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John Piper and fitness girl

December 6, 2012

Here are two citations from John Piper, years apart, the first in 1991 and the second a few weeks ago. He has undergone a certain kind of conversion, but I am not sure what it means.

“Consider what is lost when women attempt to assume a more masculine role by appearing physically muscular and aggressive. It is true that there is something sexually stimulating about a muscular, scantily clad young woman pumping iron in a health club. But no woman should be encouraged by this fact. For it probably means the sexual encounter that such an image would lead to is something very hasty and volatile, and in the long run unsatisfying. The image of masculine musculature may beget arousal in a man, but it does not beget several hours of moonlight walking with significant, caring conversation. The more women can arouse men by doing typically masculine things, the less they can count on receiving from men a sensitivity to typically feminine needs. Mature masculinity will not be reduced to raw desire in sexual relations. It remains alert to the deeper personal needs of a woman and mingles strength and tenderness to make her joy complete.” page 41 Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. 1991

“Neither has a car, so he suggests they walk to Maria’s Café down on Franklin Avenue, about 10 minutes from the church. As they walk he finds out that she has a black belt in martial arts, and that she is one of the best in the state. At 19th Street two men block their way ominously and say, “Pretty girl friend you’ve got there. We’d like her purse and your wallet. In fact, she’s so pretty we’d like her.” The thought goes through his head: “She can whip these guys.” But instead of stepping behind her, he takes her arm, pulls her back behind him, and says, “If you’re going to touch her, it will be over my dead body.”

When they make their move, he tackles them both and tells her to run. They knock him unconscious, but before they know what hit them, she has put them both on their backs with their teeth knocked out. And a little crowd has gathered. The police and ambulance come and she gets in the ambulance with the young man. And she has one main thought on the way to the hospital: This is the kind of man I want to marry.

The main point of that story is to illustrate that the deeper differences of manhood and womanhood are not superior or inferior competences. There are rather deep dispositions or inclinations written on the heart, albeit often very distorted. Notice three crucial things.

First, he took the initiative and asked if he could sit with her and if she would go to lunch and suggested the place and how to get there. She saw clearly what he was doing, and responded freely according to her desires. She joined the dance. This says nothing about who has superior competences in planning. God writes the impulse to lead on a man’s heart. And the wisdom to discern it and enjoy it on a woman’s.

Second, he said that he wanted to treat her to lunch. He’s paying. This sends a signal. “I think that’s part of my responsibility. In this little drama of life, I initiate, I provide.” She understands and approves. She supports the initiative and graciously accepts the offer to be provided for. She takes the next step in the choreography. And it says nothing about who is wealthier or more capable of earning. It is what God’s man feels he must do.

Third, it is irrelevant to the masculine soul that a woman he is with has greater self-defending competencies. It is his deep, God-given, masculine impulse to protect her. It is not a matter of superior competency. It is a matter of manhood. She saw it. She did not feel belittled by it, but honored, and she loved it.” Desiring God 2012

So now it is okay for a woman to be fit and athletic. That does not disqualify her from marriage. It did before but now it doesn’t. This man pretends to be a theologian, but he communicates clearly that God did not want women to be athletic in 1991, but in 2o12 it is fine and good to have a black belt as long as you let your boyfriend get punched out before you let on that you have this training. 

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 6, 2012 11:56 pm

    It is true that there is something sexually stimulating about a muscular, scantily clad young woman pumping iron in a health club.

    Too much information!

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    December 7, 2012 12:06 am

    Of course, if she is training for a black belt, she is not scantily clad. That could be Piper’s point.

  3. December 7, 2012 12:21 am

    As usual, too much focus on gender stereotypes and not enough on individual liberty.

  4. December 7, 2012 1:43 am

    What blows my mind is that the young woman in the first passage is seen only through the (straight) male gaze. The assumption that she is in the gym working out in scanty clothes in order to appear sexually stimulating to men is just bizarre.

    I imagine myself into her gym shoes and reply, “Dude, are you serious? It’s not all about you. In fact it’s not about you at all. I’m here working out because it makes me feel strong and powerful, and I’m dressed sensibly for what I’m doing.”

    And the second story really disappointed me. I expected it to go like this:

    But instead of stepping behind her, he turns to her and asks, “Would you like to do the honors, or shall I go first?”

    Instead, in the story as written, his attitude colludes with and reinforces the bad guys’ assumption that she is his possession which he will fight to keep.

  5. tiro3 permalink
    December 7, 2012 2:05 am

    I agree, there is an adjustment. Its not enough. However, there is some amount of respect where before there was none. I would like to see him realize that the two would do better working together instead of the man having to attempt to do it all alone.

  6. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    December 7, 2012 2:17 am

    I don’t like either characterization of women. But I deeply resent that CBMW presents this kind of stuff as having eternal significance. Nothing could be more trite, in my view.

