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Submission in marriage can be a virtue

The controversial book ‘Get Married and be Submissive’ is about self-giving, not self-abasement

By on Friday, 13 December 2013

Costanza Miriano's book has provoked anger among feminists (CNS)

Costanza Miriano's book has provoked anger among feminists (CNS)

I love this headline from an article by Guy Hedgecoe in The Irish Times: “Get Married and be Submissive” book raises hackles in Spain”. The word “submissive” set alongside “hackles” is enough to start me chuckling. The only (very slight) surprise is that the country of “Spain” is tacked on at the end. Obviously I don’t know Spain. If it had been Scandinavia, the US or the UK, I would have thought nothing of it. Feminism rules here – and there – OK. But naively I always thought of Spain as quite conservative, family-oriented, still pretty much Catholic and mantilla-wearing.

The Irish Times’ article is illustrated by a demonstration, headed by three angry-looking Spanish harridans who are tearing up copies of this very offensive book. They are giving it good publicity; apparently it has been near the top of Spain’s bestseller list for weeks. Whether this is because hordes of angry harridans buy copies to burn in public or because more traditional Spanish senoras buy it to reinvigorate their marriages, I’m not sure.

At any rate, its author, Italian Costanza Miriano, must be contented by all this activity. Written as a book of advice for newly wedded women, it includes contentious passages like “If it’s true you’re not yet an experienced cook or a perfect housewife, what’s the problem if he tells you so? Tell him that he is right, that it’s true, that you will learn. On seeing your sweetness and your humility, your effort to change, this will also change him.”

Read wrongly, this sounds like a red rag to a feminist bullfighter. It’s telling women to go back to being doormats when they have won the battle for equality between the sexes decades ago, haven’t they? What these readers miss are the final words, “this will also change him.” Really, this is straightforward Catholic mystical theology (for homemakers). St John of the Cross, a great Spanish mystic of the 16th century – this was before “equality” ruled – wrote, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love.” This is true in every sphere of life and every relationship, but it matters most acutely in marriage because, by definition, you are thrown on each other’s company a lot of the time.

The book has been published by the Catholic Archbishopric of Granada which hasn’t exactly helped its popularity among some sections of the passionate Spanish female population. According to the article, “It has managed to unite Spain’s constantly feuding two main parties. While the Socialists have warned it fuels “inequality, chauvinism and discrimination” the governing Partido Popular [demands] the book be withdrawn because it shows a “lack of respect for women”. As well as this, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women” on 25th November, demonstrators in Bilbao tore up dozens of copies. Predictably, Sarah Rainey, in the Telegraph for 12th December, is a good barometer of the feminist weather over here with the headlines, “I’m not signing up to be a Stepford wife”.

The problem lies in translating the word “submission”. It should be seen as “self-giving” rather than as “self-abasing.” Critics also object that it leaves women vulnerable to male violence. But the author isn’t discussing pathological cases, where a few extremely damaged men humiliate and control women, bullying them into co-dependent passivity. She is talking about the norm, and how to live marriage less selfishly, more generously and imaginatively, from a woman’s point of view.
She is also planning to write a sequel; it is a guide to marriage for men and its title is “Get Married and Give Your Life for Her.” This idea comes from St Paul, when he tells men (quite rightly) that they must sacrifice themselves for their wives. What on earth will feminists make of that?

  • cjkeeffe

    St Paul calls for the submission of both spouses. A man much maligned in the modern church.

  • JR, Sydney

    Sigh…what gives you the idea that to be a feminist one has to be female? It appears that Ms Philips and her barrackers fall into this trap but it ain’t necessarily so….

  • http://www.onepeterfive.com/ Steve Skojec

    I’m sorry, I’ve done this. In fact, I’m the primary stay-at-home right now with our six kids, whom we homeschool. And it is a raging fantasy to say that we are as good at this as our wives. I’ve never met a man who can match the homemaking skills of the average woman.

    We can pinch hit, but we rarely, if ever, do this nearly as well. It’s not what we’re best suited for by nature.

  • nina gt

    Great article, finally someone who read it. By the way, the second book has already been published in Italy!

