MandM has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Inconsistent, Condescending, Paternalism of Left-Wing Feminism

What do these two pictures have in common?

The Hand Mirror oppose both as forms of oppression against women. In the first one the woman is being "belittled", "denigrated", made the subject of "idiot chauvinism", in the second, the woman's clothing choice is "silly" and her "sexuality is being controlled by her father".

Now look at this image featured in the sidebar of the Hand Mirror:

My body, my choice. Really? I have frequently found left-wing feminists of the ilk at the Hand Mirror to be inconsistent in their application of their feminist mantras, condescending and paternalistic towards women of my ilk. They talk about women's empowerment, equality, the right of women to make their own choices about their sexuality, their bodies, their lives but that's all it is; talk.

In the first image, a woman made a decision to accept a modelling job which involved almost baring her breasts and they wrote her off as a victim of male oppression, ignorant about the realities of the world.

In the second image they blast another woman's choice to cover her breasts with a t-shirt that states the woman agrees with her family's morals. In the comments section, the same author from the first case identifies this image as "Fathers controlling their daughters' sexuality;" implicit from the title is the claim that this woman is "silly". I am confused. Can women not choose their own t-shirts and their own reasons as to why they do not want their breasts ogled?

In the same blog piece the author writes:

Perhaps you can help me choose which is worse - the t-shirt above or the one I can't get a shot of which said "No trespassing. I'm waiting for my husband."

Again the search for an oppressor is sent into full swing in response to a woman making a choice about when and who she wants to have sex with.

Ironically, when Otago University's student rag, Critic, published unwanted comments about my breasts [link is to just one example], denigrated my appearance, etc because I was right-wing, some of the very same Hand Mirror feminists who were witness to this at the time said....


Funny. When a woman freely chooses what she does with her body, but her reasons are "wrong" [read: incompatible with left-wing feminist theory] she is oppressed, naive about life, silly, cannot think for herself and is obviously a pawn of male patriarchy. Yet, when a woman has no choice about her body being the subject of crass attention, but has the wrong politics, no "oppression" appears to be present- at least none worth boycotting or laying a formal complaint over.

Clearly feminists, like those at the Hand Mirror, rate their own politics higher than the women they talk about championing; they are more than happy to try to dictate and control what women choose to do with their bodies and will even turn a blind eye to actual cases of harassment, if it suits their political agenda.

As a disclaimer, I choose to not give my money to organisations that advertise like The Huntsman Steakhouse; also, I don't think that women should choose to accept modelling jobs like the one in question. I can make these statements consistently as I have never tried to make the claim that all choices women make are morally benign and I have never tried to defend the ludicrous claim that women can do whatever they like with their own bodies; I mean, I can't use my body to smash your head in now can I?


  1. It's true! A little consistency would be appreciated. Maybe they should have a disclaimer saying that the choices they make HAVE to fall in line with hardline feminist mantra, which means "no choice".

  2. Precisely Clint. The minute a woman deviates from the allowed reasons to make choices they start psycho-analysing her - see their comments section where they start doing it to me!

    Can you believe Anna said she does not recall me being harassed at Otago? I am sure if she had noticed it she would have said something at the time.

    Must go have another swig of my Tui stubbie.

  3. Loved this blog! Very direct insight into the heart of teh problem.

    I'm an otago alumni too! And I also hated the Critic. How amazing is that?

  4. This is an interesting issue, and one I think that Christianity and feminism would have at least some common ground on. Christians don't necessarily support feminism's goal of bodily autonomy for women, but both would probably support the idea of women's moral autonomy - ie that women have a right and responsibility for their own moral conduct.

    Entrusting decisions about your sexuality to another person (father or husband) seems like assigning your moral decision-making to another person - which isn't the same thing as making a moral commitment to abstinence in your own right. Presumably, if you give someone moral authority over your sexuality, that also means giving them the right to decide when you have sex, what sexual activities you enter into, and what if any control you exercise over your reproductive life. For a woman, this might mean going against her own moral judgement.

