Sunday, August 7, 2011

Christian, Feminist, and Pissed Off



I've been wanting to delve into writing about my personal opinions and beliefs, in sort of a 101 type of format, just kind of easing into it. I didn't want to get too heavy too fast, but I've had something on my mind the past few days that I have literally lost sleep over, so I need to get it off my chest. It all started when I read these two articles. In them, Don Miller, a popular author among the 'emerging church' movement, gives advice on how to find love and build a lasting marriage. He wrote a separate article for each sex. While I usually have no problem with his writings on spirituality, I think this type of subject matter is inappropriate for him. He is not a counselor, or an expert on relationships in any respect. He is also not married. So where did he get his information? Most likely from pop culture romance, cultural gender roles, and thin air. Qualifications aside, it wouldn't matter what his area of expertise is, if only he had backed up what he said with research, and thoughtfully examined the implications of his message. Instead, he dished out the terrible advice I've been hearing for years from youth pastors, Christian literature, and pious radio hosts. Don Miller's advice is only symptomatic of a greater problem, but since it pretty much bullet points everything that's wrong with Christian teaching on relationships and gender (thanks for making it easy!), I'm going to analyze it, focusing mainly on the advice he gives to women (after calling us 'girls' in the title) along with the lies it reinforces.

1. "Don't hook up". i.e. Don't be a slut. Nobody wants to marry a slut, and if someone does marry a slut, they will need to 'forgive' you for you past. If you have sex, you lose a part of yourself. You go down a notch. You are a commodity. He warns:
"And when your husband finds out you were the “hook up” girl he’s going to have to have a lot of grace, which is fine, it just puts you in the category of “charity” in his mind and not “equal” or “partner.” He may still love you, but he will have serious questions about whether you’re in the kind of shape it takes to run a marathon. Unless you get over it and move on and do a period of time where you put it all behind you, he will and honestly should lose respect for you. Respect is not free. Respect is earned. Grace is free, but grace and respect are different."
Honestly, this is just gross. I don't even have to explain why. Just, ugh, I can't even. If a man doesn't respect me for whatever reason, then I don't need to be with him. If someone views me as less than equal, that is his problem, not mine. If you feel like you must earn your partner's respect because he thinks your past makes you unworthy, then the relationship will have an unhealthy power dynamic.

While so many people commented on how this was a 'brave' and 'honest' thing to write, it's actually quite cowardly. I've heard this my message my entire life, and I've been afraid of my body, my desires, and natural urges as a result. It's not new and provocative, or even controversial. It's the same thing I learned at church camp every single year for five years. It is accepted. I even remember a break out session where they split up the girls and boys to talk about issues specific to each group. Wouldn't that have been a great time to tell us to love ourselves? that we each have a calling? that we can do awesome things in the world? Nope. It was 'sex is bad' and 'don't wear spaghetti straps, because boys just can't help themselves.' This is the same sort of dichotomy I'm seeing in the articles. The girls are advised to guard their hymens, while the boys are being primed to lead, to 'write a great story', to pursue their goals in life. Therein lies the problem. There's nothing wrong with encouraging the pursuit of holiness, whatever that looks like, but it is damaging when we fail to acknowledge that women are autonomous individuals, with our own calling, our own hopes and dreams, and our own strengths. If purity is all that matters, we are set up for failure.

"According to Add Health data, evangelical teen-agers are more sexually active than Mormons, mainline Protestants, and Jews. On average, white evangelical Protestants make their 'sexual d├ębut' -- to use the festive term of social-science researchers -- shortly after turning sixteen. Among major religious groups, only black Protestants begin having sex earlier." The New Yorker

We are told that our value is contingent on our ability to repress natural urges, yet we will statistically fail at doing so. Where does that leave us? We are left with a whole demographic of young people that are depressed, have low self esteem, unhealthy relationships, and most frighteningly, will fail to protect themselves from STDs and unwanted pregnancy.

There is a moral panic in America over young women’s sexuality—and it’s entirely misplaced. Girls “going wild” aren’t damaging a generation of women, the myth of sexual purity is. The lie of virginity—the idea that such a thing even exists—is ensuring that young women’s perception of themselves is inextricable from their bodies, and that their ability to be moral actors is absolutely dependent on their sexuality. It’s time to teach our daughters that their ability to be good people depends on their being good people, not whether or not they’re sexually active.
-The Purity Myth

Evangelicals have a strange obsession with virginity, and it's hurting young women, and once their self worth has been completely dismantled, telling them "but Jesus still loves you!" brings little solace.

2. "Make him work for it: When a guy is made to fight for a girl, he esteems her much more highly. She becomes more attractive in his eyes, and for that matter she becomes more attractive to other men, too. That said, most of the time this will backfire because lots of guys are just looking for cheap and slutty sex and for her to get lost afterward"

First of all, he doesn't even believe his own advice, because he says it will backfire, so that was useless. Second, this relies on the assumption that women want to be pursued and men want to chase. It is a prescription based on a generalization. Sometimes woman want to chase and men want to be pursued, and that doesn't make them defective or their relationships any less meaningful. Not to mention, this philosophy is exclusionary of gays and anyone who identifies outside of the gender binary.

