Burning Bosom

Theology, History, Culture, Politics & Life from a LDS (Mormon) Perspective

Are Mormon Men Whipped?

Posted by Andrew on December 20, 2007

The other day I was talking to an LDS friend who informed me that his wife will not “let” him go to bed wearing just his G’s; she insists that he wear pajamas. Not to get “Brokeback Mountain” on you or anything, but my friend is a good looking guy, he’s fit, and he has no abnormal hairiness or other unsightly aspect of his appearance from what I can tell (then again, I’ve only seen him with his clothes on). So it’s difficult for me to understand the insistence that he be fully clothed in bed. And while I certainly respect my friend’s demonstrable concern for his wife’s wishes, for me this was just another example that Mormon men are way too whipped these days.

Over the past several years, I’ve heard Mormon men say with increasing frequency that their wives won’t “let” them do x, y, or z. Don’t get me wrong, I believe men should be considerate of their wives. However, I’ve noticed that Mormon men increasingly seem to feel a moral obligation to do or not do whatever their wife wants, irrespective of their own wishes. The example of my friend being required to wear pajamas may be an extreme example, but I think it’s a symptom of a larger trend I’ve been noticing.

Perhaps this deferential attitude toward our wives has resulted from the backlash within the Church against the old days when men would weild unrighteous dominion over their wives. In the priesthood session at General Conference, Mormon men are increasingly told in no uncertain terms that we are to avoid any such domineering behavior in our homes. Perhaps this increasing deference to our wives also results from the frequent reminders Mormon men receive about the supreme importance of Motherhood, and the daily challenges our wives face. All of this guidance is commendable and right.

However, it seems to me that this good guidance is being implemented in a way that has caused the pendulum to swing from the extreme of unrighteous dominion to the other extreme of near total deference and submission.

I do not notice the same phenomenon occurring among the Mormon women I know. Generally speaking, the Mormon women I know do not stand out as being highly deferential to their husbands’ wishes. To the contrary, the Mormon women I know are intelligent, confident, and assertive. I have never overheard a Mormon woman say, “Gee, I’d really love to go to [Book Club, Cooking Club, Scrapbooking Club, Baby Shower, etc.], but my husband won’t let me go.” Any such statement by a Mormon woman would be an immediate red flag that her husband weilds unrighteous dominion in their home; it would be an unacceptable example of male tyranny.

And yet, I frequently hear Mormon men saying their wives won’t let them do such and such. In our efforts to stamp out unrighteous dominion amongst priesthood bearers, have we simply exchanged unhealthily submissive women for unhealthily submissive men?

One question that might be asked is: What’s the harm if a man is highly deferential to his wife’s wishes? Isn’t that a virtue? I would say that in general, selflessness is a good attribute. However, King Benjamin stressed the principle that we need to avoid extremes; we need balance. (Mosiah 4:27.) When I hear about a Mormon guy who has gone off the deep end, as the story of what happened unravels, a pattern seems to emerge. Nobody saw it coming. He seemed to be the model husband and father. He dutifully fulfilled his family, work, and church responsibilities. He worked and worked and worked and worked, constantly sacrificing himself for others. But behind the mask, there was depression, loneliness, and a trapped feeling. And eventually, he snapped. This is the story I’ve heard, or heard of, from at least three Mormon men within the past few years, all three of whom served in Bishoprics. And at every General Conference when I hear about the epidemic of pornography use by Mormon men, I wonder what those men feel they are missing in their marital relationships that they apparently think they’ll find in those unhealthy activities.

Oftentimes, unhealthy behaviors are a sign that something is out of balance in that person’s life. Accordingly, it is vital that we vigilently strive for an appropriate balance within our marital relationships. Of course, every couple has the discretion to decide what “balance of power” works for them, and it may differ from one couple to another.

In closing, let me say I feel extremely fortunate to have a wife who understands the need for give and take, for mutual deference and indulgence, and for balance. I am thankful for a wife who even lets me choose what I wear to bed. Accordingly, I do not see myself going off the deep end anytime soon. And with that clarification, hopefully I won’t be sleeping on the couch tonight. 🙂

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7 Responses to “Are Mormon Men Whipped?”

  1. Shawn L said

    You raise an interesting issue. On the one hand, we all (men and women both) are consistently taught that men are to be the spiritual leaders in the home, i.e., the ones called to “preside.” While the opertaive definition for “preside” has been softening in recent years (see, for example, the Ensign article by Bruce C. Hafen and his wife a few months back), its core still remains intact — men get to make any spiritually-based “tiebreaker” decision in the marriage.

    On other hand, we priesthood holders live in fear of exercising “unrighteous dominion.” This, as every good Elder knows, the dark underbelly of “presiding” and should be avoided at all. Unfortunately, we usually define that phrase (“unrighteous dominion,” that is) in simplistic, domestic terms as they impact our relationships with our mates — don’t force your wife to do all the housework, get off your lazy rear and change a diaper, etc. Now, don’t get me wrong, these are all good ideas, but I reckon they are too short-sighted. Take another look at D&C 121:37. It says absolutely nothing about “being nice to your wife.” It aims much higher, warning of dire consequences for those who “exercise control or dominion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness.” Rotting away in Liberty Jail, his most trusted allies leaving him in droves, fearing for life (again), I think Joseph had more on his mind than exhorting his followers to allow their wives to play Bunco at their leisure.

