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.