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Feminism

Fascinating Womanhood: family finances

1950s Woman Shopping Frozen Food Section Of Grocery Store

Occasionally during the course of her book, Helen gives her readers practical, “down-to-earth” level advice. This is one of those chapters, which is dedicated to telling women how they can help their husbands by “developing the womanly art of thrift.”

Like she usually does, she opens up her chapter by appealing to the Bible, which “makes it clear” that it is “the husband’s responsibility to provide the living.” However, also like she usually does, she doesn’t reference any particular passage, just expecting us to know what she’s talking about. However, I can think of a few examples that render this claim completely unfounded:

  • The Proverbs 31 Woman. She’s been used to bludgeon Christian women for decades, but one of the things that “the Bible makes clear” that she does is not just “practice the womanly art of thrift” but she also makes money. Proverbs 31 describes a woman who is like “the ships of the merchant,” whose “merchandise is profitable.”
  • Priscilla, who with her husband runs a profitable tent-making business. Paul frequently talks about how indebted he was to this married couple, and he always lists Priscilla first. Considering that the culture of the time always listed the head of the household first, Paul’s decision to lead with her name is significant. (Acts 18).
  • Lydia, the “seller of purple,” and traditionally considered the first Christian convert in Europe. Because of her wealth and her status as a free woman, she invited Paul and his companions into her home, which she would not have been able to do if she was under the legal control of a husband or father. She was clearly in control of her home, independent of any man (Acts 16).
  • Phoebe, who Paul describes as “minister” (the same word he uses to label other notable pastors) and a “leader” or “patron.” She was tasked with delivering his letter to Rome, a duty that also would have required her to read and interpret it for the church there. She was certainly not staying at home, behind closed doors, hiding behind her husband. (Romans 16)
  • Titus specifically tells Roman-Christian women to be “keepers at home,” which as I’ve written about before, was a charge to run a profitable family business; it was not something Paul wrote to make sure women stay in the kitchen.

“The Bible makes clear” Helen? I’m not sure what Bible she’s reading, but it’s not the one I’m pretty sure everyone else in the world has.

But, the biggest thing that bothers me about this chapter is how harshly she divides up people. The way she talks about married couples in this chapter is incredibly divisive. She boxes every single last human being on the planet into what she thinks is “biblical” without any sort of exceptions, without extending grace, without viewing difficult situations with compassion.

She is strictly addressing wives, here, and what she tells them is that they are to be given “allowances” to cover the “household budget”– which does not include anything outside of groceries and clothing. She forbids women from making any sort of purchase– at all— that doesn’t fit inside of “anything in regular demand.” Any kind of need, like furniture or repairs, is to be sought out and paid for only by the husband, and he has “major jurisdiction and final say.” She tells us that we’re not allowed to discuss these sorts of things with him– ever. If we do, we risk emasculating our husbands and “relieving him of his responsibilities” which, somehow results in husbands becoming incapable of handling money wisely.

This actually fits into Helen’s pattern, and is a direct result of how she views communication. To Helen, any possible sort of discussion (“conflict”) is to be avoided at all costs. If a conversation between a husband and a wife could lead to any sort of disagreement whatsoever, she absolutely forbids you from having it. To Helen, a marriage is only “successful” if the two never disagree, and the only way for that to happen is for one person to never have a say. In Helen’s world, that person is always the wife. The fact that one of the biggest sources of conflict in marriages is money (couples who fight over money once a week are 30% more likely to get divorced) has led Helen to believe that husbands and wives must never, ever talk about it. If you never even discuss money, you can’t fight over it, and presto-change-o, happy marriage!

For families in “financial distress” she tells women they they aren’t allowed to go get a job. Instead, we’re supposed to “reduce expenses” and “trim the luxuries” which… gah. The suggestions she makes for how women could do this? Selling their second car. Cancelling vacations. Don’t be tempted by advertisements. Which, in some situations could be perfectly reasonable advice. However, I’m becoming more and more convinced that Helen has never interacted with a poor person in her entire life. People who have two cars and can afford to sell one of them aren’t in financial distress, I’m sorry. Maybe someone who has two cars is living outside of their means, but that is nowhere near the sort of scale many families are facing when 20% of all children go hungry because they live in “very low food security households.” Selling your second car isn’t going to fix that.

And what are we supposed to do when men “make a mess of things”? When they don’t pay the mortgage, or the bills, when they overdraft their accounts?

Let go completely and turn your back on things. Don’t be anxious, checking the books to see if he added right, or is neglecting anything. If he make a mess of things, let him suffer the consequences, no matter what they are. That is the only way he will learn.

I might have thrown the book across the room at that line. Because he’s not the only one suffering consequences when the bank forecloses on your house because he didn’t pay the mortgage. This sort of comment doesn’t even begin to make sense, but she justifies it with “psychology”:

He will begin to feel responsible, to know that if anyone is to worry about the money, it will have to be him. And he will notice your relief, that you are happier. Let him know you are. As he sees you brighter he will try harder to make a go of things, to keep you happy.

Helen doesn’t live on this planet. I’m positive. If she did, she’d realize how ridiculous a statement this is. Sure, some people are motivated by wanting to make the people in their life happy. I’m one of them. But there are plenty of people who couldn’t give a damn, but she doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. This chapter, while Helen has presented it as practical advice, it is almost entirely inapplicable for huge sections of humanity. It is only relevant to the top 20% of all American households, and is wholly incapable of even making sense anyone who doesn’t have the luxury of two cars and a $70,000-a-year income. Helen, here, is displaying an astounding lack of compassion or even awareness that some families really are destitute. Her white, middle-class privilege is pouring out of her, and it’s more that just disappointing.

Helen isn’t alone in this attitude, which is heartbreaking. Many people in conservative evangelical America share the exact same blinders that Helen has on in this chapter. We’ve forgotten that Jesus said “the poor you will always have with you” and that our primary responsibility as the Church is to care for the widows, the orphans, and the poor. We don’t even know they exist anymore. Not really. Oh, we do the Christmas shoebox drives and the book drives and the canned food drives and the backpack drives– one for each season. And then we completely forget about them, except for those four times a year.

I want to be angry with Helen, but I can’t be angry with Helen without feeling anger towards the modern American church in general.

Social Issues

bounds of their habitation: a request for guest posts

racism

It was our first pre-marital counseling session, and I was nervous. I wasn’t thrilled with being forced to do this, but John* wanted his pastor to marry us, and that meant going through at least four separate counseling sessions. However, both of us were in a different state than his pastor, so the only option I had was going to a pastor that made me . . . uncomfortable. I already was struggling with trusting this man. He’d exercised church discipline against a woman who dared to express a different view than him without seeking the approval of the church body first. When I was being attacked and lied about by one of the church’s young men, he had dismissed my concerns as “hysterical” and “humorless.”

As I sat in his office, on a sofa I felt like I might slide off of at any moment, I struggled to be in that moment, and not dwell on the past. I just needed to get through this– and then do it three more times.

“Well, first things first.” He opened. “There’s some questions to get out of the way. I know I’m not marrying you, but it’s my responsibility to make sure that you both are ready and qualified for marriage. I don’t want to do wrong by the pastor that is marrying you.”