  • nina gt

    She’s more than 40, mother of 4, journalist and writer

  • nina gt

    Nobody is asking you to follow her advices. She is free to say what she thinks on her experience’s basis

  • Alana de Kock

    As you say, you speak from your specific experience. And I wasn’t referring to one partner doing all of one aspect of raising children. I was referring to shared responsibilities and negotiation. I think that the dignity of couple comes from that negotiation about what is best for each couple’s particular situation and circumstances. The difficulty I have is with prescribed roles based on erroneous and undermining views of human beings. There has been reference to the word submission being problematic. The problem is not the word but the concept…human dignity cannot exist where one person does not have the option to express and negotiate.

  • nina gt

    the evidence is that a man is never superior to a woman, neither the other way around. They are equal but different. So on that basis both of them should do their part in marriage

  • Alana de Kock

    I was referring to Raylan Alleman’s comment. I have no argument with women and men being different. It is also important to understand that not all men are the same and not all women are the same. Hence putting people in labeled boxes and designating who should be submissive is denigrating to all human beings.

  • nina gt

    If the meaning of the book would be so I’d agree with you. But it is not. Have you read the book? I really suggest you to do it, it is super funny, and I’m sure you will change your mind. It is easy to judje a book from the front page and few quotations…

  • Alana de Kock

    I haven’t read the book, I don’t think it is available in South Africa. My comments were in response to the article and the content of comments made here.

  • nina gt

    I see. Unfortunately the book has been translated only in spanish. But, if you want a quick and first idea, have a look to the book blok, here’s the link to the english translated introduction of the book http://costanzamiriano.com/about/english-version/
    enjoy!

  • Electra

    I stand corrected re the age. How about the raking in the cash part?

  • nina gt

    what is the problem with earning money?

  • http://www.catholicmomof10.co.uk/ Jackie Parkes

    I’m sorry but how are women not equal to men?

  • Simon

    That’s not equality; it’s common decency and consideration for others. Other than that I don’t disagree with a word you write.

    And that’s perhaps the most pernicious thing about ‘equality’, and why I put it in inverted commas: because its meaning is so vague, it’s been an ideological Trojan horse.

    I mean that it wraps itself in inoffensive, even laudable, words like ‘dignity’ and ‘compromise’, as if it were a mere synonym for those things, until it has a ring of unimpeachable righteousness about it. Then, it’s used as a wrecking-ball to attack everything from traditional marriage to grammar schools to the status of the Christian religion, and crazies in Spain are using it as a justification for the banning of books.

    Beware ‘equality’, friends.

    And have a Happy Christmas.

  • Bangersandmash1

    Twaddle. There are women who are not just hopeless homemakers but selfish, egocentric home destructors, especially in today’s world. This notion of the ‘earth mother’ is bunk. Some women make great mothers. Others are appalling.

  • Electra

    It depends on at whose expense your gain is. For example, in the 19th century, a book titled “Slavery is God’s Will” would bolster the claims of slave owners at the expense of slaves. Miriano is doing the same thing now with her book urging women to be submissive. Men will get the wrong idea just from reading the title. They don’t have to read the book. A lot of women will pay when bad husbands or boyfriends wave it in their face. A lot of women will feel guilty and try to knuckle under a beastly husband. Need I go on?

  • nina gt

    Well, it seems that all the men are evil inside and a book’s title will turn them into beasts, that’s amazing. Look at the reality please, if there’re mean and beastly husbands it is not society or writers’s fault. Do not generalize please, and to read a good book as the Mirano’s is will not harm you. At least you could have a proper opinion and judge it.

  • Electra

    Ah, nina, I was hoping you would answer because last night it suddenly dawned on me that for a couple of years now, I have been collecting data for my third book, a book diametrically opposed to Miriano’s, not in reference to marriage, but in reference to the Catholic Church’s cruelty to women. It will be Spanish because I am partially the product of the “macho” Hispanic culture, and books in that language which speak the truth about our Church are rare. Interestingly enough, there are many, many such books in Italian. It’s tentative title is, “La iglesia cruel.” I intend to explain to Catholic women the roots of the Catholic Church’s misogynyst tradition, with shocking opinions of women voiced by the church’s “fathers.” With some knowledge of this dismal church history, female readers will be able to understand the why of their oppression.
    Moreover, I married at age 19 and, given my innocence, I was completely submissive for 15 years, until I could not longer put up with the psychological destruction to which I had been daily subjected. I married again, this time to a man who was not pathologically insecure and bolstered his ego at my expense. This marriage is a true, loving partnership.

