Women are not the problem

Warning: This post contains subject matter which may be triggering for some people.  Things I will mention include rape, sexual assault, harassment, abuse, molestation.  Also, I use some strong language (read: swearing).  Read at your own risk.  If you choose to comment on this post, please show respect by providing a trigger warning for sensitive topics each time you include them.  (Posts with potential triggers that don’t include a warning will be removed within 24 hours.)  Thanks!

Last night, I participated in an animated discussion on Twitter regarding the 2005 book Sex Is Not the Problem: Lust Is by Joshua Harris.  One of the people I follow is reading it for research and was live tweeting her reactions.  I won’t take up space with all of the horrifying quotes she tweeted, but I will tell you which two I found the most disturbing:

When you dress and behave in a way that is designed …to arouse sexual desire in men, you’re committing pornography with your life.


Ask God to help you see how selfish and uncaring it is to want to use your body to encourage your brothers to lust.

Those two statements, right there, are exactly why we have a problem with boys and men who act as though they have the right to take whatever they want from girls and women.

You may not be able to see it.  You almost surely won’t see it if you are a straight, white, cis-gender man.  You probably won’t see it if you’re a woman who buys into purity culture and have never been victimized.

But the rest of us see it.

It’s especially bad for those of us who have been harmed by it.  We’re the survivors.  We’re the ones who have had to deal with years of shame because we believed that what we suffered was our own fault.  We’re the ones who…

  • were raped by our innocent, safe boyfriends with whom we never even shared a kiss.
  • dressed in baggy clothes and pretended we didn’t have breasts because we were sure that they wouldn’t have raped us if we’d been more modest.
  • were licked, leered at, and taunted by our classmates because using sexuality was a way to make us feel small.
  • had boys write “slut” and “whore” and “bitch” on our homework, then had friends tell us we should be flattered because “he likes you!”
  • had our fathers demand chastity with our boyfriends while themselves finger-fucking us in bed at night.
  • got felt up by boys, without our permission, and then were ashamed because we kind of liked it.*
  • had boys ask to touch our bodies, and said yes because we were scared, and never told anyone because we hadn’t said no.
  • thought something was wrong with us when we felt sexually aroused, because that wasn’t supposed to happen to girls who weren’t married.
  • were virgins when we got married and endured years of painful intercourse instead of real lovemaking because the first time was so painful and scary, and no one ever taught us that it didn’t have to be—even if we’d never had sex before.
  • continue to live with shame over our non-marital intimacy because we’ve been labeled as “sluts.”

And through every single moment, we heard the message loud and clear that whatever we were doing was the cause of our misery.**

So you can sit there in your self-righteous bubble and tell us how we should dress or act so that we don’t attract the “lust” of boys and men.  Or you can choose to use your own feelings of guilt and shame to do more damage to other people.  Either way, though, you need to keep it to yourself.  You need to stop using your words to continue the cycle of blame and guilt that has been inflicted on too many women.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am.  I’m angry that we spend our energy demanding that women take responsibility for both their own and men’s sexuality, instead of doing what we should be doing: going after the actions of the people who victimize others directly, without blaming those they’ve harmed.  I’m angry that anyone gave Joshua Harris a platform for his douchey attitude toward women.  I’m angry that the message that what women wear causes uncontrollable urges in men is still being spouted in churches everywhere.  I’m angry that because this message is so prevalent in Christian culture, my children will someday hear it, even if it isn’t explicitly preached to them at church (the same message appears in music, books, devotions, and educational material for Christian teens).

I have two messages.  First, for men like Joshua Harris and other men who call themselves Christians: Shut up.  Just shut up.  We women don’t need you to tell us how we should dress or act.  And we don’t need men to “protect” or “rescue” us from the fairly uncommon random stranger that attacks women.  No, we need you men to keep your damn pants zipped and stop being the ones who rape and molest us, and then trying to blame us for being immodest.

Second, for those of who have been abused and assaulted, stop believing the lie that it’s your fault.  Stop believing that there is something wrong with you.  There isn’t.  And you don’t need Jesus to heal you from whatever sin caused your pain, because it wasn’t your fault at all.  You don’t need to recover from your own fall, but from the shame placed on you by other people.  You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

This has to stop somewhere, and I’m determined that, at least in my own household, it stops with me.


