This feminist is down with Tim Tebow

Thou Shalt Not Rape

No, I haven’t renounced my longstanding ressentiment and mistrust of football at any level of play, from Pop Warner through the NFL.  It’s an appalling waste of money that pretty much sums up nearly everything that’s wrong with our culture, in universities and in the nation at large:  profligacy, the wage gap, male supremacy, obsession with inconsequential trivia, anti-intellectualism, and the abuse of women.  But, I’ve go no problem whatsoever with Tim Tebow.  I don’t care about his public religiosity (although it’s not really my style).  I’m impressed that a nice-looking, successful, and wealthy young man has taken a vow of chastity before marriage, not because I value chastity in particular, but because this is also effectively a vow not to abuse women sexually and not to rape them.

Even by comparison to most other professional or college athletes, football players have particularly poor records of abusing women, raping them, or even as we learned last year about Tebow’s teammate Perrish Cox, raping an unconscious woman, and denying it even after a DNA test of her fetus indicated that he was its father.  Seriously–this happened!  Last weekend, I was just fine with the fact Tebow and his team defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been three times charged with rape.

Conservative columnist Michael Medved–whose work usually makes me throw up a little in my mouth–wrote a perceptive column recently about the mysterious hatred that Tebow inspires.  In it, he suggested that Tebow’s squeaky-clean gee-whiz perfection is what rankles other men:  “In the same sense, most males look at Mr. Tebow and see a virtuous rebuke to our own limitations and imperfections. If we were 24, single, supremely athletic, enormously wealthy and adored by millions of young women, how many could still wear Tim Tebow’s ‘purity ring?'”  It occured to me after reading Medved that Tebow offers a radically different yet clearly authentic masculinity that’s not built around “scoring” with women and treating women like consumer goods.  This is a very different notion of masculinity than most American men inhabit, including Tebow’s opponent this afternoon, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.  (Brady isn’t a rapist, but he seems to be a serial impregnator.  Eeeww.)

So long as Tebow’s religious and moral commitments prevent him from raping or otherwise abusing women, it’s all good from my perspective.  I might even change my mind about football if substantial numbers of other players followed his example and “tebowing” also became a synonym for treating women like human beings.  Maybe Tim Tebow could make that cool.

142 thoughts on “This feminist is down with Tim Tebow

  1. Jon’s point echoes some of my earlier comments, and it especially links up with Contingent Cassandra’s point way upthread. I think a chastity pledge only represents a significant improvement on stances towards women when it’s coupled with a discussion about sexual ethics. But too often, the evangelical abstinence stance isn’t about sexual ethics but is an active refusal to discuss sexuality at all. Sex is only within marriage, so it need never be discussed, either what happens before or after marriage. Chastity is frequently discussed by using scare tactics: sex brings disease and pregnancy, etc. Moreover, much (though not all) of this chastity rhetoric places a lot of the purity onus onto women. Tebow is perhaps unique in that he’s a man publicly trumpeting this ideal and not a woman, but in general, the rhetoric is largely aimed at women, who are defiled if they have sex in ways that men aren’t. Similarly, these chastity doctrines often load most of the blame for straying on women, which is why women are supposed to dress modestly etc., since men can’t control themselves.

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  2. Yes, I think he discovered that after he posted!

    The point about the burden of chastity/purity being on women is true not just in the modern evangelical protestant case, but is I think relevant when we look globally at Abrahamic religions (Catholicism, orthodox Jewry, and Islam included.)

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  3. “a chastity pledge *cannot* be construed as a pledge not to rape or abuse women. At best, it is a pledge not to rape or abuse women *who are not your wife*.”

    Aaaaaaaand, again.

    Tebow’s “purity pledge” — assuming he’s kept it — may present an “alternative” masculinity. There’s just *zero* evidence that it’s a masculinity that’s good for women. And *lots* of evidence that in general it’s a bad masculinity for women.