    So, yes, we should strive to be better husbands and to “preside” in righteousness. At the same time, I don’t think I’ll be left to kick against the pricks if I (i) go with the fellas to catch a movie, (ii) ask my wife to skip Book Club once in while because I haven’t seen her all week, or (iii) catch a wild hair and sleep in the buff.

  2. Horebite said

    While there might be something to what you say to some degree, I think when men say, “My wife won’t let me”, they don’t mean it the same way women in previous generations did when they said the same thing.

    When men say it, I think they really mean, “My wife doesn’t want me to and I’ve decided to try to make her happy and do what she wants on this issue.” That’s perfectly acceptable in the sort of give-and-take relationship you describe as your own (and I would describe as mine also), and isn’t being “whipped”. On the other hand, if a woman said it, it would be taken as, “I’ve given up control of my life to my husband and he said I can’t do it, so I can’t.”

    So I think this issue is one of semantics more than a true over-shift of power that you describe. I know too many depressed, lonely, over-worked Mormon moms to think that Mormon women have somehow gained all the power in our world.

  3. ChrisH said

    These bromides about the power and virtue of women that we see bandied about in our culture get a little tiresome. “My wife won’t let me….” falls in the same category as “everyone knows that if you want something done, ask the sisters to do it….” and the various variations of “women are the more charitable (more spiritual) (more virtuous) members of the church.” They all seem to me to be a form of condescension. We feel we need to flatter women because, secretly, in our hearts, we believe we have it better than they do and we therefore need to assuage the feelings of inferiority that we delusionally believe they have. Often, when I hear someone say “my wife won’t let me….” I think “you really don’t want to….” and you are both using your wife as a scapegoat and pharisaically demonstrating the righteousness of your relationship with her.

    On the other hand, the pajama issue may be a verifiable instance of henpeckery.

  4. jonathanhebacon said

    Call me a simpleton, it’s been done before, but are we looking too much into this? I agree with Horebite on this one. I think the men are not necessarily submissive, but rather its just easier to say “yes dear” than argue over something inconsequential. “Pick your battles” is something my wife shared with me at the beginning of my marriage. On some issues that I consider to be moot I gladly “bow down” because it’s easier to do so than get in a disagreement about it. However, if it’s a matter of principle or just something I feel strongly about then I’ll put up a fight about it till I either win or we just agree to disagree.

    Simply, I don’t think it’s wrong to give into your wife for something inconsequential if it makes her happy.

  5. Andrew said

    Jon, spoken like a true submissive. Your wife has trained you well. Don’t you have some dishes you need to get back to washing? 🙂

    But seriously, you raise an interesting question: if your spouse is very particular about something inconsequential, should you just give in to avoid a battle? Thankfully, I can’t think of any inconsequential things that my wife is particular about. However, if she were, I wonder whether my approach would be to just give in, or to try to discourage her from being so particular about an inconsequential thing–the key word being inconsequential.

    The latter could be done in a humorous way. I have a friend whose wife used to get on him about leaving his socks on their bedroom floor. So as a joke, he started leaving his socks in random areas around the house: behind a picture frame, under a couch cushion, between stacks of DVDs, etc. At his funeral, his wife cited this as one of the things she loved about him.

    I see the merit of the “pick your battles” a.k.a. “yes, dear” approach because it avoids a dispute. But I also wonder whether spouses have an obligation to help improve each other in gentle ways. I think my friend’s example of helping his wife let go of an inconsequential thing in a humorous way is a good one.

  6. Horebite said

    Andrew,

    But if your wife is on your case about something you think is inconsequential, she probably doesn’t agree that it is inconsequential. So by trying to convince her that she shouldn’t be so worked up about something inconsequential, you are essentially having an argument about what is consequential in your relationship, and such an disagreement is anything but inconsequential.:)

    You see why I take the “pick your battles” route, because it is consequential to me to respect what my wife feels is consequential, as long as it isn’t in direct conflict with what I feel is consequential.

  7. Andrew said

    Horebite, fair point. One thing my wife and I learned from our Marriage & Family prep teacher was to employ a little exercise at the outset of a disagreement. At the first sign of a disagreement, we’d ask each other: on a scale of 1 to 10, how important is this to you? The idea was to find out whether we were arguing over something that was inconsequential to both of us, and if so, we’d drop the argument. Or in some cases it would reveal that one person rated it a 2 (inconsequential issue) and the other an 8 (consequential issue), and in such cases the latter’s position would prevail. Of course, if it becomes apparent that one spouse is consistently rating everything in the high digits, then that would reveal that maybe he/she has a problem making mountains out of molehills, and needs to chill out and get some perspective.

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