Author: has written 5302 posts for this blog.

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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41 Responses

  1. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar November 15, 2010 at 1:27 pm |

    Thank you, Jill, for this, and for 3999 other posts here. Thank you for all the hard work.

  2. ACG
    ACG November 15, 2010 at 1:48 pm |

    This reminds me of a friend of mine from way back who was a) a very smart, capable, rational woman, and b) raised a very, very conservative Evangelical. We lost touch briefly, and it turned out that during that time, she had moved to Florida and was working with Exodus.

    It was so odd, because she was talking to women about empowerment and finding their self-respect and strength and purpose, but it was all within this frame that had been established for them by the church. And it wasn’t even the “being a good Christian wife” stuff–it was good messages, right until it butted up against “and of course your husband will be your head and the Bible your guiding force” and whatnot. You should be smart and outspoken–but you should speak to women, because speaking to men is what men do. You should work and excel–as long as your husband is okay with it and you’re willing to stop whenever he wants babies. You should be strong and know yourself–because God has a purpose for you and will need you to be that way. Heartening and, at the same time, wholly disheartening stuff.

  3. ACG
    ACG November 15, 2010 at 1:48 pm |

    (Also, congratulations on 4k.)

  4. Jadey
    Jadey November 15, 2010 at 1:59 pm |

    I did some research once on socially-conservative women (as well as fiscally-conservative and otherwise-conservative women, and all kinds of conservative feminist women) through the first, second, and so-on waves of feminism. Schlafley was iconic, but by no means was she an isolated phenomenon – it was riveting stuff. I also found that the mindset read like one of noble sacrifice or an ordained-from-on-high missionary quest – going off into the “wilds” of human and women’s liberation to bring people back to “civilization” (I like the missionary analogy in this case because it brings up the same flavour of bile in my mouth that actual “civilizing” missionary work does).

    Sometimes I wonder if they work more at cross-purposes to progressiveness or “regressiveness” (I don’t think that’s a word, but bear with me). It seems that these people represent both a subversion of change and a subversion of staying the same and I’m never sure if one comes out on top (and which, if so) or if they just end up running in place.

  5. andrea
    andrea November 15, 2010 at 2:17 pm |

    The funny thing with Biblical interpretation is context. I read recently that a lot of that ‘Submit to your husband’ stuff in the Bible was written in the context of women living in Ancient Greece during a period where any woman seen to be talking to a man other than her husband would be assumed to be a prostitute and would subsequently be punished.

    So rather than being a directive, it was more like friendly advice. God wouldn’t smite you for speaking up, but the locals might.

  6. Austin Nedved
    Austin Nedved November 15, 2010 at 2:27 pm |

    And of course it benefits men — female leadership is appropriately curtailed, but there’s a little taste of power and leadership so the ladies feel important and no one gets uppity or actually challenges the status quo, so men get to keep on running things and reaping the real benefits.

    But how does curtailing female leadership benefit men? This is the question we need to ask. I’m less interested in asking how it was that men came to power — the answer seems obvious to me. I want to know why men wanted power, and why they felt the need to construct femininity as passively as they did. Generally speaking, people don’t own slaves because they want to feel powerful. Oppression is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

    The problem is that human beings — even women! — are rarely satisfied by a small taste of anything. And power, respect and accomplishment? Those things taste good.

    OK, so you think that the reason men want to be in charge is for the sake of being in charge. That is probably a part of it, but I would argue that the will to power is far from being the primary reason men want to be in control.

    Let’s look at the history of the idea that women are naturally passive. This idea is culturally endemic; it was dominant in virtually every society that has ever existed, until recently. It wasn’t until reliable methods of contraception were invented that this idea was successfully challenged.

    In virtually every culture before the twentieth century, a) reliable contraception did not exist, and b) women had zero political power. In these cultures, women were described (by men) as inherently passive. In societies where contraception did not exist, men described women as being inherently passive. When you think about it, the concept of female passivity was used to prevent women from doing anything that would cause them to want to avoid pregnancy. That is against the nature of women! It is contrary to their God-given roles!

    If women were allowed to do anything outside the home, they would have, and this would have meant that a great deal of women (and wives) would have, for years on end, wanted to avoid becoming pregnant. And since reliable contraception didn’t exist, female autonomy would have meant that a whole lot of women (and wives) would have wanted to be abstinent.

