Musings on Digital Rhetoric: Multimodal Literacies and Social Medias as Rhetorical Tools

rhetoric_largeOne of my interests as a writer is understanding how people use different technologies to communicate with one another, to create identities, and as tools for shaping social contexts. When I was an undergraduate at San Diego State, one of my classes I had to take for my BA degree was a Digital Rhetoric course. I learned a lot about how literacies have advanced discourse through the developing technologies over the centuries. Before the invention of literacy, there was the oral tradition where stories were told through public memory. Homer’s The Odyssey comes to mind when I think of oral traditions which relied on this type of public memory for information to public consumption. The invention of writing as a new technology changed the way we communicated with one another, and gave way for the evolution of multiple literacies that focused heavily on writing. Often today, when we think of the word “technology,” we most of the time (sometimes without realizing it) think of machines such as computers, cellphones, tablets, etc. when thinking of technology, but as I have mentioned with the invention of literacy, the intention of writing was a new technology that eventually grew to replace public oratory and memorization as the primary source of communication for various cultures.

writeAs a technologically driven species, we constantly continue to refine and invent new technologies, most often for a rhetorical purpose. Certain forms of rhetoric often rely on certain literacies and technologies in order for the rhetoric to have an effect. Prior to the invention of the radio, newspapers were the dominant source of information (as well as communication) for societies to learn what was going on in their communities. Newspaper writing as a technology shaped the rhetorics of their societies because it was one of only sources of information available for people. The invention of the radio in primitive forms in the 1800s (thanks in large part of the early attempts at developing the technology of the telegraph) eventually evolved in the early 20th century to where it became a strong an undeniable force in how the general public received information. Television eventually replaced the radio as the primary source of information for the general public in the 1950s, and with that, technologies began to evolve more rapidly to take advance of this new form of communication. This rapidly evolving technology not only became a dominant source of information for people, but as an avenue of communication which shaped and influenced the rhetoric that would become ingrained into the public consciousness. An example of this how in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with the Vietnam war in the 1970s was one of the first wars to be reported on national television, influencing public opinion on America’s involvement in Vietnam, and in Gulf War in the 1990s being considered the first war to be broadcasted on Live television.

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Fast Forward to the 21st century (as of writing this in 2015) and we have the Internet as a form of technology that has replaced television as the dominant technological, rhetoric producing social tool, shaping the way we not only get our information, but also how interact with and influence others. Emails, text messages, Instant Messaging services (such as Skype), and social media websites have changed the way we use and receive information. People have taken advantage of the tools of the internet to write and use images for social purposes such as connecting with family and friends, receiving news, watch videos on YouTube, write blog posts using websites like WordPress or Blogger about their daily lives, and even online dating with various online dating websites such as Match.com or OkCupid. This is technology that did not exist prior late 20th century, and it as evolved dramatically as tools for social interaction.

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As a rhetorical tool, it has become an area of interest of mine to talk about not only how it has changed, but how literacies from the past have came together to be taken advantaged by the (relatively) new technology as tools for rhetoric. Social media has become a fascinating phenomenon which has shaped the way we communicate with one another, how we develop and present our social identities, and how it has influenced social contexts. In the class I took as an undergrad, one of my assignments was to keep an online blog keeping a record of my responses to various readings on the topic. This blog I am writing now, Jacob’s Dialectic, is a successor to the blog I did in that class (you can access the old blog here). In the old blog, I kept track of assigned readings that talked about how different forms of literacy evolved over time to what we have today. As mentioned earlier, writing eventually replaced oratory as the primary source of communication. Today, we now have a conglomeration of various forms of writing that include writing, speaking, visuals, video, text, graphic design, and countless other forms of literacy to influence and shape what we would call digital rhetoric. An example of this conglomeration of these different literacies coming together to develop and use digital rhetoric would be the online presentation software Prezi.com. Prezi is a perfect example of a type of multimodal digital rhetoric producing tool which many people take advantage of to produce projects, often with the intention of informing, influencing, or persuading others. I myself did that in Fall 2014 semester for a Visual Rhetoric class I took where I used Prezi to make an argument about the Rhetoric of Welfare in the United States (if you are interested in seeing that Prezi as an example of how multimodal tools shape the way digital rhetoric comes into play, you can access the Prezi here).

