One Italian Wife’s Countercultural Message to Women
Costanza Miriano, the author of Marry Him and Be Submissive, discusses with the Register her book and why she wrote it.
When Italian mother of four Costanza Miriano wrote Marry Him and Be Submissive, she had no idea it would be so popular, expecting it to be of interest only to family and friends. But the book has been a best-seller in Italy and gone on to be translated into several languages, including English.
A collection of letters addressed to Miriano’s friends, mostly female, it deals with differences between men and women, engagement, marriage, family life, openness to life, having children, raising children and experiencing sexual relations as a gift from God.
“Such letters may look funny — in some bookshops, my books are placed in the humor section — but the content is very serious: It is actually the thought of the Church,” she explains on her website, adding that the title of the book was inspired by the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians. “Women should try to be submissive, writes Paul. I think it means they have to be open, warm and patient. This is not a weak attitude, but the contrary, as women are strong and stable; welcoming and easygoing; they are capable of creating good relations with people. Women who are profoundly connected to their nature are truly happy and can give birth to a new life, whether in a biological or spiritual way.”
In this recent interview with the Register, Miriano explains more about the book, how its content can serve as an antidote to feminism, and how husbands and wives can have a more harmonious relationship, lived in faith.
Why did you write the book?
I had many friends who couldn’t find the courage to marry just one man for their whole life, so it was due to my desire to see my friends as happy as I am. But I didn’t think they were going to read it. I thought just my mother, sister and aunt would buy my book. I never expected all that has happened since.
The title, and particularly the word “submissive,” is provocative. Why did you choose it?
I didn’t want to be provocative by choosing that word. My spiritual director used to tell me I had to be just like Mary, like the Mary in the Miraculous Medal: She has her hands opened, and she gives graces. He said that I had to have my hands open to receive what I was receiving from my husband, but my hands had to be open; I didn’t have to check first if they were good enough. I just had to receive without looking, with hands open.
Also, just as Mary, with her feet, kills the serpent, so must I kill my tongue — because I don’t always have to comment, to criticize my husband. So he said in that way I could be a good wife — not that I had to be submissive for the sake of being submissive, but because I had to stop being so critical, so unbearable, as I was at the beginning of marriage.
Would you say also that, on a spiritual level, it’s more about dying to oneself? That both the woman and the man have to die to their own selfishness in order for the marriage to work?
Yes, because on the Christian level, there is a dying process, conversion to God — because in the current mentality, men and women just need to have a job, food, health and happiness, and then they are fine. But we are not “fine” — we are “ill,” we are wounded by original sin, so even if everything is going well for us, we are not happy. There is something which doesn’t work inside us, like a bug in our system.
So marriage is one of the ways in which this bug can be healed. We are ill, but my husband is my way to Christ, and when he makes me suffer — angry — and I think I can’t bear the way he behaves, that’s the moment when “sculpting” is taking place. We have to find our beauty [through that]. Michelangelo said that by taking away things we don’t need in the marble of a sculpture, you find the beauty inside.
Would you say your book is like an antidote to feminism, in many ways?
Yes, because I think feminists chose the wrong ways to affirm women, to empower women, because we adopted the masculine way. We tried to become like men, and we are not men, so we don’t need power, strength or independence. We are different. But we are not happy [because of feminism]. I know of many women who have power, success in their careers, but at the end of the day, they’re not happy, deep down.
I think, at the beginning, feminism was just like a request: We needed to be looked on by someone else, we needed someone else’s eyes on us, and when we asked for this, we asked for attention, someone to tell us we are beautiful, we are lovely. So at the beginning, feminism was a request about our looks, and it was like a spring, because women wanted to be seen. But then we adopted men’s strategies, and we lost our path — because we call abortion a “right,” the right of killing our children, to kill through using contraception. We have given men the right to use our bodies without taking responsibility. It’s not a victory. We lost.
It’s said feminism has become so widespread it has also seeped into the Church. To what extent do you see this?
Our King died on the cross, so even man has to be Christian in that way, but a woman has to be doubly that way because she’s a woman — she’s made to make room inside her [for life]. If we have to define a woman, the most appropriate image is a room for other people. A woman is an empty room, and she has the power to give life and to make room inside herself to do that. So a Christian, Catholic woman who forgets that mission has lost everything.
