Story transcripts

Under the thumb

Sunday, June 3, 2007
Surrendered wives
Reporter: Peter Harvey
Producers: Nick Greenaway

To be perfectly honest, we are not too sure about this. This, being a new women's movement, with very old-fashioned ideas. Submissive wives who really do love, honour and obey. Especially obey.

You can blame it all on a book called The Surrendered Wife - a "how to" guide that kindly shows us how to stop nagging and start letting our men take control.

Sound like hell? Like a return to the Dark Ages, when women were right under the old man's thumb.

Well, maybe - maybe not.

There are now more than 100,000 followers around the world, including Australia. And not surprisingly, Peter Harvey found the sisterhood's spitting chips.


PETER HARVEY: Please pay close attention. You're about to learn the secret of a blissful married life.

SKYE: Keeping your mouth shut is a really good idea. Thank you.

PETER HARVEY: Well, that's the opinion of these women and many more like them.

CHIP: I think I'm going to order for you.

CAROLINE: Shutting my mouth is kind of very hard. That's been the hardest for me but I've learnt to do it.

CRYSTAL: He asked for a smoothie for breakfast so he gets a smoothie for breakfast.

PETER HARVEY: Welcome to the world of the surrendered wife — sisters who have come out of the kitchen but now they're going back in. Here in America's Midwest, women like Crystal and her two-year-old daughter Catherine, who's already in training.

CRYSTAL: We talk a lot about Jesse's, 'He's your daddy and you're supposed to obey your daddy and we want to honour him and we want to respect him'. And just talking about why we are cleaning. We want to have a clean house so that we can honour Daddy because Daddy likes the house to be clean. Put it right there. Do you know why we're making the fruit pizza? We're making it for Daddy. We want to please him. We want to do special things for him. Daddy's the king of our home, isn't he? You said that you wanted me to do the ironing.

PETER HARVEY: And does Daddy Jesse like being king of the castle? You bet he does.

JESSE: I think obedience is a good quality to have in a wife. An obedient wife does have a quality of being submissive and yielding her rights to the needs of her family and the desires of her husband. Okay. Gotta go.

PETER HARVEY: In their household, 26 year-old attorney Jesse literally lays down the law — written instructions for every moment of Crystal's day.

CRYSTAL: Jesse, he really likes for me to do things like this. It makes him very happy, because I'm being productive. Because I'm doing it for my husband, it's not just for myself.

PETER HARVEY: This is a worldwide movement, so let's cross the Atlantic to meet English mechanic Leo. Gets greasy, does Leo, likes a nice bath when he comes home.

LEO: Can you put the bath water on for me, please, love?

PETER HARVEY: Wife Pepita lays it on, happily.

PEPITA: He's on his way home from the garage so I'm just running his bath for him now.

PETER HARVEY: Picks up the boots, runs the bath and then goes where many a good woman might stop.

PEPITA: So, what, you staying in bed tomorrow? Are you having a rest, eh?

LEO: Yes, unless somebody rings me up.

PEPITA: I believe that looking after him right keeps the relationship strong.

PETER HARVEY: This is Pepita's second marriage. She gave up her career as a prison warden three years ago to look after Leo full-time. Her daughter, Danielle, can't believe what she's seeing.

DANIELLE: She's in the bathroom and stuff, when he's having a bath, she'll go and shave his face for him and shave his head and puts his toothpaste on his toothbrush and she'll spray him with his aftershave.

LEO: I don't do anything in the house, because most of the time I'm out at work anyway but when I come I want to be sitting down, comfortable.

PEPITA: In the last 10 years, Leo has probably used to the Hoover maybe two or three times. What he does … he doesn't do bugger all.

PETER HARVEY: So, just what is going on here? Women who believe that marital harmony is best achieved by abandoning any notion of equality? And it doesn't matter if you're a suburban mum or a corporate high-flyer. The rules of this new woman's movement are all the same — once inside that front door, stop the nagging, respect your husband's choices and give him first say in all the marriage matters, from financial to sexual. Are you happy within yourself about this?

KAREN O'PREY: Very happy. And I have a great marriage and my husband would agree with it.

PETER HARVEY: But you didn't have a bad marriage to start with.

KAREN O'PREY: I didn't have a bad marriage but I have a 10 times better marriage.

PETER HARVEY: If you thought all of this was just some bizarre foreign fad, think again. Sydneysider Karen O'Prey has absolutely no time for the weirder interpretations of the surrendered wife but says it can save marriages.

KAREN O'PREY: It's about honouring, it's about trusting, it's about respect. And I think in marriages — it happens over years — is you get the familiarity breeds contempt and I find by just being a bit more respectful … I mean, that was the first thing I did, was stop criticism and be respectful and the effects were amazing.

PRU GOWARD: There is no such thing as an adult who can entirely subvert themselves to another person. That's called slavery and I think we abolished that several hundred years ago.

PETER HARVEY: Feminist Pru Goward can't believe some of this stuff. Now a Liberal MP, she was the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner. She knows it when she sees it.

PRU GOWARD: If you have to lie to your husband and tell him you're being obedient when you're actually just running everything, well, you do have a problem. I mean, we live in the modern age and I think men are actually quite grown-up and they do know that this is a partnership.

