Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Power Games

In the posting “Give It Up to Your Queen!” I cited the trite “truism” that “Any relationship is under the control of the person who cares the least.” The idea, apparently, is to guard against being seen as caring too much… especially when you do!

But protecting yourself in the intimate clinches is just not a smart tactic in romantic relationships. It can lead to many things, but happily-ever-aftering is probably not among them. Far better, at least according to us wife-worshippers, to open your heart and mind completely to the object of your adoration—“Daring to Be Known by Her,” as I titled a chapter of my book.

Withholding from her, or from him (for that matter), how you really feel can lead to the missed opportunity of a lifetime.

A classic example, where both parties realize the price they have paid for their subterfuge, is the final denouement between Rhett and Scarlett in Gone With the Wind. Too late Scarlett realizes and blurts out her true feelings to the man she has considered all these years a “ruffian” and a “scoundrel” and—and “no gentleman.”

By this last reel, of course, Rhett no longer gives a damn. The last time he did care, he tells her, is when he grabbed her—his own wife—and carried her upstairs “into the swirling darkness,” to ravish her and, he hoped, entirely expunge the image of Ashley Wilkes from her brain. Then, alas, as he explains (p. 1031 of the Macmillan hardcover):
“I was afraid to face you the next morning, for fear I'd been mistaken and you didn't love me. I was so afraid you'd laugh at me I went off and got drunk. And when I came back, I was shaking in my boots and if you had come even halfway to meet me, had given me some sign, I think I'd have kissed your feet. But you didn't."

Scarlett answers: "Oh, but Rhett, I did want you then but you were so nasty! I did want you! I think—yes, that must have been when I first knew I cared about you… but you were so nasty that I—"

Rhett’s classic reply: "It seems we've been at cross purposes, doesn't it?"

Of course, the Rhett-Scarlett Power Game, permuted over all those tumultuous decades, is the engine of the book (and film), and keeps us reading and watching GWTW over and over. But the unhappy upshot of the power game remains, even after marriage, when hero and heroine are supposed to live happily ever after.

To avoid such tragic cross purposes, Lady Misato (as quoted in Chapter 6 of my book) counsels the “tell-all” approach to husbands: “Consider a true and honest confession of your feelings to your wife. Express yourself without reservation. Don’t be afraid to let your wife know how powerful she is.”

The advice is applicable the other way round, as well. Drop the game and let yourself be vulnerable!

There was a book that espoused this idea, many years ago—basically to dote on your spouse, instead of playing power games. Only this advice was directed not to husbands, but to wives. The book, Surrendered Wives by Laura Doyle, is still selling briskly, with ancillary audio cassettes and seminars. (Actually Doyle’s book echoes many of the prescriptions of an earlier anti-feminist best-seller, Marabel Morgan’s The Total Woman.*)

I recall the “Surrendered Wife” idea being bandied about on Lady Misato’s original husbands’ forum, one dismissing it as "Stepford Wives' tales."

Another guy opined: “Effectively, it's Wife Worship in reverse! Now, this poses some very interesting questions: Is the key to a perfect marriage that one partner submits to the other, not really mattering which one submits to which? Is Lady Misato wrong and whoever it was wrote Surrendered Wives right, or vice versa? Or are they both right and wrong at the same time? I'm not sure I have all the answers, but doesn’t being a ‘surrendered wife’ simply mean that you are doing what your grandmother or even your mother did before you, except they did not have a choice and you do? Boring, ain't it?”

Another commented: “I do not feel comfortable with your postulation that wife worship is merely Surrendered Wives in reverse. Men are bigger and more aggressive. A woman's control rests on moral ascendancy. Let me postulate it as a step forward in the evolution of human society and pronounce Surrendered Wives an avatism.”

