Redeeming Love Review: “Fallen” Angel

Redeeming Love Review: “Fallen” Angel

<a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/category/writing/reviews/redeeming-love/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>Be sure to check out the oth­er entries in this review series.</a> <h2>Trigger warn­ings for this section.</h2> Dis­cus­sion of sex traf­fick­ing, child­hood sex­u­al abuse, rape, emo­tion­al abuse, domes­tic vio­lence, and sui­cide. [cap­tion id=“attachment_2017” align=“alignright” width=“300”]<img class=“wp-image-2017 size-medi­um” src=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015–07-03–17.29.03–300x300.jpg” alt=“The pro­logue is enti­tled &quot;Child of Dark­ness.&quot; My notes read, &quot;Why? Because her father didn’t love her? Because her moth­er was a sex work­er? Because she was sold into sex work as a child? Because she became &quot;bit­ter&quot;? This is not okay!” width=“300” height=“300” /> The pro­logue is enti­tled “Child of Dark­ness.” My notes read, “Why? Because her father didn’t love her? Because her moth­er was a sex work­er? Because she was sold into sex work as a child? Because she became “bit­ter”? This is not okay![/caption] <h2>Wrapping up the pro­logue and com­men­tary on Rivers’ commentary.</h2> Some­thing I failed to men­tion last time is that Rivers has titled the dif­fer­ent sec­tions of her book. She also begins each chap­ter with a quote — Bible vers­es, poet­ry, things of that nature — that is sup­posed to tie into the chap­ter at hand. In this way, she gives us a lit­tle com­men­tary on what we are to expect in the pages to come, along with giv­ing us hints about how we’re to inter­pret what we read. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, this can be a little…problematic. Take the prologue’s title, for exam­ple. “Child of Dark­ness.” I’m unable to real­ly fig­ure out a way that title <em>isn’t</em> dehu­man­iz­ing. Are chil­dren with­out lov­ing fathers con­sid­ered chil­dren of dark­ness? What about chil­dren of sex work­ers? What about chil­dren sold into sex work? What about chil­dren who can’t stay sweet and hap­py and joy­ful in the face of hav­ing a vio­lent hate­ful father, a moth­er who died far too young, and being a sex slave? There’s no doubt that Sarah’s life is full of dark­ness and evil. But she her­self is <em>not</em> dark or evil. And the impli­ca­tion of say­ing she <em>is</em> hard­ly bears thought. This kind of thing remains a prob­lem through­out the book, and I’ll men­tion it in the analy­sis sec­tion of each entry of this mul­ti-part <em>Redeeming Love</em> review series. A final note: from here on out, <strong>I’ll be refer­ring to Sarah as Angel.</strong> I’m a bit torn about this, as it’s the name that her abuser gave her. But for the major­i­ty of the book, <strong>it’s also the name she choos­es to think of her­self as.</strong> On a more per­son­al note, as a fun­da­men­tal­ist, what I per­ceived to be the per­sona of Angel is who I most iden­ti­fied with. And so I use the name she referred to her­self as in the book…and the name I iden­ti­fied with for far too long. <h2>Overview: chap­ters 1–6.</h2> <a href=”#analysis”>If you’re already famil­iar with the sto­ry, skip ahead to my analysis.</a> We pick our sto­ry back up 14 years lat­er in 1850, no longer in New Eng­land but instead in Cal­i­for­nia. Angel works in the town of Pair-a-Dice as the high­est priced sex work­er in a broth­el run by a woman known as the Duchess. Angel recalls how she end­ed up in Cal­i­for­nia from New Eng­land. She had been bent on escape, trav­el­ing by sea<a href=“http://americanhistory.si.edu/onthewater/exhibition/2_4.html” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a> to the West to start a new life by her­self. When she reached the ship, how­ev­er, she learned that she was 1 of 3 women sur­round­ed by a crew of 120 men. The oth­er 2 women, sex work­ers, start­ed work­ing right away. Angel, how­ev­er, locked her­self in her cab­in until “she had one sim­ple choice: go back to being a pros­ti­tute or be raped.” At the end of her jour­ney, how­ev­er, the oth­er 2 sex work­ers jumped her, beat her uncon­scious, stole all the mon­ey she’d earned, and aban­doned her onboard.  Two days lat­er, scav­engers came to search the ship. They took what they could from the ship, raped Angel, then brought her to shore. As soon as they became dis­tract­ed, she escaped and began liv­ing and work­ing on the streets of Portsmouth Square. The Duchess found her and talked her into join­ing her broth­el in Cal­i­for­nia, assur­ing her that work would be plen­ty and she’d be able to get rich work­ing for gold dig­gers. Angel agreed, set­tling on only keep­ing 20% of her earn­ings in exchange for food, shel­ter, and cloth­ing. The Duchess actu­al­ly kept all of the earn­ings of her work­ers, giv­ing them allowances when she saw fit and keep­ing order through the help of a sadis­tic man named Bret Magowan, who was only too hap­py to main­tain order through a reign of ter­ror. “She had fled from Duke and fall­en into the hands of Duchess.” The first chap­ter ends as Angel is brought back to the present, feel­ing hope­less, emp­ty, and sui­ci­dal. “At eigh­teen, she was tired of liv­ing and resigned to the fact that noth­ing would ever change.” Chap­ter 2 opens with the intro­duc­tion of 26-year-old Chris­t­ian farmer, Michael Hosea. He’s described as being a tall, strong, hand­some, silent, con­fi­dent man who com­mands respect from all who meet him. He has trav­eled to Pair-a-Dice to sell his veg­eta­bles to a Jew­ish mer­chant and is unload­ing his cart when he spots Angel walk­ing down the street with Magowan. He’s utter­ly struck by her beau­ty and unable to keep him­self from star­ing at her until she’s out of sight. He hears the silent words spo­ken by God, “This one, beloved,” and is over­joyed — until he learns from the mer­chant, Joseph, that she is a sex-work­er. Or, as he clar­i­fies in dis­be­lief, “a soiled dove.” In dis­gust and con­fu­sion, he gets his mon­ey from Joseph and leaves, dri­ving by the broth­el on his way out of town. The sec­ond chap­ter comes to a close as Michael tries say­ing her name out loud, and receives inaudi­ble but cer­tain con­fir­ma­tion from God that Angel is the woman he’s sup­posed to mar­ry. The third chap­ter opens with Angel wait­ing for her last clients of the day. She hears one of her cowork­ers and only friend, an old­er alco­holic woman named Lucky, laugh­ing in an adjoin­ing room, and recalls the one time she tried drink­ing with her. She end­ed up vio­lent­ly ill, learn­ing she couldn’t hold her liquor. Her sub­se­quent hang­over caused her to dis­miss pay­ing cus­tomers, much to the Duchess’s con­ster­na­tion. It was at that time she learned to fear Magowan, who was sent to sober her up and instill ter­ror to make sure she nev­er stepped out of line again. Angel is drawn out of her rec­ol­lec­tions as her last client knocks on her door. She’s shak­ing, crack­ing under the pres­sure of pre­tend­ing to be okay for so many years, and is des­per­ate to be fin­ished for the evening. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, the man at the door is Michael Hosea. She has “an odd uneasi­ness” when he enters the room, but push­es it down in order to get ready to work. Michael, on the oth­er hand, is ner­vous and try­ing to fig­ure out how to go about woo­ing her since he’s a vir­gin and utter­ly unfa­mil­iar with sex work. When she press­es him to tell her what he wants, he begins talk­ing to her, insist­ing that he didn’t come for sex. He asks her ques­tions about where she lives, how old she is, try­ing to get to know her and feel­ing unpre­pared by God and help­less in the face of some­one he thinks of as hard as marble.When she tells him he can call her what­ev­er he wants, he names her Mara, because it means bit­ter. He pro­ceeds to tell her that she is going to mar­ry him, and he won’t have sex with her until she does. Angel becomes angry, con­vinced Michael is toy­ing with her. All she wants to do is her job so she can be fin­ished for the night. She tries repeat­ed­ly to get him into bed, but he refus­es, admit­ting that while he’s no bet­ter than any oth­er man who comes to her, he just wants more than sex. “[I want] every­thing. I want what you don’t even know you have to give.” Chap­ter 3 ends as the time he paid for is up and he has to leave. He assures her that he’ll be back and that all he wants is a half-hour of hon­est con­ver­sa­tion. “Mis­ter, five min­utes and you’d run like the dev­il.” As chap­ter 4 opens, we learn that Michael does come back, time and time again. As he talks to Angel each time, her rest­less­ness and depres­sion grow. He assures her that he can give her free­dom, hope, hap­pi­ness. She remem­bers the last man who promised her free­dom and love, and sinks into a greater depres­sion as she believes that the best she can hope for in life is to mere­ly sur­vive. All of his ques­tions about what kept her at the broth­el and all of his promis­es of free­dom make Angel start to think about leav­ing — not with him, but strik­ing out on her own. She’s sure she has enough gold saved up to do so, but that gold is under lock and key with the Duchess. She’s torn about what to do, but knows beyond a shad­ow of a doubt that the one option that she doesn’t want is to go with Michael. Angel’s annoy­ance grows when one of her cowork­ers asks her about Michael. She dodges the ques­tions eas­i­ly, and the rest of the sex work­ers begin to bick­er amongst them­selves. When the top­ic refus­es to die, Angel final­ly tells the woman to invite Michael into her room and see for her­self what he’s all about. When he comes to vis­it her that night, her cowork­er offers her­self to him, telling him that Angel said he’d like her bet­ter and would see it as a favor if she took him off her hands. Incensed, he con­tin­ues into Angel’s room. She notices his anger and becomes afraid. She knows from expe­ri­ence that anger in her line of work often makes men unpre­dictable and dan­ger­ous. He com­plains to her that he’s not get­ting any­where with her. She reminds him that she’s not ask­ing him to keep com­ing back, and he exclaims that he doesn’t want to leave her in this “god­for­sak­en place.” Sur­prised, she reminds him that it’s not his busi­ness. He insists that it <em>is</em> his busi­ness, became his busi­ness the minute he saw her. When she main­tains that she’s not ask­ing him to do any­thing for her, to spend any time with her, he becomes defen­sive and deri­sive, say­ing sar­cas­ti­cal­ly and point­ed­ly that she asks for noth­ing, needs noth­ing, <em>feels</em> noth­ing. She real­izes that his pride is hurt and says she offered him to her cowork­er so he could “leave with a smile on [his] face.” He replies that hear­ing her say his name would make him smile, then los­es him­self in desire and kiss­es her — only to pull back when he real­izes what’s hap­pen­ing. Angel real­izes with a shock that he’s a vir­gin, and he tells her that he’s been wait­ing for the right woman. She laughs at him and tells him that he’s a fool to think she’s the right woman for him. Enraged, he leaves her room and storms out of town, telling God repeat­ed­ly along the way that she’s not good enough for him and he’s not going back for her. The chap­ter clos­es with Angel watch­ing him from her win­dow, real­iz­ing he’s leav­ing town, and sink­ing into despair, afraid she’s “thrown her last chance away.” Chap­ter 5 opens with a storm last­ing for days, remind­ing Angel of her child­hood with her moth­er on the docks short­ly before her death. When Lucky comes to vis­it, she wel­comes her com­pa­ny, lis­ten­ing to her friend recount her own child­hood with dead