by Costanza Miriano
First of all, let’s make something clear. We all must do our part. Some people talk the talk, others walk the walk. I am applying for the talking job, because walking the walk is too exhausting.
When we talk – in whispers, to avoid being lynched – about submission, we need to escape from the language of the world, which reads everything in terms of control, of power. Our King is on a cross, but this is how He defeated the only invincible enemy: death. We too, therefore, must get out from the logic of power, and turn it completely upside down. First of all, because submission does not mean depreciation; you don’t choose it because you consider yourself worthless. Second of all, when a woman makes this choice, the fruit is the fact that her man will be willing to die for her.
When Saint Paul tells women to accept being submissive (literally, to stay under), he does not think at all that they are inferior. In fact, we owe the first great appreciation of women to Christianity… The submission Paul is talking about is a gift, free as any gift, otherwise it would be a tax. It is a spontaneous gift of oneself, a gift made out of love.
What I am talking about, therefore, has very little to do with the practical division of labor at home. Even a woman who works outside the house, and who has a demanding career, can be submissive if she listens to her husband, respects him, holds his opinions in great esteem and puts them before her own. I invite women to submission, but at the same time I work in a national TV news program, I have shot documentaries in New York and run marathons overseas. Nonetheless I believe that women should claim back their vocation to welcoming life, the vocation that comes from their being soft, able to stitch relationships back together, to make room, to weave relationships, to bring out the best in everyone. That they should put this feminine genius of theirs at the top of their priorities. This has nothing to do with finding a rich husband that you (pretend to) tolerate in exchange for financial security. It has everything to do, however, with loyalty, dedication, sweetness.
As for roles and power struggles between the two sexes, I must reluctantly admit this. Being a woman has only been an advantage to me: I ignore whether my car has a spare wheel, and if it has one, where the elusive thing is hiding. I have absolutely no how idea how, through which mysterious ways my house is supplied with electric power, heating and gas. I can watch Sex and the City and spend several minutes picking a shade of nail polish without losing my reputation, because my frivolousness is now socially acceptable. I had the incommensurable privilege to host four children inside me and to feel them moving in my tummy, even though, I confess, when it was time to have them come out the privilege aspect was no longer so apparent.
I was never the victim of gender discrimination. It can happen to be underappreciated and undervalued at work, but it happens to men as well as to women. I know many, very many men who feel discouraged, sometimes even depressed about things at work, because of the bullying, the lack of meritocracy and of professionalism.
For this reason, I confess, I have never felt the need for any gender-related battles. I am very grateful to the women of past generations for the freedoms they conquered for us, yet for the very reason that I have received these freedoms, and because I thoroughly enjoy them, I can’t honestly feel any indignation about it. I think however with a heavy heart about most of the women on our planet, feeling a great relief for the fact that I was born on the lucky side of the world.
Since I don’t want you to think that I am under the effect of psychotropic substances, lost into a sort of pastel-pink delirium with little birds chirping all around me, I admit that some difficulties for women do exist: being a mom and working outside the home is brutally exhausting. For the law of non-permeability of hours, either you will be lacking on one front, or on the other. But it is not because of a male-devised plot. It is nature: those who bear the young are the females of the species. And these same females, if they also want to or must go to work afterwards, will inevitably end up folding socks at midnight; they will go to press conferences with a milk spit-up on their twin-set; they will give the antibiotic at the wrong time; they will try with all their might not to fall asleep at their desk, after a night spent cleaning up vomit; they will forget preschool snacks and crucial meetings with their new boss.
Those of us who decide to invest everything (or almost everything) in their career are often able to make it, to emerge, although the price they have to pay on the front of their personal life is high.
It is not possible to do everything well, and when I can’t make it to the top I do not get mad about the alleged plots I’d be a victim of, but I tend to think that being a woman is nonetheless a wonderful, extremely intense adventure.
