Let me tell you a little story. Not long ago, we moved to a new ward. After a few weeks, my husband and I were invited to come early to church to meet with a member of the bishopric. We figured, of course, that he wanted to extend a calling to one or both of us. When we arrived, he asked my husband to come in and speak with him first. So I assumed that my husband was getting the calling.
To my surprise, after I was ushered into the room, the bishop’s counselor extended a calling to me. He explained that it was church policy to obtain the husband’s permission before his wife even found out about the calling.
When my husband remarked dubiously that this is the first time he’d ever encountered such a policy, the counselor said (somewhat defensively) that they had been instructed to do it that way by the stake president. According to him, it’s part of an ongoing effort to “help the brethren step up to their responsibility to preside in their homes.”
He didn’t go into the details of how exactly being given control over whether their wives get the opportunity to serve at church helps men to be better husbands and fathers.
Needless to say, I found the exchange depressing, not to mention insulting. To my later chagrin, I didn’t say a whole lot other than accepting the call, partially because I was just floored by it happening in the first place, and partially because I wasn’t sure what TO say.
I found it embarrassingly awkward to be treated like a child who needs permission. Because, um, last time I looked at our relationship, my husband was not my parental authority figure. But how childishly petulant does it sound to stamp your foot at the bishop’s counselor and say, “don’t treat me like a child!” It was obvious to me that at least to this particular man, I would sound like a power hungry insubordinate and a bad wife if I objected to what he evidently considered a divinely sanctioned policy.
My husband and I had a lengthy discussion about it afterward, during which I was eventually able to roll my eyes and laugh ruefully at what had happened, and pass it off as a relatively minor annoyance.
Until this morning, that is, when I was sitting in the pew after Sacrament Meeting, and a brother in the ward came up to our row. He said hello to me, and then promptly turned to my husband, to ask if it was all right if I substituted in his primary class next week. I just stared. To his everlasting credit, my husband simply responded, “she’s her own person. Ask her.”
You’d think I would have come up with some kind of appropriate response myself after my experience a few weeks earlier, but again, I merely said I would do it (once the good brother’s attention had finally wandered back to me, that is, of course).
After I finished crying on my husband’s shoulder in the hallway over the whole indignity of it all, I started contemplating what would be the best/most appropriate response to a situation like this (since it appears that at least in this ward, it happens frequently).
Should I just grin and bear it? Is there some kind of church policy that might actually somehow be construed to mean that a wife needs her husband’s permission before she undertakes to do any sort of positive action? To what ridiculous ends will this lead us? When I call a Relief Society sister to ask if she’ll take dinner to someone in the ward, should I really be speaking with her husband first to see if it’s OK with him?
I should add that the second story did actually have a happy ending. My husband had a lengthy discussion with the offending primary teacher, who said he had only been trying to be respectful (of whom? The “man of the house,” I suppose). He said it was just like when he had asked his wife’s father for her hand in marriage. Sigh. Just like.
I’m not sure if he was convinced by my husband’s energetic explanations, or just thought we were weird, but I was very touched when this same brother came up to me after church and apologized for offending me. He said that he was sorry he had made me feel bad, and grateful he had now been educated so he wouldn’t do it again. He was really humble and sincere, and it made me feel so much better to have my feelings acknowledged. It also made me feel a little hopeful that change might actually sometimes happen, at least on the individual level, if we approach it in a constructive way.
So with that said, what is the most constructive way? What would you say if your husband were asked to speak for you (or you were asked to speak for your wife)? What have you said in situations like these? Do you think it’s more effective when speaking to an intentional or oblivious chauvinist for my husband to point out that he thinks it’s inappropriate to be treated like he owns me? Or should I say it myself?