Trigger warning: classist and racist language, misogyny, cissexism, spiritual abuse/cults.
I’ve noticed for some time that Mark Driscoll is at least as obsessed with money as he is with sex and gender roles – and further, his obsession with money is directly connected to his preoccupations with sex and proper gender roles. So it was interesting to see the considerable degree to which money is a major theme, if not the single dominant theme, in the Mars Hill documentary. Driscoll talks about money literally from the first minute of the film right through to the very last minute.
The douchey beginning: It takes less than a minute for Driscoll to make a nasty remark about “men in dresses.” Not one minute. The full comment reflects how how class and wealth are integral aspects of what Driscoll believes separates “manly” men from “girly” ones:
The last thing I ever thought I would be was a pastor, ’cause growing up Catholic, the pastor is a guy who lives at the church, is flat broke, is committed to never having sex, and walks around in a dress. So pretty much that was [the] last career choice of all possible career choices. – Driscoll, ~ 00:50-1:05 in the film.
Driscoll, of course, is not this kind of pastor. He owns a home. He’s not broke. He has lots of sex. He dresses in an appropriately virile fashion. And apparently, part of his job as a pastor is to make sure that everyone is informed of these facts. Repeatedly.
The vast middle: Driscoll repeatedly regales viewers, accompanied by sad womp-womp music in the background, with tales of the days when Mars Hill was “broke” and “homeless.” Homeless,” apparently, means “renting out someone else’s building for services rather than owning our own property” and “broke” means “not having as much money as other churches.”
Bonus: the use of “ghetto” (though not by Driscoll) to describe the temporary housing of the Mars Hill offices and three male church staff in the Driscoll home. Staff who, by the way, despite being grown and capable adults, left Driscoll’s wife Grace to do their dishes and clean up after them. Real manliness, y’all!
Driscoll talks about Mars Hill like it’s a business (to be fair, like most megachurches, it is one). In fact, he seems to see churches in general in business terms. He describes established denominations starting new churches as equivalent to a big business opening a new branch – denominations simply “write a fat check” as seed money and they’re good to go.
So it’s not surprising that Driscoll also casts Mars Hill as a brash and cutting-edge startup that “innovates” and bucks church traditions out of necessity (read: being “broke”). Traditional churches simply use their oodles of money to try to “buy cool” instead of innovating themselves.
The “absolute gamechanger” in Mars Hill’s history: receiving gigantic sums of money from wealthy donors. The first large donors to Mars Hill – a couple who single-handedly donated $200,000 – are described as “the first ones to believe in the possibility of what we were doing.” Because, as my husband says, you can tell who’s the first to believe in you by who gives you a large amount of cash.
The real kicker, though, is that Driscoll immediately follows this rhapsodizing about rich benefactors whose generosity saved Mars Hill from imminent demise with the sage conclusion that these donations came in because “God showed up….There’s another Trinity behind Larry, Curly, and Moe [Driscoll and his fellow pastors] actually putting this thing together.” In case that’s not clear, he equates people donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mars Hill so that they could renovate a run down church building with divine intervention and favor.
Why doesn’t God “show up” and help actual poor people? This remains a mystery we don’t really need to question. But we can rest assured that God takes time out of the divine plan to make sure people like Mark Driscoll have awesome renovated church buildings so their churches can grow. And we can tell who God really favors by who has big churches with lots of money, obviously.
The shocking conclusion: Let’s start with some context.
- In fiscal year 2010, Mars Hill received about $13 million dollars in general giving, and is on track for $14-15 million dollars in giving for FY 2011.
- Mars Hill owns over $16 million in total net assets
- Between FY 2008 and 2010, their “excess revenue over expenses” – ahem, that is to say, their annual profit – has ballooned from $15,000 to $2.1 million dollars.
[all numbers from the Mars Hill annual report, thanks WeenatcheetheHatchet for pointing me to this]
Keep these numbers in mind as I tell you how this shining record of Mars Hill’s history, this testament of “God’s work” and Mars Hill’s witness, ends. Given these numbers and what’s come before, you might think Driscoll would conclude by talking some more about how God has showed Mars Hill with
money favor. Or perhaps with one more nostalgic anecdote about how “poor” the church used to be, but no longer. You might think that, but you’d be so very wrong.
Long story short? The documentary ends with Driscoll complaining at some length that Mars Hill “has often, quite frankly, really stunk at giving,” then trying to guilt people into giving more money to the church.
