Review: Woman Submit

Woman Submit! Christians & Domestic ViolenceWoman Submit!
by Jocelyn, E Andersen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Woman Submit / 978-0-9794293-0-9

My first marriage, at a young age and in a tightly knit Christian community, was marked by physical abuse. Many years later, I was intrigued by the premise of this book - that Christian women are especially prone to stay in abusive relationships due to the pervasive doctrines within their communities: that marriage is eternal (and divorce and remarriage are sinful) regardless of abusive circumstances, that women *want* to be abused in order to get a 'get out of marriage free' card (yes, I'd read that James Dobson quote during my marriage, and found it painful and unhelpful in the extreme), and that abuse is just something that you have to leave to God to fix. I was interested to see how another woman in a similar circumstance had coped with these issues, and what she had to say to the community around her.

Despite my high expectations for this slim volume, I cannot personally recommend this book, as it is written from such a widely different perspective from my own that I actually found it quite infuriating. Andersen begins her book with her own personal testimony of abuse, highlighting a point in her life when her husband beat her near unto death, and denied her medical care for fear of being arrested. The only way Andersen could convince him to leave her alone in the house with a phone was to swear "a vow before God" that she would not call the police (and, apparently by extension, the hospital). In her own words:

"Then he left again. But now I had another problem. I had just made a vow before God that I would not call the police. I stared at the phone and mentally worked through my options - breaking my vow was not one of them...I was confident that God was leading. John returned after being gone only a short while and made a point of looking to see if the phone had been moved. It had not. I had returned it exactly as he left it."

Luckily, John finally leaves again, and Andersen manages to get her pastor's cell phone - the pastor is in the neighborhood and takes her to the hospital, nicely circumventing Andersen's 'vow problem'. Later in the chapter, Andersen will marvel at people who pity her for being 'stupid', and doesn't seem to put together that at least *some* of those people are actually pitying her for thinking her god cares more about a completely invalid vow made under duress to an abuser rather than her own personal, physical safety. I'm sure Andersen feels that God protected her because of her fidelity, but how many other women have made the same choice only to die needlessly when their husbands return in a rage or their internal injuries take their toll? (Andersen insists that her own internal injuries were miraculously healed by God because she was obedient to her vow.)

Throughout the book, Andersen keeps up the heavy-handed approach of insisting that her view of religion is the correct one, and that anyone with a different viewpoint is simply wrong. She sneers at research done on Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) and while I take her point that the diagnosis has been misused and should be handled with more care, I cannot bear such sanctimonious passages as "And although it may come as a complete surprise, psychologists are NOT the experts on the human condition - Jesus Christ our creator is." I really cannot bear that attitude - she can't believe that her god may have made us with the knowledge and insight to understand our own minds and thought processes. Simply, she disagrees with those godless psychologists out there and god is on HER side, of course, so they *must* be wrong, Q.E.D.

(My own beliefs: Although it may come as a complete surprise, mathematicians are NOT the experts on the physical laws of our universe - the great lord Cthulhu is. Take that, math profs of my yesteryears.)

As a woman who has experienced both an abusive marriage and the oppressive 'submission' advice of a well-meaning, but fundamentally disconnected Christian community, I think there is some good advice in Andersen's testimony. She urges readers not to succumb to victim-blaming and to remain open and helpful to women in abusive relationships rather than to write them off as perpetual victims. Outside of the immediate counseling, however, Andersen's book falters and fails - I have no interest in a book that discounts psychology completely in the search for answers and instead devotes literally *pages* to "Adam and Eve" (here treated as real, historical figures) and why their personal family troubles are to blame for domestic violence in this day and age. To me, personally, that makes as much sense as trying to blame marital problems on Thor and Sif.

~ Ana Mardoll

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