One of the more candid moments in Thursday's Republican presidential debate here in Ames, Iowa came when the Washington Examiner's Byron York asked Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) if she submits to her husband. The normal response when confronted with an uncomfortable query is to segue to talking points about "jobs" instead, but of course that's hard to do in this case, and so Bachmann didn't. Instead, after waiting for the booing audience to quiet down, she came up with this:
Marcus and I will be married for 33 years this September 10th. I'm in love with him, I'm so proud of him. And what submission means to us—if that's what your question is—is respect. I respect my husband...and he respects me as his wife. That's how we operate our marriage. We respect each other, we love each other.
The context is that Bachmann has previously said, at least when she's speaking to Christian audiences, that she took orders from her husband about whether to pursue a degree in tax law, noting that Ephesians 5:21-33 calls for women to be submissive to their husbands. But there are varying arguments about just what "submission" looks like. Here's how Janice Shaw Crouse explained it in the Washington Post in July:
In the context of women in leadership, it is important to note that biblical submission is about harmony and well-being within the home and the relationship between a husband and a wife; it has nothing to do with leadership responsibilities, except that no one—even the president of the United States—should treat others with disrespect, expect a subservient spirit from anyone or demand total surrender of another person’s will. Thus, a woman who willingly submits to her husband—and enjoys his equal submission, nurturing and cherishing—does not have a similar relationship with the men at work.
Right. Another way to think of it in that context is that it's the opposite of "domination," which is not really recommended for long-term relationships anyhow. Crouse is specifically frustrated with the notion that submissive wives are depicted as "Stepford wives"—a stereotype that's been promoted by at least one Bachmann chronicler. In this case it's clear that Bachmann's "submission" hasn't kept her down, in the sense that she's a successful politician who's now a plausible candidate for the most powerful job in the world (her husband, Marcus, is neither of those things.)
But here's another take on submission, from Kathryn Joyce in MoJo:
It's the role of older women to help her understand her priorities. Those priorities may include rising early to feed the family, being available anytime to satisfy a husband's desires (barring a few "ungodly" or "homosexual" acts), seeking his approval regarding work, appearance, and leisure, and accepting that he has the "burden" of final say in arguments. After a wife has respectfully appealed her spouse's decision—a privilege she should not abuse—she must accept his final answer as "God's will for her at that time," Peace advises.
That sounds a bit different, right? It's not unheard of for this to become a political issue: Last summer, when Rep. Dan Webster (R-Fla.) was running to unseat Democrat Alan Grayson, Webster's endorsement of Christian patriarchy prompted Grayson to dub him "Taliban Dan." York is defending his question, and that's fine; as he noted, it would be kind of shocking if no one asked Bachmann about this over the next year or so.
Still, given the pointed, gotcha nature of the questions last night (I mean that in a good way), this might have been a missed opportunity. Bachmann has been cutting off interviews left and right when the subject turns to homosexuality. Why not ask her whether she still believes gays are attempting to indoctrinate young children?