par­ents and an abu­sive but reli­gious aunt from whom she ran away. After this con­ver­sa­tion, Angel decides to ask the Duchess for her mon­ey so she can leave and start a life on her own. When Angel enters the Duchess’s room, she notices all the niceties her employ­er is enjoy­ing — things like but­ter and cream and eggs and cheese, things the sex work­ers are told are too expen­sive for them to have — and she is angered by the injus­tice. She demands her por­tion of gold, and when the Duchess refus­es, she ver­bal­ly lights into the woman for her hypocrisy and excess, even threat­en­ing to strike out on her own. The Duchess becomes very com­posed and Angel real­izes that retal­i­a­tion for her out­burst will be great. She wilts and and pleads, insist­ing that she just can’t keep doing it any­more and has to get out. Duchess promis­es to think about it and sends her to her room. Short­ly there­after, Magowan enters, glee­ful­ly let­ting her know that he’s been instruct­ed to remind her who’s boss and won’t leave any marks that will pre­vent her from work­ing. Despon­dent, hope­less, des­per­ate for any way out of her sit­u­a­tion, Angel decides that it would be bet­ter to die than to con­tin­ue liv­ing as she is. The chap­ter wraps up as she cal­cu­lat­ing­ly taunts Magowan. He responds by los­ing con­trol and vicious­ly attack­ing her. The final chap­ter I’m review­ing in this sec­tion begins with Michael back at home on the farm, unable to stop think­ing about Angel. He thinks about her dur­ing the day while he works and dreams about her at night. When his dreams turn to night­mares, he real­izes he’s stopped pray­ing and com­muning with God. He vows to go back and get her, and is grant­ed a full night of peace­ful sleep. Michael packs up his crops and heads into Pair-a-Dice again, sell­ing every­thing to Joseph once again. As he leaves the mer­can­tile, he’s approached by Lucky. She begs him to go ask Angel to mar­ry him one more time. She refus­es to explain why, and Michael becomes alarmed. He rush­es to the broth­el and up the stairs to Angel’s room, where the Duchess and a doc­tor are exit­ing. The Duchess tries to stop him from going into her room, but she’s so bad­ly beat­en that the doc­tor refus­es to pre­vent him from going in, sens­ing he might save her. Angel rous­es slight­ly, deliri­ous, very near death. She hears the Duchess insist­ing that if Michael wants to take Angel away, he has to pay for her, but she’s so dis­ori­ent­ed that she can’t fig­ure out who Michael is. Mon­ey is exchanged, and Michael tells her that he wants to mar­ry her before they leave. She laughs weak­ly at the notion of mar­riage, and he insists, “Just say yes.” She man­ages to form the words, “Why not?” think­ing that she would “wed Satan him­self” if it would get her away from her cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. She drifts in and out of con­scious­ness dur­ing the cer­e­mo­ny, only bare­ly reg­is­ter­ing that a ring is slipped onto her fin­ger. Lucky comes to her and tear­ful­ly tells her that it was Michael’s mother’s wed­ding ring, and insists that she’s going to live a bet­ter life. The chap­ter clos­es with Lucky beg­ging Angel not to for­get her. <a id=“analysis”></a> <h2>Analysis.</h2> Just as Rivers was care­ful to label Mae as Catholic (and there­fore appease her read­ers that Mae’s faith was just in the wrong things, not use­less), she points out oth­er Chris­tians in this sec­tion as Not Real Chris­tians. She specif­i­cal­ly men­tions a preach­er on a street cor­ner “preach­ing sal­va­tion” while his broth­er “fleeced the god­for­sak­en,” and men­tions Lucky’s abu­sive but reli­gious aunt. It feels like con­stant reas­sur­ance that oh yes, bad peo­ple do bad things in the name of reli­gion, but don’t wor­ry! <em>Real</em> Chris­tians like Michael Hosea and you aren’t like that. Also worth men­tion­ing is the way in which Rivers idealizes<a href=“https://abagond.wordpress.com/2008/05/06/the-pure-white-woman/”>*</a> Angel’s beau­ty (porce­lain skin with baby blue eyes and gold­en silken hair). It’s as if her beau­ty is to jux­ta­pose her char­ac­ter (more on that in a minute). Michael is also ide­al­ized, both phys­i­cal­ly and per­son­al­i­ty-wise. Every­thing in the book feels san­i­tized and stiff in that sort of way. Every­one is beau­ti­ful, unless they’re a bad guy (or unless their beau­ty is used to dis­guise their evil, like Duke sym­bol­iz­ing Satan’s bib­li­cal descrip­tion of an angel of light). Even when peo­ple swear vio­lent­ly, we nev­er hear a word of it — because we can talk about sex traf­fick­ing, child rape, and domes­tic vio­lence, but <em>heaven forbid</em> we read any curs­ing. In so many ways, every­thing is ide­al­ized and cleaned up and there­fore often feels unre­al­is­tic. How­ev­er, it <em>is</em> a fic­tion book, so sus­pend­ing belief is part and par­cel of immers­ing your­self in the sto­ry. It is telling, how­ev­er, that the char­ac­ters cho­sen for us to immerse our­selves with are so very, very white. There are very few peo­ple of col­or in this book. The rest of my obser­va­tions for these 6 chap­ters fall under two cat­e­gories, and are expand­ed upon below. <h3>Victim-blaming and prey­ing on the weak.</h3> Rivers chose to give this sec­tion of the book the title “Defi­ance.” To be hon­est, this enrages me. She’s call­ing a woman “defi­ant” who was sold into sex traf­fick­ing as an 8 year old child and is clear­ly suf­fer­ing extreme post-trau­mat­ic stress and unable to escape her oppres­sion and the effects of her trau­ma. As a per­son with PTSD and a sur­vivor of child­hood rape myself, this utter­ly shakes me. I under­stand, from her point of view, that Angel is defi­ant because she won’t will­ing­ly go with Michael and live a hap­pi­er life with him and God. But that’s such a reduc­tion­ist view of human­i­ty, reli­gion, the effects of extreme phys­i­cal, emo­tion­al, men­tal, and sex­u­al trau­ma, the real­i­ties of sex traf­fick­ing and oppres­sion, the nature of heal­ing from abuse…it’s hard to believe some­one who sup­pos­ed­ly pos­sess­es the love of an all-lov­ing and mer­ci­ful God can make such a flat and unem­pa­thet­ic state­ment. While it’s obvi­ous that Rivers tries to depict sex traf­fick­ing as a ter­ri­ble thing that’s dif­fi­cult for its vic­tims to escape, she also clear­ly judges those vic­tims for being sex work­ers. She seems to have no con­cept what­so­ev­er of con­sent, or that con­sent is impos­si­ble when coer­cion is used. This is shown repeat­ed­ly in these 6 chap­ters, most notably when she says that Angel had the choice of going back to sex work or being raped. <strong>If you will face vio­lence for not hav­ing sex, it is rape regard­less. Sex that is coerced through words or vio­lence is rape. </strong> Let me take a moment to say<strong> </strong>that<strong> sex traf­fick­ing is rep­re­hen­si­ble. I also want to be clear that there’s a <em>huge</em> dif­fer­ence between sex work as a cho­sen trade and sex work as a slave<a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/i-belong-to-me/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”></em></a>.</em></strong><em> </em>That cru­cial dis­tinc­tion is absolute­ly miss­ing from the pages of this book. Sex work is seen as uni­ver­sal­ly sin­ful and damn­ing, <em>regardless of how one entered it in the first place or why one remains in the trade.</em> What’s worse, though, is that Rivers paints all sex work­ers as being coerced into sex work <em>and also com­plic­it in their own vic­tim­iza­tion for being unable to leave.</em> This ter­ri­ble mis­un­der­stand­ing of con­sent and cul­pa­bil­i­ty, while some­what covert right now, will be teased out as the book con­tin­ues. Despite label­ing Angel as defi­ant, Rivers does painstak­ing­ly work to show us Angel’s despon­den­cy. It’s very clear <em>why</em> Angel has hard­ened her­self and worked so hard to not out­ward­ly show emo­tion. It’s very clear <em>why</em> she feels so hope­less and trapped. When she decides that death would be bet­ter than life, we feel empa­thy for her and under­stand. While I do find this depic­tion of Angel to be under­stand­able and accu­rate, I’m uneasy with it nonethe­less. It seems like Rivers is paint­ing us a pic­ture of how Angel is “ripe for the har­vest.” In my obser­va­tion, Chris­tian­i­ty in gen­er­al tends to prey on vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty — but <strong>the way Angel is described as being so lost and in need of res­cu­ing seems <em>particularly</em> insen­si­tive as she’s also por­trayed as need­ing saved from her­self as much as from her abu­sive environment.</strong> She’s described as <em>making</em> Magowan attack her, as if he had no choice in the mat­ter. As she’s being tak­en out of Pair-a-Dice, Lucky tear­ful­ly asks her if life is “real­ly that bad.” The mes­sage seems to be con­tra­dic­to­ry: of course Angel is trau­ma­tized and liv­ing in an extreme­ly abu­sive sit­u­a­tion. But she has the pow­er to <em>make</em> things bet­ter for her­self by leav­ing with Michael, or to <em>make</em> things worse by pro­vok­ing some­one into attack­ing her. As if oppres­sion can be so eas­i­ly escaped. As if women are respon­si­ble when men try to kill them. As if the abused are a par­tic­u­lar­ly ripe crop, ready to be plucked for induc­tion into God’s king­dom. <h3>“Benevolent” sexism<a href=“http://pwq.sagepub.com/content/21/1/119” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a> and our sav­ior, Michael Hosea.</h3> When I first read this book 10 or so years ago, I was cap­ti­vat­ed by Michael Hosea. He is clear­ly based on the prophet, Hosea, and is por­trayed as Angel’s knight in shin­ing armor. To me as a young adult, he was a true man of God. Self­less. Lov­ing. Patient and kind. The kind of god­ly man I’d only be too hap­py to fol­low and sub­mit to. I often prayed to be giv­en to such a man like him. <strong>We’re clear­ly sup­posed to <em>identify</em> with Angel. But we’re to aspire <em>to be</em> Michael. </strong> And as I’m going through the book this time, I’m all too aware of how enti­tled and abu­sive he real­ly is. There are two kinds of sex­ism: hos­tile and “benev­o­lent.” While hos­tile sex­ism “encom­pass­es the neg­a­tive equiv­a­lents on each dimen­sion: dom­i­na­tive pater­nal­ism, deroga­to­ry beliefs, and het­ero­sex­u­al hos­til­i­ty,” benev­o­lent sex­ism “encom­pass­es sub­jec­tive­ly pos­i­tive (for the sex­ist) atti­tudes toward women in tra­di­tion­al roles: pro­tec­tive pater­nal­ism, ide­al­iza­tion of women, and desire for inti­mate rela­tions.” <strong>Make no mis­take: despite its moniker, “benev­o­lent” sex­ism is dam­ag­ing every bit as much as hos­tile sex­ism. </strong>As psy­chol­o­gists Peter Glick and Susan Fiske point out in their arti­cle “Hos­tile and Benev­o­lent Sex­ism: Mea­sur­ing Ambiva­lent Sex­ist Atti­tudes Toward Women,” “Both forms of sex­ism serve to jus­ti­fy and main­tain patri­archy and tra­di­tion­al gen­der roles.” West­ern Chris­tian­i­ty as a whole tends to prac­tice benev­o­lent sex­ism, par­tic­u­lar­ly when out­lin­ing the ideals of roman­tic rela­tion­ships. My friend, <a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sarahoverthemoon/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>Sarah Moon</a>, wrote an arti­cle for the Jour­nal of Inte­grat­ed Social Sci­ences (<a href=“http://www.jiss.org/documents/volume_4/issue_1/JISS%202014%204(1)%2055–74%20Christian%20Dating%20Books.pdf” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>PDF</a>) exam­in­ing evan­gel­i­cal Christianity’s main­stream teach­ings about rela­tion­ships and how those teach­ings con­tribute to sex­ist atti­tudes. (Her find­ings are also out­lined and acces­si­ble in her blog series by the same title.