Perhaps this is why I do not want to rebel against men; instead, after acknowledging their superiority in many domains (and our superiority in others), once I’d found the right man I realized that listening and “obeying” to his lucidity and rationality was only to my advantage. And I can benefit him with my feminine genius, my own talents and skills.
After the book came out I received a good amount of criticism. Criticism to me as a person – since I am, as I said, not so good at walking the walk – is probably all true, and there is even a lot more about me that people could find fault with (even though I for sure won’t be the one to tell you about it, because I sort of like myself).
However, I would like to spend a few words on criticism about the things I said in “Get married and be submissive”, especially on the extremely intense and intelligent email sent to me by S. (who writes from a foreign country, and whose automatic spell-check produces, at times, some hilarious words): that alone contains enough material for an encyclopedia.
As usual, anyway, the core of the problem is submission. S. and many other women are not convinced, not even when I try to make the idea more “palatable” by explaining that “staying under” means to support, to sustain, to welcome, and not to passively obey, letting other people crush you.
Let’s get rid of banality: submission has nothing to do with whoever washes the dishes or does the house chores. With whoever does what. A woman can do everything in the house and still crush her husband in other ways, or she can subtly manipulate him, control him while pretending to obey. We all have met at least once that kind of woman, in its countless different varieties: sly and sanctimonious, the one who pretends to be a child, the silent matriarch, the general in a skirt, the passive aggressive, the darling-I’m-not-feeling-well-but-I’ll-do-it anyway-because-I’m-a-saint sort, and several other varieties with many optional features.
The kind of submission that many wise people I know have invited me to practice, and that I, in turn, have proposed in the letters to my girlfriends, is the loyal and honest desire to serve your spouse. A service that, I’m saying this for the last time (and if anyone asks me about it again, I’ll kill myself by swallowing this bag of Doritos right now, package and all), may have nothing to do with whoever loads the dishwasher. It may mean accepting the other’s inclinations, for example not planning a dinner that he doesn’t want to host, or planning another one that he would like to attend. Trying to anticipate his wishes, also because, as we are all desperate fishwives, we know that a man, silent as a fish on everything concerning himself, will hardly ever express his wishes in an open and straightforward way.
Why should the woman do this? Because we are equipped with a far more sophisticated radar to detect other people’s needs. We are not better people, but we have this birth thing. We are the ones who give life, the life of the body and the other kind.
We can start, but it takes two to do the big part of the work. We need to learn a light and flowing dance, even though I am certain that even Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, in order to get to that perfect harmony, worked hard and sweated and stepped on each other’s foot, even she, under those chiffon puffs (someone once said that Ginger Rogers performed all the same steps as Fred Astaire, but backwards, and wearing heels).
A friend asked me: “So should I let him laze on the couch? Shouldn’t I make him grow up? Must I allow him to remain childish and a mama’s boy?”
I don’t know. I think – I have been told, and I have also experienced it, the few times I was able to bite my lip – that any change can be obtained by letting him chase you through your example and beauty.
Apart from the fact that there are probably at least a billion things that he can barely tolerate in us, if two people really love each other, they will abandon the logic of claims and measurements on who does more and how, and they will strive to surpass each other in serving their spouse.
“But do I have to tell him he’s right even when he’s wrong?” There was a time when my friend asked me this question about thirty times a week.
We are used to think about love as something natural and spontaneous. But if we reflect, the most important things on love are told in the Gospel, which invites us to love our neighbor and, in that instance, does not describe a spontaneous feeling, something that springs out easily and cheerfully. To love in those cases is “to act as if you loved”. Then the feelings will follow. “Acting as if” is an excellent recipe also in marriage, and it is able to soften even the most tangled knots, to get rid of the hardest old encrustations.
Besides, marriage is, like the Gospel, something that one understands with one’s hands, one’s arms, one’s knees sometimes, ‘cause that’s always a good place to start.
traduzione Caterina Poggi