We nodded. That seemed sensible.

“There are a few things that I have stood by my entire ministry. There are some couples I just won’t marry, because I think that it’s unbiblical. So, first off, have either one of you been married before?”

My laugh was a half-strangled twitter. “No.” John* echoed me.

“And you’re both of the same faith? You agree on matters of salvation, on standards? That’s part of what it means to be equally yoked, you know.”

We told him that we were– and the questions continued for another 20, maybe 30 minutes. Most of them were fairly easy to answer, and fairly obvious. Toward the end of our session, the atmosphere had lighted up a bit. John seemed comfortable, and the pastor was leaning back in his chair, fingers clasped over his stomach.

“Well, you two passed with flying colors,” he laughed, “so no worries there. And there’s other questions I don’t even have to bother to ask you, of course. Don’t get me wrong, but I can’t in good conscience marry mixed-race couples.”

I struggled to keep my mouth from dropping open. He what?

“I realize there are plenty of folks who are willing to do that, and I’m totally alright with that, to each their own and all that. But, to me, the Bible is pretty clear on the subject. The children of God aren’t supposed to inter-marry. It’s all over the place– if they do, they’re bound to a cursed and shameful life, and they’ll never receive God’s fullest blessings. Now, I can’t say this in front of my congregation, it would step on too many toes, but I just feel that this is right. God confirmed it in the New Testament, in Acts, when he said that even though we’re all of one blood, we have the ‘bounds of our habitation‘ and we need to stick to that.”

I was silent for the entire 20-minute drive home.

I waited for my mother to come home from the grocery store, and immediately pulled her into her bedroom and shut the door. I explained to her what the pastor had said, and watched her become more and more horrified.

“He actually said that?”

“Yes, Mom, he did. I’m never going back to that church.” It took everything I had not to cry.

That 45-minute conversation with that pastor was the last nail in the coffin of my faith.  I didn’t come back to it for another four years.

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

I’ve talked about the completely horrific racism I was exposed to— and that I participated in— a few times before. Growing up in Christian fundamentalism only exacerbated the fact that I was also growing up in the Deep South, in a tiny town controlled and dominated by the KKK and by systematic racism from every source– newspapers, radio, television, the polls  . . . I was completely inundated by a culture that had never grown into the ideas of the Civil Rights movement. I spent almost twelve years of my life in a place where Christian schools were created in order to avoid desegregation laws. I’ve been to churches where people of color weren’t allowed to walk through the doors. I’ve listened to racist rants cloaked by “common sense.” I’ve uttered ideas I knew were racist and then dared to follow them with “and if that makes me racist” and a shrug. I’ve said the words “stereotypes exist because stereotypes exist.”

Leaving fundamentalism behind and trying to grow out of it has been a painful process for me, because it has meant that I had to open my eyes to my privilege, to the ways I had benefited from and contributed to systemic racism.

I’ve done that with the help of incredible, amazing, women and men. There have been some articles I’ve read that have been a knife-stab deep in my gut and my conscience. There have been some pieces that were powerful and illuminating, and helped me see the world in a completely different way. I’m grateful to all of these people who have helped me move past what I was taught as a child.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through this process is that there is only one way that we’re going to be able grow past racism, and it’s by listening to those who have been affected by it. Get on twitter and follow amazing people like @graceishuman and @msloola and @detoursfromhome and @cscleve– read what they write, listen to them respond to a world that ignores and silences them. Follow their blogs, if they have one. Keep track of where they’re writing.

And that brings me to this: racism is endemic to evangelicalism. It’s especially severe in Christian fundamentalism.

But, as a white woman, I am completely lacking the experience to talk about this. I can shout from the rooftops what I’ve personally witnessed, but I am only that: a witness, and nothing more. However, what I do have is a blog. And amazing readers. And facebook likes, and twitter followers. Not very many– we’re a small community here, and I love that– but it’s within my ability to help amplify the experiences and stories that I can’t personally share.

I would like to begin another guest post series, with your help. I want to set aside space here for men and women to tell their stories of what it is like to be a person of color in Christianity today. This can be stories, or responses to particular events or articles, or it could even take the form of an interview.

I’m passing the mic.

Pass it with me?

Feminism, Social Issues

modesty rules and transphobia

trans flag

Trigger warning for transphobia, slurs.

I’m extremely hesitant to talk about this issue. I’ve been doing all I can to learn from and listen to trans* women and men– to do everything I can to understand and to love. I’m someone who is cisgender (“cis” meaning “on this side” and “trans” meaning “across”)– and completely cisgender: I fit almost totally into cultural and societal gender norms (not conservative evangelical ones, but that’s another conversation). Because of that, it’s difficult for me to truly wrap my mind around what it could be like, or to imagine myself “walking in the footsteps of a stranger.” I try, but I am just now starting to learn, and there’s a lot I don’t understand.

For example, just yesterday I was listening to a woman on twitter, and she was frustrated with the term “transgendered” being used so often in conversations about Chelsea Manning. It took me a while to figure out why, since it was a term I was used to hearing at that point. But then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I’m cisgender, not cisgendered. I am cis. It’s not a verb. “Transgendered” implies that being trans* is a process, an action, when it’s not. Trans* men and women are. A trans* woman, although she might have been born anatomically male, is a woman, end of story.

I’m also learning about concepts like “dead names,”(Chelsea Manning is no longer Bradley, and referring to her as such is more than just insensitive) and how important it is to recognize the humanity and autonomy of trans* people– just like every other human being on this planet.

But, this process is difficult for me, and I’m realizing that it’s directly tied to the Modesty Culture I grew up in.

There are many reasons that women are given for why we’re to be “modest.” Today, many of the reasons I hear revolve around the “stumbling block” idea– that women are to make choices based on how men perceive and react to those choices.

But, in the intensely fundamentalist environment I grew up in, the primary reason for “modesty” was integrally linked to femininity. This remained true throughout my fundamentalist experience– all the way up through college. Modesty, among other things, meant dressing like a woman. Looking like a woman. Acting like a woman. Being lady like and delicate.

Most of that revolved around wearing skirts and culottes. We weren’t allowed to wear anything that even approached something that looked like pants. At one point, I heard a pastor preach against wearing skirts with a jeans-type zipper and button fastener in the front. Because those look like mens’ pants, and that’s not feminine. I also heard messages preached against business suits, blazers, and button-up shirts. If we were going to wear button-up shirts, they could not be made out of cotton, could not be Oxford style, and we had to make sure that they buttoned “correctly.”

Tied up in all of this was horrible, rampant transphobia– in the extreme. Cross-dressing? Abomination. Drag? Straight for the pits of hell. Long hair on a man? A horrible shame and a curse upon him. I can’t tell you how many stories I heard growing up where some preacher was in line somewhere, standing behind a man with long hair, and being “horrified and appalled” when they realized that who they had assumed to be a woman was actually a man. The first time I ever heard about the sorts of procedures and treatments trans* people need, like hormone replacement therapy (part of the standard course of treatment for gender dysphoria), I was in a revival service, and the evangelist was railing against “those disgusting hermaphrodites.”

