Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The I in Team

I spent Sunday afternoon attending the bridal shower of a close friend. It was an old-school shower, the kind held in the fellowship hall of a church, filled with an interesting mix of girlfriends and church ladies. Halfway through the event, one of the church ladies gave a devotional on the characteristics of a "good wife." Some of the attributes were hard to disagree with: Compassion, kindness, wisdom. Then she requested that other married women in the group give the bride their best marriage advice. At this point, a word kept coming up that made me a little nauseous. Submission.

"Submit to your husband."
"Let your husband be the leader of the home."
"Allow your husband to guide you."
"Give him the final decision."
"The husband is the head of the household."
"Order your home as God intended."

I watched the bride nod politely, and I hoped she wasn't buying the advice wholesale. Another friend leaned over, "I'm going to lose it here in a minute." As I sat listening to their words, I remembered why I grew up with a screw-that attitude toward marriage. On one hand, marriage was billed as the spiritual and physical joining of two lives. On the surface, that sounds like an equal partnership, except for the little matter of the philosophy that god made men leaders and they should be in charge of everything in the household, including the woman. Ummm, sorry, count me out.

Plenty of religious texts support either implicitly or explicitly the idea that men are somehow more valuable than women in this capacity (plus, if the woman is busy making babies, like she's supposed to, how is she going to have time to be an equal partner??) Most ancient cultures were patriarchal in nature. Of course the men writing the texts were going to hear their god(s) tell them to stay in control. And might I point out, there were also rules about keeping women away from others during their periods and after childbirth and forcing women and men to worship separately, both of which we mostly no longer observe. If we've been capable of identifying other ideas as culturally obsolete, why can't some people see that subjugation of women in marriage is equally ridiculous? Women run companies and countries. Women are as intellectually and emotionally capable as men. So, why then wouldn't women be able to lead a home with her husband?

What about teamwork? I see myself as more valuable than a supporting player always being told to pass the ball to the star of the team, even when I have an open shot. Maybe this idea worked when a girl was passed from her father's house to her husband's. But in a world where most people don't get married until many years later, those old philosophies just don't work. I love B. more than anything, and I love all the little ways in which he makes me feel cared for, but I've been taking care of myself on my own for more than a decade. I don't need or want someone to make decisions for me (except maybe which restaurant to eat in). I don't want to acquiesce simply because I'm a woman and he's a man. I won't be a second-class citizen in my own home.

To the bride, if she's reading, I'd say what I didn't have the opportunity to say that day: Make your marriage a parliamentary democracy. Discuss the pros and cons of decisions together and make decisions based on logic rather than which partner thought of the solution. Be all of those other great things, compassionate, kind, and wise. If you truly want the best for each other, finding satisfying compromises for the daily issues of life will come easier. When they don't come easy, keep talking it out. Hold onto each other and float, rather forcing one person to swim and pull the other along. No one need "wear the pants" in the relationship; share the pants. If anyone must submit, keep it in the bedroom. *wink*

Thursday, September 6, 2007


Life has not been conducive to blogging. I have a thousand excuses: too much working at work, too much time living life instead of writing about it. It's not like I haven't had any ideas, just no luck getting them on paper. But here's something I've been thinking/talking about recently, strictly a work in progress.

I grew up in an environment where open-mindedness was tantamount to compromise. "If you don't stand for something (ie, what we stand for) you'll fall for anything (ie, the other)." I tried to do, and more importantly, feel all the "right" things, but somewhere along the line, things just didn't add up for me. It seemed less like faith and more like the ultimate intellectual arrogance to think that every tenant of my belief system composed the only truth and that everyone else was simply wrong. I spent most of my twenties struggling through all the discrepancies between teaching and experience, intuition and pragmatism. I tried to pare away all the extraneous cultural pinnings and find the core values that meant something to me. And, eventually, I have developed a hybrid of ideas around which I organize my life, the basis of which is mutual respect for differences. I'd forgotten that this is apparently a revolutionary idea.

It's easier for people to shut themselves off from the other, to cover their ears and chant to themselves what they want to hear, to judge others inferior for choices that aren't ones they'd make. This post could go in a thousand directions, a dollar a dozen example of ways I see people around me threatened by the idea of coexisting with difference. It comes down to the fear that by failing to bring the difference into submission, one might instead be changed by it. Few people seem willing to look past the surface differences of religion, culture, race, or politics to find the values that could often connect us, if we'd let them.

One place the divide has become clear is the area of religion and dating. I've dated Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics, and atheists. I've never thought twice about it. I've cared more about what kind of human being he was than what philosophy he practiced. Relationships have come and gone, but not because of our religious or cultural differences. My current relationship is an inter-faith/cultural one. I respect that his religion is his culture's way of making sense of the world. I respect his right to practice his beliefs while I practice my own. I respect that, regardless of where we come from, things like love, family, honesty, and thousands of other values remain the same.

If both people in the relationship live under this assumption, then everything is great, right? Right...mostly. Except for dealing with the people around them that think all this respect and coexisting stuff is just dangerous and scary. Will each other's parents accept and support the relationship or pray their respective gods that the couple break up? What about those non-existent children? Won't they be confused if they are taught that there are multiple ways of seeing the world? Will one person's cultural and family traditions be ignored in favor of the other? And ultimately, what if one of us gets the shaft in the after-life? What then?

I'm certainly not the only one of my group of friends to experience this or similar issues. The common theme in those discussions has been that when you are in an amazing relationship, all you want are the people in your life to celebrate your good luck with you. Admittedly, in our case, most of our friends and family feel like we do and are just happy that we are happy. Honestly, I don't think it would matter either way. I'm stubborn that way. Change is slow...It amazes me that so many of the lines that once divided the world--catholic/protestant, black/white, gay/straight, conservative/liberal, wealthy/poor--still exert so much power, especially in a country that prides itself on the melding of cultures.

And the post drags on...more on this topic later.