I’ve been sitting on this post for several weeks. As the number of women who are speaking out against sexual abuse, assault and rape continue to build, so are the offensive comments and apologists.
In my formative years of early dating life, I was introduced by my pastor to the book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” (and it’s follow-up book, Boy Meets Girl.) Among many things, this book was an instruction manual for the devoted on how to properly date (or not date as it may be) and relate to the opposite sex.
Why is this appearing here, now? Josh Harris, the author of IKDG, and BMG is currently doing the rounds of social media as he details how he might have been wrong about how the book was written. Over time, he heard stories of how his stringent dating principles were taken like the bible across the world and how they have damaged young people’s sense of identity, sex lives, views of the opposite sex and marriage. Since hearing these stories, he has recanted many of the rules and guidelines for appropriate relationships that he put forth in his book. (You can watch the entire 17:27 TedX talk here.)
Harris’ book placed males ahead of females, and perpetuated the patriarchal views of relationships in the most skewed sense. He wrote this manual to “appropriate dating and courtship” when he was 21, after only one actual relationship. I actually purchased this book again (much to my chagrin) in order to deconstruct some of the harmful tenants that Harris’ book (and thus the church) imposed on girls as they developed into women.
(Sidenote: Another eerie part of this book is that it had a previous owner that highlighted various passages. This brought sadness to my heart, knowing there was another person led into this harmful way of thinking at one point. I recall saying to my therapist that it was as though the book had a soul that my past could relate to. I wanted to know who this was, and to let them know that this book was harmful, and not to put so much trust in one person’s view, as the book was written in the voice of “God wants you to do this.”
Let me break down some of the issues he brought to light when he wrote this book.
Serial dating/recreational romance
Harris refers to dating like recreational romance, in the sense that it is reckless and without merit. Essentially, any dating before entering a formal “let’s see if we could get married” is cheating on your future spouse and has no use what-so-ever.
Let’s break this down. First off, it’s difficult to know what you do and don’t want in a person without getting to know them better. Harris would say you can do this outside of a dating relationship. He refers to this as a brother/sister relationship. First off, starting a relationship looking at someone as a brother squidges me out. How I would treat and think of a sibling, and how I would think/treat a person I was interested in are totally different. Making the switch from a pure “I couldn’t think of them that way (or shouldn’t)” to a “maybe I could pursue this person as a mate” is a violent one, and leads to a lot of boundary confusion.
Biblically, women are to be submissive to their husbands- “Here’s a man I could follow.”
(I won’t get too far into my personal beliefs about this, but suffice it to say, women are equal to men.) Within the church, women are considered less than men. Often women cannot speak in church (from the pulpit), and cannot teach boys past a certain age. This is based on a scripture pull from 1 Corinthians 14:34; “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.”
I have long believed this quote is culturally based, as it was written in the time where many women could not read and thus did not know the scriptures as written in the time. It would make sense to not have someone teaching the bible if they could not read the bible. However, in this time, it is still used in the context that men are the only ones qualified to teach and interpret what god says in the bible for the masses (or for older boys and men.) I clearly take a lot of issues with the idea that women could not offer lessons of value on living out faith.
This lesser-than attitude carries down to the youngest of girls who are not allowed to ask questions, or speak up in church. They then develop a subserviant view of their role in their sex as they develop. This view pepetuates rape culture from the beginning, placing men in the only power roles available, and women in the place to meet the needs of the men to enable them to perform their leadership duties (both in church and in marriage.)
Furthermore, this view is brought into the bedroom. Often the topic of sex was brought up, and I currently see many christian women talk about how they have sex when their husbands want it, regardless of whether they are “in the mood” (or even further, when they actively don’t want it.) This IS MARITAL RAPE in the case of the latter, but the church instructs women to have sex when their partner wants it, lest the male be led to meet their sexual needs elsewhere. This places the sole responsibility and blame on women if their men cheat. Often the question “well, what needs were you not meeting in your marriage” is first, rather than the onus being directly on the male for the choice to cheat. (Side note: I believe unmet needs lead to cheating. HOWEVER, the sole responsibility for extra-marital affairs cannot be placed solely on the woman not having sex with their husband “enough” as I often heard in church.
With regards to “Here’s a man I could follow” I say this: I do not follow my husband. I walk next to him, both figuratively and metaphorically. When there is a power differential among partners from the get-go, I believe there is a definite probability of misuse of that power. As I grew through my late teen years and into my twenties, I watched “biblical relationships/courtships” and even marriages where the woman was placed in a lesser-than role and always asked permission of her husband to do even the smallest of things.
Courtship: “Its a time for the couple to get to know each other without outside pressure or overly high expectations” (Page 29, IKDG)
Oh boy, where do I start? When IKDG came out, this book became the bible of relationships. The church picked it up and ran with it. When we found out a couple was “entering a courtship” it was a given that they were likely to marry, and it was a BIG deal. The announcement was basically a “pre-engagement.” Everyone started to examine them from the outside, and watch to see what they did. Courtship was the HIGHEST form of outside pressure and high expectations. Period.