    Given that STDs were incurable and could not be easily avoided without abstinence, promiscuity was a dangerous choice for men and women alike. If your wife didn’t want to have sex with you, you couldn’t have sex without undergoing the serious risk of contracting an awful, incurable disease. Thus, in cultures without reliable contraception, female autonomy means wives who want to be abstinent, which means that powerful people (men) can’t have all the sex they want.

    Once again: in cultures where men were powerful and reliable contraception did not exist, men described women as “passive” — in other words, men said that women never wanted to do anything that would ever entail not wanting to be pregnant. How can you not see what’s going on there? The motive isn’t power, it’s sexual gratification.

    I also think that those cultures allowed marital rape to discourage women from declining to have sex. Rape wasn’t all about power — giving men a license to force their wives to have sex with them discouraged women from declining to have sex with their husbands. At the very least, it reinforced the idea that wives always had a duty to be sexually available.

    If you’re still not convinced, look at the timing of the women’s liberation movement. As soon as reliable contraception was invented, the movement took off. Reliable contraception means that women who want to avoid becoming pregnant do not necessarily want to be abstinent anymore — female autonomy no longer poses a threat to the desire of powerful people (men) to have all the sex they want. And as soon as reliable contraception was invented, female autonomy was compatible with powerful people having all the sex they wanted, and the women’s liberation movement achieved unprecedented success. That’s not a coincidence.

    If you’re still not convinced, look at all of the other sorts of oppression that have resulted from the desire of powerful people to have all the sex they want. Infanticide was widely practiced in cultures without abortion, reliable contraception, or the requisite resources to support large families. In those cultures, the killing of infants had to be permissible — without infanticide, powerful people couldn’t have all the sex they wanted.

    I find all of this terribly frightening. There has never been a culture in the history of the world that has not enslaved, raped, and/or murdered massive numbers of people so that the powerful could have all the sex they wanted.

    Getting back to the point I was making earlier, you’ll notice that any ideology that is anti-contraception is also opposed to female autonomy. The commonly given reason for this is that these groups oppose contraception because they want to oppress women. But I would argue that it is actually the other way around — they want to oppress women because they are anti-contraception, and in a world without contraception, female autonomy poses an enormous threat to the ability of men to have all the sex they want. (I won’t get into the reasons why these groups oppose contraception. This comment is long enough already.)

    Ultimately, the idea that women are inherently passive and ought to be subservient to their husbands does not result purely or even primarily from the desire of men to be powerful. The oppression of women resulted from the desire of powerful people to have all the sex they want in a world without contraception. This is why ideologies opposed to contraception and abortion are also opposed to female autonomy. The will to power has virtually nothing to do with it.

  7. Lynnsey
    Lynnsey November 15, 2010 at 3:19 pm |

    These women always remind me of the ‘Aunts’ in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood…

  8. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig November 15, 2010 at 3:46 pm |

    Disgusting. I wish Ms. Shirer had had the good taste to keep her Stockholm Syndrome to herself. Why in any world would any woman put up with all this churchy garbage? Between the election and this, I’m beginning to think I ought to go vandalize a church.
    I wouldn’t pick on Christians so much if they’d leave me alone. But instead, they seem to want to drag us all back into the Dark Ages. I’m beginning to give up on the U.S.

  9. April
    April November 15, 2010 at 3:47 pm |

    Congrats on 4000!

    Also, I find this hilarious in that not-really-hilarious way, because I work with a woman who has stated that she believes that “women belong in the home.” While at work. While at work at the job where she has been in a management position for the past 12 years.

    What I also wonder is how her chronically under-employed husband factors into this worldview. Does she also consider men to also be subject to strict gender roles, and if so, why is her husband exempt from the whole primary-breadwinner part of that particular equation?


  10. andrea
    andrea November 15, 2010 at 3:54 pm |

    Lynnsey: These women always remind me of the ‘Aunts’ in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood…  

    Spot on.

  11. ACG
    ACG November 15, 2010 at 4:06 pm |

    Austin – I don’t think that it comes down to sex specifically. Power (and this is just armchair anthropology on my part, so more studied people, please jump in) is good not necessarily for its own sake but because it gets you what you want. In many cases–in a whole lot of cases–that is sex, but there are nonsexual reasons to keep women passive.

    A woman who Knows Her Place is going to always be available for whatever her husband wants, be it sex, cooking, cleaning, heir production, or even just wandering into the room occasionally and telling him that he’s big and strong and also sooo handsome. It’s handy to have all of these in one person, particularly if you can’t afford to keep a servant or slave, and it’s nice to have the person you want to do sex to immediately available.

