Thursday, April 8, 2010

Douglas Wilson on Marital Dominance

While I have been aware of Douglas Wilson for quite some time, until recently I had only read 2 of his books. Last week, I borrowed Reforming Marriage from a friend of mine and I have been quite impressed with the depth of insight that Wilson clearly demonstrates. He clearly has a firm grasp of the proper model of marriage as well as the cultural lies that have utterly eroded our society's ability to successfully handle marriage and relationships. He also has a very interesting perspective on marital dominance, which I have never before seen voiced in precisely this manner. Wilson writes:

The Bible says the "husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church" (Eph. 5:23). Paul most emphatically does not say that husbands ought to be the heads of their wives. He says that they are. In this verse, the apostle is not telling us how marriages ought to function (that comes in the verses following). Rather he is telling us what the marriage relationship between husband and wife is. Marriage is defined in part as the headship of a husband over a wife. In other words, without this headship, there is no marriage.

Meditating on this is a very valuable thing for husbands to do. Because the husband is the head of the wife, he finds himself in a position of inescapable leadership. He cannot successfully refuse to lead. If he attempts to abdicate in some way, he may, through his rebellion, lead poorly. But no matter what he does, or where he goes, he does so as the head of his wife. This is how God designed marriage. He has created us as male and female in such a way as to ensure that men will always be dominant in marriage. If the husband is godly, then that dominance will not be harsh; it will be characterized by the same self-sacrificial love demonstrated by our Lord--Dominus--at the cross. If a husband tries to run away from his headship, that abdication will dominate the home. If he catches a plane to the other side of the country, and stays there, he will dominate in and by his absence. How many children have grown up in a home dominated by the empty chair at the table? If the marriage is one in which the wife "wears the pants," the wimpiness of the husband is the most obvious thing about the marriage, creating a miserable marriage and home. His abdication dominates.
These are difficult words. And even with the qualifications, it is probable that a number of readers have reacted negatively to the earlier use of the word dominance. The fact that this is so is simply another testimony to how much the Christian church is influenced by the propaganda of feminism--whether the man-hating secular variety or the sanitized, "evangelical" kind. Nevertheless, the dominance of the husband is a fact; the only choice we have in this regards concerns whether that dominance will be a loving and constructive dominion or hateful and destructive tyranny. Arguing with the fact of the husband's headship in the home is like jumping off a cliff in order to quarrel with the law of gravity. Marshall the arguments on the way down however one likes, he will eventually find himself refuted in a messy way.
Douglas Wilson demonstrates a clear grasp of many important concepts:
1. A man must be the leader in his household
2. Women are hardwired to respond to dominance
3. Patriarchal structure is necessary for familial health and happiness
4. Feminism is a rejection of the natural and necessary relational structure
5. There are various faces of feminism, both the women-worshipping sort often espoused by conservatives and the man-hating secular sort

Either to be in accordance with God's design, or even simply to make a marriage or LTR work, the natural order of male-female relationships must be understood and respected. Men are inescapably called to lead. Women naturally respond to leadership and displays of dominance. A man who leads well will be attractive to women and will be respected. Dominance can either be expressed in a gentle, firm and loving way, or in a harsh and destructive manner. Both ways of expressing dominance will likely be effective, but one will be constructive and nourishing while the other will be harmful. Either for societal stability, familial success or personal happiness, a man must resist the pernicious lies and the vast array of modern cultural propaganda that deny and oppose these fundamental truths.

Douglas Wilson also introduces the intriguing concept that even in seeking to abdicate leading, a man still is inescapably the leader of his family. Though his dominance may be weak and feeble, yet his leadership still sets the tone of his familial relationships and directly impacts his wife and his children. The same principle can be clearly applied to LTRs. The health of a LTR is determined by how well a man leads his woman. A man's dominance, or lack thereof, is what determines the quality, tone and longevity of his romantic relationships.


  1. Wow. Sounds like a most excellent book. I hope you will make further posts with excerpts!

  2. Quite good. I have had a similar thought. It doesn't matter what my wife or I think, I am still the husband. One note though, and that is that wives seem to need regular displays of dominance. Each little dominance display produces a little spike of feminine compliance, but it does not last forever. Women seem to need constant little reminders. They work better than occasional huge displays, which run the risk of backfiring.


  3. My husband says it's like pinging. You have to send constant little reminders of dominance, or she forgets or becomes unsure of her place. It's like" Ping! I'm still dominant. Ping! I'm still dominant. Ping! Still here, still dominant.

