Thursday, September 27, 2012

Created to be His Help Meet: Part 2 (Home minded, good women)

Once again I'm putting two chapters together because honestly this far into the book many of the pages start running together. Mrs. Pearl receives a letter from someone. She tends to react somewhat harshly or histrionically to something she can't possibly know based on the letter as given. Somewhere amid the wild over-generalizations and bad exegesis she throws in some rather good pragmatic advice for dealing with recalcitrant husbands. Rinse and repeat. It's tempting to throw in the towel since I really do feel that I've amply shown why any sane woman should avoid this book like she'd avoid a blind taxi driver. But, I still keep finding bits I think are worth refuting. Also, every once in a while it just feels good to finish what you start.

In "Keepers at Home" Mrs. Pearl goes over why she feels its so important for women (especially mothers) to be physically and mentally present in the home. It's a laudable goal so far as it goes. I think in our modern, slap dash, scattered to the four winds kind of culture a woman who clearly makes her home a priority can be a lovely, unshakeable beacon for the weary and restless. I see the modern design trend for reclaimed wood and distressed furniture as a nostalgia for some mythical age where life was more solid and grounded. Our own histories are so often broken and jumbled, but we can rave over the patina on an old sideboard and reminisce about the past we wish we had - strong grandfathers and merry grandmothers and rows of pies set out for Thanksgiving and platters of fried chicken in the summers when our parents were young and our whole world was limitless as a fairy tale and we reveled in the innocent immortality of children. At our dream's heart are women with twinkling eyes, strong hands, and tender hearts whose home overflowed with the burgeoning joy of giving, creating, and loving. These are the story book mothers, and insofar as Debi Pearl teaches that sort of womanhood I'll stand aside and cheer. Instead, women get a load of fear and guilt that must surely cripple any heart felt joy in homemaking.

Opening this chapter, Mrs. Pearl relates the story of a missionary wife whose child was molested while the mother was briefly assisting in some ministering capacity. She strongly implies that the mother committed blasphemy by leaving her child those few moments and that this was the natural consequence. Let that sink in for a moment. A missionary couple, particularly the mom, left their child (unattended or not it doesn't say) for a few minutes and came back to discover their child was being/had been molested. And it's the mother's fault. There really are no words for such hateful lunacy. Unless Mrs. Pearl is holding back that these parents left their child with strangers whom they barely knew and had no reason to trust there really is no reason to blame this mom for recklessly abandoning her post. But in Mrs. Pearl's world there is no room for grace. You get what you sow, and if you don't like what you've got then you must have done some bad sowing in there somewhere. To continue the guilt she furthermore states that God will never make you choose between obeying Him and obeying your husband. If you have the right attitude towards God and your husband then everything will work out. How do you know if you've got the right attitude? Because things worked out. You see where this is going. Good things happen to good people. Tell that one to Job.

The rest of the chapter is basically a footnote on how using the phone and social media can be modern ways of "wandering about from house to house" and that keeping your home involves more than being physically present in it. She also contains a brief note on hospitality. Considering that I believe this one way women can really shine (see above) I wish she'd spent more time here.

The next chapter focuses on what it means to be "good." On a very practical level there's a lot to like here. Good women are indeed thrifty, industrious, compassionate, intelligent, wise, and respectful of their fathers/husbands/appropriate male authority. A good woman married to an ornery man will be wise to make the most of it and not expose their family to ridicule insofar as she is able. As I write this I recall that Jane Austen wrote an almost perfect description of what I mean:
His good looks and his rank had one fair claim on his attachment; since to them he must have owed a wife of very superior character to any thing deserved by his own. Lady Elliot had been an excellent woman, sensible and amiable; whose judgement and conduct, if they might be pardoned the youthful infatuation which made her Lady Elliot, had never required indulgence afterwards.--She had humoured, or softened, or concealed his failings, and promoted his real respectability for seventeen years; and though not the very happiest being in the world herself, had found enough in her duties, her friends, and her children, to attach her to life, and make it no matter of indifference to her when she was called on to quit them. (Persuasion)
A sensible woman in a difficult situation, who wants to live in relative peace, should deal wisely and discreetly with her husband's faults. I don't necessarily believe that it will make her husband act more kindly towards her, and I don't believe that she should conceal what others really do have a right to know. It's one thing to gloss over your husband's boorish behavior or obnoxious arrogance and another thing to see him take the office of elder when you know for a fact that he visits strip clubs while on business trips. A smart wife picks her battles and realizes there are probably fewer of them than her emotions think. It's not an assessment the Pearl's would like, but that's ok with me. 

According the Mrs. Pearl the opposite of a good woman is a "Dumb Cluck" (218).  How do you know if you're a dumb cluck? It just means you aren't an herb administering, do it yourself, improving book reading kind of woman. Honestly. The top three questions are about alternative vs conventional medicine. I land somewhere on the alternative medicine spectrum myself, but I also go see an endocrinologist and an ob/gyn and avoid judging people who pursue conventional medicine in good faith. The context of this "Dumb-Cluck Test" being a woman who is frustrated that her husband doesn't ever fix up or care for his own home and family but always has time for some poor widow lady. As Allen said, the issue isn't the issue. The question the woman was really asking is "Why doesn't my husband invest in our lives more," but in her answer Mrs. Pearl treats this woman as though she was spending her afternoons with her feet up reading a book instead of getting in there and helping out. That might be the case. The important fact is that we don't know this. Her husband might have already tried to fix the sink and failed. He might have told her to call a plumber, but she refuses because she's decided not to spend the money and is taking her decision out on him. He might actually be a deadbeat who enjoys the thrill of being a hero to some poor widow but can't be bothered to serve people who've heard him belch at the dinner table. We don't know. Practically speaking, if her husband really refuses to help her then she really does need to figure out a way to fix things either herself or perhaps with her father or brother's help, but to say a woman is stupid and lazy because she has a messy yard, a leaky sink, and busted screen door is harsh and judgmental. Again, there is no grace for you.

I'll close with a few words about this quote from chapter twenty-two: "Although a good woman can lift up a poor husband, a good man cannot make up for the deficits of a poor wife and create a family with a good reputation. A man married to such a wife usually becomes a hopeless loser, no matter how hard he tries to win" (216). In general terms there's some truth to this. A good woman can help promote her husband's "real respectability," whereas a bad woman will bring shame on her husband. Is this because the wife saves the husband and not visa versa? It almost looks that way, but I think it's something even more fundamental. Even today, if only in a nominal capacity, a husband is presumed to have some real authority over his wife's behavior (ie "Why can't he keep her in line?"), but a wife has no such presumption of authority (ie "Poor woman, it's a hard life with his kind.").  However, when Mrs. Pearl says that a man "cannot" make up for his folly of a wife she expressly denies his ability to guide, instruct, and exert an appropriate measure of authority over his wife's actions. True, people will judge him differently than were the situation reversed, but that's merely an affirmation of his leadership and not an abrogation of it.

The next chapter is on obeying one's husband. Oh boy.

1 comment:

  1. In response to the last part, there's also that verse that says that part of a husband's job is to help sanctify his wife to "present her pure and blameless", so I agree it goes both ways. I don't see how people could think it doesn't.

    But I think things are different nowadays, in that I hardly ever hear people say, "Why doesn't he keep her in line." Usually, they respond with sympathy toward him if it's the case of a godly man and a not-so woman. I really don't think people do assume that he could change her if he wanted. Maybe they used to, but not anymore.
    Thanks for this review!