Monday, August 11, 2008

Who is Doing the Abusing and Why?

Domestic Violence. It’s an ugly term, and the results are even uglier. Few want to admit to doing it. And those who do admit it, blame someone else for their actions. Part of the blame game is to say women do it just as much as men. Is this true? I agree some women use abuse tactics, including physical violence. But the statistics say it is women who are getting hurt and dying.
What causes individuals to degrade, threaten, rape, demand, shove, choke, control, and otherwise violate their spouses? Isn’t it that they think they have the right to have their way and to have power over another—and over one whom they claim to love, at that? Who has this belief? Women or men?
If you say women expect to have their way, what societal norms cause women to believe they have this right? Name and state the rule. Let’s see… “Women are to control the world.” Isn’t familiar to me. “Women should rule their families.” Never heard of it. “Husbands submit to your wives.” Sounds familiar, but is misquoted backward. I conclude I don’t know of any rules that give special privileges to women.
Does society have a belief system that says men should have things their way? Absolutely! The man is the “head of the house.” He’s to “wear the pants.” Women are to “submit to their husbands.” Society has lots of rules granting privilege to men, but none that bestow similar privilege upon women.
Why? The Women’s Liberation movement blames Christianity. Are they correct? Partially. The church has indeed put emphasis on wifely submission and very little on the self-sacrificial love required from husbands. Traditionally, wives have been blamed and told by pastors to submit any time there is “conflict” in the home. But is this Christianity? Absolutely not! The Bible requires that all Christians submit to one another. There is no free pass for husbands—at least not in the Bible.
So where does abuse come from if God and the Bible are not to blame? It comes from the human tendency to sin. For centuries male “Christian” leaders have emphasized Bible verses of their choice, and rushed over verses they didn’t care to obey. It was easy to focus on verses that gave them the authority and privileges they wanted and to ignore verses that directed them to submit.
The requirements of true Christianity are to “not think of (ourselves) more highly than (we) ought to think,” to “present (our) bodies a living sacrifice,” to “submit to one another,” to “build one another up,” to “be kind to one another,” and to “honor and prefer one another.” When leaders fail to teach biblical principles of mutual submission, it gives those who want to control their wives the hammer to do what it takes to enforce their authority. In effect, it gives men permission to hijack Christianity for their own ends and to terrorize their wives and children.
But why do some men who reject Christianity and have no “God-given” mandate to rule their wives choose to abuse? Ever since the fall, men have chosen to rule their wives. Adam blamed Eve for his sin, and God prophesied in Genesis 3:16 that because of his sinful nature, Adam would rule over Eve. That pattern has been here ever since, and God first implemented Judaism and then Christianity to free the oppressed and return equality to humanity. Let’s not allow the power-hungry to hijack our faith and make it into something evil.


  1. Hi-jack Christianity...

    Now that's a concept I'm not likely to forget anytime soon. Don't let anyone ever tell you you're not an original thinker.

    I agree with your article entirely. And I admire your courage in speaking the truth without qualification or apology.

    Well said, and thank you for saying it.

    ~~jocelyn andersen

  2. Waneta, I love all your posts, and this one is no exception. (I'm obviously catching up on old ones!)

    Your analysis of the claim that women are just as abusive (a seemingly popular claim) seems to make complete sense. However, I would like to point out that those reasons only hold true in certain societies. Let me explain. In societies/communities where there IS a belief that the mother rules the roost and controls the household, there are female abusers and male victims. I come from such a culture, although I married into the Western one and am a Christian survivor.

    I won't name my background, but there is a strong matriarchal-type figure, who has the authority over her son's family and his children, as well as her sister-in-laws if she is the wife of the eldest son. She often is in charge of the grandchildren as well, undermining the parents' role in their lives. Even in movies, there is the typical portrayal of such a strong female figure who is cruel in her rule (especially to the daughter-in-law), as well as the hen-pecked husband who is physically abused by having his ear pulled as she drags him around. Often it is comedic but people know full well that it represents real life because there is that belief that the mother should rule several generations, after the death of her mother-in-law. So where there is power and permission to have authority, you have abuse and violence.

  3. Another interesting thing, Waneta. The non-Christians blame Christianity for violence against women, and the Christian men blame secular feminists for Christian women leaving their men.

