Preacher's Daughter: Anti-Feminism in the Music of the Christian Right

I have a confession to make. I was raised in an evangelical Christian home, and when I was much much younger... I was a fan of contemporary Christian music (CCM). Oh, yes. I realized just how much of an affront to music it is almost half of my life ago, but lately, I've been thinking about just how entrenched it is in the ideology of the Christian Right. Consider this awful 1995 track by Twila Paris called "Rescue the Prisoner." (The "prisoner," it turns out, is a member of the LGBTQ community who is said to be "demanding rights" and "defending wrong.")

Then there's Michael Card's anti-choice song, "The Spirit of the Age," which as you can see below, has been put to use by the anti-abortion movement itself (lyrics in video):

It's all there, isn't it? And wow, what an emotional call to arms it is: "Could it have been the babies crying for themselves?/Never understanding that they died for someone else." Women have abortions because we are selfish creatures. We worship the contemporary cult of self interest—it's the "pagan spirit of the age," after all—and that is why we hate babies so much. Around 2:35, photographs of contemporary pro-choice protesters emerge, cast as the ones who want to kill "innocent and helpless little babies." Never fear, though, because God will soon "come and crush the spirit of the age."

On its face, some of this music can seem innocent and harmless, but a song like this one really crystallizes the way in which the Christian Right understands women. We are particularly susceptible to spiritual lies, the narrative goes, and have been ever since Eve's fall. This is why the North Carolina General Assembly recently passed a law requiring women to undergo an invasive ultrasound procedure and receive pro-life "counseling" before undergoing the procedure. Democrats in the state were not wrong when they called it the "Women Are Stupid Bill." That's precisely what it is. Women are thought to be easily misled by evil forces, and state Republicans just want to protect us. To make sure we don't have abortions because we so easily fall prey to Satan.

The spiritual inferiority of women is, I think, woven throughout this music just as thoroughly as it is throughout the politics of the Christian Right, even down to which artists cover which topics and perform in which musical genres. Roots music—as you know, one of my favorite musical traditions—is generally thought to be the domain of men. One of the biggest badass—read masculine—Christian bands around is MercyMe. I don't think I have to spell out the elevation of masculinity and male aggression in their music video for the hit, "So Long Self":

This song is about leaving behind the flesh to become, as the Bible says, "a new creation," in "Christ." Women have a particularly tough time with this, the narrative tells us, because we are easily misled by the desires of the flesh. Like Eve. So it is left to a band deeply invested in its masculine image to give us a jaunty hit song about it.

Women, however, are more likely to sing about the very deep romantic relationship we are supposed to have with Jesus, as in Francesca Battistelli's, "Forever Love." The man's role is to make the hard spiritual decisions, to take the lead in "dying to the self" and other such tasks. The woman's role, however, is to keep the flame alive. Because you see, our allegedly passionate, earthly natures make us particularly good at it, so long as we don't let ourselves go.

There are a few other things we're allowed to do in evangelical Christian music that are not recommended to men. For example, we get to use synths as we sing about searching for the "one God has for us." We are, in addition, the go-to gender for songs about maintaining personal serenity, being vulnerable before God, contemplating the wonder of the cosmos, living in the now, showing great love, seeing the beauty in ourselves and others, and other nice things good Christian women are supposed to do.

So, I suppose it's no revelation that the bland musical genre of Christian conservatives is also sexist. Still, I think the music reveals some things about the worldview that are not readily understood from soundbytes by talk radio assholes. If gender roles are rigid in the secular world, they are even more so for the Christian Right. Opposition to abortion rights is about how the Right views women as spiritual weaklings in need of guardianship. And "homosexual behavior" is something to be rescued from, if one wants to be a real Christian. Yes, it's unthinking, and yes, it's harmful, but there is a certain logic to it as well. We've got to understand that if we are to have any hope of overcoming its anti-feminist influences in politics. Some of understanding involves learning the language of evangelicalism, so I've tried to provide a smattering of it here.

Comments

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Great article!

This definitely got me thinking. As a very spiritual left wing feminist who believes in God, and grew up in an open but Christian household, spiritual, religious or "Christian" music, to me, should be about the personal and private worship time I have with my God. Musical bullshit like this not only doesn't fulfill that, it goes against it. I don't even really know how to word what I'm thinking and feeling right now. Music with messages like these are totally detrimental to women, both spiritual and non. The gendered hierarchy has always been apparent to me, but never so much as it is right now, and music like this only bolsters that hierarchy.

