Rape. That’s a kind of premarital sex, right?

*Trigger warning for survivors of rape or sexual abuse.*

In case you haven’t noticed, rape has been in the news lately – or, more specifically, Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about how women’s bodies can shut down their reproductive functions in the case of “legitimate rape.” This brings to mind something I’ve been meaning to write about rape, actually, ever since I wrote that post about “the tale of two boxes.” In that post I said that “conservatives divide sexual acts into “wrong” or “okay” based on what God thinks of them, and progressives divide sexual acts into “wrong” and “okay” based on whether or not they are consensual.” As I created two boxes for conservatives and two for progressives, and went to put sexual acts into them, I found I had a problem when it came to rape. Take a look below:

Do you see “rape” in those boxes? Yes, it’s there in the “non-consensual” box under progressive sexual ethics, but what about conservative sexual ethics? No, you’re not seeing things – it’s not there. It’s not there in either box. And there’s a reason for that. As I tried to figure out where to put rape, I realized that the fundamentalist evangelicalism in which I grew up doesn’t treat rape as a separate category. Instead, rape is grouped under either “premarital sex” or “marital sex.” It’s not treated separately.

I asked myself what messages I’d gotten about rape while growing up, and I finally had to admit to myself that the only messages I remember getting were along the lines of “don’t put yourself in a compromising situation where you might get raped, because then you would no longer be pure.” I don’t know if that was the message that my parents and community intended to send, but it’s certainly the message I got. Sure, rape was seen as bad because it was a violent crime. But the sex part? It was, well, premarital sex. Sure, it wasn’t voluntary, but it was still premarital sex.

I read a Christian novel when I was a kid, in which a college student is raped and gets pregnant. She decides to keep the baby, but her evangelical boyfriend leaves her because she is no longer pure. She has had sex. Now sure, the book paints him as self righteous, etc. But the (evangelical) guy who ends up taking the woman under his wing and eventually marrying her and helping her raise her baby comes from a bad background and isn’t a virgin himself. Sure, he was painted as a hero, but I couldn’t help but get the feeling that a “sullied” woman needed a “sullied” man because a “pure” man would never “settle” for her. Now I’m sure that wasn’t the author’s intent, but I can’t help but feel that the author couldn’t figure out any way to have a “pure” virginal man marry her “sullied” heroine without making the book seem off-balanced or improbable.

Now I should clarify something. Even if you’d had premarital sex, you could still become a “born again virgin” by re-committing yourself to abstinence. But that wasn’t just something open to rape victims, it was open to anyone who had had premarital sex, whether voluntary or not. So while you could still be viewed as pure even after you’d been raped, you could only be viewed as pure inasmuch as a girl who had voluntarily had sex with her boyfriend could be pure. And the message I seemed to get was that that was second best.

What about marital rape? I have to be honest, growing up I didn’t know there was such a thing. Once you got married, I thought, it was just lots of hot, passionate, mutual sex, like, all the time. Who wouldn’t want that? And the books I was reading, books on being a good wife, said things like, you have to make sure to have sex with your husband and keep him satisfied, or else he’ll go have sex with someone else, and not saying that’ll be your fault or anything, but that’ll be your fault. I guess reading those should have clued me into the fact that one partner might be into it while the other wasn’t, but it didn’t. Instead I just resolved to make sure to keep said future husband happy.

I am almost positive that if the pastor of the church I grew up in read this post, he would say that these aren’t the things he taught at all. He would probably say I misunderstood or something. The trouble is, these are still the messages I got. And if these are messages the church – or at least the church community where I grew up – are sending, well, something is seriously amiss.

In many ways, though, I think this is a natural consequence of categorizing the rightness or wrongness of sexual acts based simply on “God forbids” and “God does not forbid” without any concern for issues like consent. I mean for goodness sake, I never even heard of “consent”! It was all “don’t have sex until your wedding night, and after that you’ll amply make up for waiting.” Consent? What’s that?

One last point. The Bible never forbids marital rape and it appears to view the rape of an unmarried woman as robbing her of her purity. Consent never comes into the picture. In the Old Testament, marital rape isn’t mentioned, and every other instance of rape is counted as sort of theft – stealing an unmarried woman’s worth on the marriage market, or robbing from a husband what is rightfully his. In the New Testament, rape isn’t mentioned, and lists of sins simply speak of “promiscuity” and “sexual immorality.” So it’s really not surprising that, growing up in a fundamentalist evangelical community where the Bible was read literally and often, I got the messages that I did.

But I have to say, I’m really really glad that my daughter will be getting very very different messages.

Edit: Just so no one misses or confuses the point I’m trying to make, it’s this - in my experience, evangelicals and fundamentalists see rape as wrong because it is violent, because it is premarital (or extramarital) sex, and because it constitutes a theft of purity (i.e. in my discussion of the Old Testament), <i>not</i> because it is non-consensual.

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.

  • http://shapingpromises.wordpress.com Rowena

    Have you read ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’? I think Hardy raises similar issues about the woman being at fault for putting herself into the position where she can be raped, and the unworthiness of the “soiled” woman to marry a pure man, as well as double standards regarding male and female purity. Most poignant of all is the complete lack of the word “rape”. “Seduced” is often used instead.

