Christian Patriarchy: Fear, fear, FEAR

I keep meaning to write a post or two about why I would have been willing, as a teen, to have my father choose a husband for me. My father was uncomfortable with the idea of an arranged marriage and said he wouldn’t do that, and that left me a bit disappointed. From my perspective today my teenage perspective on this issue appears horrifying, but I had my reasons.

Christian Patriarchy is built on making women afraid of men. Women are told that they need protectors. That they are weak and can’t survive on their own. Only if women stay under the protection of their male relatives will they be safe and protected. I’ve written about this phenomenon before, but it was only today that I really thought about how very, very fear-based this all is. This was prompted by a recent post by Sarah Over the Moon called “Fear or Love?

According to this philosophy, women need men, not because of love.

Not because we love our friends and fathers and brothers and possible romantic partners.

But because women should be afraid of men and their uncontrollable sex drives.

Because women need men to protect them from fearsome men.

She’s so right. Christian Patriarchy teaches that women need men to protect them from men because, well, men are scary. Sarah goes on to offer some summaries of what she heard growing up in a fundamentalist Baptist high school:

Oh, and don’t forget. Feminists are also responsible for the wide availability of The Pill! Because of The Pill, men now see women as sex objects! Because men don’t have to worry about having babies, men think they can rape women left and right without suffering the consequences.

So, because of feminists, men are raping women. Also because of feminists, these women have no men to protect them from men who want to rape them! See all these problems feminists have caused?!?

Be afraid! Be very afraid! Fear, fear, fear. The Botkins sisters talk about the dangers that await young women who are “thrust out of the protection of their families” and into the “pagan environment” of the modern college. Michael Pearl tells stories of young women who rebelled and left their families and, naturally enough, wound up as prostitutes, or the abused girlfriends of drug dealers. I’ve written before about how the purity culture made me afraid of men. I wasn’t making that up!

I trusted my father enough to be willing to have him make an arranged marriage for me because I saw my father as the man who would protect me from men. If my father picked my husband, I would be safe, protected. If I tried to pick my husband, there were no such guarantees. Men were scary. Men were dangerous. Except, of course, for my father.

Interestingly, Sarah goes on to connect these patriarchal ideas to fundamentalist religious ideas.

I should not be surprised that some Christians believe that women need men to protect them from men, because these same Christians also believe that people need God to protect them from God.

She continues, paralleling what she said about women needing men:

And people need God.

Not because we love God and because God loves us.

But because we should be afraid of God and God’s uncontrollable wrath.

Because people need God to protect them from the fearsome God.

I find this interesting because I wonder if there is a connection here that makes fundamentalist and conservative evangelicals more susceptible to the patriarchal ideas discussed above. Perhaps, as Sarah says, because they believe they need God to protect them from God, the idea that women might need men to protect them from men makes intuitive sense. Even though, of course, it really doesn’t.

(Similarly, I would imagine that seeing God as a God who chastises and punishes his children probably makes fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals more susceptible to the parenting methods that involve corporal punishment.)

On Indiana
Red Town, Blue Town
The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
A Matter of Patriarchy
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Charlesbartley

    From the perspective of a man that grew up in the purity culture: I was terrified of my sex drive, afraid of my own masculinity, and deathly afraid of any woman that I liked. I wanted to be a good godly man. I didn’t want to lust. I didnt want to hurt the women that I had furious crushes on (and what could my crush be to them but hurtful). Feminism has nothing to do with it, Christianity was the driving force behind my fear.

    It never even crossed my mind that anyone would *ever* think of me as sexy–women just weren’t like that (I was taught).

    This fear led to very unhealthy focus on spirt and mind and ignoring of body. I grew fat and hurt all the time. After I became an atheist, I started working out for the first time. I was 37. It was the first time in my life that I had ever thought of myself as sexy or desirable.

    I now reject that breakdown of body, mind, spirit. I have no clue what a spirit is. I suspect that it doesn’t exist. Body and mind are one thing. There is so much about how the world works that my Christian upbringing got wrong. And, not just wrong, but hurtfully wrong. I think purity based morality systems are themselves immoral.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      I feel so sorry for men who are raised with these attitudes (and to some extent I think all men are, fundamentalist Christians just get much bigger doses). To think that you’re attraction can only be a degrading, hurtful thing? That sounds terrible.

      This jumped out at me too: “never even crossed my mind that anyone would *ever* think of me as sexy–women just weren’t like that (I was taught).”

      Wow. I have often suspected that a lot of men feel that way. Mainstream attitudes about gender don’t tend to COMPLETELY deny female sexuality the way a lot of fundamentalist Christian attitudes seem to, but I would say that a majority of people still believe that women are less sexual than men. And I’ve always thought “Jeez, what a depressing thought!” A man who believes that basically believes that it’s impossible for a woman to want him as much as he wants her. That seems grim enough. To be taught that women don’t “want” in that way at all? What man wouldn’t feel insecure after absorbing that message?