    Moreover, I see nothing in the “purity pledge” that would prohibit Tim Tebow from, for example, getting a blow job, fondling a woman against her will, paying a woman (or a man) for a blow job, getting, or paying for, a hand job, making derogatory sexual comments to or about women, sexually harassing women who work for his professional organization, making unwanted sexual advances on women, using pornography, forcing pornography on women. And so on. “Intercourse” is not the totality of sexuality and rape is not the totality of sexually offensive behavior or even sexual assault. Maybe Tebow does none of that. But assuming he does none of that *because* he pledged not to fuck before marriage is a ginormous leap.

    So, there’s a *HUGE* question about just how “alternative” Tebow’s “purity pledge masculinity” really is. But pointing that out gets us the mommy-feminist lectures about how we’re “deranged” and giving feminism a bad name by refusing to be credulous about extremist religious doctrine and its effect on women. Woot!

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  4. At the end of the day, it’s plenty possible to abuse women, even women who aren’t your wife, while keeping to the dictates of the purity pledge.

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  5. @grad student, clearly you don’t remember Shaun King, Tampa Bay Bucs flash-in-the-pan underskilled QB who “just won.” See also, Kyle Orton, Bears. Neither of these guys got neither the hatred of Tebow despite their lesser skills.

    More generally, if the public backlash against Tebow isn’t tied to Tebow’s alternative construction of masculinity I’m a monkey’s uncle.

    Let’s compare Tebow to another famous football Christian, Reggie White “aka the Minister of Defense.” Now, White was a much better football player than Tebow so some folks cut him some slack. And as a married man, there weren’t questions about his sexuality (as there is with some of the Tebow hatred – I’m assuming most people here don’t read ESPN message boards but Tebow is regularly denounced as a “faggot” by haters – and most importantly White played defense. He delivered the punishment. He “hit” people (primarily quarterbacks like Tebow). And he was a big (and there’s a racial aspect too, White being African-American). Yet White was widely celebrated here in Philly, later in Green Bay and eventually, nationally. Unlike White, I don’t expect Tebow to have a long NFL career. His type of flash in the pan qb-ing is pretty typical. And maybe like White, he might change his mind and seek forgiveness before he dies.

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  6. To add to Emma’s point, there’s also been increasing evidence that some chastity pledgers have a very constrained view of what sex they can’t have and a very capacious view of what isn’t sex. I can’t find it now, but I’ve read a few times how rates of anal sex are surprisingly high among non-married evangelicals b/c it somehow doesn’t fit into the definition of losing virginity. Again, nobody knows what Tebow or anybody else is doing in private, but it’s because of that privacy that chastity seems to be such an empty descriptor of actual behavior. Spiritually, it may be very important, and perhaps for some, it does offer a different model of masculinity, but I don’t think we can draw any conclusions about actual behavior.

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  7. Thanks for the links, Z. On the first, those numbers are worse than I thought, although the really interesting statistic is that the higher rates are among virgins who took pledges rather than virgins who didn’t. In my experience as an evangelical and observing how my religious friends negotiate this, those who view chastity before marriage as part of their devotion to God or who view sex as something they wish to experience only with their spouses have a healthier view of sexuality than those whose approach to sex is wholly negative. There’s a subtle but important difference between “I want to wait” and “I can’t have sex b/c I took this pledge.”

    As for the second link, that’s horrifying, a major change from my days as an evangelical, and gets into the word games that I truly despise. The parsing between what’s pure and what’s not, what pleasure’s okay and what isn’t, is so arbitrary as to be meaningless.

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  8. Second link is real fringe but these are the kinds of debates some of these purity folks get into.

    Just because some futbolistas are mean about purity doesn’t mean both sides – purity folks and futbolistas – aren’t antifeminist.

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  9. Z: that second link is the most astonishing thing I have read in days. If it is real, it is horrifying. If it is satire, it’s even more amazing.

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  10. John – it’s real and realistic. It’s some sort of Christian patriarchal twist on mild to medium D/S kink, low class version, that’s all. Distasteful but this is the kind of thing you get closer to when you live near the purity crowd. It’s why I’m a little less optimistic about “purity” than I might be, and also a little less patient with fundamentalist and conservative religion.

