Monday, January 7, 2013

Dalrock, Sheila Gregoire, and internet debates

I'd like to start the discussion by posting the video below. In all future internet debate type posts please mentally refer back to the video. It's not so much that I think I'll change someone's mind as that I like poking ideas with a stick and then reflecting on how clever I am. In short, I have dude brain :)

Ok, now that's out of the way I'd like to point y'all in a couple different directions. First, go visit Dalrock to see what the trouble is all about. Then I suggest you go poke around Sheila Gregoire's blog.

So as you can see the main trouble is that Dalrock and Sheila have two very different ways of writing about marriage, and according to Dalrock Sheila's way is wrong and detrimental to the state of marriage as a whole. Many of the commenters vehemently agree. I did comment with my two cents, but in an effort to stay on topic I thought I'd toss this little post up here.

To open with an academic cliche, I think that Dalrock and Sheila both have their points. On one hand, I love how Sheila has encouraged me to love my husband and put thought into our marriage. On the other hand, people like Dalrock are like a deluge of cold water in the barren wastelands of today's modern marriage - rather shocking but extremely necessary if we're to restore beauty and fertility to today's marriage culture. To that end I would love to see more collaboration from men like Dalrock when they encounter other public figures like Sheila (to anyone from the manosphere who may read this - collaboration doesn't necessarily mean whatever dreadful hell corporate America has turned it into as I'll explain shortly) instead of the wholesale denouncement of her person, marriage, and ministry that is so common. When I say collaboration I mean that men/marriage bloggers should indeed challenge her when they believe it's necessary, but they should do so in a manner that acknowledges they're challenging a woman writing in a different context from theirs to what is possibly is a different audience and with the expressed goals of helping Christians have more fulfilling sex lives. On other words, Sheila and Dalrock might be fighting on different fronts, but they're still on the same side.

So how do I think that would look? First let's consider what they are saying. Take Sheila's post on what it means to deprive a spouse of sex. Part of her context is that there are men who think they hold all the cards and can dictate universally the quantity and kind of sex they have, and there are women who go along with this and build up a reservoir of hurt and frustration. So she gave men and women what I felt like was a pretty decent take on what it means to sexually deprive someone and how women can take a little ownership of the sexual relationship. Naturally, this is problematic for manosphere bloggers because their context is almost universally inverted. In their experience women are the ones taking all the sexual prerogative and who assume the right to dictate the frequency and nature of all sexual contact, and these men's approach is largely aimed at helping men regain sexual initiative and fulfillment. So we have men talking about getting more sex and women talking about having less sex, and everyone gets highly freaked out and points fingers saying "There - that's the problem. See! S/he said that men/women need to start pushing for more/less sex!" 

I think the most helpful approach someone like Dalrock could take in writing about someone like Sheila would be to re-contextualize her position in light of what most modern marriages face and point out where she could strengthen and/or further her argument. Here's a quick example of how that might go:

Sheila's argument about "do not deprive" can be valuable under certain circumstances. My concern is that those circumstances aren't widely reflected in the circumstances facing many married men. In fact, for these men the opposite is frequently and sometimes aggressively true, and the advice given here will likely only add more fuel to the fire of selfish entitlement that threatens to sweep away society's most basic foundations. That given, there are instances where this advice applies. However, I would frame the argument with the clear understanding that sex is a fundamental tenet of marriage and that no woman worth the title "wife" would ever consider her sexual preferences as more worth meeting than those of her husband.

This could be followed with an outline of the specific circumstances which might merit a wife pushing back sexually (illness, particular practices, etc) and continue into a discussion of responsive desire and describe how women who aren't "in the mood" can change their minds when they experience a display of desire from their husbands. I think this is important because what did bug me most about that article was the man who commented saying that he had essentially trained or convinced himself to wait for his wife to initiate. I really just wanted to shake him by the shirt collar because I know his wife, however unfair this may be, is probably insanely frustrated that "he never wants her." This is why being high drive can be hard on a woman. We were, by and large, made to respect and respond to a man's leadership. This mean that "leading" in the bedroom can be as frustrating as leading in other areas of marriage. This is also where blogs like MMSL (explicit warning) and Dalrock can be so crucial because, whereas your average Christian marriage blog emphasizes "service" (ie flowers and chores and the like), MMSL and Dalrock emphasize building leadership/husband skills that result in things like men having more sexually responsive wives. While I don't buy everything I read other there (hence in large part my desire to write more about marriage) I do believe they are a invaluable resource for understanding and dismantling the reigning gynocentric culture. Part of my work here is looking towards what will replace it.

