The “W” Word, and Why It’s Misleading

Before I begin, I  know this is a loaded topic. I know it’s not one that will be solved in a single post, but I do believe it’s a subject that needs to be discussed. I hope you will participate in the discussion. Your voice matters.

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I’m realizing something more, and more- in our culture, and in cultures throughout history, women have often times received unfair characterizations and sweeping generalizations about their identity and who they are as people. Due to circumstances (most often times) out of their control women have had labels placed on them that dismiss reality, and as a result, these women are marginalized and demeaned.

It’s not just secular culture that’s guilty of these one-sided labels. This is a sad reality within the church, too.

I follow a blog written by the brilliant writer, Richard Beck, and in his latest post (read the post in it’s entirety here) he dove into why the word “whore” and it’s usage in popular and christian culture is applied nearly exclusively to women and rarely, if ever, to men. The context for his writing is coming out of the apocalyptic words in the book of Revelation, and he hits, head on what women have had to deal with throughout history.

For those aware of feminist scholarship, you’ll quickly see how the writer of Revelation is using the Madonna/Whore typology. This typology expresses the ambivalent nature of male feelings regarding female sexuality. On the one hand, the male sexual fantasy is to have a woman who is sexually uninhibited and insatiable. The female actresses in pornography portray this fantasy, a female who is sexually aggressive and can’t get enough sex.This–the Whore–is the sexual fantasy of most if not the vast majority of males.

The ambivalence comes from the fact that while most males fantasize about having sex with the Whore–the sexually uninhibited and insatiable female–they don’t want to be married to such a woman. When it comes to marriage men want the Madonna, the virginal and faithful bride.

There is a large literature exploring this Madonna/Whore dynamic and it sits behind many of the mixed and confusing messages the culture sends to women about “what men want.” It also explains the switcheroo a lot of Christian women face after they get married. Christian women are to be the Madonna prior to marriage, vigilantly safeguarding their virginal purity. But then, after marriage, Christian women are to make a smooth and quick transition to being the Whore in the bedroom. And if she fails to make this transition adequately she can be blamed for not fulfilling her sexual obligations to her husband.

Richard goes one to talk about how women in the sex trafficking industry are there out of necessity not out of desire. It’s the men, visiting and paying for their “services” that are acting in ways more deserving of the description, “whore.”

So why do we place that label upon women instead of men? Beck goes on to conclude that:

Throughout history, religiously conservative males have had to confront one of the greatest sources of their moral failure: the male libido. The male libido–the fact that men are sluts–is a sore spot of any male community wanting to pursue purity and holiness. And what has happened, by and large, is that rather than admit that males struggle mightily in the sexual realm, males have externalized the blame and projected their libido onto women. Rather than blaming themselves for sexual sin males have, throughout history, blamed women for being temptresses. The Whore was created to be the scapegoat to preserve male self-righteousness. Rather than turning inward, in personal and collective repentance, men could blame women, blame the whores, for their sexual and moral failures. It’s not our fault, the men say, it’s the whore’s fault.

So, here we are. As men, we’ve been unwilling to deal with the temptations and struggles innate within us. We are insecure and unwilling (or unable) to do the hard work of living lives that honor women. Instead, we live in the moment, objectifying women for our own pleasure, and then place toxic labels and beliefs (to relieve our own guilt) on the very women we claim to love.

So, I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree with Richard and his premise? Have you witnessed the destruction from misplaced labels? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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4 thoughts on “The “W” Word, and Why It’s Misleading

  1. I don’t have time to write a long reply now but I found your thoughts and those of Richard Beck honest, mature and refreshing. I haven’t followed any Christian blogs up to now, but you seem like an independent thinker and a person of true faith so I’d like to add you to the list I follow.

    • Wow, thank you, Cassie. I don’t think you could have give me a higher honor. I appreciate your willingness to follow my blog, and I hope you know that now, and in the future, you’re always welcome to disagree and discuss anything I write about on here.

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