In a recent GOP debate Michele Bachmann, Representative from Minnesota and hopeful candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, was asked to further clarify her belief that a man should be the head of a household in a family. Would she, as hypothetical President of the United States, be submissive to her husband?
Her response was vague, unsatisfying, and quite the stretch: she clarified that by “submissive” she had meant “mutual respect” between a husband and wife. By the way, the definition of “submissive” is “unresistingly or humbly obedient,” which is a far cry from “respect.” And yes, she absolutely meant “submissive.”
While I don’t believe Bachmann will win the Republican nomination due to some of her more extreme and polarizing views, statements like these are no less harmful, insulting, and backward than if she were to win the nom.
In 2011, a woman in America has the right to decide how she wants to live her life and what kind of relationship or marriage she wishes to have. If Michele Bachmann desires a traditional, conservative marriage in which her husband is the “head of household,” that is her prerogative and right. Feminism isn’t about ruthless career women who have no need of men; it’s about having the ability to choose what role you’ll play in your own life, and knowing that any possibility is open to you. You want to be a stay-at-home mom? Great! You want to never get married? Sure! You want to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company AND be married AND have five kids? Go for it!
What troubles me about Michele Bachmann’s statement isn’t that she wants to be submissive to her husband while he serves as head of their household; it’s that she voices that opinion at all. It’s one thing to believe something internally. It’s another to, as a politician, purposefully share that opinion with the masses, full well knowing that a great number of people will hear it, be influenced by it, and possibly alter their behavior as a result. By sharing her opinion, she proves she has some sort of motive or desire to influence other women. This I take issue with.
What exactly does “head of household” really mean anymore, anyway? In a traditional sense, the head of a household was usually defined as the husband in a marriage - breadwinner for his children and wife, the latter of whom usually stayed home to tend to the children and look after responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, and maintaining the home.
When I hear “head of household,” a Mad Men-esque image jumps into my mind: Someone stoic; someone who provides financially for his family; someone who dislikes relinquishing control; someone who doesn’t want to share leadership with others; someone who doesn’t truly consider his wife to be his equal, nor as powerful, intelligent or capable as he.
Does any of this sound current? Women are graduating college at a higher rate than men. Women, though still under-earning in comparison to men, have broken into careers traditionally considered male, and women have long since proven their ability to provide for a family, oftentimes without the support of a man.
The traditional roles of men and women in a marriage are being blurred; men are being offered paternity leave, men are increasingly becoming stay-at-home parents, women are often providing sole financial support for their families, and parenting is by and large done as a unit, not solely by the mother.
In other words, the roles of a husband and wife are pretty equal and balanced in 2011, and the need for a “head of household” is pretty damn superfluous and antiquated.
If Michele were to become President of the United States, by definition one of the most powerful leadership positions in the world, would she still continue to let her husband lead her? Is someone who desires to be submissive and obedient really a good choice to be the next leader of the free world? Who exactly becomes President in this scenario - Michele, or her husband?
To me, this is the message that Michele Bachmann is sending to American women: “Even if you get this far, even if you have this much ambition, even if you become the freaking President of the United States, you still aren’t an equal to your husband.” Her message teaches women that our success is contingent upon a man - only if your “leader” and “head” approves can you, the humbly obedient entity, set out to achieve what you want. It also tells us that we aren't smart enough or don't posses good enough judgment to trust our instincts and to make decisions for ourselves; we need a man to tell us if we're right.
Ladies, screw that. There is no such thing as “head of household” in 2011, if you don’t want there to be. A marriage is an equal partnership made up of both spouses supporting each other (emotionally, financially, physically, etc.), both making critical decisions together, and both serving as dedicated parents to their children.
You get to make the final call about what kind of relationship and marriage you want. If you want to flounce around in Betty Draper-style frocks, being a happy stay-at-home mom, do it. If you want to run for President of the United States, you don’t have to ask a man for his consent. Any man who loves you, respects you, and considers you his equal will encourage you to realize your ambitions, and he won’t require you to ask his permission first.
I mean, come on, Michele. Even Sarah Palin knows how to wear the pants. And if you can make her seem liberal and open-minded, I only have one thing left to say: Girl, you crazy.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go burn my bra.