Sarah Moon

The Privilege of Purity

Sarah Moon analyzes how purity culture perpetuates a power imbalance between whites and non-whites:

Some women are seen as impure just because of who they “are.”

Jessica Valenti points out in The Purity Myth, “we rarely see women who aren’t conventionally beautiful idolized for their abstinence… The desirable virgin is…young, white, and skinny. She’s never a woman of color…”

I think it’s a fascinating (and infuriating) contradiction, the way the American Church is able to simultaneously essentialize sexual behavior and—in practical terms—deny sexuality as a fundamental component of humanity.

♀ The State of the Weblog


This is my last long post of the year. Next Thursday is January 3, 2013, so next time you hear from me (probably talking about Chapter 6 of The Feminine Mystique), we’ll be starting a new year.

I’ve been writing Jesus & Venus for over four months, which doesn’t seem like a very significant marker, but it’s the end of the year, so I feel like doing a wrap-up/state of the union post.

I’m burned out.

I know that sounds like a dumb thing to say after only four months of activity, but I read so much terrible news on a near-daily basis that it really gets me down sometimes. Even worse, such a staggering amount of blind drivel or outright misogyny comes through my RSS reader every day in the form of anti-feminist op-ed pieces, rape culture apologia, and even friendly fire, that I’ve found myself more and more frequently getting so angry that sitting down to process the news for all of you has taken every bit of determination and stamina I can muster. Good news or unadulterated awesomeness shows up far less regularly, and the victories are often small.

Anyway, as whiny as this may sound, here are by far the four greatest contributers to my burnout.

Ease of Burnout

I burn out quickly on nearly anything that isn’t going perfectly, and frequently even on the things that work out well. I’m a generalist; I have a wide array of interests, and this is only one of them. It’s all too easy for me to abandon things that don’t charge my batteries at the moment and move on to another project I’m more excited about. I also get easily bored with ongoing projects once I’ve gotten into a regular rhythm, particularly if they don’t have a foreseeable end date. 10 years post-college, I’ve come to terms with this character flaw, and I think it’s healthy to acknowledge it from time to time.

Abuse of the Bible

Many or most of my Christian friends are not feminists or egalitarians, and I read several Christian websites that are indifferent, or passively or actively hostile, toward the goals of feminism. I try to be open-minded, so I recognize that some parts of the Bible could, fairly legitimately, be interpreted in opposition to egalitarian views. 1 Timothy 2:9–15 comes to mind first, of course, and the dearth of women holding positions of spiritual or political authority—exceptions notwithstanding—could easily trouble me absent my views on progressive revelation.

But people rarely employ the strongest arguments when opposing feminism from a biblical platform, and when they do, they almost never seem interested in an actual dialogue on the subject. Instead, they tend to stick with the same three tactics: Interpreting The Curse as prescriptive for women (but not for men), universalizing and canonizing the mythologized version of the 1950s sold to them through film and television of the day, and selectively applying Old Testament law. When I (or others) disagree with these practices or try to engage them on a hermeneutical level, they nearly always respond by questioning our commitment to the authority of the Bible, conveniently ignoring the many components of the Christian feminist platform actually based on the Christian scriptures. When other theological disputes can be politely handled without these sorts of accusations, I begin to wonder just how scared of sexual equality these people must be to behave so reactively.[1]

Rape. Rape, rape, rape, rape, rape, rape, rape.

I quite literally cannot read a single day’s worth of news without seeing a horrific account of a rape or a story about miscarriage of justice in a rape case or perpetuation of rape culture through legislation. Women everywhere are having their sexual autonomy taken away from them, and hardly anyone seems to actually care; the most common responses seem to be some form of victim-blaming or decrying human nature, or both. The occasional meting out of justice or positive institutional or political change brings hope for a future culture of consent, but our present reality bears little resemblance to the ideal.

Evangelicals—my people—are among the worst. We struggle to not conflate behavior we consider “sinful” with behavior that mitigates the injustice of rape; the former is and will probably always be up for debate, but the latter is a flying unicorn, and we need to stop believing in those. As much as we may not like it when young people get drunk and rub up against each other, a woman who does this is in no way at fault if she gets raped—the end, full stop.