    As you said, only partially true. Christianity does not condone the oppression of women, and feminists don't influence Christians to leave their husbands. Christian women leave to find safety from violence. You don't have to be an anti-male feminist to fight for your right to live free from abuse.

  4. Anonymous,
    "The non-Christians blame Christianity for violence against women"

    Although violence against women originated from sinful worldly men, I think many Christians are responsible for propagating/encouraging violence against women. When Christians teach husbands to take control over their wives, to control the money their wives make, to have the final say in decisions, they are tilling the soil, planting and watering the seeds that produce violence against women.

    In my opinion, secular Western society largely rejects male dominance over women, but Christians insist on husband authority and wife subjection and subservience. Secular society cannot produce a reason for male dominance; they reject 'might makes right' and superior male intelligence. But Christians insist on a God-mandated right for males to control women. I think secular males pick this up.

    I was a facilitator for a batterers education program. The most common reason men give for demanding privileges from women is "I'm the man," or "I'm the man of the house." Some of them use "I make the money," but when their wives make the money, they don't give up their entitlements. I have come to agree with the non-Christians on this one, much as I hate it.

    Karyn Burton, a woman who works at a domestic violence shelter in Indiana has stated that the profession-group with the highest rate of domestic violence is faith clergy. This is not from a study, this is from her observation. In other words, the number of women coming through her shelter (and other shelters where she trains women to be advocates, etc,) whose husbands are pastors doesn't need a tally to count them. She noticed this without a research-type study. And these pastors are the same men who are encouraging husbands to take authority over their wives, and insisting that other pastors teach the same. Although Christianity, itself, does not condone the oppression of women, many Christian leaders, including high profile ones, do.

    Feminists do encourage women to leave abusive husbands, but those who work at shelters mostly encourage women to trust themselves to make the decision that is right for them. They put emphasis on empowering women to trust themselves, their gut instinct, their knowledge of their husband and situation. The focus is staying safe. They know that the most dangerous time for women is when they leave their abusive husbands, and their policy is that only the woman can make the call as to what is safer.

    Interestingly, Christian women tend NOT to turn to "feminists" unless the church is not helping them deal with their situation in a way that holds the abuser accountable, and brings safety to the family. So if the church wants to blame the someone, they better look in the mirror.

  5. Anonymous,
    I'm sorry, your first post was in my spam box. It took me a little to make sure it hadn't been posted twice (otherwise, why did it go to the spam box?)

    I wonder what reason the culture you mentioned uses for a woman to be a matriarch of several generations and even of her sister-in-laws. And how does one culture conclude the wife is ruler, while another one concludes the husband is ruler? In the west, I think Christianity had a big influence. Although men ruling their wives had non-Christian and non-Jewish origin, Christian men picked it up and put much more authority--God's--on it. As I mentioned before, I facilitated a batterers group. Those who do not use scripture to dominate their wives have much less to stand on.

    One of the things we were taught to suggest was to tell an abuser that if he doesn't like what his partner is doing, he doesn't have to control her; he can simply divorce her. Secular men buy this; fundamentalist Christian men would reject this outright. Not only do they insist divorce is wrong, they also insist their wives MUST submit because GOD decreed it to be so. If their wives don't submit, then the husband isn't much of a man, because for him to be a MAN, he MUST have authority OVER his wife. I wonder if a person asked a controlling husband if he thought he was disobeying God if he can't get his wife to submit, if he would rethink his belief. More likely, he would redouble his efforts, and claim he is obeying God to force her to obey (submit to) him.

    Is there a similar religous instruction in the culture you came from that gives certain women absolute authority? Do you have any idea how that came to be the norm?

    You are right, "So where there is power and permission to have authority, you have abuse and violence." I wonder if we can go deeper and find out why people give permission and power to some and not to others. Does the living style have anything to do with it? Here in the USA, it would be hard for a woman who lives in Florida to control her sister-in-laws who live in Ohio and Oregon. Are the women who are given that kind of power living in the same house as all these other women, men, and children?

    I find this odd, because some cultures where multigenerations live in the same dwelling, the man controls everyone. Also of note, is that in I Timothy 5:14 Paul advises Timothy that he wants younger widows to marry, bear children and be the head of the house, as in rule the house. (check it out in Strong's concordance.) "Guide" or "manage" are watered-down words that men chose. If that word, or the male one like it, was used for the husband, they would have used its full authoritarian force.