I’m coming to learn that transphobia is the most accurate term to describe these sorts of people and ideas. It is purely based on fear– and a powerful, nearly-overwhelming fear at that. And it’s not just fear of the unknown, on something that almost can’t be known unless it’s your experience, although that’s a part of it.

It’s fear of what trans* people, and other LGBTQ people while we’re at it, represent to fundamentalist Christians: a breakdown of gender roles, and, therefore, a breakdown of patriarchy. I realize that’s a big, grand claim– almost to the point of being vague and useless. But, I grew up in a culture where they use the term “biblical patriarchy”– and it’s a good thing. I had a hard time, at first, understanding what feminists meant when they said “patriarchy” because it represented “biblical thinking about gender roles” to me.

Trans* people fly in the face of biblical patriarchal teachings. They are living, breathing, proof that what they think about men and woman is essentially, deeply flawed. Gender isn’t a binary. Sex isn’t even a binary. It’s fluid, it doesn’t fit inside boxes, and, sometimes, it defies definition. It isn’t a matter of either/or. Our gender can grow and change over time.

But, for the people I grew up with, not forcing yourself to fit inside Victorian gender boxes is not just a sin, it’s an abomination. Being a woman doesn’t just mean I have a vagina: it means that I’m submissive, passive, vacillating, beautiful, weak, fragile, delicate . . . Being a man means being dominant, aggressive, decisive, bold, strong . . . and straying outside of those boundaries means violating something very deep, something that is seen and portrayed as being so much a part of nature that not identifying as cisgender is unthinkable.

I’m not exactly covering new territory here– everything I’ve said here . . . to anyone who isn’t just now discovering these things, it’s old and tiresome and monotonous. There’s much more vibrant and interesting discussions to be had, experiences to be shared. But, it’s where I am. It’s not where I’ll always be. But I’m learning, and I hope you’ll learn with me.

To quote the magnificent Flavia Dzodan, “my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”

Feminism

Fascinating Womanhood: always obey

woman reading

Helen closes out her chapter on “The Leader” by reiterating many of her earlier points in stronger language, but she also takes the opportunity to preemptively combat what she thinks may be some common objections, or situations readers could describe that would make her teachings difficult– or impossible. To do this, she begins with a longer discussion of what she means when she tells women to obey their husbands:

The first Law of Heaven is obedience, and it should be the first law of every home. It is the foundation of an orderly home, a successful family, and the successful lives of the children. The wife is the key . . .

When [children who had disobedient mothers] are turned out into the world they have difficulty obeying the law, or a higher authority . . . The problems of rebellious youth can be traced to homes where the mother disobeyed the father or showed lack of respect for his authority.

As will become a pattern in this book, Helen uses children as threats: don’t do what I say, and your children will grow up to be criminals. You don’t want your children to become juvenile delinquents, never get into a good school, and spend their life in prison, do you? Well, that’s what will happen if you don’t _______ . Here, it’s “obey your husband.” But, oh, it get’s better, when she decides to quote C. Northcote Parkinson, who she describes as a “satirist”– which is interesting, because he was not. He was a naval historian and public policy scholar. I’m also confused why she chose “satirist,” especially since satire usually means the opposite of what it literally says, and this is what she quotes:

He [said] that the trouble in American colleges is based on disrespect for authority learned in the home. “The general movement, I think, begins with the female revolution,” he said. “Women demanded the vote and equality and ceased to submit to the control of their husbands . . . [In my childhood] Pop’s word was law and Mother’s most deadly threat was ‘I shall have to inform you father.’ Nowadawys, the mother can’t appeal to the children in that way because the have denied paternal authority themselves.”

Since she gives no citation of any kind (except that he was “in L.A.”), I have no idea what the context for this comment was, but Helen presents it seriously: everything that is wrong with American youth today started when women decided they had the right to a voice in their government.

I made a comment in my first post about Helen being more anti-feminist than Debi Pearl. This is one of the reasons why. Because what’s the point of women voting if they just vote the same way as their husbands, amiright? The only reason why Helen believes women wanted to vote on their own was so they could vote differently, and that’s against everything Helen believes about women. A woman not agreeing with her husband’s political vision? Sacrilege. Blasphemy.

But, next, she gets into one of her most interesting moments, because she finally uses an anecdote from her own marriage. Finally, we can get some sort of idea of what her marriage has actually been like, instead of her twisting historical and literary characters beyond recognition. She begins by describing a conversation she had with her adult children, and they say that she was “the key” to their obedience, that because she obeyed their father “even when it was hard,” that they knew that they should, too. And Helen actually gives us an example of what “immediately” came to mind when her children said she obeyed her husband “even when it was hard.”

They had planned a vacation to the Florida Keys, and everyone was very excited about it. But, before they got there, her husband called their son, who was in Sweden, and discovered that he was ill and coming back to the States because of it. She thought he could just come to the Keys with them, and recuperate there, and thought her husband agreed. It wasn’t until she “woke up in the middle of the night” that she found out they were headed north, back the way they had come. She was tempted to “put her foot down,” but she remembered the children and didn’t.

That’s it.

She didn’t get to go on vacation.

This incident was her immediate recollection of obeying her husband when it was hard.

Talk about privilege.

Now, granted, I’d be horribly disappointed, too– and I’d think my husband was being kind of a jerk for pulling a juke like that on me. But seriously? This is what you think of as “hard,” Helen? I can think of a dozen examples so much more horrible and nightmarish than this during my engagement to a man that I didn’t even marry in my attempts to be “obedient.” If this is one of the hardest things Helen’s ever had to endure in her marriage… I’d say she’s been pretty dang lucky.

The next section is entitled “Problems in the Patriarchy” (oh, yes, she did), and this is where she starts breaking down possible scenarios for women who, unlike her, are married to less-than-stellar people, or for women who have reasonable expectations and concerns.

Problem #1: “When the wife fears failure,” which is code for “the wife thinks her concerns about her husband’s plans deserve to be heard, but she’s wrong, they don’t.” Here, she uses Abraham Lincoln as an example: just think, if he didn’t have an amazingly supportive wife, who just earnestly believed that “he’ll be a great man someday,” he never would have become President of These United States. And you want your husband to be a great man, don’t you? Well, he won’t, unless you become like Mary Lincoln. Which, granted, Mary Lincoln supported her husband’s political career, but she wasn’t exactly a saint about it. She was well-known for her temper, which Abraham Lincoln certainly did not escape.

Problem #2: “When the wife rebels,” or, as she quotes from Orson Pratt:

The wife should never follow her own judgment in preference to that of her husband, for if her husband desires to do right, but errs in judgment, the Lord will bless her in endeavoring to carry out his counsels; for God has placed him at the head and though he may err in judgment, yet God will not justify the wife in disregarding his instructions; for greater is the sin of rebellion than the errors which arise from want of judgment; therefore, she would be condemned for suffering her will to rise against his.

That quote is especially interesting, especially since Orson Pratt gave up his Apostleship in the LDS church to support his wife, who had accused Joseph Smith of propositioning her. Later, however, he “realized” his wife was “mistaken”– and Sarah Pratt went on to become an outspoken anti-polygamist activist, despite the fact that her husband and Joseph Smith destroyed her reputation and ruined her.

