Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cause and affect of egalitarianism and sexual violence

The Christian blogosphere has recently exploded with some of the most vicious attacks I've ever seen from anyone, let alone those who are enjoined members of one Body.

It all started when Jared Wilson posted an excerpt from Douglas Wilson's (no relation) book, Fidelity: What it Means to be a One-Woman Man on the Gospel-Driven Church blog.

The original blog posting didn't take the entire book's context into account, and offered only the context that Jared Wilson found how it should be relevant considering some book named 50 Shades of Grey has become a pop culture touchstone. Jared Wilson pointed specifically to how "sexual pathology is a perverted version of good, God-honoring, and body-protecting authority and submission between husbands and wives."

The quotation argues that there is a natural order of submission between men and women, and that egalitarianism has perverted that order, removing the authority from men and the submission from women, so that there is a new pathology which leads to "bondage and submission games" as well as "rape fantasies." Douglas Wilson is arguing that we as a culture have rebelled against "the biblical concepts of true authority and submission" and have thus brought perverted, violent forms of authority and submission into the culture.

Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the "soon to be made willing" heroine. Those who deny they have any need for water at all will soon find themselves lusting after polluted water, but water nonetheless.

A lot of people have rejected this claim outright saying that rape has existing long before egalitarianism was ever a majority opinion. Certainly long before the Enlightenment era. As anyone familiar with these subjects know, rapists aren't trying to have free sex, they're seeking power and control over another person. This has been seen throughout history where rape has been used against defeated armies and cultures as an assertion of power and a humiliation of the defeated. To be fair to Douglas Wilson, he's not speaking about rape itself, but rape fantasies, and other sexual fetishes where power or domination are used. In fact, he's claiming that the rape fantasies are indeed about power and dominion.

But, he's making a strong correlation here that these fantasies are the result of a broken authority system he claims the Bible teaches. He calls it "complementarianism," which is just another word for patriarchy. And he may even have some point here if not for the fact that what he calls this "sexual pathology" has also been around much longer than the Enlightenment and egalitarian thought.

Douglas Wilson may even argue against this point by saying those people throughout history had an individual rebellion against the "biblical concepts of true authority and submission" even if there wasn't a cultural rebellion. However, his counter argument would be placed in peril because he's now finding himself moving the goalposts whenever someone criticizes his point.

Which is exactly what he has been doing as he's come to his own defense during this uproar.

The main offense taken by the Douglas Wilson passage is when Mr. Wilson describes the natural mechanisms of "true authority and submission" during sexual congress. He says his description is "the way the world is" (his emphasis), as if a fixed rule. He compares this reality with physics, saying "we cannot make gravity disappear just because we dislike it."

So we come to the thrust of the objection, that Douglas Wilson blames rape fantasies on egalitarianism. (Emphasis mine.)

When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.

Douglas Wilson is clearly blaming egalitarianism for a sexual pathology which leads to rape fantasies. And I want to write about that more in depth, but I first want to talk about what he's describing as the "biblical concepts of true authority and submission." He describes the man as conquering and colonizing his wife, while she surrenders. This is metaphorical, coloring a picture of the sexual act, but as we should be aware, words matter. Douglas Wilson is using martial language to describe a sexual encounter. The same way an invading force conquers and colonizes an indigenous culture, and that culture surrenders and accepts the invading force.

There's nothing so much wrong with word pictures, but words matter, and describing a sexual encounter in terms usually reserved for a violent military action does trigger parallels to violent sexual encounters. It doesn't hearken to mutual submission, nor to a loving, consensual encounter.

In Douglas Wilson's defense, he compares his terminology to the terminology used in Song of Songs. "Her neck is like the tower of David" for conquer (4:4), and "You are a garden locked up" for colonize (4:12). Of course the Tower of David passage is talking about beauty and adornments, not in conquest (a tower doesn't do much conquering). I'm clueless how the garden image has any resemblance to colonization.