"Romance" Songs

Not to mention any songs about Christian dating. Abstinence messages aside, they encourage complete passivity on the woman's part. Here's a personal "favorite" by the band BarlowGirl

http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/barlowgirl/averagegirl.html

Excerpt:
"Sleep that's the only thing
For me 'cause when I sleep Gods
Preparing one for me "

Yes, literally sleep. That's all girls can do when it comes to dating/partnering up/ attracting the right person!

UGH... I hadn't heard that

UGH... I hadn't heard that one.

I was also raised by an

I was also raised by an evangelical Christian home. When I was going through my divorce some years ago, one of my mom's well-meaning friends (who was also a single mom), gave me this cassette tape with a song on it titled, "Let Jesus Be the Daddy of Our Home". I immediately grew disgusted and wondered to myself, "Exactly how is Jesus going to pay the rent and buy the groceries and fix the car, etc, etc.". Call me blasphemous if you want, but when the other breadwinner walks out on you to start another family, the need to get practical is intense and immediate and no cassette on earth will help with that.

Yeah, seriously.

Yeah, seriously.

Thank you for writing and

Thank you for writing and posting this series Kristin. I am an ex-christian raised in a fundamentalist home and I agree with you. (I think perhaps some Christian women feel the weight of it but they grin and bear it with the thought that, "God will see how hard I'm trying and make it all up to me in heaven." If you think God is going to make it up to you it doesn't seem quite so unfair.) The sexism in Christianity is so ubiquitous, that sometimes it seems like if you even started pointing it out you would be criticizing everything... Thank you for speaking up and saying something though...

Yes, it's unthinking, and yes, it's harmful, but there is a certain logic to it as well. We've got to understand that if we are to have any hope of overcoming its anti-feminist influences in politics.>>
I agree. Understanding where the Christian conservatives are coming from is important. I can't help feeling that most of the time when the left says something in an attempt to reason together, the Christian conservatives experience incredible culture shock. From my memory of being a conservative, I never really got the message because conservative Christianity is quite a different culture, and as a conservative Christian I genuinely didn't play by the same logic rules. There is perhaps more hope of having a conversation if we understand the rules and culture. I hope with your series people can have better hopes of communicating.

I honestly think there is

I honestly think there is culture shock that goes on on both sides. I think this is why many liberals understand so little about the Christian Right. It has its own language.

a thought

I'm thinking about doing a whole post next week about dippy Christian Right wedding songs. A friend just told me that my post put this horrible, horrible song in her head. I think the business about how "the husband is supposed to love his wife just as Christ loved the church" is also pretty crucial to Christian Right politics.

PTSD

Ack! This post is making me twitch! I spent years in a non-denominational Christian church that featured "special music" presentations. One song in particular comes to mind. The daughter-in-law of our pastor repeatedly (at the request of her father-in-law) sang the song "Daddy's hands" during church services. This song deifies Daddy's role as Head of Household and Punisher of naughty children. "Daddy's hands weren't always gentle, but I've come to understand... there was always love in Daddy's hands." Twitch. Twitch.

Ah, sorry. I do know the

Ah, sorry. I do know the feeling. Recently I reported on an evangelical event... I'd not been to anything even remotely evangelical in about a decade, and that seriously made me twitch too.

Christian "music" is, in my

Christian "music" is, in my opinion, THE most nauseating thing a person could subject their ears to. My job requires me to drive quite a bit through the Pennsylvania countryside. A lot of the time, hitting the scan button on the radio will result in a single station turning up, almost always a christian station. Sometimes I'll listen to the talk show segments (I have no tolerance for the music) The things I hear are so incredibly stupid. I mean mind numbing. Women talking about how they saved their marriages from the holy spirit filling them with the realization that they have not been subservient christian wives.

Christians feel this "divine" (psychotic) need to propagate themselves. It's kind of sad because we have these idiots out there with several children per family, pounding this dogma and rejection of reason into their children's minds. My adolescence was internet free, and I recovered from my indoctrination. So I imagine that kids today have it slightly easier in that respect; having a wealth of information available at all times. Religion is like racism and misogynism; it's not inherently human. It's learned behavior from misguided parents.

Invasive ultrasound?

Invasive ultrasound procedure? Yeah. Because an ultrasound is so much more invasive than an abortion. ROLLING EYES

If you don't want any

If you don't want any procedure and are forced to have it anyway, how is that not invasive? You do know there's more than one meaning to the word, right? What are you doing here anyway?