    • Caravelle

      The worst thing I found about “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” was the preface in my edition, where the moron that some idiot had put in charge of writing the preface wrote about how cartoonishly evil Alex (?) was, and how it made one wonder how Tess would have let herself be seduced by him. GAAAAAH SMAAAASH. How do they even let people write prefaces to books they clearly didn’t understand ???
      It’s a societal problem, it might be exacerbated by some takes on Christianity or religion but it is by no means limited to them.

      (the book itself I enjoyed, inasmuch as I ever enjoy books by Hardy…)

  • http://louisebroadbentfiction.wordpress.com Louise Broadbent

    Marital Rape has only been a crime since 1991 in the UK and 1993 in the States. Probably because most of our laws come from the bible and, as you said, there’s no: ‘thou shalt not rape’ in there, just: ‘thou shalt not commit adultery’. Still, 1991, I can’t get over that.

    • http://blog.luigiscorner.com/ Azel

      And to think France criminalised that only in 1990…where USSR struck the marital rape exemption in 1992 and explicitly criminalised marital rape in 1960. There are times where I think the red scare made more bad than good, to be perfectly honest.

    • plch

      Actually, the base of Anglosaxon laws isn’t found (mostly) the Bible but in Roman law… but, since Romans/Latins had a ver strongly patriarcal society, it doesn’t make much of a difference in this case.

  • lucrezaborgia

    You know the saying (I can’t duplicate it because it has many incantations) that if everyone has a problem with you, maybe you are the problem? That’s what I think when I hear the “but that’s not what I intended” excuse. If a lot of people are getting your message wrong, then you need to make your message more understandable or scrap the whole thing entirely. Instead, the fundy response seems to bash the people on the head with some more bible verse because, clearly, they are too stupid to understand like they do. *insert smug self-righteous look here*

    • machintelligence

      lucrezaborgia:

      (I can’t duplicate it because it has many incantations)

      I think the word you wanted was instantiations , but I see what you mean.
      It reminds me of a joke where a woman calls her husband on his cell phone and tells him “Watch out dear, there is someone driving the wrong way on the interstate.” He replies “One? — HUNDREDS!”

      • http://revcyn.blogspot.com Cynthia Landrum

        Incarnations, I would think.

  • Jeri

    There was no distinction between marital rape/sex for millenia because a woman’s consent actually belonged to her dad/husband, too.

    • Steve

      Bingo. Rape wasn’t about robbing a woman of her purity, but damaging someone’s property. Not being a virgin anymore severely lowered her value and her prospect of being sold into marriage. And raping a married women was a crime against the husband’s property. It’s still like that in fundamentalist Islam.

      The Biblical and Islamic rule about a woman marrying her rapist is in some sick twisted way supposed to be something good for the victim. Since no man would supposedly want to marry a non-virgin, she is married to her rapist, so she at least has a man.

      • Ibis3

        Rape wasn’t about robbing a woman of her purity, but damaging someone’s property…And raping a married women was a crime against the husband’s property.

        Which is also why the victim is often treated as an accomplice to the crime. *She* was too tempting. *She* didn’t fight hard enough (if she had, she’d either have fought him off or be dead, right?). *She* was not being secure enough (i.e. voluntarily locked up or chaperoned). *She* really wanted it, but now she’s caught out, she’s claiming that it wasn’t her fault. Sadly, it’s not so different in our supposedly enlightened culture. We still hear all the same arguments.

      • Aniota

        “The Biblical and Islamic rule about a woman marrying her rapist is in some sick twisted way supposed to be something good for the victim. Since no man would supposedly want to marry a non-virgin, she is married to her rapist, so she at least has a man.”

        Far, far worse than that. Sick and twisted doesn’t even begin to describe it. If she were to be married to another man, this would be her death sentence.
        Deuteronomy 22:13-21 (I only quote 20-21 for brevity’s sake, the “charge” is that of not being a virgin on her wedding night, as is clear from the preceding verses)
        “If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.”

  • http://madphotog.blogspot.com gustovcarl

    Good post, Libby
    If it would not be too much trouble, could you put the “two boxes” idea in a post by itself? I’ve wanted to point others to this idea, but theirs always another title on it. Also, you could point to it without having to run through it each time. Again.
    Thanks!

  • Christine

    I would have assumed that marital rape was considered explicitly the fault of the woman – she shouldn’t have withheld consent, because that’s going against her husband’s will. (Maybe at that point the rape is considered an appropriate punishment?)

    I was wondering – morally, if the only thing that has prevented a man from raping his wife is that she has always given “consent”, even if she didn’t really want to, is there any difference between that and if he did rape her? I’m sure that not all CP men are in that boat, but it’s essentially what they’re taught, no?

    • Heather

      I think that the types of people who think this way wouldn’t necessarily assume across the board that it’s “not rape” or “her fault, she should have consented”–I think their litmus test would actually be whether there was violence involved. If there wasn’t, bets are off.

      I think that’s a problem a lot of people are having, and I think it’s where loony phrases like “legitimate rape” come from. A lot of people–these types included–can’t get their heads around the idea that nonconsensual sex is rape whether it’s by violence, drugs, fraud, or social, economic or psychological coercion–that nonconsensual sex is rape, period. What you find with these people is that they actually do abhor what they consider “real” rape–but their cateogry is too small.