      Unless he just didn’t care because he saw women as objects that exist for his pleasure and it doesn’t matter what they want. I guess a man like that would be totally fine with these ideas.

      • ArachneS

        Actually, I think you are right on, Petticoat. I get this from my husband, actually. Raised in a much more liberal house than I, mostly just mainstream though. I bought him a nice, well fit t-shirt one day(he has a habit of wearing shirts x-Large, when he is a beanpole… really) and he complained that he didn’t know why I bought it for him.
        When I told him that I thought it was attractive on him, he said he didn’t buy clothes for looks, just comfort. I then replied that I could just wear X-L tshirts all the time around the house if that’s the way it was, he actually said- but women look sexier in nice clothes… . I then gave him a look and said, that is because YOU are attracted to women. I, in fact, am attracted to men, so why not wear something nice for me, if it fits fine?
        His look was priceless. And, he wears the shirt! lol.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        haha, ah yes, the “Women are just objectively more attractive than men” line. I’ve had a lot of my guy friends say variations of that to me when we discuss this issue. I’m like “Dude, just because straight male sexuality is the only kind that the media cares about doesn’t mean it’s actually the only kind that exists.” lol.

    • veganatheist01

      Thanks for that comment. Ever since I became interested in issues like this (effects of purity culture etc.), I’ve wondered how men feel about all that – most of what I hear comes from women.

    • Dianne

      It never even crossed my mind that anyone would *ever* think of me as sexy–women just weren’t like that (I was taught).

      So what did you think when you met women who did think that you were sexy? Did you not realize it was happening? Think they were disgusting whores for finding you attractive? This attitude just seems like it would set up a lot of terrible unhappiness.

      • ScottInOH

        I’m not Charlesbartley, but I could have written something similar. As to Dianne’s question, the answers were mostly that I didn’t realize it and that I assumed they weren’t serious, just teasing. I didn’t think they were disgusting whores or anything like that, just that they would pull the football away, as it were, if I pursued them. Also, that God frowned on me for even thinking that way. Finally, as an added twist, I was a pretty liberal Christian and also interpreted feminism as requiring that I not see women as sexual, since that would be demeaning/degrading. Again, sex was a bad thing except in certain circumstances, so whether you were a conservative Christian or a liberal one, you were obliged to be tied up in knots about it.

  • Kubrick’s Rube

    “According to this philosophy, women need men, not because of love.
    Not because we love our friends and fathers and brothers and possible romantic partners.
    But because women should be afraid of men and their uncontrollable sex drives.”

    Trigger Warning.

    Is there a justification for why male relatives are exempted from this fear? I don’t mean so much that one would fear that a father or brother would rape them (though of course such things happen), but wouldn’t you fear that your father/brother/husband and their uncontrollable sex drive are out causing trouble when you’re not around?

    • Libby Anne

      wouldn’t you fear that your father/brother/husband and their uncontrollable sex drive are out causing trouble when you’re not around?

      Absolutely! This is one reason why the marriage manuals of the movement so constantly advice women to have sex with their husbands frequently – even if they don’t feel like it. Debi Pearl goes so far as to tell women to pretend to enjoy it even if they don’t, because if a husband is sexually discontented in his wife, he will go elsewhere for sex, and “understandably” so. No, I’m not kidding. I only wish I was.

  • Nicole Youngman

    I’m extremely interested in one of your minor points here–the description of college as a “pagan environment.” As an actual Pagan living in the South and a college prof to boot, this fascinates me–I’m very interested in ways in which fundamentalists use the term “pagan,” which to them seems to frequently mean “anything that’s not the right kind of Christianity.” I’d love to have you write more on the topic. Thanks for a really thoughtful post.

    • Libby Anne

      Yes indeed. I’ll think on it and see if I can come up with anything. The funny thing is that after being told of the “pagan environment” of the modern college campus, the university we attended actually had tons of extremely large Christian campus group, and Catholic masses said in the university library, etc. Not what I was expecting!

  • LeftSidePositive

    Have these people seriously never heard of the Moulin Rouge? The court of Versailles and all of Louis XIV’s mistresses? Have they never heard about the terms Shakespeare used for women? Have they never seen Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, Romantic, Impressionist, OR Cubist art? How on EARTH could anyone have even the most basic knowledge of Western civilization and not see that women have been seen as sex objects LONG before the Pill?!?!?

    Moreover, are they completely unaware of MASSIVE records from Greek mythology through novels in every century through to the present day that rape has always been very, very horrifically common?

    Are they unaware that rape rates have significantly gone DOWN in the late 20th Century?

