Browsing Tag



"Real Marriage" review: 19-41, "Friends with Benefits"

When I was in graduate school, one of the books I had to read was The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, and one of the chapters was written by Mark Driscoll– unsurprisingly, it was on swearing. I didn’t know anything about Mark Driscoll at the time, but I figured out quick that he was a pretty big fan of Martin Luther. As I’ve come to know more about Mark, that he sees himself as a “Martin Luther 2.0” should surprise absolutely no one, and that comes across pretty clearly in this chapter. The first five pages are dedicated to Martin Luther’s marriage to Katherine von Bora, and Mark cannot even begin to contain his enthusiasm:

Their marriage was a public scandal and arguably the most significant marriage outside the Bible in the history of the world.

Just … sigh.

In the rest of the chapter, Mark is going to spend a lot of time trying to convince us that he isn’t a raving misogynistic chauvinistic pig and that complementarian headship in marriage isn’t demeaning to women in any way whatsoever. However, the way that Mark writes about Katherine upends that completely:

What is perhaps most curious is that their marriage did not start with love or attraction, as Katherine was not physically attractive . . . Martin even confesses to his friends afterward … that the proud and haughty Katie alienated him . . . Even Martin’s friends were not fond of Katherine. He reported that many cried with grief upon hearing of his hasty marriage. (21)

Katherine was not physically attractive? Aish. It’s not exactly as though Martin was some sort of Adonis, but Mark says absolutely nothing about his looks. And, when talking about their “awkward” early days, due– according to Mark– to their “monasticism,” he only gives an example of Katherine being awkward, not Martin.

As the story goes on, Mark describes the blossoming friendship and romance between Katherine and Martin Luther, but it’s clear from the previous five pages that Mark thinks the love that Martin felt for “Katie” was not only in spite of himself (“Good God, they will never thrust a wife on me!”), but in spite of Katie, as well; after all, Martin married an ugly harpy– a harpy who worked very, very hard and sat with him while he wrote his letters and was just there for him as he did all of his amazing man-stuff while Katherine … kept a garden.


The rest of the chapter is Mark and Grace arguing about how important it is for married people to be friends. Which, ok, there’s nothing wrong with that argument on its face. I think friendship can go a long way in a marriage, and I have a hard time envisioning a successful marriage without friendship– all of the happily married people I know are friends. So, while I don’t necessarily have a problem with the message of the chapter as a whole, I do have a problem with how a lot of the specifics get presented, because things like this happen a lot:

I wanted the friendship but without the conflict. I didn’t understand that true friendship involves healthy conflict and hard discussions as God reveals sin and repentance, and reconciliation takes place. (25)

There’s an important word missing there: can. Friendships can involve conflict. However, the way that Grace has phrased this– and from things they both say later on– it is assumed that all friendships must involve conflict, or they are not actually friendships:

We may say we are someone’s friend, but unless we are quick to pursue them in the sin they have fallen into, we are not really much of a friend. (40)

I disagree with that. This is coming from someone who hasn’t even been married two years yet, so feel free to tip in your two cents, couples-with-more-experience, but drawing on both my experience as a partner and as a friend, I don’t think this is true. All of my friendships have involved some sort of conflict, true, but those have been the moments when our friendships have been the weakest and the most unloving. In my marriage, my goal isn’t to “pursue him into the sin he has fallen into,” but to love and accept and encourage.

I’ve had the sort of friendships that Mark and Grace are advocating for here, and one thing I’ve learned after a short lifetime of “friends” who want nothing more than to “sanctify” and “edify” me is that it sucks. Hardcore. I can’t imagine if Handsome treated me the way that Mark thinks partners should treat each other; I would be miserable and unhappy. The fact that my partner encourages me, and loves me, and accepts me for who I am right now while also dreaming with me about everything we can be together is wonderful. We both want to become better people– more loving, more generous, more kind . . . but we are not going to do that by harping on each other every time we think the other has “fallen into sin.”

Also, Mark doesn’t actually believe this, since he fired, excommunicated, and publicly shamed pretty much anyone who dared to disagree with him, particularly regarding accountability.

Interestingly enough, this first assumption– that true friendships are about “edification”– leads to another problem I have with this chapter: Christian elitism.

Only when marriage and family exist for God’s glory– and not to serve as replacement idols– are we able to to truly love and be loved. (28)

It is through the presence of God the Holy Spirit in our lives that we are able to love our spouses. (30)

We are convinced that the couples who pray … together stay together. (36)

The more his need for her and her need to help him are celebrated as gracious gifts from God, the faster oneness and friendship blossom in the marriage. (38)

That last one is also just icky– because they say that a wife needs to “celebrate being helpful as a gracious gift from God.” Whee. Complementarianism isn’t demeaning or chauvinistic at all. Not even a little bit. But the biggest problem I have (for the moment) with these statements is that they frame non-Christian marriages as less than. They probably wouldn’t go so far as to say that non-Christian marriages are doomed to unhappiness and divorce, but by making the claim that we need to place “glorifying God” as the center purpose of our marriage in order to truly love, what they are saying is that people who don’t think of “glorifying God” as a goal cannot truly love. They can love, sure, but not truly love. Any happiness a non-Christian experiences in their marriage is because of luck, probably. Because they couldn’t possibly be building a healthy marriage filled with trust and love and respect and kindness and acceptance– not without God, at least. Not really.

Christian elitism comes out in a lot of ways in Christian culture, and they’re usually wrapped up in sentiments like this one– and it frustrates me no end because of how baldly false it is. I’m friends with a lot of atheists and agnostics, and my friendships with them have been richer and more meaningful and more challenging than most of the friendships I’ve ever had with Christians– and the relationships that I have now with Christians don’t have anything “more” than my relationships with atheists. In fact, most of the friendships I’ve had with Christians have been profoundly negative and have ended horrifically because they felt more entitled to judge and condemn me than to love me.

In short: being friends with your spouse = good. Doing it the way that Grace and Mark think is good (such as, for Grace, “forcing herself to trust him,” 25) = bad.


wives: you have the right to say "no"

husband and wife
[content note: marital rape]

A few days ago, a reader sent me a link to the piece “Six Things to Know about Sexual Refusal” (DoNotLink) written by a woman who goes by “Chris” or “The Forgiven Wife.” I’ve poked around her website a bit, and it seems as though it’s dedicated to the concept.