    Recent blog post: Kids are rad

  5. You wrote "Christians don't necessarily support feminism's goal of bodily autonomy for women."You utterly misunderstand Christianity if you think that.

    Christianity supports bodily autonomy for women. This is why husbands are commanded to lay down their lives for their wives as Christ did for the church. To treat their wives bodies as they would like their own treated. This is a message of equality. Would a man like no say over how his body is treated?

    Rape is punished severely in the bible. The church historically fought against society to ensure that woman consented to marriage and refused to perform marriage ceremonies where there was no consent.

    I could go on and I sure that others more learned can and will.

    What Christianity opposes is using one's body to kill another person. This restriction on the one's bodily autonomy applies equally to men and women, unlike feminism, who only grant the right to kill to women and deny men the same rights.

    "Entrusting decisions about your sexuality to another person (father or husband) seems like assigning your moral decision-making to another person"If that this what this means, and I doubt it.

    You are correct only if the person you entrust it to is not trustworthy, is not following biblical teaching as outlined above. Trust can be withdrawn at any point in the face of untrustworthiness.

    Giving trust remains a free choice. It is not for feminists to tell woman they cannot make such choices, especially if they truly believe women should be able to make such choices.

  6. Well, that's one version of Christianity, which contains some pretty diverse denominations and positions - 'What Christianity opposes is using one's body to kill another person' is a fairly large generalisation. Some Christians support the death penalty, after all. Many can accept a medical procedure that knowingly causes the death of a foetus, if the procedure is required to save the life of the mother. And the prohibition on contraception advocated by some Christian churches appears to be a restriction on bodily autonomy which doesn't stem from opposition to killing people. Some contraception methods arguably kill the zygote by preventing it from implanting, but barrier methods don't - I would have assumed they scriptural basis for the prohibition of these is different.

    You mention that men are required to treat their wives' bodies as they would like their own to be treated. That's fine as a broad ethical guideline, but does it really take into account the different reproductive functions of men's and women's bodies? Men are able to experience bodily autonomy differently to women, because they don't share their bodies with foetuses - bodily autonomy isn't the same thing for men and women. The Virgin Mary is a powerful and beautiful symbol to many because of the particularly 'female' dimension of her story (ie, the Immaculate Conception, the circumstances of Christ's birth, her role as Christ's mother), and because she happily relinquished her will (or autonomy) to God.

    However, my initial question was about the ethics of assigning your moral judgement to another person (this was discussed a while ago at The Handmirror). Trustworthy people can still be morally fallible. And if you're free to change your mind when the other person's moral judgement doesn't square with your own, what's the point in assigning your judgement to someone else in the first place?

    It should be possible for interested people to discuss these or other aspects of Christianity without the suggestion that feminists are telling other women what to do with their bodies. I'm genuinely interested in polite (and I emphasise the polite) discussion on what might be the Biblical basis for entrusting moral judgement to another person, Thialias - and I hope that, if you choose to respond, you'll come back with something more nuanced (and respectful) than 'feminism wants women to kill people'. No one 'owns' Christianity, after all, and some might argue that promoting it in a way which is insulting to others isn't a particularly Christian thing to do.

    Recent blog post: Fat hatred

  7. Anna I have seen your questions; I am up against a major deadline for Uni at the mo so my brain needs to be on that - I can only manage to fire off quick responses and I would like to take the time to read and consider your comments thoroughly before responding. I should be mentally clear after tomorrow :-)

    Recent blog post: Response to Richard Chappell's "Pro-Life Pro Zombie"

  8. Hi Anna, I agree with the concept of moral autonomy as you define it, that both women and men have the responsibility for their own moral conduct, and, yes I think something like this is taught in scripture. I also agree that no human person, man or women should have absolute control over an persons sexuality so they can tell her to have sex at whim. Such a view would contradict scriptural teaching and certainly I know of no theologian of any significance who has taught this. If, as scripture teaches, people are commanded by God to refrain from sex in certain contexts and to engage in it in other contexts, any human authority that commanded otherwise would be offering a command that every one man or women are required to disobey.

