This is a two part series. In part one, we’ll trace the history and impact of misogyny. In part two, we’ll explore what Jesus has to say about healthy, whole, male-female relationships in a more just world.
The #MeToo movement uncovered a fault line running across the entire country. Revelation after painful revelation exposed the pervasiveness of misogyny and sexual brokenness in the United States. Among the accused were Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, politicians Roy Moore and Al Franken, talk show host Matt Lauer, physician Larry Nassar, and perhaps most shocking, Willow Creek’s founder and head pastor Bill Hybels.
The charges certainly didn’t come as a surprise to the 321,500 Americans who are victims of sexual assault or rape every year. After all, this type of misbehavior has been happening for centuries. What was surprising was how quickly women mobilized and how effectively their unified voices shook the status quo.
I’ve spent the last ten months watching this unfold and wondering: what’s next? Will women continue to courageously share their stories? Will Americans reckon with how our hyper-sexualized, misogynistic culture makes it nearly impossible to honor each other, form healthy relationships, and work together as equals?
However the culture at large decides to respond, Christians have an incredible opportunity to lead the nation beyond #MeToo. We have a chance to eradicate misogynistic behaviors and forge healthy partnerships between men and women. But in order to create a new and better path, we must examine our deeply embedded patriarchal patterns and learn from them.
A Brief History of Misogyny
The world did not become sexually broken overnight. It’s been a long time in the making. The word “misogyny” is of Greek derivation and means “the hatred of women.” Because very few men actually hate women, the definition needs to be expanded.
Misogyny is at work any time women are devalued, taken advantage of, overpowered, or marginalized. When a woman performs the same job with the same level of expertise but gets paid substantially less than a man (on average, 20% less), that’s misogyny. A battered wife is a victim of misogyny. When a woman is raped and then questioned about what she was wearing, that’s a double dose of misogyny. Misogyny tends to blame women for evil, even when evil is done to them.
Assumedly, the Greeks coined the word because they needed to describe how they were treating women and girls. The Greco-Roman world created breath-taking works of art, architectural masterpieces, and even the template for Western democracy. They also denied women a voice in that same government, widely practiced abortion, and left unwanted baby girls on their front steps or at garbage dumps where opportunistic families could take them and raise them as slaves or prostitutes.
Even today, carrying two X chromosomes can be akin to a death sentence. In China, India, Pakistan, and other countries, women are encouraged (or even mandated) to abort baby girls or to commit infanticide after their birth. According to author and journalist Sheryl WuDunn, “In the last half century, more girls were discriminated to death than all the people killed on all the battlefields in the 20th century.”
How Misogyny Leads to Sexual Brokenness
Misogynistic beliefs often lead to sexual brokenness and sexualized violence because these unbiblical constructs permit men to abuse their power, refuse accountability, and mistreat rather than honor women. This is evident across the globe.
Like many other nations, the United States has an extensive and sordid history along these lines. From colonial times until the 1960s, black women were systematically raped by white men with total impunity. (Read At the Dark End of the Street for more on this.) A 2012 survey done by the Center for Disease Control states that one in five women (and one in seventy-one men) have been raped at some point in their lives.
Larry Nassar’s case illustrates just how long perpetrators can continue their criminal activity when those in authority are complicit. The USA Gynmastics’ team doctor sexually abused more than 160 young women and girls over the course of approximately twenty years, some as young as age six, even though multiple supervisors had been told what was going on.
While not as egregious as rape or other forms of sexualized violence, pornography is another manifestation of misogyny. It denigrates women, distorts God’s intention for our sexuality, and has a far-reaching, nefarious impact. By depicting violent and dehumanizing sexual encounters, pornography programs men and boys to believe that women enjoy being mistreated. Statistics indicate that one eighth of all Americans regularly visit porn sites. That’s forty million people who are objectifying and exploiting the women (and men) who appear on their screens.
How Misogyny Affects Men
Women and children are the most obvious victims of misogyny but men are also adversely affected. Carolyn Custis James writes in Malestrom:
Men have lost sight of who God created them to be as human beings and as men. ... Through cultural conditioning that takes both benign and violent forms, they are cut off from significant, God-given parts of themselves that lead to human wholeness for fear it will make them less of a man.
When the dominate narrative communicates that A.) manhood is measured by virility and that B.) men who possess traits perceived as feminine (e.g. empathy, sensitivity, or nurture) are less than, it fractures men’s souls and leaves them feeling trapped by misguided cultural expectations.
A Complicit Church
In one way or another, we’re all diminished by the long reach of misogyny— including the church. This is why activists Hannah Paasch and Emily Joy followed up the #MeToo hashtag with #ChurchToo. Churches should be safe places for everyone, not breeding grounds for perpetrators. But wherever unrestrained power and toxic masculinity are not redeemed by the cross, death and destruction will follow.
This is true across every denomination, as evidenced by Catholic priests who have engaged in pedophilia and Protestant organizations that have attempted to silence victims and cover-up sexual abuse. The latter include allegations against Bob Jones University (sexual abuse concealed by high level officials), Patrick Henry College (covering up on-campus rapes), and Sovereign Grace Ministries (which allegedly ignored two-decades of child sexual abuse).
Churches or Christian organizations that are rife with misogyny often abuse Scripture to protect their power. For example, when a denomination or church culture interprets passages such as Ephesians 5:22-24 and 1 Corinthians 7:5 to mean that husbands have the right to sex on demand, wives may conclude that their needs and desires are irrelevant and that they have no choice but to submit, regardless of the personal cost.
My husband and I recently taught a workshop on marital intimacy. One young couple walked out as we were explaining the importance of a wife being able to say "no." On the post-conference evaluation form, one comment (we assume it was theirs) read, “There’s nothing in Scripture about mutuality in the bedroom. When I want [sex], I get it.” I grieve for his wife and all wives who have to endure that kind of selfish power play. And I pity the husband because he will most likely never experience the deep intimacy that results when a couple can completely trust and respect each other.
It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of misogyny, but sin (both personal and generational), group think, evil spiritual forces (Eph. 6:12), the lure of power, and an inadequate understanding of God’s Word all contribute. In part 2, we’ll explore how God’s creative intent for humanity provides the antidote to misogyny.
Read part 2 of this series here.