Domestic Goddess or Sex-Slave? A Lesson in Obedience.

A domestic goddess, image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/misselejane

A domestic goddess, image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/misselejane

Cooking and cleaning isn’t enough. A ‘good’ wife must ‘entertain’ her man as well. So says Maznah Taufik, a spokeswoman for The Obedient Wife Club (OWC). Taufik seems to be inspired by Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives (1972):

“We just want to ask all the wives to be obedient wives so that there will be fewer problems in our society. Obedient wife means they are trying to entertain their husbands, not only taking care of their food and clothes. They have to obey their husbands. That’s the way Islam also asks.”

In discussing the following, I have forcibly refrained myself from writing at length, but the context raises some thought provoking questions. If women’s liberation in Western societies has been shamelessly demonstrated in the form of the SlutWalk parades, the trend in the world’s most populous Muslim countries – notably Jordan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand – is to join the OWC, a group which promotes good sex as the foundation for healthy marriages and a strong society. Established this month, by Global Ikhwan – a Malaysian firm involved in a wide range of businesses (including minimarkets, production houses, mineral water factories, travel agencies and hotels) – the club already has at least 1000 members, at least 50% of whom are reportedly middle- to upper-class career-minded individuals and intellectuals. Initiated to teach the company’s female staff how to be good wives as well as productive employees, the OWC is a revamp of Global Ikhwan’s earlier Polygamy Club, set up to encourage polygamy in Muslim societies. The OWC is open to women of all faiths but says its teachings are based on the edicts of Islam which require wives to submit to their husbands and meet their needs. A wife who obeys and fulfils her husband’s sexual needs will deter him from infidelity or going to prostitutes — that is the OWC’s solution to curb social ills across the globe.

The Vice-President of the organisation, Dr Rohaya Mohamad told reporters that women often forget that their duties as a ‘good wife’ entail pleasuring their husbands in the bedroom:

“If you look at the world today, women are already being treated as sex objects… in magazines, on TV… so why can’t they be sex objects to their husbands? It is legal and permitted by God… A good wife is a good sex worker to her husband. What is wrong with being a whore in bed to your husband?”

She related that the OWC will offer seminars to train women in such wifely duties, as well as counselling sessions for married couples and sex classes in the art of seduction. She has, from the outset, acknowledged that there would be a great deal of controversy in response to the mission and message of the club, not least from women’s rights groups and feminists, and she has not been wrong. She admits that liberated Western societies, in general, will find it hard to accept OWC’s objectives: “It is common to have different schools of thought but at least they must be open to accept different ways of thinking.”

Dr Rohaya said a man who is kept sated and satisfied in the bedroom would have no reason to stray and this ultimately results in a happy and passionate marriage:

“The family institution is protected and we can curb social ills like prostitution, domestic violence, human trafficking and abandoned babies… Now, this obedience is lacking and it is causing many marriages to breakdown. Men are having girlfriends and mistresses, they are going to prostitutes… I believe the problem starts at home where his sexual needs are unfulfilled.”

The club replies on this assumption that sexually fulfilled men are less likely to stray, which they see as a solution to the rapid increase in failed marriages.

The divorce rate among Muslims in Southeast Asian countries is at an all-time high, evidenced by even the cursory glance at the records of the Islamic Development Department. According to local media, the divorce rate has doubled in many Muslim countries from 2002 to 2009, and the rate is higher among Muslims than non-Muslims. Is the OWC the best solution to this soaring divorce rate? Are women being demeaned in the attempt to cure social ills? Siti Musdah Mulia, an Islamic scholar from the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace has stated that:

“This is a phenomenon that depicts the strengthening of radical groups… and this is endangering the youth because it is based on an assumption that woman is not human, this is really poisonous.”

Is the desire for wives to be harlots in the bedroom a setback or is it empowering? Why has it become so popular?