    I probably interpret the T shirt a little differently to you, I don’t see the ‘abstinence’ T shirt as saying that a father or husband has absolute control over a women’s sexuality.

    Let me explain how I see it. Suppose that a man is addicted to watching pornography that objectifies and degrades women. Suppose also that the man knows this is wrong and wants to stop but finds that he again and again succumbs to the temptation to watch this crap. His wife and friends know this. So the husband asks the wife to make sure that certain temptations are removed from the house. One day one of the husbands drinking mates come to the door with some hard core porn videos, the wife knows that the husband is likely to succumb to the temptation so she comes down to the door and politely tells the friends to “piss off”. In this situation I think the wife is acting appropriately, its not because the wife is a control freak that wants to control her husband, its that she believes the activity he is engaging in disrespects women and she knows he is committed to not doing this, she is merely assisting him to live in accord with a standard he accepts at his request.

    I see the T shirt situation as a bit like this case. There is a prior religious belief which you may not accept, but which I do, that holds that women should be treated with a certain amount of respect, they should not be objectified or treated as sex objects by men, to protect women from this and other sorts of harm God has laid down a rule that says that unless the man is willing to make a serious long term commitment they should get lost, so to speak. Now take this as background and assume it’s true and then assume that a man wants to disrespect your daughter or sister in this way, suppose further that the daughter shares these values, but also like most human beings find the temptation to succumb to acting against them fairly powerful. She therefore finds her self conflicted she has values grounded in respect for women which she upholds but she struggles to up live by them. In this situation I see no problem with the women requesting that the men around her whether husband or father step in if she looks like she may succumb and politely tell any men you might make advances where to get off.. This is not about controlling her body any more than the previous cases is. It is about protecting other people men or women from being exploited and disrespected by others and it is about assisting each other in this task acknowledging our weaknesses and tendency to succumb to temptation.

    Recent blog post: Response to Richard Chappell's "Pro-Life Pro Zombie"

  9. Hi Anna, Like I said in my last comment, I don’t think any version of Christianity teaches that women’s bodies can be used as property by men to be disposed of as I see fit. I am aware some feminist scholars contest this but I don’t think its credible (we could probably discuss this sometime). I also think you may have misread Thialias comments about killing, you’re correct that many aspects of the Christian tradition support killing in some specific contexts. The point is however, as a general rule killing is prohibited, special justification is needed and the point is that no person can use their body to kill an innocent human being who is not engaging in unjust aggression against another person.

    I agree also with your comments about men and women’s bodies being different. But you probably read to much into Paul’s teaching here. Paul states that husbands should treat their wives as themselves, he immediately illustrates this point by saying no person harms their own body but cherishes and nourishes it. The point is then one does not smash oneself in the face or deprive oneself of love care etc. This derives from the Old Testament where it was stated that if a man did abandoned his wife, did not feed her or clothe her or show her sufficient affection she could leave him. I could go into this in more detail, but the obvious point is that it rules out abusive violent relationships and it does so in a context (the roman empire) where men legally had the right to kill their wives and family members.

    I also agree with you that women experience autonomy differently because women can get pregnant and men can’t. Where we differ is the conclusion we draw from this. I think the current feminist approach furthers the exploitation of women by men and actually encourages it. Women get pregnant only because men have sex with then, hence it’s actually the man (not the fetus) who is responsible for the predicament of an unwanted pregnancy. The liberal mantra of causal sex with no strings attached actually justifies men doing this and leaving the women to either face economic deprivation of bringing the child up. Feminists seem to think the response should be to kill the child which simply passes the buck further. A more sensible conclusion would be to actually hold men responsible and emphasis that it is their duty to provide for the women and ensure she is cared for and provided for etc. When you push the mantra that people can have sex no strings attached then you actually deny that the man has any “strings” requiring him to do this. That’s great for men, as you note their bodies are different to women’s they can enjoy the fun and leave with minimal cost and consequences and someone else either the fetus or the women or third parties pay the price. If there are some women out their who refuse to accept these values, demand that men not shag them unless they are willing to be committed to themselves whether they become pregnant or not, and if there are some men out their who are willing to support women n this choice and demand that the men in their lives show them this respect then fantastic. Feminists should applaud it not condemn it.

