In Defense of Marital Submission
Candace Cameron Bure has written a new book about the leather daddies in her life — Jesus and some hockey player dude — and it seems not everyone is a fan. When I read the critiques, I find myself mostly nodding along in agreement. I don’t believe that men have a right — whether divine or natural – to be in charge. At the same time, I feel like I should say something in her defense. Because I don’t think biblical submission is really about Jesus. Okay, it is about Jesus, but it’s not just about Jesus.
Here’s what Mrs. Bure has to say about her marriage: “[L]isten, I love that my man is a leader,” she said. “I want him to lead and be the head of our family. And those major decisions do fall on him. … It doesn’t mean I don’t voice my opinion. It doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion. I absolutely do, but it is very difficult to have two heads of authority.”
Let me translate:
I love that my man is a leader. In other words, the alpha male thing turns her on.
It is very difficult to have two heads of authority. This is what works for them.
When you get married, you talk about all sorts of big picture things like making love last and the number and spacing of your future children but what about what kind of car to buy and who should change the kitty litter?
Clearly the Bures chose the submission model because it’s Jesus-approved but I think they stuck with it because it’s what works for their family. That it falls in line with a particular Christian evangelical doctrine is nice but hardly necessary. After all, she’s not always such a stickler. Did you know that God gave her the drive to work and the means to afford child care? God really is good!
Now Bure wants you to know that her submission isn’t the yucky “Fifty Shades of Grey” kind (ewww, pervs!), and yet, one thing that her submission and the pervy kind have in common is that they are both the product of choice. But why would anyone choose submission?
If you’re an egalitarian, how do you decide who gets to decide? You might take turns. You might divvy up the decision-making. You might negotiate. These are all perfectly reasonable options that just happen to make me want to poke my eyes out very, very slowly with a toothpick. I don’t want to split up every last thing to do in my house because that makes me feel like I live with a roommate. And I don’t want to negotiate every single decision because then it’s like I’m living in some sort of dispute resolution training from hell. And, well, what can I say? In the words of Mrs. Bure, I love that my man is a leader, if you know what I mean.
Love, like sex, isn’t politically correct. At least if you’re doing it right. My husband likes to see himself as the head of the household and I like it too.
Now there’s always been just one problem for me: What do the kids think? How can we (and yes, my husband and I are both feminists) model a relationship that looks a lot like the worldview we reject? We reject the idea that everyone is heterosexual and gender normative. We reject the idea that men should be in power by virtue of the fact that they are men. So how is our family life not just one giant contradiction?
Well, it just isn’t. I worried a lot about all of this before we got married but it turns out that there was just no reason to worry at all. My kids don’t actually think they live in some sort of twisted episode of Leave it to Beaver because what they see is love and respect.
And the reality is that my husband doesn’t make every decision. There are very few people who want to make all of the decisions in a home — from finances to string cheese — and even fewer people who want to have absolutely no say over anything at all. To be in charge all of the time would be exhausting and to give up all autonomy would be frustrating and irresponsible. So sometimes we negotiate and sometimes we divide things up, which I’m kind of willing to bet is how the Bures do it too. The thing about marital submission — much like marriage itself — is that as between the two people who make it part of their relationship, it can be whatever you want it to be.
I know what works for me and my husband, and I know the kids are just fine. And while I may not be an expert on Jesus or hockey players, I kind of think the Bures are probably doing just fine too.