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Digital rhetoric is often defined as a type of rhetoric that influences or persuades others usually through the use of media, often being build on the past literacies of yesteryear. In the 21st century, I would include multimodal aspects of media outlets as part of that outlet that makes use of digital rhetoric. The internet as a primary source of communication today has developed forms of rhetoric which would have been incredibly difficult to process without the existence of the multimodal avenues of social media. Thanks to video sharing websites like YouTube or Vimeo, a video can now go viral and be seen by millions of people around the globe, something that would have been impossible 30 years ago. In the aftermath of the horrible Charlie Hebdo massacre almost a month ago (which I wrote about here), social media not only spread news of the tragedy in an instance, it also made viral the “Je Suis Charlie” slogan that brought global communities together as a stance against terrorism. This tool for digital rhetoric has become an observable and fascinating phenomenon, especially for someone like me.

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A reason why it has become fascinating to me is because of my reflections when I was younger using the internet. Born in 1988, I was born in a generation which was just starting to see the internet really take off. I am old enough to remember as a young kid to see all he rapid changes the internet went through, from the early days of dial-up, to broadband becoming the standard, and to even seeing the advancement of social media. When I was in High School in the very early 2000s, I remember MySpace and how popular it was. It was only when I began college in 2007 that I really started to see the changes in how the internet was used by people to communicate with each other. Facebook eventually replaced MySpace as the dominant social tool for community building. In High School, I remember getting a MySpace account later in my adolescence because of the social pressure for high school students in the early to mid 2000s to use the latest social media as a source of building social ties. I see the same thing with Facebook. Since Facebook is currently the dominant social media website build primarily for building social ties, it has been an incredibly popular social media for high school and college students since at least 2008, and it continues to grow, even with the more multimodal sites like Instagram and Tumblr working alongside Facebook and Twitter. As a tutor/graduate instructional assistant for college freshmen, I know they are part of a generation that is not old enough to remember the evolution the internet (an in this case, how digital rhetoric has evolved). Younger generations (and future generations) will never experience a time when the internet, particularly social media and the advancing technologies, did not exist.

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The advancement of social media in our lives is a fascinating avenue of rhetorical discovery that I think would make for interesting topics to talk about in the future. I do know that there are people who have raised concerns about how the internet has influenced the way people have behaved, but I would make the argument that the internet is just like any other kind of literacy which requires the existence of a discourse to take place. The internet as evolved to the point where new literacies need to be taught and advocated in our schools and our communities in order to build a more technologically literate community. Not only do we need to treat the internet like we would treat the difference between a public and private place, but also need to treat the internet as a rhetoric producing tool which influences social attitudes and identities. It also would be beneficial to see how digital rhetoric plays an important role in shaping how people engage in discourse. For instance, I am writing this blog post on my laptop. I am typing this article with a rhetorical purpose, which is to raise awareness for how rhetoric is part of the fabric of our daily communications, specifically to explain the way the internet influences the way we as a society engage in digital rhetoric (as of 2015). With this purpose in mind, my hope is that you, the reader, will come away from this blog post with a more informed understanding how the digital rhetoric social media impacts your daily life.

Technology will never leave our society because of the fact that we are a technologically driven species, more so than other species in the animal kingdom. Because of this, I would argue that it is better to embrace these new mediums and to attempt more deep understandings for how our past literacies have influenced not only how we interact and communicate with others using these mediums, but also how these emerging and ever changing digital rhetoric shapes literacies of the future.