  6. Good questions. Do you remember Empress Dowager of China? There seems to be a type of mother-in-law figure that rules the household. Maybe how it came about was the male had travel and left the wife in charge of the household, which could have had several generations in it. And since filial piety was taught, the sons often lived with that family while the daughters were expected to serve their mothers-in-law. If the husband was around, he deferred to the wife in matters of the household, not wanting to get involved or interfere. The eldest son was the top of the pecking order, so the wife of that son had rulership over the other wives.

    My own paternal grandfather was a very mild-mannered gentle character who died at a young age, leaving a lioness of a woman to raise a large family in dire circumstances. My father only ever spoke well of her (I don't remember her much) so I don't know if she was abusive, but every one of her children ended up in domestic violence, including my father who married a narcissistic controlling woman who was verbally and physically violent to her kids. To this day, he defends her and claims that unfortunately that's the way women are (although he says his mother and I are exceptions!)

    Maybe when the women in my culture are abusive and violent, it is more towards the children. She was/is very contemptuous and dismissive of my father but she didn't ever hit or threaten him. She just constantly put him down as never being good enough because he was a man of substance, not the showy, charming type that she wanted to parade. And he constantly pandered to her, believing that the Bible taught that sacrifice in marriage meant that he had to give in and not be selfish. (You see, a non-abusive man doesn't enforce "submission" in his marriage, but then again my father wasn't taught by the evangelicals - he was a devout Catholic.) She is not a believer so he doesn't expect her to sacrifice. He is in old age now and I do not want to break his heart by exposing the reality of DV, but now that I recognize domestic abuse, I want to validate him and restore his sense of self-worth that has been torn down by years of self-blame.

  7. Oh, and Waneta, I forgot to add. These days, when the sisters-in-law are not living near each other, the abuse happens when they get together. They know who has the authority/power and right to abuse. As much as my mother is abusive, she is scared of the all-powerful wife of the eldest brother of my father, who is even more cruel than she is! As a result, she tries not to see her much, but family gatherings have always been stressful for that reason. It is also probably for that reason that the children of such families choose to live in another country!

  8. Anonymous,
    Indeed, power DOES corrupt! It sounds like the cultural tradition in China has the power to shame everyone into subjection. It still seems to me that they lack any real authority. At least when you compare them to what the Christians claim--that the authority to misuse others came from God himself, and that others MUST bow to that authority.

    I may do some digging on the Chinese. It would seem the women, who are physically weaker than the men, would have to use some kind of "club" over the heads of the men to be allowed to maintain such power. I mean, why would the wife of the eldest son have such power instead of the eldest son having that power?

    And who has the power outside of the house? Is there a line where her power ends and her husband's begins? Can the dowager overrule her sister-in-law's parenting in everything? Or is it up to a point? If there is a boundary, what is it?

    I am wondering if knowing more about the Chinese would give insight into the problem among Christians--insight that would help stop the evil, I mean.

  9. It's a bit hard to explain because the paradigms are so different. It's normally the mother-in-law that has the rule over the household and parenting. The eldest sister-in-law feels superior over the other sister-in-laws and can comment on their parenting, but in reality cannot do much about it.

    In Singapore, males were once surveyed on the factors in deciding their future partners. Right up there was willingness and capacity to look after his mother. While this sounds noble, in reality it encourages entitlement and the mother ends up bullying the wife. Since the young women are now much more westernized and refuse to subject themselves to either men or their mothers, the men are turning to other places for future spouses.

    Another example. My auntie would not let her eldest son leave home when he married so they lived with her and she looked after the first grandchild. When the second one was born, the mother stopped work and begged her husband to reason with his mother. His mother overheard and berated her severely. They decided to secretly move out, but they were still required to have dinner nightly at their mother's. This auntie's second son decided to migrate elsewhere. The third son compliantly looked after the mother until he got married in his late 40's and he and his wife now live with his mother but are hardly home, to escape her. She has turned to berating her husband and recently kicked him out of their bedroom. My father has been too intimidated to go into the house even though he visits his brother weekly. Sounds far-fetched, but like domestic abuse, not that uncommon in that society. My mother prides herself in not being as controlling, but in reality she is no different - verbally and emotionally invalidating and harsh. And I know of quite a few Christians like that - some of them pastors' wives. Beats me where they get that entitlement from! But it shows that salvation is no deterrent - they will just interpret the Bible anyway they like and probably make their husbands over-emphasize the "sacrifice for the wives" bit.

