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A follow-up on complementarianism and rape culture

{trigger warning for rape}

This is a follow up to my recent blog post, “Complimentarianism’s ugly relationship with rape”

I recently wrote a blog post in which I proposed that complementarianism benefits from rape culture. This post got me called a slanderer, a totalitarian communist propagandist, and even got me compared to a rapist lurking in the dark corners of the internet waiting to attack innocent men like Douglas Wilson and call them rape advocates against their will. This follow-up post is not for those people. Anyone who would compare calling out rape apologism to rape itself is beyond my ability to reason with. I’ll leave those people in God’s hands for now.

However, I did have several commenters who respectfully disagreed with me and gave me reasons why rather than simply attacking me. This post is for them. In it, I hope to explain my train of thought as clearly as possible, because I still stand by my point and believe I have good reason for doing so.

I’ll begin by explaining what I feel gives me the right to analyze complementarian culture and to draw conclusions from that analysis. I spent over 20 years of my life as a complementarian. I was told that if I went to a non-Bible college I might get raped. I was taught an abstinence-only education that led me to think I had to apologize when my 320 lbs. ex-boyfriend held my head down and forced me to perform fellatio on him. I experienced these things and countless others. I heard the Bible stories about rape victims taught in a way that implied the woman should not have let herself be alone with a man. I saw the harm complementarian teaching did to me and to others. I sat through countless sermons by countless complementarian preachers. I now am pursuing (and nearly finished with) a degree that gives me the basic skills needed to recognize systems of domination, to analyze patterns that occur within them, and to understand and deconstruct the ideologies that allow these systems of domination to function.

I understand fully that I cannot make an empirical statement about the personal opinions of all complementarians when it comes to rape and rape culture. Nor was that the purpose of my blog post. But I do have the education to analyze certain structures of society, and I do have a deal of  experience in this particular part of society that I feel gives me the right to analyze it. I cannot draw conclusions about whether or not every complementarian leader is a rape apologist. But I can make the claim, with some authority, that complementarianism as a system benefits from rape culture. By that conclusion, I can logically proceed to the idea that every complementarian leader also benefits indirectly from rape culture. 

Let’s talk about rape culture…

I’ll take a few moments here to explain rape culture. It really is beyond the scope of a single blog post to explain rape culture fully because of how deeply it permeates our society, but I’ll do my best. If you’d like to learn more about rape culture, I’d suggest starting here.

In the United States (and in much of the Western world), we live in a society that relies on domination in order to function. No, I’m not just talking about complementarians here. I’m talking about our society as a whole. Americans can call the land that they stand on “America” because of the domination the founders of this country exercised over Native Americans. Our very foundation is laid on domination, and it’s not an uphill climb from there.

The continued genocide of Native people that still occurs today…

Slavery, lynching, and racism…

The exploitation of the working class, here and abroad…

Our wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan…

The oppression of women, LGBT people, non-Christians, and children…

Our society has benefited immensely from the oppression of certain groups of people, and therefore, our society often works to perpetuate oppression.

One of the tools our society–all of it–uses to perpetuate this oppression is rape culture.

Rape culture is used, not just as a way for men to control women, but as a way for people in power to control many of the oppressed groups that our society benefits from taking advantage of. Slave masters would rape slave women to keep slave populations in line. U.S. soldiers in Vietnam raped Vietnamese women as a way of demoralizing their enemy. Even our prison system largely maintains its power using the fear of rape.

Though the majority of Americans are not the ones committing these rapes, and the majority of Americans do not actively approve of this rape, those in power benefit from each rape that occurs. The more people fear rape (or fear seeing the women in their lives raped), the more control those in power have over them.

Thus, rape culture is born.

Our comedians joke about rape. Our billboards use it to sell vodka. Our movies romanticize it. Our courts dismiss it. All the while, victims are terrified of reporting because they know we live in a world that doesn’t take rape seriously.

To put it another way, I’ll borrow Beverly Tatum’s “moving walkway” analogy. Her analogy is about racism, but I took the liberty of applying her analogy to rape culture, because I believe it fits with any system of domination.

Rape culture is like “a moving walkway at the airport.” (Tatum) Rape culture is pulling us along as a society of domination. Those in power can stand still on that walkway, ignore the floor moving under their feet, even turn the opposite direction and insist that they despise rape, but unless they are actively running in the opposite direction–away from victim blaming, from rape jokes, from the idea that some groups of people are meant by nature to rule over other groups of people–it continues to pull them along. 

Complementarianism as a system of domination

I’m going to argue now that complementarianism is one of many smaller systems of domination that operate within our larger system of domination. Though I’d guess most complementarians would shy away from the word “domination,” it shouldn’t be too difficult to convince you that, regardless of what nice-sounding words complementarians would use to describe themselves (and indeed, some skip the nice words and go straight for “conquering and colonizing”), the ideology of domination is inherent within complementarian beliefs. 