    Recent blog post: Response to Richard Chappell's "Pro-Life Pro Zombie"

  10. Thanks Matt - I found your comments very interesting (they hadn't appeared when I responded to Thialias previously). Some feminists have put forward the idea that contraception (esp the pill) has lessened the position of women in society by turning them into objects with which men can have sex without consequences. This argument obviously assumes that women choose to have sex primarily because men want to (something which I think is likely to be true for many young women), but also assumes that men are deterred from wanting sex by the possibility of pregnancy. It also assumes that the best or proper position for a woman with a child is in a marriage, which is obviously where Christianity and (most) feminism parts company.

    I think moral autonomy is very important, but on the whole I don't actually think of autonomy as being an absolute value (either from the standpoint of feminism or Christianity - I'll be interested in your opinion on this). Autonomy can lapse into individualism, hedonism, etc, so I think it's valuable only insofar as you use it to give effect to other values. IE, if your 'big' value is to alleviate the suffering of another person, you would want them to have the autonomy to help themselves. So I see autonomy more as a means to an end than something that is morally worthwhile in its own right.

    Recent blog post: Guest post: Mustwatchable Girls

  11. Our comments function a bit differently to most other NZ blogs as you can reply to any comment and have your reply sit under it rather than at the bottom. This feature has both pro's and con's - I am currently trying to work out how to turn it off as in posts with lots of comments it is difficult to spot new comments. Anyway....

    Christianity and feminism both share a strong desire to ensure that women have bodily autonomy, that they can control what happens to their bodies and when it happens. Thialias made some reference to this, Matt intends to write a post on it at some point - suffice to say I dispute the claim that this is just one interpretation. Yes some people are willfully blind or are just bad at biblical interpretation or don't put things into action as well as they are instructed to but those who can interpret theology well can see plain as day the sorts of things Thialias was talking about in the text.

    Where feminists (by this I mean those in your camp as I too view myself as a feminist but perhaps from a different "denomination" to you) part ways with Christians is in what limits can be justifiably placed on autonomy.

    Both of us would agree that the right to bodily autonomy is not a carte blanche right to do whatever one wants to with one's body - as the saying goes, my liberty to do what I want ends at my neighbour's nose. You can't murder, rape and steal in the name of bodily autonomy.

    So I submit that it is not in our respect for women's bodily autonomy or in what level of importance we place on it that we disagree; we disagree on the definition of what constitutes a nose.

  12. Yes, nose disagreement is part of it. There's another dimension - the interests of the individual vs those of the collective. Personally, I don't mind the idea of interfering with someone's nose where other people's welfare provides a compelling reason to do so. What is compelling is a whole other debate.

    I have reservations both about whether autonomy is Christian value, and to what extent it even should be - same with feminism. I think the moral value of autonomy is the ends to which it's put.

    Something I've been deeply disturbed about since childhood is the Sodom & Gomorrah tale - specifically, the offering of the virgin daughters to satisfy the hordes of men outside the house. On the face of it, this looks like a negation of the daughters' autonomy (mind you, I've never seen this passage interpreted - Matt may have some insights). There are lots of Biblical instances where we're exhorted to curb our autonomy for others or the greater good - eg turning the other cheek - but the Sodom & Gomorrah incident doesn't seem like one of them.

    Interestingly, I read in passing the other day that Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority opposed anti-domestic violence legislation in the 1980s. This almost certainly wasn't intended as an endorsement of violence, but probably was seen as a way of protecting the autonomy of the family from 'interference' by the state. The problem is that it regards the family as being capable of autonomy - everyone in agreement, upholding the same values and keeping one another safe. If this concensus of values breaks down, the woman of course can be in a vulnerable position - more so without recourse to help from the state or elsewhere to assert her autonomy in the face of violence. So the Moral Majority presumably saw the possible negative consequences of diminishing women's autonomy as the lesser of two evils, state interference being the bigger evil. (I doubt many Christians would agree with the MM on this one, but it points to some disagreement within Christianity on what autonomy is, and how important it is.)