  10. Anonymous (12-23-10),

    The women I have seen who have been controlling and nasty, don't use any scriptural justification for their behavior. Instead, they insist their view or demand is right for whatever made-up reason they want to use at the moment. Often the reasons are ridiculous--like if I (who am there to help her) don't weed her garden when it is 104 degrees F, she will have to do it when it is 104 degrees even though she is 9 months pregnant. (I refused, and decided if she was stupid enough to weed in that heat, she'd have to learn the hard way. She didn't stay in the garden very long.)

    I know some in our culture consider the wife to be the ruler of her house & garden, and the husband to be ruler of his sphere. There is alot of sense to that. Why should she put up with him tracking mud across the floor she must mop? And why should he expect to choose pictures, flooring and furniture when he will not clean any of it, have to deal with it for organizing stuff, nor be there to look at it for most of the day? And when he is home, he's looking at a black box or a piece of paper? And why should she make decisions about things in his sphere, which she knows little about?

    But what you are talking about sounds like needless berating, etc. I gather it comes at least partially from the "superiority" that comes from being the eldest. Some cultures do give the eldest sibling status, privilege, and even perks the other children do not have. The Hebrews, for example, gave the first born son a double portion of the inheritance. I take this to mean if they had 6 sons, they'd divide the land into 7 parcels, and the first born got 2 of them. The account of Jacob and Esau, shows that the greater blessing was intended to go to the eldest son--even though they were twins.

    Some folks believe they must be nasty to maintain their privileged status. Consider: if they are not nasty, will they lose their status? Will others treat them badly? Will others think they are not being responsible? not maintaining their privileged place? Will others think they can take over and be the boss? These are guesses.

    The reason I focus on husband against wife submission tyranny, is that church doctrine encourages it--no matter how much they deny it. When women abuse, their victims are more likely to know the behavior is wrong. (and even the abusive women may recognize their behavior is wrong, because the church teaches women to be kind, etc. If husbands recognize their nastiness, they tend to think it is God-approved.) Unless they are young children, victims of an abusive woman are not as likely to be confused by a doctrine that tells them their abuser has the right to abuse, and that they must submit/obey and end up facilitating that abuse.

    But still, what is it about being the eldest that is so special to some Asians? What is the reasoning? Is it similar to complementarian reasoning? "Someone has to be in charge," etc?

  11. I really don't know the answer to that, because although the eldest son does have privileges, often that comes with greater responsibility and I don't think being the eldest son necessarily causes one to be abusive. Eg, I know of an eldest son who brought his mother to Christ and got her baptised. The rest of the Buddhist family were livid and punished him by refusing to look after the ailing mother since he was the eldest. He had already migrated but was forced to return to look after her. My own uncle is a kind man but it is his wife who is abusive and feels entitled, being the eldest brother's wife.

    I really don't know why, but my family members who are abuse-aware and who live in the West agree that there seems to be a higher proportion of women abusers in the Asian culture (not that there are any less of the male type). My dad was shocked when he took my mother for an overseas trip and saw the way some Causasian females respected and loved their husbands - he thought all women were like my mother. Since then he concluded that all Asian women are like my mother. He is so trauma bonded I haven't bothered to explain the reality.

    I applaud your work in exposing the contribution of false beliefs in Christianity to domestic abuse. There are already enough justifications men have in controlling and having power over women, we really don't need the church giving them more reasons. We don't need to collude with wickedness.

    Waneta, if not for false interpretation of the Bible, I wouldn't have so many Christian friends perpetrating ex's abuse. Their bottom line seems to be that regardless of what he has done and what my children and I have suffered, the Bible says marriage is permanent, divorce is forbidden and believing in miracles means I must never say he is evil and cannot change. I have a fight on my hands and I am using all the resources I can get a hold of, including this site, to educate those who want to know the truth.