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The Male Christian Fiction Author’s “Fantasy Wife”

The Male Christian Fiction Author’s “Fantasy Wife”

by Mike Duran · 39 comments

Guest blogger: Jill Domschot

A while back, out of irritation, I posted this open letter on Facebook:

Dear Male Authors of Christian Fiction, please stop creating female protags to fit your particular male fantasy of The Helper Wife. While a minority percentage of women are actually like this, these women have a downside, which you fail to describe in your fiction (because it would apparently not fit in your fantasy). The Helper Female isn’t 100% altruistic. Yes, that’s right. For all her sacrifices, she expects a return, and she will manipulate in her own special way to get it.

As a female, I’m a little sensitive to the idealized Christian image of womanhood that’s assumed to be a byproduct of gender. It goes something like this: Due to gender rather than personality, women are nurturing and relationship-oriented. In addition, they’re gendered to be emotional. Therefore, women are natural helpers.

In fact, I’m daring enough to claim that many women aren’t naturally motivated at all to help others, to keep up relationships, or to nurture anybody but their own offspring. The truth is all people possess these traits on a continuum. You could argue that females possess these traits in a larger proportion than males do, and you could find numerous studies that back up your assertion, as well as many that disagree with it. As Carl Jung gave us the terms extroversion and introversion to describe human behavior that is either outward/social or inward/solitary, I’ll focus on these terms for a moment because they’ve become catchwords in modern society. The Myers-Briggs personality assessment is based off Jungian principles, and one of the main assessors is whether a person is introverted or extroverted. According to the organization’s first stratified random sample, roughly half the population tends toward introversion. Women are slightly more extroverted than men, according to this same sample (52.5% E, 47.5% I for women vs 45.9% E, 54.1% I for men).

If you accept the above percentages as accurate, then you might assume that women are more relationship-oriented than men. However, 47.5% of the population is certainly no small number, and you might well offend 47 women out of a hundred with your assumption that women love to socialize. Worse, you could be holding 47 out of a 100 women to a standard they’re unable to cope with emotionally. At the very least, this same Myers-Brigg’s assessment has sixteen personality types—of these, eight will tend toward introversion—and not one of them is strictly confined to gender. For another look at common archetypes, the Enneagram describes nine basic personalities, and none of these is confined to gender, either, not even the ones called The Helper and The Loyalist.

But a counterpart paradigm also occurs to me. The Christian male characters rarely seem to fit a lofty ideal, unless they’re in the role of “perfect pastor.” The men, according to the current Christian mythos, are neglectful fathers and husbands with flawed spiritual states, in sharp contrast to the perfectly supportive mothers who dutifully impart their spirituality to their children and pray for their wayward husbands. Essentially, men are flawed and their women must help them rise about their sorry state.

Let’s put the Perfect Christian Woman stereotype aside for a moment and refocus on the Bad Christian Man. I have no desire to finger-point at struggling Christian authors, so I’ll point the finger at a recent film that repeatedly popped up under my Google searches for this article: Courageous. Although the movie had honorable intentions, it upheld the supportive female/neglectful male stereotypes. At the time I watched it, this was my primary criticism of the film.

In the land of Courageous, neglectful fathers cause societal decay and, therefore, fathers need exhortation in order to improve. I can’t say I disagree with that sentiment as stated. Children are better off with both a father and a mother. But why are the men of the film neglectful, while the women are already acting as strong spiritual supporters of their men? Because of this model, women play little role in the film, with little character development. Before you criticize me for obviously missing the point [the movie was meant to encourage men, not women], I’d like to quote from one of the least inflammatory blog reviews—that is, not a feminist rant—that mentioned the gender gap in Courageous.

In Jason Boyett’s Why I Hated the Movie Courageous, he writes,

…and for all its emphasis on the duty of fathers (good!), it practically ignores mothers (weird).

In the comments section, others tried to make light of this omission in the film. One person writes, “Emphasis didn’t need to be placed on the role of mothers because that is not an issue at the moment.” Another says, “I don’t think it slighted the mothers at all. They were all shown as being supportive.” And yet another, “I do not think most mothers need the message of this film. Many men are either absent physically or emotionally from their children especially when the children start to turn into young adults.”

