Saturday, July 30, 2016

Aimee Byrd has a guest post on singleness and the complementarian American ethos

For instance, take complementarianism--Aimee Byrd has had a guest post this week from a woman pointing out that complementarianism is kind of ... useless for the unmarried woman.

... .  In their most recent podcast on the Sexual Revolution, the MOS team summed up our culture’s immense pressure toward sexual identity.  Christine Colon takes it one step further in her book Singled Out – culture tells us that virgins are immature and emotionally stunted neurotics whose only escape is in having sex. Christian singles hear this from culture and from the church that sex outside marriage is wrong.  The result is that the slightest nudge toward marriage from a well-meaning believer comes across to the single like another reminder that we are immature and emotionally stunted and our only hope for happiness is marriage. 

The cultural norm that presupposes that anyone who isn't already married and, by extension, having sex knows nothing at all about meaningful social interaction or adult responsibility was one of the single most pervasive cultural norms at the culture formerly known as Mars Hill.  So, yeah, that, er, resonates.  It's not just that your only hope for happiness is presented as marriage it's more like the only real evidence that you're even an adult at all is that you've successfully negotiated a sexual partnership. 

The conundrum of how to arrive at adulthood when sexual activity has no intrinsic bearing on the traditional milestones isn't just a complementarian concern, though.
Over the course of his research on this, Jensen Arnett has zeroed in on what he calls “the Big Three” criteria for becoming an adult, the things people rank as what they most need to be a grown-up: taking responsibility for yourself, making independent decisions, and becoming financially independent. [emphasis added] These three criteria have been ranked highly not just in the U.S., but in many other countries as well, including China, Greece, Israel, India, and Argentina. But some cultures add their own values to the list. In China, for example, people highly valued being able to financially support their parents, and in India people valued the ability to keep their family physically safe.

Of the Big Three, two are internal, subjective markers. You can measure financial independence, but are you otherwise independent and responsible? That’s something you have to decide for yourself. When the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson outlined his influential stages of psychosocial development, each had its own central question to be (hopefully) answered during that time period. In adolescence, the question is one of identity—discovering the true self and where it fits into the world. In young adulthood, Erikson says, attention turns to intimacy and the development of friendships and romantic relationships.
Havighurst developed his theory during the ‘40s and ‘50s, and in his selection of these tasks, he was truly a product of his time. The economic boom that came after World War II made Leave It to Beaver adulthood more attainable than it had ever been. Even for very young adults. There were enough jobs available for young men, Mintz writes, that they sometimes didn’t need a high-school diploma to get a job that could support a family. And social mores of the time strongly favored marriage over unmarried cohabitation hence: job, spouse, house, kids.

But this was a historical anomaly. “Except for the brief period following World War II, it was unusual for the young to achieve the markers of full adult status before their mid- or late twenties,” Mintz writes. [emphasis added] As we saw with young Henry Thoreau, successful adults were often floundering minnows first. The past wasn’t populated by uber-responsible adults who roamed the moors wearing three-piece suits, looking over their spectacles and saying “Hm, yes, quite,” at some tax returns until today’s youths killed them off through laziness and slang. Young men would seek their fortunes, fail, and come back home; young women migrated to cities looking for work at even higher rates than men did in the 19th century. And in order to get married, some men used to have to wait for their fathers to die first, so they could get their inheritance. At least today’s delayed marriages are for less morbid reasons.

One of the things that may separate American evangelicalism from the rest of American culture is that in the evangelical taxonomy of "the Big Three" it's not considered socially desirable or acceptable to obtain those big three independently of married life.  We don't need to recite too many names in the world of evangelicalism who are worried that the youngsters these days aren't getting married and aren't moving out of the parents' house.

According to 2014 data from the Census Bureau, median earnings for young adults who were working full-time were only about $34,000 for Millennials. That’s less than what their parents would’ve made in the 1980s, after adjusting for inflation. And that’s for Millennials who have found full-time work. According to Census data, only 65 percent of Millennials were employed as of 2014, compared to about 70 percent in the three decades prior. Those figures may help explain why nearly 20 percent of Millennials have wound up living in poverty—that’s more than five percentage points higher than the poverty rate of young adults in 1980—despite being the most educated cohort of young people in history.

