“On the left side of a strong woman, stands a strong man; he is strengthened by her character.”
As a woman,
I hate the word “submission.” When directed at my gender, it sounds ugly and
gets me angry. When I hear men or any Christian recite the verse, “Wives,
submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (NIV Ephesians
5:22), my blood begins to boil. My Christian uncle once asked me why I get so
angry with this idea if God commanded it? He added that this is the natural way
God created women to be – submissive.
Ellen J. Barrier
Upon many internet searches, it was near impossible to find anything about submission that didn’t have to do with this verse or sex. Through my time thinking about and researching this topic of female submission, I understand why this word is so distasteful to me, and in what ways. There are three realms for submission: the bedroom, marriage/relationships, and everyday life (including school, career, etc). There are a whole lot of people who will talk about the first two, but I plan to spend some time on the last one, as well.
Let’s start with a basic definition of the word “submission” – “the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.” Additionally, here’s the definition for “submissive” – “ready to conform to the authority or will of others; meekly obedient or passive.” Maybe I’m just stubborn and strong-willed, but I wouldn’t like to be classified as a submissive person. I don’t know many women who gladly accept this classification either. I have never met a man who would like to be called submissive. So, is this just a cultural belief that women are naturally or supposed to be more submissive, or is it a fact of life?
In the Bedroom
I’ve heard women ages 16-50 explicitly or implicitly state that they like it when a guy takes control in the bedroom. It’s a turn on. They like it when he’s dominant. Many magazines, online articles, and romance books will attest to this. There’s a reason Fifty Shades of Grey sold two million copies in two months. The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that, “more than 52 percent of women said bondage revs them up, 36 percent fancy spanking, and 28.9 fantasize about being forced to have sex.” Many other sources indicate that sexual submission fantasies among women is fairly common. For the most part, women enjoy it when a man takes charge in the bedroom.
Elizabeth Narins, who featured the above study in her Cosmopolitan article, adds that the same study found “a significant number of men were turned on by the same things.” In other words, submission isn’t just a female fantasy, because plenty of men fantasize about it too. The main difference between male and female fantasies is that about half of women who fantasize about submission don’t actually want to act it out. Men are more likely to want to fulfill their sexual fantasies, whether it’s about dominance or submission. The more comfortable, safe, and respected a woman feels, the more she can give into her fantasies of sexual submission. Usually, without the respect of her boundaries, she won't feel safe or comfortable enough act them out.
In the article by Ogi Ogas, Ph.D, “Why Gender Equality Does Not Always Work In The Bedroom,” he gets into the brain chemistry of male and female desires. Ogas also agrees that the majority of women fantasize about submission. He states, “Almost every quality of dominant males triggers arousal in the female brain: dominant scents, dominant gaits, deep voices, height, displays of wealth.” He goes on to explain the brain circuits that are unconsciously triggered during sex, which have a lot to do with how our bodies naturally move and respond during sex. He gives the examples of mammals who have these same brain circuits, which is why females arch their rears, and males mount on top of them. They were not told, and don’t need to be shown to do this. Their brains are wired for this response.
His conclusion for our response to this brain circuitry is that, “Men are aroused by being dominant and by submissive women, women are aroused by being submissive and by dominant men.” Interestingly, it was discovered that men and women have “the neural circuitry for both sexual dominance and sexual submission.” Though both of these circuits are in our brains, for some reason only one is linked to our arousal system, which could explain why there are men who like being submissive and women who like being dominant. Basically, every person has the capacity to be turned on by submission or dominance, but it just depends which one is being triggered.
Who enjoys being submissive in the bedroom is the easiest aspect to talk about, because the most research has been done on that subject, and it has more to do with biology than anything else. Relationships take a huge step into cultural and sociological preference. I’m going to focus on dating and marriage, from a modern and Christian perspective.
Melissa DiRicca discusses the evolving dating world in her article, “Does She Want to be Dominated?” She points out that though women are more aggressive in their careers and on the homefront, they still expect men to take the lead when it comes to dating. Men are expected to ask the girl out; they are expected to plan the date, pay for the bill, and initiate sex. All of these expectations suggest that women want men to be the dominant ones in dating. Of course this isn’t always true. There are plenty of women who make the first move, split or pay for the bill, and initiate sex. For the most part though, these expectations commonly fall on men, and most women like it that way.
DiRicca points out something that I’ve also been taught my mother. Though women are capable of paying for their own meal, opening their own doors, etc, we still want to feel feminine and part of that means allowing men to feel masculine. When it comes to dating, the reasons for the expectations on men have changed. It used to be that women were considered helpless and unable to take care of themselves financially and physically. Now, women are capable of taking care of themselves, but culture has already influenced our roles for long enough so that certain tasks make men feel masculine and make women feel feminine. Now, women allow men to take charge for the sake of femininity and masculinity, not because of dominance and powerlessness.
The hardest conversation about submission comes with marriage, particularly in the Christian context. Those pesky verses about wives submitting to their husbands has caused a lot of controversy and discussion. Ephesians 5:22-33 speaks about marriage and how wives and husbands should treat one another, with love and respect. Colossians 3:18-19 says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” The most commonly referenced part of these verses is, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:24-25 NIV).
When these verses are read in context and all the way through, they sound loving and seem to be good commands for how marriages should be. Instead, many people interpret these verses like this, “Wives, do whatever your husband commands/wishes/wants. Husbands, don't treat your wife bad and love her enough to die for her.” It sounds very extreme and very unbalanced. I find a lot of fault with this interpretation.