All right, I can hear you asking, “What’s your point?” Why can’t male authors write their good, clean fantasies? Oh, they can, and they will, as will female authors. I’m just tired of the stereotypes.

  • How do you think women respond when they’re held to this one perfect ideal of helpful, friendly, and spiritual?
  • How do you think men respond when they’re assumed to be slothful?

Although I can only speak from a feminine perspective, I know I don’t appreciate the judgment and criticism lobbed at me when I fail to meet the qualification of a good helper female — which is pretty much all the time. And when I read these stereotypes in books, I passive-aggressively write reactionary comments on Facebook. As an author of either gender, that is not the reaction you want from your reading audience.

Jill Domschot writes supernatural fiction with a Gothic flair. Her interests are various and always changing: Spanish, metrical poetry, accordions, flash fiction, and the British Enlightenment. She blogs at Hc Svnt Dracones (jilldomschot.com), where she writes odd short stories and philosophical memoirs.

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica Thomas June 27, 2012 at 5:41 AM

As full time working mom with a full time stay at home daddy husband, the stereotypes definitely grate on my nerves. Sheesh. What can I say, but “I don’t fit in!” I have a difficult time relating to Christian women, at times, which makes it odd, because although women are supposed to fellowship with women and men with men, I in many ways relate to what the men are going through in terms of the weight of family responsibilities. When the women start talking womanly stuff, I sometimes feel like an alien on a strange planet. If the tables were turned however, and I were a stay at home mom, I doubt I’d have that issue, because if given the opportunity, I would choose to be much more girly. It’s a bit messed up. It really is. (I dream of the tables being turned, by the way, but I work on accepting my life for what it is and learning how to make the best of it.)

I appreciate the Biblical teaching that men and women have intrinsic differences. I think it’s true. I feel it within myself, that I’m to some extent trying to stuff a square peg in a round hole. But, I also (obviously) think the genders are adaptable. We do what we have to do to survive, when it comes down to it. Making a woman feel bad because she doesn’t fit in with the Christian stereotype of what women are supposed to be is complete hogwash. And my husband is a prime example that not all men fall into the lazy, “I’d rather ignore my kids” category. That being said, I’ve accepted that men need to be the primary leaders in the institution of the church. Fine by me. I don’t want the job. I’m too busy trying to make a paycheck.

My main point, I guess, is that my husband and I are a prime example that it’s not all black and white. Any church that tried to teach me it is would prompt me to flee out the doors laughing. Any book or story that tries to make is seem as though it is just makes me roll my eyes a bit. (Walk a mile in my shoes…)

p.s., The picture of the woman with the arms really does make me want to throw up a little. Switch the corded phone to a smart phone and add about four more arms. Oh, and totally ditch the high heels!! That’s never happening. (My shoes are Reeboks…if you choose to walk in them, expect at least a small amount of comfort.)

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Greg Mitchell June 27, 2012 at 6:16 AM

Well, I don’t fit in with the men either. I work all day, support the family, etc. But whenever I’m at any kind of get together, all the women split into one camp and the men split into the other. And I’m always left alone in the middle–usually hanging out with my wife who doesn’t always relate well to other women, either, Jessica, so you’re not alone. I’m the touchy feely, passionate type and my wife is often the emotionally cold logical one :p When it comes to talking to other men I know NOTHING about cars, sports, motors, tools (I only own one screwdriver)–which ALWAYS seems to be what they’re talking about. I can’t even fake a conversation with them.

However, I CAN tell them the ways to kill a vampire.

Sigh…

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Greg Mitchell June 27, 2012 at 6:01 AM

I have a lot of thoughts on this, but I’ll try to keep it to an organized minimum ;)

I think your argument is multi-faceted. On the one hand, I think there *is* this kind of myth being purported, but it doesn’t start at fiction. I’d say it starts from behind the pulpit. I’ve been in church for most of my life, and it’s almost always the same. Every Mother’s Day, the pastor will stand behind the podium and say “We’d be in a sorry shape without our mothers! They are godly women who have wiped our noses, cleaned our cuts, and raised us right! Mother is the name of God on the lips of children!”. Yet, when Father’s Day rolls around, the pastor might as well get up there, shake his head and say “You know those guys in prison? They write letters to their mothers, but not their fathers. Crime is a father’s fault. Prostitution is a father’s fault. You need to step it up men. You guys suck.”

