The Surrendered Wife

The Surrendered Wife, by Laura Doyle, has been out for a few years now, but has started making the blogs again recently – this isn’t a proper review, as I haven’t read it – but “know them by their works” as the proverb goes, and this book’s works are ugly.

For example: this review praises the book’s insights, even if the reviewer doesn’t agree with everything that’s said. But she does wonder if her husband “would enjoy if just once in a while I would keep my big mouth shut and turn to him adoringly and say, ‘Whatever you think.'” And she does suggest, “Our husbands want to know they have our respect, trust, and, as Laura Doyle suggests, every time we control, direct, or even worse, criticize them, they know they don’t.”

Ok, so respect means never criticising, does it? Trust means never suggesting an alternative?

The reviewer assures us that this is “not a book about submissiveness. It is not anti-feminism. It is a book that demonstrates the destructiveness of trying to control another human being, particularly your spouse.”

Really? Well, Australia’s version of Sixty Minutes gave us this documentary about people who live by this book’s principles. The transcript is disturbing as hell; these aren’t even close to the worst of it:

“I think obedience is a good quality to have in a wife. An obedient wife does have a quality of being submissive and yielding her rights to the needs of her family and the desires of her husband.” [Wait, I thought it wasn’t about submissiveness!]

“It’s about honouring, it’s about trusting, it’s about respect.” [Er, respect for who?]

“He always has a final decision in this house about anything. He is the leader.” [Ah, right, that would be him then.]

That spells submissive to me; it spells control of another human being (or isn’t it a problem if it’s a woman, or maybe women aren’t human beings in this thesis). And it makes me wonder what if one of these wives wanted to unsurrender herself. But then I look at the picture in that review I mentioned at the beginning of this article – at the scared expression round the eyes of the gagged woman – and I know the unspoken answer.

As I said, I haven’t read the book. But unlike most books, this one has works I can know it by. And it’s ugly.

P.S. Many thanks are due to the folks at Feministing for finding this first.


  1. Jennifer Kesler says

    Even if you ignore for a moment the misogyny (and potential for mind-boggling abuse of women) in this concept, you’re left with the fact that it’s just beyond stupid for both men and women.

    It presupposes that all men are fit to run every aspect of marriages and households. “Let’s sit quietly while daddy screws up the bills and ruins our credit so you can’t go to college, Junior.” What is wrong with being a man who’s otherwise a capable, moral and loving person but (for example) can’t freakin’ comprehend finances? Is it shameful for him to turn to his wife, if she understands them better? Good grief, no one is perfect.

    Clearly, it’s not about what’s good for the family or the marriage. It’s about men always having someone to feel superior to. Because the male ego is presumed to be so fragile that it requires the perception of lesser beings to function?

    This is certainly not true of… well, a helluva lot of men I’ve known, including some fairly sexist ones who generally treat women as lesser beings but are happy to yield to a woman (including a wife or S.O.) when she has superior capabilities in a specific area.

    If even sexist men can cope with the idea that they’re not god and sometimes a woman has more to contribute, I really have to wonder what sort of men find this “surrendering” appealing.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    Another transcript quote:

    FRANK: I think it’s hard for women in general just to stop the talking for a minute and allow their men to be men.

    What does “be men” mean, then? Blundering through like you know best whether you do or not? Losing all sense of your wife’s boundaries?

    It’s so much more fulfilling to let people maintain their boundaries but let you in than to just march in like an occupying army and own them.

  3. says

    Not to mention, how come it isn’t disrespectful for a husband to make decisions for his wife? That’s just…unequal, either way. She can’t have opinions on him, but he has every opinion about her? Jeeesus.

    And disagreeing, even very vehemently, isn’t a problem for a relationship if the people are reasonably mature about it. The first conversation I ever had with my current boyfriend started out with him declaring, “Is there a feminist in the room, because I have a bone to pick.” (I don’t recall word for word, but I believe it ended with me saying something like, “You’re projecting all of your own issues onto feminism, maybe you should deal with that yourself, jackass.”)

    …And he and I have now been together for over a year. Because disagreeing is not the same as disrespecting.

