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Fascinating Womanhood: family finances

1950s Woman Shopping Frozen Food Section Of Grocery Store

Occasionally during the course of her book, Helen gives her readers practical, “down-to-earth” level advice. This is one of those chapters, which is dedicated to telling women how they can help their husbands by “developing the womanly art of thrift.”

Like she usually does, she opens up her chapter by appealing to the Bible, which “makes it clear” that it is “the husband’s responsibility to provide the living.” However, also like she usually does, she doesn’t reference any particular passage, just expecting us to know what she’s talking about. However, I can think of a few examples that render this claim completely unfounded:

  • The Proverbs 31 Woman. She’s been used to bludgeon Christian women for decades, but one of the things that “the Bible makes clear” that she does is not just “practice the womanly art of thrift” but she also makes money. Proverbs 31 describes a woman who is like “the ships of the merchant,” whose “merchandise is profitable.”
  • Priscilla, who with her husband runs a profitable tent-making business. Paul frequently talks about how indebted he was to this married couple, and he always lists Priscilla first. Considering that the culture of the time always listed the head of the household first, Paul’s decision to lead with her name is significant. (Acts 18).
  • Lydia, the “seller of purple,” and traditionally considered the first Christian convert in Europe. Because of her wealth and her status as a free woman, she invited Paul and his companions into her home, which she would not have been able to do if she was under the legal control of a husband or father. She was clearly in control of her home, independent of any man (Acts 16).
  • Phoebe, who Paul describes as “minister” (the same word he uses to label other notable pastors) and a “leader” or “patron.” She was tasked with delivering his letter to Rome, a duty that also would have required her to read and interpret it for the church there. She was certainly not staying at home, behind closed doors, hiding behind her husband. (Romans 16)
  • Titus specifically tells Roman-Christian women to be “keepers at home,” which as I’ve written about before, was a charge to run a profitable family business; it was not something Paul wrote to make sure women stay in the kitchen.

“The Bible makes clear” Helen? I’m not sure what Bible she’s reading, but it’s not the one I’m pretty sure everyone else in the world has.

But, the biggest thing that bothers me about this chapter is how harshly she divides up people. The way she talks about married couples in this chapter is incredibly divisive. She boxes every single last human being on the planet into what she thinks is “biblical” without any sort of exceptions, without extending grace, without viewing difficult situations with compassion.

She is strictly addressing wives, here, and what she tells them is that they are to be given “allowances” to cover the “household budget”– which does not include anything outside of groceries and clothing. She forbids women from making any sort of purchase– at all— that doesn’t fit inside of “anything in regular demand.” Any kind of need, like furniture or repairs, is to be sought out and paid for only by the husband, and he has “major jurisdiction and final say.” She tells us that we’re not allowed to discuss these sorts of things with him– ever. If we do, we risk emasculating our husbands and “relieving him of his responsibilities” which, somehow results in husbands becoming incapable of handling money wisely.

This actually fits into Helen’s pattern, and is a direct result of how she views communication. To Helen, any possible sort of discussion (“conflict”) is to be avoided at all costs. If a conversation between a husband and a wife could lead to any sort of disagreement whatsoever, she absolutely forbids you from having it. To Helen, a marriage is only “successful” if the two never disagree, and the only way for that to happen is for one person to never have a say. In Helen’s world, that person is always the wife. The fact that one of the biggest sources of conflict in marriages is money (couples who fight over money once a week are 30% more likely to get divorced) has led Helen to believe that husbands and wives must never, ever talk about it. If you never even discuss money, you can’t fight over it, and presto-change-o, happy marriage!

For families in “financial distress” she tells women they they aren’t allowed to go get a job. Instead, we’re supposed to “reduce expenses” and “trim the luxuries” which… gah. The suggestions she makes for how women could do this? Selling their second car. Cancelling vacations. Don’t be tempted by advertisements. Which, in some situations could be perfectly reasonable advice. However, I’m becoming more and more convinced that Helen has never interacted with a poor person in her entire life. People who have two cars and can afford to sell one of them aren’t in financial distress, I’m sorry. Maybe someone who has two cars is living outside of their means, but that is nowhere near the sort of scale many families are facing when 20% of all children go hungry because they live in “very low food security households.” Selling your second car isn’t going to fix that.

And what are we supposed to do when men “make a mess of things”? When they don’t pay the mortgage, or the bills, when they overdraft their accounts?

Let go completely and turn your back on things. Don’t be anxious, checking the books to see if he added right, or is neglecting anything. If he make a mess of things, let him suffer the consequences, no matter what they are. That is the only way he will learn.

I might have thrown the book across the room at that line. Because he’s not the only one suffering consequences when the bank forecloses on your house because he didn’t pay the mortgage. This sort of comment doesn’t even begin to make sense, but she justifies it with “psychology”:

He will begin to feel responsible, to know that if anyone is to worry about the money, it will have to be him. And he will notice your relief, that you are happier. Let him know you are. As he sees you brighter he will try harder to make a go of things, to keep you happy.

Helen doesn’t live on this planet. I’m positive. If she did, she’d realize how ridiculous a statement this is. Sure, some people are motivated by wanting to make the people in their life happy. I’m one of them. But there are plenty of people who couldn’t give a damn, but she doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. This chapter, while Helen has presented it as practical advice, it is almost entirely inapplicable for huge sections of humanity. It is only relevant to the top 20% of all American households, and is wholly incapable of even making sense anyone who doesn’t have the luxury of two cars and a $70,000-a-year income. Helen, here, is displaying an astounding lack of compassion or even awareness that some families really are destitute. Her white, middle-class privilege is pouring out of her, and it’s more that just disappointing.

Helen isn’t alone in this attitude, which is heartbreaking. Many people in conservative evangelical America share the exact same blinders that Helen has on in this chapter. We’ve forgotten that Jesus said “the poor you will always have with you” and that our primary responsibility as the Church is to care for the widows, the orphans, and the poor. We don’t even know they exist anymore. Not really. Oh, we do the Christmas shoebox drives and the book drives and the canned food drives and the backpack drives– one for each season. And then we completely forget about them, except for those four times a year.

I want to be angry with Helen, but I can’t be angry with Helen without feeling anger towards the modern American church in general.


Fascinating Womanhood: the provider

ugly truth
From The Ugly Truth, the scene where Mike tells Georgia to let her husband “be a man,” and that he is emasculated because she earns more.

Hopefully everyone had a fantastic Labor Day weekend. Today’s chapter fits quite well into that theme, actually, since it is entirely devoted to how men have an “inborn” need to provide for their families– although the way he is “intended” to provide extends beyond physical needs and goes into achieving both status and acclaim.

Helen begins by returning to familiar territory– Genesis 3. It’s here that God supposedly gives the ultimate, overriding command to men: they’re the ones responsible to provide while their wives have babies. She explicitly says that “This command was given, not to the woman, but to the man.”

Hmm. Ok.

Let’s accept, for a moment, that Genesis 3 is a valid argument for gender roles and ignore the fact that this passage is God delivering The Curse. Let’s ignore that, for a second, and go along with her argument. Let’s see what it says:

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Do you remember your junior high English classes? Remember learning about things like declarative and imperative sentences? Declarative sentences give information; imperative sentences give orders. There is a rough approximation of this idea in Classical Hebrew; however, the imperative typically appears in Hebrew in the form of a prohibitive statement: “thou shalt not have any other gods before me,” for example. Using the second person future tense is something called the future indicative, and that is what appears here, in Genesis 3.

Grammatically, it isn’t a command.

But, let’s accept for a moment that this passage is, in fact, a command. God does seem to be strictly addressing Adam here. But, this is only chapter three. Let’s take a quick look back at the end of the first chapter:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

And God said to them.


In Paradise, in the Garden– in the place that is a beautiful, extraordinary metaphor for the world as it is intended to be, men and women are working together. Being fruitful and multiplying is not singly under the purview of women– it’s given to both of them. Subduing the earth, practicing husbandry and good stewardship isn’t only to be performed by men– but by both.

