Terrance Heath

Submissive Wives, Gay Husband & Michele Bachmann, Pt. 2

Filed By Terrance Heath | August 18, 2011 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: gay husband, Marcus Bachmann, Michele Bachmann, submission, submissive wife

WomanPieWife.jpgNo, this two-part series (Read Part 1) isn’t about that Bachmann story. It’s not about being the submissive wife of a gay husband, but about how gay husbands undermine submissive wifeliness.

You’ve probably saw this coming already, if the title of this post is what drew you in to begin with. Part of the threat of same-sex marriage is that it both calls biblical gender roles into question, and undermines complimentarity.

But the article reminded me of something else. One of the reasons for the opposition to same-sex marriage is the potential of marriage equality to call gender roles more into question.

The threat of legal same-sex marriage, then, is actually doubled. It carries one step further the progress that's lead to women no longer having to "submit to their husbands"; they might volunteer, a'la the "surrendered wife" model, but not many women have to marry and thus "submit to their husbands" as a necessity for survival. Social progress changed the status of women, and the same people who oppose same-sex marriage would like to undo that progress to whatever degree they can. Legal same-sex marriage further cements those social changes, and makes it even harder to turn back the clock.

The threat of legal same-sex marriage, then, is actually doubled. It carries one step further the progress that’s lead to women no longer having to “submit to their husbands”; they might volunteer, a’la the “surrendered wife” model, but not many women have to marry and thus “submit to their husbands” as a necessity for survival. Social progress changed the status of women, and the same people who oppose same-sex marriage would like to undo that progress to whatever degree they can. Legal same-sex marriage further cements those social changes, and makes it even harder to turn back the clock.

It's no coincidence that the political forces opposed to same-sex marriage or marriage equality also oppose gender equality and advocate returning to more strictly enforced gender roles. The Institute for Progressive Christianity recently published a paper titled "The KIngdom of God and the Witness of Gay Marriage," which includes among it's premises:

1. Gay marriages demonstrate the possibility and desirability of gender equality in any marriage by modeling a relationship where the parties to the marriage do not distribute roles and responsibilities based on gender. This modeling supports the positive transformation of the curse of gender conflict, and subsequent patriarchal domination pronounced at the Fall from Paradise into gender egalitarianism .

2. Gay marriage's ascendancy and resilience in society participates in a fundamental shift of the culture's understanding of marriage. That is, marriage is being transformed from a utilitarian arraignment grounded in the idea that women are sexual property to an egalitarian life journey with a partner who one chooses to develop and share mutual love, affection, respect, and support.

... One of the most obvious issues to which gay marriage speaks is gender equality. One of the strongest and most relied upon objections to gay marriage from the Right is that it violates the concept of gender complementarity. Gender complementarity is the metaphysical claim that men's and women's social functions in the world are determined dichotomously by their biological sex, such that where men are convex women are concave.

... Undergirding the concept of gender complementarity is the assumption that men are metaphysically meant to rule over women (ideally in the spirit of love, of course) and women are metaphysically meant to serve men

... Thus, from the gender complementarian perspective, those who act as though women and men gain equal spiritual, emotional, psychological, and existential satisfaction and dignity from leading and serving, and are meant to experience both of these sides of the human psyche, are disordered, as are those who advocate this notion of equality and balance.

The possibility of gay marriage invites heterosexuals to view their intimate partners (or potential intimate partners) not through a lens of gendered otherness primarily --that is through the lens of gender complementarity -- but through the lens of sameness, that is through the lens of sharing a common human dignity, as it was in the beginning.

As much as it may seem like a tangent, the above both reinforces the relationship between sexism and homophobia, and places gay & lesbian equality in general and marriage equality specifically in the context of earlier progressive social movements, all of which -- from the abolitionist movement, to women's suffrage to the civil rights movement -- had strong foundations in moral principles; progressive moral principles like those Pitt referenced in his column.

After all, if you’ve got two husbands, who’s supposed to submit to whom? If you’ve got two wives, who’s the head of whom? It calls into question assumptions about gender and gender roles. It’s no longer clear that one person is in charge and one must submit to the other’s will.

Like with housework, in our home.

Talk about “desperate housewives.” This AlterNet article brings to mind something I’d noticed before. In even the most progressive households, the lion’s share of the housework and childcare falls to the woman.

…It’s interesting, because in our house we don’t have gender-based division of labor to fall back on. That doesn’t mean we don’t have disagreements about housework. But it’s based more on personal traits than gender. (For example, as I tell the hubby, it’s not that clutter doesn’t bother me. It just bothers him sooner than it bothers me.) For the most part, who does what in our house depends on who’s free, and who prefers to do it. (Gardening, for example, I cede to him. But, I usually clean the downstairs bathroom, etc.)