  • Becky Runcorn

    So, is Libby Anne saying that she thinks evangelical Christians are NOT opposed to rape? Is she saying that they think rape is acceptable when it’s between a husband and wife? Or is she just irritated that the church she attended as a child took the decision NOT to teach her about rape? Would she prefer it if the church discussed rape more readily with children?

    I am almost positive that if Libby Anne reads this comment, she would say that those aren’t the things she meant at all. She would probably say I misunderstood or something. The trouble is, these are still the messages I got. And if these are messages this blog is sending, well, something is seriously amiss.

    • plch

      What’s wrong with discussing rape with childen? children need to know what is sexual abuse for their own safety.

    • Nathaniel

      The only message I got from your post is that you are an incredibly dishonest debater.

      Prove me wrong.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Gotta love the snark of your last paragraph!

      Trouble is, I DID say that evangelical Christians are opposed to rape – including the ones I grew up among.

      Sure, rape was seen as bad because it was a violent crime. But the sex part? It was, well, premarital sex. Sure, it wasn’t voluntary, but it was still premarital sex.

      And you know what? Every evangelical Christian I’ve ever met oppose premarital sex, all premarital sex, whether it involves consent or not, and if you look at my two boxes image, you’d see that.

      My bottom line is this: In my experience, evangelicals see rape as wrong because it is violent, because it is premarital or extramarital sex, and because it constitutes a theft of purity (i.e. in my discussion of the Old Testament), not because it is non-consensual.

      Also, I wasn’t talking about just when I was seven or something. I was evangelical until I was half way through college.

      And finally, if you want to know more about where I stand, you might poke around here a bit rather than reading just one post. :-)

  • wendy

    One of your best posts–and definitely your best title!

  • Rachel

    It’s slightly more complicated than that in Judaism, and I think also in Christianity.

    First of all, in Christianity, if premarital sex is also forbidden for men, and marital rape doesn’t exist, then rape is effectively forbidden: not in a particularly useful way, or a way that draws attention to itself, but it is de facto forbidden. I have no idea what kind of messaging boys received, and I’d be curious as to what it is: I’m assuming girls are told that they are responsible for inciting men to lust?

    Second, in Judaism…it’s complicated, because as you know, Judaism didn’t forbid polygamy until the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, which is about 586 B.C.E. (This was right at the building of the Second Temple — Ezra felt that men were being led astray by their non-Jewish wives, so he forbade the practice. There are some Mizrachi Jews who had multiple wives up until the founding of Israel, when Judaism got more or less standardized again.) So all the Old Testament laws need to be considered in the context of men having multiple wives, and also having access to prostitutes: note that the problem for men is sleeping with a virgin, not an unmarried woman who has already had sex, i.e. prostitutes and women collected as booty from battles. This later changes, but the law as written is made with this context in mind.

    Adultery is defined specifically as sleeping with a married woman: this is later extended to a woman who is betrothed as well. The laws in the Old Testament are very, very strict when it comes to adultery, specifically for married women: they are also strict for the man who is the adulterer, who is put to death (or, later, flogged).

    Now, for unmarried virgins, she would be compelled to marry her rapist. Or, more technically, he would have to pay for her bridepiece: she doesn’t have to live with him, and can instead remain with her family, and while he can’t divorce her, she can divorce him (through being compelled by the courts). A “ruined” woman can still marry anyone but a priest (because of the priest’s status, not hers): virginity is not an essential part of the marriage contract, as women could divorce and remarry. There’s a bit, I can’t remember where, about how if a virgin’s raped in a town and doesn’t cry out, she’s assumed to have assented but if she’s raped in the countryside, she’s assumed to have been abducted against her will: this is, of course, assuming whether someone would be around to hear her cry out. (This has been dropped.)

    Now, all of the above is Written Law, the Old Testament. Libby, as we’ve spoken about before, there’s also the Oral Law, which discusses and interprets all of the above through the lens of current rules and mores. The Oral Law is very protective of women: it raises their status about chattel, allowing women to own property, ask for divorce, require a relatively high standard of living, makes it pretty much impossible for a woman to be convicted of adultery. The Oral Law also starts making the case for marital rape, though the law as said doesn’t exactly extend so far — a woman has her own needs and obligations, and her sexual satisfaction is not the same as the man’s. (Marital rape would now be seen as a cause for divorce. The social stigma on reporting it, however, might still be seen as a problem, depending on the community.)

    So there were lots of mitigating factors in effect in Judaism at the time that Christianity was founded…and they were all lost because the Oral Law wasn’t codified before Christianity split off. So yes, rape is forbidden in Judaism and there are explicit punishments for rapists…but they’re not in the Old Testament.

    • beguine

      “First of all, if premarital sex is also forbidden for men, and marital rape doesn’t exist, than rape is effectively forbidden, not in a particularly useful way, or a way that draws attention to itself, but it is de facto forbidden.”

      While technically true, forbidding rape simply because it is premarital sex you actually foster an environment that encourages rape. This rule basically teaches men that raping a woman is not much different from fooling around with a girl who wants to be physical, or even just thinking sexy thoughts about a girl. Sure, all three are forbidden, but if you’re slipping up and thinking about sex or engaging in it anyway, than raping an unwilling partner isn’t really any worse.. This combination of unrealistic sexual standards and emphasis on purity rather than consent is thought to account for the fact that statistically speaking rapists are more likely to endorse fundamentalist religious views and traditional gender roles.