    Recent blog post: More racism for your entertainment

  13. I would have some limited and highly qualified agreement with you on exceptions to respecting people noses but the default position needs to be that it is prima facie wrong to harm other people.

    If I understand you correctly on the moral value of autonomy I probably agree with you but it does come down to how you define autonomy - Matt keeps saying "I must write a post on autonomy some time", I wish he would. There are a lot of different views so it depends what you mean by it.

    I agree that the Sodom and Gomorrah incident can be read rather disturbingly, however, I don't think that Lot is being portrayed as being a good person in that passage. There is an irony present in the text that is worth highlighting in that Lot gets raped by his daughters in the next chapter. Genesis has a lot of ironies where people do wrong things and then what they do comes back to them - this is common with the patriarchs and is particularly true of Jacob as well. The Torah, which Genesis is the preface to, actually has laws that condemn different things that the patriarchs did. Anyway, I have asked Matt to do his Sunday Scripture post on this passage so hopefully he will expound further tomorrow. He is off reading commentaries on it right now so it looks likely!

    Matt has written something explaining turning the other cheek previously too, An Eye for an Eye and Turning the Other Cheek.

    I have heard what you said about Falwell before. I am not familiar with the legislation that was proposed or what the problem with it was. We all know that the way opposing sides spin each others positions is often very unfair - eg opponents of the removal of s59 as a defence from the crimes act were accused of supporting child abuse and those who support abortion as a lawful option are often portrayed as being anti-life - so I am not sure if the reports around Falwell's position is accurate. I don't agree with everything he says but as points out in Genocide ! Who Cares? Tell them about crazy Falwell and Tinky Winky he is often unjustly maligned.

    While there is always going to be disagreement as to what the correct position is and how to weight various positions in any group, Christians as a whole oppose domestic violence and support strict enforcement of domestic violence laws. The puritans in the 16th century were very strong on opposing domestic violence as were most of the reformers - people were excommunicated for it, a practice that I would happily see revived.

    Your comments reminded me that I once wrote a paper for Law, Society and Domestic violence refuting the claim that Christianity was the cause of domestic violence. I have often meant to bring it out and pull out bit of it and turn it into a blog post.

    Anyway you will find no argument from us against the notion that the current laws in New Zealand against domestic violence and the implementation and application of them are not tough enough.

    I am a survivor of domestic violence. I grew up witnessing it and that experience caused me massive harm. I then went on to have more than one relationship that turned violent [I should make it clear that I am NOT in such a relationship currently].

    I have a broken bone that protrudes from my hand and a scar on my back where my vertebrae was cracked from a kick and then pinched the surrounding tissue resulting in a major abscess that had to be surgically drained. The x-rays and drugs administered during this time were given to me before I knew I was pregnant with my oldest son who turned out to have Aspergers Syndrome - I always have worried that these were the cause of his disability.

    My teenage daughter has been massively messed up because of both my initial failure to leave her father and my inability once I did, due to the failure and limitations of the legal system, to keep her father away from her and her brother (who ironically, due to his Aspergers, can separate the issues from the emotions and is largely unaffected). Due to the failure of the law and legal system, the man that left these injuries on me and has caused irreparable harm to my children, continues to abuse and harass me and harm my children to this day. The most recent incident was in the last week. Any sensible legal moves that can improve the plight of victims of domestic violence and their children has both Matt's and my support.

    Recent blog post: Dr Glenn Peoples on Religion in the Public Square

  14. That makes me deeply sad. I don't think that a woman's difficulty to leave a violent relationship can ever be described as 'failure'. That's not a situation any person should have to live in - it takes a lot strength for a woman being abused to ensure that she and her kids just get by from day to day. The failure lies with the person inflicting the violence, and with anyone who knows something's wrong yet does nothing.

