Politics & Gender

Research Article

The Ideology of Wifely Submission: A Challenge for Feminism?

R. Claire Snyder-Halla1

a1 George Mason University


This article examines the writings of women who explicitly embrace wifely submission, including those who advocate corporal punishment. Through a close reading of primary sources, the article seeks to illuminate the biblical literalist theology that underlies the ideology of wifely submission and to explain the reasons why many heterosexual women find such an ideology appealing. While many readers might be tempted to dismiss such women as antifeminist, the question of desire that their writing raises goes to the heart of a major challenge faced by contemporary feminist theory, which since the “sex wars” often remains divided between those who accept whatever women choose as feminist and those who stand in judgment of other women's choices. This article uses the case of wifely submission to examine the problem of desire, the concept of consent, and the benefits and limitations of “choice” discourse within feminist theory. It argues for a middle-ground approach that respects women as agents in their own lives, while also engaging them in reflective conversation about desire and its ramifications.


I would like to thank Michaele Ferguson, Jill Locke, Lori Marso, the Reverend Lori McPherson, and the anonymous reviewers for very helpful comments that greatly improved the manuscript.