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Just Words

By October 10, 2016 7 Comments

Is the American cultural double standard for men and women still present?

Last September, I wrote about gender and the Bible, and specifically discussed Kristin Kobes DuMez’s book A New Gospel for Women. The book is about Katharine Bushnell, a fascinating woman who came of age in late 19th century America. Bushnell struggled to understand why supposedly upstanding Christian men treated women as objects to be used and thrown out when they became inconvenient. Bushnell recognized the sexual double standard that American and British culture allowed (or even encouraged), but could not reconcile that sexual double standard with the biblical guidelines for Christian living. Were not men also required to be sexually pure in obedience to God? Then why were women policed for sexual purity while men could visit prostitutes? Furthermore, why were prostitutes targeted and punished while the men who financed their industry went unpunished, especially those men who called themselves followers of Christ? In her quest to understand this fundamental double standard in the attitudes and behaviors of men and women, Bushnell investigated the scriptures to better understand how this cultural double standard had transformed into a biblical double standard.

Certainly we have made progress since the 19th century. Or have we? In the New York Times, Susan Dominus wrote about Trump’s comments about women that came to light over the weekend as “the musty sleaziness that went out of style in the 1970s; the old bosses who want their secretaries pretty; the cigar-chomping power brokers who think sexual harassment is the woman’s problem; the drooling dimwits who have gotten further than they should have on connections and male privilege. The bus is the old boys’ club that women rarely get to see inside.”

Many of have seen inside the old boys’ club. But what I find particularly troubling is the way that Christians and particularly Christian men have not been more vocal about their opposition to such worldly behavior.

Living in the world, but not of the world, is a very difficult task and one that most of us struggle to master. But regardless of what you think about the ways that non-Christians like Donald Trump talk about women, Christians have had a difficult time speaking up and advocating for the oppressed, the poor, and the aliens within our gates. Christian culture, in America, certainly seems to conform more often to American standards than it does to God’s standards of behavior.


Kristin Kobes DuMez, A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 86-107.

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.


  • GlendaVanHuis says:

    Well spoken!

  • Lee Collins says:

    This is well said. I am pleased to see that some men are responding with actions more in line with the gospel.

  • Ron calsbeek says:

    I agree with this completely. In our judgmental moments, we (white Americans) wonder why more Muslims don’t speak out about the radicals in their midst; we wonder why more African-Americans don’t condemn the killings in Chicago, yet we (males) remain silent about the blatant and outrageous behaviors of our male colleagues, teammates, friends and casual acquaintances. If there is anything good about the latest Trump incident, it is a greater sensitivity regarding everyone’s responsibility, especially male’s, to not tolerate such talk or behavior.

    Thank you for this excellent essay.

  • Henry Lise says:

    Thanks for saying this. I will try to challenge more often this double standard in our midst.

    • Rebecca Koerselman says:

      Thanks, Henry! I know your challenges will make a difference. I will never forget the people who stood up for me and for others

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