    The impact of denying women contraception to keep them passive goes beyond sexual availability. A woman who controls her own fertility can choose not to have kids and pursue outside interests. She can have sex with someone who isn’t you and not come home pregnant. She can choose not to provide you with a boychild even if you want one.

    So many of the anti-suffrage posters in the early 1900s featured beleaguered husbands and screaming children in rags and empty iceboxes while uppity wives strutted off to pursue their own selfish interests. Sex was part of it, certainly, but women’s liberation mostly just got in the way of men getting whatever they wanted on demand–sex, food, physical comfort, freedom, immortality via offspring, the envy of other men, or just a feeling of being strong and awesome and admired.

  12. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. November 15, 2010 at 5:05 pm |

    Growing up in this environment as an independent female child was a trip. I still find it hard to talk about without anger, but I’ll try. (Just please keep in mind that while I try not to be an asshole about my anti-Christian bias, sometimes I miss it and I apologize in advance.)

    I think the level of cognitive dissonance is overblown. I was a precocious child, quoting scripture back at my Sunday school teachers at 5 and asking annoying questions about coherence of my very famous and well respected minister at 7. As a child my ability to reason was a source of amusement, but as I got older the reactions changed. My questions were met with condescension and the questioning of my “faith” among the men.

    But it was the women in my church that “disciplined” me although I didn’t perceive it that way at the time. If I asked an “impertinent” question, I would be directed to an irrelevant scripture and reminded that sort of questioning would serve me well as a ministers wife. If I expressed skepticism at some interpretation of church doctrine, I’d be given some small position of responsibility in the church. Every time I pulled away they intentionally pulled me closer with the promise of power.

    As part of trying to let go of all the things that happened in that church, I went back and spoke at length with the women church leaders and my friends who are still in the church. There is no cognitive dissonance. They believed that the church is the only way not to go to hell, but they also recognize that some women are more independent than others. In their view, that independence may lead them away from salvation, so these positions of power allow those women to “appropriately” channel their energies into caring for the church. That’s how they see people like Schlafley and the surrendered wife lecturers…as women channeling their energy and caring for the church.

  13. Granny T
    Granny T November 15, 2010 at 5:10 pm |

    In the early 1960’s there was a movement called Fascinating Womanhood, started by the late Helen Andelin. At the time,I found it interesting for two reasons: the first was, reading Andelin’s speeches and writings, the thing that jumped out at me was “I, me, my”, over and over. There was lip-service to “it’s for him and the family”, but it wasn’t, it was all about “what can I get out of this?” (In fact, one of Andelin’s articles ended with “..and he bought me a new refrigerator!”)
    The second thing I noticed about the movement was its utter contempt for men; the only way you can be happily married is to hide your education, play dumb, if you’re mad at him, call him a ‘big brute’ and pound your little fists against his chest (and I’m not making that one up).
    It looks to me like Shirer is just more of the same.
    By the way, I’ve found that shouting “you big brute!”, and pounding my fists on my husband’s chest is a very effective way of ending a fight… it’s hard to stay mad when you’re both laughing.

  14. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. November 15, 2010 at 5:19 pm |

    Austin Nedved: Oppression is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

    Errr…then explain the Stanford Prison Experiment among others. People seem to get their jollies harming or oppressing others.

    Also you seem to have the idea that the oppressive regime was constructed solely by men. Femininity as passive was constructed by societies. The intentionality/blame conversation is inappropriate. Both men and women were invested in the gender construct. Why individual men were invested in the construct is irrelevant…the only question is how to fix it going forward.

  15. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin November 15, 2010 at 5:37 pm |

    There’s an ideological fight long underway between religious liberals like myself and religious conservatives. The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) of which I am a member asserted that women had just as much a right to participate in functions as men. Though at times it was reluctant to involve women completely in leadership roles, now, I have discovered wherever I have traveled that they are actively involved in every imaginable role.

    Knowing the dynamics of the work work as I do, I daresay they still use meeting/church as a means of holding authority in ways that they might not have in their careers.

  16. RenKiss
    RenKiss November 15, 2010 at 6:56 pm |

    I’m sure (or at least I’m hoping) she sees the hypocrisy of this. Then again, maybe she doesn’t view this as hypocrisy. You’re about the fact that she feels it’s her calling to teach women to be submissive to their husbands and let the man be the leader of the home.

    The “don’t-have-a-career careerists” are hypocrites to be sure, but they’re also incredibly useful insofar as they carve out a space for women to exert some power and authority when they might otherwise feel powerless, all under the cover of acceptable feminine behavior.

