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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/16/11

Wifely Submission

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In Friday night's Republican presidential candidates' debate in Iowa, Michele Bachmann was asked a question about wifely submission. It was based on a comment she once made, quoting the Bible as saying that wives should be submissive to their husbands. She did not say that wives should respect their husbands, or that the respect-submission thing was supposed to be mutual.

That was when she was speaking to a church audience. When she was speaking to a more general audience, she of course made it sound like it was merely mutual respect.

While some have questioned the appropriateness of the question itself as  sexist, I think it's pretty clear that it was a fair question. After all, she declared her belief in wifely submission in public, during a campaign, and in front of a camera. Furthermore, she did not merely claim her belief that she should submit to her husband, but actually told the women in the church audience that they should, as well.

Bachmann's contradictory statements on this topic are just one example of the labyrinthine path that the new crop of female, religious-right candidates seem to be taking on the role of women, such as Bachmann and Sarah Palin. They seem to differ from the likes of Phyllis Schlafly and even Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who counseled women to stay home with their children, as they pursued their own careers.

Bachmann and Palin take a different approach. On the one hand, they do something that most other female politicians do not do - they aggressively use their status as mothers - and especially righteous mothers at that - as part of their qualifications for office. Why righteous, you might ask? Well, in great part it seems to stem from the sheer number of children that they have given birth to. In Palin's case, her decision to give birth to her Down Syndrome son is often touted as part of her conservative bona fides. For her part, Bachmann touts her five children and 23 foster children (though, the idea that she actually "raised" 23 foster children is a matter of controversy .)

It has been fascinating to watch the religious right pivot from a position that women should shun public roles (even from the likes of Schlafly who fails to follow her own advice), to a position that supports women for president who still talk of submission.

There are other differences between this new crop of Republican women and previous candidates that are more difficult to measure: their demeanor and other non-verbal behavior. I've long felt that female politicians of both parties have endeavored to seem as genderless - or masculine - as possible, from using deeper voices, serious facial expressions, to avoiding any mention of their own motherhood experiences. Certainly, appearing with your young children has been taboo, as Palin routinely does. (My only memory of Nancy Pelosi mentioning motherhood was during the health care debate, when it was noted that having given birth was a pre-existing condition.)

Yet, through facial expressions, tone of voice, choice of vocabulary - both Palin and Bachmann seem to embrace the kind of presentation you might associate more with a spokesmodel, than with a serious politician. (When was the last time Kay Bailey Hutchison winked at the camera?)

Sadly, the idea of work as a mother counting as experience for any position, much less the presidency or vice presidency, could potentially be a step forward for women if it weren't for Palin's and Bachmann's actual views (and general ignorance on important matters of policy.) Their opposition to women's reproductive freedom, of course, is just the beginning. Theirs and the tea party's slash and burn approach to government, and their laissez faire approach to corporate power, would leave women and children in a very vulnerable position. And Bachmann and Palin even scoffed at the idea of encouraging breast-feeding as unwanted government intrusion.

Shortly after George Lakoff came out with his family-based models of conservatism and liberalism, it became fashionable to derisively call Democrats "the mommy party," as opposed to the supposedly more robust "daddy party" message of the Republicans. Candidates such as Bachmann and Palin send mixed signals about that message, which can seem difficult to counter. Progressive candidates need to confront that mixed message directly, by showing that nurturing families requires government support, not corporate neglect.

 

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Amy Fried applies her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior to writing and activism on church-state separation, feminism, reproductive rights, corruption, media and veganism.

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