WE’RE ALL VISUAL CREATURES

I received an email from Craig Gross at XXX Church the other day.  I had not signed up for emails from them.  This is because XXX Church and Craig Gross purchase email address lists to be able to market to the people on them.  Find out more about that HERE.

 

This uninvited email was telling women how to deal with their husbands’ viewing pornography.  I was horrified and angered by the content that was in the email and took to Twitter to communicate that to Craig Gross.  I shall be spending this blog articulating WHY his email was so dangerous and will by referring t the email, the blog that the email is an excerpt from and my Twitter interaction with him.

 

Being pseudonymous on Twitter and when blogging is intentional.  I have felt compelled to make my communications about the issues I am passionate, not about who I am professionally.  I value the Twitter community as friends and never want to veer into seeing my Twitter account as a “platform to build” or a place to “promote myself”.  This generally works fine.  However, it does mean that in cases like this, the people I am critical of are unaware of the credibility of my perspective.

 

I am an international campaigner, media voice, trainer, writer, consultant and adviser on issues of gender justice.  I am a specialist in responding to and preventing male violence against women and my specialisms include; domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, pornographies, equal platform representation, gender reconciliation, right use of power, working with young people and Christian feminism amongst other things.  I have contributed chapters to a number of books and offer consultancy services to many organisations.

 

Craig Gross’ (and his wife’s) words are in red throughout this.

 

Hey Friend,

 

It’s Craig Gross and wanted to share with you something that I get asked a TON. I asked my wife this question.

 

At no point during the email does Craig Gross mention is wife’s name.  Though he states that his wife has given this information, it is his photograph, signature and name that is on the bottom of the email.  The entire content is clearly endorsed and delivered by Craig Gross.  There is no distinguishing between what Craig is saying and what his wife has said, no delineation.  That leads to an email that for all intents and purposes is a man communicating to women about what they should do about their husband’s choices to use pornography.

 

“What would you do if you caught your husband looking at adult content?”

 

The first mention of pornography within this email uses the euphemistic term “looking at adult content”.  I’ve written about the issue with euphemising pornography HERE.  By characterising the issue as “looking at adult content” this makes what follows more palatable.

 

A couple of ways to phrase this question that are not euphemistic:

 

What would you do if you walked into a room to find your husband masturbating to images of young women been sexually violated and degraded?

 

What would you do if you discovered your husband’s internet search history included “slave farm Asian” “teen models” “nubile cum” ”mistress pegging”  “wants you to cum” “ebony double penetration” “brutal fuck” “lick cum from stomach”?

 

[These are actual search terms from www.pornmd.com/live-search which shows current search terms that are being typed for pornography sites]

 

I thought it would be good to hear from a women’s perspective not a guy’s. I thought it would be great for you to hear from my wife who has witnessed this again and again in people’s lives over the last 15 years.

 

He doesn’t mention his wife’s name (I know I’ve said this before, but I find this incredulous).  As far as we know, his wife has no qualifications to offer advice on this except her personal experiences of witnessing women finding out their husband’s are using pornography.  And as much as personal experience is valuable, it needs to be coupled with expertise and knowledge.  We don’t even know her name, never mind her qualification levels to offer this advice.

 

So, here it goes.

 

Your husband just confided in you that he looked at adult content. I know it must bring up a lot of emotions:

 

– Betrayal … because he didn’t stay faithful to you.

– Mistrust … because how can you trust him in the small or big things if he couldn’t be trusted not to look.

– Self-doubt … because you think it may have to do with you not being pretty enough or satisfying enough in the bedroom.

– Anger … because he didn’t put you above himself and think about how his actions could affect you.

 

Firstly, that’s not how this situation has been framed.  It is framed as “What would you do if you caught your husband looking at adult content?”  Suddenly, this has shifted to your husband “confiding in you”.  They are not the same situations, and conflating them is both unhelpful and confusing.  Are we talking about a situation where a man has been caught?  Or a situation where he has volunteered information?

 

The tone of this is unhelpful.  Telling someone who is hurting that “I know” is not helpful.

 

These are just a few emotions that may have surfaced for you, and these are normal feelings.

 

I can agree with this statement.

 

What you do from this point with those emotions will set the tone for the rest of your marriage. Good, Christ-filled men are trying to do what is right when it comes to lust and their visual nature.

 

I cannot agree with anything in these two sentences.  The tone has already been set for the marriage BY THE HUSBAND who has been masturbating while watching images of women being objectified and sexually degraded.  The woman’s feelings and emotions should be validated, grappled with and held as true for her.  Let’s not immediately put them aside.  All that invites is denial and emotional suppression.

