Guest Post: Focus on the Family: “True strength . . . submits”

A Guest Post by Samantha

[In this two-part series, Samantha offers her thoughts on a Focus on the Family radio interview with Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Mary Kassian, authors of True Woman 101: Divine Design.]

Tuesday and Wednesday (March 5 and March 6), Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly and John Fuller hosted Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Mary Kassian on their daily radio show. DeMoss and Kassian are currently promoting their new eight-week Bible study: True Woman 101: Divine Design. The jacket material describes the book’s goal as teaching women to “discover, embrace, and delight in God’s divine design and mission for their lives.”

The book’s contents reveals that it’s your typical, run-of-the-mill complementarian rhetoric about gender roles, but they do target feminism, and they decided to share some of those arguments on the radio program. Most of the hour’s conversation is dedicated to making repetitive statements about being willing to follow God’s word. (I swear, I think I could have made a drinking game out of it. Take a shot every time one of them says the word complement! Take a shot every time one of them talks about “reflecting God’s nature”!)

One of them opened up the discussion with a brief summary of Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. I believe it was Kassian summarizing Friedan’s work, and she said that the book’s basic argument is this:

Kassian: Women are unhappy because there is something wrong with the role they were trying to fill [previously defined in the conversation as a “June Cleaver” type]. If we [Friedan and others] get women out into the workforce, then women will achieve happiness.

Jim Daly: But, sociology shows that the more empowered women have gotten, the more unhappy they’ve gotten.

DeMoss: Self-actualization was a woman turning her attention from her husband to herself.

First of all, I’m wondering if either DeMoss or Kassian has read the Feminine Mystique. Fuller “thanks” Kassian for “doing all this research,” but she seems to have completely missed the point. While Friedan certainly did advocate education and employment opportunities for women, that was certainly not the central focus of the book. No—Friedan and other early feminist writers like her fought against the ingrained perception that women were not capable of receiving an education and working in a professional career. Not that culture said they shouldn’t, but that they couldn’t. Saying that Friedan’s book does nothing more than “tell women to go get a job so they can be happy” is reductionist at best, deceptive at worst.

Also, Daly bursts in with his comment about “sociology.” What, exactly, is he trying to say by including a throw-away reference to ‘sociology’? Validate his ridiculous statement? And DeMoss completely ignores the real idea behind self-actualization: that it is expressing and activating your potential– your capabilities. It’s realizing that you can do something worthwhile and meaningful. Both DeMoss and Kassian continue to re-define various terms in feminism as being “selfish” throughout the program. At one point, they argued that the desire for self-actualization is the same lie that Satan told to Eve in the garden—a woman who is self-actualized, they say, is trying to become like God. No chasing your dreams or coming into your full potential for you, ladies. You go back into your kitchen and make a sandwich.

Kassian continues:

Our culture is saturated by gender fluidity—“I am the one who gets to decided what I do, who I am.” . . . But we need to make sure that we . . .are in line with who the Bible says that I am . . . blurring the gender distinctions was part of the Fall, and that was part of what Christ came to restore—a true gender identity.

Hold on. Two things here: first, Kassian is arguing that our identity is integrally linked to our gender, which may or may not be true, depending on the individual. Identity constructs are complicated, and not automatically linked to gender for everyone. More and more studies are revealing that gender identity is almost purely social construct. Second, she says that “blurring gender distinctions was part of the Fall.” Y’know, I’m sitting here, reading Genesis chapter three, and I don’t get that. Can someone please explain to me how gender had anything to do with original sin? Oh, wait, right—we’re rewinding to the medieval ages where women were responsible for all that was vile and corrupt, women are the weaker vessel and was first deceived, and a woman’s vagina was a cavernous gate to the pits of hell. Got it.

Jim Daly and John Fuller, as the interviewers and hosts, of course direct the course of the conversation. But every single one of their questions is loaded and leading, like this one:

Why is the divorce rate so high in the church? What is going on between the genders that is so destructive?

Why is the assumption here that the divorce rate is due to some sort of gender war? Well, DeMoss tells us, by explaining how girls from a very early age are being indoctrinated by feminism that has “infiltrated” and “slid into” the church:

DeMoss: Girls are phoning, and texting, and being aggressive, and just going after the guys . . . Girls are taught ‘you are strong, you are independent, you can go after what you want.’ In practice, that doesn’t work so well. Women are starting to be controlling, taking the lead, and it creates a dysfunction. It exacerbates our sin nature, and it makes it difficult to make a relationship work.

