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Fascinating Womanhood: always obey

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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.

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6 thoughts on “Fascinating Womanhood: always obey

  1. You know, for being utterly passive about the course of one’s life, one is expected to put forth quite a bit of effort into it.

  2. Pingback: Fascinating Womanhood Review: Always Obey

  3. “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.”

    It’s almost as if she’s never read the story of Abigail.

  4. 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 _______ .

    Supernatural Protection Racket. Or classic Witchcraft.
    “OBEY ME OR I’LL PUT THIS CURSE ON YOU!”

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