I went back and forth over whether or not I should say something about her post, but I’ve read it a few times over the last few days, and I think responding to what she’s written is a good opportunity to address the reality that Christian culture frequently endorses marital rape, since the post does exactly that.

While not every Christian would be as direct as Phyllis Schlafly (“By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape.”), I believe that is a common attitude among Christians– that signing your marriage license is giving cart blanche consent to sex for the entirety of your marriage. Christians are certainly not alone in this, as American culture has long confused prior consent with current consent, and simply being in a relationship with your rapist can make investigating officers dubious about your claims, since, after all, you wouldn’t be in a relationship with someone if you weren’t at least interested in having sex with them, right?

The reason why I’ve chosen to respond to Chris’ article in particular is that the reasons that she lays out are very common ones when Christians are defending marital rape, and she’s organized them into six points.

Her first point is that “sexuality is inherent to a man’s sense of self,” which I think is a true statement as long as it’s coupled with the understanding that sexuality is inherent to a woman’s sense of self, as well. My orientation, my desire, my sexual needs are integral to my understanding of myself as a person. My sexuality is only one part of “me,” but it is a significant part. However, that statement isn’t even the focus of this point:

A man who has to accomplish tasks (whether those are household chores or giving his wife a foot rub in order to get her relaxed enough to even think about sex) in order to have sex is being told he isn’t good enough.

This comes from the “how can he expect me to do laundry/cooking/dishes/diapers all day, without any attention or help, and then expect me to leap into bed with him?!” sentiment, which I understand. I’ve only been married for a year and nine months now, but on the days when my partner has spent the evening not exactly ignoring me but has been wrapped up in his own thing (which is fine in our relationship, we are adults with separate interests), I’m not exactly in the mood to jump him. However, if he gives me a foot rub and helps with the dishes (both very common things in our house), then yeah. I’m way more interested in sex.

What Chris is implying here is that it is more important for the woman to have sex with her husband when she’s not all that interested because oh noes the REJECTION it’s AWFUL than it is for a woman to pay attention to her own needs and her desire to be treated with respect and care.

Her second point sort of made me laugh, and then I was sad.

Men are designed to want sex frequently, and they are designed to seek adventure … God made your husband this way. It is not wrong. It is not perverted. Your husband’s sexuality is godly.

Translation: men are kinkier than women. If your husband is kinkier than you are, you need to be willing to perform sexual acts you are uncomfortable with (or, possibly, might even find “perverted”) because “God made him that way.” This is an idea that people like Mark Driscoll have popularized, and I can attest to the harm its done in my own marriage– because I’m way more kinky than my partner is. We’ve had to have very serious, very long conversations about this because what I think of as “a little more edge” and what my partner thinks of as “edgy” are not the same thing. We’ve agreed to compromise, because it is extremely important to me that he not feel uncomfortable during sex. I want him to be enjoying it, and not having to push himself to do things that make him nervous.

However, what Chris is saying is that women, you do not deserve to feel comfortable during sex. Whatever your husband wants, no matter how uncomfortable you are with it, you do it. Period. Because God said so. Personally, I can’t imagine asking my partner to do something like that– it would make me feel awful. Hopefully the vast majority of husbands are taking their wives’ comfort levels into account, but articles like this (plus the “smoking hot wife” narrative that’s becoming more common in Christian circles) are encouraging men to ignore their wives’ feelings.

Her third point is where the trouble really starts:

Men best receive love through sex … NOTHING matches sex. You can love your husband in every other way possible … You can do everything else he wants or needs … Sexual love trumps everything else combined.


Just … no.

Honestly, this just defies common sense. If all I ever did have sex with my partner, but I never talked to him, never wanted to spend time with him that wasn’t sex, never shared my interests with him, never listened to him about his frustrations or accomplishments, never helped him with anything, never wanted to go anywhere with him, I’m pretty damn sure he’d start feeling pretty damn unloved pretty damn fast.

And this is where rape culture becomes obvious in this post, because the premise of this point is that men are simplistic, men only want one thing, men are pigs, men are animals. That belief is why “she was asking for it” works— because our culture has accepted that sexual violence by men is the only crime where the “overwhelming” temptation to commit it makes committing it excusable, perhaps even justifiable.

This is also the point where Chris begins dismissing the reality of marital rape, because what she is telling women is that the only possible way you can have intimacy and a loving relationship with your husband is if you have sex whenever he wants it. This argument is a Christian-culture-wide form of coercion: you cannot say no, saying no means you do not love your husband. When you remove the ability for consent to be meaningful– for “no” to be a possible answer, it’s sexual coercion.

Point number four is where I got angry:

Depriving him of your sexual pleasure can be as damaging as depriving him of sex altogether.

Just … sputter. No. All the no.

Pleasure during sex is a mutual thing. And, honestly, what women is consciously staving off an orgasm in order to “deprive” her husband of pleasure? If she’s not having an orgasm, there’s a reason– probably a lot of reasons all at once, and it’s impossible for a woman to resolve a lot of those reasons on her own. If her partner is not listening to her about her sexual needs and comforts — like requiring her to engage in sex acts she finds degrading — not
having an orgasm is not her fault. There have been moments when my head hasn’t been fully engaged in having sex with my partner and that’s made arousal and orgasm more difficult, but there have also been plenty of times where my partner is experimenting and it just doesn’t work for me. When that happens, I tell him, and he moves on to something else.

Points five and six are essentially the same thing:

The pattern of rejection is there, all the time. Each specific instance of rejection is a reminder of his lack of worth to you.

Whether your pattern tends toward refusing (outright “no” or other ways of avoiding sex) or gate-keeping (restricting the time, location, and nature of sexual activity), it is likely the worst thing in your husband’s life. It is the worst thing in his life.

