She had been sick all day. Her head was throbbing. The lights were blurry. Her body was burning up. She literally felt like the life was leaving her body. Her daughter, a toddler, was kept busy watching Thomas the Tank Engine. Her son, a few weeks old, kept latched to her breast as she lay on the couch. She waited, not so patiently, for her husband to come home. She had called him earlier in the day, twice in fact, asking him to please come home, something was terribly wrong with her and she might need to go to the hospital. He never returned her call. Late into the evening, after she had crawled through the day on her hands and knees trying her best to meet her children’s needs, she heard the roar of his truck muffler come into the drive. A wave of tears crashed over her. Finally, he was home. He came through the door balancing the mail in one hand and his brief case in the other. She expected that he’d rush to her side and apologize for not getting her messages. Surely he had been busy all day and away from the phone. She gingerly lifted her head from the pillow. Her eyes would not focus. She immediately felt nauseated, which was strange since she hadn’t kept anything in her stomach all day. She either could not get herself to the kitchen or, when she did manage it, she couldn’t stand up enough to reach the glasses. Through her tears she was able to focus just enough to see the squinted, angry eyes of her husband as he stalked down the hall toward her.
“What is wrong with you!” He bellowed. “This house is a mess! You’re a mess! I don’t go to work all day for you to just lay on the couch and do nothing!”
“I called you” she replied, “I’m really sick”.
He slammed his briefcase onto the dining room table. The noise of it send shock waves through her brain and rattled her eyes inside their socket. “Is that your excuse?”
“I need to go to the hospital.” She wanted him to hear her. She wanted him to care, to hold her, to get her a drink, to help her.
“I don’t think so! Not until you clean up this mess!” he rumbled.
“I can’t. I have to go to the ER. I’m sick. I’m really sick” her voice was trembling.
“You think you are just gonna laze around all day and then take off the minute I get home?” His questions were unreasonable but she was determined.
“I put the kids to bed. I’ll take the baby with me. I have to go.” She pulled herself off the couch and stumbled blindly toward her purse and the keys. She teetered while putting the baby into the car seat. She desperately wanted to ask him to drive her, but knew he wouldn’t. She had to get to the doctor. She kept telling herself to focus, focus, focus. She stepped toward the door with the baby and her purse in hand. He blocked her exit.
“You are really going to leave me here in this mess? You really think you are that sick? You always think you’re sick! You such a sorry excuse for a wife. You are going to leave me here to get my own supper? You think you can just leave our daughter here? I’ve been working hard all day to make sure this family has money to survive! What do you do? You sit on your ass and pretend like you’re sick! You make me sick! If you really cared you’d have had everything done and you could go to bed or take off where ever you think you need to go. If you really are sick you shouldn’t even be driving but look at you on your way out the door! Fine….”
She pushed past him as best she could and didn’t even offer an excuse. “Focus, Focus, Focus..”
Somehow, she got the baby into the car and herself strapped in. The oncoming lights literally blinded her on her way to the hospital. She prayed “Lord, please just get me there. Please just drive me there.” Somehow, she made it. She woke up to find herself on the pavement outside the ER. A stranger was trying to help her, he was calling for the doctors. Someone had her baby, she closed her eyes.
Later, she woke up again in the ER room. She was covered with a blanket. She jerked awake, looking frantically for her son. He was there, asleep in his seat near her. The nurse came in at that moment and greeted her. She was told that she was very sick, that she had severe mastitis. She needed to be admitted and she needed rest. She was exhausted. Her mind swirled around those words. Couldn’t they just give her medicine and send her home? She couldn’t afford to not be home. He had to go to work tomorrow. Who would look after her daughter? No, she had to go home.
The doctor came and explained to her that he highly recommended bed rest and that she be admitted. She was dehydrated and ill. Still she refused. She knew there would be hell to pay if she stayed. She needed to go home.
Late that night, after the doctor reluctantly sent her home with a prescription and pain medication, she got home. Her husband was asleep upstairs. She got the baby settled in his crib. At that moment she noticed her camera. It was laying next to the baby’s crib and the digital screen was on. She picked it up and looked through the photo display. There were no less then a dozen pictures of her messy house. Close ups of dirty laundry and dishes, panorama’s of the messy living room. It was clear to her there would be much to atone for in the morning…..
