Content Note: Victim Blaming, Body Shaming
Dianna E. Anderson is hosting a synchroblog this week about contemporary Christian music (CCM) and how it affected the lives of those who grew up with it. I’ve already written one post on the subject explaining that, because of my ultra conservative upbringing, I wasn’t the world’s largest CCM fan. Relient K was one of only two Christian bands that I ever ended up liking (Five Iron Frenzy being the other). I have a special place in my heart for them still, but some of their older lyrics now make me cringe.
An example of this is the song “Mood Rings,” which is filled with sexist stereotypes about the overly-emotional, hysterical woman.
I’ve talked before about how the evangelical church is often invested in and therefore a huge promoter of sexism and patriarchy. “Mood Rings” is an example of one of the ways that the evangelical church uses the Christian music industry as a vehicle for this sexism.
Interestingly, this song inspired Thomas Nelson publishers to call up Relient K and have them “write” a book about girls. The Complex Infrastructure Known as the Female Mind was published in 2004 and takes it’s title from the last line of “Mood Rings.”
Relient K’s name is on the front, though, according to this interview, the book was written almost completely by Mark Nicholas, who is not a member of the group (and never was). So, this isn’t a critique of the band members themselves or their views of women–I do not know each member’s views.
I do want to analyze this book, however, for #PlanetCCM (you know how much I love analyzing Christian relationship books), to look at some of the messages that the evangelical church sent to people in my generation using the Christian music industry.
The premise of the book is taken from sexist stereotypes found in “Mood Rings:” women and girls are mysterious, complicated, emotional, and impossible to understand. The book also falls into the same traps that other books I’ve analyzed fall into.
It subtly threatens women who step outside accepted gender roles:
The book calls women to modesty in dress (because of course, men are visual, therefore it is a woman’s role to keep them from stumbling). It rails against wearing sports bras as a top (saying they are not “Relient K-approved) (pg. 5), and decries short skirts and low-cut tops (pg. 114).
Women who don’t follow modest rules are blamed for their own oppression and even for violence done against them. The book states that if you are not “smart about what you wear” you may become “some guy’s sexual…prey.” (pg. 115)
It dehumanizes men and women:
Women are talked about as animals, and Relient K (not really Relient K) claims to have “observed girls int their natural habitats.” (pg. ix) The author refers to large groups of girls as a “herd.” (pg. 123) The entire book reads like what Sarah Jones, on Twitter, called “a Discovery Channel approach to dating,” where men are the human researchers and women are the animals being researched.
Of course, men were animalized too. As mentioned above, the book claims that all men at times fall into the category of The Ape. The Ape is considered the “default condition of nearly all guys.” (pg. 108)
It supports racist and misogynist notions of “purity” and gender:
Beyond being simply a tool of the patriarchy, purity culture is used to maintain white supremacy. The pure woman isn’t just the woman who doesn’t have sex. In our culture, some women are automatically viewed as “more pure” than others. The image of the “pure” woman is closely tied to the image of a young, thin, submissive, upper class, white woman. (for more on this, check out this series on Are Women Human?)
The type of girl in this book who is considered ideal–the best marriage material–is called “Vanilla Pudding” (pg. 91). Whether intentional or not, the use of the words “Vanilla Pudding” brings to mind the image of a white woman. Vanilla Pudding is also “not too smart and definitely not dumb. Vanilla Pudding is not too skinny, not too fat.” She loves church “but is not necessarily a leader unless she is called upon to do so.” The idea woman is Vanilla–doesn’t stand out, doesn’t take up too much space, doesn’t lead unless she has to.
There are racist implications in the book’s picture of the “ideal” man, too. Though the book claims that all men are at times The Ape and at times Mr. Wonderful, it still sets up a dichotomy between these two “types” of men, and the physical descriptions given for what Mr. Wonderful looks like are telling. According to the book, Mr. Wonderful, the opposite of The Ape, is “usually 5’8” or taller, is somewhat muscular, and has the perfect tan or color of skin.” (pg. 109) As Jason Dye pointed out on Twitter, putting the guy with the “perfect color of skin” opposite the guy who is “The Ape,” is pretty damn racist.
It tells women their bodies are not their own:
Throughout the book, the author sends the message to women and girls that their bodies are not for them and must be hidden, distorted, or adorned in order to please men. This ranges from seemingly silly things, like the author saying girls shouldn’t wear toe rings because guys don’t understand them (pg. 116) to some gross body shaming.
The book tells tall women that they are too intimidating to guys, and asks them to stop wearing heels, “try bending ever so slightly at the knees, and slump your shoulders a bit.” (pg. 115) It also tells women,
If the circumference around your hips exceeds that of the waistband of the jeans you are wearing, please go home and change clothes immediately. We have seen far too much Krispy Kreme spilling out over the tops of girls’ jeans. This looks gross and ridiculous.
It asks women to go to ridiculous lengths to make our bodies appear to be something they’re not in order to please men. It calls women’s bodies “gross” when they don’t measure up to men’s often impossible standards.
Music is a powerful, personal thing. What a disturbing move from the Christian music and publishing industries–taking a band that has likely meant so much to so many people and using it to sell these awful messages. “You are not you’re own,” this book says, “and it’s not just your pastor saying it. It’s not even just God saying it. Now your favorite band is saying it too.”