Submission in marriage can be a virtue

Costanza Miriano's book has provoked anger among feminists (CNS)

I love this headline from an article by Guy Hedgecoe in The Irish Times: “Get Married and be Submissive” book raises hackles in Spain”. The word “submissive” set alongside “hackles” is enough to start me chuckling. The only (very slight) surprise is that the country of “Spain” is tacked on at the end. Obviously I don’t know Spain. If it had been Scandinavia, the US or the UK, I would have thought nothing of it. Feminism rules here – and there – OK. But naively I always thought of Spain as quite conservative, family-oriented, still pretty much Catholic and mantilla-wearing.

The Irish Times’ article is illustrated by a demonstration, headed by three angry-looking Spanish harridans who are tearing up copies of this very offensive book. They are giving it good publicity; apparently it has been near the top of Spain’s bestseller list for weeks. Whether this is because hordes of angry harridans buy copies to burn in public or because more traditional Spanish senoras buy it to reinvigorate their marriages, I’m not sure.

At any rate, its author, Italian Costanza Miriano, must be contented by all this activity. Written as a book of advice for newly wedded women, it includes contentious passages like “If it’s true you’re not yet an experienced cook or a perfect housewife, what’s the problem if he tells you so? Tell him that he is right, that it’s true, that you will learn. On seeing your sweetness and your humility, your effort to change, this will also change him.”

Read wrongly, this sounds like a red rag to a feminist bullfighter. It’s telling women to go back to being doormats when they have won the battle for equality between the sexes decades ago, haven’t they? What these readers miss are the final words, “this will also change him.” Really, this is straightforward Catholic mystical theology (for homemakers). St John of the Cross, a great Spanish mystic of the 16th century – this was before “equality” ruled – wrote, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love.” This is true in every sphere of life and every relationship, but it matters most acutely in marriage because, by definition, you are thrown on each other’s company a lot of the time.

The book has been published by the Catholic Archbishopric of Granada which hasn’t exactly helped its popularity among some sections of the passionate Spanish female population. According to the article, “It has managed to unite Spain’s constantly feuding two main parties. While the Socialists have warned it fuels “inequality, chauvinism and discrimination” the governing Partido Popular [demands] the book be withdrawn because it shows a “lack of respect for women”. As well as this, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women” on 25th November, demonstrators in Bilbao tore up dozens of copies. Predictably, Sarah Rainey, in the Telegraph for 12th December, is a good barometer of the feminist weather over here with the headlines, “I’m not signing up to be a Stepford wife”.

The problem lies in translating the word “submission”. It should be seen as “self-giving” rather than as “self-abasing.” Critics also object that it leaves women vulnerable to male violence. But the author isn’t discussing pathological cases, where a few extremely damaged men humiliate and control women, bullying them into co-dependent passivity. She is talking about the norm, and how to live marriage less selfishly, more generously and imaginatively, from a woman’s point of view.
She is also planning to write a sequel; it is a guide to marriage for men and its title is “Get Married and Give Your Life for Her.” This idea comes from St Paul, when he tells men (quite rightly) that they must sacrifice themselves for their wives. What on earth will feminists make of that?