"Real Marriage" review: 42-64, "Men and Marriage"

This was the first chapter that the book went flying. Honestly, I’m surprised I got to chapter three before that happened. This chapter was just … frustrating as hell to read. There’s so many problems with this chapter, and I’m going to spend my time today focusing on one of them, but it is important to at least point out a few other glaring problems.

First, he depends on a single researcher to make his arguments. 22 of his 29 citations come from W. Bradford Wilcox. I looked Wilcox up and you can tell from his list of publications that he has an obvious agenda, and he thinks “soft patriarchy” is a fine idea– he also does a lot of mixing up of correlation and causation in his conclusions. Wilcox is the head of the National Marriage Project, an organization that has a history of misrepresenting data in order to make their point. That Mark Driscoll only cites one person who agrees with him so exactly on everything is … awfully convenient. At best, it’s ridiculously shoddy research (and parroting Wilcox is basically all that happens from pages 57 to 63).

The second glaring problem with this chapter is the basis for a lot of his assumptions is his own personal experience. On some level we all do this, mostly unconsciously. What else are we supposed to form some of our assumptions on, if not our lives? However, when you’re a rich white American evangelical, your personal lived experience is going to be one of enormous privilege, and assuming that your mind-boggling advantages and opportunities is normal for everyone else will inevitably be a problem. Things that work for a neurotypical cishet able-bodied white Christian man who’s paid heaping amounts of money to yell curse words and insult people every week will not work for everyone, but he consistently does that through this entire chapter, mostly by demonizing men who don’t act exactly like an idealized version of himself (best examples of this are on pages 45-48).

However, the biggest problem is Mark’s main argument that complementarianism is the only possible theological conclusion and the only possible solution to abusive marriages.

The most rage-inducing thing about this chapter is how many times Mark describes abusive marriages, but not even once uses the word “abusive” to describe it:

Do you ever hit her? Do you ever shove her? Do you ever push her? Do you ever grab her, restrain her? Do you ever raise a hand and threaten her? Do you ever threaten her with physical violence? Do you give her that look, that pierced, glazed, angry, don’t-push-it-now’s-a-good-time-to-shut-up look? Do you tell her, “I’m getting very angry; you should just shut up right now or it’s gonna go bad for you? Do you get right in her face? Do you intimadate her with your presence? Do you play the role of the bully to push your wife around? (49)

What he’s just described is physically abusive. But, to Mark, this is simply “bullying.”

How do you speak toy our wife? Do you have nasty nicknames for her? Do you raise your voice? Do you threaten her? Do you give backhanded compliments? … If you start saying critical, cutting, demeaning, cruel, or disrespectful things about your wife, your children will be left in the awful position of choosing between their mother and father. Invariably some of your children will despise their own mother and speak evil of her in an effort to remain loyal to their father. (51)

First: that is verbal abuse. Second: Invariably? What the hell? But, worse than describing abusive acts and then minimizing them, he goes on to do this:

You honor your wife physically by being safe for her, protective of her, and tender with her. In this way she will see your strength as a blessing instead of danger … which means he needs to honor and protect [her weakness] rather than exploit it.

That is benevolent sexism (that link is truly excellent reading, I highly recommend it). There’s a few different forms of sexism: hostile, casual, and benevolent. Hostile sexism is what a lot of the “not all men” types are thinking about when they’re disagreeing with feminists, and, honestly, it used to be commonplace, but other forms of sexism are taking its place. Hostile sexism is what you get when you read Elliot Rodger’s manifesto. Casual sexism is “everyday sexism.” It’s cat calling and jokes about kitchens and sandwiches.

Benevolent sexism, though, is the belief that women are weak, innocent, home-guarding angels that need to be put on a pedestal and protected. It seems innocuous enough on its face; it’s chivalry and nobility and treating women right. Benevolent sexists spend a lot of time talking about how much they respect women, and how much they value women, and how men should honor women by opening up their pickle jars and putting their coats in puddles and treating them like “crystal goblets” (49).

However, the basic assumption of benevolent sexism is that women need to be protected by the men who own them. Daughters are protected by fathers, wives are protected by husbands, and they “protect” women from the big ugly nasty world that just wants one thing from us. In Mark’s words: “We are to be tough in carving out safety and protection for women and children in a world that abuses them” (44).

Missing from this framework is the understanding that women deserve respect because we are people. For example, Mark talks about how Grace was “overwhelmed with the demands of young children,” but instead of saying that “so I decided to shoulder my fair share of the responsibility, after all they’re my children, too, and I’m their parent,” he says that he started “helping out” as an act of service. Grace, in Mark’s head, is the woman-thing that he needs to protect and serve, not the person who is an equal partner in their marriage and who deserves to be treated with respect.

