Tuesday, January 7, 2014

25 head-scratching reasons for what, now?

It's always interesting to me when Catholics start sharing and spreading around lists or tips or spirituality and devotion practices that are written by other Christians.  Sometimes it's interesting because our brothers and sisters in Christ may be thinking about an issue or writing on a subject on which we Catholics have a lot of common ground with our separated brethren, and their insights and ideas can be truly beneficial at times.

Other times, though, I confess to scratching my head a bit, as I did when I learned that this Baptist blogger's list of twenty-five ways women can communicate respect to their husbands (from her recent book called, not surprisingly, 25 Ways to Communicate Respect to Your Husband: A Handbook for Wives (Volume I) started turning up on the Facebook pages of Catholic women.  Orthodox Catholic women.  Traditional Catholic women, even.  Because there's nothing really all that orthodox or traditional--or even Catholic--about this woman's list of ways women can respect--oh, sorry, communicate respect to--their husbands.

Sure, not all of the twenty five suggestions, taken individually, are problematic.  Number 22, "Protect his name," seems like common sense to me, especially if we agree that it should be a mutual thing: you don't bash your husband in conversations with others, and he doesn't bash you either.  That's good, right?

Except that this is what Number 22 actually says
Protect His Name
Honor your husband in the way you speak of him to family and friends. Guard his reputation and do not let minor disagreements at home cause you to speak ill of him in public. Live in such a way that it will be obvious to others why your husband married you in the first place. (Proverbs 12:4; 22:1

Guard his reputation?  Don't let minor disagreements at home cause you to speak ill of him in public?  Does that mean that if you are an hour late for a family event because he wanted to finish watching a game before leaving you should pretend it was all your fault, and laugh girlishly about how long it took you to do your hair?  'Cause in my book that would be lying.  Or do you remain tight-lipped and change the subject when you're asked why you are late?

Not bashing your husband in public is one thing, but feeling obligated to create a false image of him that is all flawless perfection so that "...it will be obvious to others why your husband married you in the first place..." is kind of insulting.

Okay, maybe I'm reading too much into that.  But take a look at a few items from the beginning of the list:
  1. Choose Joy
    It’s true: A happy wife makes a happy life. Please don’t use moodiness as an attempt to manipulate your man, but in all things rejoice, because that’s the right thing to do. (1 Thessaonians 5:16; Philippians 4:4)
  2. Honor His Wishes
    Give weight to what your husband thinks is important. Make those things a priority that matter most to him, whether it’s having dinner ready when he gets home from work or keeping the house tidy or limiting computer time. Don’t make him ask twice. (Philippians 2:4)
  3. Give Him Your Undivided Attention
    Yes, I know that women are masters of multi-tasking, but when your husband is speaking to you, make a point to lay other tasks aside, look into his eyes, and listen to what he is saying with the goal of understanding and remembering his words.

Is anybody else creeped out yet, or is it just me?  These three points of advice seem to boil down to: pretend to be happy whether you are or not, let your husband tell you what to do and how to do it (and don't make him ask twice!), and if he walks in to the room to ask you if you've seen his reading glasses, immediately leave Junior alone on the changing table sans diaper or leave the pot of soup just coming to the boil alone and unattended so you can give your husband your undivided attention (because it might be hard to understand the words "Have you seen my reading glasses anywhere?" or to remember them later, which is important for some reason I can't quite fathom, unless a book titled 25 Things My Husband Said to Me Just This Afternoon is in the works).

But where things really start to get creepy, to me, is at number 14:
Cherish Togetherness
I love to sit near my husband, whether at home or away. Our church shares potluck dinners every Sunday afternoon, and although the men and women normally sit separately to visit, I like to position myself close enough to my husband that I can listen to the conversation, as I think everything he says is so interesting. At home, I’ll take my book or handwork to whatever room in the house he’s working in, just to be close to him, because I enjoy his company, even when neither of us is talking.

Um, really?  You think everything your husband says is so interesting that you have to eavesdrop on his conversations at church potlucks instead of chatting with the other women?   And you follow him around the house, too?  Ooookay....

Let's skip past "Dress to Please Him" and "Keep the House Tidy" and move on to these, which are numbers 20 and 21 in the list:

Take His Advice
Do not dismiss his opinions lightly, especially when you’ve asked for his counsel in the first place. Make every effort to follow your husband’s advice.
Admire Him
Voiced compliments and heartfelt praise are always welcome, but you should also make it your habit to just look at your husband in a respectful, appreciative way. Think kind thoughts toward him. He’ll be able to see the admiration in your eyes. (Luke 6:45

Can you hear the sound of my head exploding?  If I made it a habit to just look at my husband in a respectful, appreciative way all the time, thinking kind thoughts and radiating admiration in my eyes, he'd probably insist I see a doctor.  Which does not mean that I do not love, respect, and admire him--but I love, respect, and admire him for the unique person he is, and am more likely to express that love, respect, and admiration by joking with the choir after Mass that I had a hard time keeping a straight face while singing the Responsorial Psalm "Every Nation on Earth" with him this past Sunday because all the way to Mass in the car he was singing, to the tune of "Every Nation on Earth," the words "Ad Nauseum Smurf."  That's just who he is, and I love him exactly that way--but if I went around practicing a 1950s movie heroine expression of respectful admiration at these moments he would think there was something deeply wrong with me.

