It is no leap to say Christians have been affected by the ripples of the re-definition of gender and their roles. Just because we maintain Genesis 1:27 that God created male and female, does not mean that we have fully guarded against some other ideologies this overarching campaign is pushing, specifically, how wives relate to their husbands.
That Hideous Strength is C.S. Lewis’s third installment in his “Space Trilogy.” We meet Jane and Mark Studdock, a young, unhappily married couple. She is a housewife, lonely and desperate for some other meaning. She is desolate, partly because Mark’s chief concern is to gain as much social standing at his college as he can, reaching the “inner circle” of influence.
Jane realizes she is just playing a social role in his life rather than serving as a teammate. They find themselves on opposite sides of the great battle in the end: Mark working for N.I.C.E. and Jane following Dr. Ransom, Merlin, and their motley crew, combatting one another for control over the physical world. In other words, their love has grown cold as they only weigh and make meaning of themselves independently from the other.
The book has many social and spiritual commentaries on marriage (especially when you pit the Studdocks against the Dimbles, an older married couple who are faithful to one another by not taking this life too seriously), but I want to zoom in on one enlightening moment for Jane.
In her time spent with the likes of Dr. Ransom, the Dimbles, the Director, and others, she overheard them talking about matters of religion. In hopes that she would soon find a solution to her problem with Mark and her loneliness, she leans into this conversation, for even she knows that religion is of a higher order because it has the ability to govern and rule man, bringing order to her feelings of captivity.
“…’religion’ ought to mean a realm in which her haunting female fear of being treated as a thing, an object of barter and desire and possession, would be set permanently at rest and what she called her “true self” would soar upwards. [But they] never talked about religion… they talked about God… rather of strong, skillful hands thrust down to make, and mend, and perhaps destroy. Supposing one were a thing after all—a thing designed and invented by Someone Else and valued for qualities quite different from what one had decided to regard as one’s true self?”
It makes sense to follow that line of thinking from Jane: breaking down something like a fear, paradigm, or even out from under a stereotype would leave her feeling a bit drab. Victorious, yes. But work like that is exhausting, especially for Jane, who is on a quest to “free herself.” She has, no doubt, looked to many avenues to bring relief to feeling owned and bartered. It’s not until this new company of hers inadvertently directs her attention upward that her interest is fully piqued.
It is also logical to track the ideation that if you feel oppressed, you need to work as hard as possible to un-oppress yourself. Because if you feel anything featureless or unsavory, you are no longer within the bounds of your true self. You must rise from that.
And this is where many wives can quickly find themselves, but maybe in a much more subtle way. I would venture to say that getting married and bearing children is a part of most people’s thought trajectory when planning their lives. I would continue that venture to include that not many “count the cost” of marriage and family. Where that can quickly leave a woman is to convince herself that her true self is gone, leaving a piddly shell of a servant in its place.
I do not think that what follows is, “I have lost my true self; therefore, I must now abuse my marriage by depreciating my husband.” In fact, it’s not nearly as well-thought-out as that. The drifting that occurs when we are not in perpetual union with Christ (Hebrews 2) has ripple effects like wandering from our role as wife, helper, encourager, and teammate. Drifting is sneaky and brutally subtle. In the same way we search our hearts for idols so we do not transgress the first and second commandments, we must also survey our attitudes towards our callings in the home, starting with our covenant relationship.
Submit in Everything
Before I discuss ways that wives disparage their husbands (either accidentally or intentionally), you must remember two basic truths about God’s standard for marriage; furthermore, wives have to work hard to acclimate their tastes and desires toward just that.
First, marriage is a covenant recognized by God.
Mark 10:7–9 says, “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
It is easy to forget the importance of words when we are living in a way that we say whatever is on our minds. When you said your vows in front of witnesses on your (I’m certain, beautiful) wedding day, I hope the covenant aspect spoken through words was more thought out than the gown, flowers, and honeymoon. On that day, your marriage became your most important earthly relationship.
Second, Ephesians 5:22–24: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”
I have zero interest in arguing over the definition of “submission” here—it comes down to the fact that we must align ourselves with Scripture. We can give God a 1-star review all we want, but the energy from our word-dodging will not affect God’s economy in any way.