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Musings on Lloyd F. Bitzer’s “The Rhetorical Situation”

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Last semester I worked as an assistant for a few undergraduate rhetoric classes here at SDSU, and a concept I saw the instructor constantly emphasis was the idea of “the rhetorical situation.” I observed the instructor’s constant reference to a paradigm of what he described as the author, the audience, and the topic. The instructor explained to his year freshmen rhetoric students that these came together to form the context of what influences an author attempts to persuade an intended audience of a specific topic, which is what describes as the characteristics of a rhetorical situation. While I never heard of the term before, I immediately understood the basic concept as taught to entering college freshmen. It made me recall when I was a student at the community college first beginning to learn how to do a critical analysis of texts, learning about how arguments are made within the contexts their intended authors made them. The rhetorical situation (as I originally understood it) is the context a rhetor finds him or herself in, and is called into action to communicate ideas intending to persuade at least one other person. In this week’s readings, Lloyd Bizter’s article “The Rhetorical Situation” (which can be accessed here) caught my attention because of how it reminded me of my experiences helping out that instructor’s RWS classes, making me realize that there may have been scholarship on this concept I previously missed. I wanted to come to better grips with understanding the term and how Bitzer’s project came help me understand the deeper nuances of what exactly describes a “rhetorical situation.”

In his essay, Bitzer argues that rhetorical theory has often focused on the methods of the orator (or the rhetor) or the discourse itself, but has mostly ignored questions about how a situation allows for the orator’s methods to have any applicability, or how discourse is created. He claims that while situation has been talked about indirectly, most rhetorical scholars, according to Bitzer, have often ignored questions about how situation provides exigency for rhetorical discourse to take place. Because of this, Bitzer attempts to explore these questions by providing outline of a theory of the rhetorical situation that takes into account of the circumstances that make discourse possible. He describes what makes certain events rhetorical by laying out the conditions necessary for discourse to come into existence.

Bitzer, on page 6, further defines a rhetorical situation as “a complex of persons, events, objects, and relations presenting an actual or potential exigence which can be completely or partially removed if discourse, introduced into the situation, can so constrain human decision or action as to bring about the significant modification of the exigence.” These necessary conditions for certain events (or situations) to be rhetorical appear to be another way of describing the three major constituents Bitzer argues make up the rhetorical situation, which are what he calls the exigence, the audience, an the constraints. Bitzer makes the point that “[p]rior to the creation and presentation of discourse, there are three constituents of any rhetorical situation: the first is the exigence; the second and third are elements of the complex, namely the audience to be constrained in decision and action, and the constraints which influence the rhetor and can be brought upon by the audience.” These three main constituents appear to make up the basic framework for what constitutes Bitzer’s theory of the rhetorical situation.

These terms, when I recall back to my time observing the way the instructor taught his rhetoric class, also appear to have evolved and simplified for an audience just beginning to learn the art of rhetoric in an academic environment. Bitzer’s terms describing the rhetorical situation appear to be much more theoretical and complex than I originally thought. It seems that according to Bitzer, there must be an exigence that calls discourse into being in order for a situation to be rhetorical. Going back to page 2, Bitzer provides different examples from history (The Declaration of Independence, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration Address, and so on) to showcase a major criterion for something to be a rhetorical situation. It appears that according to Bitzer, context must bring about a situation that influences discourse to occur, with the historic example of how Kennedy’s assassination influenced the rhetoric that would come into play. I observed this when Bitzer writes, “It is clear that situations are not always accompanied by discourse. Nor should we assume that a rhetorical address gives existence to the situation; on the contrary, it is the situation which calls the discourse into existence.” In reading this passage, it appears to me that Bitzer’s theory of the rhetorical situation attempts to provide a theory of rhetoric that accounts for how the exigence motivates a rhetor to create discourse, attempting to account for an aspect of rhetorical discourse many rhetoricians have mostly ignored.

This observation made sense to me when I examine in part III on page 9 the general characteristics Bitzer claims describe a rhetorical situation. A particular passage related to this observation that caught my attention was Bitzer’s description of the first general characteristic of the rhetorical situation when he writes:

Rhetorical discourse is called into existence by situation; the situation which the rhetor perceives amounts to an invitation to create and present discourse. The clearest instances of rhetorical speaking and writing are strongly invited – often required. The situation generated by the assassination of President Kennedy was so highly structured that one could predict with near certainty the types and themes of forthcoming discourse.