The prevalence of the club depends on three factors:

  1. The women joining the club believe they are contributing to curing sex-related social ills, including rape, incest, prostitution and sex trafficking.
  2. The founders of the club believe that aphrodisiac methods are capable of countering ‘most women’s groups’ – an indirect allusion to western feminism – which ignore the consequences when a wife does not satisfy the sexual needs of her husband.
  3. It is predicated on the belief that it works within the will of God. The Qur’an, they argue, is peppered with references to sex.

On the latter, Siti Maznah Mohamed Taufik, a founding member, says:

“God even promised sexual pleasure from beautiful bidadari [angels] in heaven for those who are good. So are you saying that God is sex-crazed or obscene?”

The club traces man’s natural proclivity for sex to Islam’s first prophet, Adam. Eve, they maintain, was created because Adam had needs. Men cannot control their sexual needs and, if they are not met, men will find another woman. God created them like that. Take these three factors as culminate and you have the panacea: Muslim women are to become sex goddesses to the point where they are better in bed than first-class prostitutes. Moreover, Siti Maznah maintains that husbands would not visit prostitutes if their wives provided them with a satisfying sex life:

“Sex is a taboo in Asian society. We have ignored it in our marriages, but it’s all down to sex. A good wife is a good sex worker to her husband. What is wrong with being a prostitute to your husband? This way the family institution is protected and we can curb our social ills.”

However, many sociologists would suggest that the founding tenets of the organisation outlined above are tenuous.

There would be no shortage of criminologists, for instance – even from within the Muslim world – who would point out that attaching the cause of rape, prostitution, sex trafficking and incest to a wife’s failure in satisfying her husband’s sexual appetite is highly reductive and sociologically specious. Surely not all rapists are sexually dissatisfied with their wives? Detractors of the group have focussed on this point. Ratna Osman, acting executive director at rights group Sisters-in-Islam, states:

“Abusive men often use women’s behaviour as a sick justification, but in the end, their actions are their responsibility… To hinge fidelity, domestic violence and the fulfilment of a husband’s responsibilities purely on a wife’s capacity to be obedient, stimulate sexual arousal … is not only demeaning to wives, but to husbands as well.”

Moreover, the OWC seems to blame ‘disobedient’ wives for causing domestic violence, as demonstrated in the following statement from Siti Maznah:

“Domestic abuse happens because wives don’t obey their husband’s orders… A man must be responsible for his wife’s well-being, but she must listen to her husband.”

It is unsurprising, in contexts such as this, that women’s rights groups are condemning the initiative as ‘ridiculous’. The women’s group Sisters in Islam has expressed their anger at the OWC’s premise that women are to blame for domestic violence:

“Islam advocates marriages based on mutual cooperation and respect… domestic violence happens regardless of women’s behaviour.”

Meera Samanther from the non-profit Women’s Aid Organisation, which helps abused women, also related her shock on hearing about this club:

“It is ridiculous… Domestic violence is about lack of respect. It is about power play. It is not about whether you satisfy your husband or not.”

She continued by suggested that the group find a relevant focus by considering Islamic laws that are biased against women, particularly women who find themselves in forced polygamous marriages.

It is easy to see how this organisation has found itself to be so outspokenly condemned; in some ways it seems to represent a regress of gender equality in the modern Islamic world. But are Islamphobes right to claim contexts like the OWC as evidence of Islam’s backwardness? Could we not, rather, read such recent occurrences as indications of the persistence of male-dominated mindsets and phallocratic attitudes in traditional societies across the globe? Tradition is repeatedly evoked as justification for change in traditional societies; in this case – that is, by advocating the institution of sex-as-slavery to protect male-dominated marriage and female obedience – Islamic strictures are merely being appropriated to validate and rationalise a deeper implanting of dominant phallocracy. Is the OWC just another sign of the times of masculine anxiety?

