Review: Women Rising

Women Rising, Meghan Tschanz, Foreword by Carolyn Custis James. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021.

Summary: A global mission trip awakens the author both to the injustices women face throughout the world and the patterns of subjection she learned in childhood that held her back and which she learned to name and use her voice to speak against.

Meghan Tschanz grew up in a good conservative church and participated in a good Christian ministry in college. But she also absorbed teaching that caused her a lot of harm. It all had to do with being a woman and not a man. She was taught about purity, something to be protected, like a lollipop kept in its wrapper. She was taught about modesty, and how she didn’t want to be the cause of men sinning, with the subliminal message that her body, or at least some parts of it were bad and to be ashamed of. She was taught that women lived for men’s needs and wants. Then there were the passes men made, the remarks bosses and customers made that reduced her to an object, eye candy for their pleasure.

All of that was in her history, but below the surface until a year spent on a mission trip around the world. She confronted the male dominance of the mission. She is traumatized when a man pleasures himself while looking at her while she plays tennis. And she entered into the heartbreaking ways women were abused around the world. Beaten and raped by husbands. Subject to female genital mutilation. Deceived and trafficked. One of the women she reached out to was murdered by a client.

Meanwhile, she became involved in a relationship with a young man also associated with the mission. She’s attracted but also increasingly uneasy with the ways she feels controlled and has to “stuff” parts of herself. Those around her see the difference, how she stifles her voice to be with him. All this culminates as she reflects on her experiences, both with the women, and with the people and structures that have shaped her life. After trying so hard to cope and help women cope, she realized that things would not change without men being held accountable. Women endured all sorts of abuse, while men rarely were held to account, or not at all. She recognized the structures of patriarchy both in society and in the church that sought to control and use women, but not to permit them to be equal partners in society or ministry. It was believed that if women stepped up, then men would step back. She exposes the structures and strategy used to keep women “in their place” and the deep pain women experienced, that she experienced.

This is an honest book–about everything from sexuality and bodies to the times she fell apart under the weight of what she saw, and how prayer and friends helped. It’s a book meant to encourage women to raise their voice, to speak into the injustice of patriarchal church structures and societal structures that constrain women but never expect men to change or be held responsible. This is also a book men need to read. We need to understand the pain we as men have inflicted. We need to understand how our own irresponsible lack of control of our desires have caused women to be ashamed of their bodies when we are the ones who should be ashamed. We need to face why power and control are so important to us. What do we fear? There is mystery in the relations between genders and many of us would rather control the mystery than extend the respect that we want by listening, learning, and understanding. Fear is the prelude to wonder in the knowledge of God. The sad tragedy of patriarchy is not only are we robbed of half the gifts of the church, but we settle for the illusion of power and control when we could have wonder.

All this is to say, men, read this book. Some of it will (or should) break your heart. And it will help us support our sisters who are rising, reclaiming their voices, and bringing their whole selves into the lives of our communities.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: When Men Behave Badly

When Men Behave Badly, David M. Buss. New York: Little, Brown Spark, 2021.

Summary: A discussion of sexual violence, deception, harassment and abuse, largely on the part of men, grounded in evolutionary sexual conflict theory that helps explain why so many relationships between men and women go bad.

Harassment. Intimate partner violence. Controlling behavior. Stalking. Sexual coercion and rape. We hear reports in our daily news of these sexual offenses, and indeed, some version of these offenses occur in every culture. And in most cases, the perpetrators are men. As a male, this is troubling. Are we all rapists, as Marilyn French has asserted? Certainly many women are wary of all men. Beyond this lies the question of how we explain the universality of sexual oppression and violence.

In When Men Behave Badly, psychologist David M. Buss proposes that sexual conflict theory provides an explanation for these behaviors. In brief, sexual conflict theory roots these behaviors in our evolutionary struggles to reproduce, in which males and females have conflicting strategies for passing along our germ lines. Optimal strategies for men involve multiple matings. For women, the optimal strategy is a long term relationship with a mate. Each gender has developed strategies to counter the other and hence conflict that can turn oppressive, manipulative and violent. These traits are deeply engrained in us. Yet these do not determine or warrant men behaving badly. And not all men do.