Complementarians aren’t shy about the fact that their belief system states that one group of people (men) are naturally meant to rule over another group of people (women). The rhetoric may very from “servant leadership” to “conquering and colonizing,” but the basic idea is the same: something inherent in men makes them more fit to lead, to preach, to make decisions, to run a church or a family or even a country than women. Something inherent in women makes it their job to submit to men (depending on how strictly complementarian one is, women must submit to at least their husbands and fathers. Most complementarian churches require female congregants to submit the leadership of the church to men, and some complementarians believe that women should not be in any positions of leadership over men even in society).

So, if the fear of rape benefits systems of domination, and complementarianism IS a system of domination, logically, complementarianism benefits from rape culture. 

And, like in our larger society, though every individual may not advocate rape, because the fear of rape is so effective at controlling people, many complementarian leaders use it, perhaps not even consciously. Some complementarian leaders–Douglas Wilson, Mark Driscoll, and others–are jogging, even running down the moving walkway of rape culture, demanding that wives don’t deny their husbands in bed, attributing rape to a punishment from God upon feminism, etc. A (hopefully) small minority are actually raping women, as we learned recently when the story of Jack Schaap broke (trigger warning on that link).

The rest? It seems to me that they’re standing there, reaping the benefits of rape culture, occasionally making comments about women’s clothing or participating in subtle victim blaming. Some may even have turned the other way.

But if any complementarian leaders are actually running in the opposite direction–trusting victims, affirming a woman’s bodily autonomy, condemning the systems of power that perpetuate and feed off of rape culture–well, they’re being too damn quiet about it. 

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Complementarianism’s ugly relationship with rape

[Trigger warning: rape apologism]

[Update: I’ve changed some mentions of “evangelical leaders” to “complementarian leaders” to clarify that I am referring specifically to complementarians in this post. I have a habit of using the two interchangeably because of my experiences in evangelicalism, but there is a growing number of awesome feminist evangelicals out there who don’t deserve to be lumped in with complementarians]

Over the past few months, I’ve called out evangelical Christian leaders and bloggers like Douglas Wilson, Jared Wilson, and Mark Driscoll (all of whom made Church Relevance’s list of Top 200 Church Blogs, by the way–these men are extremely influential in evangelicalism) for using rape to control women. Some commenters understood exactly what I was trying to say. Others became extremely offended. I’m still getting feedback on those posts that accuse me of slander, hatred, and lies.

But I stand by my words.

In fact, I’ll expand them to say that most complementarian evangelical Christian leaders use rape to control women. I’m aware that this is a serious accusation, but I stand by it.

I don’t believe that most complementarian Christian leaders actually rape women (although, I hear stories all the time that make me question that belief). I don’t believe most of them approve of rape or like rape. Here’s what I believe and what I am claiming: complementarian leaders, despite their personal feelings about rape, need rape to exist and for it to be a serious threat. 

Many of my critics mentioned that the leaders whom I accused of using rape to control women were totally against rape. That these men had written or preached elsewhere condemning it. I believe my critics. But I want to ask two questions:

1. What does the word “rape” mean to these leaders?

2. How do these leaders propose we solve the problem of rape?

By answering these two questions, I will reveal how rape becomes an extremely useful tool for complementarians. Whether they are themselves rapists (and, again, I don’t believe most are), any group of people who wish to control women and keep women in certain gender roles benefits greatly from rape.  

First, let’s look at what rape means to complementarians.

I will argue that most complementarians have an extremely narrow definition of rape. What is rape, according to a complementarian?

If you want to know the answer to this question, consider what they say about women who have been raped. Consider one rockstar of the evangelical world, Donald Miller (who, as far as I know, is not even a complementarian but certainly reinforces patriarchy in the church with his writings), who once told women to stop trying to claim victim status because “nobody gets drunk and accidentally sleeps with a hamster.” Though the legal definition of rape would say that penetrating a woman who is too drunk to consent to sex is rape, that definition of rape does not meet complementarian standards.

Or, consider Mark Driscoll’s recent introduction to his sermon series on Esther, which set off a firestorm on the internet a few weeks ago. According to Driscoll, Esther should have resisted being taken into the king’s harem, even though doing so probably would have cost her her life. Though the legal definition of rape would say that forcing a woman to “have sex” with you by threatening her life is rape, again, this definition does not meet complementarian standards.

So, who can be raped, according to complementarians? What hoops must a woman jump through in order for complementarians to believe that her experience “counts” as rape?

