Thursday, April 3, 2014

"Shine it Up!": The Preacher, Patriarchy and the The Rhetoric of Shame

by Kimberly Peeler-Ringer
R3 Contributor

A North Carolina pastor recently came under fire—and brimstone—for a comment he posted on Twitter giving women advice about marriage: Ladies if you want to be the only woman your man looks at shine it up! Don’t let the hoes he comes across out shine you! #savemarriage. After the inevitable backlash for his comments, he then took the opportunity to post an apology of sorts on You Tube, available here.

In the video, this pastor attempted to qualify his tweet, explaining that his purpose was to “help wives to save their marriage, to be successful in their marriage.” Rather than continue the personal attacks being lobbed at this pastor for his profound lack of judgment, I would prefer to use his social media commentary as a point of departure for a much needed conversation about how we talk about women in the church.

Just a quick perusal of this pastor’s Twitter account suggests that he may be holding up a patriarchal standard that is a familiar norm in too many churches. Patriarchy, in its simplest terms, is a social system that privileges maleness. I believe the most common method used to enforce patriarchy in some churches is the identification and association of women with sin. When the tweeting pastor said: “there are some women who don’t necessarily have the respect that they used to…some women don’t respect their husbands or the commitment the husband has made to his wife,” it is easy to infer that he is suggesting that it is that certain segment of women who entice husbands to cheat. My problem is that the pastor seems to absolve the husband of all sin responsibility. This is a dangerous trope that plays on an endless loop in too much church doctrine and so-called “preacher speak.” If only Eve hadn’t tempted Adam with that fruit, Samson would have been alright if only Delilah hadn’t seduced him, the sinful woman brought before Jesus who was caught in adultery (all by herself), all point to women as the “sin” causation.

The pastor continues this train of thought when he suggests that the reason husbands cheat is not that they have failed to exercise the fruit of the spirit called temperance, the reason men cheat is that a certain type of woman enticed him to cheat. Some churches have been a very public space for “sin-shaming” women, particularly when young girls who got themselves pregnant are brought before the entire church absent the young boy (or often, grown man) who impregnated them. I can’t tell you how many sermons I’ve heard where gossip is identified as an exclusively female activity, or lines of distinction get drawn between “good girls” and “other women.” The purpose of “garden tool language” is a means of shaming women who exercise their sexual agency, plain and simple. It is time we paid attention to the possibility that the attempt to control a woman’s sexual agency or to “take women down a peg” may be a crack that provides a space where abuse in all of its forms can thrive.

As Dr. Yolanda Pierce stated so eloquently on Twitter, “given the global degradation of Black women, the church should be a sanctuary, not a place of further insult.” Far too many churches are not healing spaces for the female psyche. What does it say to the well being of a Black woman (who more than any other cultural/ethnic/social group finds herself nearest to the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder), to be identified with sin? What does it say to the self-worth of a Black woman, who more than likely earns less than her White male, White female, and Black male co-workers, to be told that the reason she is not prospering is because her faith isn’t strong enough? This is particularly troubling when you consider the fact that so much of Black church wealth is comprised of the dollars of working-class Black women.

In many churches, the leadership of the church is primarily male, yet close to 80% of church membership is female. I contend the reason for this imbalance is patriarchal in tone, due to the belief that God only selected a portion of humanity to lead churches. Many believe it was God’s intent for women to be second-class Christians, and it is worth noting that this belief is held by both women and men. As Dr. Pierce suggested via Twitter, the mission of the church is “to speak life, and not death.” Perhaps part of the church’s charge to loose and set free should also include unloosing the shackles of patriarchy and gender injustice than bind nearly three-quarters of church membership.

But back to the pastor’s tweet. The tweet not only offends by using garden tool language, there is also the matter of what I like to call appearance-related marital salvation. Specifically, when the pastor suggests wives “shine it up,” the inference is that husbands are enticed to cheat because their wives don’t look like Beyoncé on a daily basis. I note with interest that there wasn’t a single tweet dedicated to husbands “shining it up.” I found no tweets encouraging husbands to keep hair from protruding from their ears and other orifices, no encouragement to keep their appearances up whatsoever. This tendency to place the entire burden of keeping marriages whole on the wife alone needs to stop post haste. Black women in particular are burdened enough.