First, if marriages are about two equals, it makes no sense for one to just always do what the other says. In context, women during this time were of a lower status than men. They were considered inferior. If we are using the same definition of submission that we have today (yielding to a superior force or to the will of another person), then it makes sense for wives to submit to their husbands, who were superior to them. Today, women and men share equal status, so it doesn’t make sense to apply this definition of submission in a marriage.
Second, husbands are commanded to be willing to give up their lives for their wives. It’s very gallant, and I doubt any husband who truly loved his wife would disagree with that part of the verse. However, John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” Here it says that anyone who loves another should be willing to die for them. Wives love their husbands, thus they would die for them, too.
The major fault with interpreting these verses like people commonly do, is that there are women who end up in abusive marriages, or unhappy because they have little to no power or control. They stay with their husbands unwilling to change the dynamic of the relationship because “God ordains” husbands should have all of the power and control. Lynette Hoy discusses such an issue on Counsel Care Connection. She references one of Pastor Ray Pritchard’s sermons, “"Headship" means that God has called the man to lead his home—and will therefore hold him personally responsible for what goes on in his home. The emphasis is on responsibility and accountability, not on authority and power.” I also really like Pritchard's point when he says that headship "is not a statement about "who makes all the decisions" or "who keeps the checkbook" or "who works outside the home and who doesn't."... Whoever is better with details should keep the checkbook." Hoy goes on to add that submission means both husband and wife should be considerate and respectful of each other, and be willing to put the other’s interests before their own.
Kevin Miller also had some insightful thoughts on these verses. He explains that people see submission as one person having control over the other and abusing their power. This makes the person with less power want to resist and rebel. This is his interpretation: “Submission means I voluntarily limit what I might do naturally in this relationship in order to benefit you. If I have more power, instead of doing what I might do naturally and use that power to make my life easier, out of reverence for Christ I'll use my power instead to serve you. I'll give up even my life in order to benefit you.” I’m not sure I can completely agree with his explanation, but it did lead me to better understanding my own. I do agree when he says, "Submission doesn't mean you go along when you're being asked to do something that violates Scripture, your conscience, or common sense."
Those who better understand these verses make it clear that they are not about power and control, and I agree. If I were to replace the word “submit,” it would be with the word “yield.” I like this word because it reminds me of driving. On the road, when you are yielding, it has everything to do with safety for yourself and other drivers. In a marriage, if you are yielding to each other, it has to do with respect and consideration. Both husband and wife should yield to each other.
On top of that, they should be willing to sacrifice, and I don’t mean their lives. In everyday life, there aren’t many opportunities for you to lay down your life for someone you love, but there are many opportunities to show your love through sacrifice. You can sacrifice time off work to spend time with your loved one. You can sacrifice some of your money to use it in a caring way. You can sacrifice by doing something you don’t like because the other person likes it. Husbands and wives should yield and sacrifice out of love and mutual respect.
In Everyday Life
While talking to girls my age on the topic of female submission, they also admitted that the word angers them, too, and it had nothing to do with sex or relationships. I’d like to point out that only men have ever spoken to me about the idea that women are supposed to be naturally submissive. I have never heard a woman say she is naturally submissive.
Through my search to discover if women actually have a more submissive personality type, I came across this gem – “Here Are 7 Reasons Why Submissive Wives are the Happiest People on the Planet,” written by Brian Carey. I found the whole article to be incredibly stupid and sexist, but he made some points I’ve heard before, such as point number one, “Submissive wives don’t fight natural law… Natural law dictates that men are the leaders in society.” If you look at the animal kingdom and most of history, men are in charge. There are always exceptions, but the majority of history and animals show this to be true. It’s still a stupid point, because we’re not animals. There have been a lot of things normal throughout history, such as slavery, but as a society we have been evolving past that.
There are people who can argue that biologically, women are more passive than men, because testosterone makes men more assertive. If you witness the way men and women interact with each other and amongst their own sex, you can see this play out a lot. For example, women apologize more than men, even when there’s nothing to be sorry about. Men ask for more promotions than women. If a man and woman sit next to each other, a man will usually have no trouble taking up more physical space than she does by spreading out his legs, while she’ll keep her arms and legs close together.
I don’t think passivity and submissiveness are the same. Being passive has to do with letting things go, and not desiring to assert your will all the time. Being submissive, as mentioned earlier, is about accepting and yielding to the will of others. Also, passivity and assertiveness have more to do with personality than gender. I’m passive, but so is my dad, and my mom is incredibly assertive. Yet, me and my dad have learned how and when to be assertive, while my mom has been learning how to not assert herself in things she has no control over.
I associate female submission with: meek, passive, fragile, weak, helpless. Submission to me means giving in to whatever someone else wants and having no say in the matter. It's everything women don’t want to be seen as. Instead we would like to see ourselves as: powerful, strong, independent, authoritative, intelligent, ambitious, assertive, capable, leaders. These qualities are associated with dominance. Dominance means being able to assert what you want and take charge of your life. We want to be dominant in the workplace, at school, at home, and in every aspect of our lives, just like men do. We want our opinion to count. We want to take charge of our own lives, and don’t want anyone else ruling over us.
Maybe women like submission in the bedroom. Maybe they even allow men to be dominant in dating at the beginning. But relationships and marriages are about equality. Work and school are about getting ahead. In everyday life, both men and women can choose whether they want to be dominant or submissive. It is a choice, not a natural way of things.