Still, it’s not all about the economy. One of the main reasons that Millennials are staying at home is because they are delaying marriage until later in life, Pew researchers found. That makes sense, since two incomes can certainly make it easier to afford rapidly climbing rent prices, student-loan payments, and the host of other financial responsibilities that come with leaving the nest. But that choice, too, is divided among racial and economic lines: Richer Americans are more likely to get married than poorer ones, and white Americans are more likely be married than minorities. These again increase the chances that poorer and minority Millennials will live at home in higher numbers, and for longer. ...

Contentment is difficult for singles because from our perspective, both the believing and unbelieving world seem to agree that happiness in celibacy is impossible.  In both worlds, sex/marriage has become a defining threshold between childhood and adulthood. We are children, teenagers, college-age, single, then married. When we pass 30 or 40 and are still celibate, everyone (literally) thinks something’s gone wrong.
Even popular scientific theories like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs classes the need for sex at the same level as food, water and air.  If the church does not answer, is it any wonder that Christian singles sometimes conclude that masturbation is not wrong and that pornography is at least better than the alternative?  Essentially, we come to believe that God has given us “everything pertaining to life and godliness” except a spouse. 

One self-help book on marriage by a moderately famous celebrity Christian couple had it worded that  sex is almost a real physical need for a guy.

Real Marriage
 Mark and Grace Driscoll
 Copyright (c) 2012 by On Mission, LLC
 Thomas Nelson
 ISBN 978-1-4002-0383-3
 ISBN 978-1-4041-8352-0 (IE)

page 121
When we got married, I (Grace) didn't understand the physical and emotional aspects of sex for men. It seemed with his high sex drive that was all Mark wanted from me and that he didn't appreciate anything else I did. His drive seemed to get stronger the less we had sex, and I wondered if it was an idol to him or if that was normal for me. I later realized it was partially a real physical need [emphasis added], not an obsession, since he wasn't masturbating  or getting relief some other way, which I am thank for. I read somewhere that if you have sex more, it actually decreases the necessity for frequent sex over time for most men. I tried that but it didn't seem to change anything for Mark. ...

and, as would be abundantly clear for anyone who is familiar with the sum of Driscoll's teaching, the "physician heal thyself" path was not on the table, even though the Driscolls explicitly consider it an option other Christians could consider during unusually long separations such as military deployment.

Kilgore's comment about how there are theories of being that put sex on a need comparable to the human need for water, food and air can be shown to not come from nowhere.  When the Driscolls' book formulates that sex is partially a real physical need (but only for already married men!  Not singles!) the proverbial horns of the dilemma can be easier to see.

If there's a detail about the contemporary scene complementarians seem most eager to ignore is that the selection process is in many practical ways egalitarian even for those who self-identify as complementarian.  Assortive pairing selection and status-vetting processes don't just vanish into the ether, even a self-described complementarian may pursue a "courtship" that is a dating relationship that would look identical to a pair of egalitarians in a dating relationship who are contemplating marriage.  And, to make the point even more severe, you can put yourself "on the market" but that doesn't mean anyone has any obligation to buy what you're selling. 


Cal P said...

Some rambling thoughts:

-One interesting thing about the industrialized Western world is the complete vanishing of any sort of rites of passage from boyhood to manhood. While girls to womanhood is itself a reality, it is much less drastic and invasive. I think Leon Podles makes a good case about this, even if his hunch drives the argument more than any comprehensive data and conclusive evidence. These sorts of things are drying up everywhere in the wake of a globalist plastic culture. Now money becomes the real marker of adulthood, which means the only the wealthy and successful ever really mature, at least, according to the general cultural thrust. Thus, no wonder the military, militarized police forces, and gangs are swelling. Its an alternative for every other guy who doesn't want to be perpetually emasculated because he can't find a well paying job. I think this might go a ways to understand and explore the rise of male resentment in the West, particularly, but elsewhere also. Unfortunately, while people like Driscoll understood this, at some level, they embraced a similar approach to ISIS, embracing parodies and caricatures as models. Alastair has a good piece on "Lad culture" that I found helpful. I'm not sure what Christians can do, realistically. Perhaps there is hope in a revived sense of Confirmation that is imbued with a sense of "vocational" discernment (taking, perhaps, the best of the Jesuits). But this is only possible within a strong church tradition, and Evangelicalism has no backbone in this regard.