*It’s not uncommon for children who are molested or people who are sexually assaulted to feel some degree of arousal.  Those parts of our bodies are designed to respond to stimuli.  The shame comes both from the confusion that it’s simultaneously unpleasant and yet stimulating, coupled with the belief that anything sexual is bad until marriage.

**Yes, everything on that list has happened to someone (or multiple someones) that I personally know.  Yes, some of them happened to me.  No, I’m not going to tell you which ones.


5 thoughts on “Women are not the problem

  1. I’m white, hetero male and I get what you are saying. The truth is that it is also hard for Christian men, because we also get the wrong messages. What we need is a proper understanding of sexuality to be taught, for both sides.

    Some part of the problem is that men react differently to repressed guilt over sexuality. But it is screwed up, and women do often get the bad end of the deal.

    • I probably should have added “fundamentalist” to straight, white cis-male. It’s true, women are absolutely NOT the only people who are damaged by “fundasexuality” and the ensuing repressed guilt. Honestly, I think all the really great het white Christian men I know have an uphill battle, because they DO get it but are perceived as potential enemies instead of potential allies.

  2. Having actually read some of Harris’ work, and heard him speak, I must say, I think I know where you are coming from, BUT I believe these quotes are severely out of context and not fully informative of the message he’s attempting to send. Harris has not in any way (in the books I’ve read) indicated or suggested that women are to blame if they are abused sexually or anything of that nature. It appears much clearer that he warns young women that if they flaunt their bodies, they will be much more likely to attract men who are prone to do that sort of thing. He uses strong statements to try and drive the point home, but he’s not suggesting that women are to blame.

    You see, I believe he is warning young women in attempt to help them guard from the immorality in a majority of all men in the world. He’s warning women not to use their bodies and sensual attitudes to get attention (and let’s be honest, many many young women do)) because it stimulates natural mental triggers in men, that are VERY commonly abused and exploited by the men of the world. (Hence, the whole “Sex is not the problem, lust is” concept)

    To condemn him for not taking responsibility for being the ones who do those things to women is kind of ridiculous. You can’t generalize him to a gender, and he’s not warning you against his own self, but he’s well aware of how men are wired, and probably realized that most men aren’t thinking along the same Godly principles as he does (and encourages young men to in his other literature) and is giving a heads-up on what may trigger or attract the wrong type of man.

    • Well, I’ve read Harris as well (I was barely into adulthood when his first book came out). I’m not impressed. While he doesn’t directly say it’s a woman’s fault if she’s assaulted, he’s not careful to make it clear she isn’t at fault. It’s unfortunate but true that fundamentalist Christian culture does indeed blame women for rape, assault, harassment, and molestation. As I mentioned in the post, every single thing on my list happened to someone I know–and too many of them were outright blamed by their church leaders. In a more recent incident, a young woman was raped by an elder in her church and made to apologize in front of the congregation for her “sin.” (This made news, and the reaction from a lot of Christians wasn’t “That’s horrible!” but “How do we know she was really raped? Women lie about it all the time to save face!” Um, no, we don’t. In fact, we’re likely to do the opposite–lie and say it never happened. And you want to get personal? When I was assaulted, I didn’t tell anyone for 10 YEARS because I was afraid I would be blamed. Yeah, the person who basically spent my teenage years in baggy clothes and turtlenecks to hide my body, in case I was “tempting” boys with it.) It’s really, really important that if a man is going to tell women to dress “modestly” that he also make it very, very clear that it doesn’t matter how she was dressed, no one has the right to put his hands on her–even if he’s “tempted.” (My sister pointed out that men know not to touch when they’re in strip clubs, so they ought to know not to touch in “real life” too–except that a lot of them don’t.)

      Anyway, I do find this hard to explain to a lot of guys. YOU are responsible for your body, every single part of it. WE are not. We are responsible for our own bodies. And if you want to get down to it, women are actually just as visual as men–we’re just visual about different things. But you won’t hear me (or read me, I guess) saying guys shouldn’t wear jeans because their butts look good. (Hm, maybe I should tell my husband to stop wearing certain pants to work, lest he tempt his coworkers? LOL)

  3. Pingback: Usually it’s Agree or Disagree, but this is just a rant that needs to get out | Kevin Olenick

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