What the Falwell saga tells us about evangelicals and gender roles

In a statement to the Washington Examiner, Falwell said: “Becki had an inappropriate personal relationship with this person, something in which I was not involved.”

In other words, it’s Becki’s fault.

From my vantage point as a scholar who studies religion and gender, this comment from Falwell is revealing.

How male public figures react to a sex scandal can be a very complex process. In trying to preserve what is left of their reputations, my research indicates that they will often attempt to prove that they remain a “real man” – both a loving, devoted husband and a strong, virile leader. This behavior makes sense when one understands the conservative Christian gender roles that inspire them.

Under conservative Christian gender norms, men are described not only as naturally sexual, but also as divinely designed to be far more sexual than women. In fact, male sexuality is often depicted as out of control. The point of marriage, many evangelicals claim, is to harness that male sexuality so that it is productive rather than wild and unbounded. …

More specifically, my research shows that women who are in any way associated with sex scandals are much more likely to be demonized or blamed for the sexual incident in question. Even when they are the innocent party, they can be portrayed as power-hungry strategists who stayed in a bad marriage to elevate themselves or enablers who give all women a bad name by sticking up for another adulterer.

By Leslie Dorrough Smith – Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, Avila University

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