But Evangelicals—and nearly everyone else—think that we can keep talking this way about women and still effect change. We can’t. We can’t perpetuate modesty culture without contributing to the perpetuation of rape culture. We can’t keep teaching our youth that sex is shameful and dirty without putting girls (and boys) at risk for un-reported sexual abuse. We can’t train women in rape-avoidance techniques without subtly communicating that rape, when it happens, is a little bit their fault.[2]

Believe me when I tell you that I struggle with empathy. I’m a cold-blooded, callous bastard when it come to anyone but my own kith and kin, but this issue still makes me—again, quite literally—scream out loud at my desk on some days.

Ideological Snobbery Among Feminists

This one is probably going to anger people, but I’m putting it in anyway. While many feminists I read and interact with online are lovely people, most are mean-spirited, flippant, or dismissive at best when encountering ideas that conflict with feminist dogma.[3] While I understand that nearly everyone tires of saying the same things over and over, as a relative newcomer I have repeatedly observed that feminists are largely preaching to the choir because the congregation is tired of being harangued.

Now, some websites or individual bloggers have no interest in reaching non-feminists. Some do not even intend to persuade. I think of Sarah Moon, who has made it quite clear that her blog is an emotional outlet, not a news source or platform for debate. I also continue to derive a semi-guilty pleasure from the steady stream of snark flowing out of the Jezebel writers, who fall loosely into the category of “pundit”. On the more journalistic end of the scale, Feministing and The Feminist Majority Foundation Blog, while newsy, seem to be aimed entirely at existing converts.

I’ll cite a specific event as an example: The Good Men Project’s recent series of posts on rape culture, which many (rightly, I believe) categorized as rape apologism. You’ll notice that the link above leads not the Good Men Project website but to an article for The Guardian by Jill Filipovic, and that is because Filipovic was the only feminist writer I heard of who responded to the event with a reasoned, balanced commentary befitting a journalist.

The near-universal reaction from the rest of the femisphere boiled down to: “Screw GMP. No one should ever read them again; they’re terrible people.” An entirely legitimate reaction for writers who just want to blog about personal experience or vent their emotions, this is not at all tenable for anyone who wants to consider themselves a journalist or news source. Ignoring the opposition, even when they write something so wrong that you have to spend half an hour cooling down before you can respond, is not an option for a journalist. If, as they say, most of the feminists I follow really no longer read The Good Men Project, they are abdicating any claim to the title.

And that is fine, but where are the feminist journalists? Where are the serious, well-reasoned op-ed pieces defending our positions? Seriously: where are they? I feel like they must exist; I just haven’t found them yet. Someone point me in the right direction. Drop me a line in the comments, using the contact page, or on Twitter. For now, though, the feminist corner of the internet seems very closed off to dialogue. This alienates people who are open to feminist ideas but put off by our unbending dogmatism.[4] I know, because I have conversations with these people. As a perpetual evangelist, this troubles me.

Why I’m Not Giving Up

Firstly, I don’t want to be a quitter. I’ve quit a lot of things in my life; I don’t want this website to be another one. In any case, it has more inherent value than most other things I’ve attempted.

Secondly, people. As much as I may occasionally (or frequently) disagree with some of them, I’ve met several wonderful people since I started collecting the feminist news. Despite never meeting any of them in person, I feel like some of my new friends could turn into lifelong friends. Their various individual brands of feminism—and Christianity—make me feel happy, and more importantly, they expand my thinking and push me to be a better feminist and a better Christian.

Finally, the goal. The Goal. Slightly expanded from the About page, The Goal of Jesus & Venus is, through a steady stream of news carefully peppered with opinion, to persuade Christians who aren’t quite sure they are feminists or egalitarians that they really are, or should be. No one else that I know about is doing what I’m trying to do, and I feel like I’m doing it well. I could do it even better, and if my readership continues to expand, I think I can achieve that goal.

I’m going to push through this period of burnout. Four months is a very short time, considered with proper perspective. 2013 is going to bring plenty of raw material, and I’ll be here to digest it into a form you can consume in just a few minutes a day. This may sound kind of hollow after all of the above complaining, but I’ll say it anyway: Thanks for reading.

