Feminism and the stumbling block

Suggested by Daily Prompt: Mad as a Hatter

Tell us about a time when you flew into a rage. What is it that made you so incredibly angry?

Perhaps the phrase “flew into a rage” is overkill for this particular response, but I recently came across a young woman’s blog that I couldn’t help but rant about to the next closest human. (Thank you G, for humoring me!) In it, she used a well-known and oft-touted biblical reference to proliferate one of the more offensive hermeneutics that has been pushed by and to women in the Church. At the root of her argument is that (young Christian) women need to be cognizant of the effects their choices of apparel have on men. To support this argument, she used the often referenced “men are just more visual creatures” argument and referenced the story of David and Bathsheeba  (from 2 Samuel 11) to support said argument.

I find the use of the biblical reference here ill-suited to the initial argument, even a bit ironic. I find the presumption behind this particular use of this biblical analogy troubling. I prefer to discuss the two issues separately. 

First – the stumbling block argument:

I have heard the argument that women need to use more care to not place stumbling blocks in front of men for more than a decade, from well-meaning women, mostly. I believe this argument is harmful to men, women, God and the Church as a whole. 

It is harmful to men because it degrades a man’s ability to develop and act out of self-control. It excuses men for their failures and implicitly blames the woman for not being more mindful of his weakness. How emasculating is it to set the bar so low? And how am I, as a woman, to respect a man (for that is what I am called to do) for whom the bar is set so low?
It is harmful to women because it demands that women work harder to maintain the moral righteousness of men than it asks of the men. This is a patronizing idea from a patriarchal time when women had very little voice in the church and fewer rights as human beings: women were blamed for men’s failures and it is still happening. I cannot realistically be expected to accurately assess the potential weakness of every person I could interact with on a daily basis. If a man stumbles because I happen to be wearing a fitted shirt on any given day, that’s on him. That’s between him and God. I also happen to believe that Christ’s sacrifice is enough to appropriately deal with that.
Consider the effort it would take for a woman to evaluate every issue/article of clothing, make-up, accessories, manner of movement, emotional availability… the list could go on ad infinitum. Where do we draw the line about what is ridiculous and too much? It’s all gray-space. And what is a stumbling block for one man or woman may not cause another to stumble. We are not all psychics. Alternatively, each and every man knows when he is tempted. He knows his triggers. Why is it that we feel comfortable asking a woman to be aware of and respond appropriately to the potential triggers for all men, but we are uncomfortable asking one man to be responsible and aware of his own triggers and to respond appropriately by averting his eyes or exhibiting self control?
It harms God. Consider what kind of God would hold women responsible for every questionable thought or action that arose in the untempered mind/body of anyone she had contact with. That is not a God I would want, not a God of mercy or even reason. That is a vengeful, punitive, unreasonable God.
It harms the Church. Excusing men or women for not growing in self control cannot benefit the Body of Christ at large. Instead, it encourages weak men and the ever-mindful caretaker woman to be the norm in both our culture and our churches.

Second – the misappropriation of David and Bathsheba’s narrative:

Besides the above feminist response to the stumbling block argument/plea, there is the mishandling of the David and Bathsheba narrative. You see, this is a commonly (in Judeo-Christian cultures) known story about the most famous king of Israel, who is said to have authored significant portions of the Bible, especially the Psalms, and his mistress-turned-most-famous-wife.  When I was in college, and admittedly zealous and equipped with just enough biblical knowledge and more-than-enough-narcissism to do some damage, I often heard Bathsheba referenced with similar disdain as Jezebel. For years, I believed Bathsheba’s story to depict a woman who was not careful about how tempting she was. But this is a wholly inaccurate understanding of the story as it is offered. My misunderstanding was likely fed by the generally conservative  and generally patriarchal culture within which I live(d).

The use of the David story to support an argument that women ought consider the possibility of becoming a stumbling block for men when they get dressed in the morning “because men are just visual creatures” (a quote I have heard from many Christian leaders) is just, in my opinion, a leap. Bathsheba was naked, bathing in her courtyard (or on the roof, depending on interpretation) in the heat of the day, which was an appropriate place and time for a woman to be naked and bathing. The soldiers and wealthy folks generally lived closest to the center of town or palace: think inverted sub-urbia.  There was no plumbing. No hot water heaters. No electricity. David saw her. David failed to avert his eyes. David pursued her. What choice did she have? This was tantamount to a most egregious case of sexual harassment possible. He is the king! She is a (marginalized) woman. David was her king, and her husband’s boss. If she says no, he is shamed, and she could be killed, or otherwise see her husband lose his job, be imprisoned, or be set up to be killed in battle (sound familiar?). When she comes up pregnant, she makes a bold move contacting David. But again – what choice does she have? If Uriah finds out, she will likely be divorced, shunned, and quite likely be killed or forced into prostitution as a result of her “adultery.” Do you see the similarities between this dynamic and the ongoing slut-shaming that happens in our culture? This is why I call it ironic that this passage be referenced in this context. The blogger mentioned above is young and zealous, but in her zeal to teach Christian young women how to dress appropriately, she promotes slut-shaming ideology and simultaneously asks her reader to ignore the context and culture of the biblical story that depicts a bold, courageous, and wise woman who was raped and appropriately shamed her rapist.

P.S. The morality issue: for Christians only.

The last thing I want to note here is specifically directed towards Christians. I think it is important to remember that not all people around us, or all of our readers are Christians. Great harm is done when we come off as judgmental because we mistakenly expect people who do not follow our God to abide by his laws.

The reality is that we wouldn’t be Christians if we did not admit and come to terms with our inherent inability to abide by God’s laws. If we are miserable failures in need of a savior, then why do we expect others who have not yet seen or reckoned with their brokenness to act any better. For you to judge someone that you see in a restaurant or on the street for what they look like on the outside is reminiscent of the failure of Jesus’ earlier disciples to recognize the inward beauty of the woman in Luke 7. Live your life by whatever standards you must, but please stop alienating the people Jesus would invite and pursue.