How to become the perfect, "surrendered" wife

Step 1: Rid vocabulary of the word "but." Step 2: Always agree with your husband.

Published May 3, 2007 9:31PM (EDT)

I give up. It's not enough that every career woman turned housewife with a knack for self-hating rhetoric is writing a bestselling book about how to catch, tame, woo, keep and otherwise manipulate her man, now one of them is inspiring a reality TV show. As reported today in the illustrious Daily Mail, "Obedient Wives" -- a U.K. television show that begins next week -- is based on the work of Laura Doyle, founder of the "Surrendered Wives" juggernaut (with three books, a dozen audio programs, a certification program and international "surrendered circles").

Like so many other hausfraus who have clawed their way to the top of the trash heap before them, Doyle asserts that married women -- regardless of their status in the workplace -- must cede all control to their husbands at home. The "surrendered wife" never complains, nags or criticizes -- instead she lavishes love, praise and acquiescence even when her husband is picking his nose and hollering at the kids while driving off the nearest cliff. If he's cruel, she's never supposed to get mad, but say "ouch" (literally). She is also expected to excise the word "but" from her vocabulary -- so that it looks as if she agrees with her husband on every issue, including her appearance, child rearing, housework, money and sex. (Neither marital rape nor the splitting headache exists in this world!)

As someone whose idea of submission was letting my husband add his last name (along with mine) to our children's surnames, I'm baffled by the idea of grown women (with jobs, opinions and te benefit of a modern society) consciously choosing to become doormats. I do know one surrendered wife: a home-schooling, marathon-running ultra-Christian mother of four and schoolteacher who once confessed to me that she "only" dusts the house once a day (but of course vacuums every day). It was in the context of explaining what her husband gives up by "permitting" her to run several hours each week. Her husband -- a sullen, macho, working-class guy with fewer social graces than Genghis Khan -- is the presumed leader of the house, but it's a leadership that mostly exists as some sort of fantasy. To an outsider, there's only one captain of the family ship, and for some reason unfathomable to me the woman has embraced a belief system that conceals this fact from her.

What's worth noting is that all these programs that compel women to embrace their inner Stepford wife also perpetuate a deeply belittling portrait of men. In their view men can't handle equality, changing gender roles or a few extra household chores. They can't change. They are treated as toddlers manipulated by mothers who make them feel important, powerful and above all dominant.

The stupidity of it all not withstanding, the upcoming series seems to have stacked the deck to prove Doyle's perspective: that female obedience really does lead to a happier marriage. But of course, this depends on what you begin with. The show profiles an insufferably controlling woman who goes through "surrender training," gives up the 24/7 railing and -- shazam! -- domestic harmony is restored. Feminism ruined their lives -- sweep away those nasty notions of gender parity and Eden returns!

Let's face it, assholes come in all shapes and genders. Given a controlling man and a submissive cock-pecked wife, a surrendered husbands seminar would work just as well. But it might be a harder sell to the guys raised to believe they were born to manhandle their wives on demand but never touch a toilet brush.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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