I find the topic of "wifely submission" endlessly fascinating. By "wifely submission," I mean the frequent (although not universal) belief by conservative Christians that a wife has a duty to "submit" to her husband. The Biblical rationale for this and how this plays out in real life is a complicated topic that I don't have time to go into today, although I hope to write about it in the future. But in light of some recent discussions at Crystal's site on Biblical Womanhood (link to the precise thread below), I would like to take a moment to bemoan the deleterious effects of this concept of submission upon the self-image of women who practice it.
First, why do I this so fascinating? After all, I am a non-Christian and this belief system has no direct effect on me. In some ways, I think perhaps it is none of my business. But my feminism is very much motivated and informed by the fact that entire cultures, religions, and belief systems are still structured around the subjection of women. Although I feel that I personally enjoy the same degree of freedom and equality as the men in my life, I simply can't take the feminist blessings I enjoy for granted when there are so many people, churches, and cultures throughout the world and in my own country who passionately believe that women are "different": and that we should play a different and undoubtedly subservient role. I certainly don't believe it is my place to prevent people from living according to such beliefs if they choose, but I do think I have a right to criticize those beliefs, particularly since there are some folks out there who would, if they could, restructure society to impose those beliefs on all women.
For now I wanted to direct your attention to the fascinating thread at Crystal's site -- the comments in particular are illuminating. I don't doubt for a moment the sincerity of the women who comment. I am familiar with some of the commenters and I know that many of them are bright, strong, feisty women with strong convictions. And that is exactly why it is so heartbreaking to me for me to read comments in which they seem to put themselves down. They characterize themselves as needing or wanting their husbands' leadership and protection not only from physical danger but from their own foolishness, characterized by excessive "out of control" emotionalism and gullibility. Sure, they claim that the requirement of submission does not connote women's inferiority. But I don't see how one can view a person as less capable of making important decisions about her own life than another person as anything other than "inferior." That is what pains me about this Christian concept of wifely submission. It's one thing to say the rules are that your husband is the final authority on important decisions because that's how God set it up. But ten times more awful is teaching women that not only must they submit to this external authority over their lives but that they must also believe themselves to be inferior, child-like beings who are more gullible, more emotional, and less able to understand spiritual and other important matters than men. I don't have a problem with the concept of "submission" in general -- to lawful authority, to God, to the moral commandments -- but, notwithstanding my respect for my conservative Christian cyberfriends, I am incredibly saddened and depressed by an ideology that aims to teach half of the human race to embrace a distorted and shameful self-image.