A few weeks ago I was in North Carolina, and Handsome and I decided to go visit Renovatus Church. The sermon I heard that morning . . . it was beautiful, and reminded me that the first few chapters of Genesis aren’t there to tell us how horrible life is, the extent of our failure, or how deserving we are of torment and punishment. In Hebrew, the more an idea is repeated, the more important it is, the more emphasis it receives. And the idea that receives the most emphasis?

And God saw it, and behold, it was very good.

Not broken. Not Fallen. Good.

Helen has forgotten that. The only thing she seems to remember about Genesis is the Fall and the Curse. And if that’s the only part of Genesis you care to remember and present to your readers, then your conclusions are going to be unhealthy. They can’t be anything but.

She repeats very tired, very worn-out ideas in this chapter. The “man is the breadwinner” narrative is so commonplace in middle class American culture that it is barely worth commenting on. Except for that one detail: it is a middle class narrative, a middle class ideal. The nearly constant conservative evangelical emphasis on “stay at home mothers” and “providing fathers” completely erases an entire class of people. Being able to stay at home is a luxury. It is nothing more than a statement about status and wealth. Saying that wives must remain at home or they risk destroying their husbands is nothing less than making wealth a moral requirement. According to the 2007 census, of all households with stay-at-home mothers, over 25% of them reported incomes of more than $100,000 per year. Statistically speaking, that puts them in the 82nd percentile for household income. Another 65% of stay-at-home mothers are in the lower end of middle class, but well above poverty level.

Telling women that it is a biblical mandate for them to remain at home is wrong. It is ethically and morally repugnant, because it utterly ignores those who can’t afford to. It tells those who live at or below the poverty level that having a “God-honoring marriage” is completely beyond their ability.

This is one of the many, many ways that conservative evangelical Christianity has lost its soul. Evangelical Christianity, by and large, is the religion of the rich, the prosperous, the white, the middle-class, the white-collar, the fortunate, the privileged. This is, to me at least, the most apparent when it comes to gender roles. Helen quotes from her husband’s book, Man of Steel and Velvet:

Failure to meet this obligation [to provide financial support] has always been just cause for divorce . . . Financial support, and along with this, fidelity have always been the two main entitlements for a woman in marriage.

Not exactly, Mr. Andelin. No where in the Old Testament was the woman ever given the ability to divorce her husband. Divorce, even in the Bible, was strictly a legal privilege for men, not for women. And men could divorce their wives, according to Hillel rabbis, for wearing her hair down outside or burning his dinner. The situation doesn’t exactly improve in the New Testament, either.

Outside of the Bible, a woman could not divorce her husband for anything less than adultery or desertion (with desertion being extremely difficult to prove) until 1923 in England. In America, a woman had to prove her husband guilty of infidelity, desertion, or a crime until 1969– and at no point since Medieval times was failure to provide adequate financial support considered just cause for divorce.

Always, Mr. Andelin? Bah.

But, this sort of thinking is common place. Huge misrepresentations of history are presented as factual, with a rosy view of history that ignores sweeping injustices. The history of the white, upper or middle class male is the only version that many people in conservative Christianity seem to remember most of the time. It’s certainly the only version that Helen seems to remember.


complementarianism and metaphors


This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

The Greek word μυστήριον, which is consistently translated as “mystery,” appears more in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians than it does anywhere else in the New Testament. The way that Paul uses μυστήριον is markedly different from the way that John The Revelator uses it– in the Book of Revelation, μυστήριον is used for its primary meaning: something hidden, something secret, something not understood or seen.

That is not the way Paul uses it in Ephesians, and his use of μυστήριον was startling to me. I’m used to thinking of mystery as being some sort of puzzle, or something to be figured out. Today, when we call something a mystery, it has the connotation of being unknowable. It’s something we don’t have answers for, and probably never will.

That’s not what it means in Ephesians. In fact, it means the exact opposite. He actually defines μυστήριον in two previous passages:

In love he predestined us for adoption as children through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Eph. 1:5-10

When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.

Eph. 3:4-6

This is how he consistently presents what the μυστήριον is: something that was not previously understood but has now been revealed; in the context of Ephesians, this mystery is intimately connected with a completely revolutionary concept of what it means to be children of God. Paul is revealing something incredibly, almost unbelievably subversive to the church in Ephesus. He’s telling these Gentile Christians that they are part of the Beloved, united in him, and are now fellow heirs to the promise.

He’s telling them what it means to be a part of the universal, catholic Church. They’re a part of a family now– daughters and sons of God, fellow heirs. He spends the first three chapters speaking to them of a sweeping tapestry– a pattern that their Father-Mother had in place from the very beginning, but was only now forming a picture they could see and understand. The last three chapters he devotes to explaining what this means for them in concrete, every day terms; Paul was nothing if not practical.

You’re a part of the family of God, he’s saying. Now, what does that actually look like?

The family is a metaphor, and he uses the pater familia, the sacred institute of Rome as the “family” that everyone in Ephesus is familiar with. And he continually subverts it. You are all aware of what Plato said about the pater familia, but you are not just Roman anymore– you are children of God as well as children of Caesar.

There are many excellent analyses of the Greco-Roman household codes, but that’s not really the purpose of my post today. I’m talking about the metaphor he’s using– which is one metaphor among dozens. In Ephesians, the metaphor for the church is the family– the pater familia. Today, many would argue that Ephesians 5:22-33 is an instruction to the church regarding marriage that must be acted out literally. The part of this passage that receives an undo amount of attention is the description as Christ and the husband as the “head.” This has resulted in the complementarian term headship, which has come to mean something entirely different than how the people of Ephesus would have received it.

The argument centers on what κεφαλή (a feminine noun, just thought I’d mention that) means– does it really mean authority?

Reading hierarchy, authority, and power struggles into Ephesians 5:22-32, from a literary criticism and theory standpoint, is actually a Marxist reading. I imagine complementarians don’t realize that, but identifying passages like this one primarily as conflicts between weak and strong is, from a literary standpoint, not sound exegesis. It’s eisegeses, or reading your presuppositions into the text. It can only be sound hermeneutics if the power struggle is actually there– some say it is, but the first three chapters of this book belie that. This letter is all about unity– in this passage, it’s about becoming one flesh, the same term God used to describe the union between Adam and Eve before the Fall.

By using this terminology, Paul is evoking the imagery of Genesis and paradise– this is what the Church is supposed to be. This is what it’s supposed to look like. This is what it means to be man and wife– so united that you become one flesh as God originally intended.

And, if there is really supposed to be hierarchy in the Church, if the modern concept of headship-leader-authority is really a part of how Christians are supposed to relate to each other; how we, as the universal catholic Church is supposed to relate to Christ– as a top-down hierarchy, then it should show up in the other metaphors for the Church.

But it doesn’t.

Oh, sometimes it does. The Church is described as soldiers, as subjects in a kingdom, as part of a priesthood with Christ as the chief priest. It wouldn’t be fair or honest to remove any semblance of hierarchy from those descriptions.

But, there are many metaphors where this hierarchy is non-existent. Most of these have to do with specifically giving us an image of inter-dependence and unity. We are the body– joined and held together, building each other in love. We are the temple, a building– with Christ as the lynch pin, as the cornerstone, as the beginning.

We are the Vine and the Branches. The vine cannot survive without the branches, and the branches cannot survive without the vine. We need each other in order to live, thrive, and function. We can’t be separated, and we are one.

That is the over-riding image of the Church and Christ: as one flesh— as something so deeply connected, interwoven, that it would be impossible to think of them as separate. To do so would be borderline ridiculous. These metaphors aren’t about building an idea of the Church where there must be determined authorities that enforce their will onto everyone else: that is is the antithesis of what it means to be the Church. Hierarchy isn’t what this metaphor in Ephesians is about. Interpreting head here, as “divinely authorized power” isn’t a fair reading of Ephesians, and it doesn’t accurately represent how head is presented in every other place it appears.

