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Same ol’ story.

Trigger warnings for sexual assault. 

“Once upon a time, there was a girl who was pure, virtuous, an angel in a white dress, and most importantly, a virgin. Then, one day, she met a boy and fell in love. Although the girl was committed to remaining pure, the boy kept pressuring her for more than she was willing to give. Using lies and manipulation, he convinced her to come into his bed. The girl feels dirty and worthless. Her purity gone. But then she begs Jesus for forgiveness from her sin. She no longer has her virginity, but once she is forgiven she can be pure in God’s eyes again. ”

You’ve heard this story before. It’s far from original. Our society, and especially Christian culture, loves this narrative. It’s on sitcoms, and in sermons, and in abstinence-only curriculum. We hear it from our mothers and from our friends. And many of us have lived it.

A recent retelling of this story occurs on the blog of one Cory Copeland, in his post, “Sex and the Good Girl.”  Now, I don’t know Cory, but I’m sure he’s not a sexist pig who hates women–that’s just it. You don’t have to be a sexist pig to tell this story because it’s so ingrained in our culture that we don’t even notice the problems with it. And I don’t write this post to pick on him. I write it because Cory seems to have a handle on language. He retells this tired, old tale in a way that shines new light on it.

But the things that new light reveal are disturbing. Things that have been there, all along, lurking in the dark, that we may have stopped noticing after hearing this story for the 900th time.

I want to talk about some of the problems with this “good-virgin-girl meets bad-manipulative-boy” tale, and I am going to use Cory’s piece as a framework for my thoughts, again, not to pick on Cory or accuse him of sexism, but to get us all to look at a familiar narrative in a new way.

First off, let’s talk about the girl. She’s never very human in these stories, is she? Copeland describes her as an “angel,” a “light,” and a “bastion of hope.” No where does the story talk of the girl’s sexual agency. She does not desire sex, because good girls do not do such things.

Secondly, let’s talk about the boy. Many versions of the tale will use the tale as a scare tactic and paint all men out to be just like this boy. Cory doesn’t appear to do that here. However, he does give us an obvious insight into what boys like this really are. He continues to touch the girl, even though she continuously pushes his hands away. He is “relentless and vile in his objections to her goodness,”  he “bombard[s] her wits with fallacies of unrequited love and lacking attention.” Cory even mentions that the boy “had played this game before and he was good.” This boy is manipulative and, I would even argue, mentally and sexually abusive. Not only that, but, like most abusers, he knows what he’s doing. He knows how to get inside the girl’s mind.

Let’s talk about consent. The boy didn’t have it. She pushed his hands away, she was clear about her boundaries. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. “The good girl could take no more–“when Cory states this, it is not in the contexts of the girl’s raging passions (she doesn’t have those, remember?) but in the context of the boy’s “vile and relentless” unwanted advances.

The girl does not enthusiastically fall into bed with this boy. She gives in to his constant, manipulative pressure. As my friend Dianna Anderson mentioned in a comment on Cory’s blog, “a yes is only a yes when a no is possible.” This boy obviously wouldn’t take no for an answ

Let’s talk about goodness. Several times in this story, Cory equates goodness with virginity. He talks of the boy objecting to her “goodness,” and when the girl gives in to the boy, he talks of her as being stripped of “righteousness. He does mention later that one’s goodness is not completely lost by the loss of virginity–that God can forgive and redeem. But the point of this tale has not changed throughout the years–the act of having a penis in one’s vagina makes one impure, regardless of how the penis got there.

The girl did not have to desire sex in order to be made impure from it. She didn’t have to consent. If it happened, she was guilty and in need of redemption, not from the brokenness and pain of having to suffer abuse, but from her loss of virginity.

Let’s talk about Cory’s response. One thing that stuck out to me, more than anything, was not even the story itself but peoples’ quickness to defend it. Cory himself responded to criticism pointing out the boy’s abusive tendencies.

His response was, “The story wasn’t about the boy. It was about the girl and her struggles. That’s the story I chose to tell. Respect that.”

But the story IS about the boy. It has to be about the boy, because consent changes everything. If the boy didn’t have consent (he didn’t), the moral of the story (that the girl is no longer pure and needs redemption) is wrong.

Why are we so afraid to address the fact that consent did not exist in this story?

