Friday, 26 August 2011

Headship is Dead Hip

While reading through The American Trouser Controversy on Simcha Fisher last night, I was struck by the emphasis on male headship. A reader suggested that strangers who yell at women about being submissive to their husbands secretly want women to be submissive to them. Many readers had no problem with the idea of being submissive to their husbands (thus the humour of the husband-signed "Pants Pass"); they just didn't see why they should be submissive to male strangers, too.

Of course, the whole "Wives Obey Your Husbands" thing is so controversial in itself, I don't know if I want to go there. How much simpler if St. Paul had written, "Wives, be easy to live with." That's probably what he meant. Hey, I have an M.Div., you know. But there's Male Headship in Marriage out of the bag anyway, and I wonder who let it out in the first place.

I suppose the idea of Male Headship in Marriage floats about my local Catholic TLM community, although as most of the men aren't married, it remains somewhat academic. Like most university educated guys, B.A. had imbibed a number of feminist (one might argue humanist) ideas by the time he fell in with traddish types, so his thoughts on male headship include the inherent dignity of women and their ability to think for themselves. He also believes firmly in his grandfather's sage marital advice of "Anything for a quiet life."

The way male headship works in my house is that the male has the responsible 9 - 6 job, and the female floats about writing this and studying that and buying the groceries and running off to Poland. So I personally have nothing to complain about. I can even use male headship to my advantage in social situations, e.g. making a graceful exit. I seem to recall saying to someone, "B.A. says I must leave now, and I suppose I must obey him" and my interlocutor suddenly scowled like a cross goose and said "But of course you must obey him. It's in Saint Paul!"

This scary discussion of Male Headship in Marriage is, of course, meant to be propaganda for the Single Life. It's actually quite old-fashioned propaganda for the Single Life. Refusing to get married and living as virgins forever was a way Christian women could achieve the status held by Christian men. Proto-nuns, like nuns, were semi-sacred beings who remained mostly autonomous. Brides of Christ, they couldn't be bossed around by other men. I forget now who was in charge of them, but I assume it was ultimately the local bishop, who dealt with them as a collective and if there were personality clashes it would be between him and the most senior proto-nun.

If you stay single, you don't have to worry about male headship. If you are a single man, you remain free from its responsibilities and if you are a single woman, you never have to ponder what its inverse, female footship, means for you. From my own married perspective, it means doing your best never to hurt your husband's feelings and trying not to sin too often against his idea of what a comfortable dwelling looks like. It does not mean marrying a tyrant and encouraging him in his tyrannies so that you can look like a holy martyr. As a life choice, that's just perverse.

Incidentally, wanting to choose your clothes for you is a RED FLAG. Believe me on this one. Grumping because your skirt is too tight is one thing, but going out to J.C. Penny to buy you something full and frilly is psycho.

If you are simply appalled by the idea of female footship, then I am sorry and I sneakily suggest you stick with your Novus Ordo crowd instead of hanging with the Trads. Of course, you could survive if you (A) have a sense of humour and (B) have read Mulieris Dignitatem. You might also want to train up your inner Aggrieved Domestic Longhair, so you can hump up your shoulders, let down your claws and yowl when some non-husband man tries to push you around. Pfft! Pfft! Miarraw!


Jam said...

So this summer I was going to a really traddy trad parish. Like, a basket of mantillas by the door "in case" you forgot yours. (The trad mass I usually attend in my usual city is much less, um, self contained and much more integrated.) There were many, many frumpy Little House on the Prairie dresses. There were also two girls who were consistently dressed in THE MOST STRIPPERISH clothes I have ever seen in a church, ever. Ever ever ever. And I have attended some seriously trad's-worst-nightmare places. We're talking 5-6" platform stiletto heels, short short skirts, tops with strategically placed netting or cut outs -- and hair covered by a black lace mantilla. Now, I don't approve of such clothing but I couldn't help but find this HIGHLY amusing because I can only imagine what battles have been fought in those girls' houses, and there they were, week after week, in their black stripper outfits. Ah, me.