Finally, Douglas Wilson uses the most disingenuous response to the egalitarian phrase I've ever seen. Mr. Wilson flippantly said his critics "need to retake their ESL [English as a Second Language] class", but his shoehorn apology really takes the cake.

The emphasis needs to be placed on "egalitarian pleasuring party" -- the kind of party where the sexes of the participants don't matter, because all that matters is that two or more people come to orgasm. I was by implication lauding a complementarian pleasure party. The term of opprobrium there was egalitarian, not pleasure.

Are we supposed to believe that, given the context, Douglas Wilson was trying to make "egalitarian" into a free love thing instead of the widely accepted and understood term to describe equality of value, rights, opportunity, power, wealth and influence? Nobody has used the term, to my knowledge, to ever describe sexual liberation. And what's even more laughable is that Mr. Wilson himself is not using the term in this manner.

This passage from his book is clearly contrasting egalitarianism between equality and authority. That's his entire point in discussing the topic - the rebellion against authority and submission. He says that the rebellion against patriarchy is causing this pathology. That rejecting authority and submission leads to a pathology which fetishizes authority and submission. The egalitarian is the villain, and the answer is honoring authority.

He directly ties egalitarianism with the male authority and female submissive "in marriage." He's not saying that the husband's failure to act authoritatively nor the wife's failure to act submissively leads to adultery or homosexuality, he's saying the failure to honor "true authority and true submission" leads to " sexual 'bondage and submission games,' along with very common rape fantasies."

To pretend he meant anything else makes his snide comment about lacking English language skills seem hypocritical.

In conclusion, this is the end result of complementarian theology. Even though the Bible directly contradicts this notion. "The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife." (1 Corinthians 7:4) But because of this twisted view of God and scriptures, complementarians like Douglas Wilson oppose egalitarianism, especially between men and women. It gets so perverted that the passage Jared Wilson cites from Douglas Wilson's book ends by declaring,
True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity.


Kristen said...

Good post. I agree with you that this idea of the bedroom as a place of authority and submission is the logical result of the complementarian view. Therefore, the fact that the Bible in 1 Cor. 7 directly contradicts this particular, calls the whole into question.

tony c said...

Excellent post. Clearly written.

Personally I think if a couple wants to play Batman and Robin, or Master and slave in the bedroom then good luck to them. They might have a non-egalitarian pleasure party to rival an egalitarian one. But it is still fundamentally egalitarian because it is "role play" for mutual pleasure and laughs. Only idiots take it seriously and take it out of the bedroom believing in those roles.

Why is there a tendency in Christian thinking to treat sex as symbolic performance in a way that maybe only Sheila Jeffreys might match? Tying up your partner doesn't have to mean anything more than that helplessness is an aid to excitement. Or that wickedness is cheeky fun. You did enjoy tickle games when you were young right?

I think that the people who are into complimentarianism would benifit from switching to BDSM play rather than the other way round if they are so strongly inclined against egalitarianism. Sex is not about performing an ideal (egalitarian or patriarchal). Its about the other person and you making that funny face a lot because you love each other.

For His Namesake said...

Of course, there are complementarians that do strongly object to Douglas Wilson and many types of domination oriented rhetoric. Disagreements aside, much of Wilson's arguments I find objectionable and damaging to the church.

Good post.

Steven Kippel said...

I believe I have figured out Douglas Wilson's "egalitarian" definition in his posted defense.

He posted a quotation from C.S. Lewis's "Priestesses in the Church?" essay,

A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles. He may make a bad male partner in a dance. The cure for that is that men should more diligently attend dancing classes; not that the ballroom should henceforward ignore distinctions of sex and treat all dancers as neuter. That would, of course, be eminently sensible, civilized, and enlightened, but, once more, "not near so much like a Ball".

So he's approaching the issue from the perspective of roles, not of equality. If a woman can fill a man's role in authority, she can also replace a man's role in sex.

Of course, as I pointed out, he didn't use that definition himself in the original text, but tried to use it in his defense.

And still, it's not the accepted usage of the term "egalitarian."