    It's certainly a bridge too far to suggest that Christianity causes domestic violence. I think it's fairer to say that the value a society places on marriage (which doesn't stem only from Christianity) can be related to how difficult it is for non-traditional families to manage. Life for a woman who leaves a relationship (particularly if she has kids, and is leaving a violent relationship) can be hard, stressful and lonely - the more so if she doesn't have family or financial resources to help. I know women who've left violent partners with a deep sense of failure that they weren't able to hold their marriages together. It should be possible to respect marriage and those who enter into it without the corollary being that, when marriages/relationships don't work, the people involved are failures or deserve some sort of punitive response.

    A couple I know met through their church, got married, and became the poster-children for marriage within their congregation. When their marriage started to fail, the church put a lot of pressure on them to stay together. Unsurprisingly, it didn't work, but it did cause them a fair amount of extra unhappiness and humiliation as their marriage disintegrated while everyone watched.

    I think the Christian approach should be supportiveness towards those who are married (in a meaningful way - eg by being understanding of the challenges that couples inevitably go through, not by offering dumb platitudes), while recognising that shit does in fact happen, and that people coming out of marriages for whatever reason still need support from their communities.

    Recent blog post: TVNZ's response to the complaints about Paul Henry's behaviour towards Stephanie Mills

  15. I describe the length of time it took me to leave as a failure not because I think what happened to me was my fault or because I have an attitude that if a domestic violence victim (DVV) stays it is her or his fault - I utterly empathise with DVVs who feel trapped and cannot see a way out or who can see it but cannot take it. I use the term failure because to leave takes strength and when you leave and reclaim your life and stand up to what has happened to you you take ownership of your own life and to a degree the situation. This entails that not acting, when you could have, is also something you need to own. (Of course 'when you could have' is a very important qualifier. Not every DVV can for both real and imagined, which can be just as paralysing as real, reasons.)

    People, when faced with having to make hard, life changing choices and their mental state is somewhat fragile due to what they have gone through, need time to made those choices when they themselves are ready to make them. However, when children that they are responsible for are also being harmed by their taking time I think on some level, some responsibility and ownership for the harm that befalls the children falls on the person delaying removing them if, and only if, they could have left but chose not to.

    The level of that responsibility is clearly not huge - the person causing the harm is most certainly who should be shouldering the brunt of it and I think factors such as how feasible removing the children and yourself from harm also should weigh in - if someone is not capable of leaving or the level of abuse is so severe they are mentally paralysed or they have zero means to leave then of course no responsibility for not leaving should be put on them to any degree at all.

    But in my situation I had family who wanted to help, I had friends who wanted to help, I had welfare at my disposal and I could work; and although I was dealing with a violent abusive and controlling person, he was not at the extreme psycho end of the spectrum and he would not and did not prevent me from leaving him. Yes my capacity to leave was diminished by the abuse but it was not extinguished and looking back, I delayed longer than I should have. Given this, I choose to take some, not much, just a little, responsibility for making the decision to get involved with him which, given what I knew about him, was a dumb choice and the decision to linger when I could have left but I didn't want to deal with it.

    These sorts of distinctions are very complex. While I think there is an element of truth to the kneejerk response "why doesn't he/she just leave?" even though I concede it is never that simple because each case is different due to the circumstances as these effect the degree of culpability, we are usually talking about adults with some degree of capability who are not actually trapped in their situations; obviously sometimes this is the case but it is not the norm. When it is just you to consider you have the luxury of time and hesitation, when there are children to consider you have an obligation to get to the point you can leave as fast as possible and if you delay when you could leave then you have to own some of that.

    Having set out some of my thinking, going back to my first paragraph, I feel that by owning some degree of the failure I am taking responsibility for my new, violence free life and in a strange way owning it is empowering. I am not and was not a powerless victim that things just happened too, I was an adult who made choices and whilst I made some bad ones, ultimately I stepped up and made good ones - to me that sits better.