Ok, so that anecdote doesn't really add much to the conversation. Except that I appreciated that they kept coming to Mass (in their mantillas!). Plenty of parents or priests or busybodies would say, "don't come back until you've learned how to dress right", and plenty of girls would take that right up and spend the rest of their youth telling people how they were kicked out of church and that's how they know the Catholics are hypocrites full of hate and repression.

theobromophile said...

How much simpler if St. Paul had written, "Wives, be easy to live with." That's probably what he meant. Hey, I have an M.Div., you know.

This is where I put on my classics major/lawyer hat and point out that back in St. Paul's day, most women were illiterate and husbands were legally responsible for the actions of their wives. In that context, obedience was probably a necessary part of a happy marriage.

they just didn't see why they should be submissive to male strangers, too.

Perhaps we ought to suggest that if men want us to submit to them, then they can marry us?

Incidentally, a LOT of the "submit to your husbands!11!!" crowd are Single. A lot. It often shows me that men who think that marriage is an idyllic place when they have their way and women submit haven't been married and don't understand women very well (and the resentment that such attitudes can engender).

some guy on the street said...

Ah, but the wife is so much more than the foot! The husband is as the head, but the wife is as all the rest together --- so, not just how he gets around, but breath and life and the power to grasp and to carry, and his very heart...

"This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and His Church." --- oh! Sabatino points out that half the point of this passage is to bring to mind something the wives and husbands he addressed already knew, and to use it teach them something they didn't know about the Church.


Hilary said...

What if he buys you someting slinky and frilly that goes *under* your clothes?

Still psyho?

Little Mary said...

This came up in a CCD class I taught for fifth and sixth graders... one of the girls was very upset about women submitting to men, so we read the whole thing aloud to discuss. After reading the part about husbands loving their wives like the church, one of the boys turned to the girl and went wait a minute... you guys are getting the better deal... Christ died on a cross for the church... submitting sounded like less of a burden then that to him.

The episode still makes me laugh and I think about it when looking for a husband. Shocking how it doesn't come up more often :)

Seraphic Spouse said...

I don't know, Hilary. I mean, J.C. Penny. Come on. Meanwhile, most guys would only walk into a lingerie store at gunpoint. Most guys I would have anything to do with. I have an idea that French (real French, not Canadian French) guys would have no problem walking into one and actually buying something clever, but I couldn't say for certain.

Sheila said...

I'm with you. I heard the suggestion recently that the phrase, "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord," was meant more like, "Wives, when you submit to your husbands, which you already do because of the legal realities of our day and age, do it as if to the Lord." Just like it gives instructions for slaves and masters -- it's not commanding us to submit so much as to take it an a spiritual way.

I always imagined I would submit to my husband. That is definitely how parents have organized their marriage. But I wasn't prepared for how much my husband would submit to *me.* It gets to be a contest sometimes, who gets to give up what they want more. I think that's as it should be. In any event, we like it fine.

fifi said...

Were the stripperish girls of a different ethnicity? I ask because in some cultures "stripperish" to us is more "ho-hum-everyday." The Mexican and even Indian cultures come to mind. I have two friends from Romania, as well, who wear some pretty dicey outfits, but they are really very sweet and unassuming girls. I think part of it is ignorance, part of it is the desire to be fashion-forward (without examining "fashion" on any deeper level), and a good part of it is that they are just from a different culture and half their antecedents were "scandalous" gypsies.

fifi said...

P.S. I recognize that even a "modestly" dressed American woman might also look "stripperish" to someone from another culture or time period. I was once chastised in a German church for wearing shorts in the sacred edifice. (Item: they were not short shorts. It was World Youth Day and all my other clothes were sopping wet). Oops!

No offense meant to Latina or Indian sisters!

Seraphic said...

Immodest clothes might not actually be a "Romanian" thing, either. It might just be a contemporary-teenage-girl-fashion thing.

