We Women Like Humiliation

A book called Get Married and Be Submissive (Cásate y sé sumisa) has turned into a huge bestseller in Spain, after doing so in Italy, and is causing quite a furor.

According to The Telegraph's blog, someone somewhere in Spain is considering legal action to get the book banned on the grounds that it's hateful to women. That could mean that a legitimate group of significant weight is going to start a fight, or that a couple of angry people contacted The Telegraph's reporter in Madrid. I don't know.

"A Radical Experience For Women Without Fear"
I also haven't read the book. I just want to comment on how the two quotes from the book included in The Telegraph's blog were handled. With one in particular there is a glaring linguistic blind spot/blind eye, which I think is more than just linguistic, and a bit revealing of how non-Christians interact with Christian thought.

Here's the second passage quoted by The Telegraph, which I here include first:

"It's true, you're not yet an experienced cook or a perfect housewife. What's the problem if he tells you so? Tell him that he is right, that it's true, that you will learn. On seeing your sweetness and your humility, your effort to change, this will also change him."

I'll confess that I don't love the tone of this passage, but I withhold judgement, given that the author's subtitle is A Radical Experience For Women Without Fear. Clearly she's trying to shake things up and shock people out of their normal ways of being. Changing for one another is a dangerous marital idea, but of course, we must change for one another, dangerous or not.

The second quote is more revealing, especially of feminist perceptions. It's only one line.

"We [women] like humiliation because it is for a greater good."

Since the book is not out in English, I assume that Fiona Govan of The Telegraph, who has been in Madrid since 2006, did the translation. One assumes her Spanish is good. Here's the linguistic thing: if the word was for "humiliation" was humillación, which it almost certainly was, it could just as easily have been translated "humility".

Here's why. Humillar in Spanish is a very personal verb, a reflexive verb that is just as often written humillarse, to humble oneself. If we visit the Spanish version of the Oxford English Dictionary, the dictionary of the Real Academia Española, we learn of humillación that it is simply the act of humillar or humillarse. So we go to humillar and we learn that it is as reflexive as not. First, it is to bow one's head or knee; second, to abase the pride of someone; third, to wound someone's dignity; fourth, to do acts of humility. (If you have a little Spanish you might have noticed that I skipped definition 4 in the graphic; that is because it refers to a bullfighting expression.)

To humiliate is a valid way to translate humillar, but it is not the only way. In English, humiliation is something imposed by an outside agent against one's will. It is by definition evil. Not so in Spanish.

The author of the book, Constanza Miriano, was almost certainly saying "We [women] like to humble ourselves because it is for a greater good." And to the reader without a tin ear, doesn't that sound much more pious and like something a Catholic woman would write?

English-speaking Christians will say that they want to humble themselves; they will never say that they want to be humiliated. But that is what Ms. Govan of The Telegraph saw. Clearly she finds Mrs. Miriano's book unsavory. It is possible that her translation was malicious misrepresentation. Perhaps she knew how she might translate it favorably and accurately but turned a blind eye.

But let us assume that it was not. That is even more interesting. It points to a blind spot.

The idea of submission in marriage is so repulsive in any shape, in any form, that the only categories available to feminists for it are negative. Of course Mrs. Miriano was not suggesting that wives humble themselves (a piece of instruction that every Christian has been given many times), she was demanding bizarre kinky humiliation out of these gullible women.

It is useful to remember that when pagans see the way of the cross, they become angry. Power is the only thing they understand. To them, the path to greater dignity must go through pride and success. That is natural. So it is natural that they will not be able to see anything except defeat in humiliation. It is for the Christian to see conquest in humility.

[Allow me to here reiterate that I know very little about the book, and am not endorsing it.]


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  2. Thanks for emphasizing The Telegraph's self-serving translation (whether innocent or deliberate). The unfortunate thing, of course, is that what the first English-speaking newspaper mistranslates when covering a story, virtually all the other newspapers parrot without checking the source, just spreading the lie (especially if it makes the story more sensational and more salable) rather than being responsible journalists and checking the source for themselves.

    What the original really says, and in context, is this: "And you know that we are not in favor of mortification for its own sake; it should be obvious that we are not austere....We like mortification only because it is for a greater good, and that good is accepting your husband, then becoming a new you." ("E tu sai che noi non siamo per la mortificazione fine a se stessa, non siamo certo austere…La mortificazione ci piace solo perché è per un bene più grande, e questo bene è accogliere tuo marito, quindi generare una nuova te stessa.")

    One can read parts of the book for oneself (and find this misquoted passage by searching for "mortificazione ci piace") at Google books under the Italian title "sposati e sii sottomessa". The Spanish version does not appear to be available, so I can't tell you whether the Spanish translator translated "mortificazione" as "humillación," but regardless you are so right to point out that the "same" word in two languages (in this case humiliation and humillación in English and Spanish), despite the message that most people took from Spanish I or Spanish II, is virtually never the "same" in both languages. Maybe 2,000 years ago every Latin speaker agreed on its meanings, but a couple thousand years of evolution and usage in one country and a couple thousand in another often lead to changes in both countries, and virtually never identical changes.

    Even if "mortification" were used in an eventual English version, few English speakers today would likely understand it in the Catholic theological sense (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10578b.htm), but it would be a better and more responsible choice than humiliation!!

    The Telegraph owes the Costanza Miriano an apology for spreading a lie, whether intentional or not, about the contents of her book.

    One only hopes that the author will be very careful in her choice of Italian-to-English translator for the English version of her book, and of the one that follows it, which addresses husbands.

    1. Excellently informative comment, thanks so much. How did you stumble across this post?


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