No, really. In Driscoll’s mind, “most of the people in the church need to be giving a whole lot more.”
[Partial transcript] Mars Hill has often really just, quite frankly, stunk at giving, and I think the last thing to be saved is a person’s wallet. And so I’m just going to tell you that most of the people in the church need to be giving a whole lot more.
Some of you are being generous. I’m not talking to you. For those people, we’ll have a separate conference for you in a phone booth.
For everybody else, the sad, cold, hard truth is about 24 percent of people at Mars Hill this year have given nothing. In addition, another 41 percent have given $500 or less. So that’s 65-ish percent of Mars Hill, two-thirds of Mars Hill’s twelve thousand people who are giving nothing or nearly nothing….
And I want you to ask this question of yourself. At the end of the year, how much do you anticipate that God wants you to give? We’re at that place now where it is going to take everyone being very generous to open up an opportunity to welcome nine thousand more people, all the new churches, seats, opportunities.
So is it about the money? Yes, it’s about spending the money to reach people for Jesus. Everything costs something. And we think that if you love Jesus and you believe people are going to hell, you should give at least as much money to that as toilet paper, and many of you aren’t.
Bottom line: you can do better. We love you and we trust in the grace of God. You will be more generous.
People are getting saved more than ever. Churches are getting planted more than ever. Leaders are rising up more than ever. Opportunities are surfacing more than ever. And this is the best possible time to get onboard, to pray, give, serve, because I promise you, what comes next is the kind of thing that you’re going to tell your grandkids about.
As I said while live-tweeting, you could land yourself into a coma if you had to drink every time Driscoll mentions money. But it wasn’t until these final minutes that I realized that money isn’t simply a recurring motif in the film, but rather what it’s about. The final note of a film like this is the take-away message – not necessarily the consciously intended message, but a moment that sticks in the viewer’s memory, precisely because of its finality, because it’s the last message you hear.
And this is the message Driscoll chooses to leave viewers with: God wants you do give us more money. You can show you love Jesus by how much of your money you give to me (note: not to charity, not even to Christian causes, but to Driscoll’s church specifically). If you don’t give us money, Jesus is going to send people to hell. Please ignore the fact that we believe in predestination, and no amount of money or time you spend on church will change supposedly preordained divine decisions about who ends up in heaven and hell. Don’t sweat the details! Just do better with the whole giving us money thing.
I mean – you can’t even call this an ‘appeal’ for more money. It’s blatant money grubbing, privileged and entitled grumbling from the pastor of what’s undoubtedly one of the wealthiest independent churches in the country, if not the world, and unashamed emotional and spiritual manipulation.
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I see that Mark Driscoll has recycled his “Daddy Christmas Tips” for 2011. Since all the “tips” are identical to last year’s, it seemed right to re-post my comments on them. Enjoy!
Christmas is around the corner, which for Mark Driscoll, apparently means yet another opportunity to bully men into being just like him. Driscoll, an extra unique complementarian snowflake about who’s certain to come up more on this blog, is the senior pastor and bully-in-chief of Mars Hill Church, a Seattle megachurch (and the biggest church in the city). Driscoll’s confrontational and chauvinistic style of preaching has gotten him a lot of attention in the mainstream media, much more than most complementarian pastors, who usually fly under the radar.
So! Christmas in Driscoll-land. “Daddy” needs to have a holiday agenda for the family; godly leadership means telling people what to do and where to be all the time. At least, that’s what leadership means for Driscoll, and funny enough, it turns out to be what God means by leadership, too! Clearly that’s what it has to mean for everyone else. Hence Driscoll’s “Daddy Christmas Tips” – some interesting ideas on how fathers should be running the show during the holidays:
Tip #1: Dad needs a plan for the holidays to ensure his family is loved and memories are made. Dad, what’s your plan?
Right off the bat we’re in weirdo land. How do you “plan” for people to be loved?
Tip #6: Dad needs to manage the extended family and friends during the holidays. Dad, who or what do you need to say “no” to?
Apparently mom doesn’t need to be a part of this decision. Or maybe she just doesn’t have an opinion? Thinking something different from her husband might be a sin, after all.
Tip #7: Dad needs to schedule a big Christmas date with his daughter(s). Dad, what’s your big plan for the fancy Daddy-daughter date?
Tip #8: Dad needs to schedule guy time with his son(s). Dad, what are you and your son(s) going to do that is active, outdoors, and fun?