“Men don’t know what it means to be a man, so we lazily do whatever is easiest. Women don’t know what it means to be a woman, so they end up acting like men.” (page 104, IKDG)
Where do I start here? First off, the author considers men to be lazy because they don’t know how to be men? What does that even mean? Immediately following this quote is this: “Relating to the opposite sex can be confusing if you don’t know what you are opposite of.”
So, breaking that down, Harris is saying that men are the opposite of women? This is completely false. We are different, and in some cases our skills are complementary, but I certainly don’t consider myself opposite of my husband. Later on, he talks about men as leaders. So, to take his view, women are followers? When extrapolating this out into common marriage life, we cannot afford to be followers. We have needs. We have skills. We are simply BETTER in some areas. (And sure, that works to the opposite, men are better in some areas too.) In a functional relationship, men and women are leaders in multiple areas both practically and emotionally.
Speaking to the latter part of Harris’ above-bolded quote, Women don’t know what it means to be a woman, so they end up acting like men.” Again, this is vague. If women take the lead on something, they are acting like men? Why can women not lead and be powerful women? In former church life, this was a threat to power in the leadership, and thus why the women were shunned for speaking out about their needs, ideas, and stereotypical gender roles.
This played out as many women getting married and not going to college, or being forced into early motherhood. Not only did this play out in this way, but this life was idealized. One should aspire to marriage and children, regardless of how their goals might differ. Young marriage in this format also led to financially dependent women, who could not leave a partnership even if they wanted to, burdened with a lack of education, skills, and several children. The church was HAPPY to help, however, as long as the marriage stayed intact.
“If you want men to respect and cherish you as a woman, refuse to buy into our culture’s obsession with being physically beautiful and sexually alluring. This is an attitude that springs from the motives of your heart and extends to the way you dress and act around men.” (Page 117, IKDG) “Once when I told her (his courtship lady) that a particular pair of shorts were a little too short and were causing me to struggle, she quickly replaced them.” (Page 118, IKDG)
At one church I attended, there was a giant shirt we had to wear over deemed inappropriate clothes. It said, “I did not wear the proper clothing to church today.” (And various other permutations of this idea.) And so, the slut-shaming began*.
Harris describes a time that he felt his “courtship partner” was wearing shorts that were too short, and caused him to struggle. (And subsequently told her to not wear them.) This puts the early onus on women to prevent men from thinking (and eventually acting) on sexual thoughts. This is rape culture at its finest. Men are SOLELY responsible for their actions when it comes to sexual behavior. By having an early expectation that 1. sexual thoughts are wrong and 2. the woman is responsible for changing her behavior to keep the man from acting on that thought causes men to switch their view from “I am responsible for my actions, and need to manage my thoughts appropriately” to “that woman caused me to think/act this way.” We can see this culture clearly with the various permutations of “she was drunk”, “she dressed slutty” “she was asking for it.”
As a survivor of sexual assault, I also would like to state that this battle continues for me. I was raped IN a church, and am consistently deconstructing the warped perception that I was the cause of my own rape. But outside of that, women are consistently questioned as someone who “asked for it” when unwelcome sexual actions occur.
In a conversation thread on Facebook on a friend’s wall, the topic of dress codes came up. Her daughter wore a shirt that pointed out the major flaws in dress codes, and how it perpetuates rape culture. One commenter said: “I feel like it’s some sort of popular trend to try to be a victim in any way possible! I don’t get it….. I just don’t. It’s a dress code, a rule that kids need to follow while at school…. I wouldn’t necessarily love my daughters to see this shirt because they don’t feel like victims. I think it promotes victimhood.”
We subsequently had a back and forth where she couldn’t see how dress-codes that are extensively directed at girls was contributing to rape culture, and placing the onus early on girls, to “protect boys” from provocative clothing. She attempted to deflect to a future “dress code” for a job (and referring to the school as the child’s job.) To which I would respond that 1. a job (and subsequent dress code for the job) was an agreement they entered into willingly (while school is compulsory) and 2. even dress codes within employment are often written by upper management (read: males) and continue to be written to “not lead men astray” in the workplace.
The major sticking point for this commentor was based on her not being a “victim,” with regards to women being thrust early on into a male-dominated/slut shaming/rape culture because she had not encountered it. Interestingly enough, until we examine that culture, and how we are players in it, the forces can be subtle, and sometimes imperceivable.
*I’d also like to state that I never saw a boy at church be forced to wear the slut-shaming shirt. Ever.