  4. MaggieCat says

    I’m going off on a slight tangent here, but ages ago I worked on a production of a play called “Sylvia”. The main characters in the play are a dog (played by a human actress), the man who finds her, and his wife. It’s a comedy, with the running joke that no matter what you do or say, your dog will always think you are brilliant, wonderful, and hung the moon.

    But she does wonder if her husband “would enjoy if just once in a while I would keep my big mouth shut and turn to him adoringly and say, ‘Whatever you think.'”

    I only mention it because that quote? Reads exactly like the dialogue and stage directions in the script. Which is really creepy.

  5. SunlessNick says

    What does “be men” mean, then? Blundering through like you know best whether you do or not? Losing all sense of your wife’s boundaries? – BetaCandy

    I guess it’s supposed to mean being in charge. But yes, by the sound of it, it means exactly what you say – along with having such a fragile ego as to need slavish adoration and obedience all the time.

    But according to the book, he doesn’t need any sense of his wife’s boundaries, because she’s not supposed to have any. It’s like a who life version of the idea that rape would disappear if only women would stop saying no.

  6. Firebird says

    Okay, I should mention that I grew up with at least this radical of a belief system about male-female relations and specifically how marriage ought to work. Mom defends staying in an abusive marriage and joining his side in his abuse of me because ‘wives are supposed to support their husbands’ and ‘men’s egos are fragile, it’s the wife’s duty to protect them.’

    That said, I think what continues to be tempting for me about ideas like the women in the article/transcript linked to is that the behavior they describe for the women involved is a bit extreme on both ends. Nobody likes a whining, controling nag (which it seems fair to say, they are describing themselves as). The lady who blindfolds herself in the car – most people, men and women alike, don’t appreciate backseat driving. And if you keep doing it even when you are blindfolded for pete’s sake, you have a problem.

    But I have to shudder at the solution that I and so many other religious women have accepted. And be grateful that some growing up and some good friends have enlightened me. :-) It’s true that women shouldn’t control men – as it’s true that men shouldn’t control women. It’s even true intragender – men shouldn’t control men or women women. Rather, extremes of behavior should be modified by the individual person.

  7. test says

    There’s also the issue of who decides what constitutes a “whining nag”. I’ve seen that label applied to some very reasonable women, just because they were making damn good points no one wanted to hear.

  8. says

    Nobody likes a whining, controling nag (which it seems fair to say, they are describing themselves as).

    Think about it for a minute. How many times, if ever, have you heard men being described as “a nag” or “nagging”? Of course that’s a label that women often use for themselves (or other women) because it’s a stereotype about women.

    As test said, “whining nag” isn’t used for people who complain; it’s quite often used to put all women in “our place”.

    It’s true that everyone has good points and bad points, but if you look at the way we use the English language — which is a fundamental part of personal understanding and interaction with others — there a lot of phrases (nag, bitch, cunt, whore, pussy, etc) that are feminine-specific (even when used on men) and actually stunt personal growth rather than foster it (as people who use terms like “whining nag” on women would have you believe they’re trying to do).

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    Test was me, sorry, LOL. I was testing a comment plugin the other day, and didn’t even notice that was still how I was logged in.

    I honestly found many men in the Bible belt to be very whiny. They were continuously spoiled like children sometimes are, and so they continuously behaved like spoiled brats (because that’s what ANY human does when it’s taught it is the Center of All Things to All People). When they didn’t get their way about the slightest thing, the world was against them and it would pay!

    There really wasn’t an effective slang term I could call them to let them know I disapproved. Even if you call them “whiny” or “spoiled” or “nag”, it’s taken as you comparing them to women, rather than you calling them on their behavior. That’s how ingrained the gendering of the concepts is. They think you’re saying they’re too womanly, so all they have to do is something violent or controlling to show you what a “man” they are, and the problem is solved.

    And with the topic of men who can’t perceive that anyone could know better than they, even just some of the time, I think we’ve come full circle to men who require wives to surrender because they are so weak they can’t handle a real human being.

  10. Firebird says

    There really wasn’t an effective slang term I could call them to let them know I disapproved. Even if you call them “whiny” or “spoiled” or “nag”, it’s taken as you comparing them to women, rather than you calling them on their behavior. That’s how ingrained the gendering of the concepts is. They think you’re saying they’re too womanly, so all they have to do is something violent or controlling to show you what a “man” they are, and the problem is solved.

