Review: “Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife” by Ruth Tucker

Review: “Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife” by Ruth Tucker March 25, 2016

blackandwhiteby Samantha Field cross posted from her blog SamanthaPField.com

I heard about Ruth Tucker’s Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Violence mid-afternoon on Monday, after I’d finished my review of Radical and was browsing the Twitters. Zondervan has been promoting her book with the question “is complementarianism connected to domestic abuse?” which has spurred some conversation among the people I follow. And by “conversation,” I mean a lot of us saying “duh. Yes.”

When I heard about it, I could barely restrain my excitement. I’ve been working on the research for a book of my own on this topic: the similarities between complementarianism and abuse, which in my opinion are so indistinguishable it’s pointless to try to separate them. People like John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and Owen Strachan– who teach the complementarian model– are doing their best to persuade men to have the same beliefs about women and gender roles that abusers do. And, even if they weren’t doing that, the goals of complementarianism and the goals of an abusive man are exactly the same: control, power, and the dissolution of a woman’s rights in her marriage.

As I said on Twitter yesterday, it’s impossible to truly adhere to the tenets of complementarianism without becoming an abuser. Removing a woman’s right to self-determination is abuse. At its core, that’s what complementarianism is: their definition of “submission” is for the man to assume decision-making power over the wife, and to compel the wife using biblical means (instead of physical violence) to think that she doesn’t have any other option. That is inherently a violent belief.

So, understandably, I very much wanted to read what Ruth Tucker (a champion for women’s equality in the church) had to say. Unfortunately … I was disappointed.

Part of my disappointment springs from a few concepts that weren’t integral to the book, yet were still glaring issues. Most obvious among these (and one I’m struggling to understand why she bothered including) was the racism she displayed by invoking the specter of misogyny in rap music (116, 117, 155). In one place, rap music appears alongside “African mutilation rites” when she’s talking about female genital mutilation (118). I about choked at that. While FGM is practiced in many African countries, it’s hardly an exclusively African practice– and before anyone thinks it’s something only Muslims do, it’s not. Anyway, it’s blatantly a racist double standard to repeatedly reference rap and only rap to talk about misogyny in music. For all the evidence you need, here’s the “Misogynistic Lyrics that Aren’t Rap Music” tumblr, which has thirty pages of examples.

Other problems were less morally charged, although still frustrating. For example, Ruth Tucker has a PhD and has been an instructor or professor at several seminaries, including Calvin, Trinity, and Fuller and yet she cites Wikipedia not once, not twice, but three times (for articles on Germaine Greer, the apostle Junia, and Mary Winkler, respectively).

I noticed this because Greer is the only feminist she references anywhere in the book that I could tell, and all she does is pull the introductory paragraphs off Wiki. From that reference, I’m incredibly suspicious that the Wikipedia page is the only thing she’s read by Greer, because her articulation of Greer’s view is … well, wrong. Exasperatingly wrong. She uses Greer in an attempt to bulk up her argument for gender essentialism which … arg gablarg. As transmisogynistic as Greer is, trying to use her to support your position that women are feminine from birth (66-68) is just … I might have started trying to pull my hair out. I couldn’t throw the book because I was reading it on my Nook, which is my most valued possession.

There are some other minor problems. There are some structural issues, it lacks a focusing argument or traceable thesis, and the writing becomes noticeably weaker in the last third, when she begins using more ellipses and fragmentary sentences. There were multiple places where I had to stop and read over something several times in order to understand what she was trying to say. The book also wanders a good bit– there are entire chapters on women’s legal standing through American history and whether or not John Calvin could be considered a feminist, which contain neither a compelling narrative nor address the “black and white bible, black and blue wife” idea that she claims is her theme.

In fact, at no point does she ever thoroughly address the concept that complementarian theology contributes to domestic violence. She repeatedly references how her abuser would demand obedience as “the head of the home,” but never explores the links between abusers’ beliefs and the beliefs that complementarians advocate for. In my opinion, this area is lacking because she simply isn’t informed enough to address it (which I’ll get to later). This opens up the book to the criticism that Tim Challies made— that his abuse and complementarianism had nothing really to do with each other. She’s challenged him on this, but in my opinion she did so ineffectively.