We should never expect the other person to be the strong one and force them to bear the weight of temptation. (Page 150, IKDG)
This quote refers back to many of the past points. First, we SHOULD expect the other person to be the strong one, when it comes to rape culture. (Read: the men.) When we look at rape statistics, most sexual assaults are committed by men, on women. This, however, cannot be tied (and morally SHOULD NOT BE TIED) to the responsibility of women. Men are more powerful in many cases, physically, than women. However, my spaghetti strap shirt (or walking down the street at night, or simply being a woman) is not an invitation for a man to rape, assault, or cat-call me. The responsibility to control one’s mind is solely in the hands of that person. I do not “lead” men to behave inappropriately, they are 100% in charge of their actions. 100% of sexual assaults are the cause of assaulters. Full Stop.
“God not only wants to maximize a couple’s enjoyment of sex in marriage, He also wants them to learn to trust Him together. When a Christian man and woman systematically deny their own physical desires as an expression of mutual faith and submission to Jesus Christ, they are laying a solid spiritual foundation for their marriage. They are learning to fight sin as a team.” (Page 151, IKDG) “only selfishness and sin make two people sexually incompatible.” (Page 167, IKDG)
This sets up sex to be SO MUCH. First off, there is a whole section about forgiving a potential courter of previous sexual/relational behavior. I recall a very clear couple of sermons (and I think ANY long time youth group person will remember a similar less.) This lesson starts with a piece of paper. The pastor holds it, whole, and starts to tell a story about how Jessica (insert name here, but every time I heard this, it was a female, which will become important later) was in a relationship and kissed this boy. They later break up. (The Pastor then rips the paper in half and says “she gave part of her heart away.) He then goes through several other dating relationships (which usually involved her having sex with a boy, kissing them or doing other sexual things) and each time he would tear the increasingly smaller piece of paper in half. Then, FINALLY finds “the one” and she is full of shame because she only has “this much” of her heart to give to this boy. She has to painfully explain away all her previous exploits to this boy, with shameful tones. (I’ve also heard this lesson as a rose that was passed around to all the youth group, starting as a perfect rose, then getting damaged by so many people touching it.)
Sex. is. not. inherantly. bad. But, throughout life, sex is a taboo topic and (especially for girls) considered their worth. Are you pure when you are married? No? You didn’t “save yourself” for your husband?
Should sexual relationships be saved for two consenting people who are at the age of reason of the consequences? Yes. Should exploring natural feelings be a cause for shame and a feeling of being tainted? NO.
I recall the residue of my church upbringing as I eventually disclosed to my eventual husband the number of sexual partners I had before him. (I did not count the rapes I experienced within my tally.) Though I had been with more sexual partners, (and had more long-term relationships, I could look back on those relationships as ones I learned a lot from. Every person had something to offer that developed who I was, both positively, and in a way that showed me what I didn’t want in a life-partner. Furthermore, I did not feel that my worth had been diminished because of those experiences. If anything, I had more to offer my husband. I knew more about myself, and what I needed.
However, that residue of shame continued from my church days of “will he judge me or think less of me because I had more relationships that included sex than him?” When women are brought down to a basic worth of purity and abstinence, we are forced into the framework of rape culture. We are then an object to be spoiled, rather than a living, breathing, evolving woman.
Josh Harris and his motivations:
This post started with the recent developments and revelations of Josh Harris. His book perpetuated rape culture, female shame, and male power differentials.
I watched his TedX talk about his evolving belief systems on these two books that he authored about courtship and relational behavior, and was rather un-impressed with his self-reflection.
First, he did not spend a significant amount of time speaking about the people who were hurt by his book. I phrase it this way for the following reasons:
1. The book was used as a tool by leaders in the church, pastors/males especially, to alter and influence the behavior of youth (who at the time were highly influenceable by spiritually given advice and guidance.)
2. This book became the basis and rulebook for what a healthy (read: “godly”) relationship should look like. The impact of this is still being felt across the world (literally), as many marriages were formed under the guidelines this book lays out. All one needs to do is google “I kissed dating goodbye” and you can read the copious amounts of stories out there written by young victims who are living in (or escaping from) horrible marriages that were not thought-out in a logical way.
3. It only took him 2 decades to start talking about how his framework MIIIIIIGHT be damaging. This is yet another example of male-dominated rape culture in play.
4. Josh Harris is doing this talk, SURPRISE, before a big release of a documentary. Attention fingers are pointing at you now, right Josh? He pats himself on the back throughout the talk for talking with dissenters and placing their “testimonies” out there publically for all to see. All the while, his book(s) continues to sell on the shelf. If he truly felt that these books were damaging, he would pull them from circulation completely. (And should.) Harris continues to profit from a book that damages young people.
We do live in a culture where men are the perpetrators (mainly) and are not called to the carpet for 100% of their thoughts and actions. We DO live in a culture where women’s sexual exploits, clothing, actions, and words are considered the key to whether they will be assaulted/raped.
This book is just one part of this structure, in the microsystem of a young person’s life, but for an entire church-going generation, it was a huge influence in perpetuating a dangerous precedent. This is rape culture, and until we look at it, in all its grossness, and expose these faulty beliefs (and judicial systematic procedures), we will continue to live in a world where men cannot do wrong unless the women were leading them to do so