Lady in the Street but a Freak in the Bed
[For those of you who have no idea what the title's referring to, here.]
It appears that there are only two types of women in the world, according to Mr. Miller. And indeed, that isn’t anything new – there are a lot of different texts throughout literary history that play on the trope of the existence of only two types of women. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar are famous for highlighting this idea in their massive work of literary criticism, The Madwoman in the Attic, which is a feminist reading of Jane Eyre (one of the books Miller [ironically?] brings up, though he calls it “Jane Eyrie.”).
These two types? Gilbert and Gubar call it the angel/monster dichotomy: the idea that women are either angels in the house, keepers of all things domestic and pure, or monstrous witches, hellbent on destroying good men.
You may have heard it posed as “virgin/whore,” “Madonna/whore,” or “angel/vixen.” In Miller’s world, it might be phrased as “pure chaste virgin who has never had a sexual thought in her life or slutty McSlutSlut.”
You think I kid. I really don’t. Miller all but stopped short of saying this directly.
But to be fair, let’s examine the text. Following his confusing mess of an opening, Miller launches into his lists (he has several; I think he might just like the way numbers look). The first list is answering the question: “How do we live a great love story? Here are some suggestions.” I’ve reproduced an abbreviated form of the list below, with a few choice quotes, and my criticism after each point (I figure it’s better to go into depth here and then talk about the wider implication, so bear with me). Oh, and it should be basically understood that there’s an overall [sic] on these quotes.
1. Don’t hook up. All they [the guys, I assume] want is sex. … If he thought of her with respect, he’d sit and ask questions about her life and her family. … In other words, guys don’t hook up with girls they would marry. They marry the girls they get nervous around and are made to pursue. [This next section is my favorite part. Oh boy. Brace yourself if you didn’t read his post before – my margin notes just simply have an ‘ARGH RAGE’ next to this.] When your husband finds out you were the ‘hook up’ girl he’s going to have to have a lot of grace, which is fine, it just puts you in the category of ‘charity’ in his mind and not ‘equal’ or ‘partner.’ He may still love you, but he will have questions about whether you’re in the kind of shape it takes to run a marathon. Unless you get over it and move on and do a period of time where you put it all behind you, he will and honestly should lose respect for you. Respect is not free. Respect is earned. Grace is free, but grace and respect are different.” [emphasis mine]
Take a few minutes for that to sink in. Sit back, go take a walk, think over his words, and then get angry. Get really, really angry. This is one of those situations where anger is perfectly justified.
If you don’t get why, let me explain.
The message he is telling women here is that you cannot want sex. You cannot, absolutely cannot, have sex outside of a marriage relationship, and if you do, you need to go say seven Hail Mary’s and do some major repenting before you tell your husband, and then it’s his job to decide if you deserve respect.
Bluntly put: ladies, if you want to have sex, and you do have sex previous to meeting your husband, you do not deserve respect and it is up to him to decide whether or not he still loves you when he finds out about your past.
That’s just sad.
Let me throw some statistics at you [sources here]:
A Comparison of the Sexual Behavior of Virginity Pledgers and Matched Nonpledgers (PEDIATRICS Vol. 123 No. 1 January 2009) found that teens who pledge to abstain from sex have just as much sex as those who don't, and that those who pledge not to have sex until marriage don't wait longer to have sex than those who don't make that pledge. Pledgers did not differ in lifetime sexual partners and age of ﬁrst sex. Fewer pledgers than matched nonpledgers also used birth control and condoms in the past year and birth control at last sex. She also found that five years after the pledge, 82% of pledgers denied having ever pledged at all. Central to the information we're looking for, on typical use in a year, "pledgers reported an average of 1.09 past-year vaginal sex partners, 0.11 fewer than nonpledgers." In other words, on average, those who report using abstinence are not using abstinence perfectly each year. [emphasis mine]
Additionally, if you make it to 25 and are still a virgin (as defined by penetrative intercourse), you are in a 4% minority in the nation – that’s not just church-going folks; that’s overall population. Additionally, the average age of first marriage for men and women in the United States has been scooting backward to 26 for women and 28 for men, respectively.
Now do the math: If 96% of the population has “lost” (“lost” is odd vocabulary for me because it’s not like you misplaced it, by the way) their virginity by the age of 25, and, on average, most of us aren’t getting married until AFTER age 25…you have a distinct likelihood of marrying a non-virgin. Period. It’s just a statistic reality.