The only way Ephesians 5:22-33 works as an instruction for wives to submit to the power and control of their husbands is if you rip it out of context and isolate it– you have to insulate the meanings of these words even from the letter it’s a part of, much less the Pauline Corpus or the New Testament. You have to remove the beauty of the mystery that Paul is speaking of in such glowing terms. We could no longer be Beloved, the fellow heirs, the daughters and sons. If hierarchy is the principle in Ephesians 5, than it obliterates Paradise. Forcing hierarchy into this passage leads to seeing hierarchy and power struggles everywhere else– in all those passages where we are called to love like no one else, to esteem everyone as equals.

If there’s hierarchy, than there is no bond nor free cannot be true.

If there’s hierarchy, then all those verses that ask us to be one, to be in unity, to ignore all of the boundaries and rules and cultural constructs about who is allowed to socialize with who, who is allowed to speak to who– all those times that Jesus stepped outside those limitations . . . it all evaporates.

What Jesus did was radical, and what the early church did was just as radical– they threw away hierarchy.

Bringing it back, claiming that all of our human relationships are determined by our obedience to husbands, to pastors, to parents . . . it mars the beauty of the Church, the love of the saints. It damages the message and purpose of the Gospel and the act of the Cross.


Fascinating Womanhood: the protector


This chapter is devoted to the second “masculine need”: “a man needs to function, feel needed, and excel women as a protector.”

A man being a protector is probably one of the more foundational concepts about men in conservative religious environments– it is most especially true where patriarchy and complementarianism are fiercely held. It appears in a variety of ways, some more subtle than others.

This attitude is actually called benevolent sexism. It differs from hostile sexism in that it usually presents as attempting to be beneficial for women: women are told to stay within patriarchal boundaries, but in return, they will receive benefits, such as protection. Hostile sexism, which is the active belief that women actually are inferior or less capable than men, is less common in American culture (although still present)– but it is very much alive in Helen’s book. This chapter is where Helen crosses the line from benevolent to hostile sexism– and she stays in hostile sexist territory for the majority of the book.

She opens her argument with an appeal to biological differences:

Men are larger, have stronger muscles, and greater physical endurance than women. Women are more fragile, weaker, created for more delicate tasks.

There’s two basic problems with this idea, First off, I’d like to see any man push a seven pound baby out of a space not even four inches across. I don’t think “physical endurance” is something that men have a huge advantage in. Are their muscles attached to their bones differently? Yes. Do their hips tend to be narrower, making them, in general, faster runners? Sure. Is the average man much stronger than the average woman? Most likely.

However, biological differences are not an argument for gender identities. People are people, and who they are, while sex is absolutely a part of that, is independent of sex. Not totally independent, I’m not arguing that, but biological sex is not the magic wand patriarchal and complementarian teachings make it out to be. My biological sex is not the sum total of who I am as a person. My identity is not rooted in the fact that I have a vagina. The sorts of traits, qualities, behaviors, etc., that are attributed to the biological sexes (and there is not just two, by the way) change across civilizations, cultures, and times. Western and American traditional gender roles have never been the universal truth– and treating Western middle-class gender roles (and yes, class and economics has always been a part of gender roles, with the middle class becoming the ideal after the Industrial Revolution) as if they are some sort of biblical absolute? That is a wholly inaccurate misrepresentation of the facts.

Helen moves on to describe the sorts of things women need to be protected from, including “dangers, strenuous work, and difficulties.”

My husband is an INFJ– the Myers-Briggs personality type sometimes referred to as “The Protector.” Taking care of the people he cares about is one of his fundamental motivators, and it’s a quality that I love and deeply appreciate. Because of my background, finding someone who is strongly motivated to make me feel safe is . . . I can’t explain how huge and wonderful that is. He wraps me up in his arms when I have night terrors, and I instantly feel sheltered, and it helps me.

However, I also protect my husband– in a very different way, because I’m a different person. I make sure to do what I can to take care of him the way he takes care of me. I am trustworthy. There are things I shield him from– things that I am quite capable of handling but he is not.

We protect each other. But that’s not how it works in Helen’s world.

In the early history of our country . . . there were dangers everywhere. Savage Indians, wild beasts, and snakes created situations which called for masculine courage, strength, and ability . . .

Today dangers are different, but just as real. Women are in danger of abduction and rape, sometimes followed by brutality and murder. Lesser dangers are vicious dogs, snakes, a high precipice, a deep canyon . . .

There are also unreal dangers . . . women are afraid of such things as strange noises, spiders, mice, and even dark shadows.

Aside from the horrible racism, the stereotypes here are absolutely ridiculous. Wild beasts– men are no more capable of fending off a bear than a woman is. And snakes? Pretty sure I’ve seen men go weak in the knees and pass out in a reptile house at the zoo. Or at the sight of blood. Or a thousand other things. I’ve known men who had a paralyzing fear of spiders. And, really? Women have to be protected from a “high precipice” and a “deep canyon”? This just makes me believe that Helen thinks all women are morons. What’s a canyon going to do– jump around to make you fall into it?

Also, the whole “women are in danger of abduction and rape” thing? It’s based on the idea that the man in your life, the man you trust, is not going to be responsible for raping you. That is grossly inaccurate. According to some studies, up to 96% of all female rapes are committed by men women know. 55% of female rape is committed by intimate partners or husbands.

Also, believing that rape can be prevented if women are protected by their husbands also leads to the idea that women who are raped were only raped because they did something to deserve it. They must have stepped outside their ascribed gender role in some way, and what did they expect was going to happen to them? Sarah Moon has an excellent series discussing this very idea, and I highly recommend it.

But, moving on. The second danger is “strenuous work.” Which just makes me want to pound my head into the wall, because women have been doing strenuous work for centuries, but Helen is either blithely unaware of outright dismissing all credible historical data.

Women need protection from work that is not appropriate for the feminine sex, such as driving a truck, construction work, road work, or anything greasy or masculine. Some types of office work are inappropriate, such as executive jobs, management positions, police work, or political posts.

Many of our jobs in America are divided by gender– there are certain jobs, like cargo transportation and construction, that are identified as being “masculine.” However, one of my best friends is bloody fantastic at putting up drywall. She’s a magnificent beast at dry-walling. One of my friends in college drove a Pepsi truck during the summers to pay for college. These were both “masculine” jobs– and they were fantastic at performing them. I’ve also known men to be incredible receptionists and interior designers. The gender divide in the job market is an unfortunate reality– a reality created by stereotypes and culture.

Also, that last sentence– curses. Women can make excellent CEOs. In fact, the Harvard Business Review recently released a survey that indicates people value traits they identified as “feminine” as being the most highly desired in leadership positions. And women like Wendy Davis and Hilary Clinton are big damn heroes, in my opinion.

Helen continues, rounding out with how men are supposed to protect women from “difficulties”:

Examples are financial entanglements, belligerent creditors, or dealings with people who are harsh, offensive, imposing, or who make unreasonable demands.

What must have her experiences with men and women have been– or even in her own life– that resulted in the opinion that women are incapable of dealing with unreasonable, obnoxious people? It’s rough, but dealing with people you don’t like very much is a fact of life. I have to put up with them all the time. So does everybody else.

Helen isn’t doing any woman any favors by telling them they can only win their husband’s love if they become timid, shrinking people who can’t deal with any sort of problem or “difficulty.” I have met people– both women and men– who were wholly incapable of interacting with reality in a mature, responsible manner. I understand sometimes having to withdraw from something– a confrontation, a trigger, anything. But always being “protected” from any kind of conflict or difficulty whatsoever isn’t possible.

The chapter ends with Helen telling us why chivalry is dead:

We see women walking down dark streeets alone, taking long-distance automobile trips, and even hitchhiking. We see them doing the rough work, lifting heavy objects, repairing automobiles, changing tires, driving heavy equipment, fixing the roof, doing the carpentry . . .

In the working world, women are doing the men’s jobs . . . We see women police, steel workers, pilots, and even engineers . . .

If men have an inborn sense of chivalry, why don’t they offer it? The answer is very simple: Men don’t offer their chivalry because women have become capable. They no longer need men.

