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Hey John Piper, Is My Femininity Showing?

Apr 26 2013
The implications of allowing women to teach "indirectly."

In a recent podcast, John Piper describes acceptable ways for women to exert public influence. As he explains why men can read biblical commentaries from women, but not be taught by them in person, he reveals some profoundly troubling assumptions about women and a dated view of the female body.

Piper—a complementarian who believes in male headship and leadership—endorses women's commentaries on the Bible because they are "indirect" and "impersonal" venues of influence. He emphasizes that in reading a woman's words, he doesn't see her with his own eyes, conveying particular qualms with a woman looking at him while teaching. As blogger Rachel Held Evans asserts, Piper's reasons for preferring an indirect and impersonal encounter with a woman point to one factor: the offensive presence of her body.

According to Piper, the role of a city planner is appropriate for a woman because she exercises authority ensconced in an office at a desk, while a woman teacher stands before him, he says, making him aware of his own manhood and her womanhood. On the other hand, when a woman communicates to him indirectly and impersonally through writing, he can handle it because "she's not looking at me and confronting me and authoritatively directing me as a woman."

A book, he adds, "puts [the woman] out of my sight and in a sense takes away the dimension of her female personhood." Believing Pauline instruction prohibits women from authoritative positions in religious and secular settings, public or private, Piper uses 1 Timothy 2:12 as a foundation to argue against women influencing men in "direct" and "personal" ways.

Concern over women's bodies in public is what barred them from representing themselves in civic or political situations 200 years ago, right around when they started feeling the itch for the vote. A woman's presence on a public platform was scandalous; it was even more scandalous for her to look upon a mixed audience and speak to them.

As rhetorician Lindal Buchanan notes in her book Regendering Delivery, 19th-century women's "disembodied … voices became acceptable long before their public bodies did." Because the presence of their bodies in public was so disgraceful, women used indirect techniques to influence the direction of the country, techniques Piper would probably support (generating and signing petitions, promoting their projects through male family members, and writing letters, tracts, and novels). These women hid or shielded their bodies from the male gaze in order for their voices to be heard.

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