    I think that's what a lot of tradition was about, reminding women of their place. Having him sit at the head of the table, having her cover her head, having her serve him at dinner, his saying Grace, her bringing him his coffee, having him drive the car, etc. People say, "Oh, those things are silly. She/he could just do them themselves." This is true, but it's not the act itself that is important, rather it's the symbolism of the act that makes it so potent.

    Even some more chivalric habits have a taste of that. For example, opening doors for a woman means that they have to wait for you to open it; it puts women in a passive position. That's why feminists rebelled against it and said, "I can open it myself!" Or my husband likes to order for me in restaurants. We discuss what we want to eat, and then he tells the waitress our order. Sometimes he gets things wrong, or he changes his mind at the last minute, and I just sit there silently. If I interrupt, then it makes him look bad. So then I'm stuck eating tomato soup, when I wanted black bean. Most women won't stand for that anymore, and insist on ordering "For themselves!" Sometimes I blurt out my order before he can, and then he just gives me this look like, "Oh, is it one of those days today?"

    If you keep the reminders up, she keeps behaving, but if you get lax, than you have to make a big show of it the next time and risk looking like a jerk. Maintenance is much easier than recovery.

  4. Yes. I have instinctively felt this all through my marriage. I used to occasionally allow my wife to drive the car. Now, I never do. She has covered her head in mass. I do sit at the head of the table. She has taken my name. I hardly notice it - but she does wait on me at table. I used to take dirty plates to the sink, but I now let her do that. In fact, I just put them in front of her to remove, as the meal progresses.

    She used to struggle with me over who would lead our occasional rosary recitals, but she has graciously ceded that to me of late. She does still seem to resist my saying Grace. Don't know why.

    They are little shows of dominance, but they keep the flow going. (Sometimes I think that the more kinky displays of dominance, such as her occasional desire for a spanking, are LESS common when we are simply living our respective roles in a natural way.)

    These are ritual moments. In less formal moments, I wash dishes or make cups of tea for us both. Breakfast is more casual, although I do make a point of expecting her to have a cup of tea ready for me when I come downstairs. However, one has to be practical. Sometimes getting our son onto the bus takes precedence.

    We had a dinner here on Holy Saturday night. I have had problems with her being rude to me in company; so I warned her (semi-seriously) that if she embarrassed me, I would say something like, "Oh, that's OK, I'll just spank her later." Thing is, she does get spanked sometimes, so she could hardly deny it. But on the other hand, it could be passed off plausibly as a joke. She was very good though, and even brought me some food items (it was a buffet style), and I was able to tease her gently. We probably came across as a happy couple, which I guess we are.

    I am glad it is not just me. I sometimes think I am a bit obsessive about ritual and symbols. Because we have right-hand drive cars here in Australia, my wife sits on my left in the car; she sits to my left at the dinner table; and I put her on the left side in bed. Traditionally, Eve was said to have been taken from Adam's left side (that is why the bride stands to the left of the groom). So I sometimes tease my wife that she is always on my left. (When she and I were godparents a year or so ago, the Latin Mass priest actually moved us around so she was on my left. Trads really know their symbolism.)


  5. Symbolism is very, very important. That's why feminists tried to break with tradition whenever they can.

  6. We don't go out often, but my wife seems happy enough for me to order for her in restaurants, but I don't make a big deal of it. I explained the custom to her once. She hadn't really heard of it.

    One of the warning signs about that young couple, of which I had sex with the wife, was that she used to drive the family car with him beside her. It really was strange. Maybe this happens in America, but it is almost unheard of in Australia. Even the wimpiest hubby drives the family car here.

    Symbolism can be empty though, unless there is some reality behind it. I mean, I do some work around the house, but my wife is the housewife, the household manager. I always think: a woman can fake up a few symbolic moments to keep the old man happy, but if she is actually doing all the laundry, that is real commitment.

    My first fiancee, an Anglican girl, had some traditional instincts. She totally disapproved of women priests, who were starting to be ordained in her church. She also quite liked some traditional aspects of femininity. But fundamentally, there was no way she was going to be a compliant wife. She irritated me profoundly by suggesting we use the ancient Anglican Book of Common Prayer marriage rite (she had manoeuvred me into getting married in her church), but she wanted to make one change to the words. Guess which. Leave out "obey". I didn't particularly mind using a modern liturgy, but to suggest using a traditional one, cutely emasculated, I found really annoying.