If chivalry is dead, women have killed it. They have killed it by becoming capable, efficient, and independent, able to kill their own snakes. They prove by their strength and ability that they don’t need masculine care and protection, they they are well able to take care of themselves. They commonly display their capacity to solve their own problems and fight their own battles.

In other words, a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

And this is where Helen slides into Hostile Sexist Land. Because women– women who aren’t hysterical harpies and shrews who will never be “truly loved” or experience happiness– aren’t capable. They lack the “capacity” to solve problems. Heavens forbid they’re efficient or independent.

This idea– that women are not allowed to be capable, becomes the battle cry for the rest of the book.

Feminism, Theology

tent spikes and other spectacular things


I was in high school the first time I ever heard the story of Jael. One of the Bible courses I took through A Beka was a study on the book of Judges, and I was fascinated by many of the tales. Stories like left-handed Ehud, or even Samson, as problematic as his character was for me. But I devoured any story about women. We only covered two of them as part of the study, but it prompted me to go looking for more. Someone had given my mother a copy of All of the Women of the Bible, and I spent a lot of my time that school year digging through it.

Over the years, though, Jael remained one of my favorites. Her story was untainted, almost entirely untouched, by the culture I was raised in. It was like she didn’t exist for them– like her story was a secret I could keep to myself. I held her story close to my chest, protecting it. Cherishing it. I had Jael and the Tent Spike, and no one would be able to take that away from me.

My freshman year in college I was enrolled in the mandatory speech class. We gave impromptu speeches, memorized poems– but one of the bigger class assignments was reading a passage from the Bible. It had to be at least seven verses long, and sequential. I didn’t even have to think about it– I was reading Judges 4:17-22.

When the day came for all of us to stand up and read our selected passages, I drew the last spot to go. As I listened to the passages all 15 of my classmates had selected, I started shrinking down into my seat. Almost without exception, they had chosen from various Psalms. No one besides me had even chosen to read a story, let alone a story about someone’s head getting bashed in.

My nervousness had quadrupled by the time I finally had to walk to the front of the room. My teacher nodded at me, her signal that I could start reading. I was being graded on this– on elocution, on diction, and most especially on my ability to read a story and make it come alive. It was go out with a bang, or nothin’.

I opened my KJV Bible to Judges 4 and began reading.

Howbeit Sisera fled away on his feet to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite: for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber. And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, “Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not.” And when he had turned in unto her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle.

I lifted my eyes off the page to “make eye contact with my audience,” a requirement of speech-giving, and realized that most people seemed curious– I wasn’t reading a Psalm, after all– but no seemed to recognize the story.

And he said unto her, “Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty.” And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him. Again he said unto her, “Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and inquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No.”

Again, I glanced around the room. A few people were shifting now– they’d recognized it.

Then Jael, Heber’s wife, took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him . . .

I dropped my voice to a conspiratorial whisper, leaning forward, animating the story, doing my best to create a sense of anticipation.

And smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary.

So he died.

I delivered “So he died” with all the straight-man aplomb I could manage. It was a dramatic place to stop, so I closed my Bible and went to sit down. Shocked silence followed me, and as I looked around, people were shifting uncomfortably. I decided it must have been because I’d chosen something violent, and ended it so abruptly. Maybe I should have read Deborah’s Song instead. That line of thinking seemed to be confirmed when a friend of mine approached me after class and asked me why I’d chosen that particular story, and told me there “must be something wrong with me” if “that was the only story you wanted to do. There’s so many other, better, stories you could have read.”

At the time, I thought that’s all it was.

Until dinner, when he announced to the rest of the group what I’d read in class that day. Some of them did seem uncomfortable with me choosing such a violent tale when most of them had opted for Psalms, too, but I discovered over cafeteria Salisbury steak and broccoli that the violence wasn’t really the part they had a problem with.

A lot of reasons got thrown at me that night. I’d read a story about a woman– and not just any woman, but a woman who “usurped authority over a man,” and was one of the greatest shames to the Kingdom of God. All my protestations of “but, it’s in the Bible!” didn’t make any difference. Because I couldn’t read it “in context,” I shouldn’t have read it at all. And they were quite specific about the context: that Jael was being used as a tool to prove to the men of Israel that they were a sorry lot. “Look, see what you made me do!” God was saying. “I had to use a woman because none of you men would step up!”

I tried to explain what this story meant, although I barely even understood why it was so important to me. Explaining that I felt some sort of connection to Jael, that because she had her story, it meant, somehow, that I mattered. These thoughts were just snatches of emotions– a resonance that pulled at the deepest parts of me. All I knew was that Jael was there, and that was significant.

But, in the long run, It didn’t matter that Deborah called Jael “most blessed among women,” or that her story is one of the oldest in the Old Testament– the only thing that mattered about Jael’s story was that she was Barak’s punishment for being a pansy.

But, I was stubborn.

A few weeks later, there was open auditions for a small play. I’d always loved being in the Christmas pageants my home church put on, and decided I was going to try out. The audition had to be delivered from memory, and it had to be short. Something with impact and punch.

Guess what I chose.

I didn’t make it into the play, but I did get a callback. It felt like some sort of validation, no matter how small.


Jael and the Tent Spike remains one of my favorite stories, and, as I look back over my life, especially my teenage years when I was soaking up Bad Girls of the Bible on the sly, in tiny snatches at the library, I realize that I was destined to become a feminist. So many infinitesimal things were gently guiding me to this place, where I am big and loud and proud and glorious– so many things in my life that were mustard seeds.

Being a feminist . . . it just makes sense for me.

And I owe it all to Jael and her tent spike.


Fascinating Womanhood: always obey

woman reading

Helen closes out her chapter on “The Leader” by reiterating many of her earlier points in stronger language, but she also takes the opportunity to preemptively combat what she thinks may be some common objections, or situations readers could describe that would make her teachings difficult– or impossible. To do this, she begins with a longer discussion of what she means when she tells women to obey their husbands:

The first Law of Heaven is obedience, and it should be the first law of every home. It is the foundation of an orderly home, a successful family, and the successful lives of the children. The wife is the key . . .

When [children who had disobedient mothers] are turned out into the world they have difficulty obeying the law, or a higher authority . . . The problems of rebellious youth can be traced to homes where the mother disobeyed the father or showed lack of respect for his authority.

As will become a pattern in this book, Helen uses children as threats: don’t do what I say, and your children will grow up to be criminals. You don’t want your children to become juvenile delinquents, never get into a good school, and spend their life in prison, do you? Well, that’s what will happen if you don’t _______ . Here, it’s “obey your husband.” But, oh, it get’s better, when she decides to quote C. Northcote Parkinson, who she describes as a “satirist”– which is interesting, because he was not. He was a naval historian and public policy scholar. I’m also confused why she chose “satirist,” especially since satire usually means the opposite of what it literally says, and this is what she quotes:

He [said] that the trouble in American colleges is based on disrespect for authority learned in the home. “The general movement, I think, begins with the female revolution,” he said. “Women demanded the vote and equality and ceased to submit to the control of their husbands . . . [In my childhood] Pop’s word was law and Mother’s most deadly threat was ‘I shall have to inform you father.’ Nowadawys, the mother can’t appeal to the children in that way because the have denied paternal authority themselves.”

Since she gives no citation of any kind (except that he was “in L.A.”), I have no idea what the context for this comment was, but Helen presents it seriously: everything that is wrong with American youth today started when women decided they had the right to a voice in their government.

I made a comment in my first post about Helen being more anti-feminist than Debi Pearl. This is one of the reasons why. Because what’s the point of women voting if they just vote the same way as their husbands, amiright? The only reason why Helen believes women wanted to vote on their own was so they could vote differently, and that’s against everything Helen believes about women. A woman not agreeing with her husband’s political vision? Sacrilege. Blasphemy.

