Gabrielle Reece: “Women Should Be Submissive to Their Husbands”

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Gabrielle Reece, a professional volleyball player and model, appeared on the Today Show this week to discuss her new book, My Foot is Too Big for the Glass Slipper.  In this book, Reece discusses her marriage to professional surfer Laird Hamilton and explains how they managed to get through the tough times together.  She gives women some interesting marriage advice that I find hard to accept from a modern feminist perspective.  She claims that women should strive to be truly feminine to have a happy marriage, and in her eyes, “true femininity” means being submissive and obedient to your husband. Reece explains:

“To truly be feminine means being soft, receptive, and — look out, here it comes — submissive.  I think the idea of living with a partner is ‘How can I make their life better?” So if I’m the woman and he’s the man, then yes, that’s the dynamic.  I’m willing and I choose to serve my family and my husband because it creates a dynamic where he is then, in fact acting more like a man and masculine and treating me the way I want to be treated.”

First of all, I have a problem with anyone attempting to make a blanket statement about “true femininity”.  No one has the authority to define femininity because women are diverse and do not fit into one single definition.  It is restrictive to specify “masculine” or “feminine” behavior because these ideas create the societal norms that dictate our behavior.  Generalizations like this one reinforce the idea that women should act a certain way because of their role as a woman, regardless of their own preferences.  This is harmful because it dismisses women who do not fit into the traditional definition as “unfeminine”.  This effectively controls women’s behavior while supporting traditional gender roles and inequality.

While many people reject this traditional image of femininity that Reece is promoting, strong women are still the minority and are sometimes judged negatively for taking on traditionally “masculine” traits.  We’ve all heard the expression, “she wears the pants in the relationship”, and this expression demonstrates how we, as a society, expect men and women to fulfill different roles in a relationship.  While there are biological differences between men and women, I believe that having definitions of feminine and masculine behavior, beyond biological differences, is unnecessary and ultimately harmful to both genders.  I don’t believe that there is anything inherent in women that make them more suited for a “submissive” role in a relationship, and I don’t believe that there is anything biological in men that make them prefer to be dominant.  It is harmful for Gabrielle Reece to advise women to accept these unnecessary gender roles that ultimately marginalize women and ignore the fact that not all women are the same.

Also, it is really dangerous in my opinion to accept an unchanging definition of femininity because women’s role in society is constantly evolving.  Throughout history, there have been times when it was “unfeminine” to get an education or “not ladylike” to wear pants, so clearly the definition of femininity has the ability to adapt.  Today, women’s role is completely different from women who lived a century ago, so how can we expect traditional gender rules for behavior to maintain their relevance?  Promoting this outdated gender roles is going against the progress that has been made to make men and women equal partners in relationships.

Gabrielle’s advice also ignores the fact that there are many different dynamics that can create a successful marriage besides the traditional male-dominated relationship.  Her advice could lead women to believe that acceptance of women’s submissiveness is the only way they can have a good relationship.  Basically, I think Gabrielle Reece needs to expand her definition of what it means to be a women in the 21st century, and please stop promoting an old-fashioned view of femininity.

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