We can’t call a dad’s special time with his son a “date” – clearly that would be inappropriately sexualizing. Men don’t go on dates with each other, gross! But dads can totally take their daughters on dates – there’s nothing inappropriate or creepy about that. (Hint: if a parent can only go on a “date” with a child of the “opposite” sex, um, you are sexualizing the relationship between that parent and child, not to mention being super heteronormative). Also, there’s no way a real girl would ever want to do something “active, outdoors, and fun” with her dad. Girls just want to be fancy – and real boys, obviously, don’t. Because the activities you share with your children are entirely dependent on their genitalia, not on, you know, their actual opinions or interests.
Tip #9: Dad needs to help get the house decorated. Dad, are you really a big help to Mom with getting things ready?
Because decorating the house is really mom’s job.
Tip #10: Dad needs to ensure there are some holiday smells and sounds. Dad, is Christmas music on the iPod, is the tree up, can you smell cookies and cider?
If you can’t smell cookies and cider, your wife is doing something wrong. That kind of laziness cannot stand. Better get on that, dad.
Whew. Dad has a lot of things and people to stay on top of during the holidays! But remember tip #4: Dad needs to not let the stress of the holidays, including money, cause him to be grumpy with Mom or the kids. Dad, how’s your joy?
I’m sure it’s really easy to both be constantly obsessing over whether or not you’re micromanaging the holidays and your family appropriately, and actually enjoy the holidays with your family. Yea.
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Trigger warning: racism, misogyny, cissexism, spiritual abuse/cults.
So Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church made a documentary… about themselves. Specifically, about the history of the church and how it came to be where it is today. The full documentary is online: God’s Work, Our Witness. Quite the title.
I watched the documentary over the weekend and tweeted my reactions while watching it. You can read the round-up of my live-tweeting on Storify. I can’t embed or post the full text of my reactions to the documentary here; it’s pretty long. But I can sum up a few things that struck me after watching it.
Predictably, much of it consists either of Mark Driscoll talking about himself, or other leaders from Mars Hill talking about Mark Driscoll. Also predictably, there’s a lot of talk about manliness, sex, and money, from the typically boorish and self-obsessed “Pastor Mark” perspective. Let’s break it down.
Gender: The documentary is slightly over an hour long. In that time, only two women appear on screen without their husbands, one of whom is Grace Driscoll. The other women who are featured barely speak in comparison to their husbands. They seem to mostly be there to look supportive, smile, and hold their husbands’ hands. So it doesn’t really come as a surprise when one of the pastors’ wives, recalling the challenges the church staff faced during a period of sudden growth, says the following (emphasis mine):
It was just really intense, really busy…it was trying to [pauses, looks at her husband], the guys were just trying to keep up with what God was doing. And so I think all of us wives were just holding on for the ride. With our kids in tow. [looks at her husband, smiles].
Well. Sigh. The church belongs to the men, you see. The women and children are just along for the ride.
Then there are the lovely bits where he talks about how he decided to start doing a church-wide men’s meeting because he simply didn’t have the time to yell at all the men individually, poor thing, so he just had to gather all the men in one place so he could yell at them at the same time!
This is real innovative leadership, y’all. You should take notes.
Naturally what one does when one has a captive audience of men is to tell them to “sit down and shut up until I’m ready to yell at you,” and then in fact proceed to yell at them for 2-3 hours about about “all of [their] perversion… laziness…lack of drive and ambition…ungodly living.” Oooh, also, hand them stones with Bible verses written on them, with instructions that the men hang on to them “until they get [their] own stones.”
Like I said: real cutting edge stuff. What a memorable and classy way to “lead” men!
Not only is Driscoll communicating to the men he leads that they are “inadequate” men (they have no stones), he’s communicating to them that he is in a different, higher position than they are. Not only does he have “stones,” he’s in a position to judge their lack of “stones.” This is all part of Driscoll’s whole shtick, which is not only about putting women in their place, but actually about putting everyone, including and perhaps especially other men in their place – namely, beneath him. Eeeeveryone is inferior to him. No man is as manly as he.
And this manipulative, toxic behavior is part of a long-established pattern. From the discussion of the documentary the Stuff Christian Culture Likes FB page, we learn that in the earlier days of Mars Hill, the church had a message board on which Driscoll had two accounts: one that was known to other church members as be his account, and another, “anonymous” sock puppet named “William Wallace II” (oh, the evangelical male obsession with Braveheart. A post topic of its own). Driscoll used this fake account to rant about how the U.S. is a “pussified nation” and to angrily challenge other men in the church to “man up.”