But, next, she gets into one of her most interesting moments, because she finally uses an anecdote from her own marriage. Finally, we can get some sort of idea of what her marriage has actually been like, instead of her twisting historical and literary characters beyond recognition. She begins by describing a conversation she had with her adult children, and they say that she was “the key” to their obedience, that because she obeyed their father “even when it was hard,” that they knew that they should, too. And Helen actually gives us an example of what “immediately” came to mind when her children said she obeyed her husband “even when it was hard.”

They had planned a vacation to the Florida Keys, and everyone was very excited about it. But, before they got there, her husband called their son, who was in Sweden, and discovered that he was ill and coming back to the States because of it. She thought he could just come to the Keys with them, and recuperate there, and thought her husband agreed. It wasn’t until she “woke up in the middle of the night” that she found out they were headed north, back the way they had come. She was tempted to “put her foot down,” but she remembered the children and didn’t.

That’s it.

She didn’t get to go on vacation.

This incident was her immediate recollection of obeying her husband when it was hard.

Talk about privilege.

Now, granted, I’d be horribly disappointed, too– and I’d think my husband was being kind of a jerk for pulling a juke like that on me. But seriously? This is what you think of as “hard,” Helen? I can think of a dozen examples so much more horrible and nightmarish than this during my engagement to a man that I didn’t even marry in my attempts to be “obedient.” If this is one of the hardest things Helen’s ever had to endure in her marriage… I’d say she’s been pretty dang lucky.

The next section is entitled “Problems in the Patriarchy” (oh, yes, she did), and this is where she starts breaking down possible scenarios for women who, unlike her, are married to less-than-stellar people, or for women who have reasonable expectations and concerns.

Problem #1: “When the wife fears failure,” which is code for “the wife thinks her concerns about her husband’s plans deserve to be heard, but she’s wrong, they don’t.” Here, she uses Abraham Lincoln as an example: just think, if he didn’t have an amazingly supportive wife, who just earnestly believed that “he’ll be a great man someday,” he never would have become President of These United States. And you want your husband to be a great man, don’t you? Well, he won’t, unless you become like Mary Lincoln. Which, granted, Mary Lincoln supported her husband’s political career, but she wasn’t exactly a saint about it. She was well-known for her temper, which Abraham Lincoln certainly did not escape.

Problem #2: “When the wife rebels,” or, as she quotes from Orson Pratt:

The wife should never follow her own judgment in preference to that of her husband, for if her husband desires to do right, but errs in judgment, the Lord will bless her in endeavoring to carry out his counsels; for God has placed him at the head and though he may err in judgment, yet God will not justify the wife in disregarding his instructions; for greater is the sin of rebellion than the errors which arise from want of judgment; therefore, she would be condemned for suffering her will to rise against his.

That quote is especially interesting, especially since Orson Pratt gave up his Apostleship in the LDS church to support his wife, who had accused Joseph Smith of propositioning her. Later, however, he “realized” his wife was “mistaken”– and Sarah Pratt went on to become an outspoken anti-polygamist activist, despite the fact that her husband and Joseph Smith destroyed her reputation and ruined her.

I don’t know if Helen is aware of what happened between Orson and Sarah Pratt, but, if she is, this quote is highly disturbing. Because, even if a husband “errs in judgment” (and apparently believing his wife counts as an “error”), it’s much worse for the wife to “rebel,” and she’ll be “condemned” for it– in other words, have everyone you know go on a campaign to completely destroy her life.

Problem #3: “When he flounders,” or, “when you must be extremely careful and delicate and not hurt his fine porcelain ego.” She’s telling women that if you think his fears are “groundless,” you’re supposed to “assure him” and “build his confidence,” but– remember, you must not be braver than he is, because that’s emasculating. And then she gives the delightful example of a “groundless fear”:  if he’s concerned about taking a chance that might make it harder for him to support his family. Yep. That’s totally groundless. There’s no reason to be worried about providing for your family at all. After all, we’re “willing to make the necessary sacrifice.”

Problem #4: “when he won’t lead,” which is easily resolved: “read him Scriptures which appoint him as the leader,” tell him that he’s “more qualified than you,” and then just dedicate yourself to your domestic duties, and he’ll step up. Because marital relationships are never complicated, lack any sort of nuance whatsoever, and all problems are easily solved when you proof text verses out of context and then go do the dishes.

Problem #5: “when he leads his children astray,” which, thank God, Helen tells you to “take them out of the household” if he’s “leading his family into corruption.” Of course, you’re not allowed to divorce him, no matter what, and you have to make it clear that you’re not removing his children because you are condemning him for his actions. And, taking away a man’s children is always a piece of cake when you don’t divorce him. That’s never called kidnapping or child snatching anything. There’s no possible way an evil man could pursue legal action against you for that. Nope. That never happens. Abusive, evil, corrupt men always let you do whatever you want with their children without contest.

That’s it for this chapter, but it should be glaringly obvious that Helen lives in a different world than we do. In her world, the worst thing your husband can do is cancel the family vacation for a valid reason like your sick son coming back from Sweden. And if you do face some sort of serious hardship, like your husband “encouraging your children to be immoral,” the solution is always magically easy. You read the Bible, and problem solved.

Her “solutions” are not unlike an ostrich burying its head in the sand.

That is called co-dependency and enabling. But, co-dependent relationships don’t exist in Helen’s world. No one struggles with serious problems, no one faces anything worse than an uncertain, vacillating husband. And, on the off chance that your husband is seriously abusive (which Helen defines far too narrowly), all you have to do is “get out.” Because that’s a piece of cake, and everything becomes instantly better. Because money and a place to live falls out of the sky. But, ho, it’s your “moral obligation,” so that’s the only thing you have to be worried about. Certainly not an abusive man coming after you and ruining your reputation in front of your entire religious community.

That never happens.


Fascinating Womanhood: Perfect Follower

stepford wife

When I first started this series, I mentioned how Helen had the unpleasant habit of appearing to be quite supportive. In many places, she tells women that they need to be bold, strong– she even uses the word assertive at times. However, I also mentioned how whenever she says something that seems forward thinking, she always undoes it in the surrounding texts. In this way, she’s a bit like Lucy and the football. She tells you that it is perfectly alright to expect your husband to listen to you, or to not be abused, but then she does complete about-face in everything else she says.

The problem with this is that it makes her book, and what she’s saying, even more pernicious. She’s catering to “modern sensibilities,” the expectation that women have these days to, oh, I dunno, be a person. It’s lip service, and that’s really all it is. Because, running underneath and surrounding all of her sentiments of “strength” and “don’t be a door mat” is the philosophy that women are doormats.

The section I’m covering today is still from chapter eight, “The Leader,” and this part is titled “How to Be the Perfect Follower.” And yes, I gagged a little. She lays out what she has started calling “laws” or “rules”: honor his position as the head, let go of your need to control, be adaptable, be obedient, and always be united in front of the kids. To those of us who grew up in heavy-handed complementarian environments, of if you’ve read Created to be His Help Meet, none of this is especially new. It’s frustrating, but old stuff to us by now. What especially jumped out to me about this section is that it sounds eerily similar to what I’ve read in child-raising manuals like No Greater Joy:

The quality of obedience counts. If you obey, but at the same time drag your feet and complain, it won’t get you far. But if you obey willingly, with a spirit of sweet submission, God will bless you and your household and bring a spirit of harmony into your home.

This might sound familiar, because I’ve written about it before. What Helen is writing about here sounds a lot like the “instant obedience doctrine” I grew up with– only for wives and their husbands, instead of children and their parents. I wasn’t joking when I said that Helen infantalizes women.

But, one of the biggest problems in this section comes after the rule “Have a Girlish Trust in Him.”

Don’t be concerned about the outcome of things . . . Allow for his mistakes, and trust his motives and judgment . . . Sometimes your husband’s decisions may defy logic. His plans may not make sense, nor his judgments appear the least bit sound . . . Don’t expect every inspired [which Helen defines as “appears to defy reason, but is prompted by God”] decision your husband makes will be pleasant, or turn out the way you think it should. [sic]  We must all be tried by the refiner’s fire…

There may be frightening times when you would like to trust your husband, but you cannot. You detect vanity, pride, and selfishness at the bottom of his decisions and see he is headed for disaster. If he won’t listen to you, how can you avert it? The answer is this: if you can’t trust your husband, you can always trust God. He has placed him at the head and commanded you to obey him . . . if you obey the counsel of your husband, things will turn out right in surprising ways.

