Religion is kind of like fire. In responsible hands, it provides us with heat and light. But in the wrong hands, it causes destruction for destruction’s sake.
During my three years working in development for an evangelical Christian school, I learned an important new vocabulary word: worldview.
Had I first encountered the term outside of a religious context I would have easily understand it as a view of the world, of which there are more than stars in the sky. But under this roof, we lived a rigid set of rules that told us exactly how to be the right kind of Christian—a one-size-fits-all, no-questions-asked guide to avoiding eternal damnation.
It wasn’t easy for a liberal agnostic public school graduate like me to adjust, but over time I became familiar with tenets like the modesty doctrine (no skirts above the knee, no open-toed shoes, and absolutely nothing that could tip us off to the presence of breasts), and the vocal opposition of “alternative lifestyles” (“we don’t let our children watch Spongebob,” a parent once informed me). There was even an employee conduct form stating that we wouldn’t drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, have premarital sex, or do anything else that’s fun. Can you believe I never signed it?
But nothing I witnessed during that time could prepare me for last weekend, when a barrage of messages from a Christian MRA blogger and his cronies flooded my inbox, attacking me for being a young, unmarried (!) feminist writer, and an ardent supporter of LGBT rights.
Beyond bothering to look up and refer to me by my last name (I, being a teacher, publish under my middle name), he gently broke the news that men who support gender equality are merely figments of my imagination (“sweetheart, you’re a unicorn hunter”), which of course explains how I’ve had several feminist male college professors, co-workers, friends, and romantic partners.
In a dazzling finish, he proceeded to stew over my lack of public disclosure regarding my “erotic preferences.” Because, really, what is more infuriating than when a stranger on the Internet refuses to share their sexuality with you? She writes about queer theory! And she once read an article from a lesbian magazine!
You can just taste the fury.
“What’s an MRA?” a number of my friends asked after the incident. I wish I didn’t know myself.
When you’re a woman writer who publishes online, trolling MRAs unfortunately come with the territory. I won’t link to this man’s website to give him any of the publicity he craves—just imagine a blog run by Orange is the New Black’s lesbian-hunting Mr. Healy or by the top dogs governing The Handmaid’s Tale’s theocracy.
What I will do is discuss a frightening recent offshoot of the entitled dudebro culture that molded Elliot Roger: the Christian-MRA hybrid that propagates militant sexism and homophobia under the guise of God.
The funny thing about organized religion, I fully realized while working for that evangelical school, is that it can be molded to justify virtually any baseless opposition to social progress, fear-mongering tactic, or “nostalgia” for a time when those with systematic privilege held unthreatened power. For self-named “Bible-based” fundamentalists who view scripture as the ultimate literal authority on human conduct in 2014, passages like Ephesians 5:22 (Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord) and 1 Timothy 2:12 (But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have authority over the man, but to be in silence) are handy tools to subjugate women through God-sanctioned “gender roles.”
Eve’s story sets the standard for how women who behave badly by daring to seek knowledge ought to be punished, and is reinforced by cautionary tales like Deuteronomy 22:20-21: But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel…Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house.
“Slutting Made Her a Better Christian,” read the title of one post on a popular personal blog linking to my piece. Another site declared me a “false prophet” and warned that I was a “wolf in the pen.” Still more commenters showed up in my Twitter mentions, informing me that because I’d broken a “blood covenant,” another blood sacrifice—presumably my own—would be necessary to atone for my deeds. In their eyes, I was a “slut,” a “whore,” and a “temple prostitute,” as well as a “liar,” and a “deceived, wicked jezebel,” all for having the gall to fool around with someone on a loveseat before I was married to them.
When the man who criticized me went after fellow Role Reboot writer Emily Heist Moss the next day, it came as no surprise that he fixated on her recent article “To The Men Who Try To Have Condom-Free Sex.” According to our new admirer, Heist Moss and other women like her automatically renounce any rights to consensual and STD/pregnancy-free sex once they commit the sin of premarital fornication.
His point of view is not unique: Dianna Anderson notes that “Christian masculinists largely interpret sex-positivity…as symbolic of female agency as a whole,” meaning that if a woman begins to make sexual decisions for herself, she will “unnaturally” rebuke other God-sanctioned rules that should be reinforced by father or husband. Interestingly enough, though Christian MRAs advocate for the “natural” subversion and silencing of women, the MRA movement as a whole frequently defends the actions of rapists as also “natural,” claiming that men simply can’t rise above inherently animalistic urges. As if we don’t have enough problems combating sexual violence.
Religion is kind of like fire. In responsible hands, it provides us with heat and light, acts as the focal point of a camping adventure or a friendly backyard gathering. But in the wrong hands, it causes destruction for destruction’s sake.
Christians like the pastor I know who invited me into his home for Easter family dinner, my co-worker who promotes wellness for mothers with post-partum depression, and sex-positive Soulation founders Dale and Jonalyn Fincher strive to kindle loving flames every day. The Christian manosphere just wants to burn the forest down.
Man and woman, we’re told, were crafted in God’s image. And so with every Pat Robertson, every Fred Phelps, every Dalrock, I imagine tilting my head back and asking whatever white-bearded man, cosmic teapot, or invisible pink unicorn may lie beyond the clouds, “Is this what you had in mind?”
Chelsea Cristene is a community college professor of English and communications in Maryland. She runs a film review blog, Catch Up, with fellow Role Reboot contributor Telaina Eriksen and also writes Gender on the Rocks, a blog about gender, relationships, culture, and the media. Find her on Twitter.