Let’s be real about what Driscoll is passing off as “leading men” here. Questioning someone’s gender is an attack on their identity and very personhood – I’m not talking about intent, but content and effect. Driscoll goes way beyond that. He deliberately tries to undermine people’s security and confidence in their gender identity. He deliberately tries to induce a feeling in men – and people of all genders – that their gender is actually or potentially not “real.” That? Is abuse. Period. It’s a deliberate attempt to degrade people and make them *feel* the degradation, make them feel ashamed, and it’s not leadership. It’s abuse.
It’s also cissexist as hell – i.e., treating people whose bodies, appearance, or behavior don’t conform to arbitrary norms of the gender they are, or are assumed to be, as lesser than people who do conform to gender expectations. It’s bigoted behavior that literally kills people. That is the “bold” leadership Mark Driscoll is selling.
Race: There are also precisely ZERO visible people of color in the entire documentary (I say visible because some of the people in the documentary may have nonwhite ancestry that’s not immediately obvious). This is a documentary about a twelve thousand member church, in a huge city, with one of the biggest Asian-American populations in the country. And there appear to be no black people in it. Nor any Asians or Asian Americans. Nor any Latin@s. Zero.
A quick browse through Mars Hill’s various staff pages on line shows that this stark absence of people of color in the documentary is in fact reflective of the leadership of Mars Hill as a whole. Just taking men who are explicitly labeled as pastors, there’s only one visible man of color (Asian or Asian American) among the various Mars Hill’s total staff of 31 pastors.
Put it differently: Mars Hill’s pastorate is 97% white in a city that’s 14% Asian/Asian American and has a 30% minority population.
Add in the nasty “joke” about a worship pastor whose poor singing, according to Driscoll, “sounded like he got captured by Al Qaeda,” Driscoll’s complaints about a church building Mars Hill wanted being given to a Chinese church, and appropriating other people’s culture by using a digeridoo in worship, and the lack of people of color in the documentary becomes a glaring problem.
Narcissistic leadership/Cult of personality: I’d say the people in the documentary, Driscoll included, talk at least as much about “Pastor Mark” as they do about Jesus. Probably more. Which is kind of telling in a documentary that’s supposedly about their witness to “God’s work.”
There’s also quite a bit of approving/enabling commentary about Driscoll’s long-established penchant for yelling and screaming at his congregation. This vitriolic sermon style (if it can be called that) is at turns portrayed by people in the documentary as “awesome” or hilarious. Emotionally abusing and manipulating a congregation that looks to you for guidance is so cute!
I had to laugh at the moment where Driscoll introduces the documentary as “one big roadtrip” through the history of Mars Hill, “with Jesus as the driver”…while he was sitting in the driver’s seat of a car. I mean. I know the man has a Jesus complex, but that’s a bit much. On top of that, a good portion of the documentary is narrated while Driscoll is driving, or, bizarrely, parked in such a way that his hands are on the steering wheel in every shot. Which…again, is just a somewhat telling bit of visual and verbal rhetoric. He’s in charge. He’s in the driver’s seat.
More narcissism on display: Driscoll talks about trying “make [people] into Christians,” and also disparages some musicians who left Mars Hill in the early days “over theological issues,” which he sums up as “basically, they decided not to be Christian.” Because disagreeing with Mark Driscoll on theology is exactly the same as not being a Christian. This would make sense if, y’know, Mark Driscoll were Christ. Which he’s not.
Sex: Of course, it wouldn’t be a Driscoll production if he didn’t manage to throw in some kind of gratuitous or vulgar reference to sex. The winner in this regard is clearly Driscoll’s random mention of a member of Mars Hill who, as a new Christian, didn’t want to get rid of his “enormous p@rn collection” because it was “vintage p@rn [that] cost a lot of money.” Some of it, as Driscoll helpfully and totally necessarily adds, was Nazi p@rn.*
I’m still struggling to understand what would lead someone to think this is an appropriate or enlightening anecdote to include in a film documenting the history of a church. Really?
Not one minute into the documentary, Driscoll states that he never considered his Catholic upbringing meant that he never considered becoming a pastor as a kid, in part because Catholic pastors are “committed to never having sex.” Let’s just say I have a bit of trouble imagining that a young boy would really be thinking about priestly celibacy in quite those terms.
