The Quiverfull/Patriarchy culture produces plenty of “how-to” books, such as Fascinating Womanhood, and Created to Be His Help Meet, to show women how to be the most “godly” wives and mothers they can be. Since I practically absorbed a ton of these types of books through my skin for the first eight years of our marriage, I noticed one thing they all had in common: they tell us how how to talk to our husbands with “respect,” “honor,” and “deference to his authority.” We learned how to use encouragement, childlike phrases, praise, focusing on the positives, and carefully worded requests to communicate within our marriages.
For example, in the book Fascinating Womanhood , a man is about to make a disastrous financial decision, where he could lose everything. The author encourages the wife to say, “It sounds like a good idea, and I can see why you’re excited about it, but for some reason, deep inside, I just don’t feel right about it.” It’s not that she doesn’t see specific reasons for the financial danger—it’s that saying those reasons outright could hurt what the author calls his “Sensitive Masculine Pride.”
In Created to Be His Help Meet , Debi Pearl states: “It is important for a woman to understand that [a wife] must be feminine (devoid of dominance and control) in order for her man to view her as his exact counterpart, and thus willingly respond to her protectively, with love and gentleness. A woman who criticizes her husband… is expressing dishonor. When the relationship is properly balanced, a wife can make an appeal at the right time and in the right manner, and it need not be a challenge to his authority.” (emphasis mine)
These books promise that if you do speak to him just the right way, he will listen to you.
And if he doesn’t listen to you, it’s the outcome God wanted anyway.
The good news is that this method of communication has already been tested extensively in another context—commercial airlines—and the results were startling: they caused planes to crash.
Malcom Gladwell, in his book Outliers, tells us of “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes.” Apparently, when investigators analyzed the events leading up to many crashes, using the black box recorders, they found a common thread. More than engine failure, bad weather, pilot exhaustion, or drug use, the most common cause of a plane crash was what the author called “Mitigated Speech” between the Captain and the rest of the flight crew. For example :
“In the 1982 Air Florida crash outside Washington, DC, the first officer tried three times to tell the captain that the plane had a dangerous amount of ice on its wings.
Look how the ice is just hanging on his, ah, back, back there, see that?
See all those icicles on the back there and everything?
[Right before take-off]
Let’s check those [wing] tops again, since we’ve been setting here awhile.
The captain says, “I think we get to go here in a minute.”
They don’t de-ice the wings.
The only direct statement this co-pilot made to the captain was as they were crashing into the Potomac River: “Larry, we’re going down, Larry.”
In an analysis of a similar crash, the investigators report was heartbreaking:
“The copilot was right. But they died because… when the copilot asked questions, his implied suggestions were very weak. The captain’s reply was to ignore him totally. Perhaps the copilot did not want to appear rebellious, questioning the judgment of the captain, or he did not want to play the fool because he knew that the pilot had a great deal of experience flying in that area. The copilot should have advocated for his own opinions in a stronger way…” (emphasis mine)
Even worse, when a pilot and flight crew was steeped in a culture that valued honor and hierarchy, such as Korea, then the odds of the plane crashing were astronomically higher. In the case of Korean Air, the planes were seventeen times more likely to crash than a comperable American airline.
As Gladwell says, “Among Korean Air flight crews, the expectation on layovers used to be that the junior officers would attend to the captain to the point of making him dinner or purchasing him gifts. As one former Korean Air pilot puts it, the sensibility in many of the airline’s cockpits was that ‘the captain is in charge and does what he wants, when he likes, how he likes, and everyone else sits quietly and does nothing.’”
And later: “At a [Korean] dinner table, a lower-ranking person must wait until a higher-ranking person sits down and starts eating, while the reverse does not hold true… in greeting a social superior (though not an inferior) a Korean must bow… All social behavior and actions are conducted in the order of seniority or ranking; as the saying goes, chanmul to wi alay ka issta, there is order even to drinking cold water.”
In the realm of the Christian Patriarchy Movement, if a wife disagrees with her husband, or communicates too forcefully, she’s fundamentally dishonoring him. Is it any wonder that marriages, finances, careers, children, and churches crash and burn? No one can tell the Pilot when danger is approaching.
And if the plane crashes…oh well, it must have been God’s will.
There is no scriptural support for this. By contrast, Proverbs 31:11 & 12 says:
11 Her husband can trust her,
and she will greatly enrich his life.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
If a husband trusts his wife, then a wife telling him the truth without mitigated speech should be viewed as a blessing, not an unfeminine quality that should be squashed.
Also, in Isaiah 33:
“3 When the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people. 4 Then if those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die…..6 But if the watchman sees the enemy coming and doesn’t sound the alarm to warn the people, he is responsible for their captivity. They will die in their sins, but I will hold the watchman responsible for their deaths.’” (emphasis mine)
Could you imagine the watchman saying, “Um, I don’t want to bother you, and I know you’re normally prepared, but I saw something that might have been a dust cloud kicked up by an army. If you get a chance, could you come double-check for me?”
My marriage has been crippled and broken several times by my own use of mitigated speech, and by the faulty, unscriptural belief that, “Well, if he doesn’t respond, it must have been God’s will.” I’ve learned that my husband simply can’t read my mind to discern when something is deathly serious, and when something is just a passing concern. I have to speak assertively, passionately, and clearly in order to communicate things like:
“What you said hurt our daughter, and was unfair.”
“We can’t afford that, and do the other things you wanted to do.”
“I’m sick, and I need help.”
According to Gladwell, what turned Korea Air around was a cultural shift that demanded the Pilot and First-Officer see each other as equals. They had to address each other by first name instead of rank, speak English-only at the airline, and work hard to overcome their ingrained cultural belief that the Pilot was always right. Every single day, they had to work to change destructive habits that had been with them since birth.
Six years later, Korea Air received an award for the most improved safety of any airline.
We can change our own habits too, if we are willing to recognize that the culture we came from is not Biblical, is not helping us reach the goal of a good marriage, and is actually harming us.