  • nina gt

    I am really happy for you, Electra. That you finally found the right man. But, why do you blame the Catholic Church when you yourself have said that you married too young and that your ex-husband was a pathological case?

  • Electra

    Because of the Church’s insane attitude against contraceptives which makes no sense in the contemporary world, because of the Church’s refusal of divorce, because of the Church’s refusal to allow divorced and remarried peoples to take Communion. All of these proscriptions are mostly at the expense of women.
    In regard to marriage, I was let off lightly because the damage was psychological, but a good friend of mine was beaten cruelly by her husband, even when she was pregnant ,and all her Capuchin confessor could do for her was advise her to pray. Paradoxically, she finally left him because she had the economic means to do so, but she never remarried. When her ex husband came down with Alzheimers, she took him back in and cared for him until his dearh.

  • nina gt

    The Church has principles and you should apply them to your pesonal life. You are free not to follow them. Church simply refuses divorce because a marriage is a sacrament so, coherently, you cannot break something that God’s created, But you’re a free to believe this or not, and you’re free to divorce and to dump a mean husband. The Church will be always there to welcome people who suffer. I am sorry if your friend has been beaten and if she met an insane Capucin, but that is not the Church, rather a man belonging to the Church. Nobody sane would tell you not to break up with a man who beat you. But a bad experience cannot lead you to hate the Church and to defame it…

  • Electra

    If I hated the Church, I would be indifferent instead of spending the last part of my life informing myself of the truth. No, I love the Church and will continue struggling against the lies imposed on us to help our church become a Just Church. May I remind you of the Limbo notion foisted on us by St. Augustine? Can you image how many millions of women through the ages have suffered because their children died unbaptized? I was only six, and being prepared for my First Communion, when the nun explained Limbo to us. I knew then that the Church makes mistakes because the concept of Limbo assumes an unjust God, and that is not possible.
    Fact is, Nina, that the “principles” have been devised in the context of times very different from the present, and they need to be revised.
    P.S. I am a follower of Hans Kung.

  • nina gt

    Who says what is a Just Church, Electra? You and I? Or Someone who came to this world few thousands of years ago? Is Him who I follow. If you do that, you’ll be able to see the what is good and what is evil…even in the Church itself, which, I remind you, is composed by men, sinners like you and me. I do not think we have to change principles, I think we have to change people in the Church.

  • Electra

    I forgot to say that the Capuchin was a good priest, a good man. But this happened about 40 years ago, and he was acting according to the Church’s precepts at the time which, following “principles,” insisted on women’s submission to their husband, no matter what. Also, it was a Latin culture in which separation was scandalous, and she stayed with her persecutor because of the children, five of them, whom she didn’t want to rear without a father. Interestingly enough, she left him after the children were grown and went on to become an excellent businesswoman, starting and building up an industry with great success. Now her daughter is an ardent defender of the oppressed native people of the region. She has even been beaten and arrested for this.

  • Electra

    Everyone has a calling, and mine is to struggle against injustice, no matter where it is. May I also remind you of the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ words about those who struggle for justice?
    O.k., now I have to take care of my sick husband. It was fun exchanging opinions with you and I thank you. God bless you!

  • nina gt

    that is an interesting story, though, normally you’re supposed to know who you are marrying before doing it. I think that a man who beat a woman is disgusting but still I cannot understand what has this to do with the Church. Miriano’s submission means to sustain the family, not to bear a husband who beat you. That’s insanity. That’s why I told you that there are principles but you have to think and reflect on them, not just follow them. We’ve reason as well with faith. The Capucin did forgot it.

  • nina gt

    Thanks to you and have a lovely Christmas! :-)

  • SimonS

    The problem is not the word but the concept…human dignity cannot exist where one person does not have the option to express and negotiate.

    Agreed.