There’s a lot of talk about how various members of the church used to be goth fetishists, or strippers, and so on – all done in a way that makes it clear that they think this is some sort of badge of honor or bragging right. It confuses me that a church claiming to follow a man openly reviled in his day for consorting publicly with sex workers and people who had committed adultery would pat themselves on the back so vigorously just for being so “radical” as to, gasp, not completely shun social interaction with people outside our society’s sexual norms.
It’s particularly strange to see Driscoll congratulating himself for having former strippers and fetishists in his church. Like…given how sinful he clearly thinks such things are, isn’t it preferable for them to be going to church rather than not? Wouldn’t he rather they be coming to his church rather than not? So why should he get an award for “taking in” the very people who most need church, at least in his conception of it? I am baffled.
But even after having written all the above, the biggest story to me in the Mars Hill documentary was not about gender, race, cult of personality, or sex. No, in fact, the most significant recurring theme in the documentary is money. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s really what the documentary is about. More on that in the next post.
*[redacted to avoid spammers, not out of prudery!]
Trigger warning: rape/child sexual abuse, cultures of abuse.
As I said, I’m working on a post on how gender, and specifically ideas about masculinity, factor into the sexual abuse of boys by men, and into the cover ups of such abuse in hierarchical institutions. With Penn State and in other cases where institutions enable abuse, I think we’re seeing at work the most toxic and damaging side of notions of what it means to “be a man” or grow into manhood.
There are recurring themes about aspects of masculinity and male-dominated cultures/contexts that pop up in these cases. Fatherhood and proxy fatherhood. Teaching boys to be, act like, or grow into men. The role of relationships between adult and minor males in producing and reinforcing certain concepts of masculinity. The patronage and power of older men over younger men. And race and religion and the cult of sports are all factors here as well.
I put together some preliminary thoughts I tweeted for the post on Storify. I can’t embed it on the blog, unfortunately, but I’ve pasted it in plain text below. It’s easier to read on Storify, though. There are a few more points I want to add, but the basic points I want to make about how patriarchy enables adult male abuse of boys specifically are mostly here. I’d love some comments and feedback.
I need to write about how our ideas of masculinity inform power structures, relationships in institutions like sports teams and churches and how this contributes to an environment where abuse of various kinds is enabled and covered up. Going to tweet about this for a bit.
Part of my frustration with some responses to the #PSU case is this language of monstrosity that frames abuse as distant and rare. It’s not.
RT @rightingteacher People don’t want to think those they know, love, admire have committed this kind of crime. But they have.
RT @rightingteacher Believing it’s distant keeps kids in danger, keeps abusers free from scrutiny, facilitating further abuse.
Up to 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been or will be or are being sexually abused. That doesn’t include physical or emotional abuse.
That’s not rare. That’s an epidemic.
MT @rightingteacher Terrible 2 think it’s your son, husband, aunt, mom who abuses; worse 2 be child abused because some are beyond suspicion
All that to say, child abuse is incredibly common. And this matters, not because it would be less horrible if it were a rare thing…
But because when horrible things happen with that frequency, on that scale, there’s a degree of cultural complicity in it.
We really resist thinking about ways in which culture & society enable child sexual abuse. It’s true of rape in general, but esp. w/ kids.
There’s a bit of conversation now on how the culture at #PSU and the cult of personality around JoePa enabled Sandusky, but still limited.
To my mind 1 thing largely missing from mainstream coverage of #PSU is an interrogation of “masculinity,” how it enables this kind of abuse
There’s a recurring theme in #PSU case and others of ideas about fatherhood and surrogate fatherhood, specifically of boys.
Sandusky is the most obvious. He targeted boys who were being raised by single moms, gained access by presenting as a “male role model.”
He was able to package himself that way bc of assumptions (not necessarily all bad) about how boys/young men need older male mentors and because of assumptions of what that kind of relationship between older men and boys/young men should look like.
Sandusky talked a lot about discipline, structure, being a father figure who provided those things for boys who didn’t always appreciate it.
I mean, there are real challenges to growing up with only one parent, esp. a single mom, bc of classism, racism, misogyny, heteronormativity
But that’s not the message we send to boys who are being raised by single moms. Not, “this is a tough road,” but “something is wrong w/ you”
And I think we need to talk about the fact that Sandusky targeted boys who had been primed to see themselves as lacking something…
That only a man in this role of “father figure” or “mentor” could provide. That he was able to home in on that sense of loss and longing.