I don’t know if Helen is aware of what happened between Orson and Sarah Pratt, but, if she is, this quote is highly disturbing. Because, even if a husband “errs in judgment” (and apparently believing his wife counts as an “error”), it’s much worse for the wife to “rebel,” and she’ll be “condemned” for it– in other words, have everyone you know go on a campaign to completely destroy her life.

Problem #3: “When he flounders,” or, “when you must be extremely careful and delicate and not hurt his fine porcelain ego.” She’s telling women that if you think his fears are “groundless,” you’re supposed to “assure him” and “build his confidence,” but– remember, you must not be braver than he is, because that’s emasculating. And then she gives the delightful example of a “groundless fear”:  if he’s concerned about taking a chance that might make it harder for him to support his family. Yep. That’s totally groundless. There’s no reason to be worried about providing for your family at all. After all, we’re “willing to make the necessary sacrifice.”

Problem #4: “when he won’t lead,” which is easily resolved: “read him Scriptures which appoint him as the leader,” tell him that he’s “more qualified than you,” and then just dedicate yourself to your domestic duties, and he’ll step up. Because marital relationships are never complicated, lack any sort of nuance whatsoever, and all problems are easily solved when you proof text verses out of context and then go do the dishes.

Problem #5: “when he leads his children astray,” which, thank God, Helen tells you to “take them out of the household” if he’s “leading his family into corruption.” Of course, you’re not allowed to divorce him, no matter what, and you have to make it clear that you’re not removing his children because you are condemning him for his actions. And, taking away a man’s children is always a piece of cake when you don’t divorce him. That’s never called kidnapping or child snatching anything. There’s no possible way an evil man could pursue legal action against you for that. Nope. That never happens. Abusive, evil, corrupt men always let you do whatever you want with their children without contest.

That’s it for this chapter, but it should be glaringly obvious that Helen lives in a different world than we do. In her world, the worst thing your husband can do is cancel the family vacation for a valid reason like your sick son coming back from Sweden. And if you do face some sort of serious hardship, like your husband “encouraging your children to be immoral,” the solution is always magically easy. You read the Bible, and problem solved.

Her “solutions” are not unlike an ostrich burying its head in the sand.

That is called co-dependency and enabling. But, co-dependent relationships don’t exist in Helen’s world. No one struggles with serious problems, no one faces anything worse than an uncertain, vacillating husband. And, on the off chance that your husband is seriously abusive (which Helen defines far too narrowly), all you have to do is “get out.” Because that’s a piece of cake, and everything becomes instantly better. Because money and a place to live falls out of the sky. But, ho, it’s your “moral obligation,” so that’s the only thing you have to be worried about. Certainly not an abusive man coming after you and ruining your reputation in front of your entire religious community.

That never happens.

Feminism

Fascinating Womanhood: Perfect Follower

stepford wife

When I first started this series, I mentioned how Helen had the unpleasant habit of appearing to be quite supportive. In many places, she tells women that they need to be bold, strong– she even uses the word assertive at times. However, I also mentioned how whenever she says something that seems forward thinking, she always undoes it in the surrounding texts. In this way, she’s a bit like Lucy and the football. She tells you that it is perfectly alright to expect your husband to listen to you, or to not be abused, but then she does complete about-face in everything else she says.

The problem with this is that it makes her book, and what she’s saying, even more pernicious. She’s catering to “modern sensibilities,” the expectation that women have these days to, oh, I dunno, be a person. It’s lip service, and that’s really all it is. Because, running underneath and surrounding all of her sentiments of “strength” and “don’t be a door mat” is the philosophy that women are doormats.

The section I’m covering today is still from chapter eight, “The Leader,” and this part is titled “How to Be the Perfect Follower.” And yes, I gagged a little. She lays out what she has started calling “laws” or “rules”: honor his position as the head, let go of your need to control, be adaptable, be obedient, and always be united in front of the kids. To those of us who grew up in heavy-handed complementarian environments, of if you’ve read Created to be His Help Meet, none of this is especially new. It’s frustrating, but old stuff to us by now. What especially jumped out to me about this section is that it sounds eerily similar to what I’ve read in child-raising manuals like No Greater Joy:

The quality of obedience counts. If you obey, but at the same time drag your feet and complain, it won’t get you far. But if you obey willingly, with a spirit of sweet submission, God will bless you and your household and bring a spirit of harmony into your home.

This might sound familiar, because I’ve written about it before. What Helen is writing about here sounds a lot like the “instant obedience doctrine” I grew up with– only for wives and their husbands, instead of children and their parents. I wasn’t joking when I said that Helen infantalizes women.

But, one of the biggest problems in this section comes after the rule “Have a Girlish Trust in Him.”

Don’t be concerned about the outcome of things . . . Allow for his mistakes, and trust his motives and judgment . . . Sometimes your husband’s decisions may defy logic. His plans may not make sense, nor his judgments appear the least bit sound . . . Don’t expect every inspired [which Helen defines as “appears to defy reason, but is prompted by God”] decision your husband makes will be pleasant, or turn out the way you think it should. [sic]  We must all be tried by the refiner’s fire…

There may be frightening times when you would like to trust your husband, but you cannot. You detect vanity, pride, and selfishness at the bottom of his decisions and see he is headed for disaster. If he won’t listen to you, how can you avert it? The answer is this: if you can’t trust your husband, you can always trust God. He has placed him at the head and commanded you to obey him . . . if you obey the counsel of your husband, things will turn out right in surprising ways.

And under “Support his Plans and Decisions”:

Sometimes your husband needs not only your submission, but your support. He may face a decision he doesn’t want to take full responsibility for. He may want you to stand with him. In this case you will have to take a look at this plans to see if you can support them. If you can, give him the encouragement he needs. If you can’t, assert yourself . . . he may be grateful to you for expressing your point of view. If he insists on having things his way, you must still support him, even when you don’t agree. You can support, not his plans, but his authority and right to decide.

So, here’s a summary:

  1. Don’t worry your pretty little head about any of the decisions that could have extremely negative, long-term effects on you and your family. You just sit there and look pretty in your pearls and high heels.
  2. If your husband’s decisions look crazy and disastrous, they actually aren’t. You’re just too stupid to realize that he’s been inspired by God.
  3. If it turns out his decision really was a horrific mistake, oh, yayness, you get to enjoy the refiner’s fire!
  4. If you are actually perceptive enough to realize he’s doing something for bad reasons, and you think it will turn out badly? All you have to do is your needlepoint and wait for God to fix everything.
  5. If your husband doesn’t want to take responsibility for his own decisions, you must support him.
  6. If you tell him they’re bad decisions, and he decides “nope, I think they’re awesome!” you must support him.
  7. Stand by your Man. Always. No matter what.

The next section, “The Feminine Counselor” has some really solid, common-sense advice. She tells women to ask leading questions, which, as a teacher, I’ve used for great effect. Leading questions can be extremely helpful in getting people to explain their thought process, and understanding your husband’s thought process: good. Figuring out not only what a person thinks but also why they think it… just seems like a good idea. After this step, she says we should listen. Which, listening = awesome, in my book. We could always do with a little more listening, pretty much always.