In Jessica Valenti’s book The Purity Myth (which is problematic in some ways but still an important exposition of the evangelical purity movement), she states,

Under the purity myth, the only women who can truly be raped are those who are chaste–and given how limiting the purity myth is, and how few women actually fit into its right mold, the consequence is that most women are seen as incapable of being raped.

Yes, complementarians will vehemently claim that they are against rape. But listen more closely, because when they say they are against rape they don’t mean all rape. 

The woman who got drunk and woke up in a strange man’s bed or the teenage girl whose boyfriend wanted more than just the makeout session she had consented to. The woman in the mini-skirt or the wife who tried to tell her husband no. The woman who shouldn’t have been alone with that man or in that bar or that hotel room, who shouldn’t have been wearing this or doing that. These women can’t be raped because they are already impure, therefore, have nothing to lose according to complementarianism.

If complementarian leaders even admit that these women are victims of rape (which they likely won’t), these leaders will make sure this admission mentions that the victim was not “totally innocent.” The victim did something to “provoke” rape and therefore needs to apologize for her sin.

Secondly, let’s discuss how complementarians suggest going about solving the problem of rape.

Drawing conclusions from the answer to “What is rape?,” we learn that, according to complementarian evangelicals, “real” (shall we say “legitimate?”) rape can only happen to a limited group of women. Other women who claim to be raped are either lying to avoid owning up to their sin, or they need to take responsibility for “bringing rape upon themselves.” 

So, according to complementarians, the most efficient way to stop rape is for women to change their behavior, their lifestyles, or their clothing. 

How convenient that many of these changes women must make in order to “prevent being raped” line up perfectly with complementarian goals and values. 

Complementarians would say that immodest dress causes rape, therefore women should dress according to complementarian standards. They would say that women who express their sexuality are making themselves vulnerable to rape, therefore women should be passive and chaste when it comes to sex–another complementarian idea. They would say that women who spend too much time in the public world are risking rape, therefore more women should stay home, etc.

Some complementarian evangelicals go beyond this to actually blame feminism for the very existence of rape. Douglas Wilson, for instance, believes that when feminists deny men the opportunity to practice “godly” authority over women, men react by taking back the authority that they deserve using violence.

“When we quarrel with the way the world is,” Wilson says, “we find that the world has ways of getting back at us.”

Whether or not complementarians approve of rape, the fact is that many women adhere to complementarian gender roles because complementarian leaders have told these women that these women will be raped if they step outside these roles. Rape is a tool that rapists use to control women, and complementarian leaders (along with many other people in powerful positions) benefit from the fear that rapists create. In fact, they harness that fear in their books, blog posts, and sermons and use it as a tool to keep women in their place.

Complementarian evangelicals rely on rape to keep their systems of power firmly in place.

It’s an ugly, ugly truth, but a truth nonetheless.


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Words mean things, Part 1: On Sex, Penetration, and Krakens

[trigger warning for rape, racism, colonization, sexual violence]

Penetrates

Conquers

Colonizes

Plants

These are words that Douglas Wilson (supported by Jared Wilson) uses to describe the “role” a man plays in sexual relationships with women. Women, on the other hand, should “receive, surrender, accept.” According to the Wilsons (as mentioned here), these are the ingredients of a loving relationship. Says Douglas,

What I was talking about occurs within the bounds of a man and a woman who love and respect one another, mirroring the relationship of Christ and the Church. Anyone who believes that my writing disrespects women either has not read enough of my writing on the subject to say anything whatever about it or, if they still have that view after reading enough pages, they really need to retake their ESL class.

Dianna Anderson has already asserted that, despite D. Wilson’s slightly racist assertion that anyone who takes his words negatively needs to “retake their ESL class,” words mean things, and writers have to be responsible with and for the words they choose. Let’s talk about what these words could mean, exactly.

For today’s post, I’m going to talk about penetration. Tomorrow, I’ll come up with a post about the other three words because I have a lot more to say about those.

Many people have felt the need to inform me already that the penis enters the vagina during male/female vaginal intercourse. First of all, people, I know how it works. I don’t think babies come from storks. Secondly, penetration is not what makes sex, sex. In fact, you can have sex without penetration. I’m just saying.

But, anyway…

My question is, why do our discussions about intercourse have to sound scenes out of a horror movie? Why does sex have to sound like getting stabbed? And, if sex does have to sound like something out of a horror movie, can women be the agents of terror now and then? How about, “The vagina chomps on the penis and swallows it whole?”

Like the kraken. Nom, nom nom.

Does that make you feel uncomfortable, men? Now can you see a problem with the use of words to describe intercourse that make your penis seem like Jason Voorhees’ machete?