      • machintelligence

        Beguine:

        This rule basically teaches men that raping a woman is not much different from fooling around with a girl who wants to be physical, or even just thinking sexy thoughts about a girl. Sure, all three are forbidden, but if you’re slipping up and thinking about sex or engaging in it anyway, than raping an unwilling partner isn’t really any worse.

        This is the problem with equating thought crimes with real, physical crimes. Some people will figure “might as well be hanged for a goat as a lamb.”

        The standard form is one might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, though you sometimes come across it as one might as well be hanged for a goat as a lamb. Strictly, it’s a justification or excuse for going on to commit some greater offence once one has perpetrated a minor one.

        I used the goat version because they are notoriously randy.

  • dj pomegranate

    “I couldn’t help but get the feeling that a “sullied” woman needed a “sullied” man because a “pure” man would never “settle” for her.”

    Yup. I am a 29 year old woman who recently moved in with my boyfriend and this is actually what my mom said to me: “But what if you break up and then meet a man who is a virgin and he won’t date you because you’re impure?” We had a long talk about why I didn’t buy that (mostly I said that if a guy wouldn’t date me for being “impure”, I wouldn’t want to date him either!) My mom is sex-positive and taught us openly about sex from day one–this pure/impure notion is a direct teaching of evangelical Christianity.

    I got this message loud and clear growing up. It was in Christian fiction like the book you mention, it was in youth group, it was in our Bible class curriculum. I remember once at my Christian middle school (middle school!)–one speaker came to our chapel service and talked about how his wife married him despite the fact that he had previously slept with another girl. He talked about how hard it was to work through that “baggage”, that marrying a non-virgin was against “the perfect plan of God,” and that, although God’s grace covers us and we can be forgiven, it was a permanent scar on their relationship. His wife was there showing support, and I think she talked a bit too, but the message was very clear to me: she had the upper hand. She was the virgin, he was not. He had had to, basically, grovel to be accepted as a worthy marriage partner. (Maybe “grovel” is not the word he would have chosen, but that is definitely how it came across to us 12-year-olds in the bleachers!)

  • smrnda

    The basic impression I get from Christians is about the same – rape is bad, but getting raped is still viewed as compromising one’s purity and there’s lots of bullshit about how you need to ‘avoid rape.’ The impression I get is that the Christians I’ve met truly believed in most of what are considered rape myths in terms of the idea that rape happens when a stranger jumps out of the bushes at night, and that aside from that, rape only happens to women who are asking for it.

    And honestly, plenty of Christians basically argue, using different tactics, that there is no such thing as marital rape.

  • http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com somaticstrength

    Most of the Christian books that I read that had rape as part of the plot always had the women be upset that she fell in love with some guy that she is not “pure” for. One the Real True Godly Christian Man (god bless his charitable soul!) told her “Oh, but *I* don’t see you that way.” Well then, trauma over. Right? What other possible reason could a woman have to be traumatized over rape except in her belief that she was no longer pure? that’s the most important thing.

    The messages of sex after marriage that I always got were “once you’re married, your body belongs to your spouse.” Which is a bad message to send anyone, but especially being a survivor myself, all I saw was a relationship in which I was never allowed to say no. And I bet had I pointed that out, I would probably have been told, “well, you’re not.”

  • http://jesusandvenus.com Ryan Stauffer

    I grew up in a conservative evangelical tradition that was quite clear on the subject. In fact, at my denomination’s annual youth conference, a speaker explicitly stated that raped women belonged in the same category of “pureness” as virgins. My parents said the same thing.

    • http://bunnystuff.wordpress.com/ Jaimie

      Hi Ryan, thanks for your input. If you don’t mind I would like to ask you a couple of questions. You said in your comment “a speaker explicitly stated” and “my parents said”. But what do YOU think? What do YOU say? Why do you need your views validated by someone else? The trouble with authoritarian culture is that others are allowed to tell people what to think and believe. Here, we believe that our ethics are formed within, by our own conscience and reason.
      I would like to challenge you to forego books and others and think these matters out for yourself. It is an empowering and freeing experience!

      • http://jesusandvenus.com Ryan Stauffer

        “I would like to challenge you to forego books…” What a funny suggestion coming from the owner of a website that seems to be all about books. :)

        Unlike (I assume) most of Libby Anne’s readers, I am a practicing Christian, so I at least care about the contents of one book. That also probably puts me at least partly at odds with your stated belief that ethics should be formed from within. The authority of the Bible is, as far as I can tell, a belief shared by all varieties of Christian, although interpretations of how authoritative the Bible is and what exactly it says remain debatable. My ethics are, of course, shaped by my own personality and experience, but they are also shaped by what I believe God is saying through revelation, which belief continues to develop.

        Now, for your actual question. I don’t believe in any sort of victim-blaming, so I naturally think that women (or men) who have been raped remain innocent of any sort of sin. I’m not too concerned with virginity as a medical concept, as it’s really too fluid to pin down. Since we’re talking about it, my personal response to “purity culture” is that the best and most fulfilling kind of Christian spirituality involves only being sexually intimate with a spouse, but I recognize that this is not very clearly stated in the Bible—it’s interpretive.