This is specifically addressed to women who say “no” more often than not, and it made me want to cry, because I know a lot of women who say no frequently, and this argument has done more damage to them, personally, than anything else. I know women who can be easily triggered by sex because of PTSD caused by sexual violence (which Chris makes it clear in the comments is an audience she is addressing), or who have vaginisimus, or endometriosis, or a plethora of other reasons why having sex might be extremely difficult. But what a woman might be experiencing, why sex might be difficult for her is not important because of her husband’s fee fees. I’m sorry, if your husband isn’t willing to work with you because you’re having a panic attack during sex or you are in so much pain you have to stop, your husband is an asshole.

And Chris, by arguing for women to ignore their own bodies, hearts, souls, and minds, is telling women you do not matter. What you want does not matter. Your pain and suffering do not matter.

Unfortunately, Chris is far from alone in American Christian culture.


"Captivating" Review: 221-225, "Epilogue"

miranda the tempest

So, this is it: the very last post on John and Stasi Eldredge’s Captivating. One of my favorite things about writing this sort of extended-review-critique-thing is that I get to interact with all of you– especially since I grew up in an environment where books like Captivating were far too liberal for me to read. I didn’t have the same sort of experiences that many of you have had; this wasn’t a book I was given by a well-meaning Sunday school teacher, I never had to sit through a “Bible study” dedicated to it. In the end, I absorbed many of the same messages, but the way I was given them was much more toxic, and I believe that level of toxicity makes it easier for me to reject some of those ideas.

I was honestly surprised by Captivating. When I was wrapping up my review series on Fascinating Womanhood, I went looking for the most popular books I could find that covered similar ground, and at the time I believed that what I’d find would be . . . I dunno, maybe not so clearly awful. So when I dug into Captivating and really just found the same exact beliefs as what Helen Andelin promoted, only with a more palatable verbiage coating, it made me angry. I wanted to believe that evangelicalism had moved past the obvious nonsense that Helen wrote about in the 60s… but apparently we haven’t at all.

Anyway, on to the chapter: a lot of it is “buy more of our stuff!” They have CDs and conferences and retreats and study guides and journals and Wild at Heart to push, after all. But, before the sales pitch, Stasi gives us a reason to buy all of their stuff:

So stay with this! This way of life John and I have laid out here has utterly transformed the lives of thousands of women … But you must choose it. You must be intentional, or the world, your flesh, and the devil will have you for lunch.

I just had to laugh and shake my head when I got to that threat, especially when it was followed by a page-long commercial.

This also made me smirk:

Women need men. We will always need them. We need them as a godly covering over us to protect us from other men, from the world, and especially from the enemy. Mary had Joseph. Esther had Mordecai. Ruth had Boaz. We will not become the women God intends us to be without the guidance, counsel, wisdom, strength, and love of good men in our lives.

Esther had Mordecai. Ruth had Boaz.

Right. Because the fact that Esther was kidnapped and forced into a harem was totally Mordecai “protecting her from other men, the world, and especially the enemy.” Granted, her book shows Mordecai offering her advice, but he wasn’t exactly a covering. And Ruth had Boaz? Because Boaz was totally there when Ruth thew off the shackles of her patriarchal culture and decided to follow a woman to a country she’d never been in before and set up house in a town completely hostile to Moabite women (not the least because God commanded them to be that way).

I also couldn’t help but think about all of the women in the Bible who did awesome stuff all on their own. Huldah. Deborah. Dorcas. Men don’t picture in their stories. Deborah, who was married, was the Judge of all Israel, and she ended up being the “covering” for her general. Dorcas was a widow, but was so vital to the ministry of the early church that she was raised from the dead. The king went to Huldah to authenticate the Torah before he went to Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk. Not much “covering” happening there.

It’s just hilarious to me how much of the Bible you have to pretend doesn’t exist in order to think the things about women that a lot of evangelicals do.


At this point, I wanted to take the time to share some of the comments that I’ve gotten on these posts about the experiences some of you have had with Captivating. I think it’s important to highlight the damage that books like these can cause, especially when there’s not very many ways for us to share our pain with the churches trying to pawn these ideologies off on us.

From Marie:

This book was super damaging to me when I read it as a young adult/college student. The idea that women need to be rescued is SUPER damaging, and it creates this idea that we need to depend on men/others to take care of us. Which can land and trap you in some very abusive situations.

I don’t remember if those things were explicitly stated, but they were things I learned from this book.

I grew up believing in gender essentialism, and I was always trying to be “the woman God wanted me to be.” But I’m nothing like the women Staci describes in this book. I don’t value external appearance. Like, at all. I keep my hair short because it is a pain in the butt to take care of otherwise. I am not nurturing. I value my career. I like working. I’m not naturally good with people/relationships, and I don’t want to have kids.

And these are things I was always made to feel ashamed of in the Christian church. I felt like a failure to God because I didn’t have long flowing hair and magical social skills. Books like Staci’s only served to confirm what I had already been taught: that I was “wrong” somehow.

From PJB:

I felt the same way reading through Captivating: it’s entirely circular, and apparently, I don’t exist. “Being a woman is good. Women are womanly, so it’s OK to be who you are. Who you are is valuable. Unless you’re not womanly the way I am womanly. In which case, you can forget about ever being acceptable. Are you sure you aren’t repressing who you REALLY are? Maybe you should change into a more stereotypical woman: because there is something wrong with women like you. Women who are womanly like me get to ‘be ourselves’ because we are God’s design. You get to fake it until you make it.”

Way to go Stacy: You can make (what? guessing the stats here…) maybe 85% of women feel warm and fuzzy about themselves and how they fit God’s design for our gender. Too bad all those warm feelings come at the cost of the 15% that you don’t think are entitled to be members of the same gender as you and your cool womanly friends. That’s OK, Stacy. We’ve met you before. “Mean girls” have been excluding others from their version of femininity since we all turned 10 years old. I don’t think you get to recruit God into your clique just because you married a minister though.

From Aibird:

When I came out to my best friend (she’s an evangelical Christian), she used that same language of that I was damaged, hurt, broken, and needed God to set me right again. To heal me. To restore me. It didn’t matter that I’d never, ever been sexually attracted to guys. My memories of my own life didn’t matter. How I identify is just a disagreement she and I have.

