Feminism

"Captivating" Review: 61-76, "Wounded"

wounded heart
[content note for victim blaming]

This chapter is a precursor to the argument Stasi is about to make in chapter five, so thankfully we won’t have to spend a lot of time on it. She’s laying groundwork, and the approach of this chapter is very different from what we’ve seen so far because it’s story-based.

The stories she includes are not happy, and focus on many ways that girls and women have been wounded by their parents. On that, she gets no argument from me. Children are frequently terrorized by abusive parents, and one in four girls are sexually abused, most often by their fathers.

Where I do disagree with Stasi is her conclusion: she argues that the damage many women suffered as children affected their femininity primarily—since Stasi and John have spent the last seventy pages arguing that femininity (represented by beauty) is the “essential” part of what it means to be a woman, this conclusion is unsurprising.

The wounds we received and the messages they brought formed a sort of unholy alliance with our fallen nature as women.

The effects of being abused, she says, results in us either becoming “dominating” or “desolate” women. We either become “strong” in order to overcome our supposedly God-given tenderness and vulnerability, or we hide our vulnerability behind something—which can include “hiding behind depression” (46). Because depression is obviously something women choose and not a form of illness.

To her, there are a range of character types and personality traits that are unnatural; in fact, she’s going to argue later on that we get these from Satan himself. However, the troubling thing is that these traits include anything that is gendered “masculine” in American culture—such as being an effective leader, or not being overly emotional. Because John and Stasi both believe in gender essentialism, however, they believe that “masculine” and “feminine” qualities are universal and timeless, even though simply reading a few books or leaving the country for a few weeks would dispatch that belief posthaste.

What angered me about this chapter, however, is this:

My friend Sandy was raised in a home with an abusive father and a weak mother. If her dad hit her mother, her mom felt she must have done something to deserve it (64).

Abusive fathers are a too common horror. Accomplices, broken mothers, are a painful reality (65).

Excuse me for a moment while I grab a whip and start flipping tables over.

This, on top of demonizing resources available to women in abusive relationships (55), makes me furious with Stasi Eldredge for writing it, Brian what’s-his-name for editing it (237), and Thomas Nelson for publishing it. This is morally and ethically wrong. This is abusive.

Women in abusive relationships are not weak, and they are not accomplices. Dear God, I’m struggling to believe I even have to say that. What Stasi has written here is dangerous and harmful, and I am left grieving because I know abused mothers have read this book. They’ve heard Stasi call them an accomplice—complicit in their own abuse, and responsible for their children’s.

The only person responsible for the abuse of a human being is the abuser.

There are many lies in our culture—lies that turn victims into participants. Lies that lead us to believe that it is our fault, our problem, and only if we were stronger, only if we weren’t so weak, we could do something. We could end it.

Stasi spends a lot of time in this chapter assuring women that they do not have to be “good enough,” that they don’t have to obsess with improving themselves, with being better, that they are valuable just the way they are. Abuse victims commonly believe that if only they could have just done what my husband/father/wife/mother wanted they wouldn’t have been hurt.

However, even though Stasi makes an attempt to comfort victims, she utterly fails, because she has swallowed wholesale the exact same belief. She believes that at least some abuse victims are responsible, that at least some abuse victims are not strong enough, not loving enough, not dedicated enough. They’re not even victims. They’re accomplices.

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  • This is your best post about this book so far.

    If I were still a Christian I’d be telling you to preach. 😉

  • Reblogged this on mershaa and commented:
    Wonderful post…

  • Thank you Samantha for a very good review.Too often I have wondered that being abused by my spouse means I must have done something to deserve that. In fact growing up in a patriarchal society (INDIA) I was given an view that the husband has the rite to discipline his wife ( by yelling and shouting at her, hitting her, slapping her and forcing her to do his wishes). Your blog and writing has inspired me a lot. keep up the good work.

  • Patrick Prescott

    Pater Familias, the head of the household has absolute authority over his family even to kill wife or child. How the fundamentalists would love to return to that grand old tradition. Stasi cloaks it in different words, but that’s what this book is advocating.

  • I agree with you. Mostly. It is, however, my vast experience that it is step-fathers, not fathers, who commit most of the sexual abuse in the cases I prosecute. This may not be the case in the religious fundamentalist population, for obvious reasons. But in the overall population, it is quite rare for biological fathers to sexually abuse their biological daughters. For every ten sex abuse cases I prosecute, one of the ten (at the most) has a biological father as the crime perpetrator.