        I didn’t post my original comment to say that my upbringing accurately reflects my current opinions but just as a counter-example, because I like balance. Libby Anne’s experiences with patriarchal Christian culture seem to have been almost entirely negative, but mine were mostly positive. Even though I now disagree with much of what I was taught growing up, particularly regarding women, marriage, and sexuality, I recognize that conservative evangelical culture has many positive attributes and that patriarchy is a continuum. Libby Anne’s childhood appears to have happened at one extreme of that continuum, and she (and I) now live at the opposite extreme, but my childhood took place somewhere in the middle, and it’s good to remember that there’s a middle to everything.

        I hope this answers your question. Perhaps I can, in turn, challenge you to approach conversations like this with rather more curiosity than evangelism? I know you were just being enthusiastic for principles you find compelling, but assuming that I needed to be liberated from authoritarian culture so I could learn to think for myself made me feel very condescended-to.

      • http://bunnystuff.wordpress.com/ Jaimie

        My goodness, let’s tone it down a bit. I never dreamed that a challenge to think for yourself would be perceived as such a threat. Or evangelism. Just…wow on that one. I’m not sure I would consider them principles that I find compelling.” I think it’s just being a mature, responsible individual.
        But I need to ask you something. Since you have so much at stake in your religion (your soul going to Heaven or Hell) then why aren’t your beliefs under rigorous scrutiny and intense examination? Personally I find it a bit odd. And why do you need to counteract Libby Anne to find balance? It sounds like you’re trying to convince yourself of something. Maybe inside you know that placing your hopes in god and the authority of the Bible is just a house of cards that will blow down with the slightest breath. Why else would you be visiting an atheist’s blog?
        Believe it or not, I’m not trying to attack you or put you down. Instead of immediately going for the defense, why don’t you try what I suggested?
        Thank you for visiting my little book blog. I always welcome visitors. I’m pretty sure you know I meant the Bible when I said to forgo books. I was just trying to be polite.

      • machintelligence

        Ryan Stauffer:

        Libby Anne’s experiences with patriarchal Christian culture seem to have been almost entirely negative, but mine were mostly positive.

        Just possibly because you were a male?

      • Heather

        Jaimie,

        “My goodness, let’s tone it down a bit. I never dreamed that a challenge to think for yourself would be perceived as such a threat.”

        I read this comment of yours before I read Ryan’s comment. It naturally made me assume some things about Ryan’s comment. Then I read Ryan’s comment, and I went “HUH?”

        I wonder what would make you react to a person as if he had said something completely different. I have seen people do this before, and in those cases I’m not always sure why they’re doing it either. What I do know is, it usually *works*. Humans have a natural tendency to mimesis and conformity, and it’s the most natural thing in the world to take our cue about someone from someone else’s reaction to them. Sometimes we even take our cue about ourselves that way. When someone says “Oh my goodness, no need to get angry” we assume there’s been anger. Whether there was or not.

        It’s a very interesting thing. It can even happen before the conversation really starts–it did here. It’s called “framing the conversation.” You started with an approach to him that implied certain categories you were both in. Obviously, when we have Person A urging Person B to think for himself, Person A must be enlightened, probably older and wiser, and trying to help, and Person B must be a closed-minded conformist, still taking his cues about life for other people, probably young, and in a position to be taught by A. It’s interesting how much you can say about a person without saying it.

        Framing the conversation in an unexpected way like that can be useful, but it’s almost always a power play. I remember once when someone came to criticize me about a volunteer job she thought I was doing poorly. I knew her intent, but acted like I thought she was volunteering to assist me, and proceeded to “interview” her as if I wasn’t sure she had the skills. It won me the upper hand. But looking back, I should say this plainly: it was mean.

        And, if it was intentional, so was what you did here.

      • http://bunnystuff.wordpress.com/ Jaimie

        Wow! You put a lot of thought into this! I just thought it was just something I rattled off after a grueling shift at work.
        To be honest Heather, your answer kind of reminds me of the microscope the church held over my life for so long. Every word, phrase, and action was held up to some unbelievable standard with motives questioned over every little thing. But maybe there is something else going on. I don’t see you chiding any men here for saying things much worse than that. Could it be that a woman confronting a man is the real issue?
        But whatever. I’m sticking with my story. He was clearly threatened when I said think for yourself. I did not attack him in return. I was trying to help the guy.

      • http://jesusandvenus.com Ryan Stauffer

        @machintelligence: Possibly!

        @Heather: Thanks.

        @Jamie: Think what you like about where I’m coming from intellectually, but both your original and subsequent comments felt very condescending, and attempting to invalidate those feelings doesn’t seem all that mature or responsible. This will probably be the last thing I have to say in this particular conversation, since your attitude is so hostile toward me and my beliefs.

      • http://jesusandvenus.com Ryan Stauffer

        @machintelligence: Oops, one more thing. My wife grew up in a church environment very similar to mine, and she also said she felt it was, on the whole, a positive experience. She’s pretty feminist now, for the record.

  • http://bunnystuff.wordpress.com/ Jaimie

    That purity culture is such a bummer. I have heard of the “re commitment to abstinence or virginity” and it blows my mind. Some people are such a slave to an ideal that they will forego reality in order to preserve it. If a virgin gets raped she is not a virgin anymore. To pretend otherwise sends a terrible message to that girl by denying her whole ordeal. Do they think she is going to forget what happened to her? And their over emphasis on forgiveness almost ensures justice will never occur. Why don’t they just say that they are unequipped to deal with it?
    In my experience, Christians were nice, good people who had no idea how to deal with real tragedy. Case in point, natural disasters.

