Vote For Marcus

>> Wednesday, July 06, 2011

You might want to read this from last week if you haven't already: Libby Copeland's piece in Slate on Michelle Bachmann's marriage, "Hail To The Housewife" (June 30th, 2011). In a nutshell (pun probably not intended when talking about the Congresswoman; or maybe it is), Rep. Bachmann appears to subscribe to that conservative, evangelical Protestant view that wives ought to be subservient to their husbands, a view that has caused evangelicals all sorts of headaches as they try to reconcile the realities of this modern life--that the economic requirement that women work outside the home increasingly brings them into positions of leadership--with their views of a woman's proper role in the home and church as a junior partner (related headache for evangelicals: that women also turn out to be quite qualified and able as church leaders in every respect other than what isn't dangling between their thighs).

It may surprise you, but I'm not going to sit here and condemn these kinds of marriages; I mean, okay, I think it's stupid and it's not the kind of relationship I'm interested in having, but if that's your thing, hey, it's still a (mostly) free (in principle, at least) country, right? I don't see how a woman deciding to submit herself to her husband in the context of a consensual Christian marriage is any different from a man or woman deciding to go home and wear a diaper and ball gag in the context of a consensual BDSM relationship; i.e. as long as nobody's being held against their will or suffering non-consensual abuse and you leave me out of it, it's none of my damn business. Do what'cha want to do, and if it works for you, power to you. The irony amuses me a little: I see these conservative Christian marriages as being morally no different from the marriages of fetishists, swingers, et al., indeed I'm tempted to label these people "Christian patriarchal dom-sub fetishists" and leave 'em to it.

What's bothersome about Bachmann's marriage, though, is something Copeland's Slate piece sort of bounces off of in the third paragraph and then dances around without addressing: the problem with marriages like the Bachmanns' in the context of politics isn't how the Bachmanns reconcile Michelle's ambitions with Marcus Bachmann's household dominance, but how the rest of us reconcile their marriage with democracy. I mean, in the unlikely event that Michelle Bachmann somehow manages to win the Republican presidential nomination--a possibility I find extraordinarily improbable, but that's sort of beside the point--if she wins the nomination, who the hell are American people being asked to vote for in the general election, Michelle Bachmann or Michelle-proxy-for-Marcus Bachmann or "The Bachmanns" as some hubby-led tag team or what? If a purely hypothetical President Michelle Bachmann is going to submit to her husband even in the White House, don't'cha think he ought to be the one answering questions at town halls and debates, shouldn't he be the one whose positions on the great issues of the day ought to be picked apart or glossed over by various pundits on the op-ed pages of the nation's papers? Why the hell are we even supposed to care about Michelle Bachmann's views on anything other than her marriage if her views on marriage are dispositive: ask my husband?

Copeland closes with:

Bachmann's description of herself as "pro-woman and pro-man" suggests a contentment with the status quo, as far as gender goes. Indeed, it may imply something more—that as a woman who defers to her husband, she believes herself to be more liberated than secular feminists are. According to Karen Seat, a religious studies professor at the University of Arizona, some conservative evangelicals argue that women's deference is itself empowering, because it's what God intends, and because it is the fullest expression of womanhood. In this world of opposites, submission is strength and inequity is proof of equality. It's quite possible that a President Bachmann would primarily define herself not as the first female president of the United States, but as a wife and mother. And she would not see that as anything less than progress.

Nice, but does that really matter? I'm not sure I'd disagree with a President defining herself (or himself, for that matter) firstly as a mother (or father) and secondly as the President. One might suggest that a leader who frames issues in terms of whether his or her own children will be asked to give their lives on a foreign field, will live in greater liberty, will breathe cleaner air, etc. would be a distinct improvement over Presidents who frame issues in terms of polling data. I'm not a parent, myself, but I can't help suspecting that a parent thinks of his or her child's future in terms of timespans that are longer than election cycles. No, it seems to me the real elephant in the room is the bait and switch that's being set forth, not the Presidential attitude once in office: vote for Michelle, elect Marcus, Hail To The Whomever.

Now, of course this is academic in all sorts of ways: I don't think Michelle Bachmann is likely to win the Republican nomination, and if she did I can't conceive of voting for her for all sorts of reasons, but then I also can't conceive of voting for anybody else the Grand Old Party might extrude from the nether end of their nominating process. But I still think it's worth discussing: for one thing, these evangelicals are pretty damn obdurate: if it isn't Michelle Bachmann in 2012 it'll be Nancy Sue in 2020 or Mary-Anne in 2028. For another thing, I think the gravitational field from this issue has a warping effect on actual, real, modern liberated feminists; a lot of people, f'r'instance, were evaluating Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy in '08 in terms of Mrs. Clinton, husband of Bill, notwithstanding the fact that there's no real reason to believe Hillary Clinton is anything other than her own woman, and while it's not inconceivable she might rely on Bill in much the same way that John Kennedy relied on Bobby, the idea that she'd cleave to her husband and submit is laughable on it's face. Anyway, the point of that last bit being: women like Michelle Bachmann do sort of ruin things a little for married women who are trying to be taken seriously as politicians, don't they?

