Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sarah Posner on Uncle Sugar as Religious Bogeyman: Religious Right and Concern with Women's Place

I find Sarah Posner's take on Rev. Mike Huckabee's recent Uncle-Sugar-encourages-women's-libido remarks insightful: Sarah situates Huckabee's concern that the federal government (aka "Uncle Sugar") is  encouraging women to turn into, well, libidinous bad girls within the broader context of the model of biblical patriarchy promoted by churches of the religious right. As she notes, as a Southern Baptist, Rev. Huckabee has long had to contend with questions about the official 1998 Family Statement of his Southern Baptist Convention that explicitly maintains the following:

A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.

As she also notes, Huckabee is far from the only American political leader with roots in the religious right who has had to field uncomfortable questions about his faith community's commitment to the patriarchal model of male control and female subordination. Others who have had to answer questions about this model include Reps. Steve Pearce of New Mexico, (federal representative) Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota, and Dan Webster of Florida. 

In 2011, Sarah Posner interviewed Bill Gothard of the Institute for Basic Life Principles, a mentor to Huckabee, Webster, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, and the Duggar family of Arkansas. As with several of the preceding political figures (Huckabee included), when pushed to answer questions about whether he espouses the notion of female submission to males, Gothard waffled in this interview. But as his Institute for Basic Life Principles website unambiguously states, Gothard in fact promotes the belief that women's role in the world is to submit to "biblical principles" that are all about "'serving' by having a womb," and making that womb accessible to men as the choice female means of being of service. 

Hence the concern about "Uncle Sugar," who, Huckabee and other religious conservatives want to suggest, is intervening with the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate in the inner governance of families, in which men are to rule and women to submit--to submit, in particular, their wombs . . . .  What strikes me as of particular interest in this fixation of religious conservatives is that the fixation is really about controlling women, period. It's about a control that goes well beyond sexual life and the womb.

Many members of the religious right are sophisticated enough to understand that their churches' theology requiring women to submit to men is unpalatable to large numbers of Americans. Hence the waffling when blunt questions about female submission are put to these political figures . . . .

But no matter how they choose to quibble about the term "submission" and what it means in how an individual family operates, what is constant and what runs underneath all this rhetoric like an always flowing stream is the concern that women be kept in their "place," that women not be allowed to intrude into areas in which men should dominate--whether those areas are the world of business, of the military, of sports, of religion, etc.

There is an overriding concern with assuring that women not enjoy the same autonomy that men enjoy, because then where would we all end up? And what would become of the world and its order, when the order of male domination and female subordination, which is fundamental to everything, is overturned? The fixation on control of women by men is deeply rooted in the current thinking of the religious right, and it colors many of the stands taken by the religious right on issues as various as contraception and laws governing rape.

And lest Catholics think that these strange antiquated notions about biblical imperatives for women to submit to men are solely evangelical ones, I suggest that those of us who are Catholic take a good look at recent reports about how the book Cásate y Sé Sumisa (Get Married and Be Submissive) by Italian journalist and devout Catholic Costanza Miriano is said to be flying off the shelves of bookstores in Spain and Italy these days. Miriano, who has close ties to Opus Dei (her blog states that while she herself is not a member of Opus Dei, she has many close friends who are OD members) and who offers workshops sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Laity and participates in initiatives of the Pontifical Council for the Family, offers women the following marital advice, citing St. Paul as her authority:

If you just embrace what corresponds to you, to what you think, you are not married to a man, but to yourself. While you must submit yourself to him. When you two must choose between what you like and what he likes, choose in his favor. And this is easy. 

Advice that, to my ears, doesn't sound very different at all from what Rev. Huckabee, Mrs. Bachmann, and other political leaders from the world of the evangelical religious right, preach . . . .

The graphic: I find this diagram depicting the Pauline notion of female subordination at many websites online, but am not certain of its origin. Did it originate with this Interactive Bible website? If any reader has information to help clarify the source of the diagram, I'd be grateful for it.

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