And then… we run into problems. In step three, she tells us to “express insight,” or, to use words like “I sense,” or, “I feel.” And, to a certain extent, I can agree with this. How someone feels about an idea is important, and, I try to live by the principle that how someone feels is always valid and justified. However, she tells us to phrase it this way because using “I think” means “he can put up a good argument to what you think.”

To Helen, having any kind of discussion whatsoever, no matter what it is you’re talking about, is always bad and must always be avoided at all costs. Small things, like whether or not you’re talking the dog on a picnic? Not up for debate. Big things, like career moves and where you’re going to live? Don’t even think about it. No, really:

Don’t have ideas about what you want out of life, such as where you’d like to live, the kind of house you want. . . this may clash with your husband’s plans, plans he must carry out to succeed in his masculine role.

What does a successful, happy marriage mean to Helen? Well, there’s a reason why I chose the cover for Stepford Wives for today’s post. She goes on, though, and it just gets so much worse. She orders women not to “appear to know more than he does,” and, later on in the book, we’ll see how she really does think women need to play stupid. We’re not supposed to talk “man-to-man,” which means “don’t put yourself on an equal plane with him,” and “keep him in the dominant position to help him feel adequate as a leader.”

Which– seriously? What kind of man needs this sort of behavior to feel “adequate”?

Oh, but it gets better:

If you are giving advice to a man on a matter in which he is filled with fear, don’t make the mistake of acting braver than he is . . . If you courageously say “you have nothing to be afraid of,” you show more many courage than he does. Instead say, “It sounds like a good idea, but it seems so challenging! Are you sure you want to do this?” Such meekness awakens manly courage . . . Whenever a man detects fearfulness in a woman, it naturally awakens masculine courage.

Excuse me while I go beat my head into a wall.

I can imagine that these sorts of interactions take place between husbands and wives. I’m not privy to the inner dialog of every single marriage, and if your conversations with your spouse goes something like any of these examples, I don’t think that’s inherently bad. I don’t think complementarian marriages are always awful. When that is what works for you both, that’s what works, and I wish you all happiness.

However, Helen is arguing that this is how all marriages should be, and if your marriage is not like what she says it should be– “you may think you are happy, when in reality you are not. Your marriage may seem happy, but you fail to see that there is more” (pg 1). Asserting that all marriages must function this way can only lead to disaster, heartbreak, and pain.

Feminism

Fascinating Womanhood: The Rights of the Leader

following the leader

Helen really takes the cake in this chapter. Which, if you notice, she pulled a bit of a bait-and-switch on us. In the last chapter, she described one of the masculine roles as the “guide,” but if you notice above, this chapter is called “The Leader.” Which, honestly, I wasn’t too thrilled with “guide,” either, but it’s certainly a sight better than Leader. This chapter is quite long, so I’m going to break it down into at least two posts, maybe as many as three. But, let’s get started.

She opens her argument with several reasons why men are supposed to the leaders, and she starts off with this one:

The first commandment given to mankind was given to the woman: “Thy desire shall be unto thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Evidently our Creator felt it so vitally important that the woman understand this, that He directed the instruction to her.

I’ve already mentioned (twice, now) that it is incredibly bad hermeneutics– almost obviously bad– to make the case that women are required to be subservient to their husbands based purely on the Curse. But, there’s another problem here, because Helen . . .  is lying. It would be generous to admit to some sort of genuine confusion or forgetfulness on her part, but that seems unlikely. Because the first command delivered to mankind? The very first one? It’s in chapter one, not three. And, interestingly enough, the command is given to both the man and the woman equally. There’s nothing in this command that separates the sexes: they are given the exact same responsibility.

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

Genesis 1:28

Helen, 0,
The Facts, 1.

After this, she moves into the Ephesians passage. This is one of the Great Complementarian Clobber Verses. My experiences with the uses of this passage have been from those who take a straightforward approach to it– taking it at face value, and usually, quite literally. While I’m sure there are complementarians out there who have done sound research into the historical and cultural background to these verses, I’ve never been exposed to that research when being taught about “husband as the head of the home” (and, as always, if you’ve seen this, please point me in their direction or leave a comment explaining). I think that’s curious, especially since historical and cultural context reveals some interesting things that undermine the traditional complementarian argument.

After Bible-bashing us, she turns to “logic.” She says that since the family is a group of people, and groups of people always need leaders to “maintain order,” that the father should be the leader– and that it is illogical for a woman to lead, because, and this is hysterical, woman are “vacillating and indecisive. Women are just not capable of making decisions, and if we interfere with the decision-making process, the only thing that can result is “hours of deliberation,” and, ain’t nobody got time for that. Also, men make the money, and whoever makes the money should be in control.

That is probably why Mary Kassian wrote this pearl-clutching piece in response to the Pew Research survey that revealed that women are becoming the primary breadwinners in many homes. Oh, noes! If women earn more money, we’re going to become “resentful” and “critical,” and even worse, if a woman makes more money– she is going to become dominant and take over The Sex!

No, really. She said that.

Next, we move into the section Helen titles “Rights of the Leader.” Here, she gives us two primary rights: “To Determine Family Rules” and “To Make Decisions.” She’s deliberately clear about what this entails:

A family is not a democracy, where everyone casts his vote. The family is a theocracy, where the father’s word is law (italics hers).

From what I remember of Debi’s Created to be His Help Meet, she danced around this idea the entire book without explicitly saying this (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). She said everything but this, although this is really the idea it seems Debi was actually going for. Helen is a little bit bolder. She just comes right out and says it.

The family is a theocracy.

Meaning, “Rule of God.”

Just a quick note, in case we’re confused: no man, no father, no husband, is God. Debi got close to conflating husband and God as she wrote, mostly because she emphasizes the need for the wife to submit to her husband in obedience to God– women are to obey God indirectly, through submission to their husbands. This results in Debi occasionally implying that, for a wife, her husband represents God to her.

That’s not what Helen argues, though. Her husband is God.

This is one of those times where her LDS background is showing through, although I’m not familiar enough with LDS theology to really analyze it. Also, while I can understand how her theology is affecting her writing, it is problematic here because this book was, and is, not primarily read by Mormon women, but by Protestant women, and this conflation of God and husband is not a claim that Helen ever backs away from.

She also takes the “Right to Make Decisions” to an extreme that boggled me:

Should Jane take her umbrella and walk to school in the rain, or should her father take her? When the father makes the decision, matters are settled at once. And whether Jane gets her feet wet or not is as important as order in the household . . .

Some of these decisions are minor, such as whether to take the dog on a picnic or leave him home. But even though such a decision is small, it must be made, and often quickly. When the husband the wife don’t agree, someone must decide. The final say belongs to the father . . .

Sometimes a man may seek his wife’s support but is reluctant to explain his reasons. He may think she lacks the knowledge to understand. Or, he may be unable to justify his plans or explain his reasons . . . if this is the case, don’t probe too deeply.

Uhm.

Whoah.

Should Jane walk to school in the rain?

Should we take the dog on the picnic?

These are the kinds of decisions that the father must make in order to avoid “hours of deliberation” because of us vacillating, indecisive women? Really? I grew up watching my parents in a complementarian marriage, as well as observing many other complementarian marriages, and this portrayal is unfair, even to complementarian theology. I don’t even know what to do with this. It all seems to imply that women really aren’t capable of making any kind of decision whatsoever, no matter how ridiculously small. I’ve never met any woman that was this pathetic.