    • smrnda

      Thanks – I made about the same point on a previous post and I totally agree that Christian teachings on sexuality make them incapable of handling the issue of rape and sexual abuse and that the teachings on forgiveness just turn into empty platitudes that give no compassion to the victims.

      The whole problem is the whole purity teaching – it creates this problem where a victim or rape or sexual abuse *has had sex* and therefore does not meet the standards for ‘purity’ but that somehow, they have to find some way of dealing with it. Saying “well, you’re still technically a virgin because you didn’t consent” is like saying “It’s more important that your future husband not feel like he’s getting damaged goods than that we actually show some concern for how you feel.”

      On ‘nice people,’ if you mean people who smile a lot and seem friendly, yes. If you mean people who can actually provide you with meaningful support, I’d say no.

      • http://bunnystuff.wordpress.com/ Jaimie

        Right! I abhor the phrase “damaged goods”. Also after being victimized, this poor girl has to worry about purity? That is one H-E-double hockey sticks of a burden to give someone.

      • smrnda

        It also shows a really wrong set of priorities in the people around her. If someone is raped, I doubt she (or he) is really going to need some validation that they are still ‘pure’, unless they’ve been raised to believe in the nonsense. “O great, I’m still pure.” Then again, I can’t expect rationality from people who think that if you have sex one time outside of marriage, you’ve already compromised the rest of your life and your future marriage.

        Also, if the big deal is purity, you’re going to get the idea that if a girl who is not a virgin gets raped then it’s somehow a lesser tragedy, since the only thing at stake is really purity.

      • Elise

        Caveat: Yes, therapy and all that. I’m a rape survivor, and I took great comfort knowing that my “spiritual purity” was there even if my hymen were broken. I’m not a believer any more, and I admit that I sort of made that frame of mind up, but I somehow believed that you could only lose your virginity if you WANTED to lose it. That was part of virginity: choice.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        All this is just one reason why I would LOVE to throw out the entire bogus concept of “virginity” altogether.

      • Aurora

        Smrnda, you completely nailed it. While some groups (like Libby Anne said) pretty much just ignore rape, there are many who go out of their way to say, “But you’re still technically a virgin.” But the thing is, the most important word there is TECHNICALLY. You aren’t really, of course, and everyone knows it, but you almost are. Kind of. Like Rosie said, you end up in limbo between “pure” and “impure” and no one quite knows what to make of it. The fact is, the entire concept of purity is incompatible with understanding rape properly. The honest leaders truly believe that rape is bad and not your fault and doesn’t “ruin” you, but the Bible is so very clear that it DOES, and the idea of purity so black and white, that they can’t do anything more than simply state it in contradiction with the entire belief system and hope you don’t notice.

        I can’t even begin to imagine what hell evangelical rape victims must go through. No matter how emphatically they say otherwise, it’s almost impossible to believe you really are still “pure,” and they are SO adamant about purity being the most important thing a girl has. Rape in and of itself already creates problems with how you view yourself, do we really need to add destroying your entire self-worth?

    • Rosie

      Jaimie and smrnda: This was pretty much exactly my experience. All my evangelical buddies tried to be supportive when I “came out” as a survivor…but they just had no clue how to deal with it. Having no sexual experience other than the rape left me in a kind of fundie limbo: not “pure”, but not “impure” either. And no matter what they say about “born again virginity”, there are some things you just can’t unknow by wishing or praying. It was a conundrum that wasn’t solvable in that culture. Luckily, I had the option of leaving the culture altogether, and eventually I did.

      • http://bunnystuff.wordpress.com/ Jaimie

        I’m sorry you went through that. I hope you eventually got the help and support you needed. I like your phrase “It was a conundrum that wasn’t solvable in that culture.” That says it all. Good luck to you, dear.

  • http://jw-thoughts.blogspot JW

    Politics is the one area in life in which society does not give any grace. If someone slips up on the tongue and attempts to make amends the media are quick to pounce on it and keep the tidal wave going until that person has to bow out.

    What is also said about AKIN is he refused to step down from his position while the Republicans are telling him, begging him to step down. It comes down to power which is what politics is all about anyway. Power and the hunger for it.

    What is ironic is it seems the more liberal a person is the more conservative a person is the more this thing is going to be talked about. I listened to NPR most of the day and outlets such as ‘Democracy Now’ wanted to link Paul Ryan with this Akin guy. I didn’t get to hear that whole story but it made me shake my head on it because I knew it was coming.

    Politics is such a nasty thing in life. I wonder what becomes more rabid, religious ideology or politically ideology?

    JW

    • smrnda

      I don’t think it’s a fair comparison. Akin stated an opinion about rape and pregnancy that is not unprecedented among conservatives, and attempted to back up his statement with ridiculously false medical ‘information’ that wasn’t even phrased in a way to sound plausible. To argue that this is some ‘power game’ is nonsense. It’s a guy who can’t even check a fact on basic biology and using it to back up the idea that no pregnancies result from rape.

      I’m pretty firm in my opinions because I’ve thought about them a lot, and on any issue where I have a firm opinion I’ve done my research, done my thinking, and reached a conclusion and don’t see any merit to the opposing viewpoint, and I actually think that a person’s political viewpoints get translated into actual actions that have real effects on real people.