    Are they unaware that a woman is most likely to be raped by a close friend, family member, or acquaintance rather than by a stranger?

    Are they unaware that men throughout history have used rape (and possibly the resulting pregnancy) as a way to force women to marry them? (Including the fact that it’s in their favorite fairy-tale book?!)

    Are they aware that throughout history women have been left abandoned with babies, and that magic baby-power didn’t automatically make men sexually cautious or stay with the women who bore them? Have they never read Les Miserables?!

    Are they aware of the extraordinary death rates from illegal abortions in the 19th century?

    Are they aware of the committed efforts feminists have made to raise awareness about rape, to fund support systems, to make police take rapes seriously, to make reporting rape safer for the victims, and to educate the public about the necessity of genuine, enthusiastic consent in sexual situations?

    Basically, their argument is so many, MANY levels of bizarro-world wrong I honestly don’t know HOW they function on a daily basis!

    • Dianne

      Have these people seriously never heard of the Moulin Rouge? The court of Versailles and all of Louis XIV’s mistresses? Have they never heard about the terms Shakespeare used for women? Have they never seen Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, Romantic, Impressionist, OR Cubist art?

      No. They have not. American education is insular enough to start with and home schooling even more so. And it doesn’t get better with time. Many Americans have never been outside of the US. Congresspeople boast about not having a passport. English only laws abound. Not understanding other cultures or even hearing about other cultures is considered a good thing.

      Moulin Rouge…uh, is that one of those French things? We’ll have to close our eyes and pretend we don’t see it while we eat our freedom fries.

    • Judy L

      Not only has rape as we currently think of it always existed (and I hate talking about rape as though it were some natrual phenomenon, so that first sentence really should read ‘men have been raping women, other men, and children since the beginning of time’) but rape is/was the norm in most arranged marriages and marriages involving adult men and child brides. Throughout history, and still occuring today, women married to men they don’t want experience rape every time their husband forces them to submit to sex; it might not be ‘violent’ in the way that we might imagine a brutal assault, but it is still a violation. The best way to ensure that women are abused and kept subserviant far into the future is to promote a culture of patriarchy and purity in which women’s desires are not considered and their own sexuality is dismissed as irrelevant to their life’s purpose as broodmares.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    In her writings about rape, the feminist scholar Claudia Card compared rape culture to a mafia-style “protection racket.” In a protection racket, a boss extorts money from businesses and, in return, gives “protection” from being attacked by his own crime organization. In patriarchal rape culture, men extort “good behavior” (being a “good girl”) from women and, in return, give them protection from other men. The mafia and the patriarchy, both selling potential victims protection from themselves. It’s not a perfect parallel, but it’s pretty damn eerie.

    And of course if you don’t pay? (ie. if you wear that short skirt or aren’t a Proper Lady in some other way.) You’re not worth protecting. Anything can happen to you now, so watch out. That’s what you get for not listening to the boss. Are you ready to do as he says yet?

    If you’re interested, Libby, I can send you the pdf of the chapter in which this is discussed, although I’m sure more scholarly writing is the last thing you want to see right now! lol. But this post reminded me SO MUCH of the first time I read it. Card was writing about the general culture, not patriarchal Christian culture in particular. But, as in so many other situations, patriarchal Christian culture makes explicit what is implicit in mainstream society.

    • Ibis3

      I know this is old (I’m catching up after a couple of weeks with visiting relatives) , but I was hoping you could give us (me, really) the reference. I’d be interested to read the book.

  • LeftSidePositive

    But, as in so many other situations, patriarchal Christian culture makes explicit what is implicit in mainstream society.

    That probably has a lot to do with the fact that mainstream culture grew out of a deeply patriarchal Christian society–it shed some of the appearances of it with industrialization and the opportunities for the seeming-freedom of rampant consumerism, but A LOT of the patriarchal assumptions just never got challenged, or if they did, they got cleaned up juuuuust enough to hide in an apparently “enlightened” society!

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      I completely agree. And, living as I do in an extremely “liberal” city in a very blue state, where lots of people turn up their noses to Christianity (or “religion,” as most people say since they’re pretty much synonymous to most Americans), it’s amazing to see how many of these same people buy into notions that come directly from that source. Although they’ll protest till their blue in the face if you ever tell them that.

      The only thing I can say, though, is that I think it’s just patriarchy in general, not patriarchal Christianity specifically. Patriarchy tends to be pretty much the same everywhere, no matter what ideology is legitimizing it.

  • ScottInOH

    I don’t know if it’s interesting, ironic, sad, or something else, but there are, in fact, such men out there, but feminism combats them. There are men who see women only (or largely) as sexual objects to be conquered and taken. They often agree with conservative Christians that women don’t/shouldn’t enjoy sex, but they take that as a challenge and try to coerce, trick, or shame women into sex.