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  11. Z, that website is fringe, but since we know no pastor and few Sunday School teachers are bringing up these topics—somehow I managed to get a Sunday School teacher who did walk us through most of it and while I don’t agree with his conclusions, I have always appreciated his insistence on getting real about what abstinence actually meant—teenagers struggling with the pledges they’ve made are probably trawling the internet searching for scripturally-based workarounds. I’m assuming it didn’t take you all that long to find that.

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  12. Because I know that you all really want to think about this more. Some reading:

    Sandra Cavallo, ‘Bachelorhood and Masculinity in Renaissance and Early Modern Italy’, European History Quarterly, 38 (2008), pp. 375-397, and her book,Artisans of the Body in Early Modern Italy: Identities, Families, and Masculinties, (Manchester, Manchester UP, 2007).

    Manuel Buttigieg, ‘Chastity, Bachelorhood and Masculinity in Early Modern Europe: the Case of the Hospitaller Knights of St John (c.1520-c.1650)’ in Carla Salvaterra and Berteke Waaldijk eds, Paths to Gender European Historical Perspectives on Women and Men.

    They are both talking about celibacy as positive forms of masculinities in those times and places. There is also some stuff on Ireland on non-religous men and celibacy, but it doesn’t explicitly engage with the masculinity theory.

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  13. FA – Aren’t all the hair shirts and other sufferings of the celibate seen as signs of masculinity … also wasn’t difficulty keeping the celibacy vow a sign of masculinity as well (since a regular man would procreate, etc.)? Saints, Christian knights, etc. those guys weren’t effeminate -.

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  14. No definitely not effeminate. There is quite a lot of stuff on saintly masculinity, which isn’t so much my field as it’s too early. But off the top of my head:

    Callum and Lewis (eds), Holiness and Masculinity in the Middle Ages (2005)

    K. Smith, ‘Saints in shining armour: martial asceticism and masculine models of sanctity’, Speculum, (2008).

    Emma Campbell, ‘Separating the saints from the boys’, French Studies (2003).

    There is also stuff on saints as exemplars to Catholic boys in the 19thC, but the literature I can think of is about St Joseph, who wasn’t celibate, so isn’t the best example in this discussion.

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  15. Wow, Historiann — you went out on a limb with this one. Two comments:

    I’m always impressed by the connections between verbal/cultural/symbolic danger and actual danger. For example, what Tebow stands for really has nothing to do with the actual reasons people work politically, legally and sometimes as terrorist to end women’s right to choose an abortion. Sure, he puts a shiny face on it, and I have always disliked the “I was almost aborted, but look how fabulous I am!” thing. It’s usually men who have fantasies that they might have been aborted, and the vast majority of people who aren’t aborted end up poor and exploited. Nevertheless, what Tebow thinks — or does not think — about abortion makes no fukkinnnn difference. What Orrin Hatch thinks does.

    But second — did anyone but me read the New Yorker article about the massively successful high school football team where, as the team is fainting and puking from helmet to helmet drills, their paragon of a coach snarls at them that they are “girls”? Models for masculinity in football are so *awful* and so mysogynistic that if Tebow is modeling some level of respect for women, I think we can keep our political creds and still say he isn’t a half bad guy.

    Who seems to have a lot of trouble throwing a football.

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  16. TR, I think that is what football coaches do – not just that coach. Football, the military, etc. I’m sure Tebow’s fine and that it’s hard to take the flak he takes, but the more interesting comment in the thread is about him as wounded by all the Christianite dogma he’s been surrounded with all his life.

    The larger point being made by most in the thread is that these purity pledges are not respectful of women, and I’d go further to say I don’t know that they are alternative models of masculinity in the way some of these medieval celibacies were.

    Public figures of all sorts advertising stances on things, of course what they say matters.

    Sure, one gets that Historiann is just reacting to unreasonable Tebow bashing by people who are surely much less than paragons of virtue. From there to supporting Christian Right purity pledges as respectful of women or as alternative masculinities is just a bit of a stretch – even for pomo lit critics playing fast and loose with theoretical twirls.

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  17. FA — also on saints. Sergio Ramirez, Adios Muchachos, on the Sandinista revolution. Points out that the revolutionaries, raised on saints’ lives, were prepared to be clandestine soldiers, sleeping in secret cots, going from place to place without Stuff, undergoing privations, then getting tortured for beliefs and standing up to it. Chapter is called “Como los santos.”