For now, despite feminists and women’s groups calling on officials to shut the club down, Islamic governments has said it will not curtail the club’s activities but keep a close eye on it. There seems to be an ideological battle in play; how to be Muslim and modern at the same time. This brings us back to the issue that haunts every religious movement: fundamentalism. Ruhaini Dzuhayatin, an expert on Islamic law from Yogyakarta State Islamic University, maintains that fundamentalism is the failing of the club. He insists that it has based its thinking on a misguided interpretation of the hadits (i.e. the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad):

Hadits reflect the spirit of the age in which they were formulated. Interpretation of it should always be contextualized.”

She suggests that it is necessary to take particular care when interpreting hadits because most of them were ‘very misogynistic’.

Moving towards a conclusion, I am not concerned with providing either a defence of the club or a professed sympathy with their mission, as my interpretations rest precariously on the grounds of cultural relativism. With the lens of cultural relativism it would not be impossible for me to write a long article suggesting that the OWC is another legitimate mode of feminism. Well, if SlutWalk can be presented as such a thing, then why not? You may be among the host of detractors who will maintain that the OWC is wrong, because the short-term effect of the club seems like the further marginalisation and objectification of women in an already male-dominated society. However, in a world where top-down efforts to curb sex-related social problems are ineffective (when tried) – and, remember, women have no legal or political grounds to change this – perhaps this type of grassroots movement may provide some kind of improvement; therefore, the OWC may be described as a feminist mode of  activity. Here we have women who realise that passively waiting for the government to find an answer is not getting them anywhere, so they have decided to get pro-active. Are they so different from the women in Saudi Arabia who are defying driving bans?

Feminists seem to have a problem with a wife making any conscious effort to please her husband. As a very soon-to-be wife, I don’t understand why. So many women today resent words like ‘obedience’, ‘surrender’ and ‘submission’, despite parroting the first, in particular, when exchanging their wedding vows. Dare I suggest that women learn a lesson from the OWC? I am not saying that women should become sex slaves (although, there may be a time and a place); but some women, from my observation, need some pointers on how to make their men happy; they might start by relinquishing control of their husband’s lives and, if their confused-feminist-agenda allows, greet their husbands at the door dressed in nothing but lingerie. One last thing, ‘good sex’ is not only a wifely duty; it is a human right.

RELATED SOURCES:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/jun/21/malaysia-obedient-wives-club

http://gawker.com/5808670/sexy-new-obedient-wives-club-not-a-hit-with-everyone

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8412496.stm

http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/SEAsia/Story/STIStory_681507.html

IMAGE SOURCES:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-525892/Honey-youre-date-Why-men-longer-want-1950s-wife.html

http://simonthongwh.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/obedient-wives-club-stepford-wives-club/

http://billyuniversal.blogspot.com/2011/06/owc-wife-is-sex-worker.html

Tags: , , , , ,

Categories: Beliefs, Morals, Multiculturalism, People, Politics, Law

Author:Mary-Ellen L

Lives at www.animadvert.co.uk. Lecturer in Literature and Philosophy, Poet and Professional Cynic.

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6 Comments on “Domestic Goddess or Sex-Slave? A Lesson in Obedience.”

  1. Sarah Bonner
    June 29, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    There is a small movement in the west that has some similar tenants, frequently called “Taken in Hand.” Now, this group is not influenced by religious ideas like the OCW, and it really doesn’t sell itself as a way to reduce to infidelity or other domestic problems (and in fact, I think it originally stems out of sexual fetishism, as you often see it paired with dominance-submission play-based interests). That said, the group champions traditional male-female roles, and tries to focus on the fact that the women who are a part of this group CHOOSE to partake in it — that the action of being willfully obedient allows women to retain their dignity and in the end makes them an equal partner in their marriages and not an inferior.

    I think this is a core missing element for the OCW; if it is indeed some sort of feminist movement to reduce abuse, I fail to see how it helps reshape perceptions of why abuse occurs in the first place. Psychologically, I see nothing positive in telling women that they must be obedient because if they are not, then their men may become abusive, rather than telling women that obedience itself is a power. At best, it provides a like-minded support group for participating women. At worse, it reinforces blame and ignores the role, and responsibility, of men in these relationships.

