Friday, July 8, 2011
Part 1 on this topic posed a couple of questions dealing with female led relationships. I’ll start with the first one: Is servility to a woman incompatible with manliness?
Before I ever got around to writing this follow-up post, Lady Grey answered my questions as follows:
“What Dom wants a wuss at her disposal? Controlling an ‘A’ personality type man, bringing him happily to his knees before you, to be served not in a servile manner, but in a deeply grateful manner...well, I'll opt for that every time. Having an intelligent man who is perfectly comfortable in his manhood and who responds to your unspoken commands, to your gestures, your shrugs, your raised eyebrows, your tapping feet, and who can anticipate your needs and knows what to do to satisfy them...well, to me that's a real man. A man worthy of control, of rewards, and even punishment if need be.”
I think she’s saying it depends. One guy could respond to “your shrugs, your raised eyebrows, your tapping feet” in a Type A, manly manner; while another guy could do the same thing wussily, as it were.
Manly or even macho servitude to a woman is inherent in the Knight-Queen model of wife worship. The knight is servile to his lady or queen, obedient to her every whim, yet intrepid and brave in carrying out her commands and commissions in the world.
Can we apply those courtly standards to household chores, like polishing her pumps and hand-washing her lingerie? That’s the case I’ve been trying to make in my book and blog posts, under the general heading of Domestic Dragon-Slaying. I admit it’s kind of a stretch, but it is doable, and Lady Grey apparently agrees.
You’ll find unquestionably macho types--black belts, ex-linebackers, cops, weight-lifters--who relish being ordered about by a diminutive pistol of a wife or girlfriend. I could cite dozens of such testimonials, but I'll spare you this time. Take my word for it.
When my wife objected to my early signs of seeming servility (“Don’t be a sycophant!”), it stung. She was right, of course (when is she not?). I was overreacting to her musings and suggestions, flying off the handle to do stuff she hadn’t asked for. I had to dial back my fawning impulses drastically.
My solution was to be responsive, even anticipatory to her needs, but in a more laid-back way. I took as my model Rhett Butler catering to Scarlett with his lazy, tomcat smile, but catering all the same. Or maybe a guy from a moving van asking the lady of the house, “Where do you want I should put down this piano, lady?” Ready to serve, no big fuss about it.
But male servility and male submissiveness remain loaded terms as far as mainstreaming FLRs, and oxymoronic terms for some.
Even Beckie Sue, who contributed two stirring guests posts on female superiority (here and here, draws a sharp distinction between submission and obedience:
“I never liked the idea that some men are submissive. Men are by nature obedient. Through school (in the past), sports, military, and jobs they are required to be obedient; much more so than women. It is their nature to be obedient and to work. It is the nature of the female to be sexual/sensual and to direct the men in their lives.”
Beckie Sue describes her gradual journey from an egalitarian to a matriarchal marriage as a natural evolution, in which both she and her husband feel comfortable and fulfilled in their basic natures. So her guy is not submissive, she insists, although he is completely (and willingly) ruled by Beckie Sue in almost every aspect of his life, and has certainly surrendered almost all authority in the relationship to her.
At one point, as an example, she informed him that his paycheck would henceforth be direct-deposited into her private checking account, and that he would surrender his debit card and be allowed only $10 spending money, which she would replenish as needed. When he raised initial objections, her answer was that her decision was final and permanent.
“Of course he wasn't happy when I told him of this. But afterward he said his happiness isn't important, his only happiness is to see me happy. Which I am.”
This power imbalance is standard policy in many wife-led marriages and female-led relationships. A woman calling herself “Melissa” explained in a letter to Elise Sutton how all issues were amicably settled between herself and her husband Patrick:
“The First Rule of Our Relationship: We discuss; I decide; he obeys. In cases where my mind is already made up, or I feel strongly about a particular issue, the need for discussion is obviated and Patrick is simply informed. This eliminates the need for discussion in about seventy percent of all cases, allows Patrick to concentrate on his engineering career and leaves other issues in my far more capable hands.
“The Second Rule of Our Relationship: We have Absolutes; I have absolute freedom; he accepts and lives under my absolute control; this applies to all aspects; there are no exceptions.”
Which brings me to the second question raised in Part 1 of this post: “What is the proper role of power in an FLR/perpetual courtship marriage?”
This, too, elicited a quick and authoritative response from Lady Grey: “You ask ‘what is the role of the unequal balance of power in a FLR?’ I'd answer that the inevitable imbalance of power in such a relationship is the very ESSENCE of the relationship. A balance of power would make a FLR unworkable.“
But Beckie Sue’s ascension to the seat of power in her marriage was based on her gradual realization and acceptance of the “fact of female superiority”, which, she says, “is only natural.” So natural that her teen-aged daughters have found themselves elevated by degrees to a level just beneath their mother’s. Husband and son, meanwhile, have also come to accept the naturalness of this female-ascendant state of affairs, from which has flowed a willing, even enthusiastic deference on their part to female rule of the household.