    That’s a really good point. My mother’s husband is acting out this stereotype right now because her knee is hurt and poor him! he has to either mow the lawn himself or get his (teenage) children to do it. Instead he keeps complaining about how high it’s getting and snarking at her about how he doesn’t think she is really injured. If he were a woman, everyone would call him a ‘whining nag.’

    As it is, I called him an ‘a$$hole’ today, and if I wanted to do it without cursing, I think that ‘jerk’ would about cover it. :-)

  11. Jennifer Kesler says

    My mother’s husband is acting out this stereotype right now because her knee is hurt and poor him! he has to either mow the lawn himself or get his (teenage) children to do it. Instead he keeps complaining about how high it’s getting and snarking at her about how he doesn’t think she is really injured.

    >:~0 I think “asshole” is about right. That’s passive-aggressive, badgering an injured person and a complete failure to appreciate your mom’s contributions around the house. There is no reason in hell mowing should be her task rather than his, so what is he complaining about? He should be grateful she normally does it!

  12. Jennifer Kesler says

    Interesting that I came across an article on how to address nagging. There’s a lot of reasonably good advice in it – including the oft-overlooked possibility that the person being nagged really is letting down the nagger, in which case it’s the naggee’s responsibility to clean up his/her act.

    Despite this, however, I can’t help but tell that the author is mainly thinking in terms of a wife nagging a husband. She makes a good attempt to keep the examples gender-neutral, and yet…

    And naggees – remember, one obvious way to stop being nagged is to DO YOUR SHARE! If you never follow through, if you never do a chore without being repeatedly asked to do it, if you never pitch in, you know why you’re being nagged.

    I find it hard to picture a wife as the naggee in this scenario. I don’t think the author intended it – there must be women out there who don’t their fair share (whatever that is for a given household), and her advice is right in either case – but it’s just further demonstration that “nagging” is an intrinsically female stereotype. I wonder people how being nagged by male bosses or husbands or fathers phrase it: “He’s driving me crazy” perhaps? Or “he told me to do it 12 times; I heard him the first time!” We just don’t use the word nag for men, even when they do it.

  13. SunlessNick says

    I’ve been nagging my friend over something right now.

    Going back to the 60 minutes for a moment, what really gets me is why we never hear about this sort of thing in reverse: why does no one ever ask if a marriage could benefit from a surrendered husband; why shouldn’t men try “no control” dates; why not try a little “emasculation” and see if it’s liberating?
    I find it impossible to believe that there aren’t any families that find their bliss this way – but it goes unspoken.

  14. Jennifer Kesler says

    Nick, I wondered that too. It makes just as much sense either way, unless you buy into some arbitrary notion that men are designed to be in charge and women are designed to submit to authority.

    What about the household where Mom tells Dad, “Whatever you say, you darling brilliant man” and then does whatever she wants after he’s been placated and rendered oblivious in front of the TV set? In rural and Southern areas I’ve lived, where ALL wives are presumed “surrendered”, this is how it most often works.

    It’s a farce, put on for Dad’s ego. It also potentially enables abusive mothers to exert control over their households, because since Dad really believes he’s in charge, he can’t figure out how to stop what’s going on.

    It’s just an ill-advised scenario all around. And it’s sick.

  15. says

    The term “surrender” does suggest that marriage is subject to constant power struggles between the two parties.

    Is that the case, then? Are husbands and wives locked in eternal combat over “who’s in charge”? (What happened to “compromise”?)

  16. Lia says

    Coming from a BDSM feminist perspective: Some people are attracted to Surrendered Wife-style ideas because they find genuine fulfilment in what the BDSM community defines as a M/f D/s relationship (het dom/sub with the man in charge) and they don’t know enough about BDSM to know they can have the power exchange without the sexist beliefs. I’ve just read a discussion which touches on the issue:

    Trinity: “And well… what about the hetero couple who tries M/f D/s in the course of sexual experimenting and likes it, without any in-depth discussions of feminism and patriarchy? If that dominant man has never had his consciousness raised in a feminist manner, he’s not [aware] either.”

    ellefromtheeast: “I do think that people who don’t examine the socio-historical context of their desires are more likely to do something hurtful or damaging, like make sweeping generalizations. The couple you describe could easily wind up saying, “Hey! Everyone should try this “Surrendered Wife” book! It saved our marriage, so it must be how marriage is supposed to work!” Um, no…”

    There really should be more info available about BDSM, so people who really want that kind of relationship can separate it from the poisonous ideas SW promotes. The big difference with D/s is that they can choose the level and type of power gradient in their relationship, and don’t have to swallow ideas about ALL women (or men!) being secretly submissive by law of nature and God and blah blah vomit.

