13 June 2010

Conservatives and Stepford wives

Another quote brought to my attention by Bruce Gerenscer, this time a real doozy from notorious evangelical nincompoop Pat Robertson. On the 700 Club, Pat fields a call from a woman who is distressed because her husband is flirty with other women. She says he's always been that way, but it's getting under her skin. How would a sensible person respond to this? Well, pretty much the opposite of how Pat responded:
CO-HOST: Pat, this is from Anne who says, “My husband has always been a flirt and loves to talk with other women he finds attractive. He says he would never cheat on me but his actions are starting to get to me. What should I do?”
ROBERTSON: Anne, first thing is you need to make yourself as attractive as possible and don’t hassle him about it. And why is he doing this? Well, he’s doing it because he wants affirmation that he is still a man, that he is attractive — and he gets an affirmation of himself. That means he’s got an inferiority complex that’s coming out. And he’s not gonna cheat on you. He’s just playing.
Goddammit! The misogyny is mind-boggling. How about suggesting she voice her feelings to her husband with the expectation that he will respect her and tame the behavior? Pat's response fits neatly into the all-too-common conservative ideology that a wife's sole duty is to please her husband. Instead of encouraging her to create a constructive dialogue to resolve the issue, instead of emphasizing the importance of her feeling that her husband respects and values her emotional needs, he essentially tells her to compete with these other women. But, what happens then? What happens if and when she's trying her damnedest to be attractive, and he's still flirting with those other women? Pat's response places the blame for the problem on the wife, when the problem is clearly that the husband needs to learn some boundaries.

Now look. I have no desire to lump all conservatives or religious folks in with Pat Robertson's idiocy. But this is not a unique situation. Consider for example the resolution passed at the Southern Baptist Convention back in the late 90's which stated that a woman was to submit to her husband as a final authority, in line with Ephesians 5:23, "For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is head of the Church". Consider how James Dobson's Focus on the Family organization views the role of women: "God's design for marriage is that husbands lead and wives submit to that leadership." [link, link]

I read a very interesting article on Alternet recently about the difference in values between conservatives and liberals which, though focused on politics, bears some relevance to this topic:
Different people prioritize different values over others, of course. And of course, different individuals and different cultures come to different conclusions about the right ethical choice in any particular situation: based on our cultural biases, as well as on our own personal observations and experiences. But according to this research, these basic values -- fairness, harm, loyalty, authority and purity -- exist in all of us, at least to some degree, in every non-sociopathic human being.
"Fascinating," I hear you cry. "But what does that have to do with politics?" Well, what researchers are finding is that liberals prioritize very different values from conservatives. When asked a series of questions about different ethical situations, self-described liberals strongly tend to prioritize fairness and harm as the most important of these core values -- while self-described conservatives are more likely to prioritize authority, loyalty and purity.
This seems to fit neatly with the conservative concept of marriage and relationships: it's based on the authority of the man, sexual "purity" prior to marriage and modesty during it, and loyalty to the covenant of marriage even in the face of emotional abuse, apathy and infidelity.

Well, screw that. Who the hell wants a Stepford wife? I actually value a woman's independence and intelligence, and recognize that no relationship can truly succeed unless both partners are committed to mutual respect of each others' physical and emotional needs. Conservatives seem to measure a successful relationship as one that endures, no matter what. Liberals, in my estimation, measure a successful relationship by mutual happiness, communication, and intimacy.

I think back to this poor woman, who will probably take Pat Roberston's advice and redouble her efforts to please her husband. Meanwhile, she'll be suffering in silence while he continues to ignore her needs and deny her the respect she deserves. It's a perfect Biblical marriage.

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