 

Immediately, the subject has shifted from experience and pain of the woman to the man.  The man who is described as “good” and “Christ-filled”.  At no point is the woman described as good or Christ-filled.

 

Biblically, what is “right when it comes to lust” is “if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell” (Mark 9:47).  Also “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  (Matthew 5:28).  And “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”  (Romans 8:13)

 

Right, let’s get this VISUAL NATURE nonsense.

 

Cordelia Fine’s book “Delusions of Gender” is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the basics of neurobiology.  NOTHING IS HARDWIRED IN THE BRAIN.  The last ten years has seen neuroscience reject the idea of hardwiring in the brain.  The most recent science states that NEUROPLASTICITY (http://www.whatisneuroplasticity.com) is how the brain works.  The frontal cortex of the brain (the bit which deals with cognition) only really begins to develop after birth.  This means that almost everything brain based is malleable according to context and socialisation.

 

It is not in men’s “nature” to be visual, it is in their socialisation.

 

Your husband wants to honor you, but God has wired his brain so differently from a woman’s that it is a constant struggle.

 

God has not wired men’s brains.  The Christian faith is founded upon FREE WILL. Humans are designed, wired and created with the capacity to make decisions and choices.  Men are not robots, wired to respond to stimuli (naked women) in a certain way.  And the nature of neuroplasticity means that the differences between men and women have been proven to be socialised more than any neurological difference.

 

Talking about men and women as homogenous groups is dangerous and unhelpful.  Women are also visual.  We have eyes.  We may not be socialised to understand or own this.  But women are sexually aroused by visual stimuli.  I am not making this up.  It is an actual real thing.

 

Is God so short sighted in creating humans that he made one half of them sexually stimulated by visual stimuli and the other half stimulated by something different?  Did God create man thinking “I want to create human beings with free will, but I think I’ll ensure half of them are unable to function properly.  They’ll be affected by certain visual stimuli in such a way that it will override that free will and make them a slave to their penis.”  No, He did not.

 

Men and women’s brains are not that different.  If you were to look at a brain scan, you would not be able to tell whether it was a male or female brain without further investigation.

 

Please take heart that he actually came to you before getting caught — he is trying to honor you and make things right.

 

See the point above about the conflicting statements in the email.

 

Admitting to having done something is not necessarily motivated by honour.  This email has been sent out to (potentially) THOUSANDS of women.  How can they make any assumptions about men’s motives for admitting they are watching images of women being sexually degraded and masturbating to them?

 

Maybe they knew they were going to get caught?  Maybe they are admitting it to manipulate the situation for their own benefit?  Maybe they genuinely want to change things?  Maybe they are abusive and they are going to use the confession as an opportunity to bully, shame or sexually abuse their wife?

 

Sending this content in an email is so dangerous.  There will be women who receive this email who are currently being subjected to abuse by their husband.  There will be women who see this email as a sign from God that they should do what the email says.  And for women whose husband’s are currently abusing them, this email may cause them to continue to be abused.  This email may be a tool for an abuser to further abuse their wife.

 

Even if this is the case for one abuser, that is one abuser too many.  We must consider that with every blog/article/bulk email we write there will be people reading who are currently being subjected to abuse.  As Jesus instructed us, we must prioritise the needs of the broken hearted, the wounded, the captives.  And if our communications provide ammunition for abusers; we have certainly failed.

 

By using pornography, a husband has already dishonoured his wife and every woman or girl he has masturbated to.  Even if his motives in owning up are good, celebrating his honour without acknowledging that is not helpful.

 

Your job is NOT to withhold sex from him, to question his integrity in all areas of his life, to play detective or police his every move, to not forgive him and always punish him, to shut down and put up a wall, to think it’s your fault.

 

We can infer from this statement that a wife’s job (after discovering her husband has been masturbating to images of women being sexually violated and degraded) is to:

 

·      Provide sex

·      Assume his integrity in the rest of his life is intact

·      Not check up on him

·      Not have any trust issues

·      Forgive him

·      Place no consequences in place

·      Stay fully vulnerable

·      But at the same time, blame him for what he has done

 

A woman has found out her husband has been viewing images of women and/or girls (most online pornography is of teenage girls) being sexually degraded and violated.  Penetrated by multiple men (sometimes in one orifice), ejaculated over their faces and bodies and generally used as objects by men.  He has been doing this while masturbating.  He has been doing this secretly.  What that woman does to deal with her husband’s infidelity is entirely her choice.

 

Telling her what to do is not acceptable.  Telling her what not to do is unacceptable.

 

In February I organised a Gender Reconciliation Workshop in the UK (it was brilliant and I’ll write about it at some point…).