  17. Jennifer Kesler says

    That’s a really good point, Lia. Really good.

    Even as I was responding to the original post here, it kept nagging at me that there CAN be a real value in the act of surrendering. That perhaps some of the women who feel the “surrendered wife” lifestyle is working are benefiting from giving up control that is toxic in their lives.

    But unless they know what they’re doing, they run the risk of being with a partner who will abuse that surrender. Which reinforces that toxic need for control.

    And in no case is what worked for them going to work for people who do not stand to benefit from giving up control to someone or something.

  18. Lia says

    Absolutely. Some people do need to let go. Some marriages are plagued with huge power struggles that need to be addressed through therapy or self-help or whatever. Those women who love surrendering ARE getting something positive from it. They’re just taking on a lot of unnecessary stereotypes in the same package. I’d love to point these people to Elise Sutton’s Female Domination books, which promote the opposite idea, that men are “naturally” submissive and benefit most from giving up control to the women in their lives. The arguments are pretty similar, based on anecdotal evidence and wishful thinking, and the audience is mostly men who used to be control freaks and are now learning to let go (sound familiar?)

    I’m no big expert on BDSM, but the D/s community knows a lot about power struggles and problems with control. You can submit to someone temporarily in a purely sexual scene, which is a sort of cathartic psychodrama, or have a D/s relationship which is a more complete handing over of control in many aspects of your life. People who are sexually submissive don’t have to be into lifestyle D/s, or vice versa, and that’s BDSM – it’s beautifully flexible. And there’s the difference. I sometimes call the religious model “one size fits all” D/s.

  19. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’m totally going to have to read up on BDSM more. I was only recently exposed to some of the ideas you’re presenting here (that the dynamic can be strictly in the bedroom or strictly outside, or both; that it can be therapeutic) and some of it’s really pinging for me.

  20. Gategrrl says

    In my *personal* experience, I think the reason why this book may be so popular (and contraversial) is that in marriage, there are aspects and issues within the marriage that one or the other person in the marriage may absolutely NOT want to take charge of, like finances.

    That’s a pretty common one. Growing up is hard to do. I think there’s an area in everyone’s life where they think, “Holy moly, could someone else (like Mommy or Daddy) PLEASE do my thinking for me because I am so incapable to carry out this part of my life?” It’s very human.

    The troubling aspect of The Surrendered Wife is what many of you have pointed out: that it’s never only the woman who needs to “surrender” and let someone else take care of her. Oftentimes, the man in the equation has issues as well. Who is to say that any of the men in these relationships are happy in being totally in charge? (I can think of exceptions, but those aren’t men I’d willingly spend any time with)

    The corrolation with BDSM is fascinating and completely deserved. Isn’t there a sterotype (like the farmer’s daughter) of a strong, willful, leader-type male being the man to seek out a domanitrix so that he CAN relinquish control in at least one aspect of his life?

    I wonder if the writer of The Surrendered Wife got any of her ideas from the Gor series by John Norman. It’s the ultimate expression of her philosophy.

    (and sorry for the scattered thoughts: it’s early for me)

  21. Lia says

    Yeah, I’ve read some Gor *smirk*. And I’ve seen ex-Goreans describing the setup as “1950s marriage, but in leather”. Same thing exactly. (For an interesting take on the Gor ideas – or at least, the people who actually live out that lifestyle – go here:

    It’s written by an extremely submissive woman who calls herself a slave, is heavily into pain, and still thinks the Gor books are harmful rubbish. She’s a great example of how a woman can be submissive and still a feminist.)

    Farmer’s daughter stereotype? Tell me more. I’m put in mind of those Mediterranean cultures with a strong matriarchal streak “behind the scenes”.