  1. I should clarify that many of my complementarian friends are wonderful people who do not engage in any of these tactics.  ↩

  2. At least, not using the type of language and logic we’ve been employing up until now.  ↩

  3. I use “dogma” here in the non-judgmental sense of “doctrine considered central to the movement”, not in the pejorative sense of “beliefs held irrationally in despite of evidence to the contrary”.  ↩

  4. This time, I am being pejorative.  ↩

A Church “Building Project” That Made a Difference

Sometimes building projects are just needed. Pews fill up. Roofs leak. And, you know, sometimes that 70s shag carpeting in the teen room just needs to go. But the idea that a building proejct is going to shake the foundations of the earth is usually a lie that pastors hype up in order to get in your wallet. That new building isn’t going to single-handedly bring about the kingdom of God.

Sarah Moon tells the story of a sticker. I’ll let you read it for yourself, but I’ll also tell you my response: the best church advertising lets people know what that church is all about—when that church is all about the right things.

A New Hope

No, not that one. This is about the Church of England’s rejection today of a proposal that would have allowed women to become bishops.

Sarah Moon writes of her crushing disappointment at the news, but then she urges women to live in opposition to oppression:

It would be so easy to give up, and I know that’s what they hope for. They hope for a day when the oppressed follow their rules and stop preaching and prophesying. They hope for a day when the oppressed give up trying to be human, and settle into their “roles” as sex objects.

They hope…

But we hope for something different.

♀ The Good Men Project's Apology and Its Implications


The Facts

Late last night I wrote a very short report on how The Good Men Project had posted a piece of rape porn under their “Moustache Club of America” section, then taken it down after only a short time with no explanation or even acknowledgement that it had existed. Thanks to the collective efforts of a few people on Twitter, the site has posted an apology of sorts at the original post’s URL. Here it is, in full:

Editor’s note: The content previously at this URL was grossly offensive and absolutely not representative of the Good Men Project’s values. It was published without the supervision of myself or any other member of the Good Men Project editorial team, and taken down within two hours (from 11:47 PM to 1:38 AM) of being published. We initially took it down completely in the hope that this ugly aberration might simply be erased, but in case anyone received the link via an RSS feed or similar source, we are adding this apology to clarify matters. We sincerely regret the oversight that allowed such a profoundly offensive and tasteless piece to appear, even briefly, under the Good Men Project banner, and offer our apologies.

—Noah Brand, Editor-in-Chief

Dianna E. Anderson wrote an admirable analysis of the situation before the apology went up, then updated her post after the apology was issued to point out how inadequate it was:

While it is “regrettable” for them that this posted (mistakenly? Hah), why does a man who writes this stuff still write for GMP? Why is he still allowed to contribute? And if he posted this unilaterally, why does a man like him have administrative posting privileges? And what sort of environment is Good Men Project creating where he would possibly think this is an appropriate thing to post?

An apology is important, yes, but the fact that someone who has posting privileges thought this would be okay material for the site speaks to the environment created by GMP and deserves some deep introspection and change, rather than a shallow, quiet apology.

Somewhere along the line Buzzfeed picked up the story, and earlier this evening Anna North posted a piece that included comments from Noah Brand, The Good Men Project’s Editor-in-Chief, Oliver Bateman, editor of the “Moustache Club” section, and Lisa Hickey, the site’s publisher. They answer, by my estimation, two halves[1] of Anderson’s questions above.

I’m going to quote pretty heavily here because I think it’s important to read everything The Good Men Project has to say for itself.

Brand first gives us a bit of spin:

He called it “dreadful” and said “nobody at the Good Men Project stands for that kind of rape-apologizing nonsense.” The story was published on a sub-blog of GMP called Moustache Club of America which gets less editorial oversight than its main pages, and which Brand says sometimes publishes “edgier content.”

The fact that “Moustache Club of America” posts “edgier content” is obviously supposed to provide some sort of explanation of how this content—which crossed the line from “edgy” into “offensive” before speeding on into the wastelands of “sub-human”—could ever have been deemed fit for posting by anyone.

Next, Brand gives us a slightly-expanded explanation for how the piece got past editorial:

Moustache Club editor Oliver Bateman did not look at it before it went up. Brand says the post was up for about two hours, and everyone at GMP hoped they could remove it without incident, but it had already gone out over RSS. The official Good Men Project Twitter account also tweeted it, though that tweet has now been deleted.

