Sunday, May 31, 2015

One Way to Confront “8 Ways to Confront Your Wife’s Sexual Refusal” (yes, I’m going meta)

An article entitled “8 Ways to Confront Your Wife’s Sexual Refusal” ( has been making the rounds online, both by enthusiastic endorsers and by those criticizing it. It’s on a site called “Biblical Gender Roles” and is written, as can be gathered, from a stringently conservative Christian perspective. The article, in its entirety, is a striking example of everything that makes such a worldview abusive, vile, and emotionally toxic—both to the self and to others.
The author outlines a plan of escalating punishments that a “Christian” husband should inflict upon his wife if she regularly chooses not to respond to his advances (the author seems to assume that women are never the initiators, and that they should not be). He adds a quick qualifier to assure the reader that he’s not suggesting physical abuse, but his suggestions seem to stop just short of that. They still amount to abusive behavior, even if it’s not physically so. He recommends that the husband first “rebuke her privately.” This doesn’t mean trying to have an open discussion about why she seems to lack an interest in sex. It means castigating her for it and accusing her of sinning both against him and God (which makes it sound like his omnipotent father wants to be involved in their sex life).
The author prefaces, “This assumes you have already on several occasions tried speaking gently to her about this issue. You have tried time and time again to find out if there is anything you can help her with, and anything you can do different.” He is not recommending that, though. He’s talking out of both sides of his mouth. On one hand, he implies that the “rebuking” should only occur if the husband has already tried to work things out peacefully. But on the other, he also says, “What I am addressing here is the wife who consistently and routinely denies her husband sexually simply because she does not need sex as much or she thinks she should not have to do it except when she is in the mood or she thinks her husband should have to earn sex with her by “putting her in the mood” by doing various things she expects or likes…A wife cannot flatly refuse her husband, she may only ask for a delay (a raincheck) and then she needs to make good on that raincheck as soon as possible.” In another paragraph he states, “A husband ought not to feel guilty for having sex with his wife when she is not in the mood if she yields, even grudgingly.” (If he’s even capable of enjoying it when she’s clearly not, and if he deliberately fazes out her distress, then he’s selfish at best and abusive at worst. No wonder she doesn’t want him).
The author is saying that the hypothetical husband has no obligation to try to “put her in the mood,” but that his wife has an obligation to passively agree to unwanted sex. He doesn’t consider the painfully obvious fact that trying to please her will probably yield the results he hopes for, or at least make it a lot more likely. He does not see women as sexual beings, or even as people. He regards them purely as receptacles and encourages all husbands to take this same approach. And having sex with someone who clearly doesn’t want to amounts to rape. But since wives apparently exist to serve husbands, that’s nothing to feel any kind of remorse about.
The second step is to “rebuke her before witnesses,” such as a marriage counselor (although he specifies that it should only be a Christian one, presumably because they’re less likely to object to the “rebuking”). The third step is to bring her before the church; to have a pastor lecture her about her sexual obligations if she won’t concede to you. The author states here, “At any one of these points, your wife could have threatened to leave, or has already left. You may be separated or in divorce proceedings.” In that case, why would you still be trying to sleep with her?
Steps four, five, and six are as follows: “Stop taking her on dates or trips.” “No unnecessary household upgrades.” “Stop doing the little extra things” (such as housework, which the author firmly states is solely the wife’s responsibility, and giving her massages). In other words, emotionally freeze her out and stop being nice to her, because that will definitely win her over. Not that people in this situation should be looking at it from a purely self-interested perspective of “how do I get what I want?”, but the author clearly cannot think past that point and assumes no other man can, either.
The seventh step is, if possible, even more insidious: Remove her funding. “This step may only work if your wife does not have her own income. Change your bank account so her ATM card becomes worthless. Cancel your credit cards.” This brand of theology almost always demands that the wife be unemployed and completely financially dependent upon her husband, so doing this would be an even further act of isolation and abuse. If she’s so restricted that she can’t even spend any money without her husband’s permission, it’s no surprise that she might choose to reject him physically. That may be the only possible expression of autonomy she has.
The last resort he suggests is to divorce her for “sexual immorality.” He references this earlier by saying, “Sacrificing yourself for your wife, as Christ sacrificed himself for the church does not mean toleration of this kind of sin on the part of your wife. Many counselors throw out the “husbands you just need to sacrifice yourself for your wife like Christ did the church” but they don’t tell you WHY Christ sacrificed himself for the Church.” (Following this line of thinking, it sounds like he’d say, “Because the church wouldn’t have sex with him.”)
The author insists that this is “discipline”, rather than manipulation. He defines manipulation as something that an underling does to achieve a desired result from someone of a higher status. By this definition, he also classifies union protests as “manipulation” and compares it to children throwing temper tantrums. What a lovely way of infantilizing the poor and trivializing the need for workers’ rights. And, in this sense, he also compares husbands and wives to employee/employer, and to parent/child. If someone doesn’t see how deeply troubling it is to make those parallels, I don’t even know where to start. But I will point out that this teeters awfully close to the edge of pedophilia.
He then goes on to romanticize the ancient “biblical” days in which people barely knew each other before they wed, and when the husband bought the wife as property. (Yet he takes issue with the concept of paying for sex.) He even wrote a separate blog entry called, “You don’t have to buy the milk when you own the cow.” 
All of this may sound incredibly bizarre and extreme, and it might be hard to imagine anybody genuinely following this line of thinking. But in my life, I have known an alarming number of people who share those values. There were ones whom I tried to persuade differently, but eventually came to the painful realization that I cannot “free” anyone from those types of values. Many times, they don’t want to change.
The marital scenario outlined by that blogger seems to result from a great deal of problems that are directly created by conservative Christianity, rather than resolved by it. A couple who are forbidden to have sex before marriage are far more likely to wed before they’re ready and to make a commitment they don’t fully understand (especially with the way these communities idealize marriage and provide very little sex education). They won’t know if they’re emotionally, mentally, or sexually compatible until they’re already in a legal contract. It’s even worse when they’re prohibited from divorcing in almost any circumstance.
Furthermore, the restrictions inherent in religious fundamentalism contribute a great deal to sexual frustration. They’re only allowed to have the most white bread sex imaginable. No kink, no porn, no toys, no non-vaginal penetration. It's fine to not incorporate any of those things if they don't want to, but they are specifically told that they can't. In some religious communities, they’re not allowed to engage in any sex act that doesn’t directly result in pregnancy (which most often means nothing that can give the woman an orgasm). Many of them are banned from using birth control, which means sex is always laden with the possibility of pregnancy looming in their minds. If they want to try anything new, they’re advised to “pray on it”—which just sounds so spontaneous and fun. If one of them is not up for it, the other is not even allowed to take care of their own needs, so it’s no wonder that a lot of resentment builds up and both parties are left with the expectation of meeting all of their spouse’s urges all of the time. If one of them has a higher drive than the other, this can become an incredible burden for the one with the lower libido and a significant void for the one who has no other sexual outlet. And, within this framework, the man is the only one expected to have a libido. The woman is thought of as a “whore” if she likes or craves physical intimacy, so it’s no wonder that so many of them refuse.
               So, in summary, this is oppressive bullshit. A great deal of Christians vocally disagree with this author, which is very encouraging to see. Let’s keep the dissent going, no matter what religion you might observe (or not observe). Let people like that author know that he is not the spokesman for his faith, for marriage, or for any kind of morality at all.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Racist mentalities can change with shifting values, not just "an appeal to the facts."

