Retreat from Liberation

Will the new trend in male-female roles be the old trend—dominate man, submissive wife, obedient kids?

The audience was well-dressed, well-scrubbed, well-meaning, and well-heeled. They were all young couples, most of them about 35, sitting attentively in rows of folding chairs in the living room of a large house in Highland Park, that ex­clusive municipality in the heart of Dal­las. The house belonged to Roy Coffee who, during Dolph Briscoe’s first term, was the governor’s liaison with the leg­islature. Having returned to Dallas to pursue his law practice, Coffee has been providing a space in his home for Tim Timmons to teach a “seminar” in what Timmons calls “God’s game plan for family living.”

Timmons’ seminar is one of several that teach essentially the same game plan. These seminars are now being taught throughout the United States, but they have developed especially devoted followings in Dallas, where Timmons’ and another important seminar are based. While similar in intent, the vari­ous seminars do differ in important ways. One seminar, for example, pre­scribes punishing the transgressions of young babies by spanking them with Popsicle sticks; another advocates-hav­ing sex underneath the dining room table as a way to put romance back into marriage. But all of the approaches to family living are based on a fundamen­talist religious belief called the doctrine of submission. Ignoring its teaching is supposedly against God’s intent and pro­duces tension in the marriage, unrest, breakdown of communication, divorce, and, worst of all, homosexual children.

According to this doctrine, submis­sion means respectful, willing, and com­plete obedience. That obedience is based on a chain of command from God to the husband to the wife and finally to the children. All people must submit to God and God’s will. The husband must also submit to his employer and to his government. The wife must submit to her husband. She must do his will in everything unless obeying his will would lead her to personal sin. If he wants her to wife-swap, for example, she must refuse, since wife-swapping is a sin; but if he tells her not to go to Wednesday Bible class, she must not go since not going is hardly sinful but disobeying her husband is. Children, at the end of the chain of command, must be taught by their parents to submit to everyone above them in the hierarchy.

This sounds like a game plan created not so much by God as by an anti­feminist coach. But these seminars to­gether form a movement that is def­initely a woman’s movement. Several of these seminars are given by women for women only. Although Timmons’ semi­nar is designed for married couples, in most cases the couple has started com­ing because the wife has talked her hus­band into going with her. “I think wom­en are so interested in this,” Timmons told me, “because they can’t get out of their lives like their husbands who can go spend the day at the office. So the women want to make the life they have the best it can possibly be.”

Other women, women also wanting to make their lives the best they could possibly be, have involved themselves directly or sympathetically with some part of that wide range of organizations, actions, and attitudes that make up the woman’s liberation movement—a move­ment founded on the conviction that the lives of women could be improved by social and political change. But for the women in the submission movement, the best possible life is one that requires no social or political change whatsoever.

They are women who, ten or fifteen years ago when they were in their twen­ties and making life choices, decided they wanted to lead a traditional fam­ily life, one very much like their par­ents had led. Then they

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