Mark Driscoll, Violence Against Women, and Missing the Point

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Mark Driscoll published a post about violence against women. I’ll be honest, when I saw the post, I rolled my eyes a little because I really don’t trust the word of a man who was able to make his wife cry with just a look, yells “God hates you!” from the pulpit, and runs a church that has resulted in support groups for “survivors.”* But, since violence against women is, y’know, part of my purview, I read through the post to see where he is at on the idea. These are my thoughts. My apologies that this post is long - I couldn't find a good place to chop it. The Good Stuff

I was pleasantly surprised by a few things that seem to indicate growth on his part. He acknowledges, for example, that rape can and does happen within marriage. There’s no nuance beyond the two sentences he dedicates to it, but the fact that he said it is progress.

He also, at one point, acknowledges that men and women are not essentially different when it comes to human emotions. This, too, is good, especially as one of the most grating things about people who insist on gender roles is their repetition of the falsehood that men and women are different on an emotional level. Again, progress.

I like that he affirms a woman’s fear and distrust of men as a thing that exists. Sometimes, getting men to understand that women often live in a world of heightened fear is quite the battle, so I thank him for affirming, in his own way, that this battle exists.

I also appreciate that he does not address his article toward wives – “how you can deal with abuse” or whatever. This could have very easily been much more horrific than what it is.

For what good there is in the article and what progressive statements are made, however, they are entirely overshadowed by gender essentialist, paternalistic muck.

The Bad Stuff

For an article on violence against women, it seems to spend a lot of time not talking about violence against women – not talking about the church’s duty when confronted with an abusive relationships, how to resolve and understand what happens in an abusive relationships, etc. You know, things that would be useful in a conversation about violence against women – there’s not even a link to the domestic violence hotline/signs of an abusive relationship on the page, which would have been useful.

But this isn’t about how I think the article should look. After all, I come at such a thing from a framework of talking with abuse victims (through my blog) on a daily basis, though not a professional one. I’m by no means an expert, but I’m quite familiar with tactics that abusers use, what abuse does to people, and ways women in an abusive relationship can break free from it. And as it stands, many of the “ways to honor your wife” that Driscoll recommends are either abusive tactics in of themselves or encourage abusive thinking.

First, he seems to think that fidelity is the solution for abusive relationships: men must stop their wandering eyes and remain faithful in order to honor their wives and prevent abuse. I wonder that this is listed first, because men who are faithful to their wives are not necessarily ruled out as abusers. Many men who abuse never, ever stray from their marriage and look like perfect, faithful husbands on the outside. This is what makes abuse so hard to spot and to stop. Fidelity, while a good thing, is not a balm or a cure-all for an abusive relationship.

His second point, on honoring her physically, is the only place in the article where we get anything about a physically abusive relationship. But it lacks depth and merely gives us a checklist of types of physical abuse (including rape). This section’s okay, except for the fact that, because of who it is coming from, I have a lot of trouble seeing it as sincere. This is the man who, remember, wrote in a book about marriage that one look from him caused his wife to burst into tears. I am having a lot of trouble not seeing this section as hypocritical, for that reason alone.

Additionally, in this section is an odd assertion that a man who hits his daughter is committing the vilest of abuses. That is problematic because of the gender specificity. Now, I do a lot of talking about violence against women and rape and abuse. I do this because women are vastly more likely to be victims of abuse, but their womanhood is not what makes the abuse innately wrong. The abuse is wrong because it is abuse, not because of who the victim is. Gendering abuse in this manner runs dangerously close to normalizing violence against men – “it’s worse because it’s a girl” is highly problematic compared to “abuse of a child is bad under all circumstances.”

This paternalistic gendering, too, is why it’s very hard to get anyone to care about prison rape or rape that happens to men. It creates a culture in which abuse against a man is viewed as lesser, or somehow less damaging, because the victim is a male. This is highly problematic and functions to silence male victims of abuse because they sense that they will not be affirmed or understood in their testimonies of abuse.

The REALLY Bad Stuff

Because of his simplistic narratives about gender, it becomes impossible for him to affirm strictly conservative complementarian gender roles and avoid recommending things that are abusive in themselves. We’ll see this in a minute.

But first, his third point, about emotion. Now, above, I affirmed Driscoll’s acknowledgement that men and women both experience emotions. This is great! …if you ignore the rest of the paragraph. He affirms the emotional life of men, and then basically says that men need to provide emotional intimacy to their wives because their wives crave it, which completely erases that men need to be emotionally intimate because they are emotional creatures. It devolves into gender essentialist narratives yet again.

And it is here that the article begins to take a dive. With point five, Driscoll declares that it is the man’s duty to provide, and even that the proper family should be a one-income family. He also states that the reason to be a one income family is because the wife should be staying at home with children, which she “naturally” wants to have. This is a complicated mess.

It’s important to know that making a woman have children is a classic way to make her stay in an abusive relationship. This sort of theology that creates opportunities for abuse, even if it not outright abusive in itself. This sort of advice (have kids!) takes away the agency of the woman to have control over her reproduction in a not-so-subtle way – “God says that to honor you we need to have kids.” Because it is gender essentialist in assuming that every woman WANTS kids (regardless of concerns about financial stability, health, or other factors), it easily hands fuel to abusers to guilt their victims into having children, further trapping them in an abusive relationship.

Then we get to what is likely the most problematic section of the piece:

Many men are not generous with their wives. I know one guy who makes decent money, and he’s totally chintzy with his wife. She gets no spending money, can’t go out to coffee with the girls because he’s a total control freak and a tightwad. Honor your wife financially. I’m not saying you have to live a lavish lifestyle. Live within your means, tithe, save, invest, make a spending budget—and include some margin for your wife. I know it’s hard to live on one income. I know it’s particularly difficult in this economic climate, but that's no excuse to be irresponsible, selfish, or stingy. [emphasis original]

I’m going to give Driscoll the benefit of the doubt here and assume he’s never actually researched abusive tactics. Because if he has, and he still gave this advice, that is a horrifically misguided and evil thing to do. In almost every single tale from abuse survivors, an “allowance” of money is the beginning of the abuse and a tactic for keeping the abused person in the relationship. “Allowances,” “letting the wife have a margin of income” is a means of putting control of the money into the hands of the abuser, making it harder for the abused person to separate from a relationship because they do not have means to support themselves. Advising this as a way to honor your wife is well beyond the pale of human decency.

This paragraph alone drowns out any good things in the article. I would rather Driscoll had not written anything at all. And for that reason, my opinion on him has not changed – he is overzealous, misogynist, and unable to recognize abuse because he is an abuser himself (certainly of his congregation and staff).

Gender essentialism is not going to solve abuse. Men aren’t going to be magically better if they follow Driscoll’s steps to “honor their wives.” Indeed, it needs to be recognized that many of the views espoused here open the doors for abuse by painting women as weaker vessels that need to be protected, which encourages isolationism, lack of openness, and an inability to express emotion in healthy ways on the part of men. What is needed is to assure women that they are not alone, that they have the power to leave, that they are not weak. In this way, Driscoll's brand of complementarian theology fails miserably.

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*Pro-tip: If people leaving your church call themselves “survivors,” your church has a problem.