Seriously, though. Can we come up with a happier, more enjoyable set of words to describe penis/vagina intercourse? Like, “the vagina gives the penis a hug!” Yeah, I like that.

I won’t give Jared or Doug too much crap for this one, because “penetration” is such a commonly used word to describe sex. But I think all of us need to rethink it. Not only is it violent sounding, but it neglects women’s sexual agency in the situation. And when the Wilsons use this word in combination with other words like “colonize” and “conquer,” it shows that the language we use is not merely an accident. We are used to this violent, male-centered language because we live in a world where women are controlled by sexual violence and where women’s sexual agency is actively repressed.

In other words, words–even the ones that we use so often we don’t even think about them–mean things.


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Rape: A Punishment for Egalitarians?

[Trigger warnings for rape and abuse] 

Sometimes, conservative Christians are able to cover up the fact that their bad theology is often used to enable abusers, cover up abuse, and blame victims. Then, sometimes, they slip and people see everything and their attempts to convince people that they do not condone abuse seem laughable.

This is what happened today when Jared Wilson of The Gospel Coalition published this article, a critique of 50 Shades of Gray which consists of a quote from a book by Douglas Wilson. You should take a minute to read it before you finish this post so you have some context. Don’t worry. I’ll wait for you to come back.

…..

Done? Okay, you’re going to need a kitty to cheer you up after that.

 

I have a lot to say about this post, and the subsequent responses, by both Jared Wilson and Douglas Wilson. I’ll probably say all those things eventually–in fact, I’m thinking about writing a book on this very subject (how certain branches of conservative theology equate God and “God’s will” with abusive behavior) and the ideas presented in post will probably give me a whole chapter’s worth of material. 

But I’m going to start with this point, because I didn’t see it addressed much in the responses to this article that I read.

Douglas Wilson and, by his endorsement of Douglas, Jared Wilson blame egalitarianism for the existence of our society’s rape culture.

Jared and Douglas wouldn’t admit to such. They would probably accuse me of lying and slandering and suggest that I have low reading comprehension. But, people, I aced that part of the ACTs. I know how to read and I know what this means:

Because we have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them, we have created a climate in which caricatures of authority and submission intrude upon our lives with violence.

“Because,” indicating causation. And what is that causation? Us forgetting the biblical concepts of true authority and submission. These “biblical” concepts being, as Wilson mentions later, “A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.”  (Tomorrow, I plan on going through every one of those words individually and talking about what they mean, because the Wilsons seem convinced that these words can mean whatever they want them to mean and they are trying to convince us that these words are about loving, mutual sexual submission. It’d be funny if it weren’t so horrifying).

D. Wilson goes on to say

When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us.

The quarrelers he is talking about are obviously those who rebel against “The Bible of D. Wilson”‘s disturbing gender roles. The egalitarians. The ones who believe in mutuality and equality.

The world has a way of getting back at them.

Because egalitarians have told men that they don’t get to dominate their wives, according to D. Wilson men become pathological in their need to dominate and therefore begin to “dream of being rapists.”

He describes rape, not as something that exists outside the realm of healthy sexuality, but as perverted mirror of what healthy sexuality should look like:

Those who deny they have any need for water at all will soon find themselves lusting after polluted water, but water nonetheless.

True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity. When authority is honored according to the word of God it serves and protects — and gives enormous pleasure. When it is denied, the result is not “no authority,” but an authority which devours.

The Wilsons never blatantly excuse rape, or rapists. But their point is that when society moves toward becoming more equal, men will become rapists because all men have a natural need to conquer and dominate a woman.

If they can’t get that in the marriage bed, the Wilsons believe, they will search for that in “perverted” ways (apparently the Wilsons don’t see anything perverted about a husband “conquering” his wife).

Rape has been used for thousands of years to control women. To put them in their place.

And you don’t even have to be a rapist to use rape to control women. Jared and Douglas Wilson do a fine job of it here.

Not-so-subtly, they warn women to stay in their place in the world–to submit to being conquered, colonized, and penetrated by their husbands–or have the world “get back” at them.

With this article, the Wilsons manage to wield the tool of rape to control women without ever laying a finger on a woman.

And no, I don’t think I’m being to harsh by saying that. It’s estimated that 1 in 4 women will be raped in their lifetimes–there are real women being affected by these poisonous words. The feelings of Douglas and Jared and others in positions of power who use that power to control women with fear of rape are NOT my concern.

Rapists rape to control and gain power over women. By legitimizing rapists’ logic, saying that rape is caused by women who don’t adhere to gender roles (roles which seem a lot like marital rape, but that’s a post for a different day), the Wilsons are affirming the actions of rapists.

I cannot be “harsh” enough to men like this. It needs to stop.