<a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sarahoverthemoon/you-are-not-your-own-series/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a>) As such, <strong>it’s no sur­prise that the ide­al man in <em>Redeeming Love</em> exhibits pater­nal­is­tic and con­trol­ling sex­ist beliefs and behaviours.</strong> Rivers’ afore­men­tioned fail­ure to rec­og­nize vic­tims of sex traf­fick­ing as unable to con­sent and liv­ing under oppres­sion — in short, vic­tim-blam­ing them for the vio­lence enact­ed upon them — is repeat­ed­ly spo­ken through Michael, who is lit­er­al­ly func­tion­ing as God’s mouth­piece in this book. Michael repeat­ed­ly tells Angel that she can “just” leave with him. He con­stant­ly ques­tions why she stays at the broth­el, why she does sex work to begin with. He seems to have no con­cept of sex traf­fick­ing and how it removes the auton­o­my of its vic­tims. Once again, it’s a reduc­tion­ist view that says, “You can’t pos­si­bly want this, so why don’t you just leave?” It’s a view that denies the pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences of peo­ple who <em>choose</em> sex work while also blam­ing those who have no choice for being unable to escape their sit­u­a­tion or over­ride the effects their trau­ma has had on their psy­che. [cap­tion id=“attachment_2019” align=“alignright” width=“225”]<img class=“wp-image-2019 size-medi­um” src=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015–07-06–16.59.36–225x300.jpg” alt=“Screenshot of hand­writ­ten note in the book: &quot;NOPE NOPE NOPE&quot; writ­ten in all caps with an arrow point­ing at the sec­tion where God tells Michael, &quot;This one, beloved.&quot;” width=“225” height=“300” /> “God wants me to mar­ry that super hot chick 8 years younger than me that I just saw for the first time in my life 2 sec­onds ago? SWEET DEAL.”[/caption] While I do want to con­cen­trate my cri­tique on the uni­ver­sal­ly prob­lem­at­ic mes­sages of this book rather than dis­agree­ments I’ll nat­u­ral­ly have as an athe­ist approach­ing a reli­gious­ly-dri­ven text, <strong>I sim­ply can’t ignore the prob­lems that arise when a man acts on the inaudi­ble instruc­tions of an invis­i­ble being that tell him an object of his affec­tion is his to take regard­less of her auton­o­my or con­sent. </strong>He lit­er­al­ly sees a jaw-drop­ping­ly beau­ti­ful woman that he instan­ta­neous­ly desires, and is giv­en divine author­i­ty to take her. <strong>He is using God to jus­ti­fy get­ting what he wants. </strong>The real­ly unfor­tu­nate thing is <strong>that is not a thing of the past.<a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/of-masculinity-and-abusive-breeding-grounds/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”></em></a>) to add divine author­i­ty to their desire, <em>regardless of the con­sent of the women they desire.</em> You see, men are giv­en author­i­ty — over the earth, over women, over chil­dren — and so if God speaks to them about a woman, her word and opin­ion is moot. After all, <em>man</em> isn’t the one who was deceived in the Gar­den of Eden! <em>Woman</em> was deceived, and is there­fore a less reli­able recep­tor for and inter­preter of Super­nat­ur­al Insight. As an old friend told me when he and his girl­friend both prayed about the rela­tion­ship and were giv­en dif­fer­ent answers — <em>his</em> answer ought to hold more weight as <em>he</em> was the head of the rela­tion­ship in the first place. Let me scream this so those in the back can hear me: <h1><strong><em>No one owes any­one affec­tion or com­pan­ion­ship against their will, regard­less of the opin­ion of invis­i­ble deities!</em></strong></h1> Why do I bring this up, if not to just be a cur­mud­geoned Angry Athe­ist? <i>Because male enti­tle­ment is already a thing, and the added “author­i­ty” of an all-pow­er­ful God only fur­ther empow­ers abuse.</i> When Michael first men­tions to Angel the plan to mar­ry her, it is <em>not</em> a ques­tion. <strong>He nev­er <em>asks</em> her to mar­ry him. He <em>tells her that she is going to.</em> </strong>Certainly, he tells her all sorts of nice things about how she can have a life of free­dom and love and hap­pi­ness with him (there’s the “benev­o­lent” part of his sex­ism), but hear me out: <strong>he is not giv­ing her an option, he’s giv­ing her an ultimatum.</strong> And that’s even ignor­ing his com­plete lack of under­stand­ing of the com­plex­i­ties of being at the mer­cy of your abusers. He is telling her to leave one enti­ty that denies her auton­o­my to come with him, anoth­er per­son refus­ing to grant her agency over her own life (while also hold­ing her respon­si­ble for her lot in life). Beyond that, <strong>Michael refus­es to lis­ten to what Angel has to say about her life.</strong> When she insists that she likes it where she is, he rebuts her. When she reminds him that he’s under no oblig­a­tion to keep com­ing to see her, <em>of course</em> he is because <em>God told him to.</em> When she tells him that her life and deci­sions are none of his busi­ness, he lit­er­al­ly replies that her life became his busi­ness <em>the moment he set eyes on her.</em> Here’s to hop­ing cat callers don’t start tak­ing that approach to their already swollen sense of enti­tle­ment to women’s atten­tion and bod­ies. I’d also like to point out that, <strong>just like Duke named her for his own pur­pos­es, Michael gives Angel a name as a manip­u­la­tion tool as well.</strong> More than that — he brands her as bit­ter, a com­mon diss Chris­tians dole out to those who dis­play emo­tions they don’t like<a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sarahoverthemoon/2014/07/bitter-christianity-religion-healing/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a>. Addi­tion­al­ly, <strong>Angel right­ly sens­es that he is not a safe person.</strong> When his pride is hurt, he lash­es out at her. Not only does she owe him her hand in mar­riage, she is the source of all of his pain and fury because she just won’t do what she’s told to do. You know. By a com­plete stranger, after a life­time of abuse from his gen­der. It’s said that Michael talks to her rough­ly, slam­ming doors, shout­ing at her. <em>This is ver­bal and phys­i­cal abuse<a href=“http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a>, </em>and I wish I could say that it doesn’t con­tin­ue through­out the rest of the book. <strong>Angel’s con­sent means absolute­ly noth­ing to Michael.</strong> While I can’t real­ly fault him for tak­ing her away after dis­cov­er­ing the intense dan­ger she was in, I <em>absolutely</em> fault him for bad­ger­ing her in the first place (at one point he calls his repeat­ed harass­ment of her <em>courtship)</em> and I 100% fault him for <em>coercing her to mar­ry him while she was near death and so deliri­ous she didn’t know who he was.</em> She didn’t even say yes — her response was, “Why not?” imme­di­ate­ly fol­lowed by the clar­i­fi­ca­tion that she would mar­ry the dev­il if it meant her sal­va­tion. Rivers doesn’t even pre­tend that Angel was con­sent­ing — she just lit­er­al­ly couldn’t say no. <strong>The absence of a “no” is not con­sent. Only the pres­ence of an enthu­si­as­tic “yes” qual­i­fies as consent.</strong> And yet this is the man we are to see as the ide­al. As a man of God, a cat­a­lyst for sal­va­tion. <strong>No won­der fun­da­men­tal­ism and evan­gel­i­cal­ism are suf­fer­ing losses<a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/2015/05/19/excuses-excuses-two-ways-christians-delude-themselves-about-the-pew-study/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”><em></a> and becom­ing ever greater safe-havens for abusers<a href=“http://boz.religionnews.com/2014/04/26/sex-offenders/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”></em></a>.</strong>

Posted in Fat Girl,

<a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/category/writing/reviews/redeeming-love/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>Be sure to check out the oth­er entries in this review series.</a> <h2>Trigger warn­ings for this section.</h2> Dis­cus­sion of sex traf­fick­ing, child­hood sex­u­al abuse, rape, emo­tion­al abuse, domes­tic vio­lence, and sui­cide. [cap­tion id=“attachment_2017” align=“alignright” width=“300”]<img class=“wp-image-2017 size-medi­um” src=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015–07-03–17.29.03–300x300.jpg” alt=“The pro­logue is enti­tled &quot;Child of Dark­ness.&quot; My notes read, &quot;Why? Because her father didn’t love her? Because her moth­er was a sex work­er? Because she was sold into sex work as a child? Because she became &quot;bit­ter&quot;? This is not okay!” width=“300” height=“300” /> The pro­logue is enti­tled “Child of Dark­ness.” My notes read, “Why? Because her father didn’t love her? Because her moth­er was a sex work­er? Because she was sold into sex work as a child? Because she became “bit­ter”? This is not okay![/caption] <h2>Wrapping up the pro­logue and com­men­tary on Rivers’ commentary.</h2> Some­thing I failed to men­tion last time is that Rivers has titled the dif­fer­ent sec­tions of her book. She also begins each chap­ter with a quote — Bible vers­es, poet­ry, things of that nature — that is sup­posed to tie into the chap­ter at hand. In this way, she gives us a lit­tle com­men­tary on what we are to expect in the pages to come, along with giv­ing us hints about how we’re to inter­pret what we read. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, this can be a little…problematic. Take the prologue’s title, for exam­ple. “Child of Dark­ness.” I’m unable to real­ly fig­ure out a way that title <em>isn’t</em> dehu­man­iz­ing. Are chil­dren with­out lov­ing fathers con­sid­ered chil­dren of dark­ness? What about chil­dren of sex work­ers? What about chil­dren sold into sex work? What about chil­dren who can’t stay sweet and hap­py and joy­ful in the face of hav­ing a vio­lent hate­ful father, a moth­er who died far too young, and being a sex slave? There’s no doubt that Sarah’s life is full of dark­ness and evil. But she her­self is <em>not</em> dark or evil. And the impli­ca­tion of say­ing she <em>is</em> hard­ly bears thought. This kind of thing remains a prob­lem through­out the book, and I’ll men­tion it in the analy­sis sec­tion of each entry of this mul­ti-part <em>Redeeming Love</em> review series. A final note: from here on out, <strong>I’ll be refer­ring to Sarah as Angel.</strong> I’m a bit torn about this, as it’s the name that her abuser gave her. But for the major­i­ty of the book, <strong>it’s also the name she choos­es to think of her­self as.</strong> On a more per­son­al note, as a fun­da­men­tal­ist, what I per­ceived to be the per­sona of Angel is who I most iden­ti­fied with. And so I use the name she referred to her­self as in the book…and the name I iden­ti­fied with for far too long. <h2>Overview: chap­ters 1–6.</h2> <a href=”#analysis”>If you’re already famil­iar with the sto­ry, skip ahead to my analysis.</a> We pick our sto­ry back up 14 years lat­er in 1850, no longer in New Eng­land but instead in Cal­i­for­nia. Angel works in the town of Pair-a-Dice as the high­est priced sex work­er in a broth­el run by a woman known as the Duchess. Angel recalls how she end­ed up in Cal­i­for­nia from New Eng­land. She had been bent on escape, trav­el­ing by sea<a href=“http://americanhistory.si.edu/onthewater/exhibition/2_4.html” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a> to the West to start a new life by her­self. When she reached the ship, how­ev­er, she learned that she was 1 of 3 women sur­round­ed by a crew of 120 men. The oth­er 2 women, sex work­ers, start­ed work­ing right away. Angel, how­ev­er, locked her­self in her cab­in until “she had one sim­ple choice: go back to being a pros­ti­tute or be raped.” At the end of her jour­ney, how­ev­er, the oth­er 2 sex work­ers jumped her, beat her uncon­scious, stole all the mon­ey she’d earned, and aban­doned her onboard.  