    So yes – much in the ascetic life is about alternative masculinity etc. Still, still, still, I’d want to do some serious research before making a claim on the extent to which these projects, or the purity pledge, even when alternative in some way, were or are actually about respect for women…

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  18. Z: I get it — but why can’t we say that a purity pledge would be respectful of *some* women, women for whom it has meaning? I have known some young Christian people — one a Marine — whose pledge to marry as virgins signified the possibilities for a unique intimacy between two people. Why is this different from any other kind of romance that “women” are into?

    I don’t think we all have to believe that — and I would be a feminist whose principles find the ownership of other people’s bodies especially problematic — to not deride people who do. I mean, I think marriage is utter patriarchal crap, and I would never do it: and yet, there are lots of people on this thread who married for reasons that were meaningful to them, and I don’t think that means they have capitulated to the patriarchy.

    I just don’t dig it that all evangelical Christians are bad no matter what. And seriously, is being an advertisement for Jesus really worse than being an advertisement for beer?

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  19. Thanks, TR.

    I’m getting creeped out by the sexual speculation that’s developed in this thread. Yes, I wrote a post on someone who has taken a chastity pledge, and yes we know that “chastity” among evangelical Christians doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as celibacy in medieval Europe, but some of the commentary & speculation about what people who take chastity pledges *might* be doing with each other and/or to harm other people makes me uncomfortable.

    I don’t like it when right-wingers and anti-abortion activists craft narratives about why women seek abortions (“They’re sluts! They’re using it as birth control! They’re shallow and just want to fit into their prom dress!”). So too, I’m uncomfortable making assumptions about how chastity pledges work just because they’re not my style.

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  20. “but some of the commentary & speculation about what people who take chastity pledges *might* be doing with each other and/or to harm other people makes me uncomfortable.”

    As opposed to the rank speculation about what Tim Tebow definitely is *not* doing, or will not do, just because he took a chastity pledge. Or the rank speculation that, because Tim Tebow took a chastity pledge, he also believes “Thou Shalt Not Rape”.

    “So too, I’m uncomfortable making assumptions about how chastity pledges work just because they’re not my style.”

    You seem perfectly comfortable with your own assumptions.

    Nobody’s calling out Tim Tebow. I, personally, don’t give a f*ck about Tebow or his juvenile “purity ring”. (As if sex is the problem.) They/we are calling out you.

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  21. H’Ann, I agree with your discomfort about speculation about other’s sexual lives.

    However, it’s not speculation (and it’s certainly not equivalent to anti-choicers “crafting narratives”) when we have high-quality, peer-reviewed, quantitative and qualitative data from purity-pledgers themselves about their sexual experiences and beliefs and that data is used in the aggregate to talk about patterns within communities or cultures.

    Further, I agree with Emma that your speculation of what Tebow is *not* doing is simply the other side of the coin of anyone who is speculating about what he (or other footballers) *might* be doing in their private lives.

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  22. Alice’s comment upthread gets to the heart of the issue: “Also, there are plenty of players in the NFL who don’t fall onto the Roethlisberger-Tebow dichotomy and who would perhaps better illustrate issues of feminism in male professional sports. What about Scott Fujita, linebacker for the Cleveland Browns? He has come out publicly in support of lgbt rights, women’s rights, and criticized the government roll back of civil liberties in the past decade or so- and he does it with a level of humility and grace that seems utterly lacking in Tebow. Here’s an article on his views: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/03/sports/football/03fujita.html?hp

    I’ve never heard of Fujita (I haven’t heard of most football players, so that’s not saying much), but there’s someone showing real respect for women. (Assuming his actions match his words.) What I find interesting is that fans and sports coverage give him much less air than Tebow.

    To me that means it’s not women they’re concerned about. At all. It’s Tebow’s confirmation of particular story they’d like to believe.

    (None of which changes Historiann’s point that not-raping people is better than raping. We’re all on the same page on that.)

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  23. This is just tiresome.

    I fully realize that a promise is no guarantee of anything, but I expect that a high-profile celebrity who publicly announces his chastity pledge will be found out in short order if he breaks it. There have been no allegations of hypocrisy or abuse of women by anyone against Tebow.

