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Secrets and Lies

Promise Keepers' Rhetoric Downplays Women's Victimization

By Molly Hennessy-fiske

Fear and trembling come upon me

And horror overwhelms me.

It is not enemies who taunt me--

I could bear that.

It is not adversaries who deal insolently with

me--

From that I could hide.

But it is you

My equal, my companion, my familiar friend Psalms 55:4-8

In a recent letter to the editor of the Bucknell campus newspaper, The Bucknellian, a female student who had been the victim of domestic abuse spoke out about the nature of her struggle against oppression.

"Women who are abused are not just physically beaten, but are brainwashed to believe that they deserve to be treated as less than human, because they are women," she wrote. "Abuse is about power--the power men have over women in our society."

As the conservative Christian Promise Keepers crowded Washington, D.C. last Saturday for "Standing in the Gap," a national convention aimed to save the souls of errant husbands, attention was diverted from the fact that every six hours a woman dies in the U.S. as a result of domestic violence. The real problem behind marital abuse--women's second-class status--was ignored altogether as men bonded over Bibles, doing their best to suppress women's voices with a mix of secrets and lies.

Promise Keepers president Randy Phillips told The New York Times that, "We are not a political organization. We do not have any political goals." Someone should let Promise Keepers supporters and religious-right politicos from Pat Buchanan to evangelists Dale D. Schlafer and Billy Graham in on that secret.

"God is not calling us to a playground, he is calling us to a battleground," said Graham in a video-message presented at "Standing in the Gap." "This is warfare, and we are at the center of the battle."

How do you combat spousal abuse when, for example, a man grows frustrated by his nagging wife and decides to beat her for being the bread-winner?

"Sit down with your wife," recommends Promise Keeper spokesperson Tony Evans, "and say something like this, 'Honey, I've made a terrible mistake. I've given you my role. I gave up leadership of this family...now I must reclaim that role. There can be no compromise here. If you're going to lead, you must lead.

Promise Keepers are the latest line of defense for the religious right, and their weapons of choice are lies.

Women are lied to by men who promise love and keep abusing them in the interest of Christian patriarchy, and both women and men are lied to by a group of men that say the inequity of women's work garnering low pay and little respect is not only logical but justifiable.

Promise Keepers are right to encourage men--especially abusive men--in stepping forward and asking for help. The secret is that both men and women appreciate the potential joys of married life; both men and women enjoy raising families and participating in community networks and both men and women would like to avoid the emotional and economic trauma of divorce.

So why, if communication and understanding are mutual goals, should one gender choose to wage war on the other in the interests of discussion?

"Promise Keepers gives moral legitimacy to men who wish to regain power," said Promise Keepers spokesperson Jay Coakly in a recent New York Times interview. "Men in general, and white men in particular, feel they haven't been treated fairly and they need to get together to make sure that won't happen in the future."

If you switch the word "men" to "women," that statement sounds a lot like what Patricia Ireland has been saying about women's struggle for equality ever since she became president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), a group that Promise Keepers so staunchly opposes.

As Ireland noted in response to recent Promise Keepers critiques of NOW, women's bodies are not broken by abuse because they can't make the marriage dream work and exclusive male groups will do little to solve the problem. Women like Ireland who fight for their right to be equal and who often consider themselves feminists are not, as Coakly says. "Just looking for the right man to lead, them"--they are taking the lead.

It is significant that as hundreds of thousands of men crowded onto the Mall last Saturday, not one single woman was to be spotted among the Bible-toting milieu--except those vending concessions and souvenirs.

Promise Keepers is fighting to subdue budding female leadership in America. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that campus conservatives recently brought the message home in debates at Harvard.

If, as Promise Keepers contend, personal happiness for women derives from a devotion to men, then American women must be very happy indeed, for we are currently making the ultimate sacrifice: our lives.

If the trend of abuse and conservative denial continues, the chances are that current undergraduates will soon count themselves among the casualties.

If Promise Keepers are genuinely interested in helping women, they should stop battling us--assuming that their actions are in our best interest--and start talking. Productive conversations between spouses, brothers and sisters, or between male and female co-workers encourage the abused to speak out against domestic violence. And they unearth the false assumptions Promise Keepers make propagate a patriarchal inequality through secrets and lies.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske '99 is a Crimson editor living in Eliot House.

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