Why does that happen? I don’t know. I’ve speculated that perhaps the truth is simply that since most preachers are men, they have a deeper understanding of the faults of fathers–because they share them. With women, they generalize or–as you put it–fantasize. I mean, what if a pastor got up there and said “Ladies, you’re terrible. Why aren’t you helping out more? Where are you when your husbands need you? Get off the computer and take a look at your kids every once in awhile.” I’m gonna guess that wouldn’t fly very well. Then the pastor would, no doubt, be accused of trying to “put women in their place in the home” or something equally out of balance.

I think, in fiction, it comes from a similar place. In a Christian book, you’re going to have a protagonist fall and falter and deal with sin, more than likely. Why? Because that’s DRAMA. So, it stands to reason that a lot of male authors are going to write male protags. In a Christian book, they might likely be Christian male protags…going through a hard time…slipping up…making a mess of things. Well, you want a character that’s counterpoint to that. You’re probably going to want a beautiful lady in there for a love interest too ;) You’re probably going to kill two birds with one stone and have a loving…supportive…understanding woman. I don’t think it’s a meant to promote a stereotype, I think it’s just “luck of the draw”.

I’ve written a similar character/situation in “Enemies of the Cross”. Only, in that, the Supportive Christian Wife has to learn that she’s got to stop chasing after her Wayward Husband all the time and let him and God sort out their business. In the meantime, she has a path set before her by God that she’s got to go down, regardless if her husband is with her or not.

I say that to say I’m not saying there ISN’T a stereotype, just saying that that was my way of trying to break it a little.

On the other hand, just from a Reader standpoint, if you’ve got the Struggling Christian Man in your story, and his wife is like, “Oh, get over it. I’ve got my own life to lead, call me when you get your crap sorted out”–well that changes the tone of everything. I’ve written characters like that, as well, and they become obstacles to the Hero’s Journey. If my struggling character is going through the wringer, why would I surround him with people who don’t reach out to him or aren’t supportive of him?

But, just to set you at ease, I write plenty of females who are loners, grumpy, and quiet–BUT ALSO brave, heroic, supportive. :) My wife is not a gabby, social butterfly who loves shopping and “girl time” and what not, so I’m sensitive to that kind of thing.

As for Supportive Christian Wives, I think authors draw from reality. My own mother has been a faithful, supportive woman as far back as a I can remember, while my father has been off with his friends or indulging his hobbies, and wasn’t around very much growing up. That’s my reality, not a stereotype. I’ve known plenty of women with similar situations.

In the case of Courageous, I’ve not seen the movie, but I know quite a bit about it and watched the trailer and, like you, picked up real quick that this was going to be a movie that elevated The Woman to sainthood and “exposed” The Man for the neglectful scum of the earth that he is. So I decided to skip it. After all, if I just hang around to Father’s Day, I’ll get the same message, right? :p

I DID, however, see a bit of Fireproof and I was gobsmacked that the whole movie vilifies The Man for ignoring his wife, but when The Woman nearly has an affair–certainly seems to have an emotional affair–she’s never held accountable for that. We’re not necessarily meant to condone what she did, but I think, narratively speaking, the blame for that decision was placed on the husband. Which I think is wrong and, as a guy, hurtful.

So, here I am, at the bottom line…and realize I don’t have one ;) Except to say that stereotypes exist for a reason–because they are often true. Not always, certainly. Maybe not even most of the time. But my wife has been there for me when I’ve been “off the path”–just as I’ve been there for her spiritually, when she needed guidance and a little wisdom. It’s a give and take. That’s what being help meets TO EACH OTHER is all about.

And I do think we need to see more of THAT in Christian fiction :)

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Jill June 27, 2012 at 7:39 AM

That’s really funny that you mention the Father’s Day vs Mother’s Day sermon. I actually had a paragraph about that in my original article, but cut it because it was getting too long. I had the same conclusion you did–that pastor is looking at himself and projecting his own feelings as a father, as well as passively complimenting his wife. The movie Courageous wasn’t all bad. My husband liked it but would be the first to tell you that I complained over the perfect wife stereotype. Thanks for your comment!