And that, in the end, is why I find it seriously puzzling that a lot of Catholic women would think this list important enough to share with their Facebook or Twitter friends.  Leaving aside the oddly "Stepford Wives" vibe some of it has, there is still the problem that every husband is a different human being, and every wife is a different human being, and what works for some couples to help them strengthen their bond of love and affection with each other might be a total disaster for other couples.  The man who values his alone time will be annoyed if his wife follows him around every second of the day; the woman who thinks she ought to finish changing Junior's diaper before being expected to drop everything and help find the reading glasses will not take suggestions to the contrary very kindly; the man who likes to ask his wife for advice (yes, they do exist!  I'm married to one!) will find it unpleasant if her only answer is "Whatever you think is best, dear!"  and the woman who is battling postpartum depression will find the idea that she's supposed to just smile and be happy much less than helpful.

In short: all married couples are unique, and there's only really one rule for wives: love the man, dagnabit, and see to it that he knows it.  The rest is up to you.


Deirdre Mundy said...

I know the book "Fascinating Womanhood" was making the rounds in some of my Catholic circles at one point. When I read it, I was horrified. It advocated things like refusing to use tools under any circumstances so your husband could feel more manly. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Andelin)

Excuse me, but I'm home all day, and if a doorknob is loose, why should I wait till my husband comes home and make HIM fix it? Isn't it kinder to just handle it myself when it comes up and save him the worry? And what man feels unmanned if his wife knows how to work a screwdriver?

I did think it was interesting to contrast Fascinating Womanhood with Catholic marriage manuals from the same unenlightened era: (http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARRIAGE/WIFEDESR.TXT

http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARRIAGE/MAN4HER.TXT )

Basically, the Catholic view of marriage at the time was more of a partnership model (think Holy Family!) rather than a subservient/childish wife model.

I wonder why the Catholic and Evangelical views of woman are so different? Is it because they banished Mary from the conversation?

But... on the other hand, I do tend to hang out in whatever room my husband is in--- because we like talking while we do other things, and, all things being equal, we'd rather hang out together than not hang out together.....

Carrie said...

I think it goes along with this tendency in orthodox Christian (including Catholic) circles that idolize the 1950s as an era of perfect morality and happy families. Obviously, that wasn't the reality (umm, the sexual revolution didn't just happen out of the blue) but it's troublesome to see so many Catholic women fall for that. I think it's part exasperation of our current age, where the traditional family life is so broken and slandered and certain inherently immoral behaviors are lauded, or at least treated as normal. "Going back" to a more subservient/childish attitude and being "counter-cultural" (not necessarily in a wholesome sense) as a wife gives them some means of trying to turn things around in favor of the family. It's misguided, for sure, but I understand the attraction. Many women, wives, and mothers are sick of the "new feminists" trying to be equal in ALL THINGS with men, so that we're all just androgynous blobs without reference to sex or gender, that they take the opposite extreme.

Yes, we need to honor, respect, and love our husbands, absolutely. And some of those things I tend to do in our relationship just because I do - I like to sit with my husband in the house, I like to ask his advice, I like to try and have things ready for him when he gets home, etc. Some of those things MIGHT be good advice when explained differently, apart from the "Stepford Wives" vibe...for example, I can be a moody person, and it's part of my growth in virtue to overcome that moodiness and try to be a more cheerful person. That doesn't mean squelch my legitimate emotional needs, but it does mean that I shouldn't give in to moodiness and sulkiness when I'm stuck in a rut of self-pity, and it doesn't mean I should use moodiness as an excuse to snap at my husband. But to build our relationship on some kind of static, nostalgic, caricature of a wife is not good relationship advice, and that's definitely what this makes me think of. "Wives, be submissive to your husbands...forget about the fact that he's supposed to love you as Christ loves the Church, just be subservient, groveling, and childish, and you'll have a happy marriage."

And yeah, the eavesdropping at a potluck is creepy. There's no way around that one.

Just my two cents!

freddy said...

Deirdre, good points, especially regarding Protestant views of women and Mary. I think you might be on to something there!

I think the book in question might better be titled, "Twenty-five Reasons to get Your Husband a Dog," because, really, that's what's being described here.

Why do Catholic women get into this sort of thing? Not sure, but I think maybe it has something to do with young women trying to re-connect with their Catholic faith, who have been raised *by* Catholics but not *as* Catholics. They can become confused about the small-t traditions and yearn for a sweet and simple, and comforting "Father Knows Best" sort of life. (Which of course never existed.) And then you have some older women who really do think that women wearing PANTS or working outside the home is What's Wrong With the World. It's weird.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I've noticed that often people assume that whatever the most-restrictive or least-normal practice is, that must be the 'most Catholic.'

It especially turns up among Catholic homeschoolers who are in an are where all the other homeschoolers are very conservative protestants...

For instance, there are Catholics who reject the celebration of Christmas as being to 'secular'--- but they often picked this up from Calvinists.

Or, Catholics who believe that the 'most orthodox' view is 7-day, young-earth creationism, and that science and faith are in conflict-- again, because they're taking the most-counter-cultural view from every group they hang out with.

The 'subservient wife' thing comes from this too. I mean, Paul also tells husbands to love their wives like Christ loves the Church... But... I think the Catholic idea of how Christ relates to the Church and the Protestant idea of how Christ relates to the Church are also different.

You get something closer to 'Sinners in the hands of an angry God' vibe from many protestant sects... which, in turn, would influence the interpretation of the whole wives-submissive husbands love your wives thing........

LarryD said...

Oh the fun I would have with this list if I was still blogging.