It is a battle of the sexes, and largely, a battle over the bodies of women. Buss begins by showing how this works out in the mating market. Buss explores how man assess sexual exploitability, how each gender practices deception and how men and women think differently about what is desirable. It is here that Buss introduces the Dark Triad of traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Men with this triad are much more prone to abuse. Weirdly, perhaps, they are attractive to many women, and there may be evolutionary reasons for this, although they make for terrible long-term relationships. He looks at conflict within mateships–backup mates, and affairs and mate retention through sexual withdrawal and bestowal.

Buss then gets into relationship conflict and the role of jealousy that may be the source of mate guarding, intimate partner violence, stalking and partner rape. All of these may be seen as a form of protectiveness of their investment and guarding partners from other male poachers. Buss goes into the ways perpetrators hijack their victim’s psychology, making it less likely that they will leave. When partners do break up, it may lead to stalking and revenge, including revenge porn.

Buss examines the claim that all men are rapists. Sadly, many men do fantasize about forced sex. Many fewer will act on it. Buss looks at why men who rape do so. Narcissism and lack of empathy, hostility toward women, and disposition to short-term relationships all contribute to a proneness to rape. He also discusses how women defend against sexual coercion, how they avoid assault or escape from it. There is a blind spot. Women most fear stranger rape when in fact most rapes are from men with whom they are acquainted.

The final chapter discusses “minding the sex gap.” He observes some of the misperceptions of desirability and what is attractive (and disgusting) that men do well to understand, the importance of closing legal gaps in terms of harassment and sex crimes, and changing the norms around patriarchy. Learning to recognize the Dark Triad traits mentioned earlier and to protect oneself from them is important.

I found this a bleak book. It is a grim “butchers’ bill” of all the ways men transgress against women, supposedly for some evolutionary reproductive advantage. The back and forth of strategies and counter-strategies felt to me a reduction of relationships between men and women to power games cloaked as sexual transactions. While I think the author would deny it, especially in terms of legal culpability, there is a strong element of evolutionary determinism that underlies the explanations of behavior. It seems the remedy is less self-control as it is evolutionary counter-measures and social and legal controls. I will grant that sexual conflict theory does offer a compelling explanation for the bad behavior of men across cultures. But it reduces human sexuality and all the mating behavior around it to reproductive instincts.

While reproduction is a big part of sexuality for humans as well as animals, this seems an inadequate account of the many beautiful, though always flawed, relationships between men and women that endure long past reproduction, and for the school of character that is marriage, forging mutually sacrificial love, shared and complimentary interests, and generative bonds that not only create families but enrich communities. Buss explains the ways men and women go wrong, and perhaps this is what he most sees. I hope perhaps someday he will have occasion to write about “when men behave well.” I suspect it is to this he aspires, and there are many others I know who have been models of listening to the “better angels of their natures.” Although less noticed, I think asking why this is so is equally worth careful study.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Having it Both Ways


Photo by kathryn “Eating cake” (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Perhaps it doesn’t puzzle me that we don’t like to talk about this. Remember when you were a kid and someone said, “you can’t eat your cake and have it too.” That almost seemed to be a dare to try to do both. Usually, this ended with you full of cake and wanting more and frustrated that your share is gone. Sometimes you end up filching someone else’s cake. And making yourself sick. And so the spiral goes.

So perhaps I don’t wonder why there isn’t more of a conversation about our highly sexualized and violent culture when we rail against sexual assault, threatening atmospheres, and gun violence. We really like our sex and our violence. Except when we don’t. Except when it hurts us or someone we love.

This is not an argument that those who are victims of these acts ever in the least deserve it. And I applaud those who have had the courage to say #MeToo, to testify against sexual offenders, to press for better work environments, and reasonable measures to keep guns out of the hands of those who would do harm.

But I wonder if we will make real progress as long as we celebrate a culture of “friends with benefits,” casual hookups, marketing that makes both women and men consciously obsessed with the appearance of their bodies? Will we make any progress until we understand how the use of pornography re-wires the brain, and undermines real relationships?