    Thank you for pointing this out. It made me think of my days as a fundamentalist Christian. While the women in church were never allowed behind the pulpit, there were events that only catered to women. Bible studies that were specifically for women. The women of these functions were simply viewed as teachers. But even with that, they had some kind of authority.

    But female authority in male-dominated and male-created institutions can go only go so far. Women can teach Sunday School, but they probably shouldn’t teach adult men in Bible study. Women can organize and lead the choir, but they shouldn’t be behind the pulpit.

    Exactly how it was at my former church. And the women who did lead Bible study basically discussed how to be submissive to their husbands, how to let the man be the spiritual leader of the home, etc.

  17. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable November 15, 2010 at 8:40 pm |

    Mostly off topic, but I had a one night stand with a relative of Phyllis Schlafly and declared it a win for feminists everywhere.

  18. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. November 15, 2010 at 9:30 pm |

    PrettyAmiable: Mostly off topic, but I had a one night stand with a relative of Phyllis Schlafly and declared it a win for feminists everywhere. PrettyAmiable

    FYI…snorting tea out your nose is painful.

  19. Another reason I left my ultra-conservative church « Girl In A City

    […] “Making a career out of telling women not to have careers.”, November 15th, 2010. LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  20. GallingGalla
    GallingGalla November 15, 2010 at 11:40 pm |

    People like Schirer crack me up. How a person can go through life with that level of hypocrisy staring them in the face, I don’t know.

  21. Chelsey Worth
    Chelsey Worth November 16, 2010 at 12:16 am |

    I think that they view themselves as “the exceptions”, so they justify not practicing what they preach by viewing themselves as special and above other women. Also, what Jill said about them being movement leaders, but still hiding behind the shroud of being conventionally passive and feminine.

    GallingGalla: People like Schirer crack me up.How a person can go through life with that level of hypocrisy staring them in the face, I don’t know.  

  22. Chris
    Chris November 16, 2010 at 2:40 am |

    It seems to me that not only is Priscilla Shirer making a career about telling women to not have a career she is also essentially making a career of promoting the male gaze in society. The idea that men are naturally dominant and that woman are naturally supposed to submit to them is a view that has been held for most of time and is continued in our culture by people in this position of authority making sure that every women knows what place she holds in society, the spot right behind the man.

  23. Aishlin
    Aishlin November 16, 2010 at 6:45 am |

    Kristen J.:
    Errr…then explain the Stanford Prison Experiment among others.People seem to get their jollies harming or oppressing others.Also you seem to have the idea that the oppressive regime was constructed solely by men.Femininity as passive was constructed by societies.The intentionality/blame conversation is inappropriate.Both men and women were invested in the gender construct.Why individual men were invested in the construct is irrelevant…the only question is how to fix it going forward.  

    The Stanford Prison Experiment doesn’t prove that people naturally desire power, though I’m not sure that was what you were arguing. If people enjoy oppressing others by the time they’re adults, it could well be a result of having grown up in a society in which oppressing others is how you get what you want, rather than the exercise of power itself being the original motivation.

    Of course there have been many antifeminist women all throughout history, but I think it’s a mistake to ignore in whose interests femininity-as-passivity was constructed. Women got a few paltry protections as a reward for compliance, but the system was always set up to serve the interests of men as a class, whether individual men like(d) it or not, by giving men cheap labor and a license to rape. We won’t be able to effectively move forward without understanding how we reached this point, or without understanding that, since male dominance came about in the interests of men, there will continue to be men who prefer their old, exploitative advantages to the freedom from gender norms promised them by feminists. I don’t believe for a second that the desire for those advantages is natural, but it is deeply ingrained in our society. We’re only hurting ourselves if we gloss over the problem by pretending patriarchy just fell out of the sky one day and harms men and women equally.

  24. Athenia
    Athenia November 16, 2010 at 10:53 am |

    I think people confuse faith and submission to God with faith and submission to your husband.

    The two aren’t the same thing, but traditionalists can’t see anything but.

  25. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers November 16, 2010 at 11:09 am |

    Actually, Austin (and I’m suffering some severe cognitive dissonance at your name, because if you’re the Austin Nedved from Pandagon, you’re either trolling here or trolling there), that doesn’t inherently make sense when you consider that there is no *logical* reason to be opposed to contraception. The whole “birth control kills babies!” thing is a recent invention of the right wing noise machine, and has never been true; the Catholic Church opposed contraception because it is not natural and against God’s plan for sexuality, not because it was thought to cause abortion. Since celibacy is *also* obviously against God’s plan for sexuality, the Church’s position was clearly coming from a position of desire to control sex and control reproduction, not a heartfelt belief that somehow contraception was wrong.

