A follow-up on complementarianism and rape culture

A follow-up on complementarianism and rape culture September 28, 2012

{trigger warning for rape}

This is a follow up to my recent blog post, “Complimentarianism’s ugly relationship with rape”

I recently wrote a blog post in which I proposed that complementarianism benefits from rape culture. This post got me called a slanderer, a totalitarian communist propagandist, and even got me compared to a rapist lurking in the dark corners of the internet waiting to attack innocent men like Douglas Wilson and call them rape advocates against their will. This follow-up post is not for those people. Anyone who would compare calling out rape apologism to rape itself is beyond my ability to reason with. I’ll leave those people in God’s hands for now.

However, I did have several commenters who respectfully disagreed with me and gave me reasons why rather than simply attacking me. This post is for them. In it, I hope to explain my train of thought as clearly as possible, because I still stand by my point and believe I have good reason for doing so.

I’ll begin by explaining what I feel gives me the right to analyze complementarian culture and to draw conclusions from that analysis. I spent over 20 years of my life as a complementarian. I was told that if I went to a non-Bible college I might get raped. I was taught an abstinence-only education that led me to think I had to apologize when my 320 lbs. ex-boyfriend held my head down and forced me to perform fellatio on him. I experienced these things and countless others. I heard the Bible stories about rape victims taught in a way that implied the woman should not have let herself be alone with a man. I saw the harm complementarian teaching did to me and to others. I sat through countless sermons by countless complementarian preachers. I now am pursuing (and nearly finished with) a degree that gives me the basic skills needed to recognize systems of domination, to analyze patterns that occur within them, and to understand and deconstruct the ideologies that allow these systems of domination to function.

I understand fully that I cannot make an empirical statement about the personal opinions of all complementarians when it comes to rape and rape culture. Nor was that the purpose of my blog post. But I do have the education to analyze certain structures of society, and I do have a deal of  experience in this particular part of society that I feel gives me the right to analyze it. I cannot draw conclusions about whether or not every complementarian leader is a rape apologist. But I can make the claim, with some authority, that complementarianism as a system benefits from rape culture. By that conclusion, I can logically proceed to the idea that every complementarian leader also benefits indirectly from rape culture. 

Let’s talk about rape culture…

I’ll take a few moments here to explain rape culture. It really is beyond the scope of a single blog post to explain rape culture fully because of how deeply it permeates our society, but I’ll do my best. If you’d like to learn more about rape culture, I’d suggest starting here.

In the United States (and in much of the Western world), we live in a society that relies on domination in order to function. No, I’m not just talking about complementarians here. I’m talking about our society as a whole. Americans can call the land that they stand on “America” because of the domination the founders of this country exercised over Native Americans. Our very foundation is laid on domination, and it’s not an uphill climb from there.

The continued genocide of Native people that still occurs today…

Slavery, lynching, and racism…

The exploitation of the working class, here and abroad…

Our wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan…

The oppression of women, LGBT people, non-Christians, and children…

Our society has benefited immensely from the oppression of certain groups of people, and therefore, our society often works to perpetuate oppression.

One of the tools our society–all of it–uses to perpetuate this oppression is rape culture.

Rape culture is used, not just as a way for men to control women, but as a way for people in power to control many of the oppressed groups that our society benefits from taking advantage of. Slave masters would rape slave women to keep slave populations in line. U.S. soldiers in Vietnam raped Vietnamese women as a way of demoralizing their enemy. Even our prison system largely maintains its power using the fear of rape.

Though the majority of Americans are not the ones committing these rapes, and the majority of Americans do not actively approve of this rape, those in power benefit from each rape that occurs. The more people fear rape (or fear seeing the women in their lives raped), the more control those in power have over them.

Thus, rape culture is born.

Our comedians joke about rape. Our billboards use it to sell vodka. Our movies romanticize it. Our courts dismiss it. All the while, victims are terrified of reporting because they know we live in a world that doesn’t take rape seriously.

To put it another way, I’ll borrow Beverly Tatum’s “moving walkway” analogy. Her analogy is about racism, but I took the liberty of applying her analogy to rape culture, because I believe it fits with any system of domination.

Rape culture is like “a moving walkway at the airport.” (Tatum) Rape culture is pulling us along as a society of domination. Those in power can stand still on that walkway, ignore the floor moving under their feet, even turn the opposite direction and insist that they despise rape, but unless they are actively running in the opposite direction–away from victim blaming, from rape jokes, from the idea that some groups of people are meant by nature to rule over other groups of people–it continues to pull them along. 

Complementarianism as a system of domination

I’m going to argue now that complementarianism is one of many smaller systems of domination that operate within our larger system of domination. Though I’d guess most complementarians would shy away from the word “domination,” it shouldn’t be too difficult to convince you that, regardless of what nice-sounding words complementarians would use to describe themselves (and indeed, some skip the nice words and go straight for “conquering and colonizing”), the ideology of domination is inherent within complementarian beliefs. 

Complementarians aren’t shy about the fact that their belief system states that one group of people (men) are naturally meant to rule over another group of people (women). The rhetoric may very from “servant leadership” to “conquering and colonizing,” but the basic idea is the same: something inherent in men makes them more fit to lead, to preach, to make decisions, to run a church or a family or even a country than women. Something inherent in women makes it their job to submit to men (depending on how strictly complementarian one is, women must submit to at least their husbands and fathers. Most complementarian churches require female congregants to submit the leadership of the church to men, and some complementarians believe that women should not be in any positions of leadership over men even in society).

So, if the fear of rape benefits systems of domination, and complementarianism IS a system of domination, logically, complementarianism benefits from rape culture. 

And, like in our larger society, though every individual may not advocate rape, because the fear of rape is so effective at controlling people, many complementarian leaders use it, perhaps not even consciously. Some complementarian leaders–Douglas Wilson, Mark Driscoll, and others–are jogging, even running down the moving walkway of rape culture, demanding that wives don’t deny their husbands in bed, attributing rape to a punishment from God upon feminism, etc. A (hopefully) small minority are actually raping women, as we learned recently when the story of Jack Schaap broke (trigger warning on that link).

The rest? It seems to me that they’re standing there, reaping the benefits of rape culture, occasionally making comments about women’s clothing or participating in subtle victim blaming. Some may even have turned the other way.

But if any complementarian leaders are actually running in the opposite direction–trusting victims, affirming a woman’s bodily autonomy, condemning the systems of power that perpetuate and feed off of rape culture–well, they’re being too damn quiet about it. 

Image found at http://mislabeled.wordpress.com/2011/04/05/the-real-bull-honkey-on-campus-sexual-assault/

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