      Seriously, the whole ‘politics is all a game about power thing’ isn’t necessarily always true, and it tends to belittle the idea that people should participate in politics to actually get something accomplished.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Ryan IS linked to “this Akin guy” because they co-sponsored legislation that would have re-defined rape by introducing the qualifying adjective “forcible,” thus playing into the idea that there is legitimate and non-legitimate rape. It’s not made up, it’s the truth. You can try to paint this guy as an outlier but, the fact is, his attitudes towards women are pretty mainstream in the republican party. He’s just a little sloppier about expressing them than smarmy, slimy Romney and Ryan.

    • machintelligence

      Politics is such a nasty thing in life. I wonder what becomes more rabid, religious ideology or politically ideology?

      In general terms I would have to go with politics. It is the only game where mudballs are trump. Both parties are lobbing them at a pretty good rate right now, and it’s hard to point a finger at which one started it.
      I tend to think it was the Republicans, but since I am a Democrat, I am probably biased.

    • Judy L.

      Are you suggesting that Akin’s comments were just a “slip of the tongue”?

      Why is it that so many Christian Republicans are allowed to get away with passing off lying, bigotry, and intentionally misrepresenting the truth as merely “misspeaking”? I don’t give a fig about what Akin feels in his heart; what matters is what he says and does (remember when Santorum told outright lies about the socialized health care system in Netherlands systematically killing old people and his spokesperson refused to address the lies and instead just keep repeating, “Rick is pro-choice, and it’s really about what’s in his heart”?); Same with Christians: I can’t experience your belief and your faith or your devotion; all I can experience of your Christianity is your words and your works.

      • http://jw-thoughts.blogspot JW

        Akins is an example of a politician who seem to always say they misspoke when they say something stupid and are looking to mend the fence. This is why politics is such a vicious thing because apologies are never accepted in politics. Politics is a kind of entertainment. If you get busted the camera’s will be on your and you have to work your way off that list. With Akins, let’s say he goofed and he didn’t mean what he said, it will not matter how many apologies he gives he has already hung himself with his words.

        Now Judy, I think the same could be said of the opposite of the ‘Christian Republicans’ as you call them. Seems that if someone who is very liberal says something stupid it is shh shh and no apology seems to be needed but let that ring on the conservative foot and the fingers fire like guns.

        JW

      • Rosa

        No, JW, Akins has taken a lot of actions, in the form of sponsored legislation. All the words did was draw attention to his quite public history.

      • Carol

        JW, the only gaff Akin made was actually speaking out loud and exposing his party’s agenda. The forgiveness he was seeking was not from his constituents or from women but from the republican party, for letting it slip. He needs that money.

        The panty sniffers of the republican party are unbelievably dangerous to women. Now he’s changed his story from the magic uterus theory to the “bitchez be lyin’” theory. Most rapes go unreported because of men like Akin. We have no actual statistics on rape because of this. Women feel they won’t be believed and Akin just made it that much worse for women. If this is the kind of “protection” Christian men are presumably offering women, you can keep it.

    • Anat

      Apologies are not magical spells. They only have a chance to work if the person shows by actions s/he means them. Akin already showed by his past actions that his words were no ‘slip of the tongue’ but a representation of what he really thinks. For any chance of forgiving he’d have to recant his entire position and do serious work to undo the influence of his past politics wrt rape and abortion.

  • smrnda

    JW, I think Akin very accurately described what he really thinks and feels about the issue of rape and abortion. I’m not buying his apology because I find his position to be ignorant and morally reprehensible. When people make these apologies, how stupid do they think we are? I can tell the difference between a sentiment that was expressed badly but was not, in and of itself, something I would find offensive and disagree with, and one where it’s really the viewpoint and the falsehoods used to prop it up that is the problem.

    An apology has to be meaningful. Akin isn’t changing his mind, and he’s not doing the least that he should do – admitting that he made statements that are not supported by medical science because either he was lying or too lazy to look up facts.

    If you want to turn this into a pissing contest where the liberals get off easy, please, find me some Democrats or other leftists that have said garbage equivalent to this.

  • http://brokendaughters.wordpress.com Lisa

    Well of course they don’t think rape is ok but like Libby said, “it’s not your fault HE sinned but you kinda encouraged him to do it!”, just like they do in marriages when the man cheats.

    I think martial rape simply doesn’t exist in the evangelical environment. Well, of course it does, but not overtly. In a marriage where strict submission is practiced, you practically can’t rape your wife because she will at all times submit, hence even if she doesn’t want to have sex with you, she will still give her consent. It’s a real tricky situation, because the man might even have given his wife a break if she told him so, but, again, she can’t because she has to submit. I also think a lot of women don’t view it as rape in marriage even when they’re raped.
    I mean, think about it, her husband owns her body and, because she is his, he can do as he pleases with it. The wife is merely an object here, and just like you can’t “rape” your books by reading them, you can’t rape your wife by having sex with her.

    The general problem is maybe that the I dos at the wedding are considered universal consent. You’re giving your body and your entire being to him – he owns you, you are to submit to him in everything. Logically, the theology simply doesn’t allow room for martial rape.

    I personally never even knew that there could be rape in marriage due to this theology. Martial rape is something that comes with women’s rights, if you live in a society where men are Gods, there just can’t be any martial rape.