I also have to admit that I find the political implications of the Bachmanns' marriage irritating as a matter of principle, said principle being a preference for leaving candidates' families out of things as much as possible. Of course, the candidates usually frustrate this ambition anyway: they campaign on their families until a family member does something embarrassing, at which point they plead for privacy and curse the lowdown tactics of enemy operatives, etc. They all do it, and none of them should, because normally their families really aren't all that relevant to anything at all. You have a lovely spouse and children, how nice for you, but unless you're bringing them up because you were going to give them guns and use them to invade a Middle Eastern state until you thought better of it, I'm not sure why I should care. However, if you're taking orders from a family member, aw, good grief, now I actually do have to care how they feel about healthcare reform or government subsidies for alternative fuels, because apparently you're going to pass the issue on to them anyway, and why aren't they just running for office themselves and cutting you out of the middle? It's pretty damn inconvenient and inconsiderate, frankly.


Janiece Wednesday, July 6, 2011 at 12:57:00 PM EDT  

Swell. Like I didn't have enough to worry about without having to consider Marcus along with Michelle - the freeze dried whackaloon twins.

Just kill me know, won't you?

Steve Buchheit Wednesday, July 6, 2011 at 1:16:00 PM EDT  

I'm not so sure she won't get the nomination, if only for the fact that the social conservatives will vote for her because they're really voting for that life choice, not so much for what she politically stands for. And if that doesn't make you wake up screaming, I don't know what will.

Janiece, sorry, you gotta suffer through it just like the rest of us.

sibusisodan,  Wednesday, July 6, 2011 at 1:23:00 PM EDT  

Hi Eric,

Sometime lurker, first time poster here. Thought I'd join in on this one.

Having spent a spent worrying large amount of time in the last decade among communities with a similar view of marriage to this, I don't think your fears about its implications are necessarily justified - the issue of headship / submission generally occurs in the regulation of family life. So it might have an impact on how their family life impacts on a Bachmann Presidency (shudder) and vice versa; it shouldn't mean she abdicates responsibility for doing her job.

[plenty of caveats and issues, of course, as well as theological knots here. The few examples I know of couples who model this kind of thing well are very attractive, but they're few and far between...]

Thanks for an entertaining and thought-provoking blog. "Christian patriarchal dom-sub fetishists" indeed! Chortle.


parthe - the average news agency

Eric Wednesday, July 6, 2011 at 1:42:00 PM EDT  

Hello, Dan, and thank you for the observations. I'm glad you "decloaked" and certainly welcome you and any other lurkers: please, if you have any observations or insights on any post, comment!

Dr. Phil (Physics) Wednesday, July 6, 2011 at 3:20:00 PM EDT  

Ironic, considering the hue and cry about Hillary having any voice in the Clinton administration -- Why We Didn't Vote Her Into Office!

To say nothing of the people threatened by Michelle -- tall, professionally competent and evidently works out.

Dr. Phil

Dr. Phil (Physics) Wednesday, July 6, 2011 at 3:21:00 PM EDT  

In case I wasn't clear, I was talking about Michelle Obama. (grin)

Dr. Phil

Nathan Wednesday, July 6, 2011 at 5:53:00 PM EDT  

I was thinking about this question a few days ago and I came to the conclusion that it's the absolute least of things I have to concern myself with about Bachmann's candidacy. Either she's already exercising whatever her version of independence is and we're hearing her thoughts...or she's totally controlled by Marcus and we're already hearing his opinions. Either way, we're hearing what we'd get.

BTW, if I had to bet on it, I'd say that their attitudes and opinions are probably a mirror of each other's.

filelalaine Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 11:47:00 AM EDT  

What the hell does "pro-woman and pro-man" really mean anyway? I can't stand these lame-ass campaign sound bites she seems to be so proud of. Pick a side woman, you can't have it both ways, just like you can't be pro-choice and pro-life at the same time, i.e. they are mutually exclusive, doh!

This is not one of those developmentally appropriate sports leagues where everyone gets a trophy and no one really wins. When it comes to the feminist plight of breaking the glass ceiling, it's a bitch-eat-dog world. Step up to the plate, Michelle, you are a US congresswoman for f**k's sake (and how the hell did that happen in the first place?), not the chairwoman of a PTA cookie-baking committee.

::: Phew, sorry, she gets me all worked up :::

John the Scientist Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 9:10:00 PM EDT  

because normally their families really aren't all that relevant to anything at all. You have a lovely spouse and children, how nice for you, but unless you're bringing them up because you were going to give them guns and use them to invade a Middle Eastern state until you thought better of it, I'm not sure why I should care.

I'm not sure you should feel this way. Let's put it like this - when you heard how much of an astrology nut Nancy Regan was, did that not give you pause about some of Reagan's decisions? Spouses do bounce ideas off each other, spouses can influence some (but not all) decisions - even presedential ones, so if one spouse is a whack-a-loon, it does matter.

Eric Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 10:55:00 PM EDT  

John, it didn't, actually: it certainly caused concern regarding Nancy's decisions, as the astrology revelation accompanied allegations that Nancy was trying to exert pressure on her husband's advisors. And the truth is that Ronald Reagan's decision-making already seemed a little compromised by his age, so that Nancy's foibles seemed like less of an issue than the more general possibility of some senility kicking in; and then again, even without that, truth is that some of Reagan's ideas--e.g. supply-side economics--seemed more crazy and dangerous than astrology to leftist critics even when we weren't worried about his age. The net effect, though, was that no, Nancy's flirtation with psychics wasn't the most disturbing thing about her husband's presidency and was pretty much a sideshow.

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