He took advantage of the idea that any older male who is there & “provides,” whether materially, or with “affection” or “discipline” is good
And that’s about a culture of a certain kind of masculinity, or beliefs around masculinity. It’s not just about Sandusky or others who abuse
And we can see this in defenses of Paterno, most of which are about his being a paternal figure to “his” players, “his” staff, all of #PSU
I was struck, e.g., by how the new acting head coach at #PSU said Paterno has meant more to him than anyone but his father. Hmm.
And with the students who rioted because “JoePa has done so much for this university” and “he is Penn State”
That again is about the idea of unwavering loyalty to the older male figure who “provides” and acts in this paternalistic/patron role.
.@SylkoZakur right. & those messages are *especially* targeted at black boys & young men, from folks who aren’t black and black ppl as well
The whole culture of coaching, esp. of boys’ teams, but also in general, is based on similar assumptions about male mentoring, leadership.
W/ men coaching sports, men leading churches/being spiritual fathers, men being “father figures” much of what we consider good leadership…
Is actually men trampling over boys/young men’s emotional and often physical boundaries in the name of “discipline” and “structure.”
And a supporting culture that coaches/bullies the kids on the receiving end to see it all as “for their own good” and not question it.
And that provides a context where predatory behavior by older men can be seen as “mentoring” by other adults…
And kids get the message that having a father/father figure around is inherently a good thing, with no education about patriarchal violence.
Dunno how coherent all that was, but the upshot is this idea that older men in positions of authority are there to tell us to do things…
That we don’t want to do, and there to make us do them for ‘our good’ (whether it’s coaches, priests, bio/foster/adoptive fathers)…
And that we owe them this uncritical loyalty for sacrificing by disciplining/mentoring us in these ways – this is all important context.
It’s context for why male adult abusers are able to target boys using the promise of a “father figure.”
Also context for why men in hierarchical institutions excuse, enable, cover-up abuse. “Masculine” Loyalty, discipline, doing as you’re told.
Being high up tends me to make me feel nervous. Flying, tall buildings, that sort of thing. It’s not a proper phobia, just a niggling and persistent discomfort. I’ve got a standard line when I explain this to people: I’m not scared of heights; I’m scared of falling.
Somehow that seems like an appropriate caption for my life right now. Or rather, for the parts of myself that I’m trying to keep from running my life.
You see, I’m extremely risk averse. I’m reluctant to commit to tasks that I’m afraid I won’t be able to live up to. And just to make things interesting, there’s a pretty loud and insistent part of me that’s convinced that there are few tasks, if any, that I can really live up to. And since I’m just going to fail anyway, maybe it would be better not to try in the first place.
There are a lot of reasons why I struggle with thinking like this. Some of it, I think, is a natural tendency towards perfectionism. I know some of it is because of personal relationships where I was told that nothing I did was ever good enough often enough that I eventually started to believe it about myself, so often that eventually I didn’t even need to be told.
And some of it is because of the messages I grew up hearing in church – about how horribly depraved I was, about how even the best and most noble thing I could ever do would be nothing but filthy rags before God. And about how God was perfectly righteous and expected the utmost holiness, even though by nature no human being could ever live up to such a high standard. About how you had to try to be as good and do everything as completely right as possible, even though you could never be good enough for God.
What a lot of people, Christians and otherwise, don’t get is how this stuff sinks into your bones. It becomes part of you, not just how you think about your spiritual life, but how you think about everything. That shouldn’t be surprising, since we were taught that what we believed about God should affect every last aspect of our lives. Well, it does, but not in the way I was told it would.
You become obsessed with doing things right, and your entire sense of self-worth is bound up in that. But you also become convinced you can never get things right. That nothing you do is right enough. You can always be more right. So you begin to equate yourself with failure.
And no one tells you that sometimes failure is the best teacher. That sometimes it can be a good thing. That sometimes people look and do and feel better for having tried to do something and “failed,” than if they always took the safest path. Or that playing it safe is actually following someone else’s script, and no way to build confidence in yourself and your ability to get things done.
And of course you get no warning that the path every one tells you is safest may not be so safe after all. No, all you’re told is that this path is safe; if you take the others you’ll fall. And falling is so terrifying a prospect that all of one’s life must be devoted to avoiding it at all costs.