That language Stasi is using is used so incredibly often against anyone who dares to act outside the conscripted norms, who aren’t exactly the way Christians like Stasi believe people should act. This language is so incredibly damaging. To this day, I still struggle with trying to view myself as whole. I still wonder if they’re right. If I am a damaged, broken, wreck of a human being because my sexuality isn’t straight, because I struggle with my gender identity, because I hate wearing dresses.

And it makes it all the worse when they act all sympathetic and want to help. Even though what they’re doing is just making it worse.

From Zoe:

It’s pretty horrifying. I grew up in a conservative religious home and as time passed we had all the proper books; and I got married and we got more of the proper books. I’ve read about everything proper out there about how to properly be a woman, until I stopped reading them. It’s horrifying. They spend half their time telling you this is natural and how you were created, and the other half telling you how and why you should do what you’d presumably be doing anyway IF IT WERE NATURAL. It’s not, and that’s why we have such a cottage industry of books for women policing them back into their “place.”

This wouldn’t require such effort if it were in fact natural, and if women were in fact all the same deep down as the authors would like us to believe. It’s false, false, false, and there’s just enough truth and just enough spiritual language to get all the bull past people’s radar.

From 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.

From MageRaven:

I read the book as soon as it came out years ago when I was still searching through the popular evangelical self-help doctrines for the reason why I hated myself. This book only served to increase my shame over not acting feminine enough (not to mention deepening my humiliation over being a ”weak” female in the first place), and sent me into a pretty deep depression. Which, of course, I was supposed to pray myself out of to be a happy, demure, peace-filled Christian beauty. *gags*

From Shikonmaris:

I wanted to focus on this part of the quote, “alluring those in our lives to the heart of God.” An interesting choice of verb. Women can’t teach, can’t explain, can’t demonstrate, reenact, show, etc. No, women must allure – tempt, entice, seduce, manipulate. Anything straightforward, logical, action orientated etc is not in the realm of women. I hate that Staci writes women as so seeped in deceit that our service to God cannot be separated from trickery and manipulation.

From David:

I used to lead a Sunday school class for the high school age kids at our church. My practice was to let the kids decide which book we would read each semester. Interestingly, one semester one of the girls requested Wild at Heart and the rest of the group agreed to give it a shot. Each week we would read one chapter and then discuss it during our class. Reading the book was agony — every two or three pages I would have to stop and rant to my poor wife about how awful it was before I could press on — but on Sunday mornings I kept my distress bottled up because I liked to let my class discuss their own views and reactions without injecting my own opinions (apart from giving them passages of scripture to compare/contrast) unless they asked for them. After the third chapter, one of the boys in the class said that he dreaded reading it every week and asked if we could consider switching to something else. There was a chorus of agreement from the others. Even the girl who had requested it said that she was deeply disappointed.



"Captivating" review: 204-220, "An Irreplaceable Role"


The patriarchy is strong with this one.

I think I might have broken a record for how many times I threw the book across the room during a single chapter, but I suppose that should have been expected considering this is the last chapter and John and Stasi have to really start nailing everything home– we only have the epilogue left.

They start off this chapter by making me laugh, because they frame the story of Cinderella as “a beautiful parable.” I’m sorry, y’all, but Cinderella is a character from a fairy tale. I’m not going to argue that fairy tales can’t communicate deep and abiding truths, questions, morals, and ideas (since the title of this blog is a reference to the argument that they can and do), but fairy tales and parables aren’t the same thing. At this point, though, I’m not surprised that they’ve conflated the two– they’re twisted and manipulated various forms of art all through their book.

At the end of the chapter, they pull from Anna and the King, the non-musical (and slightly less racist) version of The King and I, and uncritically present the end of the film thusly:

[King Mangkut] wants to show the British that his country is ready to enter into the affairs of the world, so the dinner is given in the English style– silverware, tablecloths, candlelight, and, at the end of the meal, ballroom dancing.

This comes after two hundred pages of John and Stasi insisting, repeatedly, that all women and all men in all countries in all times have believed and acted out the same exact things that the they, living in 21st century America, believe about gender. They have completely erased any other possibility that not every culture in every time has agreed with them about their sexist stereotypes, and then they take something that was supposed to indicate the imperialistic and colonialist oppression of the East by Britain and portray it as if it is a positive thing. They are utterly tone deaf, and seem completely incapable of getting outside of their white middle-class American privilege bubble.

Also, just two random observations: even though they refer to Junia as a woman, they use the almost-successful-attempt-to-erase-her-womanhood version of her name, using “Junias” on page 206. On page 214, they relegate Deborah, who is described as a “prophet” and who was “leading Israel” or “judging Israel” (depending on translation) in Judges 4:4, to a mere “advisor.” They take a woman who stands with Ehud, Gideon, and Samson and make her an advisor. ARG GABLARG.

Anyway, the argument of this chapter is that women are desperately necessary, and that we are meant to be “ezer.” Which, this is a beautiful thought, and on a superficial level I’d agree with them. They assert that “women in God’s story are as diverse and unique as wildflowers in a field. No two quite look the same,” and I think they’ve chosen an appropriate image for what they’ve spent three pages describing:

Field Of Mountain Wildflowers HD Desktop Background

While it’s certainly true that no two wildflowers are going to be exactly the same, when staring at a field full of them, what gets communicated is an overwhelming sense homogeneity. We might have subtle differences, but if women are collectively supposed to be as “diverse as a field of wildflowers,” then we’re not actually diverse at all, and that’s what comes bursting through in their description. They share a half-dozen different stories of women they admire, and they’re all either mothers or completely devoted to “spiritual” tasks (missionaries, etc)– and each one is painted as being sacrificial in the extreme. That is a problem, because women– especially Christian women– are required by patriarchy to be sacrificial to the point of degradation.

And then they talk about “spheres of influence,” blithely skipping over how horrifically damaging the Victorian doctrine of “separate spheres” was for women. If you’re not familiar with the term spheres of influence, it’s fundie-speak, adopted from Cold War-era political and militaristic rhetoric, although it’s simply another phrase for the “separate spheres” nonsense: men are to be in public, women are to be in private (example: men should vote, women cannot). It’s oppressive and sexist language, but they don’t even stop there:

We haven’t time here to address the issues surrounding the ‘proper role of women’ in the church … However, we do believe it is far more helpful to start with Design— with what God designed a woman to be and to offer … A woman is not the same as a man (thank God!)