 

Within the workshop we learned about the Cycle of Reconciliation…

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Finding out about this betrayal requires the Cycle of Reconciliation to be implemented.  This email sent by Craig Gross in no way explores the necessary steps for reconciliation to take place.

 

Once the injury has taken place, the woman needs to be able to withdraw.  To withdraw without being judged or shamed or told she cannot.  Once withdrawn she needs to work out how to reclaim her identity.  Finding this out about her husband will have caused great damage to her and that has to be grappled with.  Working out if/how she can reclaim her identity while staying married.  She may work out that she can, equally she may work out that she can’t and that the marriage has to end.  Either way, she needs the space and confidence that her choices and needs will be valued and respected.

 

If she discovers that her identity can be reclaimed while staying married, the next step is to make an internal commitment to reconciliation.  At not until this point.

 

Once that internal commitment has been made, there is a need to restore the potential for harm to be done again.  Again, she may decide that the risk of her husband doing this to her again is too much and she may need to end the marriage.  Something she has the right to do (both Biblically and in every other sense).

 

If she does feel able to restore the risk then there needs to be a negotiation of needs.  She needs to lay out what her needs are and how they will be met.  She may need to insist that her husband no longer has a smart phone, no longer uses the internet when she isn’t present, that he doesn’t delete his internet history or that she checks his devices every day.  He may not be willing to do that.  In which case the negotiation results in the marriage ending.  Or he is willing to and the negotiations moves towards reconnecting.

 

This same process should be enacted each time the husband uses pornography.  Because a new injury has taken place.

 

This email reduces the deep and profound process of reconciliation to dictating what and how women should respond to injury, ironically this is something they are telling women they have no right to do to their husbands.  Their husbands being the ones who have made the choice to masturbate, to turn the computer/device on, to search for the images and to continue to watch them and lie about it.  While the wives have not done anything wrong in relation to this.

 

Those things might make sense emotionally, but they won’t help you or him.

Instead, your job IS to understand his visual nature and encourage him to have accountability with trusted people who will call him out on things, to extend him grace and realize that we all screw up and are selfish, to seek out counseling with him or by yourself, to pray for him, to pray for your marriage, to welcome honest conversations.

 

See above regarding the nonsense of visual nature.

 

Some of these suggestions are helpful, but not within the context of the wider messages in the email.  The woman is being told to be gracious and giving.  Which is a theme that runs across the oppression of women across history.  Sadly, this defiles the profound power of grace and of selflessness and reduces them to yet another painful and heavy yoke for women.

 

If you can openly talk about how hurt you are that he looked at that stuff, about things in both of you that need work, about what triggers him to look at adult materials, about taking steps to improve the issues that come up, then you can push through the hard conversations and come out on the other side stronger.

 

“Things you both need to work on”.  What does this mean?  Her husband has been watching images of women being sexually degraded while masturbating.  This idea that there’s “things you both need to work on” suggest the problem is not the man’s.  Which they’ve spent the rest of the email saying it is.  His “visual nature” and all that.

 

This is one of the few times where the woman’s hurt is acknowledged, but it is less than one sentence.

 

There is very little compassion for the woman within this whole email.  It is all about how the woman can meet the needs of the man, of his visual nature, of his triggers.

 

This email reduces women to objects whose sole role is to service men.  It dehumanises women and dictates to women how they should feel and act.  Which is exactly what pornography does.

 

You both love each other and want to work through these things, which is a good thing.

 

But his love it tainted by him masturbating while viewing images of women being sexually violated.  And so that changes everything.

 

Divorce is not an option, and it never should cross your mind.

 

Divorce is an option, as mentioned above.  The woman needs to know she has choices.  If divorce isn’t an option, then the woman is not choosing to stay in the marriage, she is being forced to.  If she is given the time and space to consider divorce and she chooses not to, then she has chosen to stay married.  If she chooses divorce then that’s valid.  Jesus’ teaching allows for marriage in cases of adultery, and if that’s how the woman experiences what her husband has done, that must be validated and supported.

 

This email is not sent into a context where Christian women are divorcing their husbands’ willy nilly (no pun intended!).  There are Christian women who have endured decades of their husband’s abuse, rape and violence because they church taught them divorce wasn’t an option.  Women rarely opt to be single parents or divorced.  There is much pain and trauma from being a divorced woman in the church, I know, I was one.  I endured rape, emotional terrorism, my ex-husband’s affairs because I thought divorce was not an option.

 

Women don’t need to be told divorce is not an option.  It’s what they’re always being told.

 

Women whose husbands have been using pornography need our compassion.  They need us to weep with them.  To hug them and tell them that we’ll support them whatever they do.  Sadly, many women won’t talk to anyone when they find out about their husband’s pornography use because there’s so much shame and fear attached to it.