    When I talked about the word being problematic, my issue was that to some “submission in relationships” implies that both partners are self-giving – but that the same language can be used by people who wish to ascribe particular roles into relationships.

    And that the latter view fits more naturally into the language usage.

    People using the word to imply the former give cover to those who wish to enforce their own relationship stereotypes.

  • KarenJo12

    No, submission will not and never has made men turn into decent human beings. Bullies only respond to equal to superior force. A woman who agrees with her husband that she’s a poor housekeeper will be grovelling in reponse to his nitpicky criticism forever. If he tells her she’s a bod cook, give him a saucepan, directions to the kitchen, and leave.

  • KarenJo12

    The person with the greater expertise should make the decision, if there is a conflict. A man whose wife is a financial expert should do what she says with money; a wife whose husband is a cardiologist should take her husband’s advice on medical treatments. Where neither has expertise, they should obtain advice.

  • KarenJo12

    That’s your problem, not a statement about men in general. You have six kids at home, all day, with one adult. No one can do this well. If you think other women do so, I will bet money that either they aren’t teaching their kids very well or that they have a maid.

  • WSquared

    “The problem lies in translating the word “submission”. It should be seen as “self-giving” rather than as “self-abasing.””

    Agreed. In Introduction to Christianity, where he expounds upon how belief is a response to a call that comes from the outside, Joseph Ratzinger wrote that to submit is to give one’s self into the care of another. This is a man who also knows how to submit, and what made Ephesians 5 really click for me is the image of Pope Benedict XVI prostrating himself before the altar on Good Friday, and I’ve a good amount of experience in the past with both religious and non-religious neanderthals. A man’s headship in a marriage is always about proper stewardship; about wanting the good of the other as other, where it is Christ Who calls the shots, and not any man’s own ideas of the “good.” But a man will only learn this if he learns to submit to the Lord. That’s where prayer and the Sacraments come in.

    “If it’s true you’re not yet an experienced cook or a perfect housewife,
    what’s the problem if he tells you so? Tell him that he is right, that
    it’s true, that you will learn. On seeing your sweetness and your
    humility, your effort to change, this will also change him.”

    *snicker* I’m not a housewife, but I’m a very good cook, and I clean very well, too. Knowing how to cook and clean is what helped me keep heart and soul together while in grad school, and it’s some of the ways that I show love to a husband who also does our laundry and the yard work, and who acted as my research assistant when I had a tight deadline, and without his being asked. This man is still head of our family, and when I submit to him, it means I give myself into his care; I entrust myself to him. It’s just that men and women steward differently, and it has nothing to do with lording it over anyone.

    Moreover, if you can first look after yourself, whether you’re a man or a woman, because you know that you shouldn’t live as though you were raised by wolves and that God didn’t love other people into being solely to clean up after you and to make sure you don’t live on takeaway, you’re well on the way to being a good steward as a matter of rightly ordered justice. That love, I think, of preparing a good meal for others, because you respect their dignity and respect your ingredients, has also paid dividends in writing my thesis, wherein St. Paul reminds us that “if I do not have love, I have nothing.” I don’t stop thinking about theology, history, and philosophy just because I’m cooking or cleaning, for pity’s sake.

    Moreover, if you approach cooking in an analytical way, it soon becomes second nature as you learn to know what you’re doing and why. Objective truth is also learned partially through hands-on experience, rolling up one’s sleeves, and having room to fail: certain ingredients pair well with others because of their inherent qualities, and no amount of wishing it were otherwise will make it so. Also, cleaning the bathroom reminds me to have the sort of humility that is receptive to God, whereby I learn neither to overvalue nor undervalue myself, and to let Him inspire me as I write, which can help me be a better colleague, and any woman learning to submit to God first before anyone else knows that He doesn’t like doormats– doormats can’t stand up for the Truth. I’m a bit thick in that I have to be reminded of this constantly, and holistic integration of all of it is the adventure of a lifetime. But there it is.

