Monday, June 11, 2012

When Abuse is Disguised as Submission

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.


  1. This is a really great post - I also think fondly of polygamy from the standpoint of having help with the "burdens" of wifedom - I think I have even gotten to the point where I would be willing to share my husband - as long as I remain wife #1. Ha.

    Having said that, I think you are right on about bringing up the emotional abuse situation. We talk so much about BDSM vs. Physical abuse, that it is easy to forget the emotional component of abuse is often even more far-reaching than the physical stuff.

    Thanks for this. (And I was a total Big Love addict.)

  2. Thanks, Kitty. I'm glad you liked the post. It's all rather thought provoking, don't you think?

  3. On the topic of emotional abuse... BIKSS (my s/o) and I were just having a convo last night about silly Doms and silly subs. At the end of the day submission should never be about a power trip, nor about neglect because the Dom CAN choose to. It needs to be about caring and nurturing, guiding and protecting and building up your sub... and leaving one to fester and feel guilty and unloved just doesn't cut it for me. I said to him, Thanks for not being a silly Dom. N his sweetest reply was Thanks for not being a silly sub.

    Great post! I'm going to link to it if you don't mind.

    1. Sure thing. Link on!

      Great point about the silly doms and subs. And chances are they are the ones who are jabbering about it as though they are experts and giving the whole concept a bad name.

    2. Thanks for coming by to check out the link. I've edited it so that the title is actually shown now. (Was busy tapping away and I didn't realise I hadn't typed it in.)

      I saw a 19yr old girl on a BDSM forum asking for Doms to play with. And I'm wondering does she have the maturity level to understand this stuff? Her body isn't even fully developed. Well. That's her choice I suppose. But as for the other girls who have been told/brainwashed/guilted into thinking (by their boyfriends) that love means bending over backwards just to please their guys (and I don't mean in a good way) then these guys ought to be whipped.

      Hm... a private grown up prom at home. BIKSS... are you reading this? Teehee.

  4. What a great post! I loved watching Big Love, I was fascinated by how that worked, and secretly wished he would leave his wives and run away with just one. I guess the end to the show was even better. They were all better off in my opinion. I then gave Sister Wives a try, but had to turn it off just minutes into watching it. It was awful! How can anyone live that way? Living with a man, part of the time, and submitting to him no matter what? Have no say in it? Especially when he is not somebody I would want to follow. So yeah, great post, awful show!

  5. Hi Julia. Thanks for stopping by. I never saw Big Love but I have read about it on the Sister Wives Blog.

    Especially when he is not somebody I would want to follow.---I really think this is the key. Women who make foolish choices and follow men who aren't worthy of being followed can end up in some very bad situations.

  6. I've been hooked on Sister Wives too! I love the show and find it fascinating. I do think that the women have chosen to be sister wives and accept the bad with the good. I know that it is part of their faith, but it was never explained how polygamy is supposed to bring them closer to God.

    The hard part about polygamy is that husband is spread too thin to be a helpful partner. The wives are basically single moms with a guy who visits. With four wives, there are weeks when a wife would only get to see her husband once.

    What I found sad was the show where they had friends visiting. The monogamous couple had four children, yet felt it was part of their faith to seek another wife. The current wife was having a hard time, because she didn't want to lose her husband, didn't know how she would handle things when his time was divided. Did you see that one?

  7. What I've learned from the blog (there's a link in the post) is that in their faith the more wives (and children, I think) you have the better the place in heaven you get.

    You make a good point about the husband not being around long enough for each wife. That seems to be a big stresser in this family.

    I did see the episode you mentioned. In my world, if my husband said he wanted to look for another wife, everyone I know would tell me to kick him to the curb. In her world, everyone says "isn't that nice?" But I bet that deep down she's not thinking it's so great.

  8. I agree completely with your post. Kory the hubby on Sister Wives has a way of coming off like a Ken doll but really he is a complete narcissistic man. He does not parent and that is not love he is showing.

    1. Absolutely! He seems to just want more wives and children so he has more people to pay attention to him.

      P.S. Love your user name!


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