Words mean things part 2: Benevolent imperialism and the White Man’s Burden

Words mean things part 2: Benevolent imperialism and the White Man’s Burden July 20, 2012

[trigger warning for rape, racism, colonization, sexual violence]





These are words that Douglas Wilson (supported by Jared Wilson) uses to describe the “role” a man plays in sexual relationships with women. Women, on the other hand, should “receive, surrender, accept.”

I talked about the first of these words, “penetrates,” on my blog last night. I was going to discuss the other three words individually, but I’ve changed my mind. Most of the people who defended Wilson on my blog posts the past few days tried to discuss these words individually. They asserted that penetration by itself could just be a description of the physical act of the penis entering the vagina. That conquering could refer to winning someone over with charisma or kindness–“He conquered the hearts of his audience.” That colonization and planting simply referred to the fact that sex can sometimes result in a man’s sperm fertilizing a woman’s egg.

They’re partly right. These words, by themselves, could possibly be neutral terms. But Douglas Wilson and Jared Wilson want me to take context into account and take context into account I shall. These words, when used together in the context of D. Wilson’s sentence, in the context of our historical location, and in the context of The Gospel Coalition’s belief in male headship and female submission, describe none other than Western imperialism. 

The Wilsons claim that they do not condone the abuse of women and that they can’t even understand how anyone could accuse them of such, and I believe they mean what they claim.

Just as many Western imperialists throughout history truly believed that they were acting in the best interest of the “savages” that they “rescued.”

Take Jared Wilson’s defense of Douglas’s word choice (found in full here):

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.

J. Wilson makes it clear in this statement that he believes conquest and colonization are contexts where the conquered and colonized women can flourish. He truly does not see these words as oppressive because he sees male conquest of women as what is best for women. Men are humble servants given the happy burden to, as Douglas says, “serve and protect” their wives. They do this through colonization and conquering.

Compare J. Wilson’s words to the words of Rudyard Kipling’s infamous poem (which is a call to the United States to follow after Britain’s imperialism):

Take up the White Man’s burden—

Send forth the best ye breed—

Go send your sons to exile

To serve your captives’ need….

Take up the White Man’s burden—

And reap his old reward:

The blame of those ye better

The hate of those ye guard—

The cry of hosts ye humour

(Ah slowly) to the light:

“Why brought ye us from bondage,

“Our loved Egyptian night?”

In his poem, Kipling justifies conquering unwilling “savages,” for their own good. He describes the conquerors as humble, self-sacrificing servants, and asserts that the conquered just don’t know how good they have it under the rule of their conquerors. He even uses Biblical imagery to justify this position, comparing the conquerors to Moses and the conquered to an ungrateful Israel.

Similarly, the Wilsons (and complementarianism in general) asserts that exercising their “true authority” over women “betters” these women. This is the idea that allows the Wilsons to unhesistantly describe sex as “colonization.” Perhaps when the Wilsons picture “colonization,” they imagine the smiling faces of Native Americans on all the depictions of the first Thanksgiving.  Perhaps their white-washed, revisionist history has truly convinced them that England colonized India so that India could flourish under Western rule, or that the reason for the United States’ presence in the Middle East was to liberate the women there.

Perhaps not, but whatever their beliefs on imperialism in a national context, they’ve certainly retained Kipling’s racist ideas of conquest and colonialism and applied them to women. But the truth is, in the national context of  imperialism, colonization is not something done with the consent of the people being colonized. The colonized people must first be defeated–conquered, if you will–in a process that Andrea Smith (assistant professor of Native American studies at U of M and author of Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide) likens to rape. 

If the Wilsons do not condone the rape of women, then they have NO business using words to describe sexuality that have been more popularly used to describe the rape of peoples, of land, and of culture. They have NO business describing sex as “penetration, conquest, colonization, and planting” if they believe that women do not deserve to be stripped of their power, agency, and right to choose whether or not to have sex with their husbands.

I have more to say on this topic. Tomorrow, I plan on discussing how colonization and sexual violence are intimately, inseparably linked.

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  • Bravo.

  • brambonius

    That’s what I missed in this whole discussion.

    But isn’t the problem that a lot of people are still in a mindset that thinks that colonization is good? I think about the infaous Ayn ra&nd quote “”[The Native Americans] didn’t have any rights to the land and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using…. What was it they were fighting for, if they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their “right” to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or maybe a few caves above it. Any white person who brought the element of civilization had the right to take over this continent.” * Source: “Q and A session following her Address To The Graduating Class Of The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, March 6, 1974″” and I wonder if much people of older generations (even here in europe) don’t have similar views…

    • Would make sense that she would say that garbage… Much of the right wing in America think those very same things and justify such things (think Iraq) about immigrants and pretty much any people of color. We “civilized” and “Christianized” Africans, don’tchaknow? They OWE us.


  • Great post: For a similar view, see J. Daniel Kirk’s post: http://www.jrdkirk.com/2012/07/18/sexual-conquering-is-rape/#comment-25860

    P.S. If you want to get really mad and depressed, read the comments section, especially about a fourth of the way down by one ”Dr.” David Tee)!

    • oooohhh, the good “Dr” is trolling again?

      I wonder if he’s the same guy? Can there be that many stupid, angry, misogynistic, racist Christian trolls in the world? Or is he an amalgam, devised by some lonely computer using algorithms and vocabulary from warmed-over Left Behind fan fiction?

  • Bix

    Yes, thank you for writing this. It’s exactly so. The first thing I thought when I read Wilson’s opinions on sex was ‘What kind of imperialist meta-rape craziness is this man talking about?’

    And I agree that while ‘penetrate’ may be a factual description, it also has very hostile connotations. Like being stabbed. I think I’ll take up the cause of vagina hugs too.

  • I am speechless than anyone would use the words, “Conquers, Colonizes, Plants” to describe what men do to women. How is that a relationship? Well, it’s no relationship I’d want to be a part of, that’s for sure. Conquers triggers something deep and angry and painful in me. *shudder*