The straights are at it again.
Over the weekend, singer Ciara caused an internet stir when she posted on Instagram a clip from a sermon by Houston’s Lakewood megachurch pastor John Gray telling single women why they’re not married.
“Too many women want to be married but you’re walking in the spirit of ‘girlfriend,’” Pastor Gray said.
After playfully imitating the pain of women who come to him upset because they’ve been doing everything “right” but still aren’t married, he blamed Scripture for this advice he gave:
“Here’s what the Scripture says: He that finds a wife finds a good thing. ... You’re not a wife when I marry you, you’re a wife when I find you,” he said, adding his own interpretation to Proverbs 18:22.
“A ‘wife’ is not the presence of a ring, it’s the presence of your character,” he said. “Ask the Lord to deliver you from that spirit [of ‘girlfriend’], and carry yourself like you’re already taken, and I promise you, when you carry yourself like a wife, a husband will find you.”
Ciara rightfully got dragged for sharing this video and adding the caption, “#LevelUp,” at that. If she didn’t know that it’s bad form to shame single women for not being married—like she herself was only a few years ago—and to suggest that being married is on a higher plane of existence, she learned Sunday.
And there is still a conversation to be had about women internalizing and perpetuating sexism. But since CiCi went on to explain on Instagram that what she meant by “#LevelUp” was that it came not in the form of a husband but in the form of finding self-love in God (sure, Jan!), I’ll save that convo for another day.
Men—and especially pastors—we need to talk.
First, let me say, from my interactions with Pastor Gray, he’s a very nice man. But this excerpt is layers of wrong and dangerous.
If women are out here crying about something that is causing them a very deep pain—feeling invisible, unworthy of romantic love—mocking that pain is cruel. Manipulating it is worse.
There is no such thing as having the “spirit of a girlfriend,” or carrying yourself “like a wife.” It’s just another iteration of the sexist dichotomy and hierarchy of women, the same tired Madonna-whore complex: the good kind of woman vs. the bad kind.
Isn’t it fascinating how the book of Proverbs, written by a man who “found” 700 wives and 300 concubines—the Steve Harvey of marriage advice, in his day—is still being used thousands of years later to make women feel like they’re only one of two kinds of women: the virtuous, worthy “wife” or the unworthy and “unwifeable”?
If no “husband” has “found” a woman yet—assuming that she wants to be found—it’s not because churches don’t intentionally create the kind of men who value an actual equal partnership over subjugation; it’s not because there are statistically more black women with higher levels of education and income than their male counterparts, which can cause issues in pairing off; it’s not because some women do not desire marriage at all or do not desire marriage to a man; it’s not because a woman’s life might have more purpose beyond being married (surprise!).
No, it must be a reflection of a woman’s character, something she’s doing wrong.
That is a sick thing to tell a woman who already feels unworthy and unlovable. It is vile that even the church where she worships tells her that it’s right to let the way men are treating her determine her worth and to suggest that God is cool with that.
That’s the implication given when a woman is “promised” that a “husband will find you” as soon as she changes her ways and deserves to be found.
Be for real.
Even married husbands have no problem “finding” single women (and it has nothing to do with a woman’s “spirit”). So let’s stop pretending that married people are some elevated and virtuous class of worthy people.
Instead, let me remind cisgender, heterosexual people that getting married is neither difficult nor an accomplishment. Ask Britney Spears and that random dude she married at a Vegas drive-thru in the early aughts. It’s just another in a series of life choices that people make.
Marriage may very well be special to the individual people who are in it, but it is not an inherently special institution to aspire to, or one that someone “deserves.” The many different kinds of marriages in the Bible attest to this (and the least “special” kind is the one where if you rape her, you buy her).
Jesus never married, and the apostles Paul and Peter both ditched their wives to #LevelUp and focus solely on spreading the good news of Jesus. So, what’s the truth about marriage for a Christian?
The truth is, singleness is not a woman disease that a husband cures. It’s not a holding pattern or a phase until you’ve fixed all your damage and become lovable enough to ascend to a higher status. How does that message even square with Christ’s message of our inherent worth by birthright? It doesn’t.
After all, Jesus, a revolutionary, lived to dismantle hierarchies and elevated women to positions of authority and agency beyond what their misogynistic cultures would allow or encourage. When are these pastors going to follow suit?
How about now. The next time a woman comes crying about why she isn’t married yet, pastors can tell her the truth. That God created her with her own agency and her own purpose that goes beyond whoever she might marry and whatever children she might have. Equip her to break a toxic cycle of looking for male approval as a sign of her worthiness. Affirm her desire for romantic and sexual love, and also show her how to value her platonic relationships as much as she would value any romantic ones. Equip her to go find her purpose.
And to ensure that patriarchal societal barriers don’t get in the way of a woman becoming who God created her to be, teach men to value women as full people with their own agency and purpose outside of men. Deconstruct the dangerous complementarian myth that women exist to be helpmates and mules for whatever man deems them “valuable” enough. Teach men that they do not have the right to define any woman’s value and that marriage with them is not a prize to win but simply a negotiation of terms. Tell them to sit down, be humble.
Because men have never faced and will never face the societal pressure women historically have faced to be married. Unlike women, men have never had their literal value inextricably linked to their marital status. Women, since time immemorial, were seen as literally worthless and discarded if their fathers couldn’t marry them off, and then again if they couldn’t bear children for their husbands.
That fear of not being good enough for marriage—the one thing that could give women a potentially “secure” life in a patriarchal, oppressive world—has been passed down to women from generation to generation. This is not your history, men. So why are you talking?
Time’s up on those days.
If you’re not helping to dismantle patriarchal oppression of women and nonbinary people, at least get out of our way. And you can start by leaving your advice for women on how to become “wives” right where Ciara left that mumbling rapper—in the past.