  22. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’m put in mind of those Mediterranean cultures with a strong matriarchal streak “behind the scenes”.

    Oh, so exactly like Dixie, eh? πŸ˜‰ I’m not sure what farmer’s daughter stereotype Gategrrl’s referring to, but in the South there’s a tendency for women to be all “Whatever you say, sugar” to a man’s face, then do whatever they think wise behind his back, and everyone but the man knows it (only the men must know it on some level because the sons see it when they’re kids).

    From the link you posted (great reading!):

    Norman pushes the idea so hard that the main plot of several volumes and a subplot of many volumes describe the haughty and imperious Gorean free woman brought, fighting all the way, into slavery by a combination of circumstance and male chicanery, only to admit by the end of the volume or the sub-plot that she is really far happier as a slave and that, in fact, all women, if honest with themselves, would be forced to admit that they are natural slaves, too. Norman even stretches this to the point where another recurring subplot is of modern Earth women–who, incidentally, are often kidnapped from Earth by Gorean spaceships in order to replenish the slave population–are forced to admit, repeatedly, not to mention over and over again, through the books that all the Earth talk about female liberation is just twaddle, a fact which they finally realize upon their Gorean enslavement.

    You know, I’m a naturally dominant personality. People have often tended yield leadership to me when I don’t seek it and would prefer to go my own way. My dominance has been a problem with men at times, who assume they’re supposed to be dominant even if they don’t want to, and become uncomfortable at seeing a woman take charge without disguising it behind eyelash battings and sweet nothings.

    And even *I* cannot comprehend what would be fulfilling about believing that all men are naturally just dying to be my slaves. Seriously, where does the idea of natural gender-determined submissiveness come from?

  23. Gategrrl says

    The Farmer’s Daughter…hmm, let me think back to what I was thinking the other day!

    The Farmer’s daughter is the girl in stories and fairytales (the ones that haven’t been bowlderized) who is usually a willing sexual partner, generally “loose” and accessable to the travelling salesman or preacher types (also stereotypes/tropes) who wander from farm to farm. It’s an OLD character type, going back as far as the DeCameron in the 1300s.

    I was likening the Farmer’s Daughter to another sexual trope character – that of the Powerful rich man who needs to be dominated in the bedroom; often by a dominitrix. There was even a CSI: Las Vegas episode that was pretty explicit about this type of character. Only on that episode, the man was “topping from the bottom” and used his nurse/sex slave by holding her child beyond her reach. (he was into the diaper fetish).

    I hope that helps – and makes any sense. I hope? Back to the thread.

  24. Lia says

    Is she the same farmer’s daughter who turns up in slightly blue jokes and is definitely slutty, but in a good way? I always liked her. *makes a note to read some actual old folk tales, not just the butchered versions with everything scary, subversive or *gasp* feminist sliced out of them*

    The “natural way” thing is reassuring for people – dom or sub – who don’t want to admit that their needs/desires are at all different or abnormal. The alternative is embracing BDSM, which is okay for liberals in San Francisco, but a challenge for Midwest housewives (sorry for the regional stereotyping!) Also, think what an ego boost it would be to know that most people are unfulfilled and/or lying to themselves, and you are among the smart minority who know the *true* way to live…

    I suspect John Norman knew a lot about BDSM or whatever it was called back then, but was just too conservative to admit his own kinkiness. So he took existing patriarchal ideas, sexed them up with fantasy, bondage and ritual, and passed it off as an expression of the “natural” way of things.

  25. Jennifer Kesler says

    Or he was just so threatened by women it impacted his ability to enjoy them as lovers, so he wrote a version of them in which they were so happily unempowered, even men like him could handle them.

    I tend to think a lot of misogyny boils down to men wanting to render women uber-harmless, but that’s just my theory. πŸ˜‰

  26. Lia says

    Weren’t those books written in the 50s? I see a guy who lived through the second wave of feminism, didn’t like it much, and – possibly after a few skirmishes with liberated women – retreated into the past. The incredibly regimented society on Gor may be a reaction to that initial sense of “help, feminism tore up the rule book and I don’t know how to be a man any more”. There was a real male uncertainty about roles then (I wasn’t there, but Susan Sontag talks about it in “Stiffed”). And depending on who you were, you would try to write a new rule book, try to live without rules, or cling doggedly to the old ways out of fear. So I think that’s where he’s coming from. Just *my* theory.