There comes a time in every little Black girl’s life when she realizes that her beauty is different, that her beauty isn’t commonly lauded. Every little Black girl experiences a moment when she must come to terms with the dominant culture’s lack of appreciation for her hair texture. And sadly, some of these same little Black girls come to occupy pew space in a church with messages that claim that if she only took the time to keep every strand of her hair in place, her man wouldn’t have strayed. The Black church should be a refuge for Black women to escape the scrutiny of the dominant culture, not receive a double portion of it.

Patriarchy suggests that women are to be placed on a pedestal; that women should stay at home and take care of the children and look like June Cleaver while doing it. The unfortunate reality is that Black women in this country have seldom been afforded the opportunity to just stay home and dote on their families as patriarchy erroneously suggests. Black women have always had to work, whether it was side by side in the fields of slaveholders, or as domestics who worked for white families, or in the women’s benevolent societies of Black churches, it is a sin and a shame that even in the 21st century women are expected to live the life of the ideal wife in the patriarchal imagination, and be chided for not “shining it up” while doing it.

The tweeting pastor also noted, “It is hard to express an idea in just 140 characters.” I will grant him that. It is easy to have things taken out of context when you employ a limited space social media outlet to express your theology and dispense marital advice. I feel confident this pastor meant well. But if our love for God is measured in how we treat others, the language we use to speak about women in general and the church in particular must be not only be contended with, it must be examined for its harm potential…whether one apologizes for it or not.

Follow Kimberly on Twitter @kpringer


Ed Mack said...

I felt that this blog was a great awareness campaign for black men and women. In a world where patriarchy is the norm, sometimes we need to step back and evaluate what we call the norm. And just because it's the norm doesn't mean there isn't something wrong with it. For me this article prompts me to question whether or not I'm guilty of the same things that the article points out in my thinking of black women. I am the the father of three little girls and if I am endangering my daughters by a certain negative mentality, then it is my job to improve and change it. After all I owe it to my daughters as their father.

Ed Mack

Kimberly said...

Thank you for your kind words!

Ella R. Mosby said...

Sis. Kimberly, I thoroughly agree that there is a "patriarchal standard that is a familiar norm in too many churches". I have often been concerned about "gender apartheid" within our churches. Gender apartheid meaning male dominance in decision makings and male dominance in leadership roles when males are greatly out numbered by females within churches. Just a thought and SMH.

Athena C. Smith said...

Great commentary regarding the gender biases in the church. I think what's missing from our dialogue in black churches is healthy discussions on not just gender issues but sexuality. We only speak of it from a negative viewpoint, often through the lenses of fornication and teen pregnancy. Or, we don't address it all which has proven to be unhealthy for our culture and society. Now we are left with sound bites on social media that are just as harmful.

Kimberly said...

Thank you Ella and Athena for sharing your thoughts, it is my hope that people will begin and sustain the much needed conversation surrounding the issue of gender injustice/ecclesiastical apartheid going on in too many churches.

KTodd said...

WOW! Shine it up? Really? Well, wait…Is it true that wives should take care of themselves – yes. Is it true that there are women who will be satisfied being a mistress – absolutely (Scandal and Being Mary Jane have cornered the “woe is me” mistress market). But I agree with the writer that responsibility goes both ways. It is not the wife’s responsibility alone to ensure that the marriage works. Neither is it the mistress that holds the exclusive blame for an affair. We share the moral responsibility of our actions and we are each held accountable for our damaging decisions. As my mother would say, ‘every tub has to sit on its on bottom’.

Oh, and for all of the husbands out there that encourage their spouses to “shine it up”, be careful, because there are some other men roaming around that love shiny wives…but I guess that would be the wife’s fault for being too attractive. SMH