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Mike Duran June 27, 2012 at 6:14 AM

Jill, I love this post! I have several questions / observations. One is – and this will probably get me killed – since the majority of the Christian market, both readers and writers, is made up of women, wouldn’t they be more responsible for the stereotype than men? After all, stay at home moms are one of the prime demographics of the Christian market. (Not trying to start a gender war here…)

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Jill June 27, 2012 at 7:42 AM

I could make a longer, more complex study of this. What triggered my facebook rant was a series of books written by male authors that kept to this model. In some ways, yes, I believe women think they must fit this version of perfect helping female. I’ve read far too many marital advice books that tell women they are supposed to fill it.

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Iola June 27, 2012 at 8:26 PM

Mike, you may have a point. Amish romance novels, in particular, perpetuate the myth of the perfect serving stay-at-home mom. I have no idea who reads them, but I don’t.

(And, BTW, the Christian market doesn’t seem to just be SAH mothers. They all seem to home-school as well.)

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Mark H. June 27, 2012 at 6:18 AM

I would argue that the stereotypes are not limited to Christian fiction at all, but more of a general worldview. How many movies and TV shows (or even commercials) have you watched where the husband/dad is a clueless moron in arrested development, and the saintly wife is the only one holding the family together?

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Jill June 27, 2012 at 7:51 AM

They definitely aren’t. Sitcoms are rife w/ immature, irresponsible dads and perfect moms. This article was inspired by Christian fiction, however.

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Heather Day Gilbert June 27, 2012 at 7:21 AM

Jill, awesome post. I’ve often felt I’m not emotive enough to fit in with your average woman; therefore, I think I write more like a guy sometimes (what, no random crying bouts in my MCs?). I’ve actually noticed the opposite in Christian male characters–you’re right, they’re often flawed. But they always rally and know instinctively the EXACT RIGHT words to say to comfort their wives. I truly don’t appreciate this, and if I were a guy, I’d downright loathe the fact that real wives are reading these books and expecting their hubbies to live up to such unrealistic expectations. I’ve said this for awhile–Christian boyfriends/hubbies in books act more like GOOD GIRLFRIENDS than men. So I guess my problem is more w/the male portrayals in Christian fiction.

Men can be sensitive and emotive, often more than their wives. But there is, and always will be, a basic gender divide. At some level, we just cannot fully understand each other. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be, I think.

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Brenda Anderson June 27, 2012 at 7:28 AM

As a stay-at-home mom, and as someone who’s read a variety of Christian fiction, I find your points valid not just for the male author, but female as well. I’ve found few characters I can relate to. The Proverbs 31 woman is alive and well in CF.

As for the portrayal of men in CF, I’ll agree to a point. The neglectful father and wayward husband seem to be staples in CF plotting, but so is the perfect male, particularly in stories with a romantic element. Perhaps to balance out the neglectful male, many authors create a fantasy man that real life could never live up to.

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Jill June 27, 2012 at 7:56 AM

I don’t read a lot of romance. I’ve seen enough covers to know what the fantasy male looks like, though. :) He’s strong and spiritual, I assume, and never tries anything inappropriate. He’s a chivalrous gentleman.

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Heather Day Gilbert June 27, 2012 at 8:31 AM

If you describe him like this, I do have to concede these males exist. My husband was the most chivalrous gentleman I know. But he doesn’t always know the right things to say. Neither do I, for that matter. Grin.

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Brenda Anderson June 27, 2012 at 9:48 AM

Exactly! And he never thinks anything inappropriate either, or takes that second glance, and he always knows the perfect Bible verse for every situation. :) Hmm, as Heather said below, you’ve just described my husband! Well, almost … ;)

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R. L. Copple June 27, 2012 at 8:43 AM

I’m sure those stereotypes exist in CF, and it is worth ranting about. Especially when you encounter them frequently as you did. And like Greg said, some of that is just the demands of the story at times.

I would adjust one thing you’ve said. I don’t think extrovert=relationship and introvert=not relationship. You don’t have to be social to value relationships highly and develop those within your own circle. And just because someone is the life of the party doesn’t mean they are relationship oriented in their outlook on life. So that reasoning didn’t come across as convincing me that a lot of women would be offended if one of my women protags is relationship oriented.

Indeed, my recently released book, I have two female protags/pov. One is the motherly type, but has her faults and strengths, the other is more the tomboy, and commits some sins, and has avoided relationships of a romantic nature, though she gets sucked into one.

