From Patriarchy to Partnership

I FEEL BLESSED to have grown up in the South, raised in the Southern Baptist tradition. When marriage was discussed at my church, I was taught there was a “holy chain of command.” Authority flowed from God to husband, husband to wife, and wife to kids. In the best of cases, that “authority” came with loving care, protection, and guidance. But it was authority nonetheless.

My own family mirrored this paradigm. My dad was king of the house, allowing us to watch only one show on TV: Father Knows Best. My mom, who called Dad “Popsie,” was expected to conform to Dad’s rules. (Not once did I hear her call him by his first name.) Far from being unusual, my mother emerged from generations of women who “obeyed their husbands.” This male dominator/female subordinator model of traditional heterosexual marriage often resulted in women losing their voice in both family and society.

In the ’70s, Gloria Steinem pronounced that marriage was a dangerous place for women. This made sense to many at the time. How could women celebrate their equality linked arm-in-arm with husbands who “knew best”? As a result, many women left home to develop their sense of agency in the world. And many left their marriages altogether.

But in the last several decades, a different concept of marriage emerged—an equality-based partnership model. Within this new paradigm, women (and men) have the opportunity to flourish. In fact, once two people learn to live in conscious partnership, the process can help women called to marriage develop their most resonant voice and deepest wisdom. As a result, a group of us are calling for the women’s movement to add the support of healthy marriages to its socio-political agenda.

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