  7. December 7, 2012 7:35 am

    Would John Piper ever learn from Mary Pipher? She is working with young girls and with women of all ages and with men to undo the sexist objectifications of the female that so hamper everyone’s lives. Here are some paragraphs from Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia

    I believe, as Miller, Mead and de Beauvoir believed, that pathology comes from failure to realize one’s possibilities. Ophelia died because she could not grow. She became the object of others’ lives and lost her true subjective self. Many of the girls I describe in this book suffer from a thwarting of their development, a truncating of their potential. As my client said–they are perfectly good carrots being cut into roses.

    ….Let’s work for a culture in which there is a place for every human gift, in which children are safe and protected, women are respected and men and women can love each other as whole human beings. Let’s work for a culture in which the incisive intellect, the willing hand and the happy heart are beloved. Then our daughters will have a place where all their talents will be appreciated, and they can flourish like green trees under the sun and the stars.

    We work now, twenty years behind schedule. We reestablish each woman as the subject of her life, not as the object of others’ lives. We answer Freud’s patronizing question “What do women want?” Each woman wants something different and particular and yet each woman wants the same thing-to be who she truly is, to become who she can become.

    Many women regain their preadolescent authenticity with menopause. Because they are no longer beautiful objects occupied primarily with caring for others, they are free once again to become the subjects of their own lives. They become more confident, self-directed and energetic. Margaret Mead noticed this phenomenon in cultures all over the world and called it “pmz,” postmenopausal zest. She noted that some cultures revere these older women. Others burn them at the stake.

    There is something eerie about teaching our daughters how to fight off rapists and kidnappers. We need classes that teach men not to rape and hurt women….

    Schools could offer clear sexual and physical harassment policies that protect students and establish norms for conduct toward the opposite sex. They could offer guidelines for appropriate sexual behavior and teach how to say no. This work with young teens might help prevent the “gang bangs” and the date rapes of the high school years.

    “Manhood” needs to be redefined in a way that allows women equality and men pride. Our culture desperately needs new ways to teach boys to be men. Via the media and advertising, we are teaching our sons all the wrong lessons. Boys need a model of manhood that is caring and bold, adventurous and gentle. They need ways to be men that don’t involve violence, misogyny, and the objectification of women. Instead of promoting violence as a means of solving human problems, we must strengthen our taboos against violence. Some Native American cultures have no words in their language for hurting other humans. What do those cultures think of us?

  8. Don Johnson permalink
    January 30, 2013 10:15 am

    I think Piper needs to KEEP REDUCING the dosage of his drugs that distort reality into a masculinist version of same.

  9. Robert Stone permalink
    February 24, 2018 12:10 pm

    Suzanne, if you are going to write a blog where you are going criticize a brother or sister, please run your thoughts by a fair-minded fellow theologian and thinker. Piper is talking about two completely different aspects of biblical manhood and womanhood. In the first example, he is cautioning women (but I think men also) to not overly emphasize a muscular physique that would initiate a relationship. You would probably agree the risk is high on both sides the relationship has a high probability of being shallow and unsatisfying. Read again and I hope you will see Piper absolutely did not say women should not be athletic, but not “appearing physically muscular and aggressive.” In the second example, clearly, Piper is NOT saying that he now thinks women should be attractive to men because they are muscular. May I quote the preceding paragraph I found easily online that was omitted above?

    “A picture may be worth a thousand words — even a word picture. Suppose among the young adults at the Downtown Campus a young man and woman — say twenty years old — find themselves chatting before the worship service. He likes what he hears and sees, and says, “Are you sitting with anyone?” They sit together. They notice how each engages with God in worship.”

    Notice they meet in church, not while pumping iron at LA fitness? Notice they chat and he likes what he “hears” first? Second, perhaps what he “sees,” although that can be interpreted as how a heart sees. Third, they mutual and quietly appreciate how the other genuinely engages in worship of the God they love. Isn’t that worlds apart from being drawn to “a muscular, scantily clad young woman pumping iron in a health club”? Please, tell me you understand and appreciate the difference. Surely, the focus of Piper’s second example is to emphasize God’s plan for man and woman’s biblical roles is not superior or inferior but to illustrate a man should protect and provide.

    May I also suggest you avoid ad hominem attacks? Piper is not “pretending” to be a theologian. Certainly, he is a fallible man, but he also a well-thought and caring man. I know him well enough to say that he would also call you a theologian with enthusiasm. He would also happily discourse with you face to face in a gentle and uncritical manner.

  10. February 25, 2018 5:26 pm

    Dear Robert Stone,

    Thank you for reading posts on our blog and for commenting here on this one. Please know that Suzanne McCarthy passed away on June 12, 2015. Here is an obituary:

    https://bltnotjustasandwich.com/2015/06/16/suzanne-mccarthy-sad-news/

    All the best to you,
    J. K. Gayle

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