“You Are Not Your Own:” Women are objects, or weaker animals

This post is part of a series called“You Are Not Your Own,” focusing on rape and sexual assault in Christian relationship/dating books

Trigger Warning for rape, sexual assault, victim blaming, sexism

Note: this research mainly focused on female rape. Though it is not the focus of my project, male rape is a huge problem as well–1 out of every 10 rape victims is male. I wanted to make it clear that, despite the focus of my study, it is not only women (and definitely not only cisgender women) who face sexual violence. 

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I’m still working through the first of four significant findings that I came across while analyzing popular Christian dating books. For other posts related to this first finding, check out this post and this post.

1. An Environment Ripe for Rape Myth Acceptance

The tendency to dehumanize people by treating them as objects or animals strongly correlates with the tendency to accept rape myths (such as “She was asking for it by wearing that outfit”) as true. It also correlates with the tendency to actually commit rape or sexual assault. The Christian dating books I’ve analyzed dehumanized both women and–surprisingly–men. The authors of most of these books dehumanize men in ways that absolve them of responsibility for their actions (acting like that’s just how men are because of their animalistic nature), or in ways that use “bad” men (who can’t control their animal nature) as a threat to scare women into submitting to “good” men (who have learned, as the Driscolls say on p. 155 of Real Marriage, to let their “theology conquer [their] biology.”)

 While the books dehumanize men in ways that put them in the role of aggressors and hunters, the dehumanization of women puts women in the role of prey, or objects to be won or bought.

Women are Weaker Animals, or Objects

The book Dateable is the worst on this front, and is constantly dehumanizing women. The book describes them as:

  • Prey to be hunted by men (p. 182)
  • Fish being hooked on bait (p. 82)
  • Meat (p. 108, 110, 118)
  • Uncharted territory for men to conquer (p. 182)
  • Clothes for men to buy (p. 129)

I Kissed Dating Goodbye avoided dehumanizing language toward women, but Real Marriage and When God Writes Your Love Story also treated women as objects. The latter two books, however, reject the hostile, violent-sounding objectification present in Dateable (oh my god, that book talks about us being HUNTED) in favor of a more benevolent approach. For example, in Real Marriage, the Driscolls describe women as pieces of property, not to be conquered, but to be explored:

Too many men are more like conquerors than explorers. They get married—which is akin to landing on the beach of an unexplored land—yet fail to explore the landscape…Our wives do not want to be conquered; they want to be explored emotionally. (p. 51)

The Ludys, in When God Writes Your Love Story, talk about a woman as a “precious pearl of purity,” a “glistening, and untarnished gem,” or a “treasure” to be kept protected for her future husband (p. 118). Women who—by having sex or getting too emotionally involved with partners before marriage—are “careless with [their] treasure” (p. 99) are compared to “hamburger meat” (p. 100). With language that presents women as objects, prizes, prey, land, and food, these books strip women of their autonomy over their lives and bodies. Women become things that exist to please men, rather than people with their own desires and destinies.

While men’s dehumanization partially absolves them of responsibility for their actions, women’s dehumanization often puts a greater burden on them, holding them responsible for the way men treat them.

In When God Writes Your Love Story, women are told they can either be a treasure (for men to cherish and protect) or a piece of meat (for men to devour). In Dateable, dehumanization is often used as a hostile threat for women who transgress traditional gender roles. Let’s look at some images from the book:

 

From “Dateable” by Justin Lookadoo and Hayley DiMarco, p. 118

From “Dateable” by Justin Lookadoo and Hayley DiMarco, p. 109

The first image shows a drawing of a woman’s body (dressed in an “immodest”  shirt that reveals her midriff), and of a steak stuck through a meat hook, next to the words, “…If you dress like a flesh buffet, don’t be surprised when he treats you like a piece of meat.” The second image is a drawing of a building called “Tom’s Meat Market.” In the window of the building are female torsos hanging from meat hooks.

The imagery is violent and threatening and the message is clear: stay in your appropriate gender role (by dressing modestly) or you get what’s coming to you (and what’s coming to you is violence, physical or otherwise) when men start to treat you as meat. 

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net/ Dianna

    Ugh, that part, to me, was the worst part of Dateable. Violent and rape culture-y language and the authors probably have zero problems with it. Gross.

  • colorlessblue

    I would add that the language of uncharted territory to be explored is also colonialist, imperialist, and racist, besides the gender implications.
    (edited to correct a typo)

    • sarahoverthemoon

      Great point.

  • Melody Jones

    Sarah, I amazed at your perseverance. My rage levels are distressingly high right now, and I haven’t touched a Christian dating book in years. There is absolutely nothing about these books that I am okay with. UGH.

  • Amy Mitchell

    I find the partial images of women’s bodies (i.e., headless) to be just as disturbing as the comparison to meat and the violent pictures of hooks. I can’t remember which Christian women’s magazine does this, but their cover images are routinely disembodied parts. Clearly we are not meant to think or interact intellectually with anyone; we’re parts to be examined for defects and our usefulness will be evaluated based on the findings.