Bitzer goes on further to explain how the historical context determined the exigence necessary for discourse to come into being. To further demonstrate this point, Bitzer relies heavily on the historical context of Kennedy’s assassination to showcase how the situation that was going on influenced the intentions of the rhetors engaging in the discourses that went on as a result of the Kennedy Assassination. Bitzer claims later on page 9 that: “One cannot say that the situation is the function of the speaker’s intentions, for in this case the speaker’s intentions were determined by the situation. One cannot say that the rhetorical transaction is simply a response to the speaker to the demands or the expectations of the audience, for the expectations of the audience were themselves keyed to a tragic historic event.” In other words, what Bitzer appears to be arguing is that the situation is what creates the discourse, rather than the discourse creating the situation.

When I recall back to my experience being an assistant here at SDSU, I originally believed that the concept of the rhetorical situation was pretty straightforward. Reading Bitzer’s article complicated my original understanding of the concept. The main idea I am trying to come to grips with in understanding the idea of the rhetorical situation (as described by Bitzer) is the idea of situations bringing discourse into existence. Bitzer’s theory claims that situations are what dictate the framework of the discourse. The rhetorical situation is not just simply the context which influences an author to persuade at least one other person, but a situation which calls discourse into existence as a result of an exigence. The simplified version of the concept of rhetorical situation learned by freshmen composition classes here at SDSU is useful in helping students in learning how to analyze arguments within the context of which they are made. Nevertheless, reading Bitzer’s article has made me realized that there are complexities to the concept of the rhetorical situation that I did not realize existed. The complexities about how discourse coming into being as a result of specific situations raise questions for me in regards to how this affects my understanding of rhetorical theory. In other words, if it is the case that situations are the primary cause of the creation of discourse (rather than understanding the means of persuasion as taught by Aristotle), then I am curious to learn about how historical contexts affect the way we engage in rhetorical criticism of rhetorical discourses, and how they affect our understanding of how arguments are used to persuade others given our evolving understanding of the field of rhetoric and writing studies.

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Religion as a Propaganda Tool for Sexism: A Response to Dr. Stephen Kim

Religion is often seen as one of the most divisive social forces that exist, but it can also be seen as psychological framework which drives people to do good. I do not view religion as neither good nor bad, but merely as a tool for which various social groups interpret and argue for a specific understanding of the world. The three major Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) are so ingrained into most of the world’s cultures that it is impossible to deny their influence on our global society. Religion is a broad category of thoughts, beliefs, and customs which shape and influence the social identity of millions of people across the planet. Because of this fact, it is often difficult to assess certain arguments apart from their religious framework. As a result, different (and often contradictory) arguments for how to approach various social topics emerge. One topic of interest that religion undoubtedly played a crucial role in influencing social attitudes is the topic of marriage. Marriage has been defined by most of the world religions as a union between a man and a woman, often for the purpose of making official a legal contract between two individuals sanctioned before God or often for the purpose of bearing children. Often times this kind of framework in approaching marriage is useful in helping to strengthen social bonds. Other times it can cause unintended stigma for specific people if they don’t necessarily fit in a “proper” social or religious paradigm. When there are different religious frameworks, there are different rhetorics, many of which that can either develop healthy social attitudes about marriage or harmful social attitudes about marriage. Recently, I came across an articled titled “10 Women Christian Men Should Not Marry” in my News Feed on Facebook which I found to be of particular interest (as well as concern, but more on that later).

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This article by Dr. Stephen Kim, the founding pastor of Mustard Seed Church of New York City (who I will admit I never heard of prior to encounter this blog), caught my attention, not just for its blatantly obvious sexism against women (as well as against men in his companion article), but also for its religious fundamentalist rhetoric which pushes for the social stigmas about marriage that goes beyond even mainstream Christian thought. While I certainly have my opinions as to what religious beliefs have more merit than others, for the purpose of attempting objectivity I will not mention what my religious (or lack of religious) views are because I do not believe my beliefs have any relevance to the arguments I am presenting here.