For the record, that tweet has not been deleted. North should have fact-checked the story better. Update: apparently the story was tweeted twice from the official Good Men Project Twitter account. One of those tweets, the one Anderson and North refer to, has been deleted. The one I link to above has not.

Now on to Bateman’s commentary:

Moustache Club editor Oliver Bateman said the piece “was an experiment. It was not espousing the act of rape but engaging it, playing with ideas of sex and power. However, not all experiments are good ones.” He added, “Ryan was perhaps trying to say something about society and the way it accepts rape, but the message, if any, was mangled in the transmission.”

Bateman told BuzzFeed Shift that Bjorklund “is a talented writer but this is a piece we should have worked on together.” Bjorklund had previously been able to post to the site directly, without editing; any future posts of his will be held in a queue for an editor to look at first.

This, at least, straightforwardly (and, let us assume, truthfully) speaks to one part of one of Anderson’s questions; Bateman states without ambiguity that Bjorklund had direct posting privileges, even though he doesn’t explain why. Unfortunately, the rest is rank apologism, defending an obvious misogynist and his offensive rape pornography (more on this later). Even more unfortunately, this also clarifies that Bjorklund will continue to write for The Good Men Project.

Lastly, North quotes Hickey, the publisher:

“We believe in being feminist. We believe in equality, egalitarianism, and treating people with respect and honesty regardless of gender.” She added that the site strives to talk about gender issues “in a way that won’t alienate our core audience or feminists,” but that they haven’t always been successful. In the wake of the Bjorklund story, she says, the site will be instituting closer editorial oversight, as well as trying to talk about issues like consent “in a way that clearly adds to the greater good and doesn’t subtract from it.” Of the site as a whole, she says, “we’re a project. We continue to evolve, and we really do want to get this right.”

This, combined with North’s remarks regarding the lack of editorial oversight for “Moustache Club of America”, constitutes the other one-half an answer—in this case, for Anderson’s question of how The Good Men Project came to create an environment in which Bjorklund thought his rape porn story would pass editorial scrutiny (after the fact, of course). And that half an answer is, reading between the lines: “We’re sloppy.”



Let me sum up, just to keep the story straight. Two nights ago, Ryan Bjorklund posted a short pornographic story glorifying rape to The Good Men Project’s “Moustache Club of America” section. He did this without going through an editor, because he was, at the time, allowed to post content directly without editorial oversight. Within two hours someone in editorial realized how offensive the piece was and pulled it without explanation. Today, in response to questions and pushback from a few readers and bloggers, The Good Men Project eventually published an apology with little explanation. Later in the day, BuzzFeed interviewed several of their staff and published a story containing the organization’s explanation for their lapse, promises of future improvement, and assertion of their good values and intentions.

Now, here is what is wrong with all of that: at one level or another, all of those explanations, promises, and assertions are lies, and the reason I can say that hinges on Ryan Bjorklund.

I don’t care what Oliver Bateman thinks Bjorklund was trying to say about society, the man’s writings are misogynist. I could write an entire post enumerating his offenses, but I’ll stick with two. The first is Bjorklund’s most recent post, from September 25, “The Bad Man Project”. A character study of sorts, the short story describes a disconnected and emotionally numb man who engages in a series of one-off sexual encounters with women he despises:

Although an atheist, he preferred college-aged Christian women. He preferred them because it was likely that they hadn’t lived long enough to experience any kind of continuous, uncoddled pain. Also because he already knew how quickly they’d believe his cheap, optimistic lies. It also helped that whatever he convinced them was worth doing would eventually be absolved by their merciful and understanding Lord.

Bjorklund may have thought that by putting “Bad Man” in the title he was being subversive and signaling his disagreement with the main character’s thoughts and opinions, but the actual tone of the piece is sympathetic toward the man and vaguely—or sometimes not-so-vaguely—contemptuous of his female conquests.