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  • http://revcyn.blogspot.com Cynthia Landrum

    Thank you so much for posting this. I was trying to get at this understanding in one of my latest blog posts, but I think I was just still not able to wrap my mind around the conservative understanding. A commenter pointed me to your post. You illustrate the conservative framework in a clear, understandable, and concise way. This post is something I’ll refer back to again, I’m sure.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Thanks!

  • Heather2

    Thank you for writing this. You did a great job explaining the issue of thinking about rape in the context of the purity culture. I am a relatively new reader but I have really enjoyed reading your posts – they have helped me to identify a lot of the ideas that I held to be true growing up and have begun to re-think.

    The book you described sounds exactly like one of the books that was assigned as required reading in my small evangelical high school. Looking back, I really can’t believe it passed as “literature”. I was a member of the school’s purity club. It was a sexually segregated club – as were all activities that involved “purity” (I recall one assembly that only the girls had to attend where we were chastised because some of the more “rebellious” girls wore clothing that was too tight – meaning clothing that fit properly. The boys couldn’t be there because it may draw their attention to the fact that they could actually see the figures of some of the girls in the group.) At the meetings of the purity club, a frequent topic of conversation was this concept that you could re-gain your purity through supplication and a re-commitment to sexual purity. On a few occasions, I recall the topic of rape being approached. The solution was essentially the same – pray and God will grant you purity in His eyes. I remember being concerned – what if I am raped one day? I may be pure in God’s eyes, but will I still be pure and blameless in the eyes of my peers and my family?

    You also briefly touched on a topic that I think is very important and I don’t think it gets spoken about enough. When I first left the church, I didn’t recognize how “out-there” my beliefs and practices had been. When I went to college, I started to see how different I was but I really didn’t recognize my upbringing as “fundamentalist” because, in my mind, the fundamentalists were the crazy fringe groups that operated more like cults and SURELY we weren’t that! It wasn’t until I had been out for a couple of years and began to speak openly with a few close friends about the things I was taught growing up that I began to realize that the messages I had picked up WERE the messages of the fringe groups. But I know that if I were to share the hurt and the anger and the confusion I feel with my family, the teachers I had, and the pastor of the church I attended they would say I was blowing things out of proportion. I had missed their message. I was taking what they said out of context. I was putting words in their mouth. Sometimes I find myself worrying that I am as over-dramatic as they would say I am being. I worry that my feelings aren’t valid. I worry that my exposure to secular society has made me weak and overly emotional. I worry that my father is right in saying that if I return to God, I’ll recognize that what I feel now is wrong.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Sometimes I find myself worrying that I am as over-dramatic as they would say I am being. I worry that my feelings aren’t valid. I worry that my exposure to secular society has made me weak and overly emotional. I worry that my father is right in saying that if I return to God, I’ll recognize that what I feel now is wrong.

      I know the feeling. The second guessing. The worrying. Personally, one thing that has helped me is to latch onto one specific thing they taught me as 100% true that I know is 100% wrong – for me, creationism – or one thing one of my parents said or did that really was objectively out there – like the time my mother told me that my body physically belonged to my father and I had to get his permission to alter it (for a piercing, for instance) – as a reminder to myself that no, I am not crazy. And you know what? Feelings are never invalid. And questions are never wrong. And you don’t have to have everything figured out right now, right this moment. Life is a journey, and that’s okay.

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  • shuying

    “I am almost positive that if the pastor of the church I grew up in read this post, he would say that these aren’t the things he taught at all. He would probably say I misunderstood or something. The trouble is, these are still the messages I got. And if these are messages the church – or at least the church community where I grew up – are sending, well, something is seriously amiss.”

    This. This this this this this.

    Any time I’ve ever tried to discuss this kind of thing, or any kind of “negative” thing that i got from church, or my religious upbringing as a whole, this is always the response I got. “Oh, I’m so sorry you heard that message! You must have misunderstood!” No, I didn’t misunderstand. My religious community just has a really, really big honesty problem. That is, being honest with themselves about the messages they are sending.

  • Pingback: Teenage Boys and Pedophilia: Evangelical Purity Teachings Blur the Line

  • Andrea S.

    When I was still reading Spanish at a beginning/early
    intermediate level, I practiced my reading skills by reading a bunch of basic “readers”. One story I read was written a few hundred
    ago and it was about a young, poor woman who was raped by a rich young
    man. This is supposed to be horrible,
    not because of her lack of consent, but because he took her “honor” from her. She
    plots for a long time to “resolve” this problem and succeeds. The solution?
    She and her family convince her rapist to marry her and thus restore her
    honor!

    For me, the truly disturbing thing was not just the story
    itself (though that was disturbing enough). What really bothered me was that
    NONE of the suggested follow-up discussion questions in the book AT ALL gave
    students a way to process the messages implicit in the story and what it says
    for attitudes toward rape at the time the story was written and attitudes
    today. (Though evidently in some families and places these attitudes apparently
    haven’t changed that much, *sigh*)

    (I should amplify that this was a book I was reading on my
    own, not for class. So I never got to have
    a discussion about it with people who have read the story in the original
    Spanish. The point is, the only way for a teacher or students to have the kind
    of discussion this story just cried out for would be to devise and use their
    own question. I couldn’t understand how on Earth the people compiling that
    anthology thought it was okay to just dump a story about a horrific case of rape
    leading to the girl’s marriage to her own rapist on students without giving
    them a way to process it, both intellectually and emotionally.)


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