    As I have mentioned, I may retire in a few years time and my wife could become the main breadwinner. I can imagine doing some of the cooking, if I was at home, semi-retired. But I would still expect my wife to actually serve the meal. As I have said to my wife, I may retire, but I will not be putting on a dress!

    This is all very instinctive for me. I remember my mother, probably trying to make a point I suppose, asking me to serve tea to some ladies visiting our family home when I was a teenager. I recall being very resistant. I think I more or less refused. I didn't want to wait on women.

    It is important nonetheless for a man not to fall into being simply uncharitable. I have done a fair amount of menial work looking after our children - changed nappies, childminding, tying their little shoelaces. I bring my wife the occasional cup of tea in bed.

    Feminists do indeed understand symbolism well, and set out deliberately to subvert it. There have been cases of feminists making boys wait on them at table, or dance for them. Clearly, they are gloating. A lot of this stuff is designed to demoralise and humiliate men. As Lawrence Auster pointed out, cases like the appointment of a pregnant woman as Defence Minister in Spain are clearly designed to emasculate the army. And that woman police commissioner, whose incompetence is now being disclosed in a public inquiry, was clearly appointed by a left wing government to make a point.

    I knew a young woman in college who made a point of bringing a woman friend to my rooms, so as to try to force me to make them both a cup of tea. It was rather petty and silly of this girl. I think she may have been my girlfriend at the time. I remember being astonished that she could go to so much trouble to make such a silly point. I think I made them the tea. We were all just students together after all.


  7. Of course, charity is always called for. My husband sometimes watches the children so that I can do something on my own (like get my hair cut, take a shower, or go to the library). Recently, I was in bed with a terrible cold. He occupied the children for me all day, brought me tea, cooked dinner, etc.

    But that's not the same thing as making it the norm. It's more like he's helping me to complete my tasks, rather than the tasks being reassigned to him.

    Sometimes I think the rituals are almost more important than the split in roles. Even when my mother worked full time and my father was retired (he later went back to work), she still maintained the little rituals.

  8. I am good at minding children. My wife says it is because it involves little physical effort. But I am also naturally fairly patient. And I like children.

    Yes, my wife and I both seeing it as my "helping". And I always feel happiest doing this when I have not been nagged, but have chosen to do it out of husbandly kindness (or what a feminist would call "condescension").

    Rituals are a funny thing. I suppose one uses the male dominant rituals appropriate to one's culture. Most cultures have them. Western culture is unique in that it includes some that purport to show deference for womanhood. It would be funny if they all disappeared, and we were left only with the male dominant ones. That would serve the feminists right. Already, I feel no compunction about not giving up my seat to a woman on the bus. Maybe a pregnant woman. But only maybe.

    My wife once said that she should have been "yellow" (Asian), referring to the deferential female behaviour of such cultures.

    I suspect that the rituals may be more important when the actual role division is less clear. As I said, my wife's desire for a spanking seems to have gone into abeyance now that I am more consistently dominant in real life. And that thing we did with her curtseying to me, early in our courtship, did not last.

    I would have no moral problem with other dominance rituals, if they were appropriate to my culture. In some traditional European cultures, the wife does not eat her meal until after her husband has finished his. There is a nice scene of what I assume is traditional wifely dinnertime behaviour in The Godfather Pt II. The wife does not appear to join her husband and friend, but just cooks and serves the pasta. But these behaviours are foreign to me.

    I have had my wife prepare a simple breakfast, leave it on the table for me, and return to bed on a number of occasions. She often does this when she is on leave and I am still going to work. I always feel pleasantly patriarchal on such occasions. This is largely ritual and symbolic, because she really only prepares toast or cereal and tea, and I could easily do this myself.


  9. One thing my wife always does, if she remembers, is fill my tea cup herself at breakfast. She is clearly doing this to please me and show a submissive spirit. I often rub it in by saying something like "Thank you, little wife" in a patronising tone. It is a little ritual exchange.

    I could pour my own tea, but it is a way for her to show a spirit of service. For a moment, it is like she is my personal Geisha.

    Little feminine submissive rituals like this, particular to the couple, are probably fairly common. Sometimes she will present herself to me for inspection of how she looks in an outfit. I often make a point of making her twirl around so I can appraise her.


  10. Yes, those are the kind of things I am speaking of.

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