I would like to focus on the last part of verse 24, where Scripture says “in everything.” Wives, this means no part of your life should go untouched by your husband: clothes, thoughts, diet, child rearing, entertainment, friendships, vocation, intimacy. Everything means the whole enterprise, and God is very clear about that.
How a Wife Can Belittle Her Husband:
Not respecting your husband has so many manifestations. Bottom line, it is any choice or behavior that aims to put yourself before your husband. Here are just a few ideas (with very little commentary) of how this plays out in our day:
1. Talking about him and your marriage to anyone he has not explicitly approved.
Ladies Night Out is dangerous for this very reason—husband bashing. Of course, women will understand you better than your own husband, but being understood is not what is set out before us. Holiness is.
2. Asking for counsel about anything in your life from anyone else besides first taking it to him (that includes Facebook!).
We are to submit to our husbands in everything, which helps clarify the question, “Should I really bother him about _____?” You will be surprised at how beautifully simple a husband can decide from our often-muddy waters of overthinking.
3. Seeking attention and worth from anything you are involved in (again—that includes social media!).
Your meaning is from your union in Christ and not your husband, either. However, it is easy to find yourself like Jane in wanting to find your “true selves”—confess this to your husband and ask for guidance.
4. Neglecting to directly point out why you respect him or directing your kids to do so.
A social media sentiment should not be your first avenue for honoring him.
5. Not practicing hospitality with him first.
Wives, please don’t save the best dishes, fluffiest hand towels, sweetest energy, and best late-night conversation for your friends and neighbors.
6. Focusing on something he thinks isn’t worth you or your time.
Give your husband the rundown of what consumes your thoughts: losing weight, going back to college, enrolling your kids in school, taking a dance class, baking bread, adopting a child, painting the house. Ask him what you should lay down and what you should pursue, and then walk joyfully in that. This also includes that “nagging wife” from Proverbs 21—if it’s not something your husband wants the family to work toward, then let it be.
7. Stealing away leadership.
Sometimes a wife can have her mind made up about how something will go before she even consults her husband about it. It does not matter if she knows the children and their needs more instinctively than he does; the husband is the head of the family, and the wife belittles him when she assumes that role.
8. General discontentment.
Managing a home (Titus 2) is hard work because it is never truly done. Beautiful, chubby little faces with sticky hands will certainly undo almost everything a wife has just done. Clothes will always need to be washed. People will always need to eat. Dogs who aren’t supposed to shed will undoubtedly always shed. White clothes lose their luster, something always needs to be fixed, and who really wants to spend time cleaning out the produce drawer? The hardest part about our work is maintaining a content and joyful attitude. It is one of the most respectful things we can do for our husbands.
Bringing it All Home
In Matthew 12:25, Jesus says, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” Since man and wife become one flesh in marriage, any time a wife demeans her husband, she is attempting to divide that one flesh. A marriage that is laid waste cannot reflect Christ and the Church.
Because that’s what all this is about—going back to Ephesians 5, that Christ is the head of the church like the husband is the head of the wife. We submit to our husbands as to the Lord. This is an immense gift because we have a tangible, daily reminder of this posture that our good God requires of all Christians. After all, submission demands humility.
God never tells us not to be great, but he gives us directions on how to get there: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). That is what Jane was truly after. Her “true self” would never manifest by exalting herself, for there was simply nowhere for her to rise.
Finally, the Director tidies it up for Jane regarding her marriage and ultimately for her Christian life: “They would say,” he answered, “that you do not fail in obedience through lack of love, but have lost love because you never attempted obedience.”
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Vadym Pastukh
Kate Stevens is a worshiper, wife, and mom, and with the help of the Lord, that is her hierarchy of work. Beyond this, she works with the youth and children at her church and edits as a freelancer. She enjoys reading, writing, running, cooking, and practicing thinking pure and lovely things.
After being unsure if they ever wanted children, the Lord eventually blessed Kate and her husband Clint after nearly three years of waiting. They welcomed their first daughter in 2011, another daughter in 2013, and yet another daughter in 2016. Kate considers this her most time-consuming, emotion-full, sanctifying, not always pretty but trusting in the Lord’s plan, and blessed work. Stuck in a house with four females, her husband Clint consistently reminds Kate of her identity and union in Christ.
You can read more of Kate’s work here.