I’m disappointed and borderline sorrowful because this book had so much promise. It should be a book I should be shouting from the rooftops about and begging all of you to read. Here is a woman who was in an abusive marriage for almost twenty years with the added benefit of distance and a loving, healthy marriage. Her story is powerful and poignant, and I grieve with her over the things she went through and some of the choices she made. She doesn’t sugarcoat how complicated it can be to recover from abuse– the intermingled feelings of shame and triumph, guilt and relief, confusion and certainty. I can relate to much of her experience, and am proud of the way she unflinchingly examines a disastrously horrible choice she made at one point.

There’s a lot of good in this book. There is. But I personally feel that the good it can accomplish is seriously compromised by her utter lack of familiarity with feminism- especially intersectional feminism. The entire book is framed badly, and there are so many points where I simply don’t follow what she’s trying to do.

At several points she tries to re-baptize “patriarchy” as if it’s some ideologically neutral term, which comes out of her gender essentialist beliefs. I don’t know what her stance on LGBT+ rights is, but from this book I’m assuming not good. There are a lot of overtones of “children need a father and mother” and she spends a lot of time bemoaning the fact that her violent and abusive husband abandoned their son after the separation. At one point she even claims that “apart from abusing me, [he] was a good father” (164), which is maddening. Abusive men are not good fathers. You cannot beat and punch and kick your wife until she’s black and blue and have any standing as a “good father” whatsoever.

There’s also a few moments where I’m wondering how much research she’s actually done into abuse, its dynamics, and the mentalities of abusers. She references only two texts (Women Submit! and Joyce’s “Biblical Battered Wife Syndrome“), and the only other reference to a work on abuse (from Is it My Fault?) is pulled from Joyce’s article. She didn’t do the research this book needed, and she’s not drawing on an understanding of abuse that comes from anything but personal experience. That is harrowing enough, but she frequently uses terms like “he lost control” when anyone knowledgeable knows that abusers do no such thing. She also fundamentally misunderstands the differences between anger management classes and Batterers Intervention Programs (141). Abusers do not abuse because they’re angry. They abuse because that’s the best method of gaining control over another human being.

My last significant problem appears in chapter nine, “Fifty Shades of Rape: Is there Ever Legitimate Rape in Marriage?” As a rape victim, this was the chapter that interested me most on a personal level even though it’s not why I bought the book. For the most part she handles the issues surrounding rape appropriately, but then we get to this:

If almost everything is abuse, the nothing is abuse. So it is with rape. If we define it too broadly, the term almost becomes meaningless. So then, what is legitimate rape?

Let’s say one of my seminary students had made a serious commitment to forgo sexual intimacies before marriage … He believes that premarital sex is a sin and insists they are going too far. He says no. She doesn’t stop. He is stronger than she and could push her away and get out of the car and take a long walk. He just keeps saying no. She persists until, against his conscience and his better judgment, he succumbs to temptation. Is she guilty of rape? (125)

With the answer, to her, being a seemingly obvious “no.”

Again, I experienced the desire to tear my hair out. This, like other problems, springs out of the gender essentialism she clings to. If being a man means being “manly” by our cultural terms, then saying a man can be raped by someone who can’t conceivably physically force him sounds preposterous. But it’s not. This is both one of the ways patriarchy affects men and affects women as a result of rape myths. Rape isn’t rape just because it was violent. Rape is rape because it wasn’t consented to.

She seems to have a fundamental problem with this definition, as she struggles with the guilt of not “fighting back” when her abuser raped her and deals some with the myth that if you didn’t try to kick and claw your way out of it it’s not really rape … but she doesn’t really get it. There is a spectrum of sexual abuse, and it begins with sexual coercion— something she doesn’t seem to have any awareness of. To her there seems to be clear delineations between “sex” and “rape,” when the reality that she’s trying to access is far more complex. A rapist uses a variety of methods, and usually goes out of their way to avoid violence. If they’re violent, they’re easier to arrest, prosecute, and convict. Instead, inside of a relationship they rely on emotional abuse and relentless persistence, like in the example she gives.