 

This email speaks into a context where women are made to feel terrible about themselves.  The UK beauty industry is worth £17 billion.  An industry selling luxury products nobody needs is worth so much because it drags women’s self value out of them and sells it back to them for a large profit.  Every image of women that we see if digital manipulated, every shop manikin is 4 sizes thinner than the average woman.

 

Consumerism thrives on making women hate themselves.  Patriarchy thrives on blaming women and ensuring they are men’s caretakers.

 

Craig Gross’ brand of church views men as the primary leaders, of churches, homes and organisations.  Yet he believes that men’s visual nature makes them incapable of not masturbating while watching images of women being sexually violated.  Those two views are utterly incompatible.  Either men are competent human beings or they’re not.

 

If being a visual creature is the problem, it seems Jesus’ solution may be the one we should look to.  Blinding.  Each man should gouge out his own eyes to solve this.  As Jesus said, it is preferable to lust.

 

Yet, Jesus’ teaching was allegorical and “mystical”.  He was not advocating self mutilation.  He was pointing out the futility of blaming the eyes for an issue that is rooted in the heart.  This is a heart issue.  And while Craig Gross (and his wife) advocate this “visual nature”, they are speaking counter to the message of Jesus and are colluding with bad science and the excuses of men watching pornography.

 

Even if this time seems desperate and that it will never pass, divorce is much harder and more painful than this one experience in your relationship.

 

This is not “one experience in your relationship” this is (likely) a pattern of behaviour that the husband is choosing which involves secrecy, masturbation and images of women being sexually violated.  I have been divorced.  It was painful.  But I can assure you, not anywhere near as painful as staying married to a man who watched pornography and then made me enact those scenes (amongst many other painful abuses).

 

That’s not to say that a husband’s use of pornography is impossible to overcome.  That divorce could be more painful?  Of course!  But sending out a bulk email with these sorts of absolutes is dangerous to the most vulnerable and damaged amongst us and as such should not be written.  There is no “one size fits all” solution to the huge problems of pornography use among men, and any solution is not going to focus on what the man’s wife should, or should not be doing.

 

You and your husband can get through this and wind up even stronger than you were before. We’ve seen it over and over in the couples we’ve worked with through our ministry.

 

It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

 

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It’s great that they’ve had success.  But see above, this is not a “one size fits all” solution.  This is a ministry.  It is a not a scientifically robust understanding of pornography.  It is great that they are committed to ensuring men stop watching images of women being sexually violated which masturbating.  However, if the methods with which this is done echo those within pornography, objectifying women and reducing them to how they serve men.  Then they need a new model.

 

You can read my tweets about this email in the Storify I have done HERE.  As you will see towards the end of the Storify, Craig Gross responds to my Tweets.  I will offer some views on this too:

 

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Telling me to “settle down” immediately shapes his response as patronising and rather than engaging with the content of my criticisms, he focuses on the tone with which I sent them.  He assumes I hadn’t read the whole blog, which I had.  His use of “woman” with quote marks is odd.  And as already mentioned, the fact he says this is his wife’s comments does not help his argument at all, given that he doesn’t mention her name and signs the email from himself.  He states that it is for “if [the] husband confesses” even though the email is responding to the question “What would you do if you caught your husband looking at adult content?”

 

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Shaunti Feldhahn is the co-author of Craig Gross’ most recent book “Men Are Visual”.   Her background is in economics and she has no qualifications in neuroscience or psychology.   HERE (http://www.shaunti.com/2016/02/women-three-phrases-to-never-say-to-your-husband/ ) she tells women they should never say to men:

 

·      “What were you thinking?

·      “You didn’t do a good job at…”

·      Sigh in exasperation

 

She essentially trades in gender stereotypes, neurosexism and Christianese to fix relationship problems and sell books.

 

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Admittedly, he doesn’t know from my Twitter profile than I am not clueless, however assuming that is problematic, given that I’m not.  He infers that my tweets suggest I am clueless and unwilling to understand about men.  Neither of these things are true.  I am an expert in my filed and I spend a whole lot of time reflecting on and engaging with toxic masculinity (something he is promoting).  I organised a Gender Reconciliation Workshop because I strongly believe in the need for men to engage with the toxic and damaging effects of patriarchy, something the pornography is a part of.

 

My anger is righteous.  I wasn’t ranting on Twitter because I don’t have a clue, but because I do.  I know the damage the messages in his email cause women and men and it makes me angry that he is choosing to use his platform to spout nonsense.

 

Men are not wired differently to women.  If people are interested in a different perspective to Craig’s on the idea that people are wired to want pornography, read THIS blog by Glen Scrivener.

 

I shall spend the rest of my day reflecting with hope on Matthew 5:6

 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”