Coming across Dr. Kim’s article, I was immediately struck by the blatant sexism present in his descriptions many of the types of women he advocates Christian men should not even consider for marriage. What I mean by this observation is that examining the details he provides of the various type of women he argues are unfit for marriage, it becomes clear from a perspective outside of Dr. Kim’s religious tradition that his portrayal of women comes off as both judgmental and simplistic, as well as describing types of women as supposedly not ideal for the Christian man. In both articles on marriage, Dr. Kim attempts to prescribe for both men and women each respective sex is to avoid for marriage. While both lists are similar, I will mainly focus on the list for women because how the social stigmas present in this list are noticeable interest to me.  I want to make it clear that the purpose of my critique is not to criticize the Christian conception of marriage, but to criticize a form of rhetoric within Dr. Kim’s religious framework about marriage I found to be particularly harmful to both men and women.

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To get an idea as to why Dr. Kim’s articles are marriage harm both men and women, it will help to provide a brief comparison between the two articles. Many of the type of spouses Dr. Kim describes as unsuitable for marriage are similar, such as the Unbeliever and the Divorcee. These two specific types of potential spouses, Dr. Kim argues, are unsuitable for marriage because of how “contradictory” they are to Christian doctrine. While true that orthodox Christian theology discourages marriage between the believer and the unbeliever (the famous 2 Corinthians 6:14 comes to mind), Dr. Kim’s reasoning stems from a type of Calvinist Protestant theology that informs his entire view of marriage. To understand this framework better, it helps to first examine the way Dr. Kim describes “the Unbeliever”:

1. The Unbeliever. Scripture is replete with exhortations against such marriages (in both the Old and New Testaments).  Contrary to popular misconception, God’s prohibition against marriages to foreign women in the Old Testament was not due to racism.  Instead, God was simply preventing the spread of idolatry.  Israel, God’s chosen people in the Old Testament, represented what Christians would later represent in the New Testament.  Hence, God’s prohibition against marrying an unbelieving woman in the New Testament (2 Cor 6:14) is simply the extension of God prohibiting a Hebrew man from from marrying a Canaanite woman in the Old Testament (Deut 7:3-4).  “Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you” (Deut 7:3-4).

If you want to become a Christian, click here for instructions on how you can find peace with God and ensure that if you died tomorrow, you would go to heaven.

Notice here the way Dr. Kim describes the “unbeliever” as not just different from the believer, but that God’s exhortation against the marriage between a believer and an unbeliever is an extension of the the laws of the Old Testament where God forbade the Israelites from marrying a Canaanite spouse. In other words, to marry an unbeliever (who today would be considered a non-Christian, but also who Dr. Kim would refer to either atheists or agnostics) would be equivalent to marrying a heathen! Dr. Kim has already a created a binary between the believer and the unbeliever in regards to marriage, which serves as a framework he uses to prescribe the kind of Christian woman that Christian men ought to avoid. To marry an unbeliever would be to dabble in matrimony which violates God’s ideal, but Dr. Kim frames this as an issue of avoiding idolatry, as well as an extension of upholding God’s ideal, in order to influence his intended audience. In addition, we also notice the way Dr. Kim places an evangelistic tract right at the end of his brief paragraph about the unbeliever. Ignoring for a moment that Dr. Kim’s articles on marriage are catering to a specific type of Christian audience, his choice to include this tract at the end raises questions regarding what assumptions Dr. Kim as a rhetor has about his intended audience. By including this minor detail with a link to instructions on how to “become a Christian,” Dr. Kim has crafted a type of rhetoric that is designed to not only persuade his intended audience to avoid certain types of potential spouses for marriage, but to also affirm a type of Christian identity that correlates to strongly conservative Calvinist Protestant values.

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Of course, it is possible to have different theological views on the matter. We could argue back and forth all day about biblical hermeneutics and what is supposedly correct doctrine, but that would be beyond the scope of this post. There are various interpretations of the Biblical scripture which challenge or qualify Dr. Kim’s theological arguments, many of which that comes from the Catholic or Orthodox traditions within Christendom as well as other forms of mainline Protestant denominations. However, the point is not argue for alternative interpretations of these same scripture passages that Dr. Kim pulls left and right to support her arguments regarding marriage; the point is to point out the implications of what Dr. Kim’s rhetoric on marriage has on the relationship between men and women.