    Once again, you remind me of 18th C English-speaking anti-Catholics. Celibacy truly is the queerest sexual identity in the modern era. No one believes anyone is actually celibate, and everyone loves to speculate on what’s really going on under the robes.

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  24. My last comment was not in response to quixote.

    One more point: this conversation reminds me of the ridiculous conversations we had about Sarah Palin 3-1/2 years ago, in which I was accused of “defending” or “championing” her because I wrote about the disgusting way she was treated by many so-called “progressives,” and the sexist and demeaning things that so-called lefties said about her. I was accused of offering support for her political agenda, accused of setting back women, etc., so it’s all been said and done before.

    I’m against mindless ressentiment, whoever it’s coming from.

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  25. Nobody here said a damn thing about Tebow until you decided that he was a feminist hero. Then we’re insulted and lectured to about how we’re ruining feminism because we don’t buy your central point — that Tebow, by “promising” to not fuck until marriage, is somehow “anti-rape” and offers a “new vision” of masculinity.

    You’re right. It is tiresome.

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  26. Right, it’s TDS. That must be it.

    Or maybe it’s reactions to this:

    “So long as Tebow’s religious and moral commitments prevent him from raping or otherwise abusing women, it’s all good from my perspective. I might even change my mind about football if substantial numbers of other players followed his example.”

    Be like Tebow! He doesn’t abuse women! He’s cool!

    Or this:

    “Tebow offers a radically different yet clearly authentic masculinity.”

    Masculinity can be *authentic*! Ask Tim Tebow! Masculinity is real! Just look to Tim to how to do it *right*!

    “I’m impressed that a nice-looking, successful, and wealthy young man has taken a vow of chastity before marriage…because this is also effectively a vow not to abuse women sexually and not to rape them.”

    Oh that cute Tim Tebow! He says he’s not going to fuck before marriage! Let me leapfrog to assert — with no evidence whatsoever — that Tim Tebow is against rape! And abusing women! And urge every man in the NFL to Be Like Tim!

    And this:

    “I’m surprised at how provincial and isolated most of you sound.”

    You don’t like the cute christian boy? What provincial hacks and hayseeds you are!

    “This thread is so over the top that it’s like a parody of what secular academics really think about Christianity. You’re really making all of us look pretty bad.”

    What is wrong with you people?! Leave Tim Tebow alooooooooonnnnne.

    Right. It’s TDS — but it’s yours, not mine.

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  27. You’ve been a one-woman cheering section for Tim Tebow’s “authentic” and “radically different” “masculinity” — embodied in a junior high-level “purity ring” of all things.

    And you get pissy and personal and lecturing when people point out that a) you’re making a buttload of assumptions and b) that we don’t like being lectured to and talked down to when we legitimately disagree with you.

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  28. Not to beat a dead horse, but I’d like to revisit te point I made yesterday. As far as I know, Tebow has taken no monastic or clerical vows and fully intends to engage in te sexy-time once he finds himself in a church-sanctioned union. There are two possibilities once that occurs:

    1) Tebow is a loving and respectful husband who should be celebrated.
    2) Tebow acts like far too many powerful, patriarchal men and should be condemned for his mistreatment of his wife.

    In neither case is his purity pledge relevant. If he’s a loving and respectful husband, there’s no reason to suspect he wouldn’t have been a loving and respectful boyfriend. If he isn’t, I fail to see how his pre-marital virginity mitigates potential spousal abuse.

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  29. I know I’m late to the discussion but I might be able to offer a new perspective.

    I know A LOT of people who were “chaste” before marriage. My husband and I are two of them. I agree with Historiann’s stance on not judging people who do this. We’re not monolithic – you can’t make assumptions.