Lady Misato settled the debate: “Let me pipe in here with one philosophical point: Marriage works better when one partner submits to the other. I happen to believe that it is more interesting, effective and, indeed, natural for the husband to submit to the wife. I have not read the book (I ought to) but I suspect most if not all of the reasons cited are entirely valid, only I doubt there is any strong reason in support of the husband being the head. Remember, [in a wife-worship marriage] you are not abrogating responsibility, only submitting your will to hers. She'll load you with your responsibilities.”

Let me offer the parting shot on this topic to Mistress Kathy of the Femdom 101 blog:

“No matter what the experts say, marriage is simply not 50/50: somebody has to ultimately be the last say. Women tend to dominate men even in so called vanilla marriages with no overt D/s. Why not simply bring it out into the open and once and for all settle the matter and concede that the wife should be boss?... I mean what is the big deal about it?”

* “Mr. Lynda,” who relished being under the thumb of his take-charge wife, “Ms. Lynda,” on the old Spousechat message board, apparently followed some of Marabel Morgan’s more playful prescriptions—in reverse: “I found a book entitled Total Woman that was written in the late sixties or early seventies by a woman who told other women how to keep the home fires burning… I have done some of those things in reverse. Have you ever stripped for Lisa, and been her naked servant for the evening?”


runpb said...

Growing up, my father was very authoritarian. His word was law... with the kids and with my mother.
(it wasn't until the last few years that my mother was allowed to wear pants outside the home!)
I could always tell that she wanted/needed more room to breath.... to relax... to be herself.
Today, both my parents quietly observe my wife and I. I am openly submissive to her. We both are comfortable and happy in our roles. Oddly, my father adores her and my mother seems a bit jealous or suspicious or her. We are clearly more happy in our marital relations than they ever were.

Anonymous said...

The whole Surrendered Wives thing seems like an attempt to resurrect Leave It To Beaver. If some women (or a lot, in this case) are into the submissive role, that's certainly their prerogative. I'd wager that a "Surrendered Husbands" version wouldn't go down quite so well, though.

Maybe next century. Society kinda seems to be evolving in that direction. While I don't believe that gender alone should determine authority, it'd be neat if LFA were considered just as viable an option.

At any rate, I like your version of Surrendered Wives better. :)

Mark Remond said...

runpb & anonymous, glad to see that you're both onboard with the idea of surrendered husbands. Granted, it would be a stretch to envision Rhett Butler fetching and doting on Scarlett, but then again, that might be a more provocative sequel than has been offered so far by Alexandra Ripley and Donald McCaig. And I think Scarlett could adjust to Rhett being a little more Ashley Wilkesian.

runpb said...

hmmm, it has occurred to me that while "hollywood" seems to have embraced the notion of "female superiority",it has done so by often portraying men as bumbling, incompetent and inferior as compared to their female counterparts. While I'm perfectly OK with this, I think it would be nice to see a submissive (straight)male portrayed in a positive light. He is smart, witty, sexy..... and openly submissive to his wife (girlfriend). Maybe such a character exist and I am simply not aware as I rarely actually watch much TV outside of a bit of news. (fair & balanced, of course) Perhaps another reader is aware of "hollywood" producing something that "affirms" the submissive male. It doesn't seem such a stretch. "Hollywood" has been having a slobbering love affair with homosexuals for quite a long time now. To me, the former is much more socially acceptable than the latter.

Anonymous said...

runpb, you're not alone in your frustration with the way submissive men are portrayed in the media. Cosmo, for instance, published an exhaustive "analysis" on alpha vs beta men, and both types struck me as equally artificial. Few guys can pull off the masculine bravado of George Clooney. Much fewer, I'd think, embody the clumsy bumbling of Rowan Atkinson.

I think the media's changing a little bit, though. Sean Connery's brand of masculinity will probably always be the Hollywood ideal, but there's a large contingency of women (myself included) who prefer the authenticity of Owen Wilson, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Ryan Reynolds. Not grand icons of machismo, sure, but far from wimpy or incompetent. And, probably, far more real.