3. "Weed them out"

"Guys who are just looking for a hook up need to hit the road. By weeding them out you definitely end up with a smaller pool of guys to choose from. It’s unfortunate and that is truly bad news. But there’s good news, too. There are fewer girls with the strength to not have one night stands, and those girls become much, much more attractive to men. Those are the girls who present a challenge, and who are esteemed more highly. These are the girls guys recognize as the kind of women they want to partner with in raising a family. In other words, it’s a great strategy to be more attractive to a smaller group than cheap and easy to a larger group. Plus, the stronger guys are up for the work while the weaker guys are just trying to get laid."

I'm not even sure what to say about this one. Once again, he is appealing to this virgin/whore dichotomy to refer to those who are worthy and those who are not. Other than that, he just says a whole lot of nothing.

4. "Be Willing to Suffer. What this means for you is that your love story needs to have a lot of lonely crying in it."

So, I'm supposed to cry about not having a man in my life? Then wait for a man to rescue me? then tell him about how much I cried? And that will make him love me? Ironically, in his next bullet point he says that life isn't a Taylor Swift song, but here he is essentially telling us to cry ourselves to sleep at night over the guy who chose the cheerleader in a short skirt. I'm not really sure where he is going with this advice. First he (a man) tells me (a woman) how to navigate my own sexuality and now he's telling me how to feel about it? Am I supposed to feel certain emotions to make me a more special snowflake? Meanwhile on the other side of the link, he's telling men to "bring peace into chaos". So, to summarize, women are hysterical hot messes and we just need a man to come hold us and tell us everything is okay. It would appear that life really is just like a Taylor Swift song. Sidenote: If you are so lonely that you find yourself spending many nights crying, than you don't have to suffer. There are hotlines you can call, and counselors you can talk to. Depression is real. For the love of Pete, please don't take his advice on this.

5. "Have some faith: I’ve noticed that most women who complain a good man won’t come along are actually interested in the wrong guys. They make lists of their perfect gentleman coming to rescue them meanwhile they’re hooking up with guys who have a track record of just having sex with random women."

Dude, totally! Women totally always do this! This is totally what's wrong with most women! Even though you have no basis in fact and are speaking from a generalization presented to us through pop culture and romantic comedies, that's like totally spot on! Girls never go for nice guys! Those crazy bitches! Okay, now I'm realizing how quickly my commentary has derailed into full on snark, but I just can't help it when the advice is so laughably misguided, especially when you see what comes next:

6. "Don’t be thirteen: Unless you’re thirteen, ladies, grow up." This just sounds like bitterness from a past relationship thinly veiled as advice. He goes on to say:

"And a victim will attract a predator. Stop acting like a victim. If you want a strong man who can protect you and your children, stop trolling for predators by crying all the time."
That last part doesn't even make sense. I don't know any women who cry all the time, or what that has to do with attracting a predator. If he's referring to an actual predator, than that would logically make the female in the situation an actual victim, who has every right to 'act like a victim.' If he's not referring to an actual predator, than that's just poor word choice. Also, he's giving mixed messages by first telling us to be passive, and then saying don't be a victim. This sounds an awful lot like the victim blaming so prevalent in mainstream society, but especially in the church. We're told to let the man lead, but if anything bad happens to us, it's our fault. Also, he uses this image to illustrate his point:
???


Just in case you thought it couldn't get more patronizing, he gives some tips on how to redeem yourself once you've failed at following the rules. I'm not going to analyze them as deeply, because I'm getting tired, and, to put it like Cher Horowitz, it would be like "trying to find meaning in a Pauly Shore movie". Just read what he wrote. It's all bad. I'll just highlight some gems.

  • "Be honest about it" Oh good. Finally something reasonable. Oops, not so fast:
"Don’t hide it. If you went through a slutty season, don’t act like you were a helpless victim, a sweet girl who got caught up. You probably weren’t."

But what if you really were a victim? What are you even saying? Is this a joke? Am I being punked? When I read this, all I can see is that smug face staring me down from the top of the page:
Go away Don.

  • "Work through your need to be validated by men....And stop using alcohol as an excuse. Nobody gets drunk and accidentally sleeps with a hamster. You know what you’re doing, drunk or not, so cut it out. In other words, become the woman who fits the character in the love story you want to live."
A lot of this article relies on the assumption that women only have sex because they are "trying to fill a void only God can fill" or some other church-y cliche. It's assumed that a woman who likes sex doesn't respect herself, and is using sex to feel validated. This may be true for some, but we are not a monolith. Sex feels good, and that's why people like it. End of story.

And that whole hamster comment is problematic on a whole other level. Yes, nobody accidentally sleeps with a hamster, but women do get sexually assaulted, and this whole "you know what you're doing" attitude is often used to excuse rapists and blame the victims. Sure, it's not a good idea to get black out drunk, but if you get assaulted while black out drunk, it's still not your fault. Got it? Good.