Male headship is based on the belief that men are superior, smarter and entitled to authority that women are not entitled to. Male headship encourages the belief that one has automatic authority, unearned, except by the shape of a persons skin. Most male abusers buy wholeheartedly into this belief system. What matters to an abuser is what he will gain from playing their games. His belief system works around him. He believes that he is superior in every way. He is entitled to be treated like the king, the ruler, the most important member of the relationship . His core belief is that he is totally in charge. She should bow to him in all final decisions, in all family communications and in all relational philosophies . He deserves to make the rules and she must follow. In fact, he thinks that by choosing to be in a relationship with him, she is automatically agreeing to this belief system. His rules are only for her, as he holds himself to totally a different standard, usually one that changes according to his desires, and he will always rationalize why his rules are different then hers. He maintains power by giving and withholding things that are important to her. Any form of psychological force is acceptable to gain the compliance of the victim and ensure complete control by the abuser.
His concern is not how he treats her, how he hurts her, or even how she feels. His concern is that he maintains control, makes the rules that support his entitlement and keeps himself in the position of dictator. He deserves this position because he is a man. She deserves servitude because she is a woman. His wants, his needs, his desires and his rules, those are what keep his relationship going. She must obey, that is her position, her place in their relationship. If she wants it to work, then she has to “support” him in everything, including meeting his needs as he requires. To do otherwise, in his thinking, is to break her vows to him and that is unacceptable. He also plays his power games by inconsistently changing the rules of engagement on her. Changing the rules keeps her walking on egg shells. If she can’t predict what his reactions will be, then she can never succeed in keeping him happy. One day he is pleased with her ability to cook meat loaf; three days later he can’t stand the flavor!
Society often backs up his core belief of leadership, headship and maintaining control. There is a long standing history, since the Greeks, that put men into headship and women into a subjugated roll. The church as a whole continues to perpetuate this patriarchal belief system. Our civil society also perpetuates this belief by consistently paying women less, prosecuting them more harshly in the court system and by relegating women to specific rolls.
By keeping everything focused on his needs, rules and requirements, he keeps her from thinking about her own needs. She is automatically put into ‘survival’ mode. Survival mode is essential, it is what keeps her trying to stay one step ahead to prevent abuse. She knows that if she doesn’t take care of him first, she will pay for it. All her energy is spent keeping him happy. All her thoughts are kept busy figuring out what he needs and demands. Having to consistently seek his approval eventually leads her into the trap of finding her value in him. If her value is assigned by him, then he has ultimate control.
Usually, the demands are very small at the beginning of a relationship. They, most often, fall into gender roles and therefore they make sense to her, they aren’t unreasonable. She does the house keeping, the laundry and the child care. He goes to work, mows the lawn and fixes the cars. Over time, her chores increase, and his decrease. He sits on the couch telling her to bring him a beer, clean up the messy house and make sure she washes the car so that he can go to work tomorrow. She has to meet his exacting demands in order to keep the peace in her home. She has become his caretaker, and she doesn’t even know it. If she complains, disagrees or even questions him, she will pay for it. He doesn’t have to hit her to keep her in her place, he’ll simply remind her of all the things he does as well as what a loser she is. He works, he has to take care of her. She is so much work, and so unorganized that if he didn’t tell her exactly what to do, she would fail in life. She needs him, asks him, by virtue of being married to him, to direct her life. If it wasn’t for him, she’d be bankrupt, homeless and starving.
By being put into a position of servitude, she is demeaned. Her entire life becomes centered on him. She fails so often at meeting his needs that she begins to believe what he tells her is true. She slides down the slippery slope of despair and depression. He is her ruler and she must accept that in order to save her marriage/relationship.
When Power and Control games are used in a relationship, along with trauma bonding, manipulation, fear and all the other tactics abusers use it creates an environment that feels much like living in a concentration camp. The victim is kept off guard, guessing at what the next moment will bring her; happiness or abuse. She is led to believe that she has the power to determine happiness or abuse when in reality, only the abuser has control.
Regardless of what you believe regarding male headship in the church and in society, I think we can all agree that it can and often does become a crutch for abusers to use. Patriarchy is not a good enough reason to devalue a woman. I strongly urge each of you to look closely at your belief system and root out those beliefs that lend themselves to a patriarchal attitude and an encouragement of abusive behaviors. To keep silent is to empower the abuser. Having courage to challenge our own personal value system takes strength and only then will we be able to stand against domestic abuse and the evil that invades our homes.
An in depth study into what the Bible teaches about Headship:
**Inspired by Clare Murphy’s Power and Control wheel