This is becoming quite a theme in my blogging, but Romanians are not Roma, although some Roma carry Romanian passports.

And of course though Roma girls are famous for wearing eye-popping outfits, they are also famously chaste.

Seraphic said...

I think, so as to prevent hurt feelings, I will ban comments linking "stripperish" clothing with various ethnic groups.

I know everyone means well and the suggestion is that we not judge certain girls by their clothes, especially if they come from "other" cultures. However, the very nature of blogs makes it difficult to get that conversation right.

(This blog, by the way, is not American and certainly does not see American culture as normative. As Mark Steyn often points out, the USA is the exception, not the rule, in many ways. Thus American readers, although in the majority, should keep that in mind.)

Jam said...

I have no idea what their ethnicity was. This was out in the middle-of-nowhere Midwestern USA where I grew up. Everyone else in their groups was dressed in line with local standards. My best guesses were teenage rebellion or a too-innocent interpretation of "fashion". My point, if I had one, was simply to express how pleased I was that this didn't seem to be a huge deal. One tends to think and read about the issue of appropriate clothes in church in terms of throwing people out, or not letting them in, right? Particularly in traditionalist circles, I think. And yet, these girls came with their families week after week and went to confession and heard mass and took communion. Maybe there were men in the church who were suffering, and I am sorry for that; certainly I don't endorse wearing the sexiest possible clothes to mass!! But I was glad that apparently the families and the priest had chosen to sort of ignore it. At least there were no pointed homilies on modest dress, or passive-aggressive signs or bulletin notices about clothing standards. Now obviously I'm imagining all kinds of things (note that one thing I do NOT imagine is that the girls are actually strippers or promiscuous in any way!!) -- but over the summer as I saw these girls and made this interpretation, it made me reflect on my own practice of tolerance, charity, etc.

So I think we are all in agreement that while sexy-sexy clothes are objectively bad, we in the pews should not be quick to judge :)

sciencegirl said...

Hypothetical Q: If BA told you to get a neck tattoo and flash it under your mantilla during Mass, would you? It could be a nice Latin phrase or something prayerful, like "Salve Regina" in that intimidating Gothic Gang font, or possibly Catholic Traddy humor like "ISN'T MY MANTILLA PRETTY???" or "Lacier Than Thou" in Latin.

Of course, I doubt that he would, but what if he suddenly decided tattoos were the most beautiful things ever, and he truly long for you to have an amazing tattoo, or several of them, so you would look even more gorgeous?

I think leadership makes things run better in general, but I was wondering how absurd (yet not sinful) a husband could request things. Is it "Submission within Reason?" or "YES HONEY! TO HEAR IS TO OBEY!" all the time (as long as it is not a sin, of course)?

sciencegirl said...

@Jam: Yes, I think it's great that the Catholic Masses actually do accept and tolerate all, and that the best way to lead is by example and friendship. And if you have your own kids, you can set the rules.

Seraphic said...

Well as a matter of fact mutilation of the body is a sin. So if B.A. told me to get a tattoo, I would say, "I don't think so, buddy, since that would be mutilating my beautiful body."

This of course would startle all the lovely ladies my age who had dolphins tattooed to the smalls of their back when we were all in our late 20s and wanted to do something empowering, or whatever it was.

There is, of course, quite a wide interpretation of what "mutilation" means these days, but I know one novice who got a tattoo before he took his vows of obedience because he suspected that if he asked permision later the answer would be no. Which, when he asked permission for a second tattoo, it was.

I'm not sure where your question came from, Theobromophile. As I said, I think it would have been a lot simpler if St Paul had told wives to be easy to live with, and I think there is something wrong with women who enjoy playing masochistic martyrs for tiny tyrants.

sciencegirl said...

HA! Well, that's a mercy, then. I suppose that also rules out plastic surgery as well? I was just thinking it would be sad to get married, then be handed a list of features the husband wants you to add on. He'd be a fairly dreadful husband if he did that, of course. I really would not want to get a tattoo or implants, etc., and now I know I never ever will!