Benevolent sexism might initially seem like it’s not harmful, but it is. Nothing that assumes that women are intrinsically weak and vulnerable can be good. Historically speaking, the view that women are “weak and vulnerable” has been the main argument behind some of the most flagrantly misogynistic church teachings.

Benevolent sexism is just hostile sexism masquerading as a nice guy.

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  • Good post, and interesting division between Casual Sexism and Benevolent Sexism. I’ll admit I usually lumped those together (especially since both casual sexists and benevolent sexists tend to react in the same way when criticized), but I’m leaning now more towards separating them.

  • Hear Hear! i haven’t done my work in Gender Studies…may return some year to do this…but I absolutely appreciate your clarifications on this piece of work (and i’m talking the author, not his “book.”) Benevolent sexism is rampant in the new anti-feminism push which calls itself by that name as well as Traditionalists. There are several blogs designed to help men learn how to create this exact type of marital situation and there are blogs designed to teach men to “game” women using this benevolent sexism as an excuse… it’s a bit scary at the heart of it.

    • Gary Eddy

      Yea gods why can’t we just follow Christ’s example. I must be isolated because that’s not what is taught at our church.

  • “and how men should honor women by opening up their pickle jars and putting their coats in puddles ”

    Kindofa side point, but even in a benevolent sexism scenario it’s not a kindness for a man to put his coat in a puddle for his wife. After all, guess who has to launder that coat later?

    I’ll just use my womanly wit and walk around the puddle myself, thanks.

    • Gary Eddy

      I a man having been doing my laundry since I was 14 and also clean the house and cook most of the meals. My wife & I team cook on holidays, etc. She’s a very good cook too. We been married 39 years Dec 27. Also up here men hold doors for everyone

  • Reblogged this on Feministindian!!.

  • Crystal

    My basic thoughts on Samantha’s post are that we need a new definition of wording that has been used to shove us ladies down into a basement, and use those words to empower ourselves. Class, prepare for new definitions of words you have heard all your life, especially the male members of the class. Pay attention, please, to every word I say.

    Equality means total acceptance of women (and men) for who they are rather than for what you’d like them to be; that includes their rights. Chivalry means doing kind and good things for ladies without a bad motive of sexism. Gentlemanliness means being a man of good and respectful breeding. Protection means helping a woman to protect herself as well as protecting her, and defending her right to do so. Respect means respecting a woman’s mind and body and soul. If she has an intellect, for instance, encourage it; don’t join in those snide remarks about ladies’ weak minds. Also, if she has cruel remarks being made about her body, defend her. If something is being said about women being more emotional than men, use your good sharp masculine mind to correct it. Empowerment means encouraging a woman to do what she can do and not holding her back; if a woman wants to lead or think, let her!! Manhood means that you can be all the genuinely good things society says makes a man great (physical strength, muscles, [self-control (stoicism) and a sharp mind (logic) – character qualities ladies also possess and is NOT a uniquely male trait, although people say it is, so I’m trying to help my male readers understand]) and just out and out being a man and pursuing traditionally male hobbies, but also not being afraid to pursue unconventional hobbies for a man, keeping equality for ladies in mind, and standing up for equal rights when others ridicule it. Manliness means being a red-hot blooded male, respecting your masculinity, and not being ashamed of being a man (however you define that, like if you’re a leader-type personality [WOMEN CAN AND SHOULD LEAD TOO], don’t feel bad about it, but remember that the one who leads must serve most of all), but treating women as equals and human beings at the same time. Comradery means being a total equal with a woman, and accepting her for who she is, however she chooses to present herself.

    Men can take a woman’s physical differences into account without being chauvinistic about it, I think.

    In a nutshell:

    Chivalrous manly gentlemen will love their manhood and empower, respect, and protect their lady comrades and respect their equality to the best of their ability, no questions asked.

    If anyone wants a larger definition I’ll be happy to provide it.

    Thank you for letting me talk, class. I’m honoured. If there is any confusion on anything I’ve said, or if it sounds sexist in any way, please tell me, and I’ll try to clarify what I say.

    Now that I’ve said my piece, I’ll let others take the stage.

    • Gary Eddy

      Well said. I do have bit of burr about if woman have an intellect do encourage it. I always assume a woman is intelligent. And try my best not to stiffle it.

      • Crystal


      • Both men and women can lack intellect, so I didn’t take that as offensive, but that’s just me. It’s not even necessarily a bad thing, just we’re all on different scales. We’re not all geniuses.

        • Crystal

          That’s an interesting point, Samantha. Thank you for raising it.

    • And the best way to take differences between men and women into account is to extend chivalry beyond categories to each person: take each person’s abilities and limitations into account, especially your own.