Back to the main point however. Naturally much of this particular discussion is frivolous if you believe that "do not deprive" means "never say no." Short answer, Allen and I don't. It's just too tricky in practice. For instance, how sick is too sick? As a woman I could technically be nearly comatose and still "participate." This is where people would likely say to "use some common sense." My response would be that, in which case, I'll use my common sense to say that either party can, in the context of a generous and healthy marriage, small "r" refuse the other person with the understanding that the other person's tacit consent is solicited and that feeling the need for a hard, capital "R" refusal signals a deep rift in the marriage. Either way, I feel the discussion could be carried out in a more constructive manner than it currently is.


  1. I appreciate your post in regards to Dalrock. I would only point out that in all this focus on denying and depriving, and your focus on common sense, there actually is a Biblical answer to the whole "when can I say no."

    1 Cor 7:5 - "Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control."

    Under what conditions does the Apostle allow for not participating?

    By agreement - both agree
    For a limited time - Not going weeks or months without
    Devoting Yourselves to prayer - almost like fasting
    Make it a priority to come together quickly - Prefer to make it regular
    To prevent temptation - Paul recognizes how strong it is.

    My understanding here is that it's not a "Not tonight" after there's moves made, but a preplanned, "I need to spend some time getting right and in prayer, but we will do it soon."

    What I think is frustrating for the guy is that "Not tonight" is disrespectful and waits until he's already mentally prepared and then refuse, when the Apostle clearly says that you should come to an agreement.

    If a woman has a headache or is overtired, etc, she could easily tell her husband earlier in the night, and they come to an agreement-- instead of rejection.

    But like I read elsewhere, at the very least the default response should be "yes."

    Does that make any sense?

  2. Ok, I was going to put together an answer, but I actually want to talk with my husband first because you do bring up some good points. One question that does come to mind (and I hope it's not a quibble) is that when I think about fasting I think about devoting energy/time/attention to prayer that would otherwise be consumed by food/media/sex/what have you. Is an overtired spouse going to be devoting the 20-90 minutes that would otherwise be spent on intimacy to prayer and Bible study, or are they just going to go to sleep? Does this matter?

    Also, I agree 100% that the default should be "yes." I'm actually a little uncomfortable writing/thinking this much about potentially refusing because it's really not something I want to dwell on anyway.

  3. Appreciate the response-- I've been doing a lot of thought and conversation on these topic with my wife, my pastor and my Sunday School class, and I'm trying to stitch together a worldview that's consistent with the Bible, regardless of how unpopular it might be with the culture.

    I commented here based on your comment on Dalrock.

  4. I think your ideas are sound, but I'm not sure it will ever happen for one reason: it's been a long time since I've been able to consider Dalrock any kind of a Christian. Based on his own lifestyle, advice given, and attitudes, I don't think he is actually fighting for Christian marriage, and I question how much a non-Christian can really "get" it. I also dislike his treatment of the few women who brave his comment section. If I were me I would quit reading him, but then again I already did that long ago.

  5. Natalie wrote: whereas your average Christian marriage blog emphasizes "service" (ie flowers and chores and the like), MMSL and Dalrock emphasize building leadership/husband skills that result in things like men having more sexually responsive wives.

    This is such a critical point. The marital advice Christian men tend to give one another is really unhelpful.

    Anna wrote: Based on his own lifestyle, advice given, and attitudes, I don't think he is actually fighting for Christian marriage, and I question how much a non-Christian can really "get" it.