  27. Jennifer Kesler says

    “Stiffed” was Susan Faludi, and I consider it a highly underrated read.

    I’m not sure my theory and yours are incompatible, though I may be misunderstanding something. What you’re describing sounds to me like insecurity, and that’s exactly what I’m talking about. A man who, for whatever reason, is terribly insecure because he’s realizing when a woman bats her eyelashes and tells you how clever you are, she’s not really submitting. In fact, she may be way the hell more powerful than you, and because she’s had to be sneaky at wielding her power, she’ll probably beat you without you even realizing you’ve lost.

    Whenever someone from the dominant class projects happy subservience onto someone in a subjugated class, I suspect they’re feeling a little guilty about privilege and rather than learn from that, they’re desperately trying to re-establish status quo.

  28. Lia says

    Ouch, sorry! Susan Faludi, yeah. *slaps self for being a bad feminist*. I loved the book, and insecurity is what I’m talking about. You’ve been brought up to be a “man” in a traditional way so you can attract nice feminine “women”. It runs so deep, it’s in your blood. Then the rules change and women stop being attracted, stop playing the role the way you expected. How the hell do you deal with this? Well, if you’re John Norman, you pretend it never happened…

    Some feminists don’t seem to realise that the insecurity was real, and was more than just the petulance of a dominant group knocked off their pedestal. It’s compatible with your insecurity theory too, and the urge to see yourself as a nice person: “It’s okay, I’m not an exploitative bastard – this is the way things are *supposed* to be.”

    (By the way, I’m recovering from a drunken night and may be a little dumber than usual :) )

  29. Jennifer Kesler says

    Oh, there’s nothing “bad” about mixing up Sontag and Faludi’s names. I’ve seen it before. I was just being factual. :)

    I take the approach of trying to show men that it’s the patriarchy’s bullshit that’s given them reason to be insecure. That if they hadn’t been lied to, they wouldn’t have had a rude awakening.

    I always wondered how Mr. 1950’s could ever know a woman really loved him, as opposed to that he was just the least offensive guy she could land (and she had to have a man because self-support was impossible for some women, very difficult for most others). Feminism offers the scary reality that maybe some men won’t be able to get women because women don’t need men just to survive; but it also offers the reality of knowing a woman is with you because she wants to be. Of course, you have to be secure to opt for the latter.

  30. Lia says

    I like to emphasise the good things feminism does for men, such as relieving them of the breadwinner burden, and the smaller (but annoying) always-paying-for-dinner burden. Oh, and sexual liberation. My starting hook to men is something like “Feminist ideas are telling women it’s okay to ask guys out, buy them gifts, pay for meals and initiate sex. And you want to turn that down why?” I add subtlety later, to deal with the implied feminists-promote-sluttery thing before the man thinks we’re advocating a world of nymphomaniac sugar mommies.

    The “woman’s choice” thing means men have to work on their personalities a lot more, and can’t rely on being meal tickets. But it’s a great ego boost to married or coupled guys. Problem is, those lost “…but women don’t need us any more” guys are usually single.

  31. Jennifer Kesler says

    Lia, thanks for the link. It’s interesting they think this counters old studies, possibly because roles have changed.

    I think it’s because our understanding of power has changed. I’ve never thought a lack of power was the main problem for women: we always had the power to manipulate men, to raise girls with self-esteem and boys with respect, etc. What we lacked were choices, and the right to exert power straightforwardly in any arena we cared to compete in.

  32. SunlessNick says

    “Feminist ideas are telling women it’s okay to ask guys out, buy them gifts, pay for meals and initiate sex. And you want to turn that down why?”


  33. Hallenee says

    Leaving aside how it makes me want to wash ten times just thinking about the book, whenever I have asked my husband to pick clothes out for me (i.e. do I wear the blue skirt or the red skirt?) the typical response is a scared look and a quick shrug of his shoulders.
    Again the same thing with the “whatever you say dear” comments. However, that may be because he would then have to be proactive and actually start making decisions…

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