PETER HARVEY: Marriage may be a partnership but for Skye and Frank, there's a senior partner and a junior partner — a concept that didn't come easily to this feisty Scotswoman.

SKYE: I would say I was trying to rule the roost, I was trying to take over, I was like, 'Hey, I don't think you know how things work around here, pal. I don't think you quite get that I'm the boss here' and that's the way it works in relationships.

PETER HARVEY: Skye certainly knows that now. After reading the surrendered wives' bible, she had a revelation. Happy marriages happen when wives give more control to their husbands. Lots more control.

SKYE: He always has a final decision in this house about anything. He is the leader.

FRANK: Give you an example — if we're going out to dinner, and it's one of those, 'Hey honey, is there anything you'd like to have?' And she says, 'No, there's nothing specific that I'm hungry for'. And I say, 'Hey, we're going to go here'. And she's like, 'No, I don't really feel like that'. We go there anyway.

PETER HARVEY: But these rules don't stop at the bedroom door, no, sir.

SKYE: One of the basics of surrendering is that your husband always takes the lead when it comes to sexual intimacy. And another thing is that the woman always says yes to sex. And sometimes you might not feel like it but then when you start being together and kissing and hugging and just being together and getting that closeness, then, generally, I want to anyway.

PETER HARVEY: Oh, that's okay then, isn't it, Frank?

FRANK: Right now when they say, 'No', that might be true. But women are very much in the moment and what is true right now might not be true two minutes from now.

SKYE: He knows he will just keep pursuing me, you know? And he knows I'll give in eventually.

FRANK: Nowadays guys are kind of like — they'll bump up against a little bit of resistance with their partner and if there's a little bit of resistance they back off. And that's not what she wants, she wants me to pursue her to the end of the planet.

PETER HARVEY: Now, just when you thought you'd seen it all, Let's hit the road with Chip and Caroline.

CAROLINE: Which way are you going to go? Are you gonna go 20?

CHIP: Interstate.

PETER HARVEY: For some women, telling a man where to go comes naturally.

CAROLINE: I would have cut through — gone straight on Wemple to Betton Road because there's hardly any traffic plus there is a gas station right there on the corner.

PETER HARVEY: Caroline went into her marriage with Chip as an independent, strong-minded individual. But things started to go off track.

CAROLINE: I was getting to the point in my marriage where I wasn't happy. And Chip and I were not getting along at all and we were talking about maybe just me going and doing my own thing.

PETER HARVEY: So, Caroline became a surrendered wife. She's so determined to be obedient, she actually blindfolds herself — an exercise in surrendering control.

CHIP: As long as I don't have to take directions, a blindfold's a great idea.

PETER HARVEY: Can't see where Chip's going? Therefore, can't nag, right? Wrong.

CAROLINE: Are you taking a left? Because you shouldn't be. From what I feel, it should be right. You really are taking a left.

PETER HARVEY: Well, that clearly doesn't work, but Caroline's prepared to go along with another experiment.

CHIP: Okay. This is the outfit I've picked out for Caroline.

PETER HARVEY: It's the called the no-control date. Chip will decide not only what she eats, but what she wears.

CAROLINE: Great. Oh, favourite shoes. Yeah, I love the top.

CHIP: I picked this out for you. I'd like for you to wear this with the shoes, so you're going to have to change and I also want you to wear your hair down because I think you look a lot better with your hair down.

CAROLINE: What colour blindfold can I wear when we get in the car? Learning to surrender has really — it's kind of been an exciting thing for me because it's kind of like, 'Okay I'm gonna go along with this, just because I'm curious to see what happens in the end'.

CHIP: Yeah, that looks good. That looks good.

CAROLINE: Alright. I'm your woman.

PETER HARVEY: Is there anything more to a relationship when a man insists on dressing a woman, telling her what to eat, telling her what her hairstyle is.

PRU GOWARD: If a man wants that sort of relationship, he actually doesn't want a relationship, he wants a doll. He wants a puppet, he wants total control and that's not the definition of a relationship but if she has chosen to do that to please him, then, in their heads, maybe they have a relationship, that his idea of relationship is total control and her idea of relationship is total submission.

PETER HARVEY: All of this begs the question just how far should surrendering go?

CRYSTAL: This is what I had planned, if there's anything you'd like to add to it?

KAREN O'PREY: If you're in an abusive relationship or if you are living with an addict or if you're with a serial cheat, this isn't going to work for you. Actually, you need either counselling or you need to remove yourself from this marriage.

PEPITA: And he likes me to cook my own chicken. He doesn't like me to go and buy one from somewhere. He prefers it to be home-cooked.

PETER HARVEY: There is no doubt that for some, all of this works.

CHIP: So how's the date going so far?

CAROLINE: Good. Pretty good.

PETER HARVEY: But it comes to price. A century of women's struggle for equality with men has to be set aside the moment you walk in the front door. And, inevitably, some men will seize on that.

FRANK: I think it's hard for women in general just to stop the talking for a minute and allow their men to be men.

SKYE: I've discovered through experience, doing it for three years, that usually if I had done it the way that I was going to do it, it wouldn't have turned out as great as it did when he made the decision. He wears the trousers, absolutely, without a shadow of the doubt. I wouldn't have it any other way. I don't want a man who wears a dress.

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