frocks, long hair, heaps of kids, homeschooling, husband ‘working’ from home…. While I suppose she may have considered us friends, she often made her disappointment in my failure at Christian wifely submission plain with disapproving looks and sometimes helpful suggestions for my improvement.

At the time this particular incident occurred we were enjoying our post-home church afternoon tea on the verandah of J’s country acreage (tick, tick). As usual, the men were sitting at one table and the women at another. This was the usual arrangement but I don’t recall it was done by explicit rule but rather a general consensus. The women talked about homeschooling and kids, the men about doctrine and work. J’s children were making themselves unpleasant a short distance away from where we adults were sitting. I could see J was uncomfortable with her kids’ behaviour but didn’t want to ‘usurp’ her husband’s authority by doing anything about it. At least, she wanted to take the opportunity of making both herself and hubby look good in front of us all.

Several times she cast a slightly irritated glance in the direction of her children and then more pointedly at her husband before she hit on the perfect solution. Summoning a sickly tone reminiscent of 50s sit-com housewives, here what she said:”R, would you mind using your big, strong man’s voice and correcting our children? I think they need their Daddy to do that right now.”I almost gagged on my brownie.

This is how submission is done in many QF households. It isn’t OK to say, ‘Honey, how’s about you get off your lazy duff and man up for a change?’ but it’s fine to ‘motivate’ your man to do whatever you want by using clever brain-circumventing, ego-massaging manipulation strategies. And if you have a good bucketful of QF cred because of the box-ticking mentioned above, nobody minds a smidge. If she wears a floral frock and talks so sweet she couldn’t secretly be (gasp) a manipulative, underhanded bitch, could she?

I have had conversations with QF women about their in-good-conscience use of these techniques many times. I would point out that I was working hard to find ways to respect my husband – and that wasn’t easy. Treating him as though he were an idiot would not have been a good strategy for me – even if he liked it a lot. And as a young woman, my eyes opening to the power of my own sexuality, I made a decision that I would never, never use tricks of that sort to manipulate a man I cared about – or ones I didn’t either. I don’t know anyone I despise so greatly that my conscience wouldn’t prick me if I patronised them in this way. Manipulation and integrity don’t live on the same planet and I don’t any longer want to live where we pretend they do. Integrity is too important to trade it off for domestic peace and fundamentalist kudos.

But nonsense like J’s is widespread in the QF and patriarchal Christian communities – at least it is in the ones with which I have been associated. In her book “Created to be his Helpmeet”Debi Pearl described several instances when she not only tolerated her husbands infantile tantrums but ‘learned how to win’, that is, got back into his good books by tempting him with goodies like sex. (I hope I’m remembering this right. I’d go check my copy of Mrs Pearl’s book but the kids and I had a Pearl-shredding party a while back. Felt gooood.)

Val Stares, one of the long-time leaders of conservative women’s magazine Above Rubies in Australia once told a story at a women’s group I attended. Val’s husband does not identify himself as a Christian – at least, he didn’t then. Val said that once, as she was looking out her kitchen window while he mowed the lawn, she watched as her husband ran over and destroyed a seedling tree that was precious to her. An uncharacteristically unsubmissive ejaculation along the lines of ‘Oh, no! Not the ornamental cherry…’ escaped Val’s lips. Hearing this, her husband pitched a fit stomping and kicking angrily. Poor old him.

While Val is a gorgeous and intelligent woman and while I think the moral of this story was intended to be ‘Let him be. Don’t criticise’, I still don’t get it. How could anybody think that anyone benefits from encouraging the man of the house to behave like an three-year-old? That just leads to nowhere good: the women have to put up with and justify a whole heap of moronic behaviours and the kids nearly go mad trying to learn how to be healthy adults while buying in to far-fetched excuses for their father’s immaturity. The man himself probably gets the rawest deal – he just stops growing. And what is a life without growth?Worst of all, bang goes everybody’s integrity. The whole family is forced to perform all manner of intellectual and emotional contortions in order to accommodate their own hypocrisy and self-deceit. Trying to live with a growing disparity between your inner and outer identities is a dangerous route. Aye, thar be madness, mateys.

QF patriarchal Christianity such as I have seen it practiced does not value truth and it does not value women. It harms children…and it harms men. It trades integrity for a floral-frocked lie and then tut-tuts at those who don’t toe the line as though it has a monopoly on moral high ground. It disgusts me.My heart breaks for all those women who still believe QF’s sales pitch as I once did but I’m saddest for the children growing up inside QF who are unable to develop a healthy, honest sense of self while simultaneously being forced to deny the bleeding obvious and perpetually pretend it is not so. I’m devoting my energies to helping my own darlings walk away from the lie and towards freedom and wholeness.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Michelle permalink
    May 10, 2011 12:35 am

    Wow. Thank you for sharing this. I’d like to pitch in that I don’t think this sort of unhealthy behavior is limited to the Quiverfull lifestyle. I believe that it manifests in many so-called complementarian marriages, as well.

    I imagine you are familiar with this specialized use of the term “complementarian”, but just in case not:

    I consider it to be a fracturing of the word, since it does not mean two parts (or people, in this case) coming together to form a whole. These folks mean that men complement women by “leading” them and women complement men by “following” them. So, as in QF, men are (supposed to be) in charge.

    But there isn’t always an emphasis on producing as many children as physically possible, on keeping women from paid employment outside the home, and on (the appearance of) self-sufficiency in hierarchical complementarianism that there is in QF.

    But I’ve witnessed a lack of growth in some of the men, and manipulative tendencies in some of the women, who practice hierarchical complementarianism, that mirrors what you talk about, here. I don’t think anyone, male or female, grows up in this sort of system, as they quash so much of themselves, it doesn’t seem possible…How do you ever learn to relate with people if you’re busy keeping yourself in check (women) or you think every word that comes out of your mouth has value by virtue of the fact that God made you male?

    I’m glad to see you writing. The more voices we have being honest about the destructiveness of this type of movement, the better. Congratulations on finding your way out!

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