Is it because we’re too afraid to write new stories? To tell our own stories? To ask questions about sexuality and think critically about the issues? To stop thinking in black and white dichotomies and start exploring gray areas?

What are we afraid of?

Finally, let’s talk about stories. Is this old tale merely a work of fiction? To quote Dianna Anderson again, “We tell stories because it’s how we process the world. We also learn lessons from stories…we are processing our life through metaphor and symbolism and through the characters presented within stories. Fictional or not, there is always something to be learned when a story is told.”

This story is teaching women how to view themselves, how to feel about abuse and about consent. How to feel about sex and goodness.  How to feel about God and about redemption and about men.

And what it is teaching is harmful.

Cory asks his readers to respect his retelling of this old tale. That’s something I cannot do. In fact, I’d like to reclaim this story.

Because it’s my story.

I was the girl who said no. I was the girl who pushed the boy’s hands away again and again, until out of fear and manipulation, he managed to get an “okay, I guess” out of me. I was the girl who had to feel worthless because I had heard this story so many times growing up. I was the girl who new so little about consent because of this story that, even when I managed to finally say “No,” and he did it anyway, I thought it was my fault.

I’ve heard this story from the preacher and the male blogger and the abstinence-only teacher and the father and the television show.

But, as my Twitter friend Ally Clendineng points out, it’s not their story. They don’t get to tell it however they want. They don’t get to make it about “just the girl.” They don’t get to ignore the absence of consent. They don’t get to make it about the girl’s goodness or purity. They don’t get to choose the moral of this story.

This story needs a new moral. One about what consent looks like and what healthy, consensual sex is. One about holding abusers accountable and about assuring victims that they do not need to feel at fault. One where goodness does not equal virginity. Where women are complex, sexual human beings who can have a sex drive (unless they are one of the 1 in 100 adults who are asexual) and still say “No,” rather than glowing angels of light who would never even dream of wanting sex.

This is the story of all women who have been manipulated, coerced, and sexually abused. This is our story.

We get to decide what to take from it.

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Rape culture, Relevant Magazine, and other things that make me want to swear a lot

Trigger warnings: rape, and rape enabling

Some of the responses to Joe Paterno’s death were triggering for me. You know, the ones that basically say (albeit in much more eloquent terms), “Everyone, shut up about the rape victims and how they’re feeling! Joe Paterno was really good at winning football games! Can’t we just talk about that?”

As a rape victim, this was painful to hear, but not unexpected. As soon as I heard of his death (or rather, as soon as the media falsely reported his death a few hours before he actually died) I braced myself for an inevitable onslaught of Facebook statuses and secular news articles defending JoePa’s great legacy against those of us who have the audacity to place human life over a football career.

But, for some reason, be it naivety or delusion, I wasn’t expecting to hear this from any Christian sources.

I expected to see Christian articles that mourned the loss of a man, loved by God and his family and his players, but a man who made a terrible mistake. A man who became so disconnected from humanity that he put a greater priority on protecting the reputation of his school and his football team than on protecting young boys who were being raped.

For some reason, I expected more from Christians.

But when I read a column on a popular Christian webzine, Relevant Magazine, that stated, that because Joe Paterno was a good coach he was, “He was better than us.” In which the author expressed, “He was so great that I think the ultimate story about him will eventually outshine the awful ugliness of a child molestation scandal that happened…” and that that was “OK.”

And that made the guilt-inducing, shaming claim that “We are all Joe Paterno.” That many of us would have done the same thing in his situation. That we aren’t doing enough to stop the child rape and abuse and therefore, “If Paterno is ugly, then you are ugly. Does that make it right? Of course not. We’re all wrong and we are all missing the mark on this issue—just like Paterno did.”

My initial response was as follows (language warning):

Rather than posting an article encouraging us to see Paterno as a human, like all of us, while acknowledging that he made an inhumane mistake, this article asked us to view Paterno as a super-human, who made a measly mistake that ought to be glossed over in light of his football accomplishments.

 Rather than empathizing with how lost and confused the victims must feel right now, this article bemoaned the fact that the curtains of this scandal were covering the shining light that was Paterno’s legacy.

Rather than encouraging us to direct our anger toward Paterno into a productive path so that we could someday learn to forgive, this article sent already confused and hurting people on a guilt-trip.  