In examining the similarities and differences between his two articles, we notice an obvious social divide between men and women has created in order for his arguments to have any effect. Biologically men and women are different, but Dr. Kim’s rely on creating a divide between men and women within his own Christian tradition that enforces a social attitude about marriage that I would argue goes beyond simple religious traditions about gender roles. Dr. Kim’s arguments also are framed as a type of propaganda for sexism which even Dr. Kim himself may not realize. It is important to realize that there is a difference between having distinct gender roles advocated by a religion versus formulating a rhetoric of marriage which not only creates specific social stigmas about certain types of women, but also creates (or at least attempts to create) social attitudes about marriage that harm the relationship between men and women.

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To support this observations, it should be helpful to examine the way Dr. Kim frames what roles men and women take in relationships. In his article geared toward women, Dr. Kim describes the type of man that a woman ideally should not marry, listing various types of male archetypes such as The Liar, The Narcissist, the Idle, The Angry Man, and (most interestingly) what he calls he Un-Evangelist; these are character types which do not appear on the list of women men should not marry, despite the fact that most of these are character traits that should be avoided, regardless of gender. In his description of the Un-Evangelist, Dr. Kim describes this type of man as the following:

 If the man says that he believes in the gospel of Jesus Christ–meaning that there is 1. a literal hell awaiting unbelievers, 2. grace and pardon available to all who put their faith in Jesus–but he simultaneously does NOT evangelize…does he really believe? Does he really love God? Does he really love people? Will he ever love you the way Christ loved and died for His Church (when evidently, he’s too ashamed to even proclaim the death of Christ)

Dr. Kim is arguing that this type of man is not suitable for marriage because his choice not to evangelize makes him no different from an unbeliever. The man is supposed to be the head of the marriage and has a duty to evangelize to others, otherwise he is not a “true believer.” Faith and works within Dr. Kim’s religious tradition are viewed as necessarily intertwined with one another, meaning that works (i.e. evangelizing) are supposed to be “the fruit of your faith,” and if the fruit is not present you do not have real faith at all.

This is problematic enough from an orthodox Christian perspective, but this only adds to the problem with Dr. Kim’s rhetoric when we examine his list of the 10 Women Christian Men Should Not Marry. We notice that many of the type of men listed are surprisingly absent. In other words, many of the types of men Dr. Kim describes as unsuitable for marriage are not gender specific at all! If we were to simplify this list to the types of spouses that are non-gender specific, Dr. Kim’s list would look something like this:

Men: 

The Angry Man [or woman]

The Narcissist

The Addict

The Idle

Women:

The Loud-Mouth

The Child-Hater

The Career Woman [or man]

The Devotion-less Woman [or man]

Take a look at this list carefully. You will notice that the personality types present here are not by any means gender specific; all you need to do is switch the genders of these types of unsuitable spouses and nothing would change. What makes a man unsuitable for marriage, according to Dr. Kim, should logically be character traits which make women unsuitable for marriage as well. However, these negative character traits are only present when describing unsuitable male spouses! Why is this observation significant? The reason why this observation is significant is because by including list of unsuitable male spouses with traits that are not gender specific, it creates a type of rhetoric which informs a social attitude about the relationship between men and women which discourages a more robust or humane equality between husband and wife.

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This is a strong claim, but it helps to understand the rhetorical implication framing these lists has on Dr. Kim’s audience. The most obvious implication of Dr. Kim’s rhetorical choices here is that is creates a type of idea of marriage that conforms to his Calvinist theological framework. Men are the heads of the household while wives are to submit to their husbands. No where is this more obvious when Dr. Kim describes the older woman as an unsuitable spouse:

Not a sin, but certainly not God’s ideal.  God expects men to be the spiritual leaders of the home (Eph 5:25) and it certainly requires an extra measure of grace to lead a woman who’s older than you.  Again, if you’re a man and you’re already in such a marriage, then honor it till the day you die–it’s still a valid marriage and divorce is not an option!  However, if you’re not yet married but thinking about an older woman I want to remind you that God intentionally (with good reason!) created Adam before Eve in the First Marriage.  Scripture informs us that God created man first chronologically for the sake of authority!  Listen:  “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:12-13).

