This week’s Lies Women Believe review covers the chapter I’ve been dreading– the chapter on marriage. It was as horrific as I was expecting, and re-reading the sections I’d highlighted when I was in abusive relationship with a rapist made me sick all over again. I know this for a fact: the ideas Nancy argues for in this book keep women in abusive relationships.
So, let’s dig into this miasmic pile of filth, shall we?
I HAVE TO HAVE A HUSBAND TO BE HAPPY
It’s a good thing she started this chapter off with this “lie,” because it’s the only thing she actually has any experience with. She’s been a single woman in a Christian culture obsessed with marriage, and it’s a good idea to bring this up. I’m a happily married woman, and I thank my lucky stars every day that I met him and we fell in love. But, I’ve been in abusive relationships and I dated a lot of lackluster people, and I can tell you without a shade of doubt that I’d rather be single than stuck in a marriage with some of the people I briefly considered “settling” for.
However, instead of focusing on “singleness can be fulfilling and happy,” something Nancy at least hopefully knows about, she instead concentrates on how women shouldn’t value being happy. Amidst a lecture on how marriage is about “sanctifying each other and glorifying God” (137-140), she stresses just how ridiculous it is to expect a “fallen” man to make you happy.
Personally, I sorta get this. One of my favorite lines from Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility adaptation is “there is something bewitching in the idea that all of one’s happiness can depend entirely on any particular person.” I don’t think it’s healthy to make one person the locus of all your desire, happiness, attention, interest, or activity. We are complicated individuals, with a variety of needs and wants, and it is impossible for only one person to fill all those needs. That’s why we have parents, siblings, friends, communities, peers, coworkers.
But that’s not the direction she takes this. Instead, she encourages women to focus entirely on how their unhappy relationship is supposed to make them a better person and glorify God.
IT IS MY RESPONSIBILITY TO CHANGE MY MATE
Again, agree with the general idea but not the execution. I cannot fix my husband. If my partner has flaws (which he does, he is not perfect), it’s not my responsibility to get him to see the error of his ways, to “whine, nag or preach” (141) at him until he stops having that flaw.
You can probably hear the “but” coming from a mile away.
I can reasonably expect to have my boundaries respected and for us to communicate honestly about what we need or expect from each other. For example, right away Handsome made it clear that I could ask him to do something, but I could not specify exactly how it was to be done. He would do it his way, and if I wanted it done another way, I would do it myself. This sounded reasonable to me, and I agreed. The one exception is the shower– I’m not physically capable of cleaning it every time it needs cleaned, but because I have trauma-related shower stuffs, he cleans it exactly the way I showed him.
I also have an expectation– I react extremely badly to being told that something I’m upset about is “just a ____” like “just a bad haircut” or “just a random asshole on the internet.” He doesn’t intend to belittle or dismiss my concern, but I haven’t been able to adjust to that after three years of being together. If I hear the phrase “it’s just a _____,” I feel dismissed. He respects that, and doesn’t say that particular phrase anymore.
These are the negotiations of being married, of sharing a living space with someone else. Boundaries should be respected. Concerns should be listened to. Agreements should be reached. Communication should happen.
That’s not what she advocates for. Nope. Instead we get this:
The first weapon is a godly life, which God often uses in a man’s life to create conviction and spiritual hunger. When a wife … points out the things she wishes her husband would change, she is likely to make him defensive and resistant. But when she takes her concerns to the Lord, she is appealing to a higher power … that’s a lot harder to resist than a nagging wife! (141)
I call this Passive-Aggressiveness by Way of Piety.
Me saying “hey, Handsome, please don’t do The Thing” is not nagging. I have the right to say that. And I am absolutely convinced that walking around your house, your eyes upturned to heaven, your hands gently folded, hoping that’s going to get your partner to stop doing Whatever Thing is asinine in the extreme.
MY HUSBAND IS SUPPOSED TO SERVE ME
She says “nope, you’re his helper, you help him, silly” which just … lordy does no one have a dictionary, or a concordance? Here, Nancy, you should read up on what ezer kenegdo means and how it’s used in the Bible.
Second, does no one ever bother to read Ephesians 5:21? If being a “helper” means “serve your husband” and “submission” is part of being a “helper,” then … uh, there’s a thing Nancy should probably know about:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
IF I SUBMIT TO MY HUSBAND I’ll BE MISERABLE
I was actually a little gobsmacked that Nancy baldly makes this particular argument:
The struggle with submission is not unique to women of our day. In fact, that was the essence of the issue Eve faced back in the Garden of Eden. At the heart of the Serpent’s approach to Eve was this challenge: Does God have the right to rule your life? …
He convinced Eve that if she submitted to God’s direction, she would be miserable … From that day to this, Satan has done a masterful job convincing women that submission is a narrow, negative, and confining concept. (146)
I can’t believe I have to say this: men are not God. They are full of flaws, they are imperfect, they can be selfish and cruel and mean and angry just like everyone else. Even if I believed that Eve’s problem was not submitting to God, it is a non sequitur to argue that all women must submit to men or risk “stripping God of his authority.”
Also, she immediately compares grown women to toddlers and likens not being submissive to your husband to running out into the street and being hit by a truck. Women have access to the same amount of life experience as men, to the same wisdom and decision-making abilities, and regardless of how much Nancy tries to insist that women are “not inferior to their husbands” (147), she is arguing that here, and she’s already made that argument when she said women are more easily deceived than men and that’s why the Serpent targeted Eve.
The next bit … I threw the book down and went and cleaned something.
However, even in such a case [physical abuse], a woman can– and must–maintain an attitude of reverence for her husband’s position; her goal is not to belittle or resist him as her husband, but, ultimately, to see God restore him to obedience. If she provokes or worsens the situation [again: PHYSICAL ABUSE] through her attitudes, words, or behavior, she will interfere with what God wants to do in her husband’s life and will not be free to claim God’s protection and intervention on her behalf. (149)
FUCK THAT WITH A CHEESE GRATER, A CHAINSAW, AND A CACTUS.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss has clearly argued here that if a woman “does not revere her physically abusive husband’s position” she has no right to “claim God’s protection.”
And I’m crying.
Related: in the section on “sometimes divorce is a better option that staying in a bad marriage” she heavily emphasizes how marriage is a permanent covenant and makes no exceptions for abuse. The resources she offers on “Domestic Abuse” in the back of the book (270) are two books, both of which argue that there are no exceptions for divorce, not even abuse.
This is catastrophically dangerous and unimaginably evil. An abuse victim must be able to divorce their abusive partner for the simple reason that marriage gives an abuser extremely dangerous privileges and rights that must be removed from them. Period. End of story. Encouraging any other attitude is recklessly irresponsible.
I will shout this into the heavens with my dying breath: complementarianism destroys lives. Complementarianism is abusive. Complementarianism kills.