Doug Wilson on The Gospel Coalition: How Christian Patriarchy Turns Sex into Rape and Pregnancy into Slavery

Trigger warning for rape and sexual abuse.

Jared Wilson unwittingly set off a flare in the spiritual abuse survivor network on July 13, 2012, when he posted the following quotation from Doug Wilson in a blog post on the Gospel Coalition website:

Because we have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them, we have created a climate in which caricatures of authority and submission intrude upon our lives with violence.

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

But we cannot make gravity disappear just because we dislike it, and in the same way we find that our banished authority and submission comes back to us in pathological forms. This is what lies behind sexual “bondage and submission games,” along with very common rape fantasies. Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the “soon to be made willing” heroine. Those who deny they have any need for water at all will soon find themselves lusting after polluted water, but water nonetheless.

True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity. When authority is honored according to the word of God it serves and protects — and gives enormous pleasure. When it is denied, the result is not “no authority,” but an authority which devours.

In short, he says that rape is a result of egalitarian sex. Is this an endorsement of rape? Explicitly, no. Tacitly, yes. Doug Wilson may not be aware of this (although I suspect he is), but equating rape with a force of nature (gravity) is excusing rape. No, he’s not saying rape is moral or acceptable. He regards it as perversion and evil, as well he should. BUT he is nonetheless saying that rape cannot be prevented unless all women sexually submit to their husbands, who must, in return, “conquer” them (which, according to Jared Wilson, doesn’t mean “dominate” but I can’t for the life of me see the difference). Doug Wilson is arguing that rape is an inevitability if women do not sexually submit to men in marriage. First of all, this makes no logical sense: He basically says that people who have egalitarian sex will eventually snap and rape people or long to be raped because they must find a sense of authority and submission somewhere.   The problem is, that isn’t what happens.

First, let’s get this out of the way: Men are also raped. By other men, and by women. Doug Wilson fails to explain how a man could possibly be raped by a woman.

Second, research has shown that a majority of rapes are committed by repeat offenders and are done intentionally. These are not egalitarian men who lose it because their bodily needs are not being met. These are men who systematically prey on women and put them in vulnerable situations, then take advantage of them. These are patriarchal men. These are men who deliberately place their own desires above the desires or needs or choices of the women they encounter. Rape is never accidental. It may be committed by a man who wouldn’t call himself a rapist, but that man still knows he is taking advantage of a woman who either has not consented or cannot consent (due to alcohol, drugs, being asleep, whatever).

Libby Anne says it best:

What Wilson says is that it’s that egalitarian mutuality in marriage that is causing men to be rapists and women to have rape fantasies, because when it comes to sex men have the need to dominate and women have the need to be dominated, and when they don’t get that in the marriage bed, well, they look for it in perverted ways, i.e. becoming rapists or dreaming of being raped. 

That’s a lie. Doug Wilson is lying to you.

There is one difference between marital rape and the authority-submission model of sexuality that Doug Wilson is advocating: the language they’re using for it. It’s still the same thing. But they think by referring to Christian buzzwords like “authority” and “submission,” leaving out words like “dominate” and “control,” and peppering it all with “godly” and “Biblical” and “true” and “right” and “pure,” they can convince you they’re talking about something else. They’re not. It’s a pack of lies.

Doug Wilson attempts to save face in a comment, by pointing out the “biblical” origin of his metaphors:

“Penetrates.” Is anyone maintaining that this is not a feature of intercourse? “Plants.” Is the biblical concept ofseed misogynistic? “Conquer.” Her neck is like the tower of David, and her necklace is like a thousand bucklers. “Colonize.” A garden locked is my sister, my bride. C’mon, people, work with me here.

