You Are Not Your Own: Benevolent Sexism as the Solution to Hostile Sexism

You Are Not Your Own: Benevolent Sexism as the Solution to Hostile Sexism July 11, 2013

This post is part of a series called“You Are Not Your Own,” focusing on rape and sexual assault in Christian relationship/dating books

Trigger Warning for rape, sexual assault, victim blaming, sexism

Note: this research mainly focused on female rape, so I am not sure if the same trends toward rape myth acceptance would apply in cases of male rape. If anyone wants to see if research has been done on that subject and report back, feel free. Though it is not the focus of my project, male rape is a huge problem as well–1 out of every 10 rape victims is male. I wanted to make it clear that, despite the focus of my study, it is not only women (and definitely not only cisgender women) who face sexual violence. 

In my last post, I said that four significant findings came up as I analyzed Real Marriage, When God Writes Your Love Story, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and Dateable:

  1. These books create an environment ripe for rape myth acceptance
  2. They create a context in which no one truly has ownership over his/her own body
  3. They ignore the importance of consent, or create an illusion that consent exists where it does not
  4. They blur the lines between rape/sexual assault and consensual sex.

I’m going to go through each of these four findings one at a time and spend a few blog posts talking about each one. Let’s start with the first finding.

1. An Environment Ripe for Rape Myth Acceptance

As you’ll recall from earlier posts, sexism is one of the biggest factors predicting rape myth acceptance. This includes both hostile sexism (a more blatant form of patriarchy that promotes hatred of, or even violence toward women) and benevolent sexism (a more subtle form, which claims that patriarchy is good for women).

There are few different ways that sexism can manifest itself. Two ways that are especially linked to rape myth acceptance are dehumanization and strict adherence to traditional gender roles.

Turns out, these books contain both.

Benevolent Sexism and Traditional Gender Roles as the Solution to Hostile Sexism:

Not surprisingly, all of the books that I researched promoted sexism and traditional gender roles. However, the authors of almost every book claim that their ideas/values are not, in fact, sexist. Joshua Harris is an example of this in I Kissed Dating Goodbye (emphasis mine):

This applies specifically to the guys who I believe should be the ones to “make the first move.” Please don’t misunderstand this as a chauvinistic attitude. Men, we’re not to lord anything over girls; that’s the exact opposite of the Christlike servanthood husbands must show their wives. But the Bible clearly defines the importance of a man’s spiritual leadership in marriage. (p. 196)

Harris specifically calls out hostile traditional gender roles–“…we’re not to lord anything over girls…”–as if that is the only form that is actually harmful. He contrasts hostile sexism with a gentler benevolent sexism.

All of the books I researched do this. They disparage hostile sexism, but benevolent sexism and traditional gender roles are not only allowable, but commanded, and necessary in order for a God-honoring relationship to take place. In fact, these books herald benevolent sexism as the solution to hostile sexism. As the Driscolls (by the way, I do this thing where every time I mention Mark Driscoll, I link to an adorable bunny, for the sake of all of our health. Enjoy)  say in Real Marriage (emphasis mine): 

We in no way accept domination. And the Bible commands wives to submit to their husbands by respectfully following their leadership. In doing so, a woman is protected from the abuse of other men. (pg. 83)

Though none of these books directly blame rape victims who step outside of traditional gender roles (these books don’t directly talk about rape much at all), they clearly promote the idea that a woman is safest when she stays “in her place” which is under the protection of benevolent men. 

This is an idea that lies behind many rape myths: if a woman just stays in her place, she’ll be fine.

The book Dateable, by Lookadoo and DiMarco even goes as far to say that women who step outside of their traditional gender roles make themselves a target for men to disrespect them. In a chapter called “Boys Will Be Boys…And You Are Not One.” The authors tell girls that if they decide to transgress their feminine gender roles and in order to spend time in “guy world,” they will be treated badly. The authors say that this bad treatment “makes you [girls] feel like you don’t belong there. The reason is…you don’t!” (pg. 154-155)

In case you’re wondering if I’m exaggerating, let me point out that the book ILLUSTRATES THIS POINT WITH A PICTURE OF A MAN HOLDING A TARGET OVER A WOMAN.

Image from “Dateable” by Lookadoo and DiMarco

Not very subtle, are they?

The message here is that women, you are safe as long as you are submitting to traditional gender roles, you’re safe. Step outside of those roles, and you can’t complain when you get hurt. I cannot say whether or not the authors of any of these books would apply this same thinking to rape (so please don’t hear this as me accusing them of such), but they are still supporting the idea behind many rape myths that the burden is on victims to “avoid” rape, and that “bad girls” get what’s coming to them.

They still build up the walls of rape culture, rather than tear them down.



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  • Simple Man

    This article is ridiculous, get a life

  • Kaitlin Moroney

    I don’t know you and I JUST discovered your blog. But I want to internet hug you! Especially for linking to an adorable bunny for mentioning Mark Driscoll. That made my night.

    I shall continue reading this series and will continue wanting to internet hug you. (I literally hugged my laptop screen as I read this. My husband gave me a weird look.)

  • Please tell me you did that picture yourself in MS Paint, or had a kid you babysat for draw it, please tell me anything besides Dateable did that for real!! No, no. The truth is actually a little better. A lot sadder. But better. Because it is like animated proof of its ridiculousness. *crawls carefully back into Lady World where I am safe and quiet*

  • And what happens when you DO get hurt, even when you’re in a traditional gender role? “Oh, well, he loves you and he’s sorry. Do you really want to give up the love of a good man because of a little unpleasantness?”

    • Kristen Rosser

      That, or “you weren’t doing it right — weren’t being submissive enough.”

  • Amy Mitchell

    “Men, we’re not to lord anything over girls…”

    I really, really don’t like word-policing (too much like tone-policing), but dang. It creeps me out that he calls men “men” and women “girls” here. There is no way a man should be doing anything in the dating/marriage/sex realm with a girl. He’s demeaning women by infantilizing us. Disgusting.

  • Levedi

    I really hope you are planning to turn this series into a book proposal, possibly one from an academic press. It’s fantastic and meticulous in its analysis.

    Also, I’ve spent some time comparing an Anglo-Saxon manuscript about virginity to Harris’ book. What really stunned me was how the Anglo-Saxon book, which was by no means radical in its day, was in some ways significantly less sexist than modern dating books. And the author took time to address rape and explicitly rebut victim blaming. He stressed that spiritual and intellectual consent are essential and that God knows rape victims, male or female, are not in any way guilty of their own rape. It’s really shocking and encouraging to read the writing of Christians from the early church and see that they would probably take issue with a lot of what Harris et al say.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      that sounds like a really interesting comparison!

  • jdens

    The bunnies are a BRILLIANT idea. And I love what you’re doing here.