    We are older now, and have done a lot of changing, but are still the same basic people. We are pro-choice, liberal, gay-loving feminists, who happen to live their personal lives rather conservatively. My husband decided when he was 12 that he would not consume pornography etc. He has stuck to that, and I give him major props. His version of purity and chastity is absolutely feminist. It was before we were married and remains so in our 12th year of marriage. It is completely focused around his respect for me, and by extension, all women. By learning not to be controlled by his dick from a young age, he is STILL not controlled by his dick. I have never felt pressure from him to do anything I didn’t want to do sexually, nor have I ever felt a single negative vibe from him about my body, etc. He is not perfect, but I do think he is a real example of the “alternative” version of masculinity that is “pure” yet still pro-woman. I appreciate that I do not live with a d00d. He came to this spot from a different approach than most men who get there, but it doesn’t matter.

    I do not like Tebow. Not because of his purity pledge or his faith. I dislike his public showboating and his anti-choice stance. I view him like the loudly praying Pharisees.

    But please, don’t assume that people who are “chaste” before marriage are all idiots or hypocrites or whatever else ya’ll are assuming. Chastity was a very good thing for us, but I don’t generally recommend it to other people. I certainly won’t expect it of my children. I really think that Tebow probably walks the talk when it comes to the chasisty thing. I doubt he’s a hypocrite in that respect. It’s hard if you don’t understand what might be motivating him, but I think I do understand that part.

    God, it’s like some people think it’s freaking IMPOSSIBLE to be a man and not be a perv.

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  30. Thanks, wombat.

    You know, when I originally wrote this post I thought that I might be accused of being too pessimistic about men by effectively arguing that promising *not* to rape is something for which they should be recognized and congratulated. When you think about it, that’s a pretty backhanded compliment–nothing that can be construed as valorizing Tebow or calling him a feminist, I don’t think.

    But clearly, that wasn’t the focus of the critical comments. Instead, people thought I was naive and too willing to see the good in men who claim to be chaste outside of marriage!

    Foucault was right: we moderns are much less imaginative and much more eager to impose sexual categories on people than premodern people.

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  31. Not really – I think a lot of this commentary comes from those of us who have a lot of dealings IRL with fundamentalist purity pledge types and their children / grandchildren, pastors, etc.

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  32. But in fairness, wombat, you’d have to admit that chastity means lots of things to lots of people. Many of my closest friends are chaste (I grew up Southern Baptist) and for each one of them, it means something different. I know “no kissing before marriage” folks as well as “everything but” folks; folks who embrace chastity and others who struggle against it but feel condemned if they step outside God’s dictates; women who find feminist men who love them and don’t run for the hills and women who have been shamed (for going to college, no joke) by their purity-pledging boyfriends. My whole point is “chastity” is so personal as to not be generalizable in either direction: it is neither a guarantee of respect towards women or the safety of a woman around the man in question nor is it inevitably a hypocritical front. I think the comments came down more towards the latter conclusion in part because of Historiann’s original comments leaned more in the direction of the former but also because the blog and most commentators skew left.

    [And for what it’s worth, I’ve continued to follow and contribute to the conversation, Historiann, because I find the topic fascinating, not because I’m haranguing you.]

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  33. I completely agree with thefrogprincess’ comment about the wide, wide range of chasteness.

    I also agreed when Historiann said (paraphrasing) that these days coming out as celibate is revolutionary (at least, outside of Christian circles) and for that reason appreciate wombat’s comment very much too.

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  34. I agree with thefrogprincess and Historiann.

    As I said, I know A LOT of people who were chaste or pledged chastity (then caved). It can be really messed up. But my point is that it’s not always messed up. Sometimes it’s good. As I also said, I don’t generally recommend it. It takes a special situation for it to work well, I think. I happened to be one of those.

    It’s weird to me that our culture is such that people are immediately suspicious of any man (or woman, even) who decides it’s important to him to be very sexually restrained for whatever reason. People are usually shocked if they find out we were chaste. It doesn’t jive with our liberalness and foul-mouthedness and all the sex jokes we make.

    As H’Ann speculated, there DOES exist the alternate masculinity, the one where a man is “sexually pure” yet pro-woman. It doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen. I don’t know about Tebow’s insides; he might turn out to be a pretty great partner, (as much as that is possible with the despicable association with Focus on the Family), or he could be just another flavor of dickhead. I get it, as an uber-liberal who has spent tons of time both as a participant of religious groups and observing religious groups.

    The Mormons are a whole other fascinating variation of this that we haven’t even discussed :)

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