Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The "Surrendered Person" As A Model For Us All

My mother raised me to be a feminist (thanks, mom!) and so when I see a headline like "I Am a Surrendered Wife," I know there's going to be trouble. When I think "surrendered wife," I think a person who has agreed to sublimate her own will and well-being to that of her husband, to give up on shared decision-making, and to have sex on demand.

But when I read the article I got a little weirded out, becuase a lot of what she was saying seemed to me to be ... like normal relationship advice. In fact, a lot of what she was saying seemed to me to be good advice for just being a person and relating to other people.

For one thing, the author describes constantly hectoring her husband, disagreeing with him, trying to change him, and not respecting his opinions. Um -- that's not equality, that's being an annoying pain in the ass. For another thing, most of what she was recommending seemed to be about respect for others and being kind, receptive, and grateful.

Let's look at the "six principles" of being a surrendered wife. The surrendered wife:
  • Relinquishes inappropriate control of her husband
  • Respects her husband's thinking
  • Receives his gifts graciously and expresses gratitude for him
  • Expresses what she wants without trying to control him
  • Relies on him to handle household finances
  • Focuses on her own self-care and fulfillment
Leaving aside the financial business, aren't these all things everyone should be doing for everyone else all the time? Don't try to boss other people around. Respect others' opinions and views. Be grateful for the kindnesses you receive, and try to be kind in return. Don't try to control other people.

One of the more interesting items on the list is the last one: that the "surrendered wife" needs to make happiness for herself instead of expecting her spouse to magically provide the happiness and meaning in her life. This is a bit weird, because it's like the opposite of being "surrendered." It's like, "Take responsibility for your own happiness! Your relationship isn't the end-all-and-be-all!"

One of the more potentially contentious aspects of being a "surrendered wife" that doesn't come up on this list has to do with sex. Part of the idea is usually that even when you don't feel like it, you should have sex with your husband even when you're not in the mood.

Of course, there is a way of understanding this in which it is awful and sexist: that no matter how you're feeling your feelings don't matter, you just have to have sex when the other person wants it. But there's another way to think of it that seems to be completely normal and good advice for everyone, both men and women: if the person you love wants to have sex with you, and you don't feel like it, you don't have to say "no" immediately. Maybe try it out a bit. See how it goes.

In fact, recent research into women's sexuality has raised the idea that maybe expecting desire to arise "spontaneously" is a male-centric model of sexuality. For many women, desire is "responsive" and emerges in connection with sexual activity itself. To think spontaneous desire is "better" is just another form of taking women to be "lesser."

So that just leaves ... money. And no, of course partners should engage in shared decision-making about money. So that one, I think, doesn't translate over. But frankly, it seems an odd fit with the rest of the list anyway.

I don't know how normal relationship ideas got so strange that respecting the other person's opinions and being grateful and not trying to control them became "surrender" rather than just, you know, normal life, but I guess that's just another one of those insane things about the early 21st century.


Tanner Librarian said...

Here, Here!!

Janet Vickers said...

The BBC article is like propaganda in the realm of "how I gave my life to Jesus" by being obedient, unquestioning and smiling all the time. Your post is philosophical and respectful but I do feel that a book or article called the "Surrendered Wife" is pandering to a system where half the population are silence and invisible. I can almost hear the old priest telling the battered wife to go home and please her husband. Why was that title used? For whose sake?

Teri Merrick said...

I agree that to refer to such behavior as 'surrendering' seems weird and 'surrendered wife' seems ethically and politically irresponsible. In fact, having been married for thirty-six years, it feels like my husband and I have both had to fight our way to becoming increasingly morally decent to one another. Becoming decent is just hard work. Loved your take on this article.

Deborah Kuo said...

i remember watching 20/20 when i was in my teens and this subject was one of the sessions. i'm not sure that the word "surrendering" is appropriate because as you point out, those suggestions just seem like good advice for being a decent human being.

to say that men need respect like oxygen is really ridiculous. EVERYBODY needs and wants respect from those around them: nobody wants to be (constantly) berated and disrespected without reason. i would assume that the author also would not appreciate being treated in the same manner as she was treating her husband. i think one could translate the concept of these recommendations to many relationship situations... take employer-employee ones: most people leave their job not b/c it doesn't pay well or that they hate the job... but they leave b/c of unbearable bosses. i'm not suggesting this is an absolute but i personally left the corporate world because i was being constantly being monitored by my boss, wasn't allowed to make any decisions and was constantly told (directly and indirectly) that i'm inapt. the whole thing was a complete reversal of everything i worked for and earned. previous to this (and when working with others, other than my boss), i was constantly praised by coworkers and managers alike, for my skills, work ethic, knowledge and ability to get 'er done.

i too am irked that somehow, the idea of respect for others and the goal of being a decent human being got lost somewhere along the lines and now we seem to be reminded that we have to start acting the ideologies that our parents tried to instil.