And under “Support his Plans and Decisions”:

Sometimes your husband needs not only your submission, but your support. He may face a decision he doesn’t want to take full responsibility for. He may want you to stand with him. In this case you will have to take a look at this plans to see if you can support them. If you can, give him the encouragement he needs. If you can’t, assert yourself . . . he may be grateful to you for expressing your point of view. If he insists on having things his way, you must still support him, even when you don’t agree. You can support, not his plans, but his authority and right to decide.

So, here’s a summary:

  1. Don’t worry your pretty little head about any of the decisions that could have extremely negative, long-term effects on you and your family. You just sit there and look pretty in your pearls and high heels.
  2. If your husband’s decisions look crazy and disastrous, they actually aren’t. You’re just too stupid to realize that he’s been inspired by God.
  3. If it turns out his decision really was a horrific mistake, oh, yayness, you get to enjoy the refiner’s fire!
  4. If you are actually perceptive enough to realize he’s doing something for bad reasons, and you think it will turn out badly? All you have to do is your needlepoint and wait for God to fix everything.
  5. If your husband doesn’t want to take responsibility for his own decisions, you must support him.
  6. If you tell him they’re bad decisions, and he decides “nope, I think they’re awesome!” you must support him.
  7. Stand by your Man. Always. No matter what.

The next section, “The Feminine Counselor” has some really solid, common-sense advice. She tells women to ask leading questions, which, as a teacher, I’ve used for great effect. Leading questions can be extremely helpful in getting people to explain their thought process, and understanding your husband’s thought process: good. Figuring out not only what a person thinks but also why they think it… just seems like a good idea. After this step, she says we should listen. Which, listening = awesome, in my book. We could always do with a little more listening, pretty much always.

And then… we run into problems. In step three, she tells us to “express insight,” or, to use words like “I sense,” or, “I feel.” And, to a certain extent, I can agree with this. How someone feels about an idea is important, and, I try to live by the principle that how someone feels is always valid and justified. However, she tells us to phrase it this way because using “I think” means “he can put up a good argument to what you think.”

To Helen, having any kind of discussion whatsoever, no matter what it is you’re talking about, is always bad and must always be avoided at all costs. Small things, like whether or not you’re talking the dog on a picnic? Not up for debate. Big things, like career moves and where you’re going to live? Don’t even think about it. No, really:

Don’t have ideas about what you want out of life, such as where you’d like to live, the kind of house you want. . . this may clash with your husband’s plans, plans he must carry out to succeed in his masculine role.

What does a successful, happy marriage mean to Helen? Well, there’s a reason why I chose the cover for Stepford Wives for today’s post. She goes on, though, and it just gets so much worse. She orders women not to “appear to know more than he does,” and, later on in the book, we’ll see how she really does think women need to play stupid. We’re not supposed to talk “man-to-man,” which means “don’t put yourself on an equal plane with him,” and “keep him in the dominant position to help him feel adequate as a leader.”

Which– seriously? What kind of man needs this sort of behavior to feel “adequate”?

Oh, but it gets better:

If you are giving advice to a man on a matter in which he is filled with fear, don’t make the mistake of acting braver than he is . . . If you courageously say “you have nothing to be afraid of,” you show more many courage than he does. Instead say, “It sounds like a good idea, but it seems so challenging! Are you sure you want to do this?” Such meekness awakens manly courage . . . Whenever a man detects fearfulness in a woman, it naturally awakens masculine courage.

Excuse me while I go beat my head into a wall.

I can imagine that these sorts of interactions take place between husbands and wives. I’m not privy to the inner dialog of every single marriage, and if your conversations with your spouse goes something like any of these examples, I don’t think that’s inherently bad. I don’t think complementarian marriages are always awful. When that is what works for you both, that’s what works, and I wish you all happiness.

However, Helen is arguing that this is how all marriages should be, and if your marriage is not like what she says it should be– “you may think you are happy, when in reality you are not. Your marriage may seem happy, but you fail to see that there is more” (pg 1). Asserting that all marriages must function this way can only lead to disaster, heartbreak, and pain.


Fascinating Womanhood: The Rights of the Leader

following the leader

Helen really takes the cake in this chapter. Which, if you notice, she pulled a bit of a bait-and-switch on us. In the last chapter, she described one of the masculine roles as the “guide,” but if you notice above, this chapter is called “The Leader.” Which, honestly, I wasn’t too thrilled with “guide,” either, but it’s certainly a sight better than Leader. This chapter is quite long, so I’m going to break it down into at least two posts, maybe as many as three. But, let’s get started.

She opens her argument with several reasons why men are supposed to the leaders, and she starts off with this one:

The first commandment given to mankind was given to the woman: “Thy desire shall be unto thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Evidently our Creator felt it so vitally important that the woman understand this, that He directed the instruction to her.

I’ve already mentioned (twice, now) that it is incredibly bad hermeneutics– almost obviously bad– to make the case that women are required to be subservient to their husbands based purely on the Curse. But, there’s another problem here, because Helen . . .  is lying. It would be generous to admit to some sort of genuine confusion or forgetfulness on her part, but that seems unlikely. Because the first command delivered to mankind? The very first one? It’s in chapter one, not three. And, interestingly enough, the command is given to both the man and the woman equally. There’s nothing in this command that separates the sexes: they are given the exact same responsibility.

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

Genesis 1:28

Helen, 0,
The Facts, 1.

After this, she moves into the Ephesians passage. This is one of the Great Complementarian Clobber Verses. My experiences with the uses of this passage have been from those who take a straightforward approach to it– taking it at face value, and usually, quite literally. While I’m sure there are complementarians out there who have done sound research into the historical and cultural background to these verses, I’ve never been exposed to that research when being taught about “husband as the head of the home” (and, as always, if you’ve seen this, please point me in their direction or leave a comment explaining). I think that’s curious, especially since historical and cultural context reveals some interesting things that undermine the traditional complementarian argument.

After Bible-bashing us, she turns to “logic.” She says that since the family is a group of people, and groups of people always need leaders to “maintain order,” that the father should be the leader– and that it is illogical for a woman to lead, because, and this is hysterical, woman are “vacillating and indecisive. Women are just not capable of making decisions, and if we interfere with the decision-making process, the only thing that can result is “hours of deliberation,” and, ain’t nobody got time for that. Also, men make the money, and whoever makes the money should be in control.

That is probably why Mary Kassian wrote this pearl-clutching piece in response to the Pew Research survey that revealed that women are becoming the primary breadwinners in many homes. Oh, noes! If women earn more money, we’re going to become “resentful” and “critical,” and even worse, if a woman makes more money– she is going to become dominant and take over The Sex!

No, really. She said that.

Next, we move into the section Helen titles “Rights of the Leader.” Here, she gives us two primary rights: “To Determine Family Rules” and “To Make Decisions.” She’s deliberately clear about what this entails:

A family is not a democracy, where everyone casts his vote. The family is a theocracy, where the father’s word is law (italics hers).

From what I remember of Debi’s Created to be His Help Meet, she danced around this idea the entire book without explicitly saying this (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). She said everything but this, although this is really the idea it seems Debi was actually going for. Helen is a little bit bolder. She just comes right out and says it.

The family is a theocracy.

Meaning, “Rule of God.”

Just a quick note, in case we’re confused: no man, no father, no husband, is God. Debi got close to conflating husband and God as she wrote, mostly because she emphasizes the need for the wife to submit to her husband in obedience to God– women are to obey God indirectly, through submission to their husbands. This results in Debi occasionally implying that, for a wife, her husband represents God to her.

That’s not what Helen argues, though. Her husband is God.

This is one of those times where her LDS background is showing through, although I’m not familiar enough with LDS theology to really analyze it. Also, while I can understand how her theology is affecting her writing, it is problematic here because this book was, and is, not primarily read by Mormon women, but by Protestant women, and this conflation of God and husband is not a claim that Helen ever backs away from.

