Italian journalist Costanza Miriano’s book, “Woman, Get Married and Be Submissive” — on being the perfect wife, has sold over 100,000 copies. The media, trying to be ironic, has branded it a “Stepford Wives’ guide” – referring to a 1972 satirical novel by Ira Levin of Rosemary’s Baby fame. The Stepford Wives concerns a young mother who begins to suspect that the frighteningly submissive housewives in her new idyllic Connecticut neighbourhood may be robots created by their husbands.
Miriano’s book includes advice to women and young wives along these lines: “Women forget that they can’t have it all: working like a man and being at home like a woman. Power is not designed for women.”
Shocking? But before you pass judgement on that you have to take on board the fact that Costanza is a working journalist fighting it out with the best of them on an Italian television channel, writing best-sellers at home and “submitting” to her husband as both of them raise their four kids.
She has no problem whatsoever declaring, “We are not equal to men. When you have to choose between what he likes and what you like, choose in his favour.” And this: “You must submit to him… When your husband tells you something, you should listen as if it were God speaking.”
As you might expect, a book expressing those ungarnished sentiments has also created a storm. An ultra politically correct Spanish government minister – a woman – wants it banned there. But apart from having a laugh all the way to the bank, Costanza is having a good laugh at the simpletons who are misreading her book and her intentions.
And what are her intentions? Basically, to express a vision inspired by St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (“Wives be subject to your husbands… Husbands, love your wives…”) and its high theological view of marriage as reflecting the union between Christ and the Church. But to bring this down to the mundane, sometimes tense, sometimes funny details of married life.
In doing so she has presented us with a very sane and rich view of marriage, albeit in a guise so alien to the politically correct mores of today that it is way-off-the-scale post-modern. That makes it a bracing antidote to the vacuous and poisonous Bridget Jones trope of our time.
And she does not stop at giving advice to women. Her latest book is the flip side of …Be Submissive. A shot in the arm for chivalry 21st century-style, it is called “Marry Her and Die for Her”, intended as a “funny reflection” on the differences between men and women but also carrying some carefully phrased nuggets of advice that they can offer a gift to their husbands. These are about “being a real man, being authoritative, being a good father, being courageous.”
As yet we don’t have any of Miriano’s four best-sellers in English translation (although they have been translated into Spanish, French, Portugese, Polish and Slovenian). What we do have, however, is her blog with English language version where you can read some extracts from her books. Their Italian exuberance is lost in translation but the excerpts do give some idea of the fresh, Christian-humanist vision of the author.
One excerpt is a letter to a married friend whose wedding she attended with her own family. It was meant to be a letter written before the wedding, a kind of wedding gift, but chaos seems to have put an end to that intention. As it turns out the letter-writing had to wait a few years. She begins:
Dear Margherita, I had intended to come to your wedding with a beautiful letter for you – Holy cow, I am the maid of honour!
She digresses and in the process gives us some pen-pictures of her own children.
To be honest, the boys especially remember that fatal day (her friend’s wedding, we presume) because that was the day of the Roma F.C. vs. Sampdoria soccer game, which cost the “maggica” the Premier League Championship that year. What can you do with them? They are male, the basic model. Despite it, they are not rednecks, at least not yet…
Then she goes to the meat of her letter, her “gift” to her friend, Margherita:
It is the secret for a holy wedding, which is the same as saying a happy one. The secret is for a woman, in front of the man she chose, to take a step backwards. And, as you know me well, you also may well know this is not in my nature at all. I’m not exactly a docile person, but I have turned into one I believe, I hope, because I think this is what being a spouse means: to embrace, first of all.
If you just embrace what you agree with, what you think, you are not married to a man, but to yourself. You must submit yourself to him. When you two must choose between what you like and what he likes, choose in his favour. And this is easy. When there’s a decision to take, and after you weighed the pros and cons the answer is still not clear, trust him, and let him have the last word. This is a little difficult sometimes. When it seems to you that his is completely wrong, for the sake of both of you, even for the kids, maybe, still keep trusting his clearness of mind. This may seem to be an unbearable effort. You will be afraid, because abandoning your beliefs is scary. But you’re not jumping into the void; you’re jumping into his arms.
Later, considering the tragedy of betrayals and broken marriages, she writes:
Warning: the reading of what follows is strictly forbidden to my husband, and the noble words that follow apply to any wedding but mine.
But even a woman who is betrayed has a possibility to defend her love, which is in a serious life-endangering condition: she can remain faithful and keep on loving. It is a terrible storm, but not a shipwreck. It is a vase that breaks, and that will not be new anymore, but even if the signs of where it’s been glued are visible, it will hold until the end. We as women also defend life this way, flying its flag high even when everything seems lost.
To forgive doesn’t mean to forget what happened. It is not refusing to look at the face of grief. It is not refusing to give it its importance because in the end the good and the bad are indistinguishable. It is not indifference. It is deciding to stem disorder, and to let the good win. The women who manage it are the stronger, the most capable of love, their shoulders are wider, and they are able to perform the miracle you need to overcome a betrayal.
Of course, all this is extremely counter-cultural:
How sad are most contemporary films and books: a lamentation on nothingness, a boring tautology. They are a demonstration that by obeying your own selfishness you are unwell, you are disquieted and never satisfied. They are all about grains of wheat refusing to fall in the soil. They are celebrations of “I’m not like that,” or “I don’t feel that way.” Karol Wojtyla [later Pope John Paul II)told the couples he went camping with during summer: don’t say “I love you.” Say, “I participate with you in the love of God.” A very different kind of music.
Costanza Miriano appeared recently on BBC Newsnight, interviewed by a somewhat incredulous anchorwoman. How did she ever think that she would get away without enraging the worldwide sisterhood if she dared to proclaim that wives should be submissive to their husbands?
Costanza explained, with the confidence that sales of 100,000 will give any writer, that submission meant being under someone, or something, in the sense that columns were under the upper structures of buildings and were their supports. These were the essential elements of a building without which any building would be worthless.
Michael Kirke is a freelance writer based in Dublin. He blogs at Garvan Hill.