Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wives Who Have Sex with their Husbands Spark Controversy

The Obedient Wives Club, a conservative Islamic group in Malaysia, has made a radical connection between happy marriages and sexual willingness that has militant feminists, frigid atheists, and sexual extortionists in a tizzy.

I realize that the above sentence is quite obviously latent with bias and more than subtly reveals my stance, if not on the issue itself, at least on the response it has received globally. But how else can you react when such sage wisdom as "happiness starts in the bedroom" that has been whispered from mother to daughter on wedding days throughout centuries is represented like this to the world:

It turns out, the secret to a happy union is to let your husband have sex with you whenever he wants. If your marriage is sad or fraught with strife, simply f*** your way out. How novel. And if you refuse, you are literally causing war to happen...Men are the stronger sex, unless a woman makes them act in a bad way. The only way to assure that a man will not, say, get mad and invade Poland one day, is to make sure you're giving him whatever he wants. Like a two year old.

I would like to read what the group actually believes in their own words, but unfortunately I do not read Malay. As it stands, the rest of the English-speaking world and I are forced to try to reconstruct what is actually being said from sources that are less than comprehensive (not to mention less than sympathetic). Consequently, I am reluctant to pretend to speak on behalf of the position advocated by the Obedient Wives Club. It is, however, frustrating to see something which seems so obvious and, for that matter, consonant with the Christian religion maligned so superficially. (Interestingly, several of the article I am reading which trash this idea gladly admit that it is prevalent in American and Christian society as well.)

What is interesting in this, as in many displays of feminist outrage, is the outright hypocrisy of it. The Obedient Wives Club is a club for women, started and run by women. No one is trying to compel women to join or to abide by these principles. These women are exercising the freedom that so many feminists claim that they are trying to achieve for women. Of course, what is really meant is not freedom to accept the view of yourself and your gender that you have concluded accords with reality. What is really won is the freedom to be coerced into an image of "liberated" gender or to be ridiculed and marginalized for holding antiquated and dangerous beliefs. The Washington Post article linked above notes that politicians are dismissing the group as "medieval." Another source calls it slavery. The Malay Mail has an article subtitled: "Obedient Wives' mission 'narrow-minded', 'degrading.'" Still another article from the same source says the views of the group are tantamount to advocating rape and is shamed that it is women promoting this view:

If a wife doesn’t want sex and it is forced upon her, isn’t that rape by law? If a wife doesn’t want to engage in certain “whore-like” sex situations, isn’t that forced sex?

I put it that the club which has the gall to typecast a good wife as one who is a good sex worker to her husband is promoting predatory sex.

Sadly, it is women who are behind this rapacious move to prey on innocent wives.

How can a wife who chooses to be sexually available to her husband be raped during the act of consensual sex? It seems entirely beyond all these outrage commentators that a woman's sexual disposition toward her own husband is entirely her choice. In fact, that very position seems to be the kind of thing you would expect these controversialists to advocate. It galls them, however, that a woman might willingly elect to submit herself to her husband, even and especially sexually.

Never mind, of course, that the fundamental premise behind the group's message is sound. A husband who finds himself sexually gratified at home is less likely to seek sexual gratification elsewhere. This does not, as so many have accused, necessarily shift culpability for infidelity and divorce onto the wife. This misconception comes from an inability, when it suits people's agendas, to separate culpability from causality (a subject which I will treat at greater length soon). If a husband is a lecher, that is no one's fault but his own. In marriage, however, the "modern woman" (and for that matter, the modern man) would do well to realize that if you test anyone's fidelity you are inviting a disappointing result. The best kind of husband will always resist temptation, but at the same time the best kind of wife will always try to minimize the temptations her husband encounters. My wife trusts me, but she still wouldn't send me into a strip club to ask for directions.

From a Christian perspective, it is important to remember that the virtue of submission and sexual availability are biblical concepts. Paul encourages sexual openness, if you will, without regard to gender because he realized in the first century what people are scandalized by in the twenty-first century: sexual activity encourages sexual fidelity. The idea of domestic submission is even more pervasive, appearing in multiple letters by multiple authors. We can debate the meaning of submission (and it deserves attention), but it is critical to remember two facts which I suspect are beyond dispute. First, the locus of control is always in the hands of the submitting party. The wife is always encouraged to submit; the husband is never told to compel submission. Submission in the biblical picture is the supreme act of freedom, the willful act of self-sacrifice that typifies the highest form of love. It is this fact which throws light on the not-so-subtle hypocrisy of outraged feminists who want to "liberate" women into a no less rigid gender structure than the one they are "rescued" from. Second, whatever we may conclude about the actual ethical implications of "submission" in a marriage, service is a profound Christian virtue. It is depicted throughout the New Testament in acts which range from the giving of a meager sum of money to the death of Christ on the cross. We sing "make me a servant" and read about Jesus washing the disciples feet, but when it comes to our rights we are unwilling to put those principles into action.

I do not know anything about the Obedient Wives Club except what I can read in the rather slanted reporting of the media, but I can say as a Christian that I do not feel any sense of outrage that women have freely elected to follow the conviction that their faith commends domestic submission. I am certainly not at all bothered by the suggestion that a wife who will sexually gratify her husband is less likely to have a husband that strays. Marriages would be better with a lot less rights and a lot more service. Women who can stand up for their convictions in the face of worldwide rebuke deserve the praise of feminists not their scorn.

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