Kassian: [Feminism] makes men look stupid, like idiots who can’t find their way out of a paper bag. It matters that men and women are different.

Oh, boy. The back of their book describes a feminist woman as “strident,” and you can see that attitude coming out here. But the implication DeMoss makes here—that being strong and independentexacerbates our sin nature—is destructive. I’m not exactly sure if DeMoss realizes the full extent and ramifications of an argument like the one she’s making here. Being strong and independent equals sin? I’m aware that complementarians have frequently argued that not falling in line with traditional, patriarchal, Victorian gender roles is “unwise,” or even “damaging to marriages,” etc, but being a strong, independent woman is sinful?

John Fuller seems to be aware of the far-reaching nature of DeMoss’ statement, so he asks:

What’s wrong with being strong, independent, charting my own course? Don’t I have rights? Speak to these women who are wondering, asking what God’s true purpose is for their life.

Don’t I have rights indeed, John. Apparently not.

Kassian: True strength is strength that submits. We have God’s word. We are telling an important, profound story, pointing to Christ and the church, to truths that exist within God. God created men and women to express this relationship.

I’m straight up confused, and have always been baffled, at what appears to be an innate connection between biology and “gender roles” for complementarians. I’ve heard the arguments that take our biological distinctiveness and whip it up into some grand scheme for complementarianism, but I’m still lost when people go there. Also, look and see what else Kassian is threatening here: women, if you don’t submit, you’re subverting the important, profound story about Christ. If you don’t accept our definition of traditional gender roles, you’re destroying the salvation message. Not only will you be blurring gender roles, feminists, you’ll be confusing the gospel.

But let us look at yet another loaded question from Jim Daly:

What about the hookup culture? When women give their physical intimacy away, they are really giving men the ability to control them, to have power over them. Is there something tied into the feminist movement where women lose power sexually?

Did he actually just go there? These questions are representational of an extremely conservative view of sex, one where the only correct view is the conservative view, and anyone who defines sex differently is perverted. Daly manages to do a couple rather impressive things in these questions. He blames rape culture and hookup culture on feminism. He implies that feminists actually want to see women lose power. But oh wait– it gets better.

DeMoss: Feminists say that “power” is the ability to self-define . . . “I get to exercise my power,” and women began saying that this meant that “my sex is power.” New Wave feminism is really just raunch culture . . . Feminists [from the 60s] would have screamed against [“immodest dress”]; they would have said that “if you dress in a provocative way, men have control over you,” but modern feminists don’t agree with that anymore.

John: That’s just so dumbfounding.

Holy red herring, Batman! It took me a while to collect my thoughts and come back from the brink of speechlessness, after that hum-dinger. First, I recommend to DeMoss and Kassian that they read Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, which is an excellent dissection of what raunch culture actually represents and what it is motivated by—and it’s certainly not feminism. It’s just patriarchy, sexism, and the male gaze wearing another mask. DeMoss, by pointing out that modern women have somehow lost the “decency and modesty” that even their feminist forbears possessed, is arguing that modern feminism is synonymous with “raunch culture.” There’s a link here, in the conversation, between raunch culture and women surrendering their sexual power to men. To DeMoss and Kassian, Daly and Fuller, it seems like they’re saying that it’s not patriarchy and the universal enforcing of complementarian gender roles that perpetuates rape culture—no, it’s feminism.

I have no words.

But, oh look, it gets even worse:

Kassian: Even though [many women] don’t identify as feminist, there is still so much pain [from feminism] . . . they’re crying themselves to sleep at night. They’re depressed, suicidal. There’s a soul sickness, a sadness, and a desperation . . . But there is wholeness, healing, joy, and fullness available if we take our lives back to the plumb line [of Scripture] . . . to fulfill the whole purpose for why we were put here on this earth. Women who are doing that with their lives, they’re not oppressed—they are blessed.

And there you have it. Become a feminist and you’ll want to kill yourself. Become a complementarian and adhere to gender essentialism and you’ll be happy.

This isn’t logic. This isn’t even really an argument. It’s a threat.

—————

Samantha grew up in an independent fundamental Baptist cult-church in the deep South that taught Quiverfull and patriocentricity, was homeschooled, went to Pensacola Christian for college, and eventually realized that it was all completely nuts. She blogs about her slow, sometimes painful journey out of a fundamentalist indoctrination at Defeating the Dragons

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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.


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