So maybe my book will offend both sides of the aisle equally well. :)

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Jill June 27, 2012 at 9:34 AM

I want to make it clear that it isn’t the personality that bothers me, but the stereotyped version of it. I know both women and men who have hearts for helping people, and I admire them. What I don’t like is the assumption that all women must fit the stereotype or the “perfect ideal”. Perfect characters are flat. If you create a female character who has this personality, I won’t fault you in the least if she’s a complex character.

An extrovert, by modern definition (taken from Jung’s original definition), is a person who gains personal strength and energy from relationships and outward activities and social events. An introvert is a reflective person who gains personal strength and energy from spending time alone and thinking deep thoughts. Introverts aren’t shy, per se, and they may be very outspoken in a crowd, but they feel they must reserve their psychic energies for solitary reflection. Most people aren’t extremely one way or the other because they have to live in the real world. It is a preference, though.

You say the life of the party may not be relationship-oriented, which is an interesting distinction. When I highlighted these personality typing systems (Myers-Briggs and Enneagram), it was w/ the knowledge that people don’t always fit neatly into the systems–they’re simply good references for authors. The interesting thing is that the Enneagram doesn’t use the terms introverted or extroverted, but each of the 9 personalities can be either social, self-protective, or sexual. A sexual person likes to be in charge, may enjoy being the life of the party, but isn’t necessarily relationship-oriented, except on a one-to-one basis. I used Jung’s terms out of convenience more than anything because most people understand what they mean.

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Skadi meic Beorh June 27, 2012 at 9:14 AM

My character Sionnach Varela will be well-liked by those who despise this stereotype. My latest, found on Amazon and published by Cogwheel Press, is THE PLACE WHERE INFINITY BLOOMS. My female characters are either strong warrior types, or certifiably insane and also warriors. I can thank my mother for the latter influence. I’ve personally not noticed a problem, but that’s likely because, as a rule, I don’t read past the WWII era. My male characters are sometimes chivalric warriors, but are also sniveling spineless malcreants. Christian writing has come a long way since 1990, if anyone remembers. I knew a female Fantasy writer who used a male pseudonym because she knew that she couldn’t compete with Peretti. To my present knowledge, she never even made it into the market. ‘Christian Horror’ was relegated to a xeroxed and mailed-out “thread” kept alive by Christian writers and readers of the genre, and also by a saddle-stapled magazine (name forgotten) featuring some of the best Horror I’ve ever read by any writer, Christian or not. I apologize for my off-topic ramble. I’m lonely to talk and I love y’all.

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Katherine Coble June 27, 2012 at 11:21 AM

I have a lot to say about this, but my thoughts are muddled.

The most important point I wanted to make (other than seconding your orignal points) is that not only does the stereotype exist to my INTJ chagrin, but it also roundly dismisses outliers as not only “not good women” but also probably “not good Christian women.”

I think a lot of this comes from our tradition of “Girls’ Ministries” in youth group ages being geared toward things like modest dress, proper dating etiquette and how to find a good husband. Or they feed into each other. Not sure which. Regardless, your average childfree logic puzzle loving computer programming geek woman is overtly thrummed out of Evangelical society. The fiction is just another tool for communicating the essential discomfort.

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Skadi meic Beorh June 27, 2012 at 11:35 AM

hmm… thanks for that. Yet another reason my wife and I refuse to darken the door of any church on the planet.

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Greg Mitchell June 27, 2012 at 11:37 AM

Well, they certainly aren’t all like that. Sheesh.

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sally apokedak June 27, 2012 at 2:26 PM

Um…this is too sad. What a flimsy excuse for staying out of church. Why aren’t you going and loving people and teaching them to change if they need to change?

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Heather Day Gilbert June 27, 2012 at 12:24 PM

I’m just wondering what’s wrong w/teaching modesty to younger girls? I know lots of grown women who need a course in it. That’s Biblical. Not everyone is going to get married, but many are. So it’s a good thing to teach girls what to look for in a prospective husband, esp. if their home-life is a less-than-ideal example for them.

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sally apokedak June 27, 2012 at 2:27 PM

Most will get married. And all need to learn to be modest.

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Katherine Coble June 27, 2012 at 6:30 PM

Not a thing is wrong with it. But that doesn’t need to be the SUM TOTAL.

