Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Submissive is Not a Four Letter Word

I’m fascinated with women. In particular the strong, smart, independent types that populate my novels and plays. I’ve always been attracted to that kind of woman, starting way back in high school.

My writings reflect this take on women in my fictional life too. Almost all of my heroines are beautiful, brilliant, and ballsey. Not one of them needs a man in their lives. They may not be as damaged as Lisbeth Salander in ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ or as dangerous as ‘The Red Sparrow’ but they’re fiercely independent, very smart and ambitious.

These are women who aren’t afraid to speak their mind. They scare the heck out of some men but they don’t really care. They’re focused, determined and seem to know exactly what they want out of life. While not all of them were a product of the enormous social and sexual changes that affected women in the sixties, a large number of them were.

Yet there is another type of woman who unfortunately also peaks my curiosity. The kind of woman Don Draper would want to date. These are women who haven’t yet realized that the world has evolved and changed and their role as ‘the little woman’ doesn’t have to exist anymore.  I’m talking about those dutiful wives whose lives seem to evolve around their husband’s daily activities and existence. At social gatherings they simply become wallpaper, like an accessory or a detachable add-on. Their absence isn’t noticed and their presence is taken for granted by their spouse and others in the room. Their deference to their husband’s wishes is almost palatable.

I’m really not sure if this observation of mine on women is realistic or not. Perhaps I’ve got this cloudy idea of what the average woman is really like from early television sit-coms. Growing up, I thought housewives were supposed to be like Betty in ‘Father Knows Best,’ Beaver’s mom or Harriet Nelson and her song-playing son Ricky. They were all prim and proper, reasonably intelligent and always attentive to the needs of their husband. Yet I never got the impression they were submissive.

I bring this up because recently an old friend of mine described herself as a submissive wife. I was blown away; almost left speechless by her calm, matter-of-fact declaration. I’m sure she was sincere in her comment. I wasn’t about to question or make a judgement on her self-assessment. Yet that didn’t seem to fit the person I used to know many years ago. Or at least I thought I knew back then.

I do know several women who are ‘grateful’ to be married to their spouses. In fact, I fashioned my character of Barbara in my play ‘Club 210’ after just such a person. They’re sincere in stating that they feel lucky to be married to such a man, believing their life has been enriched by their marriage and see nothing wrong in being subservient in everything they do together.

Yet from my perspective, their husband/partners shadow block any light reflecting back on them. For some reason these women are either OK with that or can’t or won’t do anything about it. Perhaps they once had something in that relationship but not anymore. Now I wonder if it’s more a fear of the unknown and never asking themselves if there isn’t something better out there.

Some religious groups feel strongly about the ideal family structure. They see the perfect family blend as man being the husband, bread-winner and role model while the woman is the home-maker, mother, cook and all around bottle washer. It’s the perfect nuclear family from the forties and fifties morphed into television’s first abbreviated sit-coms and today’s mega-churches.

Past generations have told women that once they made their bed, they had to sleep in it. Perhaps it’s Catholic guilt, (pick your own religion here, if you want), fear of the unknown, complacency or not believing there could be something better out there for them. I’m pondering if there isn’t something else in their lives that could take the place of the duties they feel encumbered to per-form as the dutiful wife.

I’ve never equated gratitude as an attribute of marriage but women like Barbara certainly seem to feel that way. And, again, I’m not in a place where I can or should judge them for their accepted position in life. It just seems so unfair to me.

The woman I first referenced is very smart and is married to a guy who is also very smart. So she must know what she’s doing. Still I think life is too fleeting to short-change oneself because of some antiquated notion that one spouse should be submissive to the other. That’s about as meaningless as dumb blond jokes and man caves.

I don’t want a ‘Wonder Woman’ or Lisbeth as a partner in my life. I still like the three B’s in a woman. Equal is probably the best way to describe it for me. She and I may have different skill sets and divergent wants and needs. But we’re like-minded respective to the differences that make all the difference. Let’s call it equal footing on this wonderful journey called life.

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