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
Today, I’m continuing my series in which I share the results of my undergraduate thesis on rape and sexual assault in popular evangelical Christian dating books. After reading Real Marriage, When God Writes Your Love Story, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and Dateable, I came across four significant findings:
- These books create an environment ripe for rape myth acceptance
- They create a context in which no onetruly has ownership over his/her own body
- They ignore the importance of consent, or create an illusion that consent exists where it does not
- They blur the lines between rape/sexual assault and consensual sex
You can catch up on old posts here. Today, we’re going to move on to finding number three:
3. The Illusion of Consent
When I did my research, one of the things I looked for was whether or not these books discussed the issue of consent at all. Throughout most of the books, consent was notably absent, which wasn’t surprising. When people, especially women, are talked about as if they are animals or objects, and as if they have no autonomy over their own bodies, it’s not surprising when their right to chose whether or not to have sex is diminished.
In some places, however, these books did appear to discuss consent. At first I was excited to find something positive for a change. Then, I realized that the “freedom of choice” presented in these books was an illusion to mask the fact that these books actually only give women the freedom to choose from one option.
Before marriage you have one option, and after marriage you have another option. The option changes, but there is still only one. Let’s talk about the “Before Marriage” option today.
Only Bad Girls Say Yes
Before marriage, a woman’s only acceptable option is to say “no” to sex. Not surprising, considering that these are books written by more conservative Christians. But what I found interesting is the empowering language used to discuss a woman’s right to say “no.”
Dateable tells young women and girls that when they say no to sex they are using their “girl power.” The book refers to girls who refuse to have sex as “high-designer, gotta-have[s].” (Pgs. 120 and 129)
When God Writes Your Love Story similarly uses positive, empowering language to talk about women and girls who choose not to have sex. This book calls them “princess[es] of purity,” and tells them that their virginity is like a “precious pearl.” (pg. 176)
Besides the objectifying language being used (women aren’t clothes and virginity isn’t a pearl) this isn’t a bad thing. No one should be pressured to have sex, and we should affirm the choices of those who do not wish to have sex.
The problem arrives, however, when we start talking about those who make different choices. The empowering language disappears and the conversation changes.
According to Dateable, a woman who decides to have sex before marriage is no longer using her “girl power.” In fact, this book describes such girls as “dollar store leftovers.” (pg. 129) In When God Writes Your Love Story, when a “princess of purity” decides to have sex, she becomes “disgusting…A turnoff…Totally unattractive.” (pg. 121)
What happens when we frame sex in this way, where unmarried women should never express a desire to have sex or be sexual in any way? Heterosexual men’s sexual pursuit of women who do not express consent becomes normal. In fact, it becomes ideal, since the “high-designer, gotta-have” woman never expresses desire and the woman who actually wants to have sex is “a turn-off.”
In Dateable, the language of faux-choice “girl power” used above is actually turned against women when they transgress the role of the “good girl.” Lookadoo and DiMarco say, “Girls, you control how far you go,” (pg. 115), and then proceed to tell women that they have the power to choose whether or not men treat them badly. If they dress and act modestly, they will be treated well. If no, well, Lookadoo and DiMarco state:
If you dress like a piece of meat, you’re gonna get thrown on the BBQ…You can’t look that sexy and then tell us to be on our best behavior.
Here we see the language of consent being appropriated and used to blame victims of, what? Being “thrown on the BBQ?” What could that possibly mean, Lookadoo and DiMarco? Unwanted advances? Sexual Harassment? Rape? It is violent language that tells women they are responsible when others treat them as if they are meat.
According to these books, unmarried women, you have choice! You have agency! You have “girl power!” You’d just better never express yourself sexually, whether through your clothes or actions, or through consenting to sexual activity.