So you avoid heights. You stay safe and low to the ground and avoid even the slightest deviation from the path. But again, you can never follow it closely enough, so your entire life becomes defined by never being able to quite do things right.
My fear of falling looks like this:
– I feel like I’m going to fail before I’ve ever even tried.
– I feel like all the bad or incomplete things I’ve done outweigh any good.
– I feel like I’ve never done anything really good or worthwhile.
– I feel judged long before anyone ever judges me.
Someone said to me today that if someone else said all these things to me, rather than my telling it to myself, it would be emotionally abusive. And she’s absolutely right. It is abusive.
It’s pretty straightforward, really. I heard day after day and year after year that I was a worthless, abject, utterly wretched sinner and that God loved me despite myself. And I believed it. Part of me still does.
Trigger warning: child sexual abuse and rape, rape culture.
Following up on the first post, Toranse had some further thoughts on where critiques of rape culture fall short when it comes to child sexual abuse, which she also gave me permission to share here. I think she’s absolutely right that we talk about perpetrators of child sexual abuse as though they can’t control themselves, which is completely at odds with how feminist critique addresses rape and assault when both perpetrator and victim are adults.
What I was more wanting was the ways that we tend to focus on everything but the perpetrator and how that fits into a wider social context.
Like, when talking about rape and rape culture, we will say, “It’s all the rapists fault!” but with childhood sexual abuse, we’ll say…what could the child have done, what could others have done…not, “it’s the perpetrator’s fault!” and then looking at how we can re-examine the ways we look at children and those power dynamics and how the patriarchy enables that.
Like, not just finding ways to get involved to stop it, but also figuring out the whys behind it happening. How we view children as less than us, as a possession of the parents, etc. How to look at our family dynamics and maybe even consider that the current family model might be structured to contribute to abuse.
Like, feminists have already figured out that trying to find ways to dodge rapists just isn’t effective. But with csa, it’s like we’ve just decided that abusers will abuse, they are who they are, nothing we can do about it. And that’s really depressing, as a survivor. In feminist circles, I don’t feel like anyone cares enough to bother. Or, as I’ve said, I often feel like it requires that we figure out the ways that our own levels of power and influence have allowed this to happen. And feminism is notorious for wanting to deflect away from self-examination.
I guess that’s it. We view perpetrators of csa as “well, there’s no rehabilitation, they’ll reoffend” like it’s…something so inherent in them and is not a part of any wider social context. And that let’s us off the hook from examining how it works. I was abused because my father could get away with it. Because my father liked power and domination, just as much as he liked it when he could control my mother through submission; my brothers through physical violence. Because he was selfish and I was his possession, and he liked to make sure that was known.
And then the conflation of pedophile and abuser; as though abusers are just sexually drawn to children so overpoweringly much that they just CAN’T help it. OH MY GOD IT’S A CHILD MY AROUSAL IS TO A LEVEL I CANNOT STAND I MUST ABUSE is ridiculous, and feminism is quick to knock down that belief in rapists, while supporting it in those who sexually abuse children.
And I think we also view csa through the lens of Lolita, as though it’s not about violence and power, but is always some delusion of the abuser that it was actually a relationship. Which, while I’m sure there are abusers who have a distorted view of reality that way can I just say this – ABUSERS CAN LIE. Just because the abuser tells the kid, “oh, this is just how we love each other” doesn’t mean they actually believe it! Just because they tell the world, “But it’s just love!!” still doesn’t mean they actually believe it.
But we want to believe it. Heck, I wanted to believe it…”maybe he just loved me and didn’t know how to do that right.” Which is really really hard when you’re sitting there with that harsh voice in your ear, “you get what you deserve, you sick little girl”. Hence why we use words like “molestation” no matter if it was rape or not; we want to skirt away from the belief that people could actually be so horrible as to get off on stripping the power away from a kid through sexual abuse.
I want feminism and social justice activists to look at those who sexually abuse children with the same critical eye that they look at rapists and rape culture.
Trigger warning: child sexual abuse, rape culture.
Over at Tumblr, Toranse raised some important questions about whether child rape and sexual abuse have been adequately addressed in feminist discussions of rape culture. As she points out, much of feminist discussion of rape centers issues of consent that don’t apply to children. Similarly, feminist critique of the relationship between patriarchy and rape culture doesn’t often look at the role of patriarchy in abusive family or domestic contexts when children are the victims (as opposed to spouses or intimate partners).