    While you have something of a point, there’s also something obvious you’re missing.

    Patriarchal societies put enormous emphasis on the ownership of specific women. It’s incredibly important that men own and control women, and that women have sex only with the men who own them. Having sex with more than one man marks a woman as fair game, an object who exists for the sexual gratification of *all* men. If the goal is to have lots of sex, why? A situation in which women are freely permitted to have sex with any man they want, and culturally pressured into having that sex, would also ensure that powerful men get all the sex they want.

    The answer, it seems to me, is that male oppression of women is orginally built around the male desire to have children that they know are theirs. This is not necessary, as some evo psych theorists would have it, to allow men to provide for women and children; actually, from both anthropological evidence and from the large primates, it seems clear that in nature, women would automatically band together and care for their children together, and that men would not care for any specific children, or have anything much to do with babies, but would provide in general for the welfare of all the women they are related to (the women of their own tribe), and specifically for any woman they like personally. Chimp and bonobo females get presents from any male who has sex with them, which they pass on to their kids, and male chimps and bonobos treat the children of their sex partners with more care and concern than they do the children of females they haven’t had sex with. Women do not need *specific* men, who know that the child is theirs, to provide for their kids; they need men who are their brothers and cousins to work together to benefit the whole group, they need women who are their sisters and mothers and daughters and cousins to help them raise their kids, and that’s it. Men who like them and sleep with them giving them and their kids presents is a nice bonus, but not needed.

    But humans know that they can die. And humans know that their children live on after they do. And humans can remember whose child is whose. And human women are strongly wired to love children, thus human men are strongly wired to love children, because as the intelligence of an animal increases, the degree of sex-typing of its behavior decreases; the behavior of rats and mice is almost entirely governed by their sex, but chimps and bonobos do non-sex-stereotypical things all the time. Any trait a male human needs, most female humans will have, and vice versa, because our species *has* no strongly linked sex-typed mental traits. And human women appear to have a weak, but definitely existing, preference for their own biological children. And human men can only know a child is theirs if the mother of the child has only had sex with them.

    I believe the roots of patriarchy and male dominance were not cruelty or a desire to dominate. Tragically, I think they are an outgrowth of what should have been a benign, helpful phenomenon — the desire of male humans to parent. Men are among the only male mammals who ever want to have anything to do with babies ever; I mean, we have to look at *penguins* to see fathering role models because mammal fathers just don’t do that. Evolutionarily, only female mammals “mother” (with some rare exceptions… humans being one of the most consistent).

    I believe that the mothering instinct is hardwired into all humans (to varying degrees, yes, humans can desire to be childfree or can even hate kids, but my point is IT’S NOT SEX LINKED, and it is in other species of mammal). But to get access to babies, men need women to have babies. And to get access to their *own* biological children, men need women to not have sex with men who aren’t them. I believe that, quite contrary to how most evo psych theorists seem to think about it, the very fact that there *are* no significant sex linked mental differences between humans except the tendency to violence means that men got a huge dose of the maternal instincts that in other mammals only females get, and because of that, they wanted babies, and because human women do have a weak preference for their own babies, they wanted their own, and that meant controlling women… which, because the only significant sex-linked difference in mental traits is a greater tendency to violence in males, they achieved through violence.

    Having taken control of female sexuality in order to have access to their own children, men as a group found it very much to their advantage. You have a personal slave, who is loyal and dedicated to you, who provides you with sex on demand, who manages all the yucky and unpleasant parts of raising children (something that human women will also outsource every chance they get), who saves you a great deal of work and money by running your household and preparing your food… what’s not to like? Even men who don’t actually like or want kids benefit from this situation.

    So now you have men who have a lot of power, and they’ve been taught that to willingly yield that power to a woman reduces them to a being that can be dominated by all others. And they’re well aware that if women have access to contraception, they cannot be tied to child bearing and they can be free to do what they like, and they don’t have to remain in bad marriages, and they can earn their own money. Women with contraception have the freedom to fight for equality, and men who are invested in controlling women are *terrified* of that.

    So no. It’s not about access to sex — although that’s important too. It was originally about access to children, and now it’s simply about power — not because power is fun, but because power gets you things, and because not having power puts you in a position where other people have power over you.