Furthermore, many of the Scriptures on the Role of women in the church are a reflection of God’s concern for a woman’s protection and spiritual covering. We live in a dangerous world … It follows that God would want to ensure that woman helping to advance his Kingdom would be offered the covering and protection of good men. Issues of headship and authority are intended for the benefit of women, not their suppression.

God desires that wherever and however you offer yourself to the Body of Christ, you’ll have the protection of good men over you. Not to hold you back, but to set you free as a woman.

This is called benevolent sexism.

John and Stasi have done everything they can to convince their female readers that being relegated to passivity, beauty, placidity, restfulness, inaction, and weakness is actually a good thing, but what they’re really doing is nothing more than a bait-and-switch. You’re a powerful person! You’re the ezer kenegdo! You’re needed! But only if you stay within your proper sphere and let the big strong man protect you. Do anything else, and in their words you are Fallen, Strident, Dominating, or Desolate. If we think we just might be able to be something besides a beautiful muse, we better check ourselves, because that’s Satan trying to destroy what you can do for the church.


do you have to be pro-choice to be feminist?

mother and baby

One of the reasons why I write here is to attempt to convince people that feminism isn’t the movement a lot of people think that it is– we’re not a bunch of bitter, vengeful, ugly hags. Being a feminist doesn’t mean you have to hate men, or burn your bra, or you can’t shave your legs, or you’ll never be able to wear makeup again. There’s a lot of stereotypes out there, stereotypes intentionally created by those who fought (and fight) against gender equality, but hopefully if you’ve been here long enough you’ll realize that I definitely don’t fit those molds.

I read a lot of feminist writers who are trying to do the same thing– we consider ourselves advocates and educators, and we put ourselves into that position of being the person willing to explain the obvious over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over . . . and something that we end up saying, ad nauseum, is:

“The definition of feminism is ‘a) the belief that all genders should be politically, economically, and socially equal, and b) the organized movement to bring this about.'”

Some of us have argued that this is all you need to be a feminist, that there’s nothing more to it than that. If you believe that men and women should be equal, than wham bam thank you ma’am you’re a feminist.

I’m not one of those people. I think there’s a whole lot more to feminism than that, and I think it’s far too easy for someone to claim that they believe in gender equality on paper and then be a patriarchal misogynist in real life. And while I hope that someday we’ll live in a world where everyone believes in the ideals of feminism, that world is a long way away, and in the mean time, there are a lot of people walking around calling themselves a feminist who are not and they’re able to do it because they/we think the above definition is all there is to it.

And it’s not as though feminism is a monolithic movement and every feminist thinks and believes and wants the same thing. I identify as an intersectional feminist because it seems obvious to me that every person can be both oppressed and privileged based on different parts of our identity. But there’s also trans-exclusionary radical feminism (as much as I’d prefer that they’d stop calling themselves feminists, I’m not going to start shouting “No True Scotsman!”); there’s also the problem of white feminism (which is one of the reasons why I don’t push the feminist label on those who don’t want to claim it. Feminists have a history of being racist as fuck, people); and then there’s all sorts of other disagreements– can porn be feminist? Can you be a sex worker and be feminist? Is lipstick feminism a thing?

But, probably one of the more divisive issues is reproductive rights.

Do you have to be pro-choice to be a feminist? I’ve explained, at length, why I am pro-choice. However, becoming pro-choice took me years and I don’t think it’s a position that a lot of people can adopt. So, do I want to put an insurmountable roadblock in place for those who can’t accept the pro-choice position? Can you be a pro-life feminist?

Well, in my opinion… yes and no.

It all depends on how you define pro-life.

If you want to make all abortion illegal (like it is in Ireland and some Latin American nations), then no. Absolutely not. If you think that “partial-birth abortion” is a medical term and want to ban any abortion after 20 weeks, then no. If you want to make it impossible for international aid organizations to offer women in developing nations hormonal contraception, then no. If you think that a company has the right to dictate to their employees what medicine they are allowed to use, then no. If you think that legalizing rape by use of a medical instrument in the context of a doctor’s office is ok, then no. If you think that women who don’t want to keep their babies should just give them up for adoption but you aren’t ever going to adopt a baby, then no. If you think that women who have abortions are just lazy sluts who have been brainwashed by money-hungry doctors, then no.

However, if you have personal moral and/or spiritual reservations about the life of the unborn and you don’t think you’d ever get an abortion no matter how desperate you were, but you are aware that all making abortion illegal does is kill women, then yes. If you believe that life is a beautiful, sacred mystery and deserves to be valued, but you also acknowledge that woman are people, too, then yes. If you want to do all you can to reduce the abortion rate through education, through access to effective contraception, through pursuing policies that will help working mothers keep their jobs (like subsidized day care, either through employers or government-sponsored programs), if you believe that life outside of the womb is just as important as life inside of it, then hell yes.

In short, if you believe that abortion should be illegal: I’m sorry, but no. I don’t think you should consider yourself a feminist. Keep on fighting for gender equality in whatever circumstances your find yourself in, absolutely, but I don’t think that it’s possible to pursue policies that would endanger the lives of countless women and be a feminist.

But, if you don’t want to make abortion illegal, but you’d like to see it become scarce (through pursuing realistic and proven-to-be-effective methods) and you’d never have an abortion yourself, then yes. I think you could be a feminist.


"Captivating" review: 188-203, "Warrior Princesses"


With a chapter titled “Warrior Princesses,” I only had one option for the picture today. I don’t think it’s what Stasi had in mind when she wrote it, but I have to make up for this trainwreck of a chapter somehow.

First off, there are some good things about this chapter, my favorite being this:

Antidepressants are stigmatized in the church. Some call them “happy pills.” Others say that if you are filled with the Holy Spirit and walking with God in faith, you will not need them. They shame those who are responsibly taking them. But we don’t shame diabetics who take insulin. Why do we shame people with a chemical imbalance who need to take something to help them?

