Feminism

sexism in Christian romance novels

If you haven’t read Who Brings Forth the Wind by Lori Wick, thank your lucky stars.

Done thanking them?

Ok.

I, unfortunately, have read this book . . . many much more times than I would like to admit. Growing up IFB, your reading choices are pretty limited. Grace Livingston Hill and Elsie Dinsmore top most lists, and nearly every IFB teenager girl I met had a copy of Stepping Heavenward in her purse. My mother was slightly more liberal, and I was allowed to read Lori Wick, Lauraine Snelling, and Janette Oke.

I started to refuse reading this *ahem* tripe after I discovered actual literature– including, but not limited to, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde . . . and Orson Scott Card, Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick . . . (I might maybe be a huge geek).

However, I was pretty familiar with Lori Wick’s Kensington Chronicles, including the above. The essentials of the plot are as follows:

Innocent, naive country virgin goes to London for the Season.
Bitter, trust-issues, oppressive and controlling Duke wants her to be his mistress.
She says no, she’ll only be an honest woman.
They get married.
Bitter, trust-issues Duke “catches” her in the arms of another man.
He sends his now-pregnant-but-she-has-no-idea wife away.
She gets saved.
They are re-united.
Years and years and many children and grandchildren later, he gets saved, too.

Follow? Ok. Good.

The question that most of the book centers around lies in the simple question: how does the Duke get saved?

The answer, my friends, is that she is good, obedient, submissive wife, and through her adoring flexibility and compassion, wins his heart. He never would have gotten saved if she had done things like stand up for herself, or her children, and told her abusive husband to go screw himself. No, she was sweet, and loving, and kind, and considerate, and only because of that was he able to understand the Love of God and Come to a Saving Knowledge of Jesus Christ.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One of the most problematic elements, I believe, facing modern conservative evangelicalism is that sexism is so horribly, horribly rampant. It completely saturates nearly everything it touches. The church I attended with my parents for three years after we left the IFB movement was not that much different when it comes to sexism. Women are ignored, regardless of ability, in favor of men filling the same role.

A woman can do it better? No, she can’t! She’s not a man! So, even if she could do it better, no one would follow or trust her, and her leadership would be ineffectual and all her efforts would be fruitless. If a man did it, even poorly, at least he could be respected and people would listen to him.

I attended a Sunday school class that was only women, and the pastor’s wife stood up and explained to us that it was okay that a woman would be speaking, because they’re only women present. Nothing to worry about here, she “joked.”

The associate pastor’s wife stood up and gave a “lesson” on how not “submitting” to your husband is a sin. Her anecdote was an encounter she had with her husband, who asked her where an item he’d lost was. She was doing the dishes. She told him she didn’t know, and why didn’t he look for it, she was busy. Oh, my word, how she sinnnnnned against her husband. She felt so guilty that she immediately dropped what was doing and went and found it for him. Because good wives submit to their husbands. Good wives are “helpmeets.” Good wives drop anything they are doing, always, because they are there to help support their husband, and how can he go and be a Great Christian Leader if he’s distracted by looking for his socks?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There’s been a lot of focus recently, on “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood.”

And I’m puzzled because, frankly, I don’t really see any such thing in the Bible.

Can someone please show me where the “Fruit of the Spirit for Men” and the “Fruit of the Spirit for Women” is, because I’ve looked, and I can’t find it. But, supposedly, it’s there.

What I do find are universal calls to service, to action, to love. There’s no difference between a good Christian man and a good Christian woman. We’re both told to seek love, joy, peace, patience, long-suffering, temperance, forgiveness, compassion. In Christ, there is no male nor female. Dividing up all these aspects of Christianity into “manly virtues” and “feminine virtues” is such a load of chickenshit. Follow Christ, and being a good man, or woman, will come.

Photo by Sela Yair
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  • Maura

    !!!!!

    Lori Wick! Lauraine Snelling! Janette Oke! I forgot about them! And I cannot thank my lucky stars, because I have read that book, and I recognize that horrific plot. Ohhhh there is a reason I’ve blocked them from my brain.

    I wish I could like this blog post eight times. No, seven times, because of course that is God’s number. Oh, I could go on for a while about men being chosen over women regardless of talent…

  • I try to forget, but I’ve been trying to explain different facets of complementarianism to my husband for a while, and the whole “she stopped breastfeeding her kids even though it was vitally important to her because she was submitting to her husband” from this book got brought up as an example. It puzzles him exceedingly that there are marriages where the wife never, ever contradicts her husband.

    And, oh could I *ever* go on about women being passed over. Any time I read/hear a man saying something along the lines of feminism no longer being necessary . . . eesh. I get mentally violent. 🙂

  • Wow… wow… wow! I can totally relate to this! Lori Wick and Janette Oak books were a big deal when I was a young teenager, and certainly helped cement the patriarchal “get married, submit, have kids and live happily ever after” kind of fairy tale mindset that was promoted. Funny things is, my mom wouldn’t let me read certain Lori Wick books becase there was too much sexuality – gasp! – between a married couple. Ahahaha! I stopped reading Elsie Dinsmore after the story where she won’t do something her father tells her to because it’s Sunday. It was just too horrible.
    I still haven’t gotten past some of the patriarchal things that were drilled into me. The mindset is a breeding ground for abusive situations, and then teaches that we should accept the abuse and deal with it sweetly (which is BS). Even though I had left the patriarchal stuff by the time I met my first husband, it was still ingrained enough that I allowed myself to be pulled into an abusive situation and then feel horrible for any thoughts of leaving or standing up for myself. Thankfully, I got out and have been able to move forward into a relationship where we are both equals and there is no abuse going on (and never will be). 🙂

    • Elsie Dinsmore is a crime against humanity, in my opinion. I got creeped out by the incestuousness between Elsie and her dad. Reminded me a lot of the way the Vision Forum girls talk about their dad… eek.

      It is, absolutely, a “breeding ground for abuse.” I ended up in a violent relationship (I wrote about it in my post “roses,” don’t read it if talking about rape is a trigger) because of complementarianism and patriarchy, and then couldn’t leave it. He ended it, glory hallelujah, before we got married, so I was spared the trauma of a divorce.

      I had a moment, though *just* last night, where this raised its ugly head. My husband asked me to lead the small group discussion last night, and my instant reaction was “why would he ask that? He knows I’m not competent to do that.” And why was I not competent? Because I’m a *woman.* I had to stop walking and try not to cry because I realized what had just happened.

      It’s amazing how lingering the effects can be, but just talking about it helps me realize when it’s happening and then stop it.

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  • Wow, yes! Lori Wick used to be my favourite growing up, and I never realised how much I based my expectations and ideals on those Christian romance novels till I found myself being abused over and over again due to my repeated attempts to be “attractively submissive” like the characters in these books.

    I’m blogging about it tomorrow, and i’m going to link back to this post.