  26. ACG
    ACG November 16, 2010 at 1:02 pm |

    The Stanford Prison Experiment doesn’t show a universal desire for power as much as it demonstrates the pervasive ideals of different types of authority. I suspect the “guards” weren’t people who were secretly evil and just waiting for the opportunity to torture someone with impunity–they were normal people who internalized the role assigned to them and acted the way they felt prison guards were meant to act. The fact that they were surrounded by other “guards” who acted the same way for much the same reason only reinforced it. Ditto for the “prisoners” in the other direction–they didn’t react to the abuse the way a lot of other people would not because they were prisoners but because they felt like prisoners.

    The parallel there is that a lot of men enjoy a position of power not because power is awesome but because they’re men, and men have power and everything that accompanies it. A lot of women take a submissive role because that’s simply their place–in this world, men have power and women don’t have power, and I’m a woman, ergo I’m powerless. It’s not necessarily about being drunk on power–it’s about never conceiving a world where you wouldn’t have power, because power is inherent in the role of “man.”

  27. ACG
    ACG November 16, 2010 at 1:06 pm |

    And if we were to bring it back around to the original subject of the post, I suppose Priscilla Shirer would be one of the “prisoners” who, in exchange for special favors from the “guards,” would tell the others to sit down and shut up and take what was given to them.

  28. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl November 16, 2010 at 1:16 pm |

    “The oppression of women resulted from the desire of powerful people to have all the sex they want in a world without contraception.”

    No. I think there is plenty to refute this, but the most glaring is that it isn’t sex that gets women pregnant. It’s men ejaculating inside a woman that is most likely to lead to pregnancy. If you’re going to split hairs, at least split all of them. :) Which is to say nothing about all the legitimate same-sex sex one could be having.

    There is a reason you framed sex as PIV only (and then rested your premise on it). That reason is the very embeddedness of patriarchal power. It’s seductive and comforting at the same time; it provides a nice set of rules and battle lines.

    It think it is worth it to go back and read (re-read) the Old Testament. It is the detailed history of the destruction of women-centered religions and the establishment of patriarchal rule. … and I won’t even get into the travesty of The Virgin Mary and what *that* has done for millenia of women.

  29. Jadey
    Jadey November 16, 2010 at 1:51 pm |

    I agree that the prison experiment was more about authority in situations. Social psych evidence for the idea of a power and oppression being a motivator for its own ends is more to be found in the theory and evidence around social dominance theory and the social dominance orientation, which is a measure of how much a person desires unequal power relations in social systems in general (warning: the Wiki article covers the conceptual basics, but the sheer volume of research around this theory or its constructs is so large that Wikipedia’s coverage of the actual findings is definitely lacking).

    There’s something interesting in Austin Nedvad’s theory, but it’s absurd to ever argue that one human motivator dominates all others – motivation is complex at the best of times and there’s lots of multifinality and equifinality and overlap and vagueness both within and between individuals and groups. At best I would say that being anti-contraception could play an important (but not exclusive) role for some people some of the time.

  30. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. November 16, 2010 at 3:09 pm |

    Aishlin: The Stanford Prison Experiment doesn’t prove that people naturally desire power, though I’m not sure that was what you were arguing. If people enjoy oppressing others by the time they’re adults, it could well be a result of having grown up in a society in which oppressing others is how you get what you want, rather than the exercise of power itself being the original motivation.

    It wasn’t what I was arguing. I’m arguing that people like to oppress each other…as an end. And the Stanford Study is just one example. You can look at almost any school yard to see others and why it isn’t simply a question of exercising authority. Even in preschool some kids physically intimidate or bully others which isn’t really surprising since behavioral dominance is a trait carried by lots of social predators (as in wolves, lions, etc.). So no, I don’t think its about power or sex or any other “concept.” And if we’re going to fix it, control it, counteract it…we have to be honest with ourselves about where the desire to oppress comes from.

  31. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub November 16, 2010 at 5:13 pm |

    Austin, men who had submissive wives still had PIV sex with many other women (so much for the STD fears). And there were still promiscuous women.

    I also think that those cultures allowed marital rape to discourage women from declining to have sex. Rape wasn’t all about power — giving men a license to force their wives to have sex with them discouraged women from declining to have sex with their husbands. At the very least, it reinforced the idea that wives always had a duty to be sexually available.

    Huh? Rape wasn’t all about power, since allowing marital rape discouraged women from exercising any power to say no? Come again?