Would you say all women now have a misplaced sense of independence, even among practicing Catholics, and that is a consequence of feminism? If so, how can this be overcome?
I think being independent is an illusion, because we depend on our boss at the office, for instance. We depend on many things. So it’s just an illusion. We depend on one another, and especially women depend on other people. I know many women bosses at work who are very weak and fragile inside. We can be free when we deeply know we are loved by the other.
G.K. Chesterton used to say that women in the past were at home, not to be slaves, but to be freer to follow all their other interests because we are not mono-automatic like men. We have many interests in our lives. If you see a woman’s agenda, she has women friends, her husband, her house; she takes care of her home; she wants to meet people, and also has a job.
But a man has a job, and that’s it. I don’t mean you don’t have interests, but you can put on an on/off switch. When you work, you just work. We are always connected with our children — we are never apart from them, so we always depend on someone else. And I think it’s beautiful to depend on someone else. I don’t have a problem saying that if I’m asked a question and I can’t answer, I’ll call my husband and ask him, for example, “What do you think about the war in Syria?” Because that’s a part of the world I don’t know, and I need him to explain some things. I think it’s beautiful to leave that part to him.
Men mustn’t get a free pass, of course, and every husband has the responsibility of being committed to his wife and taking care of her. How important is this to the woman, so she can be who she is supposed to be? There’s just as much responsibility on the part of the man, as well.
Yes, sure, but the main problem for men is selfishness. They don’t want to die [to self] for the family, they want to have a part of life that’s separate, to save something [for themselves]. So they have to be in a path of conversion, too. But I just ask women: What can we do to help the relationship? What we can do is to learn to watch them with eyes of great fullness. We have to see the good aspects of the man; we have to be like a mirror that gives him a beautiful image of himself. We have to give that good image. When a man feels he’s looked upon in that way, he wants to die, to give his life. If we stop complaining, stop criticizing, stop saying: “You’re not worth my life,” I have seen miracles.
I have made many presentations of the book in Italy, and I’ve met maybe thousands of people now. And I always tell a story about a couple living in the mountains: The husband, Gudbrando, one day goes to the market in the valley to sell one of two cows, but he can’t sell it. So he exchanged the cow for a horse, and then the horse with a pig, and then the pig with a sheep, the sheep for a cock, the cock for a duck, and so on. Finally, he gets home with nothing because he always changed the animal for a smaller one. So he goes back to his wife, but runs into his neighbor, who tells him he wouldn’t want to be in his shoes, as his wife will be very angry. But he says: “No, my wife is always happy about what I do.”
So the neighbor bet some money, and he listened to the conversation between Gudbrando and his wife, so he can check to see if his wife really is happy with whatever animal he might have changed it for. He said he first changed the cow for a horse, and she’s happy because she’ll have a horse to go to Mass. It’s a long story, but at the end, the wife says: “It doesn’t matter Gudbrando, even if you came home with nothing, because, for me, it’s not important what you do — but it’s important that you come back to me, that you love me, and so all that you do is done well in my eyes.”
I have found true wives of Gudbrando, the mountain man, all around Italy, from Turin to Palermo, and they keep writing me emails. They say things like: “I am at the Gudbrando stage No. 22, and my husband loves me more than ever because he has seen it in my eyes.” It’s not a trick; it’s a real desire to have a loyal look toward your husband. You decide you want to see all the good things he does for you, and it brings miracles in life. Sometimes even husbands write to me to thank me.
Would you also say all of this really comes down to faith, that faith is central to a good marriage?
Yes, because the real spouse is the Lord. As Pope St. John Paul II used to say, there’s a distance between husband and wife which will never be covered, and this distance is the space for God in the couple. And in a real living relationship with the real Spouse, then you can love the other with a heart that is not demanding, not making claims. You are free to love because you are deeply loved by someone else. So daily Mass and prayer is the defender of my married life.
Would you like to say anything to close?
I would just like to say that I hope [many] a wife, like the one of Gudbrando, can become like an army around the world, to fight for marriage, which is in danger.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.