However, the last example is the most troublesome for me, and it is deeply personal.

John*, my ex-fiancé and rapist, and I were planning our wedding for December, exactly a week after I graduated. He would not be finished with college yet (interestingly enough, because he was indecisive and couldn’t settle on either a college to attend or a major to study for years). Because of that, we were planning for me to be the primary breadwinner while he finished his degree, which would be paid for by the work-assistance program he was in.

However, in August, he announced that he was quitting the work-assistance program because working through college was just too stressful. This was a problem, because when a student quit the work assistance program during a semester (which was his intention), he or she becomes completely ineligible to enroll in the program again. In short, if he quit, not only would I be paying for daily life, but his education as well (our school did not qualify for student aid, any kind of student loan, and he had no scholarships).

This resulted in the worst fight we ever had, because I had the audacity to insist that this was a very bad idea– unfeasible and impossible, really, given our circumstances. He broke our engagement a few weeks later, citing, hilariously, that I “was not submissive enough.”

However, if I had followed Helen’s teaching, I would have nodded my head like a “perfect follower” (pg 122), and gone along with all of his ideas and plans, even though he had no justification for them and they would have ended in financial disaster. This is not some hypothetical situation that women rarely ever face, as well. It happens all of the time.

Just because men are men does not make them inherently more qualified to make all decisions in isolation. It is not good for man to be alone, and I’m pretty sure God wasn’t just talking about sex.

Theology

learning the words: dishonor

mushu

Today’s guest post is from Lana Hope, who blogs about her travels all over the globe and how living in other cultures has dramatically changed her perspective on Christianity at Wide Open Ground. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

As a daughter of fundamentalism, dishonor referred broadly not only to speaking ill remarks to an elder or damaging their reputation, but also living life as a way that reflected different tastes and opinions of the elder.  Let me illustrate. Today I was in a conversation with two homeschool moms; I’ll call them Mom and Friend. This is how it went:

Mom: Do your kids like the sunscreen you made?
Friend: One of my girls like it. The other did not.
Mom: Why?
Friend: I think that’s just my daughter for you.
Mom: Maybe she just does not like to use what you make.
Friend: I don’t think so. My girls know better. That would be dishonoring.
Mom: But some girls do not like their mother’s creations. They like their own.
Friend: No, no, no, no. I would nip that one. Not allowed. Dishonoring.
Me:*trying to decide if I should laugh or fight*

(typical homeschool conversation about making things from scratch, by the way)

As I bit my tongue, I felt the pain of those girls, who cannot even express their own opinions without being dishonoring toward their parents.

My mother never cared about her sunscreen, but I experienced similar dynamics. Negative emotion itself was dishonoring because that was rooted in anger – in unforgiveness, in pain, in bitterness, in a child’s distorted perception. No matter if the parent does wrong, the child is wrong for speaking up, for giving voice to her pain. Even now that I am an adult, and my mother can admit her wrong, I am still equally wrong in her mind– because I spoke up for myself.

“You dishonor us” becomes the negative tool wherein the child of fundamentalism is silenced. But her opinions, her struggles, her personality, her tastes, never go away. They just get bottled within.

Today I am learning a new definition of dishonor as I seek to love all people as my equal, as I seek to fulfill my obligation to other people without obsession with my personal reputation. Today I am learning what it really means to dishonor someone – when we strip people of their basic personality and opinions in order to make God in our own image, when we care more about ourselves than we do other people.

I’ve had to learn this through the pain. When I first started caring for a group of troubled tweens and teens in Southeast Asia where I worked, my reaction was to fight back when they made rude remarks. My reaction was to “nip” them. My reaction was to ground them. But I soon realized that silencing all their burdens would never take away the pain in their hearts. I realized I could not make the world about me. These kids spoke rudely mainly because they had been dishonored in the past. My job – as their caregiver, friend, second mom, and teacher – was to honor them by treating them as a human, created in the image of God.

In fundamentalism when we treat children as beneath the parent, we create their souls in the image of the parent, not the image of God. We mold, squish, and bend them until all the pain comes straight up, and the child is labeled rebellious. I hope to do this better with my kids, but like all daughters of fundamentalism, relearning the words is not easy.

Feminism

complementariansim and Aphrodite

aphrodite

Aphrodite, goddess of love.

If you’re not familiar with Greek mythology, Aphrodite is probably one of the more important figures in the pantheon. Both Ares and Hephaestus are her lovers, and she is the primary figure involved in many well-known conflicts, such as The Trojan War. By the time that Paul was writing his letters to the Corinthians, Aphrodite was being worshiped as Venus, and there were two major celebrations in her honor in Athens and Corinth. Athens is the patron city of Athena, so the primary celebration was held in Corinth, where there had been a temple dedicated to her (which was destroyed in 44 B.C.). One of the few things we know about Aphrodite’s cult was that worshipers honored her by engaging in sexual intercourse with temple prostitutes. By the time Paul was alive, the temple had been destroyed, but the prostitution continued.

The interesting thing to note about this form of prostitution?

The women shaved their heads.

So, that explains that whole bit about head coverings from I Corinthians 11. Women cutting their hair short, in Corinth, meant identifying with the Aphrodite prostitutes. I’m not exactly sure why this was a problem outside of the general understanding that Corinth was a particularly hedonistic and decadent church. But, it might have been particularly troubling because temple workers — like the Vestal virgins and the Hetaera– were allowed autonomy and independence in Roman society: they did not answer to anyone or anything besides their civic duties. This could explain the connection between “head coverings” and “symbol of authority,” since whose authority a woman was associated with was an important part of her identity in Roman culture.

But, the head covering isn’t really the important part of the passage from I Corinthians 11.

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God . . .  For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man . . . Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.

I Corinthians 11:3-12

Did you catch that?

So man is now born of woman.

Jesus changed everything, and this is a common pattern we see all through Paul’s writing. Paul, as probably one of the best-educated biblical scholars who had converted to Christianity, spent much of his time in his letters re-examining the Law and the Prophets through the advent of Christ. This passage beautifully highlights that transformation. Almost everything people believed and understood about women was based in the idea that men carried anything needed to bear a child (like Aphrodite being born from Uranus’ castrated manhood that was cast into the sea). Women were receptacles. When Jesus was born of a virgin, that changed how anyone understood what God had told the deceiver in Genesis– that there would be enmity between him and the seed of the woman. That was . . . just not possible. Women did not possess seed.

Until Jesus.

And, then suddenly, in the Lord, man is not independent of woman, and that is from God.

Why have we missed exactly how radical a statement this is? Why is it, that so often when we go to this passage, all we see is that “woman was created for man,” and then stop there? Why don’t we keep going to see exactly how Paul is about to completely upend everything? That what he is about to say revolutionizes everything they thought they knew about women? He says that Christ is the head of the man, and the man the head of the woman, but why don’t we think of this as one glorious circle that ends in Nevertheless, so now man, the Christ, is born of woman?

Why don’t we look at how Jesus came to earth, and when he became the leader of his ragtag group of fishermen and tax collectors, that he said that the first shall be last, and that he spent his time washing feet? Why do we look at the word “head” and say commander and not servant?

