Note: This is an old post originally published July 2008 which I am re-publishing as it fits well with the recent series on Genesis 3:16.
Nothing men experience
in the normal course of their everyday lives
resembles this conspicuous form of subjugation.
– Evan Stark (emphasis added)
If one translates the technical jargon in this description of abuse into biblical language, it sounds very much like a real life description of “your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you”.
As a fundamentalist Christian woman in recovery from a fatal marriage killing MIS-understanding of biblical submission, I identify very much with the lifestyle described here:
The entrapment of women in personal life is also hard to discern because many of the rights it violates are so basic—so much a part of the taken-for-granted fabric of the everyday lives we lead as adults, and so embedded in female behaviors that are constrained by their normative consignment to women—that their abridgement passes largely without notice. Among my clients are women who had to answer the phone by the third ring, record every penny they spent, vacuum “till you can see the lines,” and dress, walk, cook, talk, and make love in specific ways and not in others, always with the “or else” proviso hanging over their heads. What status should we accord to a woman’s right to have toilet paper in the downstairs bathroom or to the right of a woman I will call Laura who had to beep in periodically so her boyfriend would know her whereabouts or who could not go to the gym without being beeped home? Given the prominence of physical bruising, how can we take these little indignities seriously or appreciate that they comprise the heart of a hostage-like syndrome against which the slap, punch, or kick pale in significance? Most people take it for granted that normal, healthy adults determine their own sleep patterns or how they drive or laugh or make love. The first women who used our home as her safe house described her partner a tyrant. We thought she was speaking metaphorically.
Violence is easy to understand. But the deprivations that come packaged in coercive control are no more a part of my personal life than they are of most men’s. This is true both literally, because many of the regulations involved in coercive control target behaviors that are identified with the female role, and figuratively, because it is hard for me to conceive of a situation outside of prison, a mental hospital, or a POW camp where another adult would control or even care to control my everyday routines.
What is taken from the women whose stories I hear almost daily—and what some victims use violence to restore—is the capacity for independent decision making in the areas by which we distinguish adults from children and free citizens from indentured servants. Coercive control entails a malevolent course of conduct that subordinates women to an alien will by violating their physical integrity (domestic violence), denying them respect and autonomy (intimidation), depriving them of social connectedness (isolation), and appropriating or denying them access to the resources required for personhood and citizenship (control). Nothing men experience in the normal course of their everyday lives resembles this conspicuous form of subjugation. (Stark “Coercive Control” 15)
In my marriage, there was no habitual “domestic violence”. And there wasn’t the pattern of honeymoon, and build up, and rage like they speak of with abusers. But there was the constant demeaning, disrepectful, insulting lifestyle of not being trusted, not being considered competent to make adult decisions about matters which affected every area of my life and the lives of our children daily and intimately. I STOPPED making such decisions because it was just not worth it to me to pay the price I paid for doing so. I preferred to run every decision through him than to endure the verbal abuse for NOT doing so. Even then, it broke down. One DV episode was with my 17 yod because he DENIED that the matter was run through him when it had been and she got lippy with him.
Besides not being able to make basic decisions about which phone plan is best for the household, which vacuum cleaner I prefer, whether a child can have permission to go over to a friend’s house…. there was empathic failure- if it wasn’t important to him then we should live without it, to complain was “contentious” “rebellious” “unsubmissive”, and he’s “the head of the household, absolutely NOT, you will NOT call someone to fix it!” – so I was deprived of what I consider basic necessities like adequate heat and hot water (I have 8 children to care for, and at the time of the heat deprivation, my youngest was 18 months and was very sickly- he had to have 6 rounds of antibiotics and had “failure to thrive”) It FELT like I was living in a concentration camp. What finally initiated the necessary destruction of that paradigm and my gradual discovery of my personal liberty and spiritual authority in Christ was when I told God that I felt ever so weary and heavy laden and my faith is NOT working the way the Bible promises. I begged for Him to remove every yoke which is not from Him because HE PROMISED HIS yoke is easy and His burden is light, and mine was not.
Its been a VERY difficult transition for my “control freak” husband. The transition brought on a couple of domestic violence incidents. A man who is used to having absolute, unquestioned, authority over everyone in the household has a BIG adjustment to make when his wife finally recovers her voice and her spiritual authority and power in Christ.