And apparently, finding this out about your future wife is cause for reflection on the part of the man. It’s cause for them to stop and think and wonder, “Do I really love this woman?” (Nothing, by the way, is said about whether or not the girl should have the same reaction upon finding out that her boy has been sullied - not even in the parts of the post I haven't talked about yet).
The protest and response here may be that he’s only talking about the “hook up” girl, the type of woman who has one night stands and sleeps with anything that moves, which somehow unnatural for women (the reference to a Scientific American article [which he fails to link to, by the way] reinforces this idea that it’s unnatural for women to hook up, which is total bunk).
But Miller makes no distinction about the type of sex he’s talking about. He doesn’t say that it’s okay if your history of sex was at the point of being in a committed relationship or whether or not it was a one-night stand. If you have had sex before meeting your husband, then he has a right to judge you for it. If you are not a virgin (which is a statistical likelihood), then your future husband has every right to decide to whether or not you are worthy of respect. You are no longer his equal, no matter how many partners he has had in contrast.
This means that, even before you meet your husband, you are already owned by him. You do not have the autonomy to decide what you want to do in the circumstances because you must always be thinking forward to your future husband and be thinking about giving yourself to him and him alone. Your desires don’t matter. Your sexual agency is always and forever will be tied up in what he wants and how you have kept yourself for him. You are, in no uncertain terms, his property.
And that’s screwed up.
Should your husband know about your time before he met you? Maybe. That is ultimately up to the two of you. Should he have the right to pass judgment on those decisions? No. Absolutely not. The message Miller is sending here is, ultimately, a dangerous one – that your future husband has the right to retroactively pass judgment on decisions you made years before he met you, and that you must repent of those decisions to him, no matter how you personally feel about them. There is only way for a woman with a sexual past to behave: be remorseful, and then get a “born again” virginity, basically. There is no middle ground for a woman who is okay with her past, understands her own sexuality, and does not feel remorse for those decisions she made years before she met her husband and doesn’t feel that she should.
Miller’s next few points reinforce this idea:
2. Make him work for it. When a guy is made to fight for a girl, he esteems her much more highly. She becomes more attractive in his eyes, and for that matter becomes more attractive to other men too.
3. Weed them out. Guys who are just looking for a hook up need to hit the road…. There are fewer girls with the strength to not have one night stands, and those girls become much, much more attractive to men. Those are the girls who present a challenge, and who are esteemed more highly. These are the girls guys recognize as the kind of woman they want to partner with in raising a family.
As if it wasn’t clear enough: Slutty sluts aren’t marriage material. If you have a sexual history, you aren't yet the type of woman who can be a mommy.
That’s news to me.
What is all this about “presenting a challenge” to the guy? Essentially, what this appears to be saying to me is that guys should have to work to get your sweet, sweet loving. Which is okay. But it still puts the focus on sex, as though a woman's purity or lack thereof is the most important qualification in a relationship. Newsflash: You can be a girl who wants to have sex AND be the type of woman he can take home to mom, whatever the hell that means. Girls who have sex before marriage are not undesirable in other parts of their personalities – they can be and are perfectly wonderful people and it is possible (indeed, quite likely) for a woman to NOT present a challenge to the guy and for him to STILL want to marry her. AMAZING.
People are complex creatures who defy categorization. You can be both the hook up girl AND the girl he wants to marry. You can be sexing it up every night and still meet his mom. The ideas of “not presenting a challenge” (read: being easy) and being the type of girl you can bring home to mom are not mutually exclusive.
Miller and much of the church operates as though these concepts are impossible to hold at the same time. And that’s a problem, based on the very fact that you are very likely not to marry a virgin, and you’re probably not going to marry the first man you sleep with. It’s just reality.
There is a lot more to cover and it will get a lot more in-depth in the coming days as we get into Donald Miller’s victim blaming double standards, and his focus on the girl’s “slutty” past. But I’d like to leave you with this sentiment – if you take only one thing from today’s blog entry:
You are worth much, much more than your unbroken hymen. Your partner has no right to judge you if you have sex before marriage, especially if it’s years before he even met you. If he does not respect you as a person, regardless of your experience or lack thereof, then he is an asshole and you should run far far away. Respect is not earned. Respect is something you deserve as a human being. Trust is earned. There’s a big, big difference.