    I'm not sure what you mean by Dalrock's "lifestyle". He's been married to the same woman for a long time and is a vocal supporter of traditional Biblical marriage. He's not been super open about his personal faith, although lately I've noticed that he has been more so. I would say he is probably a Christian, though I guess we can't know that for sure about anybody.

    Sunshine Mary

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hey, thanks for stopping by :)

      I read the post linked, and I'd love to discuss it more with you. Basically I wonder if perhaps my experience as a woman doesn't add up with much of what is being described in the "manosphere" and its affiliates. To take the first example, a simple "You're beautiful" sprinkled randomly into his conversation just makes me happy and snuggly. I want to feel beautiful, and honestly it increases my confidence in the bedroom when I feel attractive. The flip-side is that if Allen kept calling me beautiful and never acted on it (ie brought me to bed) I'd figure he was lying to me on some level, and I'd be devastated. I guess what I'm seeing is that in my marriage many of those tips (spending time together, kissing, allowing time to warm-up, texts or e-mails during the day) can all be part of a very satisfying initiation. My perspective is that, with some exceptions, I feel like these guys have found some decent information but are clueless on implementation. It's like a couple pacific islanders found some baseball gear and decided to play ball - only the pitcher is wearing a batting helmet, the left outfield has a bat, and one of the bases is in a tree. The pieces are mostly there if they could just get a coach. On the other hand I may be fairly low stimulation and easy to game and therefore have a harder time getting why so many women have a long list of things that just kill attraction.

    3. Of course there is individual variety, and if you two have found something that is working great, don't listen to any internet fool and mess stuff up! :)

      But in general, I think the men in the manosphere have figured out a lot about how attraction really works. The thing about the 'sphere, though, is that it seems like it is developing its own set of unchallengeable orthodoxies. I learn a lot there, but I don't believe everything I read there either.

  6. This could be followed with an outline of the specific circumstances which might merit a wife pushing back sexually (illness, particular practices, etc) and continue into a discussion of responsive desire and describe how women who aren't "in the mood" can change their minds when they experience a display of desire from their husbands

    This was and is done there. Please hear me here as I am not attacking or using snark. Because you didn't see it likely means you didn't FEEL it, which to you was the same as it not having been said at all.

    I see this in the interchange between Christian men and women frequently.

    Here is an example

    Christian man says: a man is to love as Christ the church, and the women is to submit (intentionally briefly stated)

    Christian woman then says: Yes but he is to love her as Christ the church and not demand submission

    The man stated that, but the woman didn't FEEL it sufficiently to make her FEEL that he gets it. That exchange can go on for pages and pages with the man saying ALL that needs to be said, and the woman reacting with what she sees as inference and subtext.

    That this is "just the way women are" has been an excuse for this for far too long among Christians, yet this manner of communication is defined as the better, the best, and that men must learn to do it. Well, thats fine if my wife tells me about a spat she has with her sister, me pointing out literal meanings and such is unhelpful. But women must learn to turn this off sometimes and read the exact words on the page.

    If you do that you will see that these sex denying situations that are totally fine were explicitly stated by several men and never, not once, refuted by any man.

    This is not seeing an issue in context, it is seeing it per mode of communication. But here is the problem. Women have the ability to take Sheila's or similar words and see them both a rigid admonishments (if they are not presently threatened by them, like when discussing them in theory online) and then as fluid things prone to and due all subjective and nebulous interpretations (he just didn't understand that I did not want it that evening so he cannot just demand it!)

    The language of the bible is not designed for subtext to allow it to be fluid nor is it accommodating of situational interpretation , which means he of course should not be demanding sex while she is sick...that is CLEAR to a man. If a man does demand sex while his wife is sick, he will be very unlikely to try and build a biblical context for that and if he does he will not go far until he meets another men who bluntly shuts him up.

    NOT THE SAME with the woman who denies sex. She will immediately stir empathy, and bend the other women to sympathy and as stated Sheila's words allow for that, with emotional credibility. they are not on the same side sadly, because her side is not affixed to anything stationary.