Facts won’t dissuade people who are stubbornly invested in racism. The fact that Freddie Gray’s death was ruled a second degree murder and that six cops have been arrested won’t mean anything to them. The fact that his arrest was deemed illegal won’t make a difference. They will be unmoved by the fact that even Fox News of all networks is now acknowledging this happened. They’ll still say, “Oh, that ruling was only made to appease the black people. More proof that they’re privileged and oppressing whites.” I’ve heard this point of view expressed loudly from white people who are still somehow convinced that they’re “not allowed” to say it. I’ve also seen Fox’s desperate scramble to try to imply that this wasn’t a race issue because several of the cops involved were non-white. Those accepting this explanation don’t recognize internalized racism and how, in the end, it still serves white supremacist aims.
Talking about this is not “making it about race.” It was already about race and class; talking about that is just acknowledging it. And it’s funny how CNN commenters will make that claim, yet think that making sweeping criticisms of the black population and accusing them of “separating themselves” is somehow not making it about race. This public discussion, of course, is littered by cries of “Why do you have to keep bringing up the past?” Abridged answer: Because the past leaks into the present and future, and because talking about history is a way of recognizing patterns. It’s noticeable how the white people who say they feel no guilt or responsibility for things that other white people did throughout history are the ones who feel so threatened by others bringing up that past. If they really thought it had nothing to do with them, they wouldn’t get defensive.
It’s not hard to be a white person, whatever some might say. I can understand how it might be really hard to be a cop at this time—not a white cop specifically, but a cop in general. It probably feels like people are making assumptions or that these kinds of posts are directed at them individually. But if a cop is not doing or supporting these things, then these posts don’t apply to them. And part of being a progressive, helpful cop is not only refraining from corruption and abuse, but reporting it when they see it in other officers. Part of it is not immediately assuming that another officer must have been in the right, but taking a careful and honest look at what they did. And it’s recognizing that those of us who are against this are not necessarily “against all cops” or solely blaming police officers, but seeing that the police abuse that does exist is part of a larger pattern of oppression. It’s also recognizing that while it may be hard to be a police officer, it’s a much greater challenge to live as a non-white person in America—and yes, there are also those who fit both categories. They need to be recognized, but not used as tokens to derail the topic.
Facts won’t matter to everyone, but that doesn’t mean that those who won’t accept facts are hopeless. Before they can be receptive, they need to come to a point where they no longer feel inclined to cling to white defensiveness (whether or not they are white). That turning point may differ from person to person, but the results are the same and will lead to a true and healthy unity.