Two days lat­er, scav­engers came to search the ship. They took what they could from the ship, raped Angel, then brought her to shore. As soon as they became dis­tract­ed, she escaped and began liv­ing and work­ing on the streets of Portsmouth Square. The Duchess found her and talked her into join­ing her broth­el in Cal­i­for­nia, assur­ing her that work would be plen­ty and she’d be able to get rich work­ing for gold dig­gers. Angel agreed, set­tling on only keep­ing 20% of her earn­ings in exchange for food, shel­ter, and cloth­ing. The Duchess actu­al­ly kept all of the earn­ings of her work­ers, giv­ing them allowances when she saw fit and keep­ing order through the help of a sadis­tic man named Bret Magowan, who was only too hap­py to main­tain order through a reign of ter­ror. “She had fled from Duke and fall­en into the hands of Duchess.” The first chap­ter ends as Angel is brought back to the present, feel­ing hope­less, emp­ty, and sui­ci­dal. “At eigh­teen, she was tired of liv­ing and resigned to the fact that noth­ing would ever change.” Chap­ter 2 opens with the intro­duc­tion of 26-year-old Chris­t­ian farmer, Michael Hosea. He’s described as being a tall, strong, hand­some, silent, con­fi­dent man who com­mands respect from all who meet him. He has trav­eled to Pair-a-Dice to sell his veg­eta­bles to a Jew­ish mer­chant and is unload­ing his cart when he spots Angel walk­ing down the street with Magowan. He’s utter­ly struck by her beau­ty and unable to keep him­self from star­ing at her until she’s out of sight. He hears the silent words spo­ken by God, “This one, beloved,” and is over­joyed — until he learns from the mer­chant, Joseph, that she is a sex-work­er. Or, as he clar­i­fies in dis­be­lief, “a soiled dove.” In dis­gust and con­fu­sion, he gets his mon­ey from Joseph and leaves, dri­ving by the broth­el on his way out of town. The sec­ond chap­ter comes to a close as Michael tries say­ing her name out loud, and receives inaudi­ble but cer­tain con­fir­ma­tion from God that Angel is the woman he’s sup­posed to mar­ry. The third chap­ter opens with Angel wait­ing for her last clients of the day. She hears one of her cowork­ers and only friend, an old­er alco­holic woman named Lucky, laugh­ing in an adjoin­ing room, and recalls the one time she tried drink­ing with her. She end­ed up vio­lent­ly ill, learn­ing she couldn’t hold her liquor. Her sub­se­quent hang­over caused her to dis­miss pay­ing cus­tomers, much to the Duchess’s con­ster­na­tion. It was at that time she learned to fear Magowan, who was sent to sober her up and instill ter­ror to make sure she nev­er stepped out of line again. Angel is drawn out of her rec­ol­lec­tions as her last client knocks on her door. She’s shak­ing, crack­ing under the pres­sure of pre­tend­ing to be okay for so many years, and is des­per­ate to be fin­ished for the evening. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, the man at the door is Michael Hosea. She has “an odd uneasi­ness” when he enters the room, but push­es it down in order to get ready to work. Michael, on the oth­er hand, is ner­vous and try­ing to fig­ure out how to go about woo­ing her since he’s a vir­gin and utter­ly unfa­mil­iar with sex work. When she press­es him to tell her what he wants, he begins talk­ing to her, insist­ing that he didn’t come for sex. He asks her ques­tions about where she lives, how old she is, try­ing to get to know her and feel­ing unpre­pared by God and help­less in the face of some­one he thinks of as hard as marble.When she tells him he can call her what­ev­er he wants, he names her Mara, because it means bit­ter. He pro­ceeds to tell her that she is going to mar­ry him, and he won’t have sex with her until she does. Angel becomes angry, con­vinced Michael is toy­ing with her. All she wants to do is her job so she can be fin­ished for the night. She tries repeat­ed­ly to get him into bed, but he refus­es, admit­ting that while he’s no bet­ter than any oth­er man who comes to her, he just wants more than sex. “[I want] every­thing. I want what you don’t even know you have to give.” Chap­ter 3 ends as the time he paid for is up and he has to leave. He assures her that he’ll be back and that all he wants is a half-hour of hon­est con­ver­sa­tion. “Mis­ter, five min­utes and you’d run like the dev­il.” As chap­ter 4 opens, we learn that Michael does come back, time and time again. As he talks to Angel each time, her rest­less­ness and depres­sion grow. He assures her that he can give her free­dom, hope, hap­pi­ness. She remem­bers the last man who promised her free­dom and love, and sinks into a greater depres­sion as she believes that the best she can hope for in life is to mere­ly sur­vive. All of his ques­tions about what kept her at the broth­el and all of his promis­es of free­dom make Angel start to think about leav­ing — not with him, but strik­ing out on her own. She’s sure she has enough gold saved up to do so, but that gold is under lock and key with the Duchess. She’s torn about what to do, but knows beyond a shad­ow of a doubt that the one option that she doesn’t want is to go with Michael. Angel’s annoy­ance grows when one of her cowork­ers asks her about Michael. She dodges the ques­tions eas­i­ly, and the rest of the sex work­ers begin to bick­er amongst them­selves. When the top­ic refus­es to die, Angel final­ly tells the woman to invite Michael into her room and see for her­self what he’s all about. When he comes to vis­it her that night, her cowork­er offers her­self to him, telling him that Angel said he’d like her bet­ter and would see it as a favor if she took him off her hands. Incensed, he con­tin­ues into Angel’s room. She notices his anger and becomes afraid. She knows from expe­ri­ence that anger in her line of work often makes men unpre­dictable and dan­ger­ous. He com­plains to her that he’s not get­ting any­where with her. She reminds him that she’s not ask­ing him to keep com­ing back, and he exclaims that he doesn’t want to leave her in this “god­for­sak­en place.” Sur­prised, she reminds him that it’s not his busi­ness. He insists that it <em>is</em> his busi­ness, became his busi­ness the minute he saw her. When she main­tains that she’s not ask­ing him to do any­thing for her, to spend any time with her, he becomes defen­sive and deri­sive, say­ing sar­cas­ti­cal­ly and point­ed­ly that she asks for noth­ing, needs noth­ing, <em>feels</em> noth­ing. She real­izes that his pride is hurt and says she offered him to her cowork­er so he could “leave with a smile on [his] face.” He replies that hear­ing her say his name would make him smile, then los­es him­self in desire and kiss­es her — only to pull back when he real­izes what’s hap­pen­ing. Angel real­izes with a shock that he’s a vir­gin, and he tells her that he’s been wait­ing for the right woman. She laughs at him and tells him that he’s a fool to think she’s the right woman for him. Enraged, he leaves her room and storms out of town, telling God repeat­ed­ly along the way that she’s not good enough for him and he’s not going back for her. The chap­ter clos­es with Angel watch­ing him from her win­dow, real­iz­ing he’s leav­ing town, and sink­ing into despair, afraid she’s “thrown her last chance away.” Chap­ter 5 opens with a storm last­ing for days, remind­ing Angel of her child­hood with her moth­er on the docks short­ly before her death. When Lucky comes to vis­it, she wel­comes her com­pa­ny, lis­ten­ing to her friend recount her own child­hood with dead par­ents and an abu­sive but reli­gious aunt from whom she ran away. After this con­ver­sa­tion, Angel decides to ask the Duchess for her mon­ey so she can leave and start a life on her own. When Angel enters the Duchess’s room, she notices all the niceties her employ­er is enjoy­ing — things like but­ter and cream and eggs and cheese, things the sex work­ers are told are too expen­sive for them to have — and she is angered by the injus­tice. She demands her por­tion of gold, and when the Duchess refus­es, she ver­bal­ly lights into the woman for her hypocrisy and excess, even threat­en­ing to strike out on her own. The Duchess becomes very com­posed and Angel real­izes that retal­i­a­tion for her out­burst will be great. She wilts and and pleads, insist­ing that she just can’t keep doing it any­more and has to get out. Duchess promis­es to think about it and sends her to her room. Short­ly there­after, Magowan enters, glee­ful­ly let­ting her know that he’s been instruct­ed to remind her who’s boss and won’t leave any marks that will pre­vent her from work­ing. Despon­dent, hope­less, des­per­ate for any way out of her sit­u­a­tion, Angel decides that it would be bet­ter to die than to con­tin­ue liv­ing as she is. The chap­ter wraps up as she cal­cu­lat­ing­ly taunts Magowan. He responds by los­ing con­trol and vicious­ly attack­ing her. The final chap­ter I’m review­ing in this sec­tion begins with Michael back at home on the farm, unable to stop think­ing about Angel. He thinks about her dur­ing the day while he works and dreams about her at night. When his dreams turn to night­mares, he real­izes he’s stopped pray­ing and com­muning with God. He vows to go back and get her, and is grant­ed a full night of peace­ful sleep. Michael packs up his crops and heads into Pair-a-Dice again, sell­ing every­thing to Joseph once again. As he leaves the mer­can­tile, he’s approached by Lucky. She begs him to go ask Angel to mar­ry him one more time. She refus­es to explain why, and Michael becomes alarmed. He rush­es to the broth­el and up the stairs to Angel’s room, where the Duchess and a doc­tor are exit­ing. The Duchess tries to stop him from going into her room, but she’s so bad­ly beat­en that the doc­tor refus­es to pre­vent him from going in, sens­ing he might save her. Angel rous­es slight­ly, deliri­ous, very near death. She hears the Duchess insist­ing that if Michael wants to take Angel away, he has to pay for her, but she’s so dis­ori­ent­ed that she can’t fig­ure out who Michael is. Mon­ey is exchanged, and Michael tells her that he wants to mar­ry her before they leave. She laughs weak­ly at the notion of mar­riage, and he insists, “Just say yes.” She man­ages to form the words, “Why not?” think­ing that she would “wed Satan him­self” if it would get her away from her cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. She drifts in and out of con­scious­ness dur­ing the cer­e­mo­ny, only bare­ly reg­is­ter­ing that a ring is slipped onto her fin­ger. Lucky comes to her and tear­ful­ly tells her that it was Michael’s mother’s wed­ding ring, and insists that she’s going to live a bet­ter life. The chap­ter clos­es with Lucky beg­ging Angel not to for­get her. <a id=“analysis”></a> <h2>Analysis.