Will we make any progress as long as television and movies give us the vicarious thrill of the kill multiple times in an evening, even if most of us never go beyond that point? And how do violent video games rewire the brain? Nearly all the best selling video games, sold in large measure to young men, major in violence. I won’t make the argument that these videos cause violence, but I can’t help but believe that they are an ingredient in the toxic stew of our violent culture.

I suspect that steamy and casual sex is easier to write than a restrained relationship where love grows and deepens to real intimacy. I imagine that violence rivets the attention much more easily than non-violent means of seeking justice and resolving conflict. It’s faster, easier.

And I can’t help but wonder if it fosters the notion that it may be faster and easier in real life.

It also wouldn’t surprise me that some would label me hopelessly naive or prudish or an anachronism. Fair enough. But I would ask in reply, how do you explain why more young people have died of gun violence than in our overseas conflicts in recent years? How do you explain the pervasiveness of the revelations of sexual misconduct of all forms (yes, some may that more people feel empowered to speak out about it)? Why do universities wring their hands about campus sexual assault, much of it by acquaintances, and struggle to find ways to overcome “the walk of shame”?

There is an old saying that if you sow the wind, you will reap the whirlwind. I’d propose that when it comes to both sexuality and violence, two very potent forces, we cannot sow to the wind and reap a peaceful summer day at the beach. We want to, and often our media in its various forms prospers on our belief that we can have it both ways.

But I find myself wondering if we can…


Is It Time for Stricter “Man Control”?

mancardNo. I’m not into suspending civil liberties. But I’m struck that there is a common denominator in most of the mass shootings, gun violence in our cities, and sexual assaults. Young men.

Rather than a conversation about guns or sexual assault, which is difficult to have on social media, I thought we might talk about what is going on that so many young men are turning to violence, whether sexual or gun violence.

I could indulge in all sorts of discussion about how this is tied to warped ideas of manhood. I’ll leave this for the psychologists. What I wonder about is the sheer number of boys who really have no one helping them figure out this passage to manhood.

Many cultures have “rites of passage” that mark the transition from boyhood to manhood. These often involve rituals, ordeals, and the mentoring of boys by men. Some of this may seem barbaric to our modern sensibilities but the impact was to clearly demarcate for young men that they had truly become men, and fully shared with other men responsibilities for the health of their society.

One of the few places I’ve seen anything like this happen in our society is in Boy Scouts. Adolescent boys are mentored by men. The Scout Law emphasizes qualities of character: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” Scouts learn a variety of outdoor survival skills including orienteering, building fires, pitching tents properly, cooking food, and first aid.Two of the most important parts of Scouting are The Order of the Arrow and the Eagle Scout project. The Order of the Arrow is a kind of “ordeal” where a boy must camp out alone, create his own shelter, and not speak to anyone for 24 hours. Subsequently, Arrowmen are part of a brotherhood for life.

The Eagle Scout project involves attaining a series of ranks by meeting a number of requirements including badges that signify competency in a variety of skills. Then the Scout organizes a service project for the community, obtaining the needed materials and leading other Scouts and volunteers, and finally writing up and defending this project and his whole Scouting career before a board of review before being awarded this rank, which is also consider a lifetime achievement. One is always an Eagle Scout.

These are rites of passage that mark a transition from boyhood to adult manhood. They involve developing a capacity to endure some discomfort and to exercise self control, to work hard, to lead others and accept responsibility under the mentorship of adult men.

What I wonder about are the many boys who have no experience, formal or informal, like this in their lives, and no men, fathers and others, involved in helping them learn a richer idea of being a man than sexual and physical prowess. I also wonder if there are others whose only “adult” models are really boys in men’s bodies.

I suspect there are those who will accuse me of swapping one set of gender stereotypes for another. I would contend something different. I think many young men are more confused than ever about what it means to be a man. Sexual prowess and gun violence (real or virtual) are easy outs. What I would contend for is that a real man is an adult–someone who knows how to act with integrity, to work with excellence, to express his sexuality to love and serve and enrich another, and to handle conflict constructively and work with those who are different from him. And such an adult knows how to act and live well in the company of others, regardless of their gender identity or orientation, without posturing, power plays, or manipulation.