    Recent blog post: Bullying (Again) and Coming Posts

  16. I should add that the church encouraged me to leave.

    My relationship with my older two children's father was de facto (common law marriage in the eyes of the church) until 6 weeks after the birth of my eldest daughter as I had made a pact with myself that if the violence I have been subjected to during pregnancy continued after birth I would leave. My child would not witness violence.

    After I threw him out I came to the realisation that God was real and I needed to follow him. While it took me another 4 years from that point to get following him to loosely resemble what a Christian's life should look like and countless reconcilliations including one that resulted in my son due to my addiction/inability to let go of the hope that the person I had loved and committed myself to would change, at no point did he become a Christian or treat me as a Christian husband should treat me so the church, rightly, agreed that I was under no obligation to pursue the relationship or wait and pray, especially in the face of the violence. The church was prepared to support me escaping the relationship permanently years before I was. I should add that due to my moving around the country and explored theology I was in 5 churches during this period, a range of denominations from presbytarian to pentecostal to calvinist reformed, and every one of them had pretty much the same response (though the latter's was the most theologically correct).

    While some churches do and have gotten it wrong, I think most have a fairly correct understanding of how to balance the commitment to marriage with the prohibition against divorce.

    Recent blog post: Bullying (Again) and Coming Posts

  17. Fair point - it's wrong to think of women in violent relationships as not having any agency (to use a word I hate) or any moral responsibilities to their own or their children's welfare, even when these responsibilities are very hard to carry out. And the fact of making it out must help restore a women's confidence when she's had this bashed out of her over the course of a relationship.

    But from time to time I've heard people make comments like, 'I'd never put up with an abusive relationship - I'm a strong person' (not often from someone professing Christian beliefs, admittedly), and this makes me cringe. It's just not a situation in which making character judgements is helpful. I've known women who've stuck with abusive relationships out of a commitment to marriage as an institution - and although I don't agree with their interpretation of marriage, I do have some respect for this. Every now and again an abusive partner does make a commitment to mend his ways - which of course makes the decision whether to call time on the marriage more tricky.

  18. Cactus Kate regularly states something to that effect each time she blogs on domestic violence and my reaction, like yours, is to cringe. I cannot say I recall any Christian saying anything like that - maybe the odd naive teenager in a youth group setting.

    The ironic thing is that DVVs that I have known have actually all been fairly strong, intelligent people and from what I have read this is the norm - they are not the doormats people making cringe statements make them out to be. From what I have read this is partly why the abuser feels the need to control because they are outwitted on some level - you don't need to control a doormat.

    Its one of those things that you either have to live through or watch someone live through or really study to get the complexity of so I try to not get too riled when someone says it.

    Recent blog post: Bullying (Again) and Coming Posts

  19. Anna wrote:

    That makes me deeply sad. I don't think that a woman's difficulty to leave a violent relationship can ever be described as 'failure'. That's not a situation any person should have to live in - it takes a lot strength for a woman being abused to ensure that she and her kids just get by from day to day. The failure lies with the person inflicting the violence, and with anyone who knows something's wrong yet does nothing.

    I agree entirely, it’s mistaken to think that it is the woman’s fault.

  20. Anna wrote:It's certainly a bridge too far to suggest that Christianity causes domestic violence. I think it's fairer to say that the value a society places on marriage (which doesn't stem only from Christianity) can be related to how difficult it is for non-traditional families to manage. Life for a woman who leaves a relationship (particularly if she has kids, and is leaving a violent relationship) can be hard, stressful and lonely - the more so if she doesn't have family or financial resources to help. I know women who've left violent partners with a deep sense of failure that they weren't able to hold their marriages together. It should be possible to respect marriage and those who enter into it without the corollary being that, when marriages/relationships don't work, the people involved are failures or deserve some sort of punitive response.Again I agree, I think part of the problem is that there is an understandable interpretation of Jesus’ words which suggests it’s never acceptable to divorce under any circumstance or, if it is, it is only acceptable when people commit adultery. This creates something of a tension in Christian observers, they see the practicalities of the situation but also want to be faithful to what they believe is just.