She also takes the “Right to Make Decisions” to an extreme that boggled me:

Should Jane take her umbrella and walk to school in the rain, or should her father take her? When the father makes the decision, matters are settled at once. And whether Jane gets her feet wet or not is as important as order in the household . . .

Some of these decisions are minor, such as whether to take the dog on a picnic or leave him home. But even though such a decision is small, it must be made, and often quickly. When the husband the wife don’t agree, someone must decide. The final say belongs to the father . . .

Sometimes a man may seek his wife’s support but is reluctant to explain his reasons. He may think she lacks the knowledge to understand. Or, he may be unable to justify his plans or explain his reasons . . . if this is the case, don’t probe too deeply.



Should Jane walk to school in the rain?

Should we take the dog on the picnic?

These are the kinds of decisions that the father must make in order to avoid “hours of deliberation” because of us vacillating, indecisive women? Really? I grew up watching my parents in a complementarian marriage, as well as observing many other complementarian marriages, and this portrayal is unfair, even to complementarian theology. I don’t even know what to do with this. It all seems to imply that women really aren’t capable of making any kind of decision whatsoever, no matter how ridiculously small. I’ve never met any woman that was this pathetic.

However, the last example is the most troublesome for me, and it is deeply personal.

John*, my ex-fiancé and rapist, and I were planning our wedding for December, exactly a week after I graduated. He would not be finished with college yet (interestingly enough, because he was indecisive and couldn’t settle on either a college to attend or a major to study for years). Because of that, we were planning for me to be the primary breadwinner while he finished his degree, which would be paid for by the work-assistance program he was in.

However, in August, he announced that he was quitting the work-assistance program because working through college was just too stressful. This was a problem, because when a student quit the work assistance program during a semester (which was his intention), he or she becomes completely ineligible to enroll in the program again. In short, if he quit, not only would I be paying for daily life, but his education as well (our school did not qualify for student aid, any kind of student loan, and he had no scholarships).

This resulted in the worst fight we ever had, because I had the audacity to insist that this was a very bad idea– unfeasible and impossible, really, given our circumstances. He broke our engagement a few weeks later, citing, hilariously, that I “was not submissive enough.”

However, if I had followed Helen’s teaching, I would have nodded my head like a “perfect follower” (pg 122), and gone along with all of his ideas and plans, even though he had no justification for them and they would have ended in financial disaster. This is not some hypothetical situation that women rarely ever face, as well. It happens all of the time.

Just because men are men does not make them inherently more qualified to make all decisions in isolation. It is not good for man to be alone, and I’m pretty sure God wasn’t just talking about sex.


Fascinating Womanhood: gender roles

betty draper

TW for homophobia.

Before I jump into this chapter, I want to make a clarification. I’ve been doing my best to make sure that when I talk about my marriage that I make it clear that what I’ve experienced and witnessed personally in my life is limited to my experience only, that I’m only making observations that I’m comfortable viewing as generally true about people. These statements are in line with my core values about marriage: that I am not married to a man, I am married to a person. He is a human being that is different and unique, and deserves to be treated with respect to his individuality instead of viewing of him in terms of stereotypically masculine constructs.

However, I should make it clear that I’ve been married for six months, and that means there are certain limitations to my perspective because of my youth. That is not necessarily true for my readers, many who have been in relationships or married for years, and I’m going to be honest and say that I’m relying on you to temper my inexperience. So thank you for that, and for the things I know I’m going to learn from you as we discuss Fascinating Womanhood. The conversation we can have about this book is honestly more important to me than my review of it.

Ok, with that being said, I’m going to tackle this chapter, which serves as an introduction to the next five. It is titled, you guessed it, “Masculine and Feminine Roles.”

Oh boy. I cringed. And then I avoided reading it again for days. I honestly had serious thoughts about whether or not I even wanted to write this post, or if I just wanted to skip this chapter entirely. Unfortunately, the statements that Helen makes here are only reinforced in the rest of the book, so it’s necessary that I give this chapter the attention it deserves.

When I’ve talked about gender roles and gender essentialism on my blog before, I’ve been disparaging, but I’ve never had the opportunity to dissect anything about gender roles, because it’s usually tangential to the post. Today, though, it’s central, so let’s talk about it.

First, gender roles are cultural constructs.

That is probably the most important element to keep in mind when talking about gender roles from a feminist, egalitarian position. This is also a point deeply in contention in Christianity. Complementarians, who are gender essentialists (at least, as far as I can tell. I’ve never found an exception. If you know of any who aren’t, I’d be fascinated), argue the exact opposite. In a nutshell, gender essentialism is the belief that biological and anatomical factors determine gender, and that your gender results in inherent differences that are biblical. Violating these “inherent” differences is typically described as a perversion of God’s design.

Sex and gender, however, are not the same thing. Sex is biology– and even sex is not always a binary. Even biologically speaking, there are people who have the biological and anatomical characteristics of both sexes. Some people are born with XXY chromosomes, instead of just XX (genetically female) or XY (genetically male). Some people are also born as intersex, or with the presence of both sex organs, or with “ambiguous” genitalia.

Gender, however, is about identity. I have not done a lot of research into trans* issues yet, so I will keep this general, but there are people who are born genetically, biologically, and anatomically as one sex, but identify as the other– but this reality is entirely more fluid than I can articulate well. Gender is a sliding scale– not a binary.

However, Western culture has particular ways of establishing a gender binary. Our culture identifies certain behaviors, personality traits, desires, etc, as either “feminine” or “masculine.” Men who have “feminine” behaviors or attitudes are usually demeaned for it, and women who have “masculine” characteristics also receive social punishment– although, generally speaking, this is to a lesser extent. Metrosexual men, or men typically classified as “effeminate” or “gay” receive endless social beatings.

In conservative Christian culture, however, I would posit that the ramifications for women “behaving like men” are probably just as severe. Especially in complementarian, gender essentialist environments.

That is definitely true for women in Helen’s world.

Man’s Role:

Woman’s Role:

The masculine and feminine roles, clearly defined above, are not merely a result of custom or tradition, but are of divine origin.

First words of the chapter. She certainly doesn’t waste time, does she? She doesn’t even try to cloak what she believes about gender essentialism, which I guess I can appreciate. I don’t think Helen has ever deliberately tried to be deceitful– she uses shady and underhanded tactics and unethical approaches to literature and history, but she presents herself as pretty honest. She’s brutally honest, at times.

Her main argument for why she believes in gender essentialism is pulled from Genesis 3, which I’ve already thoroughly dissected here. In short, using Original Sin, the results of the Fall, and the Curse as your main argument for why women are subservient to men? Not ok, mostly because it’s not consistent with the Gospel. “And he shall have the rule over you” is the Curse. By it’s very nature, it is a description of what human relationships are not supposed to be.

She doesn’t just use the Bible, however, she also turns to history. She talks about “studies” and “science” and “research projects,” however, she never cites any of them, gives any names, any titles, any institutions, nothing. We’re just supposed to accept her presentation of these results as factual, as honest presentations of these studies. Given her habit of twisting literature to suit her purposes, I don’t trust her at all.

Her main thrust is that “gender roles are based on a division of labor,” and then she talks about how everyone is happier when men work outside the home and women work inside of it, and she focuses on medieval history. This is egregiously, factually incorrect. An overwhelming flood of letters, wills, business transactions, literature, and art all depict women as integrally involved in economic arenas “outside the home.” This idea that there was “women’s work” and “men’s work” was primarily present in the nobility, and then, during the Victorian era, in the middle class. Women being able to “work at home” has almost always been a sign of affluence and wealth. Complementarians, in my experience, have the unfortunate habit of completely dismissing the realities of poverty from history and bathing the roles of the nobility and the middle class in a rosy glow.

Three masculine needs:

1. A man needs to function in his masculine role as the guide, protector, and provider.
2. He needs to feel needed in this role.
3. He needs to excel women in this role.