  • WSquared

    Actually there are ways of being submissive and meek which turn tables on the bully by giving them a chance to do better. Fr. Robert Barron tells the story of Archbishop Tutu, who encountered a burly white man who would not yield the sidewalk for him, saying that he “didn’t yield for baboons.” Tutu smiled, yielded, and said: “yes, but I do!” Nothing to say that this sort of thing can’t be served up sweetly, and with a smile, as per the above article. Only a person who is gentle and humble learns how to do this sort of thing well. One such person is my husband, who is unflappable, and who knows that a temper tantrum is a sign of weakness. Moreover, I have seen a somewhat egotistical man change and become more loving and gentle– because he married a gentle, humble woman who simply refuses to be bullied, and who didn’t let his posturing get her down and upset her. Because she has an authentic sense of herself. She and my husband have that in common.

    That said, no woman should ever feel morally bound to marry a bully, which is what’s great about how the Catholic Church does not teach that marriage is somehow society’s default position. A Catholic woman truly does not “need” a man to be happy; all she needs is God. If, however, He gives her a spouse as part of His plan of salvation for her, then she is free to accept him as a gift. She should choose wisely and not according to superficial criteria, and that’s where she should keep God in the loop– because seeing and thinking with God, and with detachment allows her to pick out the bounders and jerks. She’s not entitled to a “perfect” man, but God does want her to have a good one, and He doesn’t demand that she marry some neanderthal.

    If he tells her she’s a bod cook, give him a saucepan, directions to the kitchen, and leave.

    In general, a bad cook of any sex who doesn’t like to be told that they’re a bad cook lacks humility as well as good judgment. While nobody should demand that anyone be a gourmet chef and aim to humiliate that person when they “fall short” according to some specious goalposts while they’re making an honest effort, there are other people involved here, who cannot reasonably be expected to eat what is simply inedible, and who should not have to indefinitely put up with anyone’s narcissism, negligence, or lack of care. Other people have a right to point out when somebody’s cooking is bad, because we all gotta eat, and somebody’s “hurt feelings” are important, but not more important than other people being fed.

    That said, a man who has to point out to his wife that she’s not a good cook should be gentle and
    encouraging, and not be a tyrant and a bully (it works the other way, too: women are often nitpicky in ways that are devastating, which they often don’t realize). He should also help instead of standing there and telling her everything she did wrong. Besides, in terms of “smiling sweetly and promising to do better,” there’s nothing to say that this can’t involve “okay, so can you show me how?” …whereupon if the man is not being a jerk, he could learn with her (if he’s the better cook, he can teach her a few things), and cooking together might be something they enjoy– nothing in the above example says that she has to do it all by herself! Having an entire family that can cook is an asset, really, and is loads more fun. And anyway, “okay, show me” is often effective overbearing-whinger repellant in general.

  • WSquared

    Agreed to some extent, in that a man or a woman will be an appalling disaster at home or in the workplace if they constantly behave like self-centered narcissists who only ever want things their own way.

    Self-centered narcissists are usually unaware of how their behavior pulls everybody else down. Stewardship is about bringing the best out of people, and not lording it over them. Both men and women are capable of doing this well, even if they steward in different ways. What they’ve been given– from their children to their careers to their talents– all fit into that stewardship demanded of husbands and wives and mothers and fathers, none of which the Church understands in an exclusively biological manner.

  • WSquared

    …it’s not a surprise when an an obvious thing is understood and practiced wrongly, or in ways that are narrow.

    The Church does not have strict guidelines here, only that she teaches that men and women steward differently, and it’s about whatever God gives anyone (that’s why we ask Him how to steward in ways that are pleasing by praying). It is the larger culture that has restrictive ideas of men and women– which is why Catholics should not unthinkingly pick up what that culture throws down.

  • WSquared

    You forget the other part of Ephesians 5, however, in that a man is also called to lay down his life for his wife, as Christ did for His Church, which would speak to your last paragraph. Don’t forget also that Christ was perfectly submissive to the Father. Any member of the Body of Christ is called to do the same: we are all submissive before God, anyway.

    Catholic orthodoxy doesn’t like neanderthals, and a woman always submits to Christ first– submission to Christ is also demanded of her husband. Because it is He who truly orders all aright. A woman submitting to her husband in lieu of Christ would fall under the heading of idolatry.

    The thing about submission and women is that women are more receptive. It is not an unfair onus or burden. So she should therefore use her God-given reason to know to whom she submits above all– she should therefore guard her heart against those things not of God. A woman who submits to the Lord first also stands and fights with His strength, because it is He who truly fills her, just as He only truly fills anyone.