    But as others have pointed out, it wasn’t just about sex. Sex is the current bludgeoning stick used to shame and ridicule women–we either want it to much and are sluts, or we don’t want it enough (or don’t want the variety pushed by the puritanical and oddly prudish idea that women are sex servers and men are sex consumers) and are therefore frigid. Keep in mind that there have been times in history where men were seen as less tied to their carnal desires than women were, and women were often excoriated for being so lustful.

    This is about power–the power to have people do things for you, to do what you want, to profit off of their sweat and labor for little or no remuneration, to use a person as a status object, and to be the center of fucking everything. Brides brought dowries, and in many societies, a woman with property lost it once she married–it went to her husband. Her husband could and did keep their children if she tried to separate or leave the marriage (or if he kicked her out). Children, which were seen as valuable property, were “things” awarded to men. Once they stopped being so valuable (as workers, as wage-earners, or heirs) and were seen as “things” that required resources, women “got” them if they left marriages (or if the men left) but they could not count on support until recently. (Now that child support is mandated in the US there’s a growing movement for shared custody.)

    Thing is, you can be a nice guy (or nice lady) and still get terribly defensive and angry when the fruits of this privilege and power are in danger of disappearing. Given this, Kristen, I think it’s a mistake to link this with the Stanford prison experiment.

    Thomas Jefferson had a ridiculous amount of power. I’m sure many people would think of him as a nice guy. Maybe he was “nice” to his slaves. But he had them because he could profit from their labor; exploiting them was in his financial interests.

    So yes, there are bullies who like to humiliate and oppress people, and the right conditions can bring that out in most people. But I think we’re conflating power and entitlement with bullying, here. Shrire’s husband doesn’t strike me as a bully–reading the article, he’s doing most of the “woman’s work,” and he’s a true partner with his wife. Yet he is wedded to the idea (yes, pun intended, sorry) that he deserves more power and authority than she does–asking her father for permission to date her (and then asking for permission to propose to her), expecting to have the last word in all decisions, etc. He strikes me as a nice guy, but one who feels very entitled to power. Much like the deacons of the churches the article mentioned–the women could run bake sales and fundraisers, but the men would decide how the money was spent. His wife can speak and make money, but in their view, it’s ultimately his decision how that money is spent–and it’s ultimately his decision if she continues to work or not.

    This power basically means that your wife will trip over herself to please you–even when you’re in the wrong. We don’t have to get to the example of an abusive husband to see how fucked up that is, and also see the appeal of that. If he suddenly stopped wanting to say, cook dinner or pick up the slack around the house, he’d know that his wife would tie herself in knots to try and convince him, or appeal to him, or just do it herself. If he ran up a secret credit card bill of $50K or had an affair or decided to spent every night out with his friends, the burden would be on her to understand him and change herself to make things right. The conservative Christian culture would only bolster this.

    That’s the appeal of power. Maybe you won’t do whatever you want, maybe you’ll be “good,” but you can do so very comfortable in the knowledge that you can. Any goddamn time you want to.

  32. EAMD
    EAMD November 16, 2010 at 5:17 pm |

    This part is totes my fave:

    “This is just like there are some places where I just won’t wear pants. Not because I think it’s wrong to wear pants. I just don’t want to do anything that would deter someone from hearing what I’m about to say.”

    I usually find that not wearing pants is way more distracting than wearing pants, but hey, more power to Ms. Shirer.

  33. Alcharisi
    Alcharisi November 16, 2010 at 7:46 pm |

    Q Grrl, that’s a really facile reading of the Hebrew Bible, and it’s also a pretty one-sided understanding of the religion of the ancient Near-East. I highly suggest Tikva Frymer-Kensky’s book, “In The Wake of the Goddesses.” She makes a pretty cogent argument that the presence of priestesses and female deities in Mesopotamian religiosity didn’t necessarily mean that women were better off there– in fact, it was often worse, because the way those (patriarchal, btw) religions were constructed essentially ghettoized women’s social roles and power into the appropriate sphere. It was quite essentialist– in fact, it provides an interesting parallel to Shirer’s understanding of female empowerment.

  34. SBE
    SBE November 16, 2010 at 9:38 pm |

    Yes! This comment is one of the most accurate descriptions of women in the church I’ve read. I too grew up in a Evangelical community and women are taught a strict form of essentialism – you’re made by God to do different things than men, embrace it. So when women like Schalfley and Shirer assert authority, they’re only doing so among women – submission to your husband is entirely separate. And Kristin J. is right to point out that S & S are advocating within prescribed gender roles — care, nurturing, maternity, etc. It’s why Christian women *only* talk about those issues, dare they blur the separate spheres. The New Testament says that women are “weaker vessels,” and, as a Bible teacher once explained, that means women are fragile, weak, and thus need to be treated “like a priceless, yet fragile, glass vase.” So, no cognitive dissonance as far as that community is concerned. I don’t know if that makes sense, but<a href=" I wrote about it awhile back if anyone’s interested in hearing about Evangelical womanhood.

