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Faith Born of Seduction: Sexual Trauma, Body Image, and Religion

Jennifer L. Manlowe
Copyright Date: 1995
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Faith Born of Seduction
    Book Description:

    How do survivors of sexual and domestic violence relate to religion and to a higher power? What are the social and religious contexts that sustain and encourage eating disorders in women? How do these issues intersect? The relationship between Christian religious discourse, incest, and eating disorders reveals an important, and so far unexamined, psychosocial phenomenon. Drawing from interviews with incest survivors whose sexual and religious backgrounds are intimately connected with their problematic relationship with food, Jennifer Manlowe here illuminates the connections between female body, weight, and appetite preoccupations.Manlowe offers social and psychological insights into the most common forms of female suffering - incest and body hatred. The volume is intended as a resource for professionals, advocates, friends of survivors, and most importantly, the survivor of incest herself as she attempts to understand the links of meaning in her mind between her incest experience and her subsequent eating disorder.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6314-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    Since 1983 I have been exploring the theologies of female survivors of sexual and domestic violence. At the same time I have wondered about the social contexts that sustain and encourage eating disorders in women. In what follows, I explore how three issues—sexual abuse in the family, food and weight preoccupations, and patriarchal religious discourse—interrelate. The relations among Christian religious discourse, incest, and eating disorders have not been traced either in the literature on incest or in the literature on eating disorders. Yet these connections reveal an important, and so far unexamined, psychosocial phenomenon.

    Looking at how and...

  5. 1 Who Are We?
    (pp. 1-9)

    We are everywhere. We are your daughters, sisters, friends, partners, coworkers, lovers, and mothers. We sit next to you on the bus. We’re behind you in the line at the checkout counter. We sit beside you in church. We walk in front of you on a crowded sidewalk. Everywhere. More than one source claims that the majority of rape cases occur during childhood and adolescence,¹ more often by someone we know and trust.² One out of three of us faces sexual assault in our lifetimes: 61 percent of all rapes occur when we are seventeen years old or younger; 29...

  6. 2 A Horror beyond Tears: Reflections on a History of Abuse
    (pp. 10-41)

    Incest is generally thought of as a rare occurrence in society, yet, it is extraordinarily common. Within the patriarchal nuclear family, approximately 38 percent of girls and 10 percent of boys are sexually assaulted.² Every incest survivor with whom I have spoken has reported incest to be a horrendous and disorienting experience whether the incest was committed by a father, a brother, an uncle, a grandfather, a babysitter, an aunt, or a mother. The trauma is immense whether it was done in a manner that was seductive, tender, or brutal, or whether it happened a few times in a short...

  7. 3 A Pyrrhic Victory: Contemplating the Physical Cost of Surviving
    (pp. 42-58)

    Anorexia and bulimia are multilayered problems that have no singular cause. Psychological and social factors are generally thought to play key roles in their development. Many psychologists and psychiatrists believe these disorders arise in the context of a process of growing up which has gone awry. A young woman’s response to biological maturity and the psychological and social demands of sexual development are widely invoked as being especially relevant.¹ Child sexual abuse is now recognized as a common occurrence² with consequences that affect self-esteem, sexual identity, personal competence, and potential for intimacy. A link between such experience and later eating/body-image...

  8. 4 Disenchanting Faith and the Female Body: Deconstructing Misogynous Themes in Christian Discourse
    (pp. 59-78)

    Patriarchal religious messages have been passed down through the ages to define and reinforce women’s “natural” inferiority. Such meanings condition women to crave paternal, spiritual, andbodilyredemption. Female redemption through Christian virtues sets up any woman (or female child) who takes these messages literally to be a possible victim of abuse. Suchvirtueshardly empower female survivors of incest; rather, they enable them tospiritualizeelements of their victimization.¹

    The legacy of female bodily sin is exemplified in the lives of some medieval female saints. Though an in-depth exploration of the sexual abuse history of saints is not a...

  9. 5 A Thinly Veiled Skein: Exploring Troublesome Connections among Incest, Eating Disorders, and Religious Discourse
    (pp. 79-99)

    Paternalistic theology that instills the need for female redemption and promises it via an external rescuer has failed survivors of incest. Yet such a faith still lingers in the language of the survivors. Discern through the following case studies how frequently these survivors reveal psychological and social conflicts, born from their incest trauma, in their religious discourse. A survivor’s relationship to her body and to food reveals an abusive past not mitigated by her faith. Religious discourse both shapes and is shaped by her sexually abusive past and at points reflects a double wounding.

    Religious language is available to give...

  10. 6 Self-Help or Self-Harm? Analyzing the “Politics” of Twelve-Step Groups for Recovery
    (pp. 100-126)

    All of the women I interviewed for this project were involved with Twelve-Step spirituality groups at one time. Such groups are based on the program of Alcoholics Anonymous (see Appendix D). Seven of the nine are still involved in some form of Twelve-Step spirituality group. A core element in a Twelve-Step approach to “recovery” is the notion ofsurrender. To heal from your addictions, and the pain of your past, you must “surrender your will to God as you understand Him.” Serenity as well assanityare promised to all those who surrender to this external (nearly always understood as...

  11. 7 Summary of Key Findings
    (pp. 127-136)

    I have come to recognize sexual trauma as a common theme among women who have eating disorders. My results reveal that the particular form of the eating disorder not only expresses the particular conflicts born of the sexual trauma but reveals the religious (cultural) and social context of women’s trivialization and objectification (as bodies that exist to arouse the male subject). Most importantly, I found, through examining the literature, that among the general population, sexually traumatized women suffer from eating disorders more often than not.

    It is not surprising that “recovery” in a patriarchal context is unlikely to feel stable—...

  12. Appendixes
    (pp. 137-176)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 177-204)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 205-216)
  15. Index
    (pp. 217-226)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 227-227)