    Feminists, on the other hand, argue that women are co-equals of men and each woman should be treated as an individual. Sex is something consenting adults do for pleasure and relationship-building. It’s not shameful for either partner.

  • machintelligence

    Unless he just didn’t care because he saw women as objects that exist for his pleasure and it doesn’t matter what they want. I guess a man like that would be totally fine with these ideas.

    And then you have Islam — patriarchy on steroids. Men are expected to be unable to control themselves, and it’s all women’s fault.

    • Steve

      Christianity used to be that way for most of history too. Women were always seen as lustful, seductive and tempting. The idea that women don’t have a sex drive is a pretty recent invention of American Christianity.

      • Paula G V aka Yukimi

        In Spain too there’s this duplicity about women being seductress and at the same time women having no sexuality and it has seeped from the most religious environments to mainstream culture through the decades like many stuff even if it’s counterattacked but actual scientific stuff in sex education in schools and such.

      • ScottInOH

        I’ve heard a lot of people say this, but I wonder if it’s that stark. You can think women are seductive and tempting without believe they enjoy sex. Maybe they just use it to get what they want from men?

      • ScottInOH

        Let me clarify that I was writing from the perspective of an imaginary Christian in history. I’m not arguing that women don’t have sex drives. I’m saying that one could *believe* they don’t and still believe they use their sexy sexiness to manipulate men.

  • smrnda

    Thanks for making a very direct point about the circular logic of male ‘protection’ from women. I mean, if men are such a threat to women, how can men become protectors of women?

    Proponents of the patriarchy, mostly, look at it as the idea that if a man owns a woman (if she is his property) then he will protect his property from other men. (Of course, how you treat someone who you view as property is probably not going to be particularly considerate.) It’s like a woman can only have value if she’s viewed as something belonging to a man – men who advocate patriarchy say things like “well, you shouldn’t look at another man’s future wife” lustfully or if you have sex before you are married you deprived another man of having a virgin wife – women aren’t being protected or valued at all, except as a commodity for male consumption. You even get this with the way a lot of religious males view accountability on how they treat their wives – they are accountable mostly so they can impress and have status with other men. Nowhere is the woman, as a person, actually valued in the least. Petticoat Philosopher – your ‘protection racket’ analogy is spot on for this.

    The idea that the pill has caused men to objectify women since now, men can have sex and not get the woman pregnant, ignores the fact that many women want to take the pill and have sex and not get pregnant. And yes, women exist who enjoy casual sex, so when they have sex without any indication of there being a serious relationship they are doing what they really want to.

    I wonder if the ability to promote patriarchy requires that people be sufficiently ignorant of people who live their lives differently and are happy, well-adjusted and having a fine time. I mean, to me, a person who has lived in urban areas that are liberal my whole life, the assertions made about marriage, sex, relationships and men and women by patriarchy advocates just seem ludicrously false, but if you don’t have a lot of direct evidence of people living other lives, you might be easier to dupe. Might be why sheltering, home-schooling and being insular are such a big deal.

    • LeftSidePositive

      And the Pill doesn’t just free up women for casual sex, either–the vast majority of sex that takes place in a loving, committed relationship is NON-PROCREATIVE (*gasp*). Of course, this means that women are more free to stand up for their sexual and emotional fulfillment and not be physically and financially dependent on their mates in their long-term relationships (up to and including marriage), which if anything terrifies Christian Patriarchy folks even MORE than the casual-sex-havers.

    • Rosie

      Yes to the idea that patriarchal/evangalicals shelter their children for just this reason. Though my parents were just about as sheltered as they made my sister and I (maybe more so, since we went to public school and my parents spent much time doing “correspondence courses” at home or on the mission field), so I don’t think they had any real idea of what they were sheltering us FROM. I don’t suppose my sister now has much idea what she’s sheltering her kids from either. Though I aim to make at least some of that clear, just by living nearby. Interestingly, my sister has also allowed her oldest (the only one who’s legally old enough to Facebook) to “friend” me, and I’ve made a conscious decision to not censor my beliefs (or lack thereof) on FB. So if she wants to, she can know exactly what I think and why.

  • Caitlin

    Have you read Susan Brownmiller’s book Against Our Will? Her premise is that women basically have to submit to rape by one man in order to be protected from rape by multiple men. It was written some time ago, but the arguments remain interesting and explore some of the ideas promoted by the Christian Patriarchy movement.

  • Diana Diaz

    To be fair, I met a really awful man during my first months of college who did actually rape me back when date rape did not exist. Surprisingly this was 1988. I haven’t forgotten the stupid things people said to me like “why didn’t you say no?” I did. Worse- he was a Christian – or so he said.