Rather than educating us about practical ways to help victims of child abuse and rape, this article equated Paterno’s misuse of power to our feelings of powerlessness.

A magazine that posts articles insisting that we are too soft on “sin” when it comes to consensual, premarital sex and homosexuality, referred to enabling rape as “dropping the ball.”  

And, again, a section of mainstream Christianity takes its place as a cog in the powerful machine that is rape culture.

And, again, I sit here and cry and thank Jesus for my Zoloft that is preventing the panic attacks, and I wonder why I even bother calling myself a Christian.

I wonder why I’m searching for religious fulfillment.

I wonder why I think it’s going to be worth it.

But, deep down, I know it is. Deep down, I know that for every shitty article on Relevant Magazine, there will be Dianna Andersons and Elizabeth Esthers and Jo Davises making a stand.

I see hope. And that hope is small and quiet in the midst of the roar of rape culture, but it’s there.  

So, church, let’s break away from rape culture. Let’s throw our wrenches into the machine. Let’s call out the Christian magazines that defend rape enablers. Let’s call out other Christians that use modesty standards to blame victims. Let’s stop teaching our boys and men that they are not responsible for their own actions. Let’s get involved with organizations like RAINN that fight rape. Let’s tear down patriarchal power structures and replace them with a world where all are viewed as equals. Let’s use our platforms as pastors, writers, teachers, parents, neighbors, and friends to spread the message that human life is not more important than a person’s reputation as a coach (or a pastor, or a Christian, etc.).

Rape culture is strong.

But so are we.

As for Joe Paterno, a prayer via Scott Morizot–

Kyrie eleison.
Requiem in pacem.

And let us pray that all survivors of rape can find healing in forgiveness.


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The subtle signs of relationship abuse

Image via Batteredhearts.com

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Are you aware of domestic violence?

Of course you know it exists. Turn on Lifetime for five minutes and you’ll figure that one out. But do we really understand what domestic violence looks like?

When you think of an abusive relationship, you may think of physical violence, bruises, and yelling. But the fact is, in most cases, by the time these obvious symptoms appear, the abuse has probably been going on for while.

The roots of domestic violence are harder to notice and harder to dig out and drag into the sunlight. But they’re dangerously powerful, twisted and complicated, and constantly growing deeper. They provide the obvious fruits of abuse with a solid foundation.

These roots aren’t completely ignored, but they’re often connected to the wrong tree. Instead of recognizing subtle signs of domestic abuse for what they are, our movies, magazines, and novels tend to romanticize some of them. Instead of connecting these dangerous roots to abuse, we connect them to romance.

So let’s grab some shovels and dig up some of these roots, shall we? Let’s

expose them for what they really are.

Here are a few subtle signs of an abusive relationship:

Your significant other controls who you spend your time with: This isn’t always as obvious as it sounds. It usually starts off sounding reasonable. Protective, even– “Please don’t hang out with that ex-girlfriend. She still wants you.” or “Stay away from that creepy guy who keeps hitting on you at work.”

But it progresses.

“I know she’s your best friend, but she’s not good to you. She’s just using you. Stay away from her.”

“Your parents don’t want us to be together because they don’t trust you.”

“You really shouldn’t hang out with your male friends. All men are perverts. I’m just trying to protect you.”

Soon, the abuser has isolated his/her victim, cut him/her off from any support or help. The victim feels like the abuser is the only person he/she can rely on.

Your significant other manipulates you sexually: I’m going to talk about two scenarios here. You’re probably familiar with the first one. You’ve probably heard about it in youth group, or seen it played out on several sitcoms.

It’s the story of an innocent female virgin who doesn’t want sex, and an over-bearing man who can’t control his sexual desires. The man says things like, “If you love me, you will.” or “I’ll cheat on you if you don’t.”

This scenario is loaded with assumptions about gender, so let’s expand it. Men, you can be manipulated by women in the same way. Don’t think that just because you’re a man you should welcome this kind of sexual manipulation.

Women, you don’t have to be an innocent virgin or lack a sex drive in order to have the right to say no to sex. Even if you want sex from this man, he has no right to pressure you like that.

This first situation isn’t just men being men. It isn’t just something women should watch out for. It’s not just a clichéd sitcom plot.

It’s sexual abuse.