  1. “Penetration” does not imply overpowering unless that value is added to it. Try flipping around the verbiage. A woman “engulfs,” “absorbs,” “invites,” “covers,” “encloses” a man. Those are active verbs. It is your choice to make the woman appear passive in sex.
  2. “Plants.” Yes, it’s misogynistic. It is an outdated, scientifically wrong idea that emerged from a culture that believed men imparted life to women, who simply incubated that life. This is demonstrably not how reproduction works. Furthermore, the “plants” idea is offensive because it equates women to inanimate fields, not active participants in the making of a new baby.
  3. “Conquer.” Those descriptions are metaphors for strength. They do not imply conquest. Perhaps they imply refuge.
  4. “Colonize.” What on earth does a garden have to do with imperialism? The metaphor is about a man being let into a garden where no one else can go, not about a man plowing in, bulldozing the place and making a settlement on top.

I sensed this dynamic as a little girl. I wanted to become asexual. I feared and loathed pregnancy:
Bedroom Submission, Birth Control and Tokophobia

Pregnancy was the inevitable prison. Pregnancy was the symbol of all things oppressive and invasive to me. I watched pregnant women in my church dutifully obeying their husbands and felt sick to my stomach. The pregnant belly was a symbol of intimacy in a system that made intimacy exploitative. The elimination of all sexual agency (most importantly the de-legitimation of “no, I don’t want to”) meant that marital sexual relations looked a lot like the rape of a slave by her master. After all, there was precious little in the Bible to protect women from husbands whose intentions were less than kind or respectful. A woman’s only protection was the goodness of her husband’s heart, the absence of which is hard enough to pinpoint in abusive types even with a lot of contact, let alone in the courtship system.

I’m not alone. Danielle Vermeer also writes about how patriarchy made her afraid of pregnancy:
5 Reasons I’m Afraid of Being Pregnant

As a Christian and a feminist, one of the hardest truths to accept is how patriarchy has controlled and demeaned women’s bodies and sexuality, often resulting in pregnancy.  I think of the 200 million women in the developing world who want access to family planning methods, including artificial contraception, to space out their pregnancies and/or avoid additional pregnancies altogether. I think of the 800 women who die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications around the world every day.  I think of the number of unwanted pregnancies that are the result of sexual assault an rape. 

It’s near impossible for me to think about pregnancy and birth as a woman, wife, and feminist without thinking of how patriarchy has marred the beauty of this life-giving capacity. When I explain it this way, M holds me.  We know full well that eventually we’ll cross that bridge and that our children will demand a lot more than my body’s nourishment.  Our children will be, as the oft-quoted phrase goes, “hearts beating outside of our bodies.”

In other words, the framing of sex and reproduction as yet another way a man “colonizes” and “conquers” women is pathological for women’s anticipation and experience of pregnancy. We have been shown, not just told, that pregnancy is yet another thing that does not belong to us. It’s another chain wrapping around us, making our body move the way someone else wants it to move.

I don’t think pregnancy is inherently stifling or disempowering anymore. But I do think that patriarchy has made and is still making it exploitative. If you make sex about surrender and submission, not about mutual enjoyment and intimacy, you make women slaves to their own bodies.

Besides, what’s wrong with an “egalitarian pleasure party”? Rachel Held Evans thinks it’s a great idea. So does Joe of Incongruous Circumspection:

Sex isn’t about rules, authority, perfection, or anything you dream up to try and spiritualize an awesome act of pure pleasure.  Sex is about the union of two bodies in the perfect, animalistic way that those two people desire to do with each other.  Frankly, it’s none of your damned business what we do with it.  And, here’s the shocking part, Kristine exhibits all the stereotypes of what society considers “male” and I “female” when it comes to what we desire.  There are no male and female roles in sex.  

I think I’m done now. This whole thing makes my head hurt.

A little while ago, Alise wrote:

Sex. An act where we were told over and over that women are supposed to be givers and men are supposed to be takers, thiswas where mutuality was supposed to occur. An act where we are at our most vulnerable and exposed, we were to treat one another as equals. Eventually the questions overwhelmed me. Why would God make me equal to my husband when we were getting it on, but not when we were getting a new car? Why would we submit to one another when we were making a baby, but not when we were making parenting decisions? Why would we be partners in the bedroom, but leader and submissive in the living room (well, unless the kids weren’t around and you know…)?

Apparently, the answer from the Christian Patriarchy Movement is that you were never equal partners at all.

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