</h2> Just as Rivers was care­ful to label Mae as Catholic (and there­fore appease her read­ers that Mae’s faith was just in the wrong things, not use­less), she points out oth­er Chris­tians in this sec­tion as Not Real Chris­tians. She specif­i­cal­ly men­tions a preach­er on a street cor­ner “preach­ing sal­va­tion” while his broth­er “fleeced the god­for­sak­en,” and men­tions Lucky’s abu­sive but reli­gious aunt. It feels like con­stant reas­sur­ance that oh yes, bad peo­ple do bad things in the name of reli­gion, but don’t wor­ry! <em>Real</em> Chris­tians like Michael Hosea and you aren’t like that. Also worth men­tion­ing is the way in which Rivers idealizes<a href=“https://abagond.wordpress.com/2008/05/06/the-pure-white-woman/”>*</a> Angel’s beau­ty (porce­lain skin with baby blue eyes and gold­en silken hair). It’s as if her beau­ty is to jux­ta­pose her char­ac­ter (more on that in a minute). Michael is also ide­al­ized, both phys­i­cal­ly and per­son­al­i­ty-wise. Every­thing in the book feels san­i­tized and stiff in that sort of way. Every­one is beau­ti­ful, unless they’re a bad guy (or unless their beau­ty is used to dis­guise their evil, like Duke sym­bol­iz­ing Satan’s bib­li­cal descrip­tion of an angel of light). Even when peo­ple swear vio­lent­ly, we nev­er hear a word of it — because we can talk about sex traf­fick­ing, child rape, and domes­tic vio­lence, but <em>heaven forbid</em> we read any curs­ing. In so many ways, every­thing is ide­al­ized and cleaned up and there­fore often feels unre­al­is­tic. How­ev­er, it <em>is</em> a fic­tion book, so sus­pend­ing belief is part and par­cel of immers­ing your­self in the sto­ry. It is telling, how­ev­er, that the char­ac­ters cho­sen for us to immerse our­selves with are so very, very white. There are very few peo­ple of col­or in this book. The rest of my obser­va­tions for these 6 chap­ters fall under two cat­e­gories, and are expand­ed upon below. <h3>Victim-blaming and prey­ing on the weak.</h3> Rivers chose to give this sec­tion of the book the title “Defi­ance.” To be hon­est, this enrages me. She’s call­ing a woman “defi­ant” who was sold into sex traf­fick­ing as an 8 year old child and is clear­ly suf­fer­ing extreme post-trau­mat­ic stress and unable to escape her oppres­sion and the effects of her trau­ma. As a per­son with PTSD and a sur­vivor of child­hood rape myself, this utter­ly shakes me. I under­stand, from her point of view, that Angel is defi­ant because she won’t will­ing­ly go with Michael and live a hap­pi­er life with him and God. But that’s such a reduc­tion­ist view of human­i­ty, reli­gion, the effects of extreme phys­i­cal, emo­tion­al, men­tal, and sex­u­al trau­ma, the real­i­ties of sex traf­fick­ing and oppres­sion, the nature of heal­ing from abuse…it’s hard to believe some­one who sup­pos­ed­ly pos­sess­es the love of an all-lov­ing and mer­ci­ful God can make such a flat and unem­pa­thet­ic state­ment. While it’s obvi­ous that Rivers tries to depict sex traf­fick­ing as a ter­ri­ble thing that’s dif­fi­cult for its vic­tims to escape, she also clear­ly judges those vic­tims for being sex work­ers. She seems to have no con­cept what­so­ev­er of con­sent, or that con­sent is impos­si­ble when coer­cion is used. This is shown repeat­ed­ly in these 6 chap­ters, most notably when she says that Angel had the choice of going back to sex work or being raped. <strong>If you will face vio­lence for not hav­ing sex, it is rape regard­less. Sex that is coerced through words or vio­lence is rape. </strong> Let me take a moment to say<strong> </strong>that<strong> sex traf­fick­ing is rep­re­hen­si­ble. I also want to be clear that there’s a <em>huge</em> dif­fer­ence between sex work as a cho­sen trade and sex work as a slave<a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/i-belong-to-me/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”></em></a>.</em></strong><em> </em>That cru­cial dis­tinc­tion is absolute­ly miss­ing from the pages of this book. Sex work is seen as uni­ver­sal­ly sin­ful and damn­ing, <em>regardless of how one entered it in the first place or why one remains in the trade.</em> What’s worse, though, is that Rivers paints all sex work­ers as being coerced into sex work <em>and also com­plic­it in their own vic­tim­iza­tion for being unable to leave.</em> This ter­ri­ble mis­un­der­stand­ing of con­sent and cul­pa­bil­i­ty, while some­what covert right now, will be teased out as the book con­tin­ues. Despite label­ing Angel as defi­ant, Rivers does painstak­ing­ly work to show us Angel’s despon­den­cy. It’s very clear <em>why</em> Angel has hard­ened her­self and worked so hard to not out­ward­ly show emo­tion. It’s very clear <em>why</em> she feels so hope­less and trapped. When she decides that death would be bet­ter than life, we feel empa­thy for her and under­stand. While I do find this depic­tion of Angel to be under­stand­able and accu­rate, I’m uneasy with it nonethe­less. It seems like Rivers is paint­ing us a pic­ture of how Angel is “ripe for the har­vest.” In my obser­va­tion, Chris­tian­i­ty in gen­er­al tends to prey on vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty — but <strong>the way Angel is described as being so lost and in need of res­cu­ing seems <em>particularly</em> insen­si­tive as she’s also por­trayed as need­ing saved from her­self as much as from her abu­sive environment.</strong> She’s described as <em>making</em> Magowan attack her, as if he had no choice in the mat­ter. As she’s being tak­en out of Pair-a-Dice, Lucky tear­ful­ly asks her if life is “real­ly that bad.” The mes­sage seems to be con­tra­dic­to­ry: of course Angel is trau­ma­tized and liv­ing in an extreme­ly abu­sive sit­u­a­tion. But she has the pow­er to <em>make</em> things bet­ter for her­self by leav­ing with Michael, or to <em>make</em> things worse by pro­vok­ing some­one into attack­ing her. As if oppres­sion can be so eas­i­ly escaped. As if women are respon­si­ble when men try to kill them. As if the abused are a par­tic­u­lar­ly ripe crop, ready to be plucked for induc­tion into God’s king­dom. <h3>“Benevolent” sexism<a href=“http://pwq.sagepub.com/content/21/1/119” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a> and our sav­ior, Michael Hosea.</h3> When I first read this book 10 or so years ago, I was cap­ti­vat­ed by Michael Hosea. He is clear­ly based on the prophet, Hosea, and is por­trayed as Angel’s knight in shin­ing armor. To me as a young adult, he was a true man of God. Self­less. Lov­ing. Patient and kind. The kind of god­ly man I’d only be too hap­py to fol­low and sub­mit to. I often prayed to be giv­en to such a man like him. <strong>We’re clear­ly sup­posed to <em>identify</em> with Angel. But we’re to aspire <em>to be</em> Michael. </strong> And as I’m going through the book this time, I’m all too aware of how enti­tled and abu­sive he real­ly is. There are two kinds of sex­ism: hos­tile and “benev­o­lent.” While hos­tile sex­ism “encom­pass­es the neg­a­tive equiv­a­lents on each dimen­sion: dom­i­na­tive pater­nal­ism, deroga­to­ry beliefs, and het­ero­sex­u­al hos­til­i­ty,” benev­o­lent sex­ism “encom­pass­es sub­jec­tive­ly pos­i­tive (for the sex­ist) atti­tudes toward women in tra­di­tion­al roles: pro­tec­tive pater­nal­ism, ide­al­iza­tion of women, and desire for inti­mate rela­tions.” <strong>Make no mis­take: despite its moniker, “benev­o­lent” sex­ism is dam­ag­ing every bit as much as hos­tile sex­ism. </strong>As psy­chol­o­gists Peter Glick and Susan Fiske point out in their arti­cle “Hos­tile and Benev­o­lent Sex­ism: Mea­sur­ing Ambiva­lent Sex­ist Atti­tudes Toward Women,” “Both forms of sex­ism serve to jus­ti­fy and main­tain patri­archy and tra­di­tion­al gen­der roles.” West­ern Chris­tian­i­ty as a whole tends to prac­tice benev­o­lent sex­ism, par­tic­u­lar­ly when out­lin­ing the ideals of roman­tic rela­tion­ships. My friend, <a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sarahoverthemoon/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>Sarah Moon</a>, wrote an arti­cle for the Jour­nal of Inte­grat­ed Social Sci­ences (<a href=“http://www.jiss.org/documents/volume_4/issue_1/JISS%202014%204(1)%2055–74%20Christian%20Dating%20Books.pdf” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>PDF</a>) exam­in­ing evan­gel­i­cal Christianity’s main­stream teach­ings about rela­tion­ships and how those teach­ings con­tribute to sex­ist atti­tudes. (Her find­ings are also out­lined and acces­si­ble in her blog series by the same title.<a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sarahoverthemoon/you-are-not-your-own-series/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a>) As such, <strong>it’s no sur­prise that the ide­al man in <em>Redeeming Love</em> exhibits pater­nal­is­tic and con­trol­ling sex­ist beliefs and behaviours.</strong> Rivers’ afore­men­tioned fail­ure to rec­og­nize vic­tims of sex traf­fick­ing as unable to con­sent and liv­ing under oppres­sion — in short, vic­tim-blam­ing them for the vio­lence enact­ed upon them — is repeat­ed­ly spo­ken through Michael, who is lit­er­al­ly func­tion­ing as God’s mouth­piece in this book. Michael repeat­ed­ly tells Angel that she can “just” leave with him. He con­stant­ly ques­tions why she stays at the broth­el, why she does sex work to begin with. He seems to have no con­cept of sex traf­fick­ing and how it removes the auton­o­my of its vic­tims. Once again, it’s a reduc­tion­ist view that says, “You can’t pos­si­bly want this, so why don’t you just leave?” It’s a view that denies the pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences of peo­ple who <em>choose</em> sex work while also blam­ing those who have no choice for being unable to escape their sit­u­a­tion or over­ride the effects their trau­ma has had on their psy­che. [cap­tion id=“attachment_2019” align=“alignright” width=“225”]<img class=“wp-image-2019 size-medi­um” src=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015–07-06–16.59.36–225x300.jpg” alt=“Screenshot of hand­writ­ten note in the book: &quot;NOPE NOPE NOPE&quot; writ­ten in all caps with an arrow point­ing at the sec­tion where God tells Michael, &quot;This one, beloved.&quot;” width=“225” height=“300” /> “God wants me to mar­ry that super hot chick 8 years younger than me that I just saw for the first time in my life 2 sec­onds ago? SWEET DEAL.”[/caption] While I do want to con­cen­trate my cri­tique on the uni­ver­sal­ly prob­lem­at­ic mes­sages of this book rather than dis­agree­ments I’ll nat­u­ral­ly have as an athe­ist approach­ing a reli­gious­ly-dri­ven text, <strong>I sim­ply can’t ignore the prob­lems that arise when a man acts on the inaudi­ble instruc­tions of an invis­i­ble being that tell him an object of his affec­tion is his to take regard­less of her auton­o­my or con­sent. </strong>He lit­er­al­ly sees a jaw-drop­ping­ly beau­ti­ful woman that he instan­ta­neous­ly desires, and is giv­en divine author­i­ty to take her. <strong>He is using God to jus­ti­fy get­ting what he wants. </strong>The real­ly unfor­tu­nate thing is <strong>that is not a thing of the past.<a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/of-masculinity-and-abusive-breeding-grounds/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”></em></a>) to add divine author­i­ty to their desire, <em>regardless of the con­sent of the women they desire.</em> You see, men are giv­en author­i­ty — over the earth, over women, over chil­dren — and so if God speaks to them about a woman, her word and opin­ion is moot. After all, <em>man</em> isn’t the one who was deceived in the Gar­den of Eden! <em>Woman</em> was deceived, and is there­fore a less reli­able recep­tor for and inter­preter of Super­nat­ur­al Insight. As an old friend told me when he and his girl­friend both prayed about the rela­tion­ship and were giv­en dif­fer­ent answers — <em>his</em> answer ought to hold more weight as <em>he</em> was the head of the rela­tion­ship in the first place. Let me scream this so those in the back can hear me: <h1><strong><em>No one owes any­one affec­tion or com­pan­ion­ship against their will, regard­less of the opin­ion of invis­i­ble deities!</em></strong></h1> Why do I bring this up, if not to just be a cur­mud­geoned Angry Athe­ist? <i>Because male enti­tle­ment is already a thing, and the added “author­i­ty” of an all-pow­er­ful God only fur­ther empow­ers abuse.