Almost every problem with this book relates back to how uninformed she seems to be on feminism and abuse, which is where my disappointment comes from. This book was almost so good, but, in the end, I just can’t in good conscience recommend it.

~~~~~~~~~~

Samantha grew up in the homeschool, patriarchy, quiverful, and fundamentalist movements, and experienced first-hand the terror and manipulation of spiritual abuse. She is now married to an amazing, gentle man who doesn’t really get what happened to her but loves her anyway. With him by her side and the strength of God’s promises, she is slowly healing.

She blogs at SamanthaPField.com

 


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • SAO

    In the example given, I’d say the seminary student’s GF didn’t rape him. She clearly violated boundaries and that says something about what kind of person she is, but he chose not to put an end to the activities.

    I think it’s an example that should be used in sex ed, because young people end up in these situations without thinking about them.

  • Aloha

    Psychological pressure for sex is a very bad thing. Between 2 adults, it cannot be prosecuted, but it’s still truly malevolent.

  • Astrin Ymris

    It strikes me that some of those lyrics on the linked site might be intended to “call out” toxic thinking, rather than promote it. Remember Paula Cole’s ‘Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?’, and how some people misinterpreted that to say that Cole was “somewhere to the right of Phyllis Schlafly?

  • It’s sexual coercion, which is a form of sexual abuse.

  • Rachel

    That’s all very unfortunate to read. The use of wikipedia from a woman with a PhD just irks me, for one. Did she put in the work, get the degree, and then just get lazy? I dock off points if my undergrad students use wikipedia in their research papers and presentations. And I sure as heck wouldn’t be finishing up a Master’s degree if I didn’t know how to find solid, scholarly sources to back up my claims.

    And speaking of sexual abuse… I think it’s a *good* thing that we widen our conceptions of what is abusive/coercive/unhealthy/etc. sex. When you thoroughly explore it, you can then learn (and teach others) how to have healthy sex. I understand it can get scary, because we don’t want to have to carry the stigma of being sexual assault victims. I did the same thing, until a couple months ago when a medical professional looked me in the eye and told me what I was describing was sexual assault (I had come in wanting testing)… and I broke down and sobbed, because she was right, it was just easier to pretend to myself that it was a consensual encounter. But the path towards healing involves being honest with yourself, even if it’s easier to pretend.

  • SAO

    I’m not saying it was acceptable behavior, it clearly wasn’t. She violated his boundaries and she showed zero respect for his values, he should explain this and break off the relationship.

    I think it’s a useful teaching example, because if he’d thought about this situation, which is very common, he might have recognized and articulated why it was abuseful and stuck to his values.

    Given that the guy was probably a fundamentalist, after the sex, he might have felt obliged to marry the woman, signing up for a lifetime with a bully with no respect for things he deeply believed in.

  • Deyndra

    Just so you know, when someone violates your boundaries, some people can’t put up a resistance and pretty much freeze or go limp. Some victims also go along with the rape to minimize physical damage and get it over faster. He might have been bigger and physically capable of putting a stop to things, but he’s also human and his reactions don’t have to be logical. He said “no”, and she ignored him, then she raped him.

    I was in this situation myself. I said ” no” repeatedly, but he didn’t stop, so eventually I just gave up the argument, because it was easier when he was going to use my body anyway. I was raped. If it would be rape when a man does it to a woman, then it’s still rape when the roles are reversed.

  • SAO

    I’m not saying you couldn’t add circumstances that would make this case rape. Maybe there was some other detail, not mentioned in the original description, that changes the story.

    But as it stands, they were in a car, which has logistical complications, meaning it’s unlikely that sex could occur without him choosing to move and choosing to undress. So, I suspect our disagreement comes more from our differing speculations about the details of what happened rather than a disagreement about what constitutes rape.

  • Deyndra

    You don’t understand. The moment either says no, and the other keeps going, it becomes rape. Consent has been withdrawn, and lack of consent is what makes it rape. If either party gives in after, and it is giving in, then it is coerced consent, and still counts as rape. To argue at all that because he was bigger and could have stopped her does two things: discounts the complicated aspect of human nature that commonly results in less than ideal responses and blames the victim because he responded thus. Once he said no, everything after in this example is ignored or coerced, which counts as rape. Could it be prosecuted? It would be difficult if not impossible for this example, but he was still raped. I don’t need more details. He said no, but gave in, is always going to be coerced sex, which is still rape.

  • Deyndra

    I want to also add that there is a reason efforts are being made to push the standard toward enthusiastic consent. If both parties are willing, and not being pressured, then it gets rid of this gray area that people think is open to debate. The debate itself requires blaming the victim for not resisting enough to enforce his ir her boundaries, where enthusiastic consent demands no less than total respect for each other’s boundaries.