In my years in studying Christian theology, I’ve rarely (if at all) encountered a pastor, a priest, or a theologian who argued that spouses are to literally be younger in age to their husbands. Ignoring for a moment that no where in the Bible is this even implied (let alone taught) that God’s ideal is for the woman to be younger in age to their husbands, this theological rhetoric implies a type of sexism against women that goes beyond mere traditional gender roles in the church. It doesn’t just imply that men and women have different roles in the marriage (just like how men and women have different roles in the church); it implies a type of a dominance/submission relationship in a marriage that is both symbolic and literal! To further support this claim, let’s take look at the description of the career woman Dr. Kim provides an example of a woman unsuitable for marriage:

Now, I want to clarify something here.  There is nothing wrong with a woman who works (Acts 16:14), what’s wrong is a woman who puts her career ahead of her family.  Modern American society might hate to hear this, but God made men to be the providers and women to be the nurturers of the home (in most instances).  It’s okay for a woman to be a doctor, attorney, or any other professional.  However, if her career is coming at the expense of her home, then something is wrong.  If day-care is raising her young children while she’s working, then something is wrong.  I understand that there might be a season of life where the wife might have to be the main bread-winner due to her husband’s unemployment, but it should not be the desired norm. The woman ought to be willing (and even desirous–to some extent) to give up her job for the sake of raising her kids in the Lord.  “So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander” (1 Tim 5:14).

The implications of this rhetoric is that on the one hand it wants to argue that women should be allowed to work, but also argue at the same time that being a career woman is problematic for the marriage. According to Dr. Kim, if you are a career woman, the ideal for you when it comes to marriage is for you to give up your career so you put all your focus in “raising [your children] for the Lord.” Dr. Kim mades this rhetoric palpable for his audience by trying to emphasize that being a career [person] is not wrong, but that it is not ideal. However, the problem with this approach is that it creates a type of propaganda which argues that women who work to provide for the family are going against God’s ideal and thus should be willing to give up their careers in order to better conform to God’s ideal. This does not mean that women should not be be stay at home mothers if that is something they want to do. It also does not mean that women should not have the freedom to follow what is often called traditional gender roles in their marriages with their husbands. However, Dr. Kim’s rhetoric here creates the strong implication that to go against this ideal form of marriage between the husband and the wife would be to go against God’s values, which in turn unfortunately works as a type of propaganda tool most likely influence his intended audience to adopt a dominant/submissive view of marriage, rather than a view of marriage which encourages equal partnership between both husband and wife that adopts traditional gender roles as taught by classical Christianity for hundreds of years.

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There are numerous examples present in Dr. Kim’s rhetoric I could point that showcase the sexism present in his lists of men and women unsuitable for marriage which creates social attitudes about marriage which conform to his Calvinist Theological framework, but I will invite you to take a look at both lists for yourself and be the judge. For some feminists, Dr. Kim’s descriptions of these women would be described as patriarchal or misogynist. Because of how huge of a spectrum feminist theory is a whole, I will not dive into all the different aspects of feminist thought except to mention that Feminism at its core has advocated for more equal treatment between men and women. This would also imply that Feminism (even classical Feminism) encouraged both men and women to have more autonomy in their relationships and encouraging equal partnerships. Feminism understood in this light would not be in contrast to a classical Christian thought when it comes to the traditional gender roles in marriage. Men would still be the spiritual leaders of the marriage, but women would be the archetype of the Church who helps the man lead the marriage to success. Both the man and the woman would be working together, side by side, in making the marriage work. This would not be a dominant/submissive relationship that Dr. Kim’s rhetoric suggests, but one of equal partnership that almost paradoxically allows for both men and women to still fulfill what is considered traditional gender roles if they so choose to. 