      • Crystal

        Interesting thought, peterngardner. Could you expound on that please? I like it.

    • Wednesday

      One of my favorite books has the following bit of dialogue in it: “[A] desire to have all the fun is nine-tenths of the law of chivalry.” I’ve always thought this explained quite a lot. I like your definition of new chivalry, though!

      • Crystal

        Thank you, Wednesday. It has been rolling around in my mind for some time. By the way, which book did that quote come from as I’m interested in reading new titles?

    • Amanda

      Hi, Crystal. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your perspective. I would ask, respectfully, that you would tone down the rhetoric a little bit about “pay attention now class”. It seems to be a slightly off-putting attitude that you know more than the rest of us. I believe we all have things to learn from each other. I envision us all sitting around in a circle, all on equal footing and having a wonderful, mutually edifying discussion, rather than a credentialed professor staring down their nose at their uncredentialed class. Again… I truly appreciate your thoughts. My life is enriched by this blog, by you, and by all the other commentators. I admire you for your confidence in speaking up more than I do. Peace and blessings.

      • Crystal

        Dear Amanda,

        I apologise for any perceived patronising in my tone. Please forgive me for it. I did not mean it patronisingly but rather in a fun way, but you are right. I never thought of it as an equal circle until you mentioned the image. From now on I shall keep that image in mind when I speak here. I do like to have fun and be boss sometimes but this is not the place to do it. Please forgive me.

        Also, I remember the kindness you showed me on the blog post “Returning to Ferguson.” I want to acknowledge that and say a hearty “thank you” for it.

        Again, very sorry for any pride that could have carried across and will remember next time that I am a student like you.

        Thank YOU for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your perspective too.

        • Amanda

          Thanks 🙂 You’re forgiven.

  • Ditto Crystal!

    My wife has always been a bit sensitive about benevolent sexism, and she has done much to enlighten me about those times that I unconsciously say or do something “because that’s how I grew up” along those lines. Well said, and thanks for throwing the book so I don’t have to…

    • Crystal

      Thank you, fiddlrts. If only men saw women and themselves as human beings rather than women and men respectively, half our problems would be solved.

  • Gary Eddy

    So my question is how do you and your readers feel about a husband trying to live up to Eph 5:25-33. I personally don’t worry about my wife living up to God’s expectations. That’s for her & God to work out. Mine is to live a life like Jesus and love & treat my wife as Jesus loves His church. The book you are reviewing sounds like it would not be worth my time.

  • Lenore Wilkison

    Brilliantly said.

  • Amanda

    I enjoyed this post so very much. What jumped out at me was the mention that it doesn’t occur to Mark that his wife is an equal partner who should be treated with respect. The simple word, respect, has become such a touchstone for me since my experiences in premarital counseling and reading the book “Love and Respect”. In the Christian, benevolent sexist ilk, it’s taught (and somehow believed!) that women do not need respect as much as men do. My pastor asked me and my then-fiance, now-husband both what we would prefer to do without, love or respect. He made us pick one. My husband fairly quickly said love. And the pastor absolutely refused to move on with the counseling session until I gave the expected woman-answer that I would prefer to do without respect. It is the teaching of that book that women are naturally able to love and not naturally able to be respectful, and for men vice versa. The idea is so manifestly disrespectful, it really defeats itself. Benevolent sexism is so disrespectful (of course the other forms of sexism are also)… it makes it almost laughable that respect is somehow men’s inborn superpower. I don’t need to be protected from the “abuses of the world”. I’m really not sure what that means. If what Driscoll is getting at is the notion that women are more spiritually vulnerable to demonic influence than men (usually one of the justifications I’ve seen for absolute male headship in everything)… that is so patently offensive. What I need is to be valued as a side-by-side partner who is capable of making valuable contributions. And to think I used to think all the benevolent sexisms were complimentary and for the benefit of women! It’s completely absurd that I believed that and was so under the spell of the cult we belong to. No more… and I hope we’ll be able to find a new church soon. I may go crazy if we don’t.

  • Has anyone here seen the video of the Driscoll’s that’s been going around showing how he blames his young elders for his problems? What fascinated me was the way his wife, Grace, sat very close to him and facing him and whenever she spoke, she had a very somber, almost frightened, “Oh my God, what if I say something wrong?” look on her face. I think the poor woman is terrified of her husband. In the whole video he is blaming her and other people for his woeful inability to be a man of integrity. My guess is that he knows so much about pushing, slapping, and mistreating women because he has done so much of it to his own wife.

  • Wow, his list of “bullying” is awfully explicit. Somehow I feel like a man who is not abusive would probably never even imagine some of the things Mark seems to list off the top of his head.