It may, in fact, have been the avowed interest of Beckie Sue’s husband in wife worship that launched all these role reversals in their marriage. In this sense, she is only fulfilling his exalted vision of her.
There are obvious power perks for the wife who asserts and exercises primacy over her husband. As Beckie noted, “What woman wouldn’t want to have a marriage where what she said was final, where her husband would obey her and desire her? What wife wouldn’t want a home where the housework, cleaning, laundry, washing dishes, scrubbing the bathroom, was her husband’s job; she would be free to pursue more fulfilling interests? How many would enjoy those more fulfilling pursuits during the day while he is at work earning money for her to enjoy? What wife wouldn’t love to have control of his paycheck and manage all the finances? What female wouldn’t love to be worshiped as a goddess?”
(I found an interesting echo of Beckie Sue’s above quote in an old Spousechat posting from “Charles,” aka “Mr. Lisa”: “Lisa is the envy of all of her female friends, business associates, and female neighbors. What woman would not want a live-in housekeeper, cook, handyman, chauffer, butler, manicurist/ pedicurist/ masseur, personal assistant, laundry person, errand boy, and bedroom partner?”)
But there may be even more fundamental reasons for a wife to tilt the balance of marital power decidedly in her favor. A persuasive exposition of this can be found in “Vivian’s Domain,” re “Power and Beauty”(excerpted on my blog):
“…for most women, even attractive ones, it is not possible after years of cohabitation and child bearing to become beautiful enough to inspire the kind of awe that will motivate her husband. So, what can a woman do? She can understand this: Not only is there power in beauty, there is beauty in power! The ‘take my breath away’ kind of awe that a man feels when he sees a stunningly beautiful woman is similar to the feelings he had as a young adolescent toward women of power in his life—teachers, neighborhood moms, and strict women in general. In order to make your husband a better man and a better spouse, you need to make him eager to win your approval and fearful of earning your disapproval. You must exert the kind of power that grabs his attention, makes you beautiful to him and takes his breath away. You must make him adore you again!”
Power vs Superiority
For the FLR blogger I’M HERS, female-led relationships are all about power, not about female superiority. As he explained it in a May 6, 2011 posting: “The question I keep asking myself is this: Is [my wife] Katie my superior? When I bring the topic back to Katie and me, there is but one variable: power, and Katie has it all. I gave it to her. She’s the ‘professor’. She judges me; assesses me; makes the rules; gives me the syllabus with all the requirements needed to ‘pass her course’. She is the final judge. Does that make her superior? I don’t know and it really doesn’t matter. I am not in love with Katie because she is superior and I am inferior to her in every way. If that were true, why would she ever be attracted to me?... it’s not about what Beckie says [i.e., female superiority], it’s about a power exchange… Dominance and submission have all to do with power and nothing to do with a comparison of talents, intelligence and other such qualities.”
Obviously I agree with both I’M HERS and Vivian that a fully empowered wife is sexy. But, in my case, that’s putting the cart before the horse. Yes, my wife possesses and exercises the power in our marriage and family, to an extent that any monarch might envy. But I didn’t cede that power to her, nor did she appropriate it.
What happened is, as far as I can tell, my wife’s accretion of power occurred over many years, incrementally, even insidiously, as a natural by-product of her superior judgment, follow-through, practicality, memory, social savvy, strength of will, completeness of psyche, emotional range and maturity—yatta ta yattata.
I’m thinking that it was very like the tidal upward mobility of women in the workforce, especially in the professions. Yes, they now wield more and more power, and it is increasing dramatically year by year; but that power did not come their way via an abdication by males, or a storming of the citadel by women (though I do not deny the effect of advocacy, in opening up previous all-male citadels). Mainly it seems to have come about because, once in the door, a preponderance of women quietly and unarguably demonstrated not only equality with men, but a surprising superiority.
Thus it has been with my wife and me. Things go better when she is in charge, when I seek and follow her advice. Whenever I got angry with her (as I used to do), I would eventually realize that I was being childish, petulant and invariably wrong. When she became angry with me (which still happens from time to time), I would eventually see the error of my ways, realize that she was right (again!) and was owed an apology.
So, yes, in our house she is enthroned and empedestaled, worshipped and obeyed. I found my level and she found hers, simple as that. So, yes, power is sexy, but it flows, at least chez moi, from my wife’s superiority, at least some of it attributable to her gender.
And I consider myself a smart guy, by the way, but part of my smarts is recognizing that she truly is my better half.