In the discussion of What is closeness? I pointed out that the Sensitive Elliot clip does an excellent job of showing that what we culturally think of as “sensitive” really isn’t sensitive at all. Elliot is oblivious the entire time, missing very obvious mostly non verbal communication from her from the very beginning. Even the man who kicks sand in his face is communicating very clearly, but Elliot is oblivious and wants to “start a dialog” as if one hasn’t been occurring. The only person Elliot is sensitive to is Elliot. He is sensitive to his feelings about sunsets, dolphins, etc. He is fully inwardly focused, yet he has convinced himself that his inward focus is proof that he is really sensitive to others.
This is an old film/theater technique, where the audience is in on a joke that one or more of the actors on stage aren’t privy to. It works so well in this case because of the underlying truth. Sensitive Elliot represents something very common in our society.
You can see the same thing in a post by Dallas area Christian blogger Steven Nelms. Nelms gained worldwide notoriety with a groveling blog post he wrote about his wife: Fathers, you can’t afford a Stay-At-Home Mom. In many ways this is standard fare for modern Christian culture. It is an excellent example of what Empath has coined “lift chasing”, in the form of a passive-aggressive attempt by Nelms to place himself above other husbands and fathers by publicly out groveling them. It also has a feminist frame* complaining that it isn’t fair that stay at home wives don’t get a paycheck they can point to for the value of their work. None of this is especially noteworthy, as it is the very air that modern Christians breathe. However, Nelms’s post is an excellent example of an attempt at sensitivity which is strikingly insensitive.
Nelms explains why he wrote the post:
My wife sometimes feels patronized when I ask her permission to buy something for myself. She feels like it’s my money and my name on the paycheck so I shouldn’t have to ask permission to get myself something every once in a while.
His wife clearly communicated to him that she doesn’t feel comfortable with him deferring his leadership to her in this way. But Nelms isn’t interested in how this impacts her, because he is focused on his own feelings. His very next words are:
The truth is, I’m ashamed of any time I’ve ever made her feel guilty or humored when she’s purchased something for herself. I’m ashamed that she has ever felt like she doesn’t have just as much right to our income as I do. The fact of the matter is that our income doesn’t even come close to covering what she does for our family. I would have to make over 100K to even begin to be able to cover my living expenses as well as employ my wife as a Stay-At-Home Mom!
She tells him she wants him to lead, or at least to stop deferring to her, and he writes a blog post doing the exact opposite. This is not about her, it is about his feelings of being unworthy as a leader, his discomfort with headship, and his desire for approval from women.
In abdicating his headship in such a public fashion Nelms is placing an unfair burden on his wife. For her part she seems to be responding very graciously. However, even if she did want to assume headship, it would still be wrong of Nelms to abdicate it. It is even worse that he has set out to teach this abdication and feminist viewpoint as being the Christian view of marriage. Nelms may feel unworthy to lead, but this doesn’t change the fact that the Bible teaches us that as the husband he is the head of the family.
*The very title of the post is crafted to avoid offending feminists. The argument he is really making is that he couldn’t afford a career woman for a wife, but this has the problem of offending feminists.