Costanza with her two daughters
Costanza Miriano’s 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. The Stepford Wives being a 1972 satirical novel by Ira Levin – he of Rosemary’s Baby fame. That story 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 wives along these lines – and don’t take it too literally for she’s not beyond a bit of satire and irony herself to drive her points home:
“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 also having a good laugh at the simpletons who are misreading her book and her intentions. In summary she has done nothhing more than present us with a very sane and rich view of marriage in a guise so alien to the pc mores of today that it is ‘way-off-the-scale post-modern, a very refreshing antidote to the vacuous and poisonous Briget Jones of our time.
As yet we don’t have any of Miriano’s four best-sellers in English translation. Her latest book is the other side of the coin that is Woman, Get Married and Be Submissive. It is a shot in the arm for the age of chivalry – 21st century-style. It is called Marry Her and Die for Her. What we do have, however, is her blog and that has an English language version on which you can read some extracts from her books. The Italian exuberance of the books is lost in translation but the excerpts do give some idea of the fresh and ultra-human, truly Christian-humanist ideloogy running therough what she has written.
One excerpt is a letter to a married friend whose wedding she attended with her own famiy. 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 turnss out it seems the letter-writing had to wait a few years. She writes:
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. Bernardo is a model student, he can’t get less than an A at school, a little soldier always ready to carry out orders.
Tommaso, a little less precise, called me the other night to ask me when the Teheran Conference was held – a historical episode totally unknown to me. The latest historical fact I knew was the fall of the Western Roman Empire. And, a few evenings ago: “Mom, what is dialectic materialism? I’m calling Dad if you’re not sleeping now” – I tried to scare him while I frantically browsed the Philosophy section of the encyclopaedia or the History handbook that I learned to keep close at hand, together with the fundamentals – like the West wing DVDs or Mother Speranza’s novena.
But, belonging to the male gender, he also has an almost universal taint. His brain turns dumb when he sees a rolling ball. I know men who can be defined as normal, even as special as the one I married, that undergo a mutation at the starting whistle of a game and they instantly turn without batting an eyelid, from the violent films of Sam Peckinpah to La Signora in Giallorosso – a talk show on a local Rome TV -, from a re-reading of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot to Big Mario’s radio, losing any restraint. I’m only telling you, so that you can get ready, as you took one of the same species for yourself, and not for a weekend getaway, but for all of your life, until death do you part.
Then she ges to the meat of her letter, her “gift” to her fiend, 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.
And you know that I, just like anybody, don’t like losing. I’ve been more than competitive at school, at university. Even more in sports…But when it comes to life as a couple, you have to compete in the opposite way: two steps backwards. And you must do it even when you don’t understand why, even when you’re convinced you have good reasons. In that very moment, perform an act of trust towards your husband. Get out of the logic of the world, “I want to get the better of him”, and enter the logic of God, who put at your side your husband, that saint who bears you after everything, and who, incidentally, is also a handsome guy. And if something he does is not fine with you, it is God Himself you have to confront, to begin with: get down on your knees, and most time you’ll solve everything.
Luigi is the way God chose to love you and he is your way to heaven. When he says something, then you must listen to him as if God was talking to you; with full discernment, clearly, in wisdom and cleverness, of course, because he is a creature, but with respect, because he often sees more clearly than you do. Our vocation, whatever it is, is the source of our happiness. As the Russian Orthodox theologian, Pavel Evdokimov, says, if the objective end of the wedding is generating children, the subjective end is to generate ourselves. Margherita is not fully herself without Luigi!
Can you realize how great and invaluable a thing you have in your hands? In this enterprise you just started, with the grace of God, you will generate yourself. “But how do you do that?” you asked on the phone some thousand times. Do I have to let him have the better of me even when he’s wrong? I say yes. In the first place because it seems to you that he’s wrong, and if, as we were saying, he’s the one who leads you to your wholeness, to your completeness, it is exactly when he thinks differently from you that you have to open up to him, and embrace him. It is exactly then that what he tells you has a precious meaning for you, it adds something, it makes you whole, makes you grow, lets you make a shift.
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 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.
You’ll see, I can swear on it, a man cannot resist a woman who respects him, recognizes his authority, who makes a sincere effort to listen to him, to let aside her own way of seeing things, who tramples on her ever-biting, teasing, failure-highlighting tongue (we’re very good at that, no doubt), who accepts to walk on paths that are extremely different from those she would naturally choose, just out of love.
Day by day, he will start asking you what you think, what to do, which way your family should go. And this respect you achieve through respect, this devotion through submission. This is why, having finally won my husband’s respect, I now feel ready to calmly explain to him how greatly beneficial it would be to build a garden walk. And even when the fruits seem to be late, we Christians must know they are ripening. We are happy in hope, aren’t we? We know what happens to us is not to be measured on the world’s meter. We know any suffering, even a little one, produces sometimes mysterious, yet never lost, fruits, if accepted with love.
Later in the book, in a less than submissive mood, 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.
She is about to consider the tragedy of broken marriages and other disasters of the kind.
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.
The same cannot be said for men, because a man and a woman love in a different way: the woman with a specific love, capable of understanding originality. Man is fragile, and not always capable of understanding the differences between women. Only these, in the most painful, entangled and despairing situations can proclaim hope and stay up on their feet to give courage again to everybody.
But even without getting to the real, consumed, enacted, betrayal, to the menace of death to the relationship, there are many possible small betrayals.
Even the wife of Robert Redford, – not the wrinkly director of Sundance, but the legendary man who made himself in ‘The Great Gatsby, – seeing him wandering about the house in underpants and unmatched socks, clinging to the remote control in front of a Lakers match, would probably be tempted to start exchanging messages with the young and good-looking greengrocer from West Hollywood. Even in these cases love works if you make a decision, and you don’t follow your emotions, your needs, your instinctual part.
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.” Wojtyla 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.