I think Toranse is absolutely right that there’s a real need for feminist analysis of child rape and sexual abuse as product of patriarchy and rape culture distinct from rape and sexual assault of adults. I know of only one book, Christianity and Incest by Annie Imbens and Ineke Jonker, that talks about the relationship between patriarchy (and Christian patriarchy specifically) and child sexual abuse. I’m sure there are other books and articles on the topic, but my impression is that there aren’t many. It’s certainly not a topic I’ve seen specifically addressed much on many mainstream feminist blogs.
Toranse has given me permission to share her thoughts here. Please read and share them.
In all of the feminist discussions surrounding rape and rape culture when is there an examination of child sexual abuse?
Heck, in feminist discussions, when is there an examination of child abuse in general?
I feel like this is still a subject that not even social justice circles pay attention to at the same critical level as other topics. And I can’t help but wonder why that is.
Think about it: in discussions of rape culture, feminism tries to center the discussion on the rapist and on society at large.
But in discussions of child abuse, there is still far too much emphasis on training children on how to avoid those situations. Hell, not even that – most of the literature I’ve seen aimed at children is about how to deal with it as and/or after it has happened.
How messed up is that? Children – with the least amount of power – somehow have to figure out how to handle child abuse all on their own.
And I wonder how much ageism – that dreaded -ism that is so well-mocked when it comes to children – is at play here. Because talking about the things that cause child abuse and the ways to prevent it – that don’t involve blaming the child – mean that we have to talk possibly about ourselves. How we contribute to it. We’re the adults, right? We’re the ones in power over children.
This will sound mean, but I’m including myself to – I wonder how much is is that children are not us. Discussions of rape and rape culture; these are things, that as a group of older teenagers/adults…we go through. These are personal and close to us. But some seven year old abused kid is probably not going to come on to an online forum or any place for discussion and talk about the abuse they’re going through.
I’ve seen discussions on child abuse as it relates to class. I’ve seen arguments on child abuse that are classiest while saying they’re not, because they argue that bringing up child abuse is inherently classiest; as though we can’t talk about child abuse for free of offending the poor people who obviously abuse their children.
I’ve seen discussions on child abuse as it relates to unemployment. Cold, clinical ones, as though it’s just something that “happens.” “Oh hey, lose your job, smack your kid, whatever.”
I’ve seen discussion on child abuse centered on how the child can prevent it. The only thing good in discussions like those is the possibility of equipping children with vocabulary to describe their experiences. But rarely is there anything out there of any worth. Most of the books I’ve seen (of course, this is only based on what I’ve shelved in the library) are walking a line between “how to tell children while still keeping them innocent” and failing miserably at telling anything of any worth.
I’ve seen discussions on adults complicit in child abuse – family members, teachers, etc. But where is the discussions on the abusers themselves? On how we structure our families, on the way that the patriarchy and ageism affect this? Where is the serious look at child abuse and the ways to combat it?
Do we not have the answers to these questions? Because I feel as though everything is structured for discussions on the aftermath of child physical and sexual abuse. Like everything out there is only places to help you patch up the wounds while we don’t even think about even just considering how we might discuss the causes and ways society needs to change to at least lessen abuse. Is all there is just fixing it up and turning a blind eye when it happens?
Are there no answers or have we just never started looking for them?
Because those are discussions I’d like there to be more of. The abuse of children – all of it, physical, mental, emotional, sexual, all of it – that’s something I think the feminist and social justice circles should focus a lot of attention on. Far, far more than there currently is.
Toranse follows up on these thoughts here:
I don’t fault feminism for focusing on rape. I just want my experiences to be included in these discussions as well.
Hell, there’s still way to much of lumping all childhood sexual abuse as “molestation.” Have you seen that? Cause I’ve seen that far too much and I think it’s an attempt to sanitize it. I wasn’t just ‘molested’ I was raped. And being raped was part of the whole experience of sexual abuse.
I feel like what’s expected of me is to just fit myself into current discussions of rape and rape culture. But sexual abuse is different, it doesn’t function in the same way and I feel like those things need to be addressed.
For instance: grooming. There is no way there is any room to discuss grooming in current feminist contexts. At all. And hell, I needed the “coercion is not consent” conversation LONG before we ever had it because seriously, “yes means yes and no means no” things just DON’T mean ANYTHING when you were a toddler when it started.