A Facebook friend, Taffy Hunter Matheson, recently contacted me to ask that I watch a video on the Facebook page of the popular self-help and organization guru Marla Cilley – or Flylady as she is known to many. I did not make it more than two minutes into the nine minute video before I understood why I was contacted.
WARNING: Survivors of abuse may find the content of this post traumatic.
Posted prominently on the Flylady FB page, with the preface “This is so funny” was a video featuring Joe McGee, an “author and Bible teacher” who created the Faith for Families seminars with his wife in 1993. McGee describes his teaching style as “laugh and learn” and from the video below apparently thinks he’s delivering a stand-up comedy routine.
In this video, McGee is seen talking about the importance of recognizing supposed hard-set gender differences. In introducing his material, McGhee repeatedly insists that the information he is relating is “public library stuff.” He proceeds to present these claims as both easily verifiable and unquestionably true.
This is why it is problematic when he begins by talking about speech patterns which he thinks emphasize differences among men and women. According to McGhee, women speak a significantly higher number of words on any given day. He then proceeds to note that a vast majority of domestic violence incidents are perpetrated by men.
He then delivers his “punchline.” This overwhelming violence against women apparently occurs because men are simply “out of words.” The crowd erupts with laughter as he continues to explain that women shouldn’t talk to their husbands at night because they’ve already used up all their words during the work day – implying that doing so would invoke abuse. Launches into a series of “gender differences” punctuated by the regular words “shut up woman.”
The reasons why this is disturbing should be obvious, but the fact that it was posted on the Flylady site reminds me that they are anything but to so many people, even those claiming to be Christians.
Marla Cilley began the Flylady mentoring program in 1999, and today this initial venture has blossomed into a website and weekly email newsletter with nearly 500,000 subscribers. Flylady offers advice on a variety of subjects, from housekeeping to health and wellness. They have also have an advice column where fans can write in and ask advice.
In addition to the information and opinions provided by Cilley, the Flylady site also features the work of a certified nutrition specialist and several persons advertising themselves as organizational specialists and general know-it-alls.
Cilley is a Christian and, while she seeks to have a site where all persons are welcome, her faith plays a prominent role in her work. She believes strongly in family values and sees her calling as helping moms and wives not to put so much pressure to be “perfect” on themselves that they cease to find peace and flourishing in their own lives.
At this time, I leave it to others to determine if her views on women and domestic responsibility reflect biblical values and promote the equality and empowerment of women as a whole. But one aspect of the site’s content that struck me was the strong advice that women should not remain in abusive relationships. In fact, Cilley has stated explicitly that abusive relationships are rarely repairable and admonishes women not to buy into the deceptive notion that they are responsible or can do anything to improve their partner’s abusive ways. Personal safety takes precedence.
And what is more striking is that Cilley speaks from experience. In her book Body Clutter, Cilley describes her own descent into destructive eating as a response to an abusive relationship with her first husband. She describes how his constant insults about her weight and general berating of her led her to turn to food for comfort. She eventually left this relationship and pursued a healthier relationship with food (pp. 193-212).
It is hard to imagine that anyone equipped to post under the Flylady on their Facebook page would find this video “funny.” Given that the organization is led by a prominent Christian woman who claims to promote wellness, is herself an abuse survivor, and who regularly ministers to a half-million women, it seems inconscionable that jokes about domestic violence would be considered acceptable content.
However, I can also remember a time when I likely would have found this funny. There are so many influences both within Christianity and broader American culture which make jokes at women’s expense, trivialize abuse, and argue for a “boys will be boys” attitude.
As such, these kinds of “funny” clips often go unexamined. We are conditioned to laugh at them, and often treated with contempt if we dare to question the narrative. This can be seen in the comment thread of this post on Facebook.
Some responded in opposition to the video.
However many of Flylady’s followers chose to defend the video.
One claimed that anyone who would take offense is just a “snowflake.”
Another claimed that triggers are a sign of something wrong in the commenter, not in the video.
And several said that people needed to quit taking it so seriously and just have some fun with it.
And in the midst of it all, so many commenters simply normalized the offensive rhetoric of this video.
As such, it seems important to me to break down precisely why this video is utterly abhorrent.
None of this is “public library” information. McGee depicts women as shrill, annoying, clinging, and overly sensitive. He depicts men as oblivious, argumentative, and irresponsible. And he even has the audacity to claim that such clear cut and inviolable gender roles are a gift from God.
But these claims are neither scientifically accurate, nor do they depict roles which promote human flourishing or a common good. They are harmful and dangerous.
For instance, the claim that there is a significant difference in speech patters between men and women has been thoroughly debunked. Further every myth about significant gender differences in brain wiring have been utterly defeated in recent studies. Studies show that brain chemistry is in no way unique to a specific gender, and instead there is a spectrum of supposedly stereotypical gender traits in both men and women that vary from person to person. Also, studies have shown that concepts of gender are just as much enculturated as they are biological, meaning that there can be no study of purported gender difference which does not take into account how gender bias in both society and the scientific community influence the results of gender studies. Lastly, studies have shown that these myths are damaging to women, causing academic and social underperformance.
In addition, this video is victim blaming. Men do not hit women because they do not have enough words. This sort of rhetoric infantalizes men by claiming that emotional instability and misdirected rage in order to establish their masculine domination is just “how God made them.” Instead of requiring change in men or pursuing freedom and safety, women are encouraged to recognize that there is no use trying to change this, it is just how it is. So, if she talks to him at night, after he has supposedly used his words up, then apparently she is asking to be hit.
McGee’s rhetoric normalizes abuse. It tells men they are not violating God’s design for their marriage, they are embracing it by hitting their wife for talking too much. It tells victims that domestic violence is something you provoke.
But the reality, this rhetoric is not funny, it is not helpful, and it is not true. Under no circumstance does a person deserve to be beaten. They are not asking for it. They did not provoke it. Abuse of any form is always and only to be blamed on the abuser.
Imagine being a woman who is told her abuser is a “gift from God,” God designed him with traits that cause the abuse, and created her with traits that supposedly provoke such abuse. These women quickly become guilt ridden, defeated, and disenfranchised. She has been robbed of agency and told her suffering is God’s will. And this is a lie.
Instead, we can see in Matthew 25 that Christ claims to stand with the least of these and states that his followers will do the same, it is entirely impossible to blame women for domestic violence and present one’s self as a minister or disciple of the cross of Christ. In Luke 4 we are told that the ministry of Christ is to set free the oppressed and suffering persons of the world. It is detestable, then, for any man or woman claiming to be a Christian to disenfrachise another human being.
Any Christian who blames victims of domestic violence has committed an affront to Christ himself.
I have no clue why this video would be posted on the Flylady Facebook page. But I do know that this sort of video represents a much larger problem with Christianity. It is time Christians take a stand for victims, work to free them from their abusers, and provide a safe place for them apart from the influence and threatening presence of their abusers.
It is my hope that Flylady will see the damage this video is causing. I hope this organization will realize that such content is triggering and revictimizing for survivors of domestic violence and abuse. And I hope most that they remove the video and offer a public apology for the damage they have caused.
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