However, Dr. Kim’s rhetoric on marriage is not merely about advocating for traditional gender roles in the marriage, but advocating for a dominance/submissive form of marriage that ironically denies the autonomy of women to freely to choose to follow traditional gender roles. What this implies is that Dr. Kim’s rhetoric creates a type of attitude about marriage that influences how people in his Christian circles are to view the relationship between men and women that is potentially harmful to both sexes. The rhetoric has created a type of stigma that will cause many people, both men and women, to accept the social attitudes Dr. Kim advocates that they may not necessarily realize is harmful. When we go back and examine the way he frames both of his lists of unsuitable spouses, it becomes clear that Dr. Kim view on marriage is attempting to push a social stigma about women who don’t fit his specific ideal of marriage. As a result, the rhetoric creates a form of sexism about what is supposed to be the role of women in marriages. Other than unbeliever, if you are a woman who fit any of the descriptions Dr. Kim’s descriptions, not only are you not a suitable spouse but that you must give up any potential benefits you have (such as having a career for example) in order be the wife that would suit the “ideal form of marriage.” In other words, rather than seeing the relationship between the man and woman as an equal partnership, it becomes an a dominant/submissive relationship where double standards between the man and woman in the marriage become incredibly obvious. The type of men described as unsuitable for marriage are made clear by Dr. Kim, but even half of these personality types (as already pointed out) are not gender specific and thus makes Dr. Kim’s suggestions vacuous and hypocritical. What would be unsuitable traits in a potential husband would just be unsuitable in a wife.

I no doubt will get objections from most people who will argue that Dr. Kim’s arguments are based on the Bible or so called sound theology. Men are supposed to the spiritual leaders of the marriage and women are supposed to be nurturers, according to Dr. Kim’s theology. I personally am not interested in arguing against any of the Bible verses Dr. Kim has provided to support his views because I’ve come to believe that anyone can use the Bible to argue for any position they want, no matter how morally objectionable they may be. I am more interested in pointing out the implications Dr. Kim’s theological rhetoric has not just on his intended audience, but also anyone who has a view of marriage which lacks an understanding of the necessity of equal partnership between men and women. It is the rhetoric present in Dr. Kim’s articles that concern me for reasons already stated, not advocating for traditional gender roles in marriage. Advocating for traditional gender roles is the least of my concerns when it comes to look at the rhetorical implications of Dr. Kim’s articles on unsuitable spouses for marriage. To make the point clear again, Dr. Kim’s articles don’t just advocate for traditional gender roles in marriage (not the problem here). Dr. Kim’s articles advocate for a social attitude about marriage which serve as a type of propaganda for sexism that undermines the partnership in marriage to the point where it creates a double standard between men and women that hurts both sexes (which is the problem here).15667PST140801_pg14_shutterstock_117714919_300

Many forms of Classical Christianity (particularly in the Catholic and Orthodox Traditions) have viewed marriage as being an equal partnership between men and women, while still maintaining traditional gender roles. Even looking at both the Old and New Testament, we see examples of strong women in the Bible who help push forward the idea that Christianity as a religion does not advocate for a dominant/submissive view of marriage as Dr. Kim’s rhetoric wants to us to believe. Before advocating for traditional gender roles in marriage, perhaps it would be more prudent to make sure that your arguments for what types of spouses would be suitable for marriage not only don’t create a form of social sexism about how women are to behave in marriage, but to also make sure your rhetoric does not (intentionally or unintentionally) create double standards about how men and women are supposed to behave in marriage in a way that harms both sexes.

In the meantime, I think Dr. Kim would benefit from reading more of Ephesians since that is where it appears he is getting his New Testament theology from in regards to marriage:

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[c] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Ephesians 5:25-33

Ephesians5_25

Works Cited

10 Women Christian Men Should Not Marry:
http://nycpastor.com/2014/12/29/10-women-christian-men-should-not-marry/

10 Men Christian Women Should Not Marry:
http://nycpastor.com/2014/10/23/ten-men-christian-women-should-not-marry/

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