One time I was at Mass when the lector—a woman—quite obviously skipped the line, “…Wives, be submissive to your husbands.”
Submit. A foul word these days. Rightly so—when it is used to subjugate women. Yet, when those we submit to are worthy of trust, then submission is actually a powerful, positive posture. Let’s look at this from a Theology of the Body angle and then apply it to the contemporary theory of gender as a matter of psychological self-identification.
We can think of submission as accepting or saying “Yes” to something or someone. Pope John Paul says that to accept a gift is to affirm the person; thus, to be receptive to the help or present or smile of another is a form of submission.
A crucial element of submission is to what or whom one submits. If there is trust, then submission is a good and natural response. For a wife who knows her husband is trustworthy, it is natural to receive—submit to— his devoted gift of self, and to reciprocate that gift, whether by helping to clean, putting the kids to bed, giving a kiss, or even, dare I say, doing the dishes.
Now, let’s apply this to my favorite topic: the body! We submit to the body on a daily basis. When your body says you are hungry, you submit to that experience and eat. Or vice versa—if you are full, your body tells you—so submit and stop eating! And by all means, please, when your body starts smelling after exercise, submit to it and take a shower.
You may think, “Well, this is a bit dangerous—what about the times my body tells me to do the wrong things, like punching someone who is irritating or drinking nonstop?” Again, we need to know the message is one we can trust. Self-mastery and a well-formed conscience are both crucial in discerning proper acts of submission. But when those things are present, submission becomes a very powerful thing.
Now that we have taken a different look at submission, I want to look at the current news sensation surrounding Bruce Jenner and others who think they are a different gender than their body.
First, let’s submit to him—let us acknowledge his personal experience, taking seriously his feelings. St. John Paul emphasizes the importance of phenomenology, that is, how one experiences something. For example, consider the second creation story in Genesis, which tells of Adam “in search of his identity.” Contrast that with the first creation story which, JPII says, gives an objective description of God creating. One tells facts about creation while the other describes Adam’s experience of creation. Both aspects are necessary for us humans.
That said, we must submit to the fact that Bruce Jenner has experiences of what he believes it is like to be a woman. If we personally know others who have similar experiences, we must submit to the fact that those experiences are present and love them in the midst of those experiences.
And yet, here is where I think a correct understanding of submission can be helpful—perhaps to Jenner—but definitely for parents trying to form their children properly regarding this strange phenomenon.
The male body says to the man: “You are, de facto, a male.” The female body says to the woman: “You are, de facto, female.” Each of us then decides: will I submit to the body as a teacher? Will I be receptive to the objective fact of my body? Or, by my “will to power,” will I conquer my body and unnaturally impose my own psychological perceptions onto it?
Mother Mary is the exemplar human who reflects submission. May she pray for us to submit to submission.
Register today for TOBET Seminars. The next one: “TOB in Your Everyday Life”, July 1-3, 2015, at the Nazareth Retreat Center, Grand Prairie, Texas. For more info, click here.
Monica Ashour is author of ToB for Tots, ToB for Kids (Pauline Books), and Theology of the Body Marriage Preparation (TOBET Publishing), and executive director of Theology of the Body Evangelization Team (TOBET), based in Dallas, Texas.
Wrestling image by Khue Cai, khuecai.com, Flickr.