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C.L. Dyck June 27, 2012 at 12:35 PM

I have found grownup women’s ministries to be exactly that kind of stifling, Katherine. There is no greater horror for me than being expected to sit around a table of ten women and “do a craft” and talk about inane things. The punishment for noncompliance is getting labeled as standoffish, snobby or antisocial.

My church showed Courageous last weekend. I left halfway through–too darn busy lately–and didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything.

Reflecting on the OP, very true that some women have zero nurture and exist simply as spiritual, emotional or financial vampires. My husband and I have seen enough scary ones that we coined the term GHOE (Stands for Giant Ho’ of Evil) as there seemed to be no classification on the existing scale of freaky things.

The truth be told, I’ve never yet met a Christian woman who really felt comfortable about these stereotypes or fulfilled in them. They set a ridiculous and inhuman standard. I have seen women who got settled in wearing those standards like a garment, and would no sooner go out in public without that facade than without getting dressed. But I think if that’s all the husband sees–she’s not giving him the whole truth.

Probably the most offensive thing about the Supportive Wife Stereotype, to me, is how it’s sometimes extended into sexual and emotional counsel for Christian couples. All too often I’ve been handed the message, implied or overt, that the Struggling Husband’s relational needs are primary and the Supportive Wife’s are secondary. I have yet to figure out how absolving a man of his normal adult responsibility to nurture his spouse is biblical support.

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Bobby June 27, 2012 at 12:31 PM

It’s hard to see women falter. At least, for men it is. Our wives, girlfriends, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, etc. are the ones we look to for support. I can understand where this can be nauseating for gals, but that’s just how a lot of guys think.

This is perfectly proven in Courageous, which was, I believe, written, directed and probably produced by men. They want to solve men’s problems (this is true for all of their films so far…well, except perhaps the wife in Fireproof) so they depend on the women in their lives to back them up. Is it something of a weird double-standard? Yep. Part of it I think is simply cultural. We don’t like to see ladies all messed up, while we expect it from men.

Part of it also goes into American idealism…again, Courageous is a perfect example. We long for the Good Ol’ Days of nuclear families (1950s) and since so much of current culture is mired in cynical, crass narcissism that’s descriptive, Christians go for prescriptive story environments.

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xdpaul June 27, 2012 at 12:45 PM

Women are significant, if not majority drivers in divorce, abortion, infidelity, and a host of other sins and societal ills. After all, are women any less responsible or in need of salvation than men? Yet, I have heard sermons and teachings (frequently), that portray cheating women as ones who were basically justified because their husband was “absent”, women who abort the lives of others as hapless victims, as if in a house fire or a car wreck, and how important it is to “respect all women,” even though respect is a quality earned, not defaulted to.

It is clear that there is either a large or a vocal (or both) subset of Christian teachers and authors who have bought into the Madonna myth, somehow thinking that the adulterous woman was not shown mercy, but instead was innocent, that the woman at the well was only in need of being empowered, not condemned by her actions and forgiven by God, that even Jezebel had her inner beauty that trumped her tyranny.

Amen, Jill. More natural men and real women, please. This dysfunctional fisher-price family dynamic masquerading as Christian idealism is a sort of spookhouse relational taoism, and no good to the Body whatsoever.

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Lyn Perry June 27, 2012 at 2:39 PM

Have you heard of the Bechdel Test for movies (and presumably applicable to novels as well)? I’m not saying this should be a litmus test, but there’s one out there: http://bechdeltest.com/

Basically, it states that a balanced story (my interpretation of the goal of the test) should have at least a) two named women characters b) who talk to each other c) about something other than men.

Thoughts?

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Heather Day Gilbert June 27, 2012 at 2:49 PM

I think this is an awesome idea! Because that’s what we do, in real life. Though we do talk about men, now and again. Grin.

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Mike Duran June 27, 2012 at 5:50 PM

Lyn, that’s a fascinating (and funny) link. I wonder what other “tests” can be compiled similarly.

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sally apokedak June 27, 2012 at 2:44 PM

I have long hated women’s books and Bible Studies. I think many of them are unbalanced. I haven’t noticed the problem in fiction. Most of the Christian fiction I’ve read has had heroines that are shallow and immature. They are presented as mature, but they are bubble heads. They fall in love with unsaved men, they are whiny, silly women who like to shop.