    Kristen J.: I think the level of cognitive dissonance is overblown.I was a precocious child, quoting scripture back at my Sunday school teachers at 5 and asking annoying questions about coherence of my very famous and well respected minister at 7.As a child my ability to reason was a source of amusement, but as I got older the reactions changed…..
    There is no cognitive dissonance.They believed that the church is the only way not to go to hell, but they also recognize that some women are more independent than others.In their view, that independence may lead them away from salvation, so these positions of power allow those women to “appropriately” channel their energies into caring for the church.That’s how they see people like Schlafley and the surrendered wife lecturers…as women channeling their energy and caring for the church.  

  35. Tec
    Tec November 16, 2010 at 9:47 pm |


    I get so sick of the misconception that the Women’s Movement only came in the 20th century. It’s at least as old as the 18th century (along with the whole Age of Enlightenment) and mostly is in the context and reaction of the French Revolution. (I mean, if you start challenging classism and put rich and poor as equals, you can start deconstructing all the unequal power relationships in the Patriarchy (TM).) Check out , written in 1791.

    Not to mention some evidence (myths, ancient texts/inscriptions, paleolithic goddess statues, etc.) indicates non-partriarchial societies and/or matrilineal or matrifocal several ancient civilizations such as India, Mycenaean era Greece, etc. Just off the top of my head, the Ancient Greek myths about the Amazons.

  36. Tec
    Tec November 16, 2010 at 9:48 pm |

    Meh – I didn’t close the html properly. Check out De Gouge’s Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Citizen, to which the above links.

  37. Athenia
    Athenia November 16, 2010 at 9:54 pm |

    What does this woman think about nuns?

  38. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl November 17, 2010 at 8:42 am |

    @alcharisi: no doubt. I did just write a one-liner to sum up the entirety of the Bible. LOL.

    However, I’m not sure that I am wrong that it pretty clearly spells out the how and why of patriarchy as we know it now. It’s a road map; one of many. I’m not arguing that women had it better – in fact I wasn’t arguing about women at all. Personally, I am intrigued about how blatant the patriarchy has always been about what it is doing, its intentions, and its portrayal of might-makes-right. It isn’t so much that one is supposed to believe the lies/machinations; it’s that one is supposed to instill self-doubt in service to power.

  39. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub November 17, 2010 at 11:09 am |

    Also, folks, keep in mind–to many uber fundamentalist Dominionists (such as the folks at the Vision Forum, or Ladies Against Feminism), some “complementarians” have been called “White Washed Feminists.” Among those folks, Shrier looks like Gloria Steinem. They thought it wasn’t Godly that Sarah Palin was running on the ticket as VP. Go to Ladies Against Feminism’s website to see rants about the “feminisitic” influence on Christian churches.

    There has been a huge schism between these factions.

  40. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig November 17, 2010 at 9:34 pm |

    Sheelzebub: There has been a huge schism between these factions.
    Christian catfight! Only one shall live!
    Seriously, I’d pay to see that. As long as they’re fighting each other, they’ll stay away from politics.
    (Sorry, off topic.)

  41. Amanda
    Amanda November 28, 2010 at 9:56 pm |

    God told Eve in Genesis 3:16 that she would, “desire to control [her] husband, but he would rule over [her].” This was Eve’s curse: that she and every woman after her would give birth in pain and want to lead in her marriage, but instead would need to submit.

    Further in the Bible, in Titus 2, Paul commands young women, “to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God.” According to what I have been taught, men are called to the marketplace, while women are called to the home. These are the domains laid out by God for each of the sexes. This does not mean a woman cannot hold a job, especially if it helps her family.

    Though I haven’t read Mrs. Shirer’s books (I hadn’t heard of her before reading this article), I believe (based on the link given) that she talks more about submission than about not holding a job. Biblical submission reflects the love for my husband that all Christians are called to have for their Lord, Jesus Christ. I am only to show this submissive love to my husband, and not to other men.

    I read this blog to get more of an understanding of feminism. While I am only an occasional reader and a first time commenter, I felt the need to comment here in order to defend an under-represented viewpoint. I am happy to discuss this matter further, if I am welcome.

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