"Stand where he tells you to stand": Why the GOP is doubling down on misogyny in 2024

Katie Britt Jemal Countess/Getty Images for JDRF
Katie Britt Jemal Countess/Getty Images for JDRF

"Stand where he tells you to stand, wear what he tells you to wear, and do what he tells you to do."

This is the wedding night advice offered to brides by Josh Howerton, a senior pastor at Lakepointe Church in Dallas, Texas. Lakepointe, according to the Dallas Morning News, is one of the biggest megachurches in Texas, with over 13,000 people a week attending its main location. The church itself cites a number over 40,000 a week, between its six campuses and online services. Howerton opened Sunday morning services on February 25 with this paean to sexual coercion.

Claiming that the bride has "been planning this day her whole life," and so the groom should indulge her: "Stand where she tells you to stand, wear what she tells you to wear, and do what she tells you to do. You'll make her the happiest woman in the world."

Then he hits folks with this counterpoint: In exchange, the bride should take a submissive role in what he pointedly calls "his wedding night," to "make him the happiest man in the world." (Howerton did not respond to a Salon request for comment.)

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In the era of robust online debate between conservative Christians and those in the faith deconstruction movement, this clip unsurprisingly generated a lot of discussion. Sheila Wray Gregoire, a Christian critic of purity culture, responded on her Bare Marriage podcast with an episode titled, "Why Evangelical Honeymoons Often Go So Badly." Howerton responded with two beloved defenses of bigoted rhetoric on the right: that it's out of context and just a joke.

Gregoire responded in a thread arguing the context "makes this worse" because the "joke" assumes men "don't have to take on ANY of the mental load, emotional involvement, or work of the wedding," and also that "at the wedding night, you get to act like a porn director and direct her every move so you get exactly what you want."

She concludes: "In both the wedding, and the wedding night, she does all the work for him." It's an apt rebuttal to those who claim these rigid gender roles are "fair" because they're "balanced." In reality, it's just more of the same sexist assumption that the work of marriage belongs only to women.

All critical discourse, but my first thought upon watching this clip, I must confess: This is why the GOP is doomed in its "outreach" to claw back female voters they've lost in the Donald Trump era.

It's not just the assault on abortion rights, which they can't seem to hold back from, despite the resounding unpopularity of the anti-choice stance. It's that the MAGA base is getting ever more vitriolic with its misogyny. Part of that is due to the more secular dirtbags of the Joe Rogan/Elon Musk variety, who have become such a loud part of the Republican coalition under Trump. But this escalation of boldly misogynist rhetoric is also coming from the evangelicals. Republicans can't win without keeping those people happy, since the Christian right is where the GOP's organizing power still mainly resides.

In her recent New York Times article about the "coarsening" of the religious right, Ruth Graham alluded to this, writing about the trend of evangelical leaders using "vulgarities." But it's not just a matter of using curse words. The vulgarities in question mostly center around an over-the-top performance of toxic masculinity: throwing around sexist terms like "sl*t" and "wh*re," homophobic slurs, and using phrases like "grow a pair." It's definitely got an overcompensation vibe to it. But along with the increasingly violent queerphobia, this means evangelical sexism is getting more overtly nasty. A lot of the faux-chivalrous condescension is being replaced with blunt malevolence and sexual objectification.

The Republican gubernatorial nominee, Mark Robinson, is a good example. He loudly proclaims himself an evangelical Christian and occasionally is invited to preach at conservative churches. He also prefers a shock jock vibe when attacking women being sexual or demanding equality. He declared that women are to be "led by men" and, "I absolutely want to go back to the America where women couldn’t vote." Last week, resurfaced comments showed he's consumed by hatred for Beyoncé, who he called a "skank" who teaches "our young women to be hyper-sexual wh*res."

Robinson's ascendance shows there's a major appetite for grossly misogynist talk among Republican voters, including those who clutch their Bibles while claiming they're doing it all for Jesus. A likelier explanation, of course, is that religion is just an increasingly thin pretext for resentment of women for getting education and jobs and more independence from men. That's why, even though it's hurting Republicans at the polls, Christian conservatives keep pushing for ever more draconian restrictions on abortion and contraception. It's even turning into a growing chorus of Christian leaders attacking no-fault divorce, which makes it easier for women to end bad or even abusive marriages.

It's not just Christian right loudmouth pundits like Matt Walsh or  Steven Crowder complaining about no-fault divorce. As Kimberly Wehle of the Atlantic wrote in September, there's an increasingly effective religious pressure campaign on the GOP to claw back a woman's right to leave her husband. Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, recently decried divorce, even to escape domestic violence. The Texas Republican platform, additionally, calls for the state legislature to "rescind unilateral no-fault divorce laws and support covenant marriage." A "covenant marriage," which makes it extremely difficult to file for divorce, happens to be what Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., has with his baby-voiced wife.

Kelly Johnson's unnaturally high-pitched and cloying voice caught some attention when he rose to speaker late last year, but public discourse around what is called the "fundie baby voice" soared last month, after Sen. Katie Britt gave her unsettling response to President Joe Biden's State of the Union. Britt, who typically speaks in normal voice, threatened to get squeaky at times during her televised speech. Liberal activist Jess Piper from Missouri went viral with an essay explaining the message Britt was sending with the weird voice: "Be sweet. Obey. Prove it by speaking in muted tones."

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What's wild is Britt's syrupy presentation was initially framed as Republican outreach to women. I guess the thinking was female voters can relate to being trapped in their kitchens and hiding their ambitions from men by talking like toddlers. But it ended up feeling like more of the same pandering to the worst sort of men, the kind of men who call Beyoncé a "skank" and respond to being asked to wash the dishes by lobbying for an end to no-fault divorce.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., recently shrugged off the GOP's loss of female voters by saying, "for every ‘Karen’ we lose, there is a ‘Julio’ and a ‘Jamal’ ready to sign up for the MAGA movement." The statement wasn't just racist because of his trolling word choice. It was also an effort to shove responsibility for the increasingly noxious sexism of the GOP onto the shoulders of men of color. But, really, the loudmouthed misogyny is less about expanding the Republican coalition and more about base maintenance.

It's happening for a lot of reasons: Trump creates a permission structure. Social media incentivizes getting attention by being the biggest jerk on the internet. Fury over the #MeToo movement plays a role. All this has come together to create this crotch-grabbing zeitgeist on the right, even in the Christian spaces that used to pretend at a higher calling. Whatever is fueling it, however, Republican politicians know they have to tend to this burbling cesspool of toxic masculinity, which is going to get in the way of their already weak efforts to appeal to female voters.