  • Alyson

    It is awful that the only reason he gives for why husbands shouldn’t be verbally abusive is because children will feel like they have to choose sides and start hating their mother as well.

    It is important to talk about how spousal abuse affects children, but not talking about the effect on the victim is erasure. Secondly, if that’s the only reason, then why should the husband refrain if the couple does not have children or the children are not present?

  • minuteye

    There’s a seed of a good idea in there: you should be able to trust that your partner will use their strengths (physical strength, intelligence, experience, etc.) to help you, rather than harm you. Even less-than-virtuous qualities, like stubbornness, can be used to help someone get through a particularly miserable customer service experience and get the bank to remove that extra fee or something, rather than being used to wear someone down until they just give you what they want. As long as it’s gender neutral, it makes a lot of sense.

    But what Driscoll is saying is so… warped from that.

  • Tim

    I agree with some of the commenters that the most insane bit has to be the crazy quote suggesting that “invariably” when a husband verbally abuses his wife it will cause some of the kids to pile on. WTF? Hard for me to get inside his head on that one.
    Regarding the use of Wilcox’s research and analysis, yes, clearly he has an agenda, and yes, flaws have been noted in some of his work. I wouldn’t discount the entirety of any work he’s ever done on that basis, or necessarily fault Driscoll for heavily using him. Consider this: Nica (who writes the Ms article you link) is doing academic work in sociology. If she were to do a study on casual consensual sex, I would lay odds that a progressive group would fund her work, she would structure the study to look for positive outcomes, she would find some positive outcomes and she would offer her opinion on the meaning of those outcomes in her conclusion. LIkewise, if Wilcox did a study on the same topic, there’s an excellent chance he would be funded by a conservative group, look for negative outcomes, find some negative outcomes, and offer opinion on that in his conclusion. Either study, neither, or both might turn up valuable, even complementary, data, despite the differing agendas, depending entirely on the ingenuity, experience, technical competence, and integrity of the researchers. Data is data. I think it’s valuable to go looking for it from more than one perspective because it’s hard to find what you’re not looking for, and we’re each blind in different areas.
    Regarding benevolent sexism, the following thought experiment occurs to me: Two men in China, restricted by the one-child policy, each have one daughter, after which each is widowed, leaving each to raise his daughter on his own. The first is a casual sexist (common in China as in the rest of the world) who is extremely disappointed to have a daughter rather than a son, who beats her when she fails to serve him to his satisfaction or contradicts him, barely nurtures her in any way, discourages her from any education (girls don’t need to know how to read!), and marries her off to a government offical he owes a favor to as soon as it is practical so as to be rid of the embarassment. The second is a benevolent sexist (less common in China) who sees his daughter as a precious flower to be cultivated and protected. He doesn’t think the grinding factory work prevalent in his province is appropriate for a girl, so instead he spends hours tutoring her and helping her prepare for the state exams necessary to get her into college and medical school.
    An analysis of these two men’s language about their daughters heaps equal moral condemnation on each for their equivalent gender biases. However, analysis of their parenting from a Christian perspective might find that the first man is essentially un-loving: his behavior toward his daughter is entirely self-serving and his casual sexism is just a tool he uses to justify activity that makes his life as comfortable and burden-free as possible to her ultimate detriment. Whereas the second man is actually loving his daughter (his neighbor as himself, that is, without regard to her gender, class, etc.) and he is using the socially acceptable language of benevolent sexism (“girls shouldn’t work in factories”) to justify what is really simply his deep respect for his daughter as a person who he recognizes wouldn’t be happy or fulfilled with factory work, but would be more fulfilled as a medical doctor. The proof is perhaps in the daughters’ own experiences of their childhoods – in looking back on their fathers’ treatment in retrospect do they feel equally disrespected? Do they feel equally unhappy with the outcome?
    It seems to me that fundamentalism encourages not only strict ideological purity (You must believe a, b, c, d, e, f, AND g, or you’re Outside the Circle!) but also a host of shibboleths (You must also use the right words in the right way when praising good or condeming bad, or you’re Outside the Circle!). I found that twin burden to be fairly chafing when I grew up under it. Don’t care for it in secular ideological groups either. I’m not discounting the power of language to shape our view of the world, and our behavior, I’m just saying sometimes a focus on words can get in the way of seeing what’s really going on.

  • Cheryel Lemley-McRoy

    I wonder how Mark Driscoll would react if he took a good course in Biblical Hebrew and discovered that the person Jesus left in charge of the church, the Holy Spirit, is feminine in the Hebrew and Aramaic?

    • Crystal

      I don’t know. He’d probably *FREAK* over how much feminism has crept unawares into the church as the serpent beguiled Eve *chuckle*