Whatever else one might say about Jimmy Carter, he’s not known for hyperbolic flair. So, when he says that he has identified “the most serious and all pervasive and damaging human rights abuse on Earth,” it’s likely that he’s being plainspoken about the matter.
Here he is, at the Parliament of World Religions:
At their most repugnant, the belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God gives excuses to the brutal husband who beats his wife, the soldier who rapes a woman, the employer who has a lower pay scale for women employees, or parents who decide to abort a female embryo. It also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair and equal access to education, health care, employment, and influence within their own communities.
Now, you can think what you want of President Carter’s politics. It’s beyond my imagining how anyone can look at the current oil crises and prefer Reagan’s swaggering to Carter’s solar panels, but that’s a different post. His economic legacy isn’t at issue here; he’s speaking about something far more fundamental.
Carter points out that the abuse of women has been justified by every major religion. He draws a clear line between men’s unwillingness to allow women to fully participate in the religious sphere and men’s willingness to deprive women of personal freedoms: education, use of public transit, suffrage, participation in the criminal justice system, etc. He specifically shows his own church, the Southern Baptist Convention, is complicit in supporting unjust norms that get women killed.
Really, though, what part of this isn’t obvious? Yes, if we teach that women can’t be trusted because they are responsible for original sin, then we’ll refuse to convict rapists on ‘some woman’s say-so.’ Yes, if we teach that a woman’s honor is located in her hymen, then rape will be a weapon of war. Yes, if we teach that women are unfit for leadership, then women will magically be shown to lack whatever it is that we think leaders require. Yes, if we teach that women were created for the pleasure of men, then we’ll have teenage girls being kidnapped and prostituted. Sure, some leaders of some religious sects are dishonest enough to pretend that this isn’t true, but that’s hardly worth writing even a blog post about.
This is a roundabout way, though, of addressing Rachel Held Evans’ post about humility and hierarchy. She begins:
People are often surprised to find out that I submit to my husband…or at least I try to.
They are surprised because, as a self-described “liberated woman” who champions women in church leadership and an egalitarian interpretation of Scripture, I don’t fit the perceived mold for the submissive wife. The word “submission” has become synonymous with “subordination” and so it is assumed that only conservative complementarian wives submit to their husbands.
By the end of the post, she gets around to noting that her husband submits to her as well. Her general point is egalitarian, and she has several insightful points about being a humble spouse. I have no desire to quibble with her approach.
That intro, though- I understand that good writers start off with a ‘hook.’ There needs to be something that draws the reader in, that makes them curious. Something has to make the reader keep going. If Rachel doesn’t have a hook to begin her post, new readers of her blog might well keep on surfing.
In this case, though, the hook is women’s lives. I desire to quibble with that. As the folks at Shakesville say, over and over: this shit doesn’t happen in a void.
This isn’t one of those issues where wise people position themselves as moderates. Women are dying over these passages of Scripture. It’s cute, I suppose, to put “liberated woman” in quotes while describing oneself as submissive, but cute isn’t good enough. Liberty is more important than cute.
Rachel’s right, of course, that submission ought not be considered synonymous with subordination. She’s double right, so to speak, that we have to talk about mutual submission- both because our marriages need it, and because the world needs the example of our marriages. A world modeled on mutual submission rather than hierarchy would be a lovely world indeed; one step closer to the Kingdom of God
We don’t yet live in that world. though. We live in a world where speaking of a submissive woman brings to mind pornified images of women, whether from actual porn or from the ads we see every day. We live in a world where domestic violence is described as “forcing a woman to submit.” We live in a world so deeply steeped in the notion that women are naturally submissive that this paradigm is applied, without a hint of irony, to rats.
Whether these are appropriate uses of the word “submit” is irrelevant- the sexualized submission of women to men is the hook that draws readers in Rachel’s post. If you don’t believe me, go read some of the free Harlequin romances. You’ll find exactly the same pattern there. Go to Google Images and search “submissive woman,” if you want to read about women who call their partners Master.
God doesn’t need this kind of advertising. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not need a cum shot as its hook. The Spirit who guides us in the ways of holiness isn’t taking detours to cheapen the lives (and deaths) of the women made in God’s image.