Conquer, colonize, enslave: On redefining words and rewriting history

Trigger warning: rape/incest, child sexual abuse, racism, slavery, western colonization/imperialism.

Andrea Smith, Conquest: Sexual Violence And American Indian Genocide

Well, Jared Wilson has “apologized” (not really) for posting the Doug Wilson excerpt on his blog, and both the original post and the defensive followup to it have been taken down.

Some people will take this as enough progress to let up on public pressure on Misters Wilson and Wilson for now. For many reasons, I don’t agree.

One reason is that (as I expected) much of the criticism hasn’t really addressed the issue of racism and imperialism in Doug Wilson’s work, and how that connects to violent, misogynistic language and imagery in his teachings on marriage and sex. Frankly, I don’t think it’s sufficient to go after Doug Wilson solely on the basis of the misogynistic content of his work when racial and cultural superiority and bigotry are so deeply intertwined with his attitudes towards women.

Fortunately, there have been a few commentaries on the situation that make the connection between Wilson’s racism and xenophobia and his misogyny even more clear than my post did.

Building on Dianna Anderson’s post on the writer’s responsibility to honor the meaning of words and use them clearly and responsibly, Sarah Moon has a couple great posts on the implications and historical context for the words D. Wilson used to describe the male role in heterosexual sex (penetrate, conquer, colonize, plant). The second post on how these words reflect the racist Western idea of the “White Man’s Burden” to “civilize” other cultures is especially worth reading:

In his poem [“The White Man’s Burden”], Kipling justifies conquering unwilling “savages,” for their own good. He describes the conquerors as humble, self-sacrificing servants, and asserts that the conquered just don’t know how good they have it under the rule of their conquerors. He even uses Biblical imagery to justify this position, comparing the conquerors to Moses and the conquered to an ungrateful Israel.

Similarly, the Wilsons (and complementarianism in general) asserts that exercising their “true authority” over women “betters” these women. This is the idea that allows the Wilsons to unhesistantly describe sex as “colonization.” Perhaps when the Wilsons picture “colonization,” they imagine the smiling faces of Native Americans on all the depictions of the first Thanksgiving.  Perhaps their white-washed, revisionist history has truly convinced them that England colonized India so that India could flourish under Western rule, or that the reason for the United States’ presence in the Middle East was to liberate the women there.

Perhaps not, but whatever their beliefs on imperialism in a national context, they’ve certainly retained Kipling’s racist ideas of conquest and colonialism and applied them to women. But the truth is, in the national context of  imperialism, colonization is not something done with the consent of the people being colonized. The colonized people must first be defeated–conquered, if you will–in a process that Andrea Smith (assistant professor of Native American studies…author of Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide) likens to rape. 

Dr. Camille Lewis brings some more historical context, this time on the culture of slavery in the American South, that makes it very clear how Wilson’s defense of the slave-owning South is inherently a defense of a rape culture:

That Doug Wilson is the most verbose and colorful apologist for the sanctified rape culture should surprise no one. When you take up a Lost Cause myth as your guiding ideologythat is what you get. This legal scholar explains:

What is less often discussed is the impact of slavery on white families and the individuals who comprise those families, or generally the American family within society at large. For both the commission of incest or miscegenation, the event(s) were publicly condemned while simultaneously ignored and hidden, and thereby condoned. Despite the imperative for racial purity, white men enjoyed a presumption of free access to slaves, as well as to freed women. Indeed, because acts of miscegenation were so common, as was their denial, they occurred in transparent obscurity. Further, this white, patriarchal, sexual prerogative was unfettered and all but unchallenged, even when such access resulted in an actual biological, incestuous coupling. Thus, the convergence of the taboos, miscegenated incest/incestuous miscegeny, prompted the hidden exhibition of incest, first for relations between family members of “opposite” races, but also for any correlate relations within a “same” race family. Indeed, acknowledgment or exposure of incest between relatives of so-called opposite race challenged both the social construction of race and therefore the basis for social stratifications.

The slavery culture is the rape culture. There is no difference. Conservative ideology has sanctified both at once. The dominant white male privilege penetrates all who are not dominant white male privilege, and if you thwart that penetration, you upset the divine order and are, then, deserving of . . . penetration. [emphasis mine]

She continues:

Sure, patriarchy’s old and all. I get that. But this particular religious expression of patriarchy has roots we can trace in our own soil — roots that thrive in South Carolina‘s red clay as well as Idaho’s wheat fields. This is an exceptionally American problem. More specifically than American, the problem lives right smack at the crossroads of revivalism, conservative politics, and white supremacy. You can find it in an Easter sermon. And fifty years later, you see the same rhetoric lobbed at girls who are the victims of forcible rape. It’s all an assault on personhood whether female persons or black persons or grown persons or minor persons.

So in addition to the fact that Doug Wilson’s description of godly marital sex is violent and misogynistic, it uses language that has historically enabled and justified sexual violence against non-Western women and/or women of color on a massive scale. His defense of American slavery is a defense of an economy of labor that was built on the systematic sexual exploitation and violation of black women. In short, the language of rape and domination – on an individual and on a cultural scale – is all over Doug Wilson’s work. Wilson’s use of this language is not only gendered – metaphors of male domination of women – but also racialized and imperialistic, invoking images of white, Western male domination and exploitation of black and brown bodies.

Jared Wilson ignored all of this disturbing context and subtext in his “apology,” as well as the substance of the objections to the more obvious misogynistic and violent aspects of the Doug Wilson quote.

He’s also ignoring Doug Wilson’s history of vouching for an admitted serial child molester and arranging and officiating at this man’s marriage.

For all of these reasons, and others that I’ll discuss in another post, I don’t see his statement as containing any real “apology.” It is both self-serving and willfully avoidant of the vile, dangerous, harmful racism and misogyny in Doug Wilson’s work – and as such implicitly endorses it as acceptable.


  1. I’m ashamed to say this aspect hadn’t occurred to me when I first started following the debate. After reading the entire chapter on rape from Douglas Wilson’s book that was quoted, your observations make even more sense. He talks about rape being God’s judgment on a people, and he somehow argues that the patriarchal laws in the Bible were, in their original context, very much for the protection of women. I re-read it a few times, but the the twisted logic is impossible to untangle on that one.
    I’m tired. The debate that has transpired has resulted in a loss of sleep for me. I would very much like to just ignore this guy as a troll, but he seems to be gaining mainstream speed. He even had a piece published in Huffington Post this week about his disapproval of 50 Shades and looking at the comment threads, it seems relatively uncontroversial. I think what you are doing here is a good thing, and even though it can be tiresome, I don’t think this discussion should end anytime soon. He needs to be called out for the false witness he is bearing.

    • He was published in the Huffington Post?! Oh my God. I’m speechless. Wow.

      • I’m really concerned about what Huffington post has been doing lately, letting outrageously offensive ‘copy’ onto their site. A few months ago the post published an article so insulting , of such propogandsih ignorance, about the Catholic Church so badly, that would shock even good protestants. i think I will avoid even looking the post up anymore. I think the ‘founder’ is ‘losing it’. losing her sense of common sense and human decency.

    • And thanks for linking this post on Huff Po, Kristen. I’m shocked that they would publish him, especially after all that’s come out this week.

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