Even more damning is Bjorklund’s “8 Simple Rules for Surviving a Break-Up”, from July 29 of this year—a list of terrible things you can do to the lady you just got out of a relationship with. Here’s a sample (Warning: offensive sexual slang):

  1. As for her sketchy female friend– she’s heard the most slandering jibberjabber spewn from your ex’s cumdumpster. Her hotter, more superficial friend (or frenemy) has been the cause of her past insecurities. Chances are this is also the friend that she complained about to you the most during the course of your relationship. This girl is certainly DTF, because unlike her other friends who offer shoulders to cry on, this friend is her sleaziest and is already sick of hearing her go on about how hard it is. Their relationship is all but done for anyway, and both acknowledge they have very few things in common except being perfunctory sperm receptacles. She’ll appreciate your forward spitefulness and happily accept your invitation to beat her cheeks.

This speaks for itself, I think. If Bjorklund is trying to be subversive and ironic with his rape- and bigotry-glorifying stories, he’s doing it too subtly. Since his actual writing quality could most charitably be described as heavy-handed, I doubt excessive subtlety is really the issue.

So, to return to Dianna E. Anderson’s questions for The Good Men Project (specifically: why did Bjorklund have administrative posting privileges?), Ryan Bjorklund is not at all the sort of man their editing staff should have trusted with direct-posting privileges, particularly if one of their goals is “to talk about gender issues ‘in a way that won’t alienate our core audience or feminists’”. Further, the decision to retain him as part of the writing staff is a poor one for two reasons:

  1. His writing is unlikely to contribute positively to a discussion of gender issues. Even if the editing staff immediately starts to take that goal very seriously—and I’ll go on record here as being very skeptical—they will find themselves spending inordinate amounts of time editing Bjorklund’s work for offensive content and sentiment.
  2. Even if Bjorklund was certain to produce nothing but woman-friendly content from now on, posting rape pornography is the kind of mistake that should disqualify you from a second chance. Bjorklund should have been fired on the spot, not allowed to continue posting as long as he agrees to be edited.

Therefore, if we exclude the possibility that The Good Men Project is managed by idiots, the fact that Bjorklund not only wrote for them but had permission to post without supervision indicates that his writing and ideas were considered exemplary. Since it should be clear by now that his writing is not at all exemplary for a website hoping to constructively join the discussion of gender issues, I conclude that at least up until Tuesday, The Good Men Project did not actually espouse that goal, or did not take it seriously.

To answer Anderson’s second question, then (Why is Bjorklund still allowed to write for The Good Men Project?), I conclude that the publisher and editors do not actually find his usual work to be offensive and did not find this specific piece to be offensive enough to justify termination. Query nearly any feminist, or nearly any woman, even, and I think the response would overwhelmingly indicate that a pornographic story glorifying the unpunished rape of a high school girl would be considered offensive. This is pretty common sense stuff, and anyone who really cares about a healthy dialogue between men and women should know this. But since The Good Men Project plans to continue publishing Bjorklund’s work despite its offensive nature, I conclude that going forward they still do not care about this stated goal.

Now, with regard to Anderson’s final question: “what sort of environment is Good Men Project creating where [Bjorklund] would possibly think this is an appropriate thing to post?” We can only speculate. In my recent job supervising at-risk boys in a group home, though, I learned one truth over and over: the behavior you allow is the behavior you tacitly approve. Whether The Good Men Project cares in theory about furthering the conversation on gender issues is not actually relevant. What matters is what they do, and clearly what they do is allow misogyny to go unchecked; they may even—reading between the lines—reward it. They may not intend to do these things, but they are doing them.

The Good Men Project is not all bad. I continue reading the site not just because this is the subculture I choose to write about but because some of their writers do occasionally post thoughtful or pro-feminist content. I doubt that the editors are actively misogynist; most of the sexism I encounter there is typical of the culture at large. But given their stated goals, they should certainly strive to rise above passive acceptance and reflection of cultural gender values; they need to actively pursue egalitarian standards in thought and expression. I sincerely hope they are, as they promised Suzannah Paul and me on Twitter, “using this as an opportunity to look at our editorial & posting policies & make changes.”

But I’m skeptical. I agree with Sarah Moon’s conclusion on the subject:

The Good Men Project needs higher standards.

Correction: In my original post I theorized that The Good Men Project may actually have contacted Anna North themselves in the hope that she would publish a story that showed them in a favorible light. While I still think North’s piece should have probed the issue a little more deeply, I have been informed that the initiative in publishing the story was hers.