We can pass laws (or not) to control guns and establish policies to control sexual behavior (particularly on campuses). Fear or lack of opportunity may cut the numbers of assaults and maybe even deaths from guns. But until we take a hard look at how our young men are coming of age and what kinds of experiences are forming them into what kinds of adults, I think we will continue struggle with how to control boys in grown up men’s bodies. And frankly, I’m not sure we will ever be very satisfied with the results of that kind of “man control.” The best control is still self-control.

Ending Sexual Violence on Campus

beerLet me be clear: to force a sexual act upon a person who cannot give consent, has not given consent, or refuses consent is sexual assault. If it involves vaginal intercourse, it is rape. Period. This is a crime and is the responsibility of the perpetrator and no blame attaches to the victim. Period.

If my language seems blunt, it is because of the history of blaming victims, usually women, for “wearing that dress” or “drinking too much.” It saddles victims with guilt and mitigates the responsibility of the perpetrator, both in court and in the public eye. Men often use strategies of “getting her drunk” as an approach to sexual exploitation. There is no excuse for any of this, and frankly, as a male, I think that far from demonstrating virility, it is a demonstration of a kind of emotional, if not physical, impotence.

All this said, The Chronicle of Higher Education raised what I think is a key barrier to at least reducing sexual violence on campuses in an article titled, “Why Campuses Can’t Talk About Alcohol When It Comes to Sexual Assault.”  Why, you may ask, can’t we talk about alcohol even though at least half the sexual assaults that occur (and many go unreported) involve alcohol use by both parties? What it comes down to is that even attempts to educate about this in terms of safety and prevention, particularly with women, can be perceived as “blaming the victim.”

Let me be clear: to force a sexual act upon a person who cannot give consent, has not given consent, or refuses consent is sexual assault. If it involves vaginal intercourse, it is rape. Period. This is a crime and is the responsibility of the perpetrator and no blame attaches to the victim. Period.

However, public safety officers often warn students at universities in urban environments about the dangers of crime and various safety practices from using campus escort services to avoiding walking alone in certain areas after certain times to locking doors and windows. If a crime against persons or property occurs, have these public safety officers been guilty of “blaming the victim”? No. Does any of this mitigate the responsibility of the person committing a crime against persons or property? No.

However, in the area of sexual assault, campus professionals tend to limit themselves to talking about “bystander intervention” and educating students about consent. I do think these can be important parts of a strategy to protect against sexual violence. My problem with this is in an alcohol-fueled atmosphere, will there be bystanders (designated bystanders?) whose judgment is unimpaired to intervene? And the giving and granting of consent involves sober judgment as well as restraint in the absence of consent–two things that tend to go out the window in an alcohol fueled atmosphere. What is even more insidious is that in most alcohol-related incidents of sexual assault, there is a greater likelihood that the parties do not know each other well.

Let me be clear: to force a sexual act upon a person who cannot give consent, has not given consent, or refuses consent is sexual assault. If it involves vaginal intercourse, it is rape. Period. This is a crime and is the responsibility of the perpetrator and no blame attaches to the victim. Period.

Yet it seems that until we find a way to talk with students candidly about alcohol in a way that educates for risk-reduction (including the risk to perpetrators of carrying a sexual offender status through life) without blaming victims, I don’t believe we will make a real dent in the incidence of sexual violence on university campuses. Sexual predators will intentionally use alcohol to perpetrate rape. Other perpetrators will simply make bad decisions and may end up with a criminal record they carry through life. And victims, even in the most accepting and supportive atmospheres, will carry the wounds of these encounters.

I’ve spent a career in collegiate ministry working with students. This is one of the most disturbing aspects of student life. In our work we seek to educate both men and women in the meaning of persons, including our sexuality, and the qualities of respect, responsibility, and restraint in the use of alcohol and the expression of our sexuality that leads to rich and joyful relationships and campus life. Sadly, we also sometimes deal with the victims of sexual violence, or even those simply bearing the scars of alcohol fueled hookups. And I get the “no-blame” thing. Victims blame themselves enough as it is. They need hope and support that life can begin anew.

Let me be clear: to force a sexual act upon a person who cannot give consent, has not given consent, or refuses consent is sexual assault. If it involves vaginal intercourse, it is rape. Period. This is a crime and is the responsibility of the perpetrator and no blame attaches to the victim. Period.