</i> When Michael first men­tions to Angel the plan to mar­ry her, it is <em>not</em> a ques­tion. <strong>He nev­er <em>asks</em> her to mar­ry him. He <em>tells her that she is going to.</em> </strong>Certainly, he tells her all sorts of nice things about how she can have a life of free­dom and love and hap­pi­ness with him (there’s the “benev­o­lent” part of his sex­ism), but hear me out: <strong>he is not giv­ing her an option, he’s giv­ing her an ultimatum.</strong> And that’s even ignor­ing his com­plete lack of under­stand­ing of the com­plex­i­ties of being at the mer­cy of your abusers. He is telling her to leave one enti­ty that denies her auton­o­my to come with him, anoth­er per­son refus­ing to grant her agency over her own life (while also hold­ing her respon­si­ble for her lot in life). Beyond that, <strong>Michael refus­es to lis­ten to what Angel has to say about her life.</strong> When she insists that she likes it where she is, he rebuts her. When she reminds him that he’s under no oblig­a­tion to keep com­ing to see her, <em>of course</em> he is because <em>God told him to.</em> When she tells him that her life and deci­sions are none of his busi­ness, he lit­er­al­ly replies that her life became his busi­ness <em>the moment he set eyes on her.</em> Here’s to hop­ing cat callers don’t start tak­ing that approach to their already swollen sense of enti­tle­ment to women’s atten­tion and bod­ies. I’d also like to point out that, <strong>just like Duke named her for his own pur­pos­es, Michael gives Angel a name as a manip­u­la­tion tool as well.</strong> More than that — he brands her as bit­ter, a com­mon diss Chris­tians dole out to those who dis­play emo­tions they don’t like<a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sarahoverthemoon/2014/07/bitter-christianity-religion-healing/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a>. Addi­tion­al­ly, <strong>Angel right­ly sens­es that he is not a safe person.</strong> When his pride is hurt, he lash­es out at her. Not only does she owe him her hand in mar­riage, she is the source of all of his pain and fury because she just won’t do what she’s told to do. You know. By a com­plete stranger, after a life­time of abuse from his gen­der. It’s said that Michael talks to her rough­ly, slam­ming doors, shout­ing at her. <em>This is ver­bal and phys­i­cal abuse<a href=“http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a>, </em>and I wish I could say that it doesn’t con­tin­ue through­out the rest of the book. <strong>Angel’s con­sent means absolute­ly noth­ing to Michael.</strong> While I can’t real­ly fault him for tak­ing her away after dis­cov­er­ing the intense dan­ger she was in, I <em>absolutely</em> fault him for bad­ger­ing her in the first place (at one point he calls his repeat­ed harass­ment of her <em>courtship)</em> and I 100% fault him for <em>coercing her to mar­ry him while she was near death and so deliri­ous she didn’t know who he was.</em> She didn’t even say yes — her response was, “Why not?” imme­di­ate­ly fol­lowed by the clar­i­fi­ca­tion that she would mar­ry the dev­il if it meant her sal­va­tion. Rivers doesn’t even pre­tend that Angel was con­sent­ing — she just lit­er­al­ly couldn’t say no. <strong>The absence of a “no” is not con­sent. Only the pres­ence of an enthu­si­as­tic “yes” qual­i­fies as consent.</strong> And yet this is the man we are to see as the ide­al. As a man of God, a cat­a­lyst for sal­va­tion. <strong>No won­der fun­da­men­tal­ism and evan­gel­i­cal­ism are suf­fer­ing losses<a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/2015/05/19/excuses-excuses-two-ways-christians-delude-themselves-about-the-pew-study/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”><em></a> and becom­ing ever greater safe-havens for abusers<a href=“http://boz.religionnews.com/2014/04/26/sex-offenders/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”></em></a>.</strong>

Posted in Fat Girl,

<a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/category/writing/reviews/redeeming-love/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>Be sure to check out the oth­er entries in this review series.</a> <h2>Trigger warn­ings for this section.</h2> Dis­cus­sion of sex traf­fick­ing, child­hood sex­u­al abuse, rape, emo­tion­al abuse, domes­tic vio­lence, and sui­cide. [cap­tion id=“attachment_2017” align=“alignright” width=“300”]<img class=“wp-image-2017 size-medi­um” src=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015–07-03–17.29.03–300x300.jpg” alt=“The pro­logue is enti­tled &quot;Child of Dark­ness.&quot; My notes read, &quot;Why? Because her father didn’t love her? Because her moth­er was a sex work­er? Because she was sold into sex work as a child? Because she became &quot;bit­ter&quot;? This is not okay!” width=“300” height=“300” /> The pro­logue is enti­tled “Child of Dark­ness.” My notes read, “Why? Because her father didn’t love her? Because her moth­er was a sex work­er? Because she was sold into sex work as a child? Because she became “bit­ter”? This is not okay![/caption] <h2>Wrapping up the pro­logue and com­men­tary on Rivers’ commentary.</h2> Some­thing I failed to men­tion last time is that Rivers has titled the dif­fer­ent sec­tions of her book. She also begins each chap­ter with a quote — Bible vers­es, poet­ry, things of that nature — that is sup­posed to tie into the chap­ter at hand. In this way, she gives us a lit­tle com­men­tary on what we are to expect in the pages to come, along with giv­ing us hints about how we’re to inter­pret what we read. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, this can be a little…problematic. Take the prologue’s title, for exam­ple. “Child of Dark­ness.” I’m unable to real­ly fig­ure out a way that title <em>isn’t</em> dehu­man­iz­ing. Are chil­dren with­out lov­ing fathers con­sid­ered chil­dren of dark­ness? What about chil­dren of sex work­ers? What about chil­dren sold into sex work? What about chil­dren who can’t stay sweet and hap­py and joy­ful in the face of hav­ing a vio­lent hate­ful father, a moth­er who died far too young, and being a sex slave? There’s no doubt that Sarah’s life is full of dark­ness and evil. But she her­self is <em>not</em> dark or evil. And the impli­ca­tion of say­ing she <em>is</em> hard­ly bears thought. This kind of thing remains a prob­lem through­out the book, and I’ll men­tion it in the analy­sis sec­tion of each entry of this mul­ti-part <em>Redeeming Love</em> review series. A final note: from here on out, <strong>I’ll be refer­ring to Sarah as Angel.</strong> I’m a bit torn about this, as it’s the name that her abuser gave her. But for the major­i­ty of the book, <strong>it’s also the name she choos­es to think of her­self as.</strong> On a more per­son­al note, as a fun­da­men­tal­ist, what I per­ceived to be the per­sona of Angel is who I most iden­ti­fied with. And so I use the name she referred to her­self as in the book…and the name I iden­ti­fied with for far too long. <h2>Overview: chap­ters 1–6.</h2> <a href=”#analysis”>If you’re already famil­iar with the sto­ry, skip ahead to my analysis.</a> We pick our sto­ry back up 14 years lat­er in 1850, no longer in New Eng­land but instead in Cal­i­for­nia. Angel works in the town of Pair-a-Dice as the high­est priced sex work­er in a broth­el run by a woman known as the Duchess. Angel recalls how she end­ed up in Cal­i­for­nia from New Eng­land. She had been bent on escape, trav­el­ing by sea<a href=“http://americanhistory.si.edu/onthewater/exhibition/2_4.html” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a> to the West to start a new life by her­self. When she reached the ship, how­ev­er, she learned that she was 1 of 3 women sur­round­ed by a crew of 120 men. The oth­er 2 women, sex work­ers, start­ed work­ing right away. Angel, how­ev­er, locked her­self in her cab­in until “she had one sim­ple choice: go back to being a pros­ti­tute or be raped.” At the end of her jour­ney, how­ev­er, the oth­er 2 sex work­ers jumped her, beat her uncon­scious, stole all the mon­ey she’d earned, and aban­doned her onboard.  Two days lat­er, scav­engers came to search the ship. They took what they could from the ship, raped Angel, then brought her to shore. As soon as they became dis­tract­ed, she escaped and began liv­ing and work­ing on the streets of Portsmouth Square. The Duchess found her and talked her into join­ing her broth­el in Cal­i­for­nia, assur­ing her that work would be plen­ty and she’d be able to get rich work­ing for gold dig­gers. Angel agreed, set­tling on only keep­ing 20% of her earn­ings in exchange for food, shel­ter, and cloth­ing. The Duchess actu­al­ly kept all of the earn­ings of her work­ers, giv­ing them allowances when she saw fit and keep­ing order through the help of a sadis­tic man named Bret Magowan, who was only too hap­py to main­tain order through a reign of ter­ror. “She had fled from Duke and fall­en into the hands of Duchess.” The first chap­ter ends as Angel is brought back to the present, feel­ing hope­less, emp­ty, and sui­ci­dal. “At eigh­teen, she was tired of liv­ing and resigned to the fact that noth­ing would ever change.” Chap­ter 2 opens with the intro­duc­tion of 26-year-old Chris­t­ian farmer, Michael Hosea. He’s described as being a tall, strong, hand­some, silent, con­fi­dent man who com­mands respect from all who meet him. He has trav­eled to Pair-a-Dice to sell his veg­eta­bles to a Jew­ish mer­chant and is unload­ing his cart when he spots Angel walk­ing down the street with Magowan. He’s utter­ly struck by her beau­ty and unable to keep him­self from star­ing at her until she’s out of sight. He hears the silent words spo­ken by God, “This one, beloved,” and is over­joyed — until he learns from the mer­chant, Joseph, that she is a sex-work­er. Or, as he clar­i­fies in dis­be­lief, “a soiled dove.” In dis­gust and con­fu­sion, he gets his mon­ey from Joseph and leaves, dri­ving by the broth­el on his way out of town. The sec­ond chap­ter comes to a close as Michael tries say­ing her name out loud, and receives inaudi­ble but cer­tain con­fir­ma­tion from God that Angel is the woman he’s sup­posed to mar­ry. The third chap­ter opens with Angel wait­ing for her last clients of the day. She hears one of her cowork­ers and only friend, an old­er alco­holic woman named Lucky, laugh­ing in an adjoin­ing room, and recalls the one time she tried drink­ing with her. She end­ed up vio­lent­ly ill, learn­ing she couldn’t hold her liquor. Her sub­se­quent hang­over caused her to dis­miss pay­ing cus­tomers, much to the Duchess’s con­ster­na­tion. It was at that time she learned to fear Magowan, who was sent to sober her up and instill ter­ror to make sure she nev­er stepped out of line again. Angel is drawn out of her rec­ol­lec­tions as her last client knocks on her door. She’s shak­ing, crack­ing under the pres­sure of pre­tend­ing to be okay for so many years, and is des­per­ate to be fin­ished for the evening. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, the man at the door is Michael Hosea. She has “an odd uneasi­ness” when he enters the room, but push­es it down in order to get ready to work. Michael, on the oth­er hand, is ner­vous and try­ing to fig­ure out how to go about woo­ing her since he’s a vir­gin and utter­ly unfa­mil­iar with sex work. When she press­es him to tell her what he wants, he begins talk­ing to her, insist­ing that he didn’t come for sex. He asks her ques­tions about where she lives, how old she is, try­ing to get to know her and feel­ing unpre­pared by God and help­less in the face of some­one he thinks of as hard as marble.When she tells him he can call her what­ev­er he wants, he names her Mara, because it means bit­ter. He pro­ceeds to tell her that she is going to mar­ry him, and he won’t have sex with her until she does. Angel becomes angry, con­vinced Michael is toy­ing with her. All she wants to do is her job so she can be fin­ished for the night. She tries repeat­ed­ly to get him into bed, but he refus­es, admit­ting that while he’s no bet­ter than any oth­er man who comes to her, he just wants more than sex. “[I want] every­thing. I want what you don’t even know you have to give.” Chap­ter 3 ends as the time he paid for is up and he has to leave. He assures her that he’ll be back and that all he wants is a half-hour of hon­est con­ver­sa­tion. “Mis­ter, five min­utes and you’d run like the dev­il.” As chap­ter 4 opens, we learn that Michael does come back, time and time again. As he talks to Angel each time, her rest­less­ness and depres­sion grow. He assures her that he can give her free­dom, hope, hap­pi­ness. She remem­bers the last man who promised her free­dom and love, and sinks into a greater depres­sion as she believes that the best she can hope for in life is to mere­ly sur­vive. All of his ques­tions about what kept her at the broth­el and all of his promis­es of free­dom make Angel start to think about leav­ing — not with him, but strik­ing out on her own. She’s sure she has enough gold saved up to do so, but that gold is under lock and key with the Duchess. She’s torn about what to do, but knows beyond a shad­ow of a doubt that the one option that she doesn’t want is to go with Michael. Angel’s annoy­ance grows when one of her cowork­ers asks her about Michael. She dodges the ques­tions eas­i­ly, and the rest of the sex work­ers begin to bick­er amongst them­selves. When the top­ic refus­es to die, Angel final­ly tells the woman to invite Michael into her room and see for her­self what he’s all about. When he comes to vis­it her that night, her cowork­er offers her­self to him, telling him that Angel said he’d like her bet­ter and would see it as a favor if she took him off her hands. Incensed, he con­tin­ues into Angel’s room. She notices his anger and becomes afraid. She knows from expe­ri­ence that anger in her line of work often makes men unpre­dictable and dan­ger­ous. He com­plains to her that he’s not get­ting any­where with her. She reminds him that she’s not ask­ing him to keep com­ing back, and he exclaims that he doesn’t want to leave her in this “god­for­sak­en place.” Sur­prised, she reminds him that it’s not his busi­ness. He insists that it <em>is</em> his busi­ness, became his busi­ness the minute he saw her. When she main­tains that she’s not ask­ing him to do any­thing for her, to spend any time with her, he becomes defen­sive and deri­sive, say­ing sar­cas­ti­cal­ly and point­ed­ly that she asks for noth­ing, needs noth­ing, <em>feels</em> noth­ing. She real­izes that his pride is hurt and says she offered him to her cowork­er so he could “leave with a smile on [his] face.” He replies that hear­ing her say his name would make him smile, then los­es him­self in desire and kiss­es her — only to pull back when he real­izes what’s hap­pen­ing. Angel real­izes with a shock that he’s a vir­gin, and he tells her that he’s been wait­ing for the right woman. She laughs at him and tells him that he’s a fool to think she’s the right woman for him. Enraged, he leaves her room and storms out of town, telling God repeat­ed­ly along the way that she’s not good enough for him and he’s not going back for her. The chap­ter clos­es with Angel watch­ing him from her win­dow, real­iz­ing he’s leav­ing town, and sink­ing into despair, afraid she’s “thrown her last chance away.” Chap­ter 5 opens with a storm last­ing for days, remind­ing Angel of her child­hood with her moth­er on the docks short­ly before her death. When Lucky comes to vis­it, she wel­comes her com­pa­ny, lis­ten­ing to her friend recount her own child­hood with dead par­ents and an abu­sive but reli­gious aunt from whom she ran away. After this con­ver­sa­tion, Angel decides to ask the Duchess for her mon­ey so she can leave and start a life on her own. When Angel enters the Duchess’s room, she notices all the niceties her employ­er is enjoy­ing — things like but­ter and cream and eggs and cheese, things the sex work­ers are told are too expen­sive for them to have — and she is angered by the injus­tice. She demands her por­tion of gold, and when the Duchess refus­es, she ver­bal­ly lights into the woman for her hypocrisy and excess, even threat­en­ing to strike out on her own. The Duchess becomes very com­posed and Angel real­izes that retal­i­a­tion for her out­burst will be great. She wilts and and pleads, insist­ing that she just can’t keep doing it any­more and has to get out. Duchess promis­es to think about it and sends her to her room. Short­ly there­after, Magowan enters, glee­ful­ly let­ting her know that he’s been instruct­ed to remind her who’s boss and won’t leave any marks that will pre­vent her from work­ing. Despon­dent, hope­less, des­per­ate for any way out of her sit­u­a­tion, Angel decides that it would be bet­ter to die than to con­tin­ue liv­ing as she is. The chap­ter wraps up as she cal­cu­lat­ing­ly taunts Magowan. He responds by los­ing con­trol and vicious­ly attack­ing her. The final chap­ter I’m review­ing in this sec­tion begins with Michael back at home on the farm, unable to stop think­ing about Angel. He thinks about her dur­ing the day while he works and dreams about her at night. When his dreams turn to night­mares, he real­izes he’s stopped pray­ing and com­muning with God. He vows to go back and get her, and is grant­ed a full night of peace­ful sleep. Michael packs up his crops and heads into Pair-a-Dice again, sell­ing every­thing to Joseph once again. As he leaves the mer­can­tile, he’s approached by Lucky. She begs him to go ask Angel to mar­ry him one more time. She refus­es to explain why, and Michael becomes alarmed. He rush­es to the broth­el and up the stairs to Angel’s room, where the Duchess and a doc­tor are exit­ing. The Duchess tries to stop him from going into her room, but she’s so bad­ly beat­en that the doc­tor refus­es to pre­vent him from going in, sens­ing he might save her. Angel rous­es slight­ly, deliri­ous, very near death. She hears the Duchess insist­ing that if Michael wants to take Angel away, he has to pay for her, but she’s so dis­ori­ent­ed that she can’t fig­ure out who Michael is. Mon­ey is exchanged, and Michael tells her that he wants to mar­ry her before they leave. She laughs weak­ly at the notion of mar­riage, and he insists, “Just say yes.” She man­ages to form the words, “Why not?” think­ing that she would “wed Satan him­self” if it would get her away from her cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. She drifts in and out of con­scious­ness dur­ing the cer­e­mo­ny, only bare­ly reg­is­ter­ing that a ring is slipped onto her fin­ger. Lucky comes to her and tear­ful­ly tells her that it was Michael’s mother’s wed­ding ring, and insists that she’s going to live a bet­ter life. The chap­ter clos­es with Lucky beg­ging Angel not to for­get her. <a id=“analysis”></a> <h2>Analysis.</h2> Just as Rivers was care­ful to label Mae as Catholic (and there­fore appease her read­ers that Mae’s faith was just in the wrong things, not use­less), she points out oth­er Chris­tians in this sec­tion as Not Real Chris­tians. She specif­i­cal­ly men­tions a preach­er on a street cor­ner “preach­ing sal­va­tion” while his broth­er “fleeced the god­for­sak­en,” and men­tions Lucky’s abu­sive but reli­gious aunt. It feels like con­stant reas­sur­ance that oh yes, bad peo­ple do bad things in the name of reli­gion, but don’t wor­ry! <em>Real</em> Chris­tians like Michael Hosea and you aren’t like that. Also worth men­tion­ing is the way in which Rivers idealizes<a href=“https://abagond.wordpress.com/2008/05/06/the-pure-white-woman/”>*</a> Angel’s beau­ty (porce­lain skin with baby blue eyes and gold­en silken hair). It’s as if her beau­ty is to jux­ta­pose her char­ac­ter (more on that in a minute). Michael is also ide­al­ized, both phys­i­cal­ly and per­son­al­i­ty-wise. Every­thing in the book feels san­i­tized and stiff in that sort of way. Every­one is beau­ti­ful, unless they’re a bad guy (or unless their beau­ty is used to dis­guise their evil, like Duke sym­bol­iz­ing Satan’s bib­li­cal descrip­tion of an angel of light). Even when peo­ple swear vio­lent­ly, we nev­er hear a word of it — because we can talk about sex traf­fick­ing, child rape, and domes­tic vio­lence, but <em>heaven forbid</em> we read any curs­ing. In so many ways, every­thing is ide­al­ized and cleaned up and there­fore often feels unre­al­is­tic. How­ev­er, it <em>is</em> a fic­tion book, so sus­pend­ing belief is part and par­cel of immers­ing your­self in the sto­ry. It is telling, how­ev­er, that the char­ac­ters cho­sen for us to immerse our­selves with are so very, very white. There are very few peo­ple of col­or in this book. The rest of my obser­va­tions for these 6 chap­ters fall under two cat­e­gories, and are expand­ed upon below. <h3>Victim-blaming and prey­ing on the weak.</h3> Rivers chose to give this sec­tion of the book the title “Defi­ance.” To be hon­est, this enrages me. She’s call­ing a woman “defi­ant” who was sold into sex traf­fick­ing as an 8 year old child and is clear­ly suf­fer­ing extreme post-trau­mat­ic stress and unable to escape her oppres­sion and the effects of her trau­ma. As a per­son with PTSD and a sur­vivor of child­hood rape myself, this utter­ly shakes me. I under­stand, from her point of view, that Angel is defi­ant because she won’t will­ing­ly go with Michael and live a hap­pi­er life with him and God. But that’s such a reduc­tion­ist view of human­i­ty, reli­gion, the effects of extreme phys­i­cal, emo­tion­al, men­tal, and sex­u­al trau­ma, the real­i­ties of sex traf­fick­ing and oppres­sion, the nature of heal­ing from abuse…it’s hard to believe some­one who sup­pos­ed­ly pos­sess­es the love of an all-lov­ing and mer­ci­ful God can make such a flat and unem­pa­thet­ic state­ment. While it’s obvi­ous that Rivers tries to depict sex traf­fick­ing as a ter­ri­ble thing that’s dif­fi­cult for its vic­tims to escape, she also clear­ly judges those vic­tims for being sex work­ers. She seems to have no con­cept what­so­ev­er of con­sent, or that con­sent is impos­si­ble when coer­cion is used. This is shown repeat­ed­ly in these 6 chap­ters, most notably when she says that Angel had the choice of going back to sex work or being raped. <strong>If you will face vio­lence for not hav­ing sex, it is rape regard­less. Sex that is coerced through words or vio­lence is rape. </strong> Let me take a moment to say<strong> </strong>that<strong> sex traf­fick­ing is rep­re­hen­si­ble. I also want to be clear that there’s a <em>huge</em> dif­fer­ence between sex work as a cho­sen trade and sex work as a slave<a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/i-belong-to-me/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”></em></a>.</em></strong><em> </em>That cru­cial dis­tinc­tion is absolute­ly miss­ing from the pages of this book. Sex work is seen as uni­ver­sal­ly sin­ful and damn­ing, <em>regardless of how one entered it in the first place or why one remains in the trade.</em> What’s worse, though, is that Rivers paints all sex work­ers as being coerced into sex work <em>and also com­plic­it in their own vic­tim­iza­tion for being unable to leave.