  1. Yes, I’m aware that two-halves equals one. Stick with me.  ↩

A Response to A Response to A Response

Sarah Moon has responded to several criticisms of her previous post, “Complementarianism’s ugly relationship with rape”, by clarifying and expanding her belief that complementarians benefit from rape culture and even “need” it. In so doing, she co-opts Beverly Tatum’s “moving walkway” analogy (new to me):

Rape culture is like “a moving walkway at the airport.” (Tatum) Rape culture is pulling us along as a society of domination. Those in power can stand still on that walkway, ignore the floor moving under their feet, even turn the opposite direction and insist that they despise rape, but unless they are actively running in the opposite direction–away from victim blaming, from rape jokes, from the idea that some groups of people are meant by nature to rule over other groups of people–it continues to pull them along.

For the most part, I agree with Sarah, at least when it comes to the benefit complementarians derive from the existence of rape culture. She has persuaded me to that extent. But the “moving walkway” analogy bugged me from her first mention of it in the comments section of her original post, and here’s why: it puts the onus on everyone deriving benefit from an oppressive system to actively fight that system.

Not every issue can be a personal issue to everyone. Feminism is important to me, but I don’t try to force it on everyone else. I think about it, and I write about it, and I talk about it to others in socially-appropriate settings, but I don’t try to make everyone care about it as much as I do. That’s just the golden rule at work; I wouldn’t like it if everyone else tried to force me to care about their pet issues.

I don’t wish to put words in her mouth, but I suspect that Sarah is not really saying all Christian complementarians should feel obliged to actively fight back against rape culture; she is taking a strong, principled stance, and when we do that we tend to be a little more black-and-white in print than we would be in practice.

She’s right in her conclusion, though: it doesn’t seem like any complementarians are running the opposite direction on the walkway.

♀ One Insult and One Compliment


Two days ago Sarah Moon published “Complementarianism’s ugly relationship with rape”, her theory on how complementarian “leaders” (by which I assume she means thought leaders such as theologians or well-known preachers and writers) need rape to exist in order to control women. I recommend reading the post, as well as the rest of Sarah’s thoughtful and frequently provocative writing. I do not, though, agree with her entirely in this case; while I find her thesis interesting and worthy of consideration, the post contains two flawed assumptions that at least partially undermine the validity of her argument. Without wishing to deny the prevalence of rape culture—both inside and outside evangelicalism—I always find it instructive and beneficial to deconstruct flawed thinking.

Firstly, in her very thesis statement (easily identified in bold—hers, not mine), Sarah backhandedly belittles the intelligence of the complementarian laity:

Here’s what I believe and what I am claiming: complementarian leaders, despite their personal feelings about rape, need rape to exist and for it to be a serious threat.

The rest of the post backs up this assertion, but Sarah provides a short summary at the end (again, emphasis hers):

many women adhere to complementarian gender roles because complementarian leaders have told these women that these women will be raped if they step outside these roles.

However thoughtful and valid the logic that occurs between these two statements might be, the idea that people only believe a certain way because they’ve been scared into it is, at the root, a belief that no other intelligent person could honestly interpret the Bible differently than Sarah herself.

Oddly enough, I have experienced this exact sort of condescension in the opposite direction: complementarians who assume that my disagreement with their beliefs must stem from failure to engage the Bible with intellectual honesty. It’s a more specific version of a fairly universal conceit; most people believe that anyone who disagrees with them—particularly about issues they hold dear—must do so because of lack of intelligence, lack of information, or failure to correctly process information due to emotional factors that cloud the opponent’s judgment.[1] In a sense, this conceit is what makes disagreement and debate possible; if I was so open-minded that I believed everyone’s ideology equally valid, I could never hold a real opinion on anything.

When it comes to interpreting the Bible, though, we need to temper our confidence with a fairly liberal dose of humility. A collection of documents with such diverse culture, purpose, and authorship behind it will never have a single, undeniable, agreed-upon interpretation, and claiming—implicitly or explicitly—that interpretations not our own must certainly result from flawed thinking pushes confidence into the realm of arrogance.

Sarah’s assertion that complementarian leaders need rape to control women overlays an unspoken assumption that these women could not possibly engage the Bible with open, unclouded minds and still conclude that complementarianism is true.