Sometimes, it’s a matter of consideration. For example, I’m going to come home late tomorrow, which means the hubby will have the boys by himself tomorrow night. Thus, before I go to bed tonight, I’ll probably load and run the dishwasher, and pick up the toys, shoes, etc., scattered around the family room. So at least he can come home to an empty sink and a relatively tidy house. (It makes a difference when you’re parenting solo.)

There’s no assumption that one of us is primarily responsible for the kids and the house. If Dylan has a fever and needs to come home, and stay home the next day, there’s no assumption about which one of us will stay at home with him. Likewise with Parker, if he has to be at home for the day. Sometimes, my husband will pick up the kid in question and stay home with him. Other times, I may do the same. Or he’ll pick up the kid and I’ll meet them at home and stay for the day. Either way, it depends more on who can take time away from work (or, in my case, work from home), who did it last time, and any other issues that may apply.

It requires communication and negotiation sometimes. We have to discuss it, and come to some sort of agreement as to who’s going to do what. But the point is, we have to discuss it and come to a decision together. Neither of us is making a final decision alone, unless the other isn’t wedded to one outcome or another and says something to the effect of “You decide. One way or the other doesn’t make a difference to me.” Neither of us is making a final decision while merely keeping the other’s opinion in mind.

Neither of us is the “head” of the other, and neither of us is “submissive” to the other. We don’t have to be. As partners and parents, we’re equals and we work together as such.

Irreducible Complexity, Reduced

The problem with same-sex couples, especially with kids, is that we show that it’s possible to live and live well, without the straightjacket (pun intended) of strict gender roles. It’s a somewhat more complex arrangement that the traditional gender roles Bachmann simultaneously invokes and refutes as a presidential candidate. It’s that complexity, and its attendant uncertainty seems to be driving Bachmann’s twisting of history and gender roles.

What all these people seem to have in common is an inability to cope with complexity. Complexity results inevitably from our ever-expanding knowledge of reality, and so is one of the core challenges posed by living in the modern world. Much of the turmoil we now see around the world originates with those who are failing to meet that challenge. Things were a lot simpler when we knew less, so their solution is to try to know less once again. No doubt this also driving a lot of substance abuse.

But the trouble with knowledge is that — absent a Dark Ages, or unconsciousness — it’s hard to make it go away. We need to learn to handle it, to live with complexity. We should be able to celebrate the courage and genius of the founders, and the magnificence of the Constitution, without having to pretend away their flaws. We should be able to debate interpretations of history without falsifying history itself.

It is that falsification, not their opinions, that is the risk posed by Barton, Bachmann and their fellows. Democracy depends on freedom of opinion based on a shared trust in evidence and reason. Without that shared trust, opinions just become a matter of who has more power. Ironically, this is where American right-wing extremists line up with French, left-wing post modernists.

No matter how much Bachmann and the far-right would like to return to the Dark Ages, it ain’t gonna happen. Still, sometimes it seems that their legislative efforts are an attempt to turn back time, while their apocalyptic economic policies seem designed to hasten economic collapse and clear the way for their “Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome” fantasies to finally be realized.

Achieving that is going to require a lot of destruction (and a lot of collateral damage), and a long period of time — like another “Dark Age” — for people to “forget” everything humanity has learned since the Rennaisance.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t try, because uncertainty is inherent in complexity. Simple answers don’t readily offer themselves up, because there may not be any. Outcomes may not be predictable. The world might just not work the way be think it does, believe it should, want it to, or need it to. That throws everything in to question.

The flip side of a fear of complexity is a fear of uncertainty, which drives an addiction to certainty.

It is as though you are standing in a room, and at the other end of that room is the gate to hell. You arm is outstretched, and in your hand is the key to that date. Every question asked and answered by scientific inquiry is a step that takes you closer to that gate. Ask one question, and you take a step closer. Answer another one and you take another step. Keep asking and you’re walking across the room. Before you know it, the key is in the lock, and one more question may turn the key.

But not only must you stop asking questions, but you must stop others from asking questions if you believe in a “designer” that punishes entire cities and entire nations for tolerating disbelief. Because every step they take, every inquiry, every question asked takes them towards that gate that must stay locked, not just to keep out what’s on the other side, but because if the gate is ever opened, only one thing can be worse than what it unleashes, and that’s if it unleashes nothing at all.

At least if the very foundations of your reality depends on that gate staying closed and what you say is on the other side of it staying what you say it is and where you say it is.