</em> This ter­ri­ble mis­un­der­stand­ing of con­sent and cul­pa­bil­i­ty, while some­what covert right now, will be teased out as the book con­tin­ues. Despite label­ing Angel as defi­ant, Rivers does painstak­ing­ly work to show us Angel’s despon­den­cy. It’s very clear <em>why</em> Angel has hard­ened her­self and worked so hard to not out­ward­ly show emo­tion. It’s very clear <em>why</em> she feels so hope­less and trapped. When she decides that death would be bet­ter than life, we feel empa­thy for her and under­stand. While I do find this depic­tion of Angel to be under­stand­able and accu­rate, I’m uneasy with it nonethe­less. It seems like Rivers is paint­ing us a pic­ture of how Angel is “ripe for the har­vest.” In my obser­va­tion, Chris­tian­i­ty in gen­er­al tends to prey on vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty — but <strong>the way Angel is described as being so lost and in need of res­cu­ing seems <em>particularly</em> insen­si­tive as she’s also por­trayed as need­ing saved from her­self as much as from her abu­sive environment.</strong> She’s described as <em>making</em> Magowan attack her, as if he had no choice in the mat­ter. As she’s being tak­en out of Pair-a-Dice, Lucky tear­ful­ly asks her if life is “real­ly that bad.” The mes­sage seems to be con­tra­dic­to­ry: of course Angel is trau­ma­tized and liv­ing in an extreme­ly abu­sive sit­u­a­tion. But she has the pow­er to <em>make</em> things bet­ter for her­self by leav­ing with Michael, or to <em>make</em> things worse by pro­vok­ing some­one into attack­ing her. As if oppres­sion can be so eas­i­ly escaped. As if women are respon­si­ble when men try to kill them. As if the abused are a par­tic­u­lar­ly ripe crop, ready to be plucked for induc­tion into God’s king­dom. <h3>“Benevolent” sexism<a href=“http://pwq.sagepub.com/content/21/1/119” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a> and our sav­ior, Michael Hosea.</h3> When I first read this book 10 or so years ago, I was cap­ti­vat­ed by Michael Hosea. He is clear­ly based on the prophet, Hosea, and is por­trayed as Angel’s knight in shin­ing armor. To me as a young adult, he was a true man of God. Self­less. Lov­ing. Patient and kind. The kind of god­ly man I’d only be too hap­py to fol­low and sub­mit to. I often prayed to be giv­en to such a man like him. <strong>We’re clear­ly sup­posed to <em>identify</em> with Angel. But we’re to aspire <em>to be</em> Michael. </strong> And as I’m going through the book this time, I’m all too aware of how enti­tled and abu­sive he real­ly is. There are two kinds of sex­ism: hos­tile and “benev­o­lent.” While hos­tile sex­ism “encom­pass­es the neg­a­tive equiv­a­lents on each dimen­sion: dom­i­na­tive pater­nal­ism, deroga­to­ry beliefs, and het­ero­sex­u­al hos­til­i­ty,” benev­o­lent sex­ism “encom­pass­es sub­jec­tive­ly pos­i­tive (for the sex­ist) atti­tudes toward women in tra­di­tion­al roles: pro­tec­tive pater­nal­ism, ide­al­iza­tion of women, and desire for inti­mate rela­tions.” <strong>Make no mis­take: despite its moniker, “benev­o­lent” sex­ism is dam­ag­ing every bit as much as hos­tile sex­ism. </strong>As psy­chol­o­gists Peter Glick and Susan Fiske point out in their arti­cle “Hos­tile and Benev­o­lent Sex­ism: Mea­sur­ing Ambiva­lent Sex­ist Atti­tudes Toward Women,” “Both forms of sex­ism serve to jus­ti­fy and main­tain patri­archy and tra­di­tion­al gen­der roles.” West­ern Chris­tian­i­ty as a whole tends to prac­tice benev­o­lent sex­ism, par­tic­u­lar­ly when out­lin­ing the ideals of roman­tic rela­tion­ships. My friend, <a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sarahoverthemoon/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>Sarah Moon</a>, wrote an arti­cle for the Jour­nal of Inte­grat­ed Social Sci­ences (<a href=“http://www.jiss.org/documents/volume_4/issue_1/JISS%202014%204(1)%2055–74%20Christian%20Dating%20Books.pdf” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>PDF</a>) exam­in­ing evan­gel­i­cal Christianity’s main­stream teach­ings about rela­tion­ships and how those teach­ings con­tribute to sex­ist atti­tudes. (Her find­ings are also out­lined and acces­si­ble in her blog series by the same title.<a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sarahoverthemoon/you-are-not-your-own-series/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a>) As such, <strong>it’s no sur­prise that the ide­al man in <em>Redeeming Love</em> exhibits pater­nal­is­tic and con­trol­ling sex­ist beliefs and behaviours.</strong> Rivers’ afore­men­tioned fail­ure to rec­og­nize vic­tims of sex traf­fick­ing as unable to con­sent and liv­ing under oppres­sion — in short, vic­tim-blam­ing them for the vio­lence enact­ed upon them — is repeat­ed­ly spo­ken through Michael, who is lit­er­al­ly func­tion­ing as God’s mouth­piece in this book. Michael repeat­ed­ly tells Angel that she can “just” leave with him. He con­stant­ly ques­tions why she stays at the broth­el, why she does sex work to begin with. He seems to have no con­cept of sex traf­fick­ing and how it removes the auton­o­my of its vic­tims. Once again, it’s a reduc­tion­ist view that says, “You can’t pos­si­bly want this, so why don’t you just leave?” It’s a view that denies the pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences of peo­ple who <em>choose</em> sex work while also blam­ing those who have no choice for being unable to escape their sit­u­a­tion or over­ride the effects their trau­ma has had on their psy­che. [cap­tion id=“attachment_2019” align=“alignright” width=“225”]<img class=“wp-image-2019 size-medi­um” src=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015–07-06–16.59.36–225x300.jpg” alt=“Screenshot of hand­writ­ten note in the book: &quot;NOPE NOPE NOPE&quot; writ­ten in all caps with an arrow point­ing at the sec­tion where God tells Michael, &quot;This one, beloved.&quot;” width=“225” height=“300” /> “God wants me to mar­ry that super hot chick 8 years younger than me that I just saw for the first time in my life 2 sec­onds ago? SWEET DEAL.”[/caption] While I do want to con­cen­trate my cri­tique on the uni­ver­sal­ly prob­lem­at­ic mes­sages of this book rather than dis­agree­ments I’ll nat­u­ral­ly have as an athe­ist approach­ing a reli­gious­ly-dri­ven text, <strong>I sim­ply can’t ignore the prob­lems that arise when a man acts on the inaudi­ble instruc­tions of an invis­i­ble being that tell him an object of his affec­tion is his to take regard­less of her auton­o­my or con­sent. </strong>He lit­er­al­ly sees a jaw-drop­ping­ly beau­ti­ful woman that he instan­ta­neous­ly desires, and is giv­en divine author­i­ty to take her. <strong>He is using God to jus­ti­fy get­ting what he wants. </strong>The real­ly unfor­tu­nate thing is <strong>that is not a thing of the past.<a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/of-masculinity-and-abusive-breeding-grounds/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”></em></a>) to add divine author­i­ty to their desire, <em>regardless of the con­sent of the women they desire.</em> You see, men are giv­en author­i­ty — over the earth, over women, over chil­dren — and so if God speaks to them about a woman, her word and opin­ion is moot. After all, <em>man</em> isn’t the one who was deceived in the Gar­den of Eden! <em>Woman</em> was deceived, and is there­fore a less reli­able recep­tor for and inter­preter of Super­nat­ur­al Insight. As an old friend told me when he and his girl­friend both prayed about the rela­tion­ship and were giv­en dif­fer­ent answers — <em>his</em> answer ought to hold more weight as <em>he</em> was the head of the rela­tion­ship in the first place. Let me scream this so those in the back can hear me: <h1><strong><em>No one owes any­one affec­tion or com­pan­ion­ship against their will, regard­less of the opin­ion of invis­i­ble deities!</em></strong></h1> Why do I bring this up, if not to just be a cur­mud­geoned Angry Athe­ist? <i>Because male enti­tle­ment is already a thing, and the added “author­i­ty” of an all-pow­er­ful God only fur­ther empow­ers abuse.</i> When Michael first men­tions to Angel the plan to mar­ry her, it is <em>not</em> a ques­tion. <strong>He nev­er <em>asks</em> her to mar­ry him. He <em>tells her that she is going to.</em> </strong>Certainly, he tells her all sorts of nice things about how she can have a life of free­dom and love and hap­pi­ness with him (there’s the “benev­o­lent” part of his sex­ism), but hear me out: <strong>he is not giv­ing her an option, he’s giv­ing her an ultimatum.</strong> And that’s even ignor­ing his com­plete lack of under­stand­ing of the com­plex­i­ties of being at the mer­cy of your abusers. He is telling her to leave one enti­ty that denies her auton­o­my to come with him, anoth­er per­son refus­ing to grant her agency over her own life (while also hold­ing her respon­si­ble for her lot in life). Beyond that, <strong>Michael refus­es to lis­ten to what Angel has to say about her life.</strong> When she insists that she likes it where she is, he rebuts her. When she reminds him that he’s under no oblig­a­tion to keep com­ing to see her, <em>of course</em> he is because <em>God told him to.</em> When she tells him that her life and deci­sions are none of his busi­ness, he lit­er­al­ly replies that her life became his busi­ness <em>the moment he set eyes on her.</em> Here’s to hop­ing cat callers don’t start tak­ing that approach to their already swollen sense of enti­tle­ment to women’s atten­tion and bod­ies. I’d also like to point out that, <strong>just like Duke named her for his own pur­pos­es, Michael gives Angel a name as a manip­u­la­tion tool as well.</strong> More than that — he brands her as bit­ter, a com­mon diss Chris­tians dole out to those who dis­play emo­tions they don’t like<a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sarahoverthemoon/2014/07/bitter-christianity-religion-healing/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a>. Addi­tion­al­ly, <strong>Angel right­ly sens­es that he is not a safe person.</strong> When his pride is hurt, he lash­es out at her. Not only does she owe him her hand in mar­riage, she is the source of all of his pain and fury because she just won’t do what she’s told to do. You know. By a com­plete stranger, after a life­time of abuse from his gen­der. It’s said that Michael talks to her rough­ly, slam­ming doors, shout­ing at her. <em>This is ver­bal and phys­i­cal abuse<a href=“http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a>, </em>and I wish I could say that it doesn’t con­tin­ue through­out the rest of the book. <strong>Angel’s con­sent means absolute­ly noth­ing to Michael.</strong> While I can’t real­ly fault him for tak­ing her away after dis­cov­er­ing the intense dan­ger she was in, I <em>absolutely</em> fault him for bad­ger­ing her in the first place (at one point he calls his repeat­ed harass­ment of her <em>courtship)</em> and I 100% fault him for <em>coercing her to mar­ry him while she was near death and so deliri­ous she didn’t know who he was.</em> She didn’t even say yes — her response was, “Why not?” imme­di­ate­ly fol­lowed by the clar­i­fi­ca­tion that she would mar­ry the dev­il if it meant her sal­va­tion. Rivers doesn’t even pre­tend that Angel was con­sent­ing — she just lit­er­al­ly couldn’t say no. <strong>The absence of a “no” is not con­sent. Only the pres­ence of an enthu­si­as­tic “yes” qual­i­fies as consent.</strong> And yet this is the man we are to see as the ide­al. As a man of God, a cat­a­lyst for sal­va­tion. <strong>No won­der fun­da­men­tal­ism and evan­gel­i­cal­ism are suf­fer­ing losses<a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/2015/05/19/excuses-excuses-two-ways-christians-delude-themselves-about-the-pew-study/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”><em></a> and becom­ing ever greater safe-havens for abusers<a href=“http://boz.religionnews.com/2014/04/26/sex-offenders/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”></em></a>.</strong>

Posted in Fat Girl,