After reading Emily’s piece on sexual submission last week, and during one of my marathon Google Random Stuff While Procrastinating sessions, I stumbled upon this request for advice on a message board.
A young, recently married woman was asking for advice about her relationship with her new husband. He has started spanking her if she “misbehaves, says something wrong, does something wrong, [or] hurts him in any way.” He will often continue until she cries, exhibits jealous tendencies, and displays inappropriate anger and rage. She justifies his actions by stating: “I respect him and know he’s the master of me as I married him.” It seemed to me to be a clear abusive situation, and expected to read as much in the comments.
I was surprised to find that many of the commenters were relating to the poster’s experience as fully consensual partners in something called Christian Domestic Discipline (CDD). I had never heard the term before, and figured it was a small sub-culture of people who enjoy googling the same weird shit that I do and then spreading their gospel on the message boards.
Not so. I rapidly discovered that the proselytising of the CDD lifestyle is not restricted to Internet commenting alone. Blogs and websites abound written by and for women advocating this practice. Among the ones I visited were: Knowing Your Roles, Getting Spanked as Needed, and the cringe-inducing Putting Him First.
Not all couples who practice Domestic Discipline identify as Christian, but for the most part I get the sense that the underlying rationale is the same, whether it’s claiming to be based on the word of the bible or not. And I have no doubt that there are same-sex couples and polyamorous groups who practice Domestic Discipline, with a different determination of roles that is not gender based.
To rein in scope I’m going to be focussing on Christian Domestic Discipline between monogamous, heterosexual couples.
OK, so I understand spanking/discipline etc. in a sexual context. I believe there can certainly be equality, respect, enthusiastic consent, and everything else that belongs in a healthy sexual relationship between people who enjoy dominant/submissive role-play and other types of power play. I don’t view these relationships as strange, de-humanizing, or problematic in any way.
Receiving discipline in the bedroom seems like just a sexually charged way to act out deep rooted power dynamics. In a D/s context, I can totally get with this –- that primal expression of the ideologies that have been instilled in us since birth. I can understand the turn on.
But walking around my own home, conscious of the fact that any perceived transgression could result in physical pain and a surrendering of control of my body? That would stress me the fuck out. I don’t find that sexy at all. Scary, yes. Hot? Not so much.
The idea of being spanked, or receiving physical discipline, because I need it to help me rein in my "bad behaviour" makes me highly uncomfortable. Women report being punished for disobedience, bad attitude, talking back, and a myriad of other rule violations.
This I find problematic.
The most obvious troubling aspect of these relationships is that women and men do not have equal rights. Men are granted more freedoms than women -- such as the freedom to behave as they choose without consequence. Also, CDD dictates that the only way a marriage can be successful is if the woman can be taught to behave in the "correct" fashion (as determined by her husband), and be sufficiently submissive (both inside and outside of the bedroom).
Basically men get to have all the power, and none of the responsibility.
Couples who engage in the practice might respond to that characterization in the following ways:
“My husband may have all the power, but that’s actually a burden that he is selflessly removing from my shoulders. I’m relieved to not have to make all those tough decisions.”
“Women may be ultimately responsible for everything that happens in the family, from weekly menus to THE HAPPINESS OF EVERYONE AROUND HER [emphasis added], but it is an honour. My wife feels blessed and proud to be able to sacrifice herself in this way, and having a family to surround her is reward enough for all her hard work.”
“This is what the bible tells us to do. We are fulfilled in our obedience to God’s will.”
Do I sound judgemental? I’m really trying not to be. I try to have a very open mind about the way people choose to live their lives. Case in point: I am totally fascinated by and support the openly gay Mormon man who is happily, and exclusively, married to the mother of his kids. They have a radically unconventional relationship (or radically conventional, depending on your perspective), and I don’t have any alarm bells going off about them.
Most of the women who write about their CDD experiences online are not complaining. Many of them report feeling extremely calm and relaxed after being disciplined, and believe it is an expression of their husband caring about them and their marriage, enough to help them modify their behaviour. After the spanking, they are granted a clean slate. They don’t need to endure the days of tension and shittiness that can follow an argument unresolved through discipline.
And I do respect that basic tenet of feminism –- that women should be able to make their own decisions when it comes to their body and who gets to do what to that body (and the associated mind, spirit, soul, etc.).
I suppose my discomfort with the practice is somewhat similar to the feelings that arise when I see a woman walking down the street wearing a Niqab that only shows her eyes. I get that it’s her choice (in theory, anyways), and understand that there are many women who feel that covering themselves in that way is actually empowering for them, and I support a woman’s right to choose that for themselves.
In both cases, religion is used as both a justification and a motivator for perpetuating a clearly defined gender dynamic, with rules and restrictions on women that do not apply to men. Indeed, men are further granted the power to enforce these rules and restrictions, in whatever interpretation and to whatever degree they see fit, on their wives and life partners.
Obviously there is a difference between participating in Christian Domestic Discipline and wearing a Niqab. I am bringing it into the conversation to specifically address this issue of free will. Within the ideology of a religion, and the walls of a home that operates according to a specific (and male) interpretation of that religion, can free will for women truly exist?
The question of whether or not that choice is truly the woman’s to make is a highly complex one. Is she making the choice based on her own independent thought, reason, and preferences? Has she been conditioned to believe that it is the choice she must make if she is a good woman? Does she worry that if she makes a different choice that she will be lowered in the eyes of the deity she worships, or worse, destined to eternal damnation? Is she intimidated, coerced, or threatened into making that choice?
I read those CDD blogs like an emotional detective, trying to listen for any sense of resentment on the part of the woman, discover clues she’s leaving us that she wants out or needs rescuing. I didn’t find as many of those as I was expecting to.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about the story of the young woman that launched me into this world. I think about the women in these types of relationships who are not blogging about it or celebrating the lifestyle they find themselves in. Those who are confused, searching, scared or trapped.
Emotional abuse often masquerades as loving partnership. The abuser claims to want his partner to fulfill her potential, to grow and learn and to better herself. His criticisms and insults are meant to help her improve her many flaws.
Only she never reaches her potential, she is never good enough. No matter how hard she tries to follow his lead and take his advice, she always falls short. She’s defective, fundamentally flawed, completely dependent on her partner for everything. She needs the discipline.
So… do you need a spanking? Do you want a spanking? Would it be okay with you if your partner determined when, how and for what reason you should be disciplined? Do you think it’s none of our/my business how people in a relationship choose to resolve conflict? Should I stop staying up late Googling weird stuff that haunts me for days?