    It’s almost always the dirtbag step-dad, mom’s loser boyfriend, or the creepy uncle.

    • I should have made that clear- I was referring to stepfathers and fathers. I’ll go back and edit that.

    • Hey Christine, thank you for the work you do. It is emotionally taxing work dealing with such stuff. I have one suggestion, when you use words like “dirtbag” “loser” and “creepy” it feeds into the myth that sex offenders can be easily recognized. Many of the men who sexually abuse spend enormous amounts of energy creating a non-dirtbag, non-loser, non-creepy upstanding citizen facade to hide behind. Again, thank you. You are making the world a better safer place.

  • Accomplices?! Gross.

  • Rachel

    Wait, so being a “strong” woman is bad, as women are supposed to be vulnerable etc. The opposite of strong is weak.

    But a “weak” woman married to an abusive husband is an accomplice to her own abuse and the abuse of others.

    No way out for women in abusive situations, then. Thanks, Stasi. You are such an encouragement to battered, confused, and forcibly submissive women everywhere.

    • Rachel, that was exactly the oxymoron I was recognizing as well…women are supposed to be vulnerable, but not weak accomplices. Yes, that is very clear. Thanks, Stasi. So glad I picked up this book on recommendation, but didn’t read on past Chapter 1.

  • So…wait, I’m confused. Women have to be strong enough to stop grown men from abusing their children, but not so strong that they could possibly be viewed as unfeminine? And this strength comes from…her beauty? My brain hurts.

  • Dude, I cannot even read your whole post before I get too aggravated. You must have like a +5 to Constitution to slog through that crap.

  • I’m still scratching my head over why Christians in particular are so vulnerable to believing lies about domestic violence. Is it because we think Christians ought to know better, or something? Or is it a grave misunderstanding of “turn the other cheek”?

    • Beth, I wonder the same and was actually talking to my husband about it last night. I was a sexual abuse survivor as a child and turned to a conservative Christian denomination in my teens with the unrealistic belief that being a Christian would protect me from further abuse and make me “safe”. I wasn’t aware how prevalent domestic, verbal, emotional, spiritual, and sexual abuse are in these communities…but it is something that cannot be talked about AT ALL. It is also a system that protects the man (father, husband) because of its patriarchal framework and its teachings that “women are to submit to their husbands,” “men are the head of the household as Christ is the head of the church,” and “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” and “obey your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise.” These teachings exalt the male role while silencing the females and the children. Lastly, there is the phenomenon that I call, “Purity Discourages Inquiry.” If the husband/father
      appears or presents as a wonderful, godly man who is charming and witty, knows all the right jargon, knows his Bible verses and just when to bring them up, can answer all the questions, volunteers for things like chaperoning youth trips and teaching and whatever, and seems very “on fire” for God…well, he can just about do ANYTHING in these communities without question. Most everyone will trust him completely. What a PERFECT environment for an abuser!! Access to young, trusting, vulnerable girls or women with built in protection from the community where the girls/women are silenced. Abusers work very hard NOT to be seen as scumbags, so being a “godly man” is a perfect cover! And let’s not forget that most abusers WERE abused themselves, so the circle remains unbroken.

  • L for learner

    I’m begging your patience here and quite possibly revealing my ignorance but… In the interests of understanding, how are women who stay in abusive relationships where children are abused not accomplices? It seems to me that there is a failing to provide a safe home for the children and they are accomplices in that sense. I’m interested in your thoughts here and why you believe they are not accomplices.
    I’m just thinking of a news story here in Australia a few years ago where a young man who was handicapped was attacked on a bus and no one one the bus did anything to stop the attack. I’m assuming no one wanted the attack to occur but no one did anything to stop it either, their lack of action facilitated the abuse.
    I see a similarity when mothers allow their children to remain in a home where they are being abused, certainly not accomplices in the sense of wanting their child to be harmed but there is a failure to provide a safe environment. I’ll be most interested to hear your thoughts (and to learn!). Thank you.

    • This isn’t the entire answer,

      But many women whose kids are being abused are *also* being abused and controlled. The abuser may do it in different ways to the mom and the kids, but no one is completely un-scathed.

