I have a sick, train wreck sort of fascination with TLC's Sister Wives. I've recently found a blog about the show which has become my new guilty pleasure.
When I first heard about this show, which features a family of polygamists (one husband, four "wives" and about 17 kids at last count), I thought "this could be interesting." In fact, I thought the idea of sharing the financial and childcare burdens made some sense. I wasn't so sure about sharing a husband, but I could understand of the sort of commune-like arrangement for the wives.
I went into the whole thing with a sort of live and let live attitude. What I have found is an arrangement (at least with this family) which I find disturbing, particularly as it relates to submission.
Believe me, I've got some serious feminist credentials, but I can still understand a healthy relationship that involves submission. The key word here being healthy. And consensual.
On Sister Wives any feelings of jealousy or complaints about not getting their fair share of the husband's time or any of the other resources are dismissed and the wife is told that the problem is with her. Instead of having a discussion about expectations or responsibilities, the wife is expected to do her own soul searching until she can "be sweet" (I think this is polygamist code for shut up and do as you are told). This process usually involves figuring out a way to take all of the blame on herself, acknowledge that she has not been a good wife or good sister wife (if the conflict is with another wife) and then fall on her sword with an apology.
This is not submission. This is emotional abuse. Legitimate concerns and feelings are dismissed. The husband's word is law (no matter how foolish his decisions might be). There is no respect for the wives and they are all busy scurrying around trying to please the husband in order to gain his favor. There is no love and concern for the emotional or spiritual growth of any of the "spouses" and the husband's dominance is for his own ego, not to benefit the wife.
Sadly, I think that when most people think of submission in a relationship, this is the sort of picture they have...blind obedience even if it is unhealthy, foolish or detrimental.
Real submission, in my opinion, is consensual and based on respect between the parties. In my stories, when the husband spanks the wife or imposes other discipline, it's because both parties agree (though maybe not at the same time) that the wife has violated an agreement. She trusts the husband to impose fair punishment. There is a responsibility on the husband to be just and to be worthy of the wife's trust.
Taking advantage, either physically or emotionally, of that trust is abuse.