Honestly, I was sad I was a little surprised that Stasi wrote this. I wouldn’t have expected it from her, but I’m glad that she went out of her way to make this clear in her section on “emotional attacks.” This is one of those times when I understand why so many women have read this book and found it encouraging.

I do have a couple problems with this chapter. The first one appears in this passage:

Women are called to join in the Greatest Battle of all time– the battle being waged for the hearts of those around us … The war is a deadly one; the results devastating or glorious, but always eternal. We are needed … But we will only be victorious when we enter in with our feminine hearts– when we battle as women.

She explains what she means by this here:

Women warriors are strong, yes, and they are also tender. There is mercy in them. There is vulnerability … Offering our hearts wisely, living in the freedom of God’s love, inviting others to rest, alluring those in our lives to the heart of God, and responding to the heart of God in worship are some of the most powerful ways that a woman wars for her world.

Let’s take a second to evaluate what Stasi is claiming:

  • Women are needed to fight.
  • If we lose the “battle,” the consequences are devastating and fatal.
  • We can only win the battle when we fight “as women.”
  • Fighting as a woman means being tender, vulnerable, passive, and alluring.

This is a much nicer version of all the threats Helen Andelin made in Fascinating Womanhood. It doesn’t come across as a threat, but it’s what it is. Be the sort of woman Stasi thinks is godly– feminine, vulnerable, tender, passive– or you’ll be the reason why “The Enemy” destroys your life, your marriage, your children’s lives, your church . . . This is why people like the Eldredges push gender essentialism as hard as they do: they literally believe that if women aren’t their version of feminine and men aren’t their version of masculine that Satan will actually destroy the world.

I also dislike how Stasi paints Christianity as inherently violent. She says that “Christianity is not a passive religion. It is an invasion of a Kingdom. We who are on the Lord’s side must wield his victory. We must learn to enforce it.”

I understand that we’re in the middle of a chapter Stasi’s decided to call “Warrior Princesses” so all the war and battle metaphors are an outgrowth of that, but it’s pretty apparent that Stasi has never taken the time to read about things like imperialism or colonialism, and especially how American Christianity has been deeply affected by those ideologies. Talking about Christianity as an “invasion” and thinking of our purpose as believers in terms of “conquerors” and “rulers” is dangerous and damaging.

But, my biggest issue with this chapter is something that Stasi went very far out of her way to cloak. She spends a great deal of time emphasizing how women are part of the “Greatest Battle of all time,” and she is doing this on purpose because she desperately needs to convince all of her female readers to be the kind of woman she thinks is godly– beautiful, passive, and existing primarily to inspire men/others. She knows that a lot of us will read this and think “wow, that sounds really pointless and a total waste of my abilities,” so this chapter is about giving us an alternative. No really, she’s shouting, being feminine means that you’ll be super duper important I swear.

Except … it’s all fake.

She goes to extreme lengths trying to persuade us of how important we’ll be, and she includes a lot of stories about “spiritual warfare,” some of which are disturbing and involve a woman almost dying. No, seriously– a woman is asphyxiating to death, turning blue, and the reaction of the women around her isn’t “wow, maybe we should call 911” but let us pray over her and command the evil spirit assaulting her in the name of Jesus! Thankfully, the woman doesn’t die, but this is why I find the kind of Christianity advocated by people like the Eldredges so disturbing.

The problem is that because we’re women we’re not supposed to do things that are actually meaningful. Running companies, being take-charge women, being independent and dedicating ourselves to the areas that we are gifted in– none of that is possible for Stasi’s woman. She must be passive and beautiful, and dedicate her life to “arousing Adam” so that men can go on to do all of the physically, real-lived-life meaningful things. Instead, we get to be . . . spiritual warriors. We’re allowed to shout things into the air in empty rooms. And spend a lot of time praying.


reproductive coercion: Rhiannon's story


I am a feminist who supports contraception coverage for every person who needs and wants it. However, that does not mean that I will be blind to some of the ways that hormonal contraception can be used as a weapon against women; some have criticized the ever-growing expectation for women to be the one primarily responsible for contraception. Since hormonal contraception is a medication that is not right for every person, that expectation can harm women and needs to be discussed. This is Rhiannon’s story.

No one else from my high school was going to the same college as me, which was exactly what I wanted. As the youngest in a fairly large family, I always felt like I wasn’t allowed to be my own person. This would be just the fresh start that I needed. I bumped into a friend I’d lost touch with after middle school, and she invited me to an 18-and-older club. I walked into her dorm room before we left, and there he was.

Joey was a textbook bad boy – he had a mouth like a sailor, he smoked like a freight train, and he often had a flask of whiskey in his boot. He was every boy that I had never been allowed to hang out with at all, let alone date, and I was drawn to him because I was starving for adventure.

Things started out fairly innocently, I suppose. We danced at the club and ended up spending the night together a few nights later. Slowly, he started taking up more and more of my time. Things were always a little on the rough side. I cared about him and wanted to make him happy. He was afraid to commit but he would tell me that I was the first girl that ever made him feel the way he was feeling. His parents had been married for nearly thirty years and suddenly separated and got back together multiple times, and he was angry. He was always so angry. I was terrified riding in the car with him in traffic because I was afraid of his rage at simple things, like a traffic light turning red, or another driver forgetting to use a turn signal. If I got out of class and walked to meet him at the café with a male classmate he would get a sullen, resentful look on his face and ball up his fists until we sat down and our other friends arrived.

I never thought much of it because guys are jealous, right? He never got angry with me, so it was okay, wasn’t it? He’s just going through a lot right now, I told myself. He won’t always be like this.

Although he had never slept with anyone before we met, he still wanted me to perform sexual favors for him, with little to no reciprocation. We did begin a sexual relationship not long after we started dating officially. He was more paranoid about pregnancy than any person I had ever met. We always used condoms and he always pulled out as well, so I wasn’t concerned about pregnancy. He kept up with my menstrual cycle and when it was close to time for my period to start he would constantly ask me, to the point of harassment, if I had started yet. I thought maybe he would settle down after a while, but he didn’t. He just got worse. He started making threats, thinly veiled as jokes, about what would happen if I got pregnant. Most of his “jokes” involved coat hangers and flights of stairs.