  • SAO

    Again, I think we disagree on the details of what probably happened. While I can construct scenarios where he was entirely passive, I don’t find them likely. I find it much more likely that, in the cramped space of a car, he started actively participating by removing his clothes and/or changing his position to make the sex possible. I consider those actions, which I am assuming happened, to form a consent, however reluctant.

    Had they been naked in bed doing everything but, and he said ‘no’ when she suggested PIV sex, then, yes, she could, quite easily, have raped him.

    I think reluctant consent is not rape. Reluctant consent requires some form of affirmative action, so saying ‘no’ and failing to fight off a partner does not equal any form of consent. Nor is it consent when one party was forced or intimidated into saying yes.

    But, as I said, I’m assuming the guy in the scenario made some form of affirmative action, and that assumption is the basis for my conclusion. On the other hand, the entire scenario might have been made up and never happened at all.

  • Deyndra

    That’s just it, you are making assumptions about the scenario and adding facts. Read what is written. He said no, she ignored it, he went along after withdrawing consent. Everything else is just speculation. As written, this is rape by coercion.

    Every time you bring up the logistics of car sex, you are putting responsibility on him. Same thing when you assume he removed any clothing. Car sex is not always a logistical nightmare, especially with woman on top in a bigger car. She could have been unfastening and removing the clothes, and not much needs to be removed for sex to happen. Saying he must have wanted it because of these assumptions is like saying a woman wants it for wearing a skirt or being alone with a guy. Victim blaming.

    He could have given enthusiastic consent to continue, or he could have just sat there while his body responded to her having her way with him. What most likely happened was he said no, and she kept touching him and insisting that they continue. As the story is written, his consent was coerced, and you don’t have the information to assume he freely consented, but you are basing your opinion on a lot of sexist assumptions of men, sex and rape. He said no. Consent was revoked, and that is the definition of rape. Giving in after the other party makes it clear they don’t care about your boundaries is not reluctant consent. It is coerced. Still rape.

    You have to go by the story as written and not add your assumptions and biases. I know it’s difficult to think a man can be raped, especially in this likely made up story, but as written, he withdrew consent and then gave coerced consent.

    I don’t think we agree about whether coerced, or reluctant as you put it, consent falls under rape. I have been raped and abused, an multiple ways. I am never going to see anything less than enthusiastic consent as legitimate consent. I have been coerced and cajoled into sex. I have had my no’s ignored, and I’ve gone along to get it over faster. I have been woken up to him getting on me without my consent. All of that was him taking control of my body from me. That’s why coerced is so insidious. Outsiders can find a way to say you could have done something, but control was already taken away, even if it was just in your head.

  • SAO

    As written, he said no, she persisted, then he “succumbed to temptation.” That, frankly, sounds to me like he withdrew his objection to the proceedings. You can read it another way.

    Did his moral qualms melt away like snow in July after a few cajoling words or because she didn’t immediately move away from him? Or did she unzip his pants while he was saying no? We don’t know. I still think this is the essence of our disagreement.

  • Deyndra

    Based off what is written, giving in to temptation does not equal freely giving consent. She pressured him after he said no, so his consent was coerced. It does not matter if he actually enjoyed the act or helped take his clothes off. Those things make it seem less rapey, and it is possible that he didn’t feel violated by the act, which is what I really think is coloring your opinion.

    But the fact is that any consent he gave after he said no and was pressured to continue is flat out coerced consent. He didn’t say that he said no, and she stopped what she was doing, and a bit later he decided to keep going after all. She pressured him after he said no. That is the sticking point. That’s what makes this situation, as described, rapey. Like I said before, if the genders were reversed, it would be more obvious.

  • Victoria

    Yep, I lived in denial for many years as well. I sure did not want to accept the fact that I was assaulted by my partner for many years. I did not call it that until I described one of these incidents to a good friend and she was shocked and called it rape. Because I was raised in fundie-land I did not understand consent at all, or the fact that you can be attacked by a close friend or partner. I just thought it was all my fault, and that *I* was the one sinning. So I agree wholeheartedly that it is fantastic that we as a society start to understand what consent looks like, and get people help that need it.

  • Rachel

    I am sorry you had that experience. I am glad I got out of fundamentalism before ever getting married, but it has still damaged my understanding of consent, which doesn’t help at all in the trauma-recovery process.