Growing up, my dad used to tell me something that made me laugh. He would look me straight in the eyes, all seriousness, and clear his throat. Remember, he would say to me, remember: Men. Are. Pigs.
Having ultimately failed to keep me away from the opposite gender altogether, my dad has stopped drilling this mantra into my head. But I thought about it, recently, when I came across an article on the Obedient Wives Club, a marriage association formed last year in Malaysia. The group argues that social problems like divorce, adultery, prostitution, and even domestic abuse could be solved if wives obeyed their husbands and exhibited the sexual prowess of a high class prostitute. In other words, men wouldn’t be unfaithful, hire prostitutes, or beat their wives if they were kept happy in bed.
My first reaction was deeply felt indignation, one shared by most women I know. Indeed, some of the OWC’s materials have been banned even in its native Malaysia. NPR reported that Indonesia’s former first lady, Sinta Nuriyah Wahid, spoke against the group’s blatantly unbalanced view of the sexes. “As a feminist, I would say that [the Obedient Wives Club] should be banned.”
Nice to see that the group has gotten plenty of pushback overseas. Closer to home, however, it’s amazing how quickly that pushback can turn into friendly fire. Many of my neighbors who take offense at the OWC’s message believe that, as a Christian, my own views on gender represent the exact same patriarchal prejudice. After all, the OWC bases its teachings on the Scriptures of another Abrahamic religion: Islam. Muslims may disagree with the OWC’s interpretation of the Qur’an. Then again, many self-styled progressive Christians would like to omit verses like Ephesians 5:22—“Wives, submit to your husband as to the Lord”—from the Bible altogether. They draw the battle lines at that word, submission, and glare at me expectantly: which side are you on?
But the Obedient Wives Club makes me angry for a different reason. Yes, that’s right. I believe women should submit to their husbands, and the Obedient Wives Club angers me to no end. “How can that be?” the well-manicured professor asks me over her worn copy of The Feminine Mystique. “Didn’t Paul say submit?” challenges a confrontational seminary student. Surely if I were ideologically consistent I’d be standing right alongside the OWC, cheering them on.
Well, actually, no. I absolutely would not. And this is why.
First, I recognize that sex is and should be an important part of marriage. For both partners. The Bible says, “Let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” (1 Corinthians 7: 2-4)
Scripture’s picture of marriage is remarkably even-handed. A woman should be concerned with pleasing her husband, but a man’s first priority in sex, as in everything, is also to please his wife.
The Obedient Wives Club, however, does not offer a portrait of mutual giving; rather, it calls on the woman to give and please while the man need do nothing more than take. It’s no accident that the group also advocates polygamy, while none of its members would dare sanction the reverse situation, a woman with multiple husbands.
I firmly contest other implications of the group’s message as well, including the assumption that a sexually satisfied man won’t commit adultery. Never in the history of human existence has contentment been a guarantee against sin. Even more offensive is the idea that the woman is at fault in an abusive marriage. When a journalist asked the OWC’s spokesperson if this was the case, she responded, “Yes, most probably because she didn’t listen to her husband.” Such an attitude places the burden of pure and godly living entirely on the wife’s shoulders, absolving the husband from all responsibility. Do we really expect the Almighty God to approve of the man who stands next to his battered wife, looks up into heaven, and shrugs, “She made me do it”?
And that is the twisted heart of the issue. If the OWC casts women as little more than in-home prostitutes, it casts men as sex machines with no willpower. As the founder of the group explained it, “Eve was created because Adam had needs. Men have (sexual) needs which they can’t control. And if the needs are not fulfilled, men will find another woman. God created them like that.”
Oh, well, there you have it then. God didn’t create Eve as man’s unique and indispensable ally, but as his disposable whore. Poor, poor men. Creatures with such insatiable ‘needs’, and no self-control whatsoever. They’re simply helpless in the face of temptation. What, then, is to be done about the epidemic of infidelity? Enter the obedient wife, whose mastery of Cosmo ’s latest sex tricks will save the world.
It is this picture of humanity I reject utterly. But it’s not just religious fundamentalists who dish out that kind of degrading rubbish. Western media is no stranger to stereotyping men as “sex-obsessed buffoons,” as The Good Men Project points out on their website. As that organization’s name implies, there are many men trying to get out from under the depressing weight of the world’s low expectations.
The Obedient Wives Club is not just about obedient wives; it’s about helpless husbands. The group perpetuates an image of sexuality which robs both men and women of dignity. Every man is capable of pursuing his own desires at the expense of others. A woman is equally capable of objectifying herself, and neither gender is immune from cruelty and selfishness. In short, sin knows no gender. But the last thing we need is a pseudo-religious license to indulge our darker natures.
Marriage is about mutual giving and self-sacrifice. It is about seeing the image of God in another person, and committing to go through life with them, side by side with the express hope of making that image more pronounced every day. It is not merely a contract that calls on a man to economically support as many wives as will consent to serve him.
Yes, my dad used to tell me men are pigs. But his daily actions demonstrate otherwise. It’s because of my dad that I know a real man is a hero, who takes on responsibility and commits wholeheartedly to those he loves. Because of my dad, I know that a man has a choice.
For all you good men out there—fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, and friends—let me just say, I believe in you. Because yes, Mr. Seminarian, Paul told wives to submit to their husbands. But he also told husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. That means completely, self-sacrificially, and with her joy as the primary goal.
Margaret Fox is a senior at Princeton University. She is currently serving as a research intern at pureHOPE in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“Outrage as Obedient Wives Club spreads across south-east Asia,” The Guardian, July 6, 2011
“‘Wives can curb social ills like prostitution by being obedient and alluring,’” The Star, June 3, 2011
“Eve-n Adam needed it,” Philip Golingai, The Star, June 13, 2011
“‘Obedient Wives Club’ Irks Some Muslims In Malaysia,” NPR, January 30, 2012