I’m going to save my dissection of the guide, protector, and provider descriptions for later, since Helen dedicates an entire chapter to each one. Trust me, it’s going to be a barrel of monkeys’ worth of fun. The one element here I’d like to highlight, however, is a factor that Helen is going to use as a key component through the rest of the book. This concept will appear as one of the basic assumptions in virtually everything Helen talks about from this point forward:

Men must excel women.

At this point in the book, Helen presents this concept as “men need to excel women in their masculine roles of guide, protector, and provider,” but as the book progresses, she becomes increasingly more forceful about this idea, and occasionally, it approaches the boundaries of ridiculousness and sanity. Her emphasis on “men must always excel women” becomes all-encompassing until it’s a caricature, and clownish. I’m not even kidding about this. It makes me want to laugh, cry, break things, and go on rampages.


Another justification she gives for men and women adhering to her gender roles is because of children:

If children are to develop their sexual nature, they need strong masculine and feminine images to pattern from. The mother demonstrates the feminine image . . . as she moves about the house in feminine clothes, tending to her domestic work, tenderly caring for her children and nursing her baby  . . .

When this is not so, when there is a blurring of roles it can lead to problems. Much homosexuality is traced to homes which have a blurring of roles. The girls and boys from these homes have not had a sexual image to pattern from. This has denied them normal sexual development . . .

Nothing is more important than a boy becoming a masculine man and a girl becoming a feminine woman.

Oh, yes. She went there.

Adhere to gender essentiallism, or your children will become homosexuals, and we all know what a horrifying, terrible fate that is.

Just in case you missed it, that is what blatant bigotry and homophobia looks like.

And, really, Helen? Nothing is more important than Bobby playing with trucks and Sally playing with dolls? Nothing?

She also bemoans the state of the world today, which could either be 1965, or 1980 when she released a major overhaul of the book. In the section “Failures of Society,” she talks about how women have “invaded” the mans’ world, and that, “at home it is just as bad,” and all of this has resulted in tension, worry, and loss of serenity.

As much as Helen assigns men and women to their spheres, she makes it clear almost any time she talks about it that, even inside of the home, even in her domestic responsibilities, not even then does a woman really have any kind of authority.  She says that “even at home it is just as bad. The woman takes control and tries to run things her way.”

So, if you’re a woman, nothing is more important than to “demonstrate a feminine image,” which she clearly lays out in three words: you’re a wife, you’re a mother, you’re a homemaker. And that’s it.


Fascinating Womanhood Review: putting him first


I’m just going to leap head-first into this chapter, “Make him Number One”:

A man wants a woman who will place him at the top of his priority list, not second but first. He wants to be the kingpin around which all other activities of her life revolve. He doesn’t want to be the background music to her other interests and dreams. This desire is not necessarily a conscious one, but an inner need which surfaces violently when not adequately met, when his wife places other things first . . . Being placed in this inferior position can cause a man to form bitter resentments toward his wife and even his children.

Through the rest of the chapter, it becomes blindingly obvious that Helen means exactly what she says here. The rest of the chapter goes on to explain all the different ways that a woman can make her husband feel “inferior.” Housework, children, money, beauty . . . She barely even mentions having a career, and when she does, it’s clear what she thinks about a career woman:

One of the greatest threats to your husband’s position of priority would be if you were to earnestly pursue a career . . . If you finally reach a pinnacle of success, you would overshadow him and make him feel unimportant.

This is a serious problem with highly successful women . . . You should always be willing to sacrifice your career for his sake.

If it hasn’t already been apparent (which I can tell from your comments that it has been), Helen has an exceedingly low opinion of men. Any kind of man who can easily be “overshadowed” and for that to make him “bitterly resent you” is not worth his salt, but Helen argues that this is all men, without exception. And any man who would require you to sacrifice your dreams just so he doesn’t feel that he’s in “second place,” is– well, that man is a first-class a-hole.

I’m not overly fond of the idea of “going to work.” Having a traditional career doesn’t align well with my personality, my health, or even just the way I operate. I’m a night owl, and corporate America doesn’t exactly revolve around people like me. So, I work from  home, and my work is fairly light. I spend most of my time in creative endeavors– like my blog, or writing. But, even though I work from home as a freelancer, work-life balance is still a concern. I can be up to all hours of the night doing research, and Handsome finds most of the work I do . . . unpleasant. I spend a lot of my time delving into some pretty heavy, depressing issues, but it doesn’t weigh on me like it does on him. So, I’m working to make sure I don’t burden him by constantly talking about these things.

It’s not a hard thing to do– I’m not “sacrificing” or “giving up” anything by leaving my “work” at “work.”

But that is not what Helen means here. She even goes on to say that you’re not allowed to develop your talents, your dreams. You can pursue these things, but not with dedication or passion, less your husband feel “inferior.”

And then she smacks you with this:

It it not always possible or even even right for a man to make his wife number one in his life. This is due to the nature of his life. His number one responsibility is to provide the living. His work and life away from home may be so demanding that it must take priority over all else if he is to succeed. This often means he must neglect his family.

Helen is not kidding about this stuff. She is dead serious. And she goes on to justify the difference thusly:

[Men] have been the builders of society, have solved world problems, have developed new ideas for the benefit of all. This challenging role of public servant is not easy and also demands the man’s attention away from his family.

Oy vey.

Women, you must never, ever, do anything that could even hint at your husband being second-place in your life, or his feelings of  inadequacy could “surface violently.” You must not pursue any talents, skills, positions, or carer– ever. You must never do anything that could possibly be construed as him not being your top priority. The second he walks through the front door from a long, hard, grueling day at the office, you must be there to great him with his slippers and his pipe (no, really, page 104).

And why must you sacrifice all of this?

Because he’s a man. He’s the one who’s capable of “building society” and “developing new ideas.” Men do that. Men. Not women. Never women. It’s not that we’re not capable of changing the world, it’s that we’re not supposed to. Our only priority must be our husband. We must constantly be aware of how week and feeble his ego is, and do everything we can to shore it up. And we should be so proud of our husbands who are so consumed by their career that they neglect their children. If our husband is Don Draper, we should just be thrilled and have dinner waiting for whenever he comes home.

See what I mean abut Helen being even more anti-feminist than Debi?

And Helen also passes along her usual threats– if you don’t do this, his character and personality will become “ugly.” He’ll “bitterly resent you.” In the “success stories” she shares at the end (these are usually so sickening I don’t even comment on them) she threatens her readers with husbands that will have multiple affairs, or worse, get into a car accident and die before you have a chance to make him feel like he’s the most riveting, all-consuming thing in your life.

She continually emphasizes that “making him number one” is a basic need of your husband’s. It is paramount that you meet this basic need before you even attend to the basic needs of yourself or your children.

The biggest problem, I think, with this chapter is that Helen is making a huge assumption about a woman’s needs. To Helen, a woman’s only need is to be loved by her husband. And yes, if my husband didn’t love me, that would be . . . awful. I’m pretty sure I’d be miserable. However, human beings are more complex than this. Any man is not some robot that you can push his buttons and “make” him love you. There are things we all can do to help make our relationships more healthy, but that will vary from person to person. We have to get to know the person we married. He or she is different than any other person on the planet, and they are not solely defined by their gender (which is a much more fluid thing than Helen can even comprehend).

However, my husband’s love is not my only need. I also need to feel useful, like I’m contributing. I’m just as miserable feeling useless than I do feeling unloved– it’s possible that I feel worse when I feel useless. I also need challenges and ideas to puzzle out. I’m not easily bored, but I have found that if I don’t exercise the skills I’ve acquired through grad school, I start feeling restless and empty. I need laughter and companionship.

But, to Helen, no one is allowed to be complicated. No one is allowed to have multi-layered, multifaceted desires and wants and needs. Men are driven entirely and exclusively to have their ego stroked. Women are only driven by an overwhelming need to be loved. What Helen describes are empty, hollow, shallow stick figures. Not people.


This is the seventh post in a series. You can find links to the rest of the series here.