  2. James Hill
    June 29, 2011 at 8:54 am #

    I don’t think it’s contentious to make the claim that a satisfying sex life leads to a stronger marriage. It leads to increased physical and emotional intimacy which does make it less likely for a partner to stray. The issue I have with OWC’s interpretation and attitude is that it appears to be taking the stance that the man’s sexual satisfaction is the only important factor and that women are primarily there to service the male. Tied up with this assumption is the mistaken belief that women themselves are somehow devoid of sexual desire and need to become sex “workers” to be good wives. Why not encourage both the man and the woman to be better lovers?

    Marriage (and any committed relationship) is about compromise. Despite what feminists say, there will be times when one partner will not necessarily be in the mood, but will still give pleasure to their lover because it is emotionally satisfying to see their partner pleased. However, it is not healthy for either partner to see sex simply as a domestic chore. Neither partner will be happy in the long run, and the marriage will certainly suffer.

  3. June 29, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    I shudder to think what 44 year old Dr. Royaha Mohamad’s own “better than a prostitute in bed” tips are in order to keep her husband from straying…

  4. June 29, 2011 at 11:10 am #

    I’m sick and tired of being told, usually by muslims, that as a man I’ve got no self-control and if I don’t get what I want women are going to get beaten and raped by me. I find the whole idea deeply offensive to my dignity. As for “women don’t need to enjoy sex, only the men do,” isn’t that the idea behind female genital mutilation (and yes, I know FGM wasn’t a muslim idea, but clearly the idea isn’t incompatible with Islam because its just so popular with them)?

    I really enjoy seeing my sexual partner enjoying herself during sex because dammit, I’ve got empathy which allows me to enjoy someone else’s pleasure. Empathy also means I hate seeing my loved ones in pain. Are we to believe that muslims lack empathy, hence the need for an OWC?

    Actually, the only reason why this story doesn’t make sense to us is because this whole story isn’t being reported properly in the press. They don’t actually explain why muslims seem so hell bent on making their living lives so miserable. These women know full well what they’re telling other women to do is not fun, not satisfying nor healthy. However, Earthly happiness is not the point, it’s happiness after death. Disobedient muslims (“Islam” means “submission” remember, it’s all about power play) go to Paradise but disobedient muslims go to Hell. The whole point is that this organisation is like the Catholic Church: follow our rules, as hard as they might be to follow, and you will have happiness after you die.

    In short, the OWC, is selling absolution.

  5. July 14, 2011 at 7:24 pm #

    “Why not encourage both the man and the woman to be better lovers?” Spot on, James!

    If either partner begins to see sex as a domestic chore, it raises the fundamental question: why have they married in the first place? I might be some kind of idealist in my own experience but passion and the expression of love should never be placed within the realm of responsibility. Now, of course, my mindset has not been subjectively formed by Islamic traditions, and I do not have to exist within the circumstances of an arranged marriage; and, no degree of cultural relativism can ever offer me a full understanding of all the intricacies that are inherent in such a system…

    I am not going to delve into the question of whether or not arranged marriages are ‘right’ as I am in no position to make such overarching commentary: but, given that many Islamic marriages are arranged, and the fact that, for so many, passion is not a matter of instinct, perhaps it is not necessarily a bad thing to have lessons in sex and pleasure available. The problematics become rife, however, when the term ‘obedience’ is foregrounded; moreover, the onus the OWC places on women alone to ‘heal’ society seems to me a rather disconcerting one.

    Again, we are brought back to the need of a more nuanced gendered equality, which you have mentioned previously, Jason. It is surely time for a more sophisticated and, dare I say, rational approach to the man-woman affinity within personal relationships. The here and now needs our attention; not the supposed and anticipated hereafter. A world without religion might be a good place to start.

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