-Evangelicals rarely discuss sex maturely or deeply, at least that I've seen. You don't have to buy into Freud or Lacan to appreciate the additional layers of psychological depth that goes into sex, for both men and women. C.S. Lewis made a brief observation that if men lined up for a theater where they watched a piece of chicken rotate on stage, and drooled and paid hundreds of dollars for the chance, we wouldn't conclude that such is natural, but that there is something terribly wrong. So it is for sex, and we hardly consider the role of desire. Sex is never about sex, there are fantasies and wants in play. If we can't understand this, in order to properly understand ourselves, we will never be able to talk about sex rightly, and joy in celibacy becomes a contradiction. Of course, none of this thinking ever helps in the moment, but it seems that Evangelical sexuality is really confused and just revolving around the same constellation as everyone else post-Sexual Revolution. And Fouccault is right about the Sexual Revolution: it's not liberative, but trapped in the same paradigm as its Puritan forebearers. The Puritans were not anti-sex, per the propaganda, but just as hyper-sexed, more like today's evangelicals. We have not been liberated towards rightly ordered appetites, but merely different kinds of slaves on the plantation of Desire's Madness.

Cal P said...

-Sadly, as per your other post on Evangelical appropriations of music, we are just behind the times, always lurching forward. At least the Mainline are, more or less, caught up with things as per their complete submersion within the Zeitgeist. If the Mainline acts mainly as a bizarre chaplaincy as for the current state of things, Evangelicals can behave more like a cult, with a persecution complex and all. I saw the documentary "Give me sex Jesus", which was disturbing as it was sobering. The liberative feeling that millenial Evangelicals have in finally sort of accepting the culture make them twice as blind, as even "secular" people realize all the contradictions, insanities, and disorders of the present sexual mores ethos. Why there's good work done in some of the high corners of some tradition (John Paul II's theology of the body and sexuality seems promising), it has trouble reaching people in a more concrete, teachable, form. I have hope for people like Jamie Smith to influence Evangelicals, but as it stands now, such influence is extremely limited. I don't expect a cultural revolution, but Christians have an obligation to help themselves and others to creatively interact with the times in a way that brings the gospel to bear on realities, and not idealities. Particularly, wedding culture, the meaning of sex and sexuality, and a proper theology of the body. But this sort of failure is not necessarily new, but novel in its 21st century instantiation.


Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Years ago Roy Baumeister wrote a short summary about how in most societies the transition from boyhood to manhood could be described as the point at which a male produces/contributes to the community more than he consumes and that, as you noted, there were rites of passage typically associated with the transition.

My counter-proposal (which might not really be one) is that what's happened in the West is that traditional Western milestones for sexual activity that were tethered to marriage that was negotiated on the basis of production possibilities retained the rite of passage aspect but also became consumer rights, so to speak. The milestones remain as points of consumption capacity but without any inherent connection to productive capabilities that, in the past, would have been considered prerequisites. Thus marriage and the marriage industry being seen increasingly as signs of consumer activity and signifiers of taste and class.

The more upscale weddings could involve expenditures that could constitute a year's wages for a working class person. I read an article years ago about credit and overspending in dating in American culture and about how some financial counselors/advisors said that some Americans are tempted to overspend because of the status indicators of consumer activity as part of the mate/date vetting process.