    I struggled with this for some time; last year I read a really insightful book by David Instone-Brewer an evangelical scholar who did his doctoral work on rabbinics. Brewer’s excellent study resolved the issue for me. Brewer puts Christ’s words in the context of rabbinic debates of his day. He argues, persuasively I think, that in Christ’s day there was by and large a consensus amongst rabbinical schools that the torah allowed divorce when one spouse seriously neglected the other (by such things as refusing to feed them, abandoning them, refusing to give them clothes, etc and abuse would fall under this). Debate revolved around what were licit grounds in addition to this, particularly in light of Deuteronomy 24. The Shammai school argued that Deut 24 also allowed divorce in cases of adultery, whereas the Hillel school allowed a man to divorce his wife for adultery and “any matter” which in some readings included finding another women attractive or dumping her because she did not cook a meal well.

    Christ’s words, then, about not divorcing for “any cause” but only for adultery, meant that he was siding with Shammai and hence his statements did not rule out divorce for other grounds. Brewers account also makes sense of the different wordings in Mark and Matthew and the slightly different statements of Paul. Read in its context then, Christ was rejecting the Hillel claim that a man could divorce his wife for any reason at all. He was not rejecting the traditional Jewish claim that a women could leave an abusive spouse. It is interesting to note also that the scriptural practise of paying a “mohar” (often incorrectly interpreted as bride price) was designed to protect women in this way. The groom was required to pay a significant sum of money to the women’s father which he then had to hold in trust for the woman (remember in the ancient world women often married in their teens). If the man was abusive, cheated on her or abandoned her, this money would go to the women to help her get on her own feet, it was a substantial sum of money and, as a result, women who divorced in these situations had a fair amount of financial support. I’d love to write something on this as a resource for battered women or groups helping them sometime. I think it would be helpful for those who deal with evangelical Christian women to assist them in a way that does not make them feel like they are compromising their religious beliefs if they leave an abusive spouse, in fact Madeleine’s law paper on domestic violence that she referred to addressed this issue.

  21. Anna wrote: I think the Christian approach should be supportiveness towards those who are married (in a meaningful way - eg by being understanding of the challenges that couples inevitably go through, not by offering dumb platitudes), while recognising that shit does in fact happen, and that people coming out of marriages for whatever reason still need support from their communities.

    I don’t disagree, I think marriage is a covenant and people who make a covenant have an obligation to stick by it, but if one partner is consistently and unrepentantly refusing their end of the contract then it’s justifiable and in some instances required, to end it. Moreover, I agree also that when people do not live up to the ideal, the punitive response is not always the best. I also hate dumb platitudes - they annoy me no end. That said my experience of churches is that I have not seen the punitive approach much. Moreover, competent pastors (and there are many) often have seen a lot more of the “shit happening” in life than most people do they are frequently the ones called in for counselling, present at deaths, guiding people through tragedies, etc and so are unlikely to be as na├»ve as your position suggests.

    The only caveat I have is that I do see a place for the church exerting pressure on spouses who are not treating their partner as they should. Challenging men who verbally belittle their wives or who beat their wives or who are cheating or refusing to treat them with respect is I think perfectly appropriate and vice versa for wives who act this way. The Church is a community that is supposed to challenge its members to live in accordance with the law of God. There should be forgiveness and grace by all means but people need also to call a spade a spade.

    A few years ago a friend turned up at my house and told me he had left his wife because her nagging was annoying and he didn’t feel that God had called him into the marriage in the first place and so he decided God did not will his marriage to continue. I fairly bluntly told him to go home and suggested that God was a covenant keeping God; if he expected God to be faithful despite how annoying he was, so too he should be more tolerant of his wife. I have been humbled to know that this man and his wife are still happily married 10 years later and credit my advice with helping in part to save their marriage. I was surprised that something I said could have that kind of effect and thank God for it. No one else had challenged this guy out of a misguided sense of not being judgemental. I am glad that I did.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

  © Blogger template 'Grease' by 2008 Design by Madeleine Flannagan 2008

Back to TOP