Now, for scenario two. What if two people are having sex, with mutual consent? There are still signs of abuse that we need to watch out for, especially if other signs of abuse are present in a relationship.

For instance, does the man refuse to wear condoms or allow the woman to use birth control? Obviously, there could be religious reasons behind this that both partners adhere to, or both partners might be trying to start a family.

But abusers will do whatever it takes to keep their victims dependent on them, therefore male abusers will often try to impregnate female victims. So watch for other signs. And women, I don’t care if you’re married to a Catholic or you’re sleeping with a random guy you met at the bar– you have the right to safe sex.

–Your significant other refuses to give you privacy: Does your significant other ask to know your Facebook and email passwords? Does he/she demand that you share an email address, in order to keep you from the temptation of cheating? Does he/she constantly text you, asking where you are, and get upset if you don’t answer right away?

Your significant other stalks you: I had a friend in high school who was dating an emotionally abusive boy. They would get into fights, and she would ask him to leave her house. He would sit on the front porch for hours and hours, crying, begging for forgiveness, until she finally let him back in.

Several of our other friends would say things like, “Aww! How sweet!  That’s true love.”

No, people. That is stalking. It’s not cute. It’s not romantic. It’s abusive.

Your significant other threatens to commit suicide if you break up with him/don’t give him what he wants: Remember that scene in The Notebook where the male lead climbs up the Ferris wheel to ask the female lead on a date and he says he’ll jump off if she refuses?

Yeah.

Your significant other is physically rough: Physical abuse doesn’t have to be hitting and slapping. I once thought that, which is why I didn’t realize until months after my break up with my first boyfriend that I had been in a physically abusive relationship.

He would grab my arm so tightly if I tried to walk away from him that it’d leave hand print shaped bruises. But he’d claim that he just “didn’t know his own strength” and I’d dismiss it as an accident. He’d push me into walls. He’d tickle me until I would cry, and sometimes throw up. He’d shake me, and he’d pick me up and throw me over his shoulder.

But because my physical abuse didn’t look like the physical abuse on television, I assumed I was over-reacting.

I wasn’t. Physical abuse manifests itself in different ways. Your pain is real and your problem is legitimate.

Your significant other makes you feel worthless and undeserving of his/her love: This is perhaps the strongest and most dangerous root of relationship abuse. The abuser strips away his/her victim’s self-esteem, one insult at a time. Eventually, the victim truly believes that he/she is stupid, ugly, damaged goods…

It starts with light-hearted “jokes” here and there.

“Hah, you’re so stupid.”…”You dumb blonde!”…”Oh, quit bitching.”…”You know you’re my whore.”

When the victim complains about these insults, the abuser says, “Geez, can’t you take a joke?”

By the time the insults get worse, and the jokes become less and less funny– by the time the relationship is obviously verbally abusive in nature the victim has already been conditioned not to question.

The abuser will hold past mistakes over the victim’s head.

“I shouldn’t love you after what you did. You owe me.”

Or the abuser will treat the victim as a charity case.

“No one else would want you. You’re damaged goods. You’re lucky I’m so good to you.”

At this point, escape not only feels impossible for the victim, but it feels undesirable.

Your significant other dictates your personal appearance: An abuser lives in fear that his/her victim will realize the truth– that there are other fish in the sea, so why date a shark?

So the abuser will do his/her best to keep the victim from being noticed by other fish.

For me, it started with, “Stop wearing make-up. You look better without it,” or “Why are you wearing that? You don’t have to dress up like that.

You’re beautiful in sweat pants and baggy t-shirts.”

And it became my abuser throwing my purse out of a moving vehicle because he caught me taking mascara out of it. It became my abuser not letting me shave my legs or shower for days at a time.

Women, you are pretty without make-up. You are pretty in baggy sweat-pants. But don’t trust any guy who says you’re only pretty without make-up. Don’t trust any guy who doesn’t allow you to wear what you want to wear.

Your significant other makes you doubt your dreams: When you share your goals and dreams with your significant other, how does he/she respond? If it’s with a “I don’t think you could handle that,” or “No, I think you’d be better off doing ____, instead,” be careful.

Of course, your partner might just know you very well, and might be giving you loving, honest advice. But if your partner immediately shoots down your dreams, or actively stands in the way of them (for instance, a man using religion to tell a woman that she cannot go to college or get a job because her place is  in the home), this is a problem.

