Chastity Isn’t a Feminist Value

Kate Bryan’s Washington Post piece on Christian chastity is long on Feminism, but short on Gospel

In recent weeks I was asked to give a response to a Washington Post article entitled,I’m a 32-year-old virgin, and I’m living the feminist dream”. Due to my avid critique of purity culture while still endorsing sexual purity, many readers have wondered what I thought of this piece by Kate Bryan.

The piece has many things to like— for instance her positive outlook about sexual integrity, and her normalization of it. Her opening paragraphs also normalize dreaming of a family (and a big one at that, as she mentioned she wanted to get married young and have 12 children) — something that is rare for young women to voice in our day and age.

But I found that there were also several points on which I would diverge from the author.

“You Complete Me” Can Only Accurately Be Said to God

Bryan’s dream of early marriage and a large family was ultimately not met, to which she says,

Do I feel a void because I’m not married and I don’t have children yet? Sure.

This part concerns me.

I grew up in a culture in which you waited for your husband to complete you and your life. While I would say in some sense that my husband completes me, it is not in all senses. It wasn’t until I read several books after getting married that I realized this kind of rhetoric had caused my husband undue pressure.

Because I was laboring under the assumption that he would complete me, I looked to him to fill a void in me that only God could, and many of my peers did the same with their husbands. This isn’t healthy. While it is hard to say whether or not this is the same kind of thinking the author labors under, the language she used in the article definitely makes me think it is a distinct possibility.

Christian Sexual Integrity ≠ “Living the Feminist Dream”

Something that puzzled me about the entire article is that Bryan equates sexual integrity with getting to “do what she wants”. She asserts:

. . . I’m living a fuller, better life because of my commitment to sexual integrity. I spend all day, every day doing the things that I want to do, because I’m not wasting my time worrying about waking up next to a stranger, contracting a sexually transmitted infection or missing a period.

I believe the link between chastity and “doing the things I want to do” is a false association. She would undoubtedly not get to “do what she wants” if she was married with children, but still could be practicing sexual integrity. Her whole article is filled with non sequiturs like this, raveled up like a ball of yarn.

She claims that she is living the feminist dream and that her dedication to chastity is what is allowing that to happen, but I have several contentions with that. For one, her “feminist” dream is extremely ill-defined. Beyond that, I would say that she is living out the vocation that God has given her. I must confess I don’t understand why the article is so lacking in Gospel and actually talking about Jesus. It is not from feminism that “every good and perfect gift” comes, but from God (James 1:17).

A Holistic View of Chastity

It was interesting to me to see how many things she got “right” when it comes to sexual purity. For instance I can wholeheartedly agree with her point in response to the downward trend of Millennials’ number of sexual partners as compared to their parents’ generation:

Maybe they realize that a condom doesn’t protect the heart, and that true love is something worth waiting for and fighting for.

I also certainly agree with her sentiment that chastity goes beyond the wedding:

Chastity isn’t simply the restraining of one’s desires, nor is it something you just practice before marriage and then disregard after the wedding.

I believe these insights must come from the fact that her assumptions from I Kissed Dating Goodbye and purity culture were challenged in college, and that led to a more holistic view of chastity in her life.

Instead of Gospel, Law and Feminism

In spite of hitting on many good points, ultimately, the article is watered-down and disappointing. Yes, she is helping to normalize sexual purity, but there are definite issues with her angle and verbiage. She makes it sound as if the goal of chastity is to obtain the feminist dream. It isn’t. We should value sexual purity because it is what Jesus calls us to do as a way to love our neighbor, not because it makes pursuing our own goals and aims more convenient.

Her opening and conclusion, with its labored effort to make Christian chastity fit into a feminist framework, struck me as a way to package sexual purity so the liberals will bite. The article is very loose because of that.

Most disappointing of all is that, although she applauds the notion of chastity and talks about how she is achieving it, there is no acknowledgement of the fact that we NEED Jesus because we can’t do this perfectly.

In the end, we don’t get Gospel, just Law and Feminism.