So I'm not sure how to tie up the loose ends on this and make it pretty. It's just that reading the article really made me rage and I had to let it out somewhere (especially since the comments on his blog are moderated for civility). Here is a man who is speaking into the lives of women. He is a popular author and his words have influence. He has the ability to question the status quo, and instead, he just reinforced oppressive gender stereotypes that has been fed to us for years. I believe he does have the ability to research and thoughtfully consider the implications of his advice, but I've seen Yahoo articles written with more nuance. Something else that I find surprising, is that this is coming from someone who speaks of the Bible as a narrative about hope, love, and redemption. When you view the Bible this way, the individual passages that have been used to enforce outdated rules don't seem as important. Yet in this particular piece he de-emphasizes the narrative aspect and focuses on the legalism. His advice does not reflect the good news of a God who loves you. It does not speak to a greater narrative about God's amazing timing and grace. It is just a bunch of shaming words, laced with contempt for the female population. When someone who seems so progressive and aware proves to be that hateful, it just shows how pervasive these messages are. And that scares me. We need to change the paradigm. I like the way this commenter put it:
I take huge issue with the ways you assume that women ought to wait around and practice being pure while men should make a plan and “lead” a woman into a great love story. That story is a fairytale. Women mentioned in the bible (Ruth, Naomi, Lydia, Miriam, Mary, Deborah) were certainly not submissive, passive, or even necessarily sexually “pure” or virginal. The “don’t be a slut” love advice is old, tired, oppressive, and worst of all, unbiblical. God uses whomever God pleases, and it’s usually someone far from pure. And the Spirit works within and between us, creating relationship and breathing life into love stories, without regard to presupposed, culturally-inculcated femininity and masculinity.

12 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing!
    I totally see how you got heated with that article. Ugh. Same story always!

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  2. Great post Kristen... He sounds like a bitter creep. Jesus is probably a bit bummed out on him.

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  3. Great post. Seriously, what a creep. It makes me sick, because I know that this is the exactly the stuff dished out to young women growing up in church. And because it's church, most people don't dare to take a minute to think, "This could be entirely wrong."

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  4. Thanks friends! I appreciate the feedback!

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  5. My problem with the article was that there was not one piece of actually empowering advice, anywhere. He tells girls not to treat casual sex with random men as a form of validation (which, yes, is unhealthy), but doesn't realize that telling women to be chaste so a man will love them, is still a form of seeking validation, from men, through sex. Doi.

    >And when your husband finds out you were the “hook up” girl he’s going to have to have a lot of grace, which is fine, it just puts you in the category of “charity” in his mind and not “equal” or “partner.”

    I think this was the worst part. Like, I should expect and accept that the respect I deserve as a HUMAN BEING who wants to dedicate my life to him will diminish if he finds out my dirty little secrets? If this is the case, maybe the problem isn't where the girl's vagina has been, but where the guy's head is at.

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  6. Super White Jesus does look pissed off in that picture, but his hair is still fabulously smooth and silky!

    I enjoyed your post. I don't agree with everything you said, but I appreciate passion. Your own blog is a perfect place for it.

    On a practical level, angry rhetoric almost never changes anyone's opinion. Can you harness the rage and write your own "How to Live a Great Love Story?" I think that Jo Hilder wrote some great, constructive stuff over at her blog.

    Sidebar: I find it ironic that two of the posters labeled Don a "creep," but you said nothing about it. The word "creep" is an loaded word sometimes used by some people to attempt to shame men.

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  7. thanks for the feedback, OPD. The purpose of my blog is not to change anyone's opinion, and I don't really think my tone came off as angry, more incredulous. I sat down with the intention of thoroughly analyzing everything that was said, but in reality, there wasn't much to dissect. So it came out snarky and sarcastic, and I don't care. The reason I didn't come out with my own version of "How to Live A Great Love Story" is because that wouldn't address the real problem, and it would just be another prescription that wouldn't work for everyone. That's the thing, you can't follow all the right instructions and find yourself in love. It doesn't work that way. Like I said in my blog, we are not a monolith, we are all so very different, and to address everyone and say "this is who you are supposed to do it" would just be misguided.

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  8. As someone who grew up in the church, I find that these messages are easily ingrained into children's minds. I remember after I moved away and began forming my own beliefs and ideas about christianity, feminism, and the religion I was raised on, these knee-jerk thoughts would pop up in my head for every situation, no matter what I actually believed.

    In the end, it isn't about Christian versus non-Christian, it's about simple right and wrong. I loved the commenter's quote at the end, especially this: "Women mentioned in the bible (Ruth, Naomi, Lydia, Miriam, Mary, Deborah) were certainly not submissive, passive, or even necessarily sexually “pure” or virginal."

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  9. Hey I'm in Manchester England, I'm atheist, sorry.
    I've stumbled across this and your bang on. I'm thinking you need to be writing something to get the message across even do speeches at your churches.
    You talk a lot of sense and tell it like it is.
    The world needs more people like you.
    Take care
    Noel
    PS
    It’s down to insecure, jealous, guys most of the time. They don’t like the idea of their girlfriend/wife is earning more being a bigger part of sociality and doing what they want to do regardless.
    Every guy goes out with their mates gets drunk ect. They just don’t like it and label woman for doing the same.

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  10. wow only just noticed I'm a few years out here...

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