Unfortunately, these aren’t the only signs of abuse. I haven’t covered even all of the tricks that my abusive boyfriend used on me. But I feel like I needed to start this conversation. I hope you’ll continue it in the comments, or submit a guest post for Join the Chorus! Let’s not let these subtle symptoms of relationship abuse stay under ground any longer. Let’s let our voices be heard! 


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Is it wrong to steal a car?

Is it wrong to steal a car?

What if the owner of that car was basically asking for it to be stolen?

What if the owner washed it every day so it was as shiny as possible? What if he left it in his drive-way for all the world to see?

He didn’t make any attempts to cover it up. He didn’t hide how great of a car it was.

What if he even let people from the neighborhood touch his car, or sit in the passenger seat if they asked? What if he gave people free rides all the time?

So how could someone know that it isn’t okay to just take that car?

Don’t advertising what you’re not selling, right?

He has it coming.

So, is it wrong to steal a car?

Duh. Yes. Of course.

I don’t think any judge would pardon a car thief, even if said car thief used all of these excuses.

But sometimes, a man can rape a woman, use these same excuses, and get away with it.

Some people believe that if a woman makes herself look too nice…

If she shows off the body that she owns…

If she gives out too many “free rides” to other men (if she’s a “slut”)…

She’s asking for it.

Is a woman not worth more than a car?

Rape culture is disgusting and dehumanizing. Good thing it doesn’t exist in Christian circles, right?

Well…

Let me tell you a story.

I was a senior in high-school. A Christian high-school. And I was in government class. We were having a discussion about abortion laws. Obviously, in my tiny, Independent Fundamental Baptist-based Christian school, everyone had the same opinion about abortion.

So my teacher played the devil’s advocate and asked us, “What if a woman was raped? Should she have the right to abort any pregnancy that results from that rape?”

One student raised her hand and said, “Well, no. It’s still wrong. Besides, most rape victims were raped because they were dressing like sluts and drinking. It’s their own fault. They were asking for it.”

The rest of the class (teacher included) laughed and agreed.

A victim of sexual abuse myself, I excused myself to go to the bathroom and cry and wonder what I had done wrong…how I had asked for it.

A couple of years later, I read a Christian dating book that contained a chapter about modesty. I’ll paraphrase one of the quotes (I’d type the exact quote but I can’t remember it and I can’t look it up because I’ve since ripped the book in half and thrown it away in a freeing act of therapeutic anger):

“Don’t advertise your body if it’s not on the menu. If you dress like a slab of meat, you’re going to get thrown on the barbecue.”

Then, a few weeks ago, I read an article by an extremely influential Christian author. He tried to tell women how to date. In addition to throwing the word “slut” around, he told women to “stop playing the victim” and own up to their mistakes when it came to sex. He even gave out this lovely piece of advice:

“…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.”

I wish these three examples were the only contact that I’ve had with rape culture in the church.

They’re not.

Rape culture is here in our churches. It’s subtle and it’s sneaky, but it’s here.

Every time an influential Christian author calls a woman a “slut,” it’s here.

Every time a man points a finger at a group of women and says, “Your immodesty is the reason we men struggle with pornography,” it’s here.

Every time a sexual abuse victim is forced to apologize in front of her church for her “behavior,” it’s here.

Tamara Lunardo, of Tamara Out Loud, published a fantastic article today in which she asks, “What’s a girl worth?” 

What’s our answer to that question, Church?

Is she worth more than that car that we’d never steal? Is she worth more than the pound of steak that’s on sale at the butchers’ shop? Is she worth more than products that can be advertised?

Does the length of her skirt determine the value of her soul?

Do our churches’ answers to these questions look any different than rape culture’s answers?


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Join the chorus: Stitching up the seams

The wonderful woman in charge of the blog, Stitching up the Seams, has agreed to let me link to her story. Her story of sexual abuse has given me courage and let me know that I’m not alone. So, please hear what she has to say, and then take a look at the rest of her blog to learn more about her journey to healing. Her commitment to positivity is inspiring!

Part 1 of her story is found here: Sculpture

Part 2 is found here: O God, the aftermath

If you have a story to share, let me know at moonsn11@gmail.com. I’ll be happy to link to your blog or share your story as a guest post on this blog. Read Join the Chorus! for more details.