I was too consumed with this relationship to see the warning signs of the depression I was falling into. I never had even a drink of alcohol before I went to college, but he and his friends all drank fairly heavily, so I started. And I liked it. I liked that it made me feel warm all over and I liked how it always felt like I was completely removed from my emotions when I was drunk.

He pressured me to get on birth control. At that point in my life, I was terrified of medication in general. I hated to even take an ibuprofen for a headache. The thought of taking artificial hormones and manipulating the natural processes of my body made me feel sick. He wouldn’t let up, though, so I made an appointment with the student health center to get a prescription. They prescribed me a $9 generic from Wal-Mart, which was more than I could afford at the time since I was in school full-time and living off of my financial aid. Joey wouldn’t help me. His reasoning was that I had better financial aid and therefore more money than he did.

That birth control made me feel awful. I was nauseous and I had heart palpitations and sudden, stabbing headaches. I stuck it out for a few months before I gave up. At that point, our relationship deteriorated pretty badly. I knew I wanted out but I didn’t know how. All of my friends were also his friends, because I had slowly cut my own friends out of my life.

One evening after a practice session where he was teaching me MMA-style fighting, we were sitting in the living room of the apartment he shared with some friends. There was a friendly but very lively debate going on about something in the Bible – I don’t remember what it was, exactly. I disagreed with something that Joey said and he got angry. Angrier than I had ever seen him. He had a mouthguard in his hand from our fighting earlier, and he threw it at my face. I was across the room and he was mad enough to mess up his aim. It didn’t hit me, but I felt the air rush past my face. Immediately, I calmly got up, walked to his bedroom, and started throwing all of my things into a bag. He ran to apologize, spewing a lot of total crap about how much he loved me and how “you just make me feel everything more strongly!”

I left.

I wish I could say that I left for good that night. In reality, it took a couple of months. But that was the start.

He never physically hit me (other than in the practice sessions), and he was very good at framing his manipulative words in a way that made me feel like I was being irrational and overreacting. Actually, his arguments followed a pattern similar to all of my parents’ tirades. My whole life, my parents told me that they loved me unconditionally, but then they turned around and screamed me into submission with implications of my sinfulness for “dishonoring my father and mother.” I didn’t have any kind of experience of a relationship without fear and emotional manipulation as the backbone, so how was I to recognize my relationship with Joey as abusive?

It was abusive. Abuse isn’t always sexual, although I do recognize some of my encounters with Joey as assault now that I know better. Abuse isn’t always physical. It’s not always bruises and black eyes and bloody noses. Abuse is often invalidation, emotional trauma, and power play. Joey figured out that I was vulnerable to being manipulated and he used that to keep me in his life when I should have been running far away from him.


The Stay-at-Home-Daughter Movement

miranda the tempest
[The Tempest by Waterhouse]

My freshman year in highschool, I mentioned my dream to become a marine botanist to my best friend, our pastor’s daughter, and she laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “You can’t be a scientist. You have to be a keeper at home.”

Keeper at home.

It’s a phrase from the King James translation of Titus 2, and we interpreted it to mean that it was against God’s laws for women to be employed. Our church, however, took it one step further: if all a woman was allowed to be was a “keeper at home,” then it was utterly pointless for her to try to be anything else. Pursuing an education, or longing for a career, could do nothing but harm her with shattered dreams. For that reason, young women in our church were asked to be “stay-at-home daughters.”

I gave up my dreams. I sacrificed them on the altar of biblical womanhood, fervently believing that the only way I could be blessed by God was to follow the clear guidelines laid out in Scripture. I was committed to remaining at home until I was married, when my father would transfer his ownership of me to my husband, giving me away at the altar with his blessing after a brief, paternally-guided courtship.

Occasionally, a snatch of a dream would intrude. No, Samantha. My inner voice would be harsh, echoing my Sunday school teachers and pastor’s wife. Do not be tempted. That’s just the Devil trying to trick you away from God’s plan.

A few weeks ago, Rachel Held Evans asked if I’d be interested in writing about my experiences with the Stay-at-Home Daughter movement and how I eventually decided to go to college against everything I’d ever been taught. I agreed, and put together a post for her blog. You can read the rest here.


being a feminist makes me a better Christian

[art by Rebecca Guay]

I had just started my job as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble, and I could not have been more excited– it was the perfect job for me at the time. I got to be surrounded by books, helping people find books they’d love, and it was a part-time retail job that wasn’t a huge commitment, since I thought I’d probably be moving in a while.

I was being trained by the lead cashier on how to work the registers, and he was a delightful person, cheerful and outgoing in a way that didn’t annoy me at 7 o’clock in the morning, which is a rarity for me, the night owl. As we made conversation, he asked about my plans for the weekend and I responded with how I was going to attend an event at my parent’s church.

Instantaneously, he became somber. Sad, almost. He looked me in the eyes and said “I’m — gay.”

A little confused by sudden change in conversation, the only thing I could think of was “… ok?”

He shook his head a little, then went on. “I just mean, will working with me be a problem for you? Would it be better if I asked one of the other cashiers to train you?”

I was dumbfounded– I couldn’t figure out what in the world had happened and why he would ask me this. “Wait– why would working with you be a problem for me? You’ve been awesome.”

He smiled a little, and it was sardonic. “I’ve just worked with Christians in the past, and I’ve found it’s usually better if we don’t work closely together.”

I stared at him, humbled and sorrowful. I had to fight back tears. “No, it absolutely will not be a problem for me. I’m so sorry you needed to ask.”


Growing up in Christian fundamentalism meant that I’d been trained since I was fairly young to think of the world in strictly black-and-white terms. I believed in an extreme form of objectivism, and thought that everything in the world was either clearly right or clearly wrong. There were no moral gray areas, and any question I could possibly have about morality would have an answer in Scripture. Since I’m also an ISTJ, the black-and-white nature of fundamentalism appealed to me.