Having undeservedly (and, I’m sure, unintentionally) insulted the complementarian laity, Sarah undeservedly compliments their leaders. The second flaw in her premise is more subtle and therefore more easily overlooked but, I believe, no less important to consider: the assumption that people are ideologically consistent. Professional thinkers—and serious amateur thinkers, such as people who write feminist websites—make this mistake very easily, attempting as they do on a full-time basis to maintain intellectual rigor in their thoughts and writing. Most people fail at logical consistency, though—even intellectuals.

Sometimes we acknowledge our inconsistencies but—rightly or wrongly—justify them for emotional or sentimental reasons. For example, I continue to open the car door for my wife and close it behind her whenever we drive together despite knowing that this tradition represents a patriarchal belief in the incompetence and weakness of women. I don’t care; I like those outmoded chivalric gestures. And my wife doesn’t care; her independence and egalitarianism don’t prevent her from realizing that adherence to this little ritual represents my commitment to making her feel valued and adored even after five years of marriage.

Often, though, logical inconsistency goes unnoticed, because people really just aren’t that logical. Trumpet Reason as we might in Western culture, very few develop the habit of genuine intellectual rigor and employ it regularly and flawlessly. Most of us muddle along being completely reasonable only part of the time, and the closer we hold our particular beliefs the more blind we tend to be to their inherent inconsistency.

Sarah contends that while complementarian leaders claim to hate rape, in reality they so narrow the definition of rape through victim-blaming that, in their view, hardly any woman could actually be raped.

According to complementarian evangelicals, “real” (shall we say “legitimate?”) rape can only happen to a limited group of women. Other women who claim to be raped are either lying to avoid owning up to their sin, or they need to take responsibility for “bringing rape upon themselves.”

It may be apparent to Sarah, me, and everyone reading this that telling a rape victim she should have dressed more modestly is victim-blaming, and that engaging in victim-blaming is essentially excusing rape, which amounts to de-classifying it as rape, meaning, by extension, that the victim was not “really raped”; but we’ve thought long and hard about the issue because it’s “our” issue. And because it’s our issue, we can easily forget how to identify with the more muddled thinking that allows a person to condemn rape but also admonish women who dress revealingly, without seeing any disconnect between the two.

Now, to be sure, some complementarians (and others) do simply de-classify rape for any woman who doesn’t follow their every prescription, and I think it fair to say these people use rape to control women and benefit from rape culture. Many complementarians, though, are simply muddled in their thinking—not realizing the mismatch between their real and thorough condemnation of rape and the view of gender they draw from their interpretation of the Bible.[2] To feminists, telling a woman she shouldn’t have been drunk in the first place is equivalent to telling her she wasn’t really raped. To complementarians, it’s just pointing out behavior they would have thought sinful even if no rape had occurred.

So I don’t think I can accept Sarah’s argument that complementarian victim-blaming intentionally de-classifies rape for all but the most perfect women; this projects an internal consistency onto complementarianism that I don’t think exists in actuality.

This, in my opinion, essentially de-fangs Sarah’s case for believing that complementarian leaders need rape to exist, but she has still highlighted an unhealthy attitude toward rape and rape culture among many complementarians. I disagree with her about the centrality of rape culture to the perpetuation of complementarianism, but she is right to draw attention to the issue, and the three writers she mentions in her lede certainly display egregious rape apologism.

I retain a certain nostalgic affection for the type of evangelical churches where complementarianism flourishes, and even though I have changed my opinion on gender to an egalitarian view, I still believe complementarians can point to biblical evidence for their position. I further believe—although this would be controversial in most feminist circles—that accepting biblically-defined gender roles does not preclude a healthy attitude toward rape or female sexual expression, and I hope that complementarians will take seriously the challenges posed to them by Sarah Moon and other feminist writers. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I criticize because I love.

  1. This last is, I imagine, what Sarah would attribute to lay people, especially women, who subscribe to a complementarian view of gender.  ↩

  2. I grew up in several different conservative evangelical churches, and the ones whose teaching on the subject I can recall certainly fell into this category—generally very healthy in their opposition to rape but somewhat unhealthy in their tendency to engage in what I might call “predictive” victim-blaming. I feel sure that if any rape had been reported among those congregations, they would have unequivocally condemned it.  ↩