We must be reading different books.

I want mature women characters in fiction. I am tired of the silly, know-nothing church-goers who can’t think past their next kiss.

Men? The last couple of Christian books I read had wonderful, strong male characters.

OK. Male authors? I read four books written by Christian men in the last couple of month. One by Travis Thrasher, one by Rich Bullock, one by Jim Hamlett, and one by Mike Duran. None of them had idealized women who loved to nurture others or men who were more spiritually flawed than the women, I don’t think. I think they all had characters of both genders who were flawed and characters of both genders who were strong.

Witness Zeph’s mother in Mike’s book, THE TELLING, if you want to see a woman who does not fit the nurturing mother role. Yikes.

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Heather Day Gilbert June 27, 2012 at 2:48 PM

YES. THE TELLING doesn’t keep any of these CBA rules, as I found the women very believable–strong, yet with their own weaknesses. It’s hard to make a blanket statement over the whole CBA. There are exceptions to every rule. I think Gina Holmes also does a great job of creating female characters who have not-always-Christian thoughts. Same with Katie Ganshert. But I’m probably aware of this b/c I’ve been reading more Christian fiction lately (and I’m still kinda hanging back from the ROMANCEY romance, where the women think of only the next kiss, like Sally said).

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Jill June 27, 2012 at 5:26 PM

I’ve been reading Katie’s blog since long before she had an agent or contract, and I will get around to reading her debut at some point. I take it you recommend it?

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Heather Day Gilbert June 27, 2012 at 5:40 PM

I did like that the MC was flawed, somewhat “majorly.” (Old high school term there). Also like that she tackled the theme of a pastor who thought more of himself than his flock (happens sometimes). However, it is a romance–just to warn you! But it was a romance I could handle. She caught those early-stage relationship fireworks well.

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Jill June 27, 2012 at 5:20 PM

Sally, I’m currently reading The Telling, and I agree that the female characters don’t fit this stereotype. And I also know there are exceptions. What I’m talking about is an overarching expectation of Christian women that is, furthermore, a broader cultural stereotype reflected in TV, movies, and literature. I do know of the vapid stereotype you speak of, too, and I think it’s a competing cultural model that applies to both men and women. More recent sitcoms, such as New Girl, reveal that men and women alike can be immature and vapid (equal opportunity, anyone?). What becomes clear is that both models push out the intellectual female, opting for either The Helpmeet or The Airhead stereotypes. But maybe one is just the single version of the other.

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Shayle June 27, 2012 at 5:17 PM

What about the “crack whore” stereotype of women that is so prevalent right now? I know of at least three “christian” wives and mothers who have abandoned their husbands and children because they were so “methed-out”, leaving their husbands to be single parents. Heartbreaking! And yet I don’t read this stereotype of women very often. Perhaps this aspect of modern gender stereotypes needs to be explored more in fiction to help people affected by this phenomenon.

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Jill June 27, 2012 at 5:24 PM

I don’t know if that’s a stereotype so much as a reality. I know of this happening in my community, and I agree that it’s heartbreaking.

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J.S. July 8, 2012 at 8:31 AM

Loved this article, Jill! I was complaining about “Courageous” to my friends (without any good feedback from them, I might add!) From a woman’s perspective, the movie is a bit heavy on the patriarchal viewpoint. But as you pointed out, it IS meant to encourage men. I wish that the scriptwriters and producers had realized the sad lack of female character in this movie… the women are in this film are, like you say, the Christian fantasy females!

Am I wrong to be offended that one of the male characters in the movie bought his daughter off with a sort of purity ring? I mean, it is true that he wanted to protect her, but seriously, is she his property? Isn’t this 2012? He could just have had the dinner with her and explained things without making her promise to not date until she finds a man worthy to remove the ring…my precious! :) Or something like that. Sorry, yes, I had a controlling father growing up and so I expect my vision is somewhat flawed.

Something I’ve felt for a very long time is that Christian films and books should be written for people living in a real world, with real temptations and real disappointments. I like escapist fantasy sometimes, but the whitewashed imagery of the perfect neighborhood gets really old. Sometimes I would like to hear about men and women with real-life stuggles and how they solved their problems.

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