It goes back to the Pema Chodron quote I keep coming back to.

The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God. It is an issue that applies to everyone, including both Buddhists and nonBuddhists. Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us. It means thinking there’s always going to be a babysitter available when we need one. We all are inclined to abdicate our responsibilities and delegate our authority to something outside ourselves. Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.

For those who want something to hold on to, life is even more inconvenient. From this point of view, theism is an addiction. We’re all addicted to hope — hope that the doubt and mystery will go away. This addiction has a painful effect on society: a society based on lots of people addicted to getting ground under their feet is not a very compassionate place.

That ambiguity and uncertainty that Chodron talks about embracing is intolerable because of precisely the reasons Sheila Kennedy God and Country: America in Red and Blue.

[Gordon] Allport believed that the former group could be educated to see past their casually adopted, culturally sanctioned attitudes. Those whose worldviews were rigid, however, who were so emotionally invested in a particular view of reality that the loss of any one piece of it would be experienced as a threat to their very identity, were beyond reach.

After all, according to some people the real torment of hell — as with the frozen heart of Date’s vision — is separation from one’s god. That’s what’s on the other side of the gate. That’s why you must not open it, and you must prevent others from getting to close to opening it.

And anyone who stands between an addict and his fix is going to suffer. That means all of us.

That Bachmann doesn’t appear to exemplify a submissive wife, or the proper role for a woman according to the evangelical view she seems to embrace doesn’t matter any more than the inconvenient truth that she’s apparently working to restore a world that wouldn’t hold a place for her outside of the kitchen. In that sense, she reminds of Serena Joy, the Commander’s wife in The Handmaid’s Tale. The world she wants and is working to bring about is likely to leave her stifled, invisible, and embittered.

The question is, what will it — or what it may take to get there, do to us?

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(Cross-posted at Republic of T)

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Interesting point about the housework. There have been studies done of gay couples to see who does the housework and, as you said, it often comes down to who is free, which is often driven by who makes more money and who has more free time. I suspect that more refined studies would show a gendered aspect within same sex couples (remembering that gender is different from sex).

One of the problems with the "Progessive (? - more Newspeak, since they seem rather *re*pressive) Christian(ist)" analysis is that they do not realize that the horse has already escaped from the barn, the cat is out of the bag, and you never step into the same river twice.

The thing is, that extending the connubium (the "right to marry") to same-sex couples is the culmination of a long process initiated by the Women's Movement in the 1800's that eventually made just about all the rights, responsibilities, privileges and duties of marriage under the law *equal* for both spouses. In New York, it started with the Married Women's Property Acts in 1848 and 1860, and before the Marriage Equality Act, had culminated with the Equitable Distribution Law, a move toward encouraging joint custody after divorce, and the elimination of the necessity of fault grounds for divorce. The development of the legal concept of marital rape was also the elimination of a "property right" that was asserted by husbands. (The one thing in which there is a possible biological difference, was taken out of the marriage context with Roe v. Wade, allowing women control over their reproductive rights, regardless of marriage.)

All the groundwork had already been done for making the connubium gender neutral, but for the societal resistance to this last step.

When the bundle of rights for "husbands" and the bundle of rights for "wives" are the same - then it becomes possible to easily allow husband-husband and wife-wife pairings, without making any changes except to the "right to marry" provision (well, except for preserving certain "religious protections" for those churches and (in New York) "'benevolent' orders" that immorally maintain patriarchist domination over women as a 'principle').

When these repugnant, repressive types blame it on "gay marriage," they are already decades and over a century too late. They need to use their Wayback MAchines to get back to the time before 1848, when under the common law, "the two become one, and that one is the husband."

jami_bantry jami_bantry | August 19, 2011 12:23 PM


It seems that part of the "problem" is that society, throughout the centuries, has been indoctrinated with, and desperately clings to, the "binary" concept for Humans.

Human Beings, IMHO, are much to complex/complicated/intricate to be "binary" anything.

I do agree that SSM, along with increasing awareness of Trans and IS Humans, is causing "some" of society to gradually see that Life is really more complicated than that which they heretofore have been comfortable, regarding just the topics of Sexual Anatomy, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation. I also feel that the above "some" amount is increasing.


Mother Nature can think beyond binaries. Human Nature cannot.

I disagree. I think there are plenty of humans alive today who cannot see beyond binary concepts. But human nature is too vague a concept itself to be nailed down to absoluts and I think with the proper practice any one of us is capable of complex thinking. Plenty simply choose not to see beyond the obvious, that human nature itself is composed of diverse forms.