I just hope for the day where we don’t have to say this as much.

Give President Drake a Break!

"Script Ohio" by Original uploader was Int3gr4te at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia; transfer was stated to be made by User:TFCforever.. Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License via Wikimedia Commons -

“Script Ohio” by Original uploader was Int3gr4te at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transfer was stated to be made by User:TFCforever.. Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License via Wikimedia Commons –

What I am about to write will probably make a number of members of “Buckeye Nation” angry. I think President Drake had to fire Jon Waters and did the right thing. Period. No matter the flaws in the Glaros Report (and it can be argued that it has a number of flaws including evidence prior to Waters term as Director that should not have been included), the fundamental contention that Waters knew of and did not adequately address the sexualized culture of the Ohio State Marching Band and the sexually threatening atmosphere it created for at least some band members has not been refuted. Perhaps most damning are the facts that Waters presided over Midnight Ramp activities and was on buses where alcohol was being abused, where students engaged in sexually suggestive behavior and sexually explicit language, and where he was appealed to by a female university staff member who was a volunteer with the band to put a stop to these activities. Waters himself admitted that a substantial number of the rookie nicknames were sexualized and inappropriate. Given this evidence, and from what I understand of Title IX, I think the President and the Board of Trustees of Ohio State had to act as it did. That’s only a personal opinion and I suspect Jon Waters will have his day in court, as he already has had in the media.

Nevertheless, I am also convinced that unless this incident makes the university look at the brokenness of its culture, the critics who see Jon Waters as a scapegoat will have ample justification for their opinion. Some things to consider:

  • Most fundamental is that the “sexualized” atmosphere of the band is a microcosm for the atmosphere that pertains throughout campus life. Dartmouth College President, Philip J Hanlon, received national attention for his challenge to Dartmouth students to clean up the drinking and sexual hook-up culture of Dartmouth. Dartmouth is under investigations for Title IX violations that have resulted in enrollment drops. I would love to see Ohio State follow up this incident with a similar challenge to students to change this climate on a university-wide basis and provide leadership throughout the university consistent with this value.
  • That said, it seems that one of the key tasks of a University Compliance and Integrity office is not simply react to and investigate complaints (and it must be remembered that a real complaint initiated the investigation, report, and decision) but to proactively work to keep university personnel and leadership out of trouble.  A Lantern story today indicates that this office was aware of the Marching Band atmosphere for some time. I think it must be asked why there was not more aggressive pro-active measures taken to protect the Marching Band organization, its leadership, and the university.
  • What is also troubling is how inured we seem to be to the coarseness and vulgarity that was the norm of this organization. It is actually troubling to me that some of the people with reported nicknames were so inured to this sexualized culture that they only felt sexualized when the report was released. Again, I think this is reflective of a wider sexualized culture. The worst form of oppression is one where the oppressed aren’t even aware of their oppression.  It is troubling that to defend the impressive on-the-field reputation of what I do think is The Best Damn Band In The Land (TBDBITL), so many refuse to support decisive leadership to change the culture and protect what is good.
  • Lastly, I think it must be realized that this is a discriminatory culture in the invidious sense that it could exclude those with different sexual standards. The truth is, the sexualized rituals detailed in the Glaros Report have absolutely nothing to do with musical performance and marching band excellence.  Now I won’t for a minute deny the reality of late adolescent sexuality or that you can ever have an utterly “squeeky clean” atmosphere. But it should not ever be that one has to accept or go along with the kind of coarse sexual atmosphere that this report reveals in order to be a part of this, or any university organization.

President Michael Drake was handed a tough problem during what should have been the “honeymoon” period of his presidency, he made a tough decision, and has taken the heat. My only encouragement would be that sometimes the best defense is a good offense. This is the time where university leadership at The Ohio State University could exercise public, positive, and vigorous leadership in challenging the alcohol and hookup culture that contributes to sexual violence on our campuses. The Marching Band is the tip of the iceberg of sexualized university culture. For too long, universities have simply avoided or evaded that iceberg with the consequence of numerous incidents of sexual violence, most against women. To continue to do so could be a titanic mistake.