This is the second post in “The Lies We Are Taught” series. See the first here.
I love the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. As a child of an immigrant, a lot of the themes resonated with me such as pride in the home country, the big loud family, and the foods and traditions that seem odd to multi-generational Americans. I empathize with Toula, the main character, who is the child of Greek immigrants in a large Greek family, who falls in love with a multi-generational American Protestant. I find myself reminiscing as Toula’s father explains to her friends that every word has a Greek root, comparing it to the often said motto at our home ,“If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much” and comparing their rambunctious family gatherings to our noisy ones. Even though they are not children of immigrants, there is one scene that almost all of my multi-generational American Christian friends also identify with. When Toula wants to go to community college, her mother tells her “the man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head whichever way she pleases”.
Although it may seem like a heartwarming picture of marriage, in practice the man is the head/the woman is the neck belief can be destructive to the honesty, trust, and intimacy of a marriage. While on the surface, the man being the head seems like a position of power and leadership and the woman turning the head, may simply mean that the husband respects and listens to his wife when she confronts him and they disagree but eventually make decisions together as Toula’s parent’s did with the decision for her to go to college, in reality, it often looks more like the scenes played out later in the movie where Toula’s mother and aunt set up a situation to manipulate the father into letting Toula work at her aunt’s travel agency.
In life, like in the film, this sets up a dishonest situation where the man is “fooled” by the “smarter” women into doing what they want, just so he can keep his illusion of headship. Is this the way anyone wants their marriage to work? One person manipulating the situation so that the other can protect their ego? This is exactly the situation that participants in hierarchical marriages often find themselves. In many marriage books, wedding showers, women’s groups it is discussed how to get your husband to agree with you by doing x,y, z and have him think it was his idea so he can still be the “head”.
Wouldn’t it be much more productive, beneficial, honest and intimate to discuss your needs and concerns directly with your spouse and have both parties listen to each other’s needs and concerns and compromise when necessary. Sure there will be disagreements in marriage, but that’s the sweet thing about committment. Spouses get to work through those together with respect and love, but it’s much easier to work on something when the parties are straight forward than if they only have half the story because someone is tippy toeing around “the head”?
We should be able to expect our spouse to listen to us, compromise with us, and be able to healthily disagree with us to our face. Women being taught to manipulate and going behind their spouse’s back to get their actually underestimates men’s ability to engage in a healthy relationship. I don’t want to underestimate my husband. I don’t want to raise boys who are going to be played as fools or marry women who feel the need to manipulate to protect their male egos. I would rather raise young men who face their problems head on and who are willing to work on their relationships as a lifelong team with their spouse.