    • Levedi

      Good point. There’s an ongoing conversation in Sci-Fi/Fantasy circles about the problem of paperback covers often featuring a headless or face obscured female torsos with the rear end pointed at the viewer. Publishers used to claim that they did this so that female buyers would identify with the protagonist. Now some admit they use semi-porn poses so that male readers will be enticed to buy books with female protagonists. It strikes me as very telling that the same dehumanizing poses and angles are used by Christian publishers to speak to their Christian female audience.

  • Levedi

    I slightly disagree with your last read. I think the implicit message behind the explicit warnings is “women ARE meat. Period. You are meant to be owned/devoured/used by men. You will be devoured by someone, so it better be your husband.” I think this is one of the reasons so many women raised in evangelical and fundamentalist environments experience deep fear of sex. Sex is an experience in which a rapacious male animal consumes/uses a woman’s flesh for his own pleasure. (It doesn’t help that none of these books talk about female physical pleasure and usually emphasize that physical desire is a male only thing.) The only thing that divides a loose woman (their term) from a wife is the number of men involved and the social sanction symbolized by the ring.

  • Annika Halvari

    Sarah,
    I am so thankful that you are doing this series. Trying to hold the people responsible who promote these views is like a whack a mole game. They are so many ‘out of context’, apologies for not saying things in the most ‘elegant’ language and downright dismissal of objections because of shrillness of the harpies that are complaining.

    You research is kind of pulling those rugs out. It’s hard to argue with language that has been written, edited and re-edited and approved and published and is so consistent across the board.

    Their position has been pretty much FAIRLY laid out. And I hope others who read this blog share this series as a whole with as many people, especially women, as possible, and then give them the time to mull over the big picture.

    There is always a large percentage who already ‘know’ this and choose to ‘un-know’ it their conscience mind. But you are giving those who have this may have been uncomfortable in these churches but haven’t been able to articulate why or have been shut down before they could put the pieces together.

    Keep up the good work; and thanks for doing what has to be very painful work especially for someone who has been irrevocably harmed by this whole system.

    I have only recently found your writing.

    I’ve been reading No Longer Quivering, Slacktivist, Are Women Human for a long time-so much good stuff here at pathos…but your blog resonated me the very first time I read it.

  • Cliff Sodergren

    After reading your article, I have several different responses. First, I
    am appalled at the tolerance and insensitivity in the church for many
    attitudes that disrespect and dehumanize women. While rape is generally
    not tolerated, you are right that there are many underlying attitudes
    that contribute to an acceptance of objectification of and even violence
    toward women. On the other hand, as often happens when we start
    addressing a long-ignored issue, we can swing too far in the other
    direction (though we cannot be too outraged by these issues). For
    example, modesty in dress. You are absolutely right that this has been
    often misused to blame women for men’s “uncontrollable” urges, lustful
    thoughts, and even violent actions, finding the fault with women as if
    they were “asking for it” and excusing men for evil behavior. On the
    other hand, a solution is not simply throwing out all sense of modesty
    either so that women can be freed from what might be seen as (and has
    certainly been used as) a tool of oppression. Modesty in our dress as
    well
    as in our actions is clearly something that the Bible calls ALL of
    us—men and women—to do. But it should be done out of love and respect
    for one another, and never oppressively “enforced”.

    Is there some
    room for maintaining sound biblical teaching while honestly and
    appropriately calling men and the church to repentance from the ways we
    have marginalized and even victimized women? I hope you think so. If
    so, you can count me, and many other men, fully on board.

  • Cliff Sodergren

    After reading your article, I have several different responses. First, I am appalled at the tolerance and insensitivity in the church for many attitudes that disrespect and dehumanize women. While rape is generally not tolerated, you are right that there are many underlying attitudes that contribute to an acceptance of objectification of and even violence toward women. On the other hand, as often happens when we start addressing a long-ignored issue, we can swing too far in the other direction (though we cannot be too outraged by these issues). For example, modesty in dress. You are absolutely right that this has been often misused to blame women for men’s “uncontrollable” urges, lustful thoughts, and even violent actions, finding the fault with women as if they were “asking for it” and excusing men for evil behavior. On the other hand, a solution is not simply throwing out all sense of modesty either so that women can be freed from what might be seen as (and has certainly been used as) a tool of oppression. Modesty in our dress as well as in our actions is clearly something that the Bible calls ALL of us—men and women—to do. But it should be done out of love and respect for one another, and never oppressively “enforced”.

    Is there some room for maintaining sound biblical teaching while honestly and
    appropriately calling men and the church to repentance from the ways we have
    marginalized and even victimized women? I hope you think so. If so, you can
    count me, and many other men, fully on board.

  • Leigha7

    I read Dateable in high school. I don’t remember any of that, and now I’m appalled and concerned because I do remember taking what it said very seriously. Also, those drawings are pretty terrible, even aside from their content. I couldn’t do any better, but I’m also not illustrating books to be published.

    I’m also pleasantly surprised that you didn’t find any dehumanization in I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Funny how it was written by the youngest author, too (unless I’m mistaken).


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