This passage is beautiful, because it’s really about how much we need each other. In fact, the chapter before it and what follows this passage are a testament to community and people being able to rely on and trust each other. The church in Corinth was neglecting that– when they celebrated communion, some brought enough wine to get drunk when other people in their church were starving, and then did not share with the least of these, their own brothers and sisters. Paul is speaking to an audience that doesn’t seem to understand what it meant to love thy neighbor, and that is what he spends his time focusing on: teaching them what the “unity of the body” should look like. If there’s a word that sums up I Corinthians 11, it’s unity, a body of believers acting as one. He’s teaching them about a place where men cannot be independent of women.

We need each other.

Women are half the people on this planet, and we have diverse gifts, abilities, skills, and talents that we are eager to contribute. Every woman, like every man, has her own unique perspective that can enrich and deepen our communal experiences, especially in our churches. By ignoring, dismissing, and actively silencing half of our church, we are really doing damage to ourselves. There are passages, like those dealing with the spiritual gifts, that make absolutely zero reference to these gifts being limited to genders, and women in the early church were allowed to practice teaching (Priscilla, who taught Apollos), prophesying (all four of Philip’s daughters), generosity (the women who financed Jesus’ ministry), and leadership (women like Junia, who was “outstanding among the apostles”).

Imagine what our Church could look like today without women.

Jesus would not have been born; he would not have been fully human. The Incarnation is one of the most important parts of our theology– what would it be like if Jesus was more mystical, more divine, and less real?

His earthly ministry would not have been as effective. His disciples might have had to keep fishing, and Jesus might have been limited to teaching near Nazareth as he worked with Joseph in carpentry.

The story of his Resurrection would have been highly suspect; his disciples could have been easily accused of protecting their own interests, and the Pharisees would have had an easier time dismissing the Resurrection.

Paul’s letter, one of the best treatises ever composed on the nature of Grace and Law, might not have been delivered to Rome.

Without Priscilla, Apollos might have continued teaching an incorrect approach to the gospel, and the early church would have been deeply and bitterly divided.

Without Lydia, the Gospel might not have spread into Asia Minor and Europe with the swiftness it did, since she was one of the earliest and best-loved converts. Her ministry was so important she was one of only two people raised from the dead in the Book of Acts.

Without Junia, Paul may not have been able to continue his ministry. He needed her to do for him what he could not.

And I could go on.

But yet, that is exactly what we’re trying to do today. Most of our Church is stumbling along without women– outright forbidding them from contributing in any meaningful way. Instead of opening its arms to women, like Jesus did with the woman at the well, or the woman begging for crumbs, or the woman with the issue of blood, or his own mother on the Cross, the Church bars us– slams its doors shut against us.

What happened to the teaching that there is no male nor female?

What happened to man is not independent of woman?

Feminism, Theology

complementarianism and the genesis fall

Eve

As a young teenager, I had an immense respect for my cult leader’s wife. I was best friends with her daughter, which meant that I was one of the few people who were frequently invited into their home. I spent many weekends having sleepovers at their house, watching John Wayne movies until the wee hours of the morning, playing army in the backyard for hours on Saturday. The first time I ever had grits was in her home, the first time I made cookies she taught me, the first time I went garage sale-ing I was with her. I admired her– her frugality, her work ethic, her constancy in her faithfulness to her husband in all things, the sacrifices she made for her family, her earnestness in raising her children… she was a large part of what I pictured in my head when I envisioned the ideal wife. My parents marriage was, and is, healthy, but my cult leader’s wife fit more easily into the mold I was being taught was the biblical role for a wife. Even to this day, when I’m reminded of the Proverbs 31 woman, I think of her.

One Sunday morning, after the cult leader had disbanded any kind of “youth group” and told the teenagers that our regular Sunday school was canceled and we were expected to attend Sunday school with the adults, the cult leader preached a message on marriage. I don’t exactly remember the context of the entire sermon, but I do remember feeling relieved that his wife hadn’t been there to hear it– she had been keeping nursery that morning. My mother leaned over to my father and whispered “thank God Miss Dianne* wasn’t here to listen to that.” But, in church, he said the exact same thing:

“Husbands, you know how it is, you know what it’s like. Sometimes, you just really don’t want to be married anymore. Nothing about marriage seems worth it, and it would be better if you were just alone. Can I get an Amen?”

While a few men in the congregation muttered an unenthusiastic amen, I looked over at Miss Dianne, and I will never forget the look on her face. She was crushed, devastated– destroyed by the husband she submitted to.

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

Growing up, I didn’t know the word complementarianism, officially, but what I did know was that a wife was intended to “complement” her husband. A husband and wife, united, made up for lacks in each other. They filled out each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Even today, I can appreciate the core of this idea, even though it is frequently over simplified and reduced down to ideas like “opposites attract.” There’s a certain beauty in two people meeting together and becoming stronger because of each other. That’s what I find most stunning in the imagery of becoming one flesh.

However, in conservative religious environments, there are limitations and boundaries to what complementing your husband can look like. I grew up with this idea that women were to be “keepers at home,” that there was a universal standard of femininity I was expected to live up to, that my role and responsibility was in being a wife and mother. I was taught that envisioning a role for myself that included roles in addition to a maternal one was sinful and selfish. If I attempted to be a wife, a mother, and a career woman, I would most definitely become depressed, maybe suicidal, my marriage would be ruined, and I would fail as a mother.

On top of that, I was also taught that there is one biblical structure for marriage: a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the Church. I am called to obey and submit to my husband in all things, regardless of how my husband might behave toward me. If he was treating me badly, I was taught that it was probably because I was not practicing biblical submission. All I had to do, in order to ensure a beatific marriage, was be a submissive wife, and the rest would fall into place.

I can’t really deconstruct everything that is wrong with those particular set of teachings, but I want to talk about where these teachings come from, and why complementarianism is exalted as the “only form of biblical marriage,” and why the egalitarian position is frequently dismissed because, supposedly, we don’t read our Bibles.

The first place that many complementarians will go to in order to argue that complementarianism is biblical is Genesis 2 and 3. They begin with God’s decision to create Eve:

“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

The key word there is helper. There’s a lot to be said about this word (‘ezer, or עֵזֶר). At its most basic, “helper” really is probably the best translation for the word, although “help meet” is used as well. Many complementarians argue that this means that women were created to help men. That was the reason for Eve’s existence, and continues to be the definite, primary purpose of women today. This passage seems to “very clearly and plainly say” that this is why God created women. We are helpers, not leaders.

But let’s take a quick look at where else this word is used. First of all, Genesis 2 is one of only three places that ‘ezer is used to describe a person or a people; the other fifteen times ‘ezer appears, it’s to describe God. It’s used twice in Deuteronomy, where God is described as someone who “rides through the heavens to your help” and as a “shield of help.” It’s used again in the Psalms, where the God of Jacob is called upon for protection, for him to send “help from the sanctuary.” In other places in the psalms, God is a “help and a deliverer,” or as the one responsible for all of creation.

If God is helping Israel, if we’re going to be consistent in our hermenuetic, it means that he is in a subservient position to Israel. He is not leading, or directing. He is not the one making the decisions. He’s helping, that’s all. Israel is the leader, God is the helper.