Eros seems to have become, in some senses, the ultimate consumer good and the rights activists have pushed for have, perhaps, become explicable in terms of consumer rights. When people talk about sexual liberation in the West they often seem to broach the topic in terms of how they should have the right to buy the product they want, although the status-negotiating/status-vetting aspect of that process that lurks underneath the talk of rights doesn't go away. No one really has an actual right to reproduce in the end, do they? :)

I steered clear of the sex documentary (was Peter Rollins linked to that one in some way?) I'm more likely to watch animated stuff and genre stuff than documentaries these days. I've been tempted to do a spoof of Cardew's Stockhausen Serves Imperialism as a way to write about the new Star Trek film and about the franchise as a whole, for instance. :)

Cal P said...

Baumeister's thesis only vaguely makes sense within a consumer society, but its a pale shade in comparison to the rites of passage that other cultures, including pre and early modern West. I suppose this is the corrosive acid of a consumer society, that attempts to quantify everything. Perhaps that's an apologetic for the spiritual part of reality.

That's a good counter-proposal. It's a fundamental fact that the birth of modernity viz. the French & American Revolutions was tethered to the rise of bourgeois and the redefinition of society around money as the nexus of power. However, the rise of money coincided with the rise of the global market in the Atlantic world, created through plantation economies and mass slavery of Africans. T.H Breen even argued that what made the fictive community of "America" possible, in the Revolution, was shared consumptive bonds, as all 13 colonies were consuming the same English goods and felt the same pressures as England cracked down on American smuggling and tax evasion. Point is: consumption is woven into American society.

But, as you highlight somewhat, we've continued through an economic change within our consumerist ideology. We've ceased to be a nation of producers in any capacity. America has become, by and large, a service economy. The concept of production in such a world loses all meaning. A guy working in a call center doesn't "make" anything. Of course, this might be worth considering, perhaps, the coinciding of a certain materialist instinct that we have, but I digress.

Perhaps one can have a society of production and still possess the commodification of institutions like marriage, which become a potent consumption that moves you from one status to another. But in a service economy, with the kind of listlessness of a career, the untethering probably would cause the severance even more, and cause more confusion about rites and rights.

But then marriage also has no real purpose besides an almost gaudy decor, a rococo display by women of their creativity and class. I see so many couples cohabitate and many who have no desire to have children, nor is there the worry about "illegitimate" children except as a hang-up preserved by a past generation that lacks any serious rationale. Gay marriage further exacerbates the meaningless of marriage, as it is about a fantasy of partnership that lacks any sort of reasoning besides faddish possession and status claiming. I ask myself, why do people even marry? And this is not even considering how many marriages function with a kind of don't-ask-don't-tell policy about "infidelity" which is hardly considered such. How many marriages actually function as open marriages? I have no idea, but I get a feeling that it's more common than one might suspect.

Cal P said...

All of this is to say that sex has become a kind of rite, but it's not a rite of advancement. Yes, you're weird if you've never had sex by age 30~. But the shock and ridicule is more akin to someone who claimed they never had ice cream by age 30~. More intense perhaps, but I'd say it's seems more categorically the same, which is to say it's a trivial reality that has to do with experience. You might be treated as if you're not fully Human, but it's not because you have refused to advance beyond to manhood. This is different than the Evangelical culture of sex, by and large, but maybe it reflects the direction things are going.

This is what a proper understanding of desire might reveal. As you say, it's the ultimate consumer good, the new Good God of modern Gnosticism, offering release from mundane reality and earthly form. But anyway, understanding the nature of desire within the consumerist framework makes sense how sex and marriage as some kind of rite would quickly move into a kind of commodity that is accessible. And perhaps the saving grace (if I can use this phrase inappropriately) of the vetting process is the prevalence and sophistication of pornography, as it is a release valve to keep the vetting process going without angry demands for sex. But that's clearly not the whole picture.

The documentary was connected to Rollins in some way, he appeared in it for a couple comments. I'm not big into documentaries, but it was pretty disturbing. Some of the stuff I heard, I was glad I never went to Christian camps or never suffered through much of Evangelicalism's youth stuff. I am proud to say I never watched Veggie Tales and never will (nor will I show it to my daughter!). Anyway, it was deeply depressing as there was so much delusion on every front. There's too much to discuss!