Fifty Shades of Lipstick on a Pig

Woooo! Pile on!

It starts with a conservative Christian site called The Gospel Coalition, where a blogger by the name of Jared Wilson posted The Polluted Waters of 50 Shades of Grey. The blogger’s got some problems with the books, and it’s not because they’re bad Twilight fanfiction.

Jared Wilson quoted a bit from a book by Reformed theologian Douglas Wilson, which tried to psychoanalyze rape as a side effect of our rejection of old-fashioned gender hierarchy in sexual relations. The quote has managed to offend damn near everyone.

[EDIT:] Following Libby Anne’s lead, I think I’ll put a trigger warning here. If you are likely to be upset by discussions of sexual violence, please enjoy this baby lynx instead.

Here’s the heart of it:

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.


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.

There are some issues here, with Jared Wilson essentially equating the domination and submission in Fifty Shades with rape and Douglas Wilson essentially stating the rape is an unintentional side effect of society’s embrace of women’s equality. But Douglas Wilson’s way of expressing the problem makes the faulty logic – actually, lack of logic, since it’s just a bare assertion – even worse. What do you say to a person who uses military terminology to speak of what is supposedly consensual sex? It made people’s heads go all ‘splody.

I think Rachel Held Evans was first out of the gate, but she’s been followed by scores of other bloggers. As always, James McGrath does the yeoman’s work of rounding up links. As always, Fred Clark has his own list, plus some worthwhile comments of his own. Even Hemant sticks his own oar into these polluted waters.

From Fred Clark, I found out that Douglas Wilson is also the co-author of a pamphlet called Southern Slavery as it Was, which is a work of slavery aplogetics. If I were to write this up into a novel, I’d get thrown out of the “Subtle Fiction Writer’s Guild” at this point.

I’ve glanced through the pamphlet, and it seems to be a fairly standard piece of Lost Cause apologetics: slavery wasn’t that bad, it had some good features, slaves and masters got along, the real problem was the way it was ended, etc. At no point that I can find (though I may be missing something) do the author deal with the core problem: is slavery itself, regardless of how it was carried out, just?

The abolitionists were clear on this point. While they focused on the whippings, the rape and the collars, most always maintained that for one man to own the person of another man was inherently injust and immoral. My favorite argument, just for the cleverness of it, was Lincoln’s spin on Genesis. He suggested that God’s curse on Adam, that he would have to work for his bread from now on, meant that every man was responsible for his own labor.

Just the same, in the inevitable response to the outrage, Jared Wilson tsks-tsks that people are focusing on Douglas Wilson’s brutal characterization of sexual relations and missing the point. He responds – as such authoritarians always do – by putting lipstick on the pig:

In the final analysis, I come back to my original analysis, which is that Douglas Wilson’s view of women is that they are to be cherished and protected and served humbly by men, even men in authority over them. This is the kind of authority the Bible prescribes, the kind that edifies and helps wives to flourish, not wither.

And slavery was really a happy, friendly relationship and the slaves were better for it. There is no compromise on the essential authoritarian structure, and there never will be. I suspect, as Corey Robin points out in The Reactionary Mind, the high place of men in this structure has become part of their self understanding, and to give it up would lessen both Wilsons in their own self perception.

When preaching to the choir, they will state it bluntly. When preaching to the unconverted, the will pretty it up with language like “cherish” and “served humbly.” Regardless, the hierarchy stays in place. Those of us who reject the hierarchy as unjust and corrupting can see straight through it.

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