I think it’s also interesting that when this passage eventually comments on what their relationship is going to be, it’s in the directive for men and women to become one flesh. To me, that doesn’t say hierarchy, or that one is to be dominant over the other. That doesn’t make any sense, really. My body is one flesh. How does any part of my body have dominance over another? In fact, when, a “part” of me does have dominance over another “part” of me, it’s usually to my detriment. When my head rules my heart, or when my heart rules my head, there’s imbalance, and it’s dangerous. I’m not operating in a way that is true to all of me, to every part of me.

Complementarians also use Eve’s deception to show her up as weaker, as more fallible, than Adam. Some have even claimed that the serpent went to Eve because he knew that he wouldn’t have been able to deceive Adam. Except, Adam was with her. He was there, listening to the same deception. Some have argued that Adam only ate the fruit because he knew that God would send Eve out of the garden, but he loved her too much to let her go alone.

I don’t have to space to tackle all of that right now, especially since the biggest argument that complementarians pull from this passage is after the Fall, when God is cursing Adam and Eve. When God curses Eve, he tells her that her pain in childbirth will be multiplied, that her desire shall be for her husband, and that he will rule over her.

Those five words provide much of the foundation for complementarian ideals; they argue, over and over again, that it is God’s design for men to rule over their wives. That’s the way it should be, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. If women violate this God-ordained order by not allowing our husbands to have the rule over us, we are inviting our own destruction. We will be unhappy. We’ll be miserable. Because, deep down, we know that submitting to our husband’s headship is the way it’s supposed to be.

Except… morphine exists, as do C-sections, and epidurals.

Why is it that women are “fighting against the natural order” when we want equality with our husbands (note: complementarians frequently argue that a husband and wife are equal-we have equal, but separate roles. This is a problem, because complementarians are not defining “equality” the same way, because women in the complementarian role are to submit to their husband’s headship. If there’s a hierarchy, they’re not equals), but there isn’t a problem with reducing our pain in childbirth? Or, while we’re on this subject, why is it that no one talks about “violating God’s ordained order” when we try to get rid of weeds, or when we develop reapers and irrigation to help combat our difficulties?

I’d like to highlight something that is present in this passage: when God sends Adam and Eve out of the garden, it’s to send them to work the ground. He’d just finished cursing the ground, but he still sent them to till and harvest it, to survive– and to eventually thrive.

Yes, the Genesis passage curses Eve with a husband who will “rule over” her. But it also includes the hope that this is not the way things are supposed to be. God didn’t create our relationships to work this way– he created us to be “one flesh,” in complete unity. And he sent Adam and Eve out into a world that would be hard, and full of struggles– but struggles and trials they could defeat together.

Feminism

learning the words: liberation

bloomers

Today’s guest post is from Way of Cats, a former fundamentalist who now considers herself spiritual. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

In my Midwest rural birthplace, my parents had a mixed-faith marriage. He was a Lutheran;  she was a Methodist.

My first firm memories of church were after our move to the small-town South. We went to non-denominational, bible-believing, born-again churches. I joined Youth Group and went to sleepaway Bible Camp every summer. I cried in my seat when a revival group took over evening worship and screamed a blow-by-blow re-enactment of the Passion of the Christ.

I spent seventh grade in a Southern Baptist Christian Academy where we had chapel twice a week. The first row would get hit with spit from our principal, raving about the demonic influences of “rock music.” Girls’ skirts and boys’ haircuts were measured with a ruler. I mastered the art of the five-second shower, lest the Rapture occur during that window, in which case I would be naked in front of God and Everybody.

My science class discussed tectonic plates as though God himself had assembled them. Evolution was a lie, and our textbook for this discussion was a Chick Tract. We grew used to our teacher lifting his head and saying, “Do you hear that? It’s the godless Communist hordes coming down the road. They are going to come in here and point a gun at your head and kill you unless you deny Jesus Christ.”

He would use his finger as a gun, and point to each of us in turn, moving through the rows of desks. The beige weave of his polyester slacks and the ketchup tinge of his breath would embed itself into our about-to-be-blown-out brains.

Make no mistake– I grew up Fundamentalist.

We would get sent home from school if we had the nerve to wear a blouse and jeans, since everyone knew we were allowed to wear a “pantsuit,” where the top matched the pants. Of course we were expected to be chaste before marriage; that was not a part of dating, where That Boy was supposed to Respect Us and get us home by our ridiculously early curfew. A woman could be a manager, a teacher, an accountant or nurse or even a doctor; but she better bring her best covered dish to the potluck, and she would (of course!) do the washing up along with all the other women.

In my early teens, I did chafe at my circumscribed “woman’s role” in the church. I was happy when my intellect was respected by our classically trained minister, who spoke Greek and read Aramaic. He would discuss theology and morality with me and lend me books. Why, I could be anything… except a President, (of anything!) or a pastor.

As a bright, and academically gifted girl, I was expected to pursue a career, so long as it didn’t interfere with the two or three children I was also expected to have. More than that meant I wasn’t “taking precautions” and having too many children for us to support.

What alternate Universe was this? It was biblical-literalist, full-immersion, haters-of-secular-humanism Southern Baptist in the early 70s.

I left Christianity entirely at fourteen, shortly after I did what every Fundamentalist is subtly discouraged from doing: reading the entire Bible, cover to cover, without a study guide or Sunday School teachers or pastors to “interpret” things for me.

Once we have read other works of art, the Bible is so-obviously a collection of history and poetry and myth, the incredibly preserved testament of a people who gave birth to one of the world’s greatest Teachers; Jesus. I took the red words and ran away.

Back then, I thought I was being oppressed. I had no idea.

Now, wandering around the Spiritually Abused sites where people tell incredible stories of inconceivable oppression, I am humble and grateful. As bad as my parent’s divorce was, it at least put us beyond the reach of what the Protestants have become; a Quiverfull, woman-hating, incredibly abusive, sect that has completely lost track of what Christianity is supposed to be about.

God is Love. It’s not that difficult.

While I had legitimate issues with the “role of women” as described by religion during my teens, I was never regarded as Less than Human. I was never just an incubator who cleaned. Sure, I felt that way, but in the early 70s, I was never actually treated that way. What triggered this War on Women?

It was Feminism. That’s all. Women’s Liberation. Because, at that time, what my church taught was not that different from what the entire culture believed and practiced. Women could go so far, and no further. This is what broke up my parent’s marriage.

Years later, when my mother confessed that it drove her literally crazy that my father could not handle money, and she felt driven to divorce him, I was stunned. Why didn’t she, with much more skill as her later life proved, just take over the finances? Because she hadn’t been raised that way. It didn’t even occur to her to do that.

It wasn’t done.

Women escapees from Spiritual Abuse are very familiar with the ways certain ideas are not allowed to be thought– familiar with all of this was a backlash against Women’s Liberation. It’s not God at all.

Be keeping women slotted into housekeeping and shutting up, it’s easier for small men to feel superior. This is what happens when they cannot inspire respect with their accomplishments. They can only bully fear from the weak and vulnerable.

They are mean, petty, scared, small men.

God is much bigger than that.