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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