Is a wife entirely at her husband’s mercy?

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In Abigail Bailey’s memoirs, first published in 1815, she recounted a similar sentiment when she noticed “very improper conduct” between her husband and a servant. Abigail pleaded with her husband to “consider the evil of his ways”, but ultimately blamed the “rude” and “disagreeable” servant, and “prevailed to send the vile young woman from our family”. In this memoir, as well as in Harriet’s and Rachel’s recollections, the mistress’ reaction to the servant was not immediate; it was a secondary response when her husband proved unresponsive to her criticisms. These women could not easily punish their husbands, but they could justify punishing their servants and slaves for the sexual transgressions within their households. While a wife’s place in the household hierarchy may have limited her options, it did not leave her entirely at her husband’s mercy. Perhaps in return for her own public silence about the master-servant or master-slave sexual interactions, a wife had the leverage to demand the laborer’s departure.

It is true that when a woman marries, she becomes her husband’s responsibility. Some men like to see her as an acquired property. A property whose purpose is to multiply him, take care of his needs, be submissive to his authority and to be totally dependent on him. This, in itself, should be the beauty of coming together of man and woman. Little wonder why our parents say time and again that a woman’s place is at her a husband’s house and perhaps reason why they raise female children to be the perfect wife to their husbands. But in all of these, do we also teach them to be strong, deserving and virtuous – that’s in the sense of having something to bring to the table too?

Depending on how we were raised and the circumstances surrounding our upbringing, we all turn out differently regardless of what society expects of us. This is why one wife can believe totally to depend on her husband for every need, every expense and hold on to his every word and another believes she is an active participant in the home, having equal say in every matter. While these different practices it might work well for an understanding and deserving husband, in a miss-matched case, it could be recipe for disaster. An example is the scenario where a husband wants his wife to be challenging, not all the time yielding. This causes him to disrespect his wife even more and be less attracted to her by the day. Yet she is instilling the same morals into her daughter which he finds even more irritable. While on the other hand, you’ll find husbands who want this scenario in their homes but their wives have so much voice they can’t be shut out. In the former situation, this is why a woman would strain herself and children in the name of protecting the authority and respect of her husband as opposed to enjoy being a helpful loyal helpmate.

Without sounding like an egocentric feminist, according to my sense of reason, if your husband wants you to fulfil purpose (to multiply him, take care of his needs, be submissive to his authority and to be totally dependent on him) and yet cannot be supportive or pitiful to your needs and comfort, how does that work? How is a woman happily motivated to still fulfil that purpose, for instance? So I’m thinking are women really supposed to entirely be at their husband’s mercy – not allowed to have a personality in the marriage other than what society expects?

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One thought on “Is a wife entirely at her husband’s mercy?

  1. The only person to whose mercy i can agree to be under is Jesus. The rest i respect and treat as i would like to be treated otherwise nothing. I understand some people might have no choice or the stakes are high. So i will speak for myself.

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