  • WSquared

    …er, if she’s speaking from her own experiences, and is a 40-year-old journalist and mother of four, then surely women can use their brains to read her advice in light of what made her situation possible?

    A lot of women will pay when bad husbands or boyfriends wave it in their face.

    And who says that a woman is obligated to marry the first neanderthal who comes along, or any neanderthal, whenever he comes along? Not all men are neanderthals, but some most definitely are. Besides, you seemingly didn’t read the end of the article. There’s a sequel coming up that women can wave back.

  • WSquared

    If you simply write off and assume that the Church’s teaching is “insane” and “makes no sense,” then don’t be surprised if you don’t get it if you’ve never tried it. Moreover, “sense” qua making sense begs the question of measuring sticks: here, God sets the criteria, not us. It also means that He can give us the means to live what everyone else tells us is “too hard.” I don’t think this is at the expense of women at all, since this is the same God– and the same Church– Who also reminds me that I don’t “need” a man to be happy or to be loved, because He loved me first: whereby when I am detached, I can also see more clearly how Christ and His Church have my back. I’ve dealt with a ton of bullying neanderthals all my life– women, too, not just men. Christ therefore becomes the measuring stick and the enabler. And any man who is disrespectful and unwilling to try can shove it.

    I’ve heard horror stories, too, and one thing that I do wonder is if Catholics who “do all the right Catholic things” and do not live or think with the faith he or she claims to profess make themselves and each other vulnerable. After all, St. Gianna Beretta Molla was a working mother of four children, and having a career did not bar her from being a holy mother and a canonized saint. This woman was born in the 1920s, and was a pediatrician in the 1940s. And yet, she obviously “got” what a lot of Catholics the generation directly after most certainly did not. Now, why is that? The answer, I think, has to be Sacramental grace.

  • WSquared

    Agreed.

  • WSquared

    “love, honour and obey”…. which are not in Catholic marriage vows.

    Moreover, if you want to read more about the Christian understanding of submission, read someone who does know what it means to submit– Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity.

    Read him also on his letter to the Bishops on the Cooperation of Men and Women in the Church and in the World: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20040731_collaboration_en.html

    He would not disagree at all that marriage is about partnership and compromise. But he would also ask that we know what standard: Christ.

  • WSquared

    I don’t mind the word, because I also know what I mean by it. I also know to Whom I– and my husband– must ultimately submit.

  • WSquared

    Submission is not repression. She– and her husband– are doing it wrong.

  • WSquared

    …and then follow up with a picture of the Pope prostrating himself before the altar.

  • WSquared

    …you, like a lot of people, missed the line at the very end about the sequel to this book.

  • catnicex

    The message of the book – and of its sequel – is rather clear. In simple terms, marriage works much better is women choose love rather than the temptation of control and men choose love rather than the temptation of domination. Basically, a very Christian message, both theologically, pastorally and pragmatically.

    The problem lies in the fact that most journalists – Francis seems an exception – and people who comment on blogs haven’t read the book.

    Moreover, at least in non-catholic oriented media, etc, most people are perfectly happy to buy/read/like books like 50 Shades of Grey in which submission really has a negative and humiliating – both for men and women – connotation.

    The same people then feel offended when the word is used with St.Paul’s meaning (which is, btw, cyclically read during mass).

    The book is quite subtle and clever in most passages – which some minor deficiencies – and it’s plenty of humor targeting men rather than women.

    My wife – who works full time with two kids, and I do support her – loves it because it is packed with reasonableness and wisdom rather than easy-fix, trite and banal tips.

    I did like it as well – and I had a good amount of laughs – because I felt nearly perfectly depicted in my uselessness in most house tasks despite my efforts (and my wife’s passionate criticisms).

    A great book by an author recently invited by the Pontifical Council for the Laity to give quite a rich speech for the 25th anniversary of the Mulieris Dignitatem (http://www.laici.va/content/laici/en/eventi/seminari-e-congressi/dio-affida-l_essere-umano-alla-donna.html)

  • catnicex

    * with some minor deficiencies