      And one of the most dangerous times for someone who is being abused is when they are leaving their abuser. The time that someone is most likely to get murdered is if they plan on leaving and their abuser finds out. This is an extreme case. Not all abusers do this – but a pattern is if they want the person to stay under their control they will use more force when they see the person breaking away.

      So in order to protect her kids, the woman needs to fight against all the fetters that are being placed on *her*.

    • An accomplice willingly and with understanding participates in an act.
      If you are mugged, you are not an accomplice. You are a victim. If someone is murdered, then that person is a victim, not an accomplice. Abuse victims do not go into a relationship asking for abuse. Their thinking is may be warped into accepting the abuse as normal or deserved. And/or they can be too scared to leave.
      Abuse is the fault of the abuser.

    • Emily N.

      Thank you for bringing this up. This is what really bothered me about the post. I grew up in a home where my dad was abusive (mostly emotionally, but I always had the sense that it could become physical at any point), and while I understand that he is the only one responsible for his behavior, I do think that my mom is responsible for her response to it. By failing to act, she kept my siblings and me in an unsafe environment. I understand that abusers can be manipulative and threatening, but my mom was an *adult*. She had the legal right and at least some of the life skills (things like being able to drive and get a job) to leave; something that we as kids lacked. She even had family and community support. Any number of people, from grandparents, to home school group friends, to church members would have helped us out if she had left him. But she stayed, and I believe that makes her complicit in (although not responsible for) the abuse. She chose to marry him and to stay with him; I had no choice about what parents I was born to and no ability to change what people I was raised by. I’ll grant that my mom was a victim of my dad. But she had at least some power to try to change things, whereas I had none.

    • I’m going to agree with L for learner and Emily on this one. Women who refuse to protect their children from abusive men are at some level accomplices. Unfortunately, it is the teachings on submission that encourage women to stay in bad situations – including ones where the children are abused. Whether it is John Piper saying that women should endure physical abuse, or Bill Gothard (ew!) teaching that a woman needs to “make an appeal” to the man to stop the abuse, women are not encouraged or supported in reporting abuse to the police and getting the hell out. In addition, women who stay are granted a sort of “martyr” status for enduring abuse as a good christian woman. I have seen far too many women who enjoy this martyr status and thus stay in relationships where their children are abused. (I have seen this first hand in my extended family, for example.) I can’t go along with the idea that *all* of these women are simply so cowed by their own abuse that they hold no responsibility for allowing and facilitating the abuse of their own children.

  • Patrick Prescott

    L for Learner, a good friend of mine discovered her husband was abusing their ten year old daughter. She reported him and he served ten years of a twenty year sentence, but social services place her daughter in foster care considering her an accomplice to the abuse.

  • Obvious moral of these varied stories: it’s the woman’s fault.

    Always.

  • There are definitely abuse victims who are often accomplices to abuse — my mother, for instance, is abusive in her own right and she often perpetuated the abuse of my father. She aided him, not by failing to do anything, but because her response to my father’s abuse was to encourage it and reinforce the framework that he created. She was never on our side, she was always on his, even when she kicked him out of the house and he no longer had the power to do anything to her. I was still the terrible person for feeling uncomfortable around him, and most of my wounds aren’t because he sexually abused me but because my mother taught me that nothing I went through was that bad and that I had no right to have any complicated feelings around him and that I was dirty and disgusting and worthless anyway. She wanted a beautiful, happy-looking Christian family exterior and she was willing to sacrifice her kids’ lives to get it. My mother is also on my brother’s side, despite the fact that he went to prison for sexually abusing kids, and I no longer have contact with her or them because she considers *me* the black sheep for not insta-forgiving him for what he did to me, because I’m expendable in a way that he is not. She doesn’t actually care about people expect to the extent that they can provide something for her, and she’s more that ready to admit that she never really like kids and she always felt my father should come before us.

    It’s definitely not as simple as, “by virtue of being married to an abuser you are an accomplice” but it’s also not as simple as, “if you are being abused you are off the hook for all your actions and no way that you treat your kids counts as abuse because you’re being abused” because abusers can also be simultaneously being abused, and being abused doesn’t mean that you aren’t being an accomplice to the abuse in that a person being abused can also decide to perpetuate the abuse as well. It’s something that’s far more nuanced and complicated and an individual basis than a simple generalization can cover.

    • Well said. Your scenario is all too familiar to me too. (Not as my own experience – I was not an abused child by any definition – but the experiences of extended family and friends.)