Since I left fundamentalism behind, I’ve had to fight to reject the theological and philosophical framework that had been ingrained in me for twelve years. And, even as I’ve left Christian fundamentalism, I’ve had to fight with myself to not simply adopt a fundamentalist way of thinking about the ideas I’m developing now. It’s an extremely pernicious trap for me. I want things to be black-and-white, us vs. them. It’s the way the world makes the most sense to me, and it’s difficult for me to get outside of that box.

The one thing that keeps me from slipping back inside my black-and-white mentality is feminism.


I officially became a feminist my second year in graduate school, although I’d been gradually moving in that direction ever since my sophomore year in undergrad. It took a while to become comfortable with the term, to reclaim it from centuries of active and hateful misogyny and all the perpetuated stereotypes and lies that my conservative Christian leaders desperately wanted me to believe.

The one thing I knew when I decided to become a feminist was I know nothing about it. The only things I’d “known” about feminism were obviously lies once I actually started reading feminist literature and actually listening to feminists, and I knew I had a lot of catching up to do. I buried myself in research, and thankfully I had access to databases for a year and I could read all the feminist scholarship I’d ever want. I ordered books through the library, and started talking to my professors about feminist ideas in and out of class.

For the last year and a half  I’ve been steadily blogging about my journey, and if you’ve been here all that time you’ll know how I’ve already changed and grown and developed as a feminist. The best thing about talking to feminists, and developing relationships and friendships with feminists, and learning more about feminism, is how it’s forced me to become a better person.

Feminism taught me to look for the person first. I don’t see facts and figures and statistics and abstract problems anymore, but people. Mentally I know that, in America, 1 in 7 married women experience sexual violence at the hands of their husbands– but that’s not what I’m seeing when I hear that. I think of all the married women I’ve ever known and forced myself to realize that some of them have been sexually abused by their husbands, and there is no way any one can tell. They need love and help and support– and they need that from me regardless of whether or not they’ll ever tell me what’s happened to them.

I listen to our stories, now. I don’t dismiss the individual because their experience isn’t my experience. I’ve learned to value that vast diversity of experiences and perspectives in a way that I’ve never been able to before.

Because of feminism, I’ve learned to respect myself. The Christian cultures I’ve been a part of, from fundamentalism to non-denominational evangelicalism, have tried to teach me to be ashamed of my sexuality, to see myself as dirty, to think of myself primarily as a subordinate to another person. Feminism has given me the ability to recognize myself as a person whose voice deserves to be listened to. I am a child of God, created with the imago dei, and I have gifts and abilities and talents that should not be ignored.

But, most importantly, feminism has shown me how to follow Jesus better. Feminism has shown me how to love my neighbor, how to show grace and compassion and empathy, how to defend those who cannot defend themselves. For the first time in my life, when I see the poor and the orphan and the widow, the least of these, I see Jesus.


I wrote this post as part of a synchroblog on the intersection of feminism and faith. If you’d like,  you can watch the conversation happening at the Twitter hashtag #faithfeminisms, and you can see the contributed posts here.


"Captivating" Review: 150-169, "Arousing Adam"

adam and eve

I’m skipping a chapter because it’s titled “Beauty to Unveil,” and I’m not critiquing what they have to say about beauty again. I’ve already spent Three. Bloody. Posts. on it. I’m done talking about it, and how I wish they were done talking about it, too. When I was talking to Handsome about Wild at Heart, he mentioned that John’s book is also completely obsessed with beauty, as one of the things that is apparently essential to John’s version of Manning Manliness Manhood is “pursuing beauty.”

The reason why this is going up today instead of yesterday when I normally post my Captivating reviews is that I threw the book across the room three times and I couldn’t make it all the way through the chapter. I really just wanted to burn it. So, today’s post might be just a touch … fractured, as I’m really just trying to get through it in one, non-furious piece.

The chapter starts off in a decent place: you can’t get your fulfillment from other people, even your romantic partners. I agree with that. I don’t necessarily agree that personal fulfillment can only come from God, but I still think it’s an important point to make that you can’t rely on your partners for your sense of identity and well-being. We’re supposed to love and support each other, but we can’t be the end-all-be-all of our partner’s happiness.

However, the chapter slides into a disaster immediately after they make that clear, because they spend the entire time telling women that the core parts of what being a woman is– softness, tenderness, vulnerability, beauty– are all there in for the express (and only!) purpose to “arouse Adam,” to inspire men, to be their Muse.

The question before us is, how does a woman best love a man? The answer is simple: Entice him. Inspire him. Allure him.

Through the rest of the chapter, Stasi and John demonize any women they think aren’t alluring enough to men, or who don’t try to be alluring, or who don’t think that being alluring to men is important. We’re a bunch of emasculators who “make their husbands pee sitting down” (161).

But what made me want to burn this book (sigh … again) was the section when she’s using Enchanted April as an illustration to talk about a “desolate” character named Lottie:

She is not harsh– just shut down from years of living with a selfish, domineering pig of a man. She looks like a whipped puppy, rushing to please him in any way, not out of love but out of fear and some weird idea of submission. She is depressed . . .

Desolate women don’t seem at first pass to be all that emasculating. They don’t attack or dominate. But neither do they allure … The lights are off; they have dimmed their radiance. A man in her presence feels uninvited. Unwanted. It’s a form of rejection, emasculation to be sure.

Burn everything. Burn all the things.

I’ve never seen Enchanted April, but what’s described here sounds like an abusive relationship . . . that’s caused by Lottie being a desolate woman who is emasculating her husband, thereby making him feel unwanted– according to Stasi.

That section is followed by this:

There are men out there who are not safe and good men. Some of you are married to men like this … How do you love them? With great wisdom and cunning.

Uhm … no No NO NO NO. You divorce him.

The next two pages are Stasi sounding exactly like Helen Andelin (“It was a brilliant trap, well set,” because women should “cunningly” ensnare their husbands with manipulative traps), and then she relates a story about “Betsy” who was married to a “verbally abusive man” who was an elder, “mean,” who “villainized her to their children, their church.” But what did Betsy do– and what all women in her situation should do? She “didn’t seek divorce”; instead she:

invited him to feel the weight of his consequences … She fasted and prayed … She gave him many tastes of what life could be like together …