I Don’t Accommodate Uncontrolled Men

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It’s summer! Time for all the the ladies to start posting articles about why it’s not a woman’s responsibility to prevent a man from lusting and all the gentlemen to start posting comments about why it’s not a woman’s responsibility, but she sure can help.

I’ve been encouraged to see the pushback, by women, even women in more conservative circles, against the toxic idea that a woman’s clothing choices can cause men to stumble.

But this pushback gets halted when a guy stands up and comfortably announces that while this personal responsibility thing all sounds great, the reality is that normal, healthy guys like him struggle, so women should still cover up. And the ladies go a little silent, unable to argue with this universal battle against sexual temptation that women never face.

The pushback against purity culture dies right then and there, because no woman wants to challenge the idea that men can’t actually control themselves — and that’s a beautiful, God-given part of being a man.

So I’m going to be that woman. I’m going to stand up and look that man in the eye and tell him that his inability to control himself is not normal, healthy, or God-given, and I have no sympathy for his struggles.

Because I don’t. I think more highly of men than that.

My husband didn’t grow up in purity culture. He didn’t grow up hearing that it’s normal and healthy for a guy to struggle with not looking until the offending woman leaves the room. He didn’t grow up hearing he couldn’t control his sexual urges if he caught a glimpse of a woman’s cleavage. He grew up around girls who wore bikinis to the beach and short shorts and tank tops. He grew up being able to look at a woman, notice parts of her body, even formulate a response (like “She’s attractive” or “She’s trying too hard”), and then go on with his conversation with her as if she’s more than her butt and abs.

He doesn’t experience this “all men’s daily battle” regarding women’s clothing choices, because he wasn’t socialized to.

And I think that is a huge thing people are overlooking in this discussion — how much of the “male struggle” can be chalked up not to healthy amounts of testosterone but to socialization?

Even as a female I was socialized to be uncomfortable with women in certain clothing — not because I was sexually attracted to them but because I was taught they were immodest. I would avert my eyes and feel embarrassed and not know how to talk to a woman with cleavage. Now that I’m socialized to be okay with women’s clothing choices, even if they don’t align with mine, I don’t find it awkward at all. They’re just people. They’re just bodies. No need to freak out or be awkward.

I think guys need to learn that it’s fine to notice a woman’s body and find it attractive. Bodies are beautiful. Beautiful bodies illicit responses in everyone. Notice it, and move on with your life. It’s not a sin. It’s not even necessarily sexual. This is how “visual” women deal with attractive men, and you don’t hear them begging guys to put their shirts on at the beach. It’s not socially acceptable for women’s sex drives to show.

I do find it disturbing and creepy and predatory that guys “struggle” so much around women who wear certain clothes. I find it disturbing that that’s normalized as healthy and natural. I don’t feel safe around men who can’t look at my body and engage with me as a human, regardless of what I’m wearing. I don’t feel comfortable around men who are battling not to lust after me.

And I don’t feel that I can control whether I “trigger” that battle or not by my clothing choices. How am I supposed to know what level of dress or undress is “comfortable” for any particular man? Guys will often say, “Oh, I’m not one of those guys who thinks women should dress like frumps. I’m not saying women shouldn’t wear pants or above the knee skirts or tank tops — I can handle those.”

But you know what? Some guys apparently can’t handle pants or above the knee skirts and tank tops. Some guys are more turned on by women in skirts. They’ve told me this to my face.

So what’s “normal”? Is it normal for a guy to struggle when he sees a woman in jeans, or only when she’s wearing a short skirt? Is it normal for a guy to struggle when she’s wearing a one-piece bathing suit and shorts, or only when she’s wearing a bikini? Is there an all-male council who has decided what’s “normal” for a guy to struggle with, and what’s creepy? Because I keep hearing mixed messages from men about what turns them on and what’s modest, and it makes me think the problem isn’t with what women wear but with what men can’t handle.

I think “normal” is a guy being able to interact with a woman comfortably, regardless of what she’s wearing, without waging a battle for his soul. Period. I will not accommodate any other male normal.

An Egalitarian Approach to Chores

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Since I’ve heard many complaints lately about husbands who don’t pull their weight in the chores department, I thought I’d talk a bit about our egalitarian way to split up the chores.

Here’s the key to an egalitarian sharing of the chores: it’s not just about who does what. It’s about whose responsibility it is to care about the housekeeping.

Even though I work full-time, I feel the emotional responsibility of household upkeep more than my husband. This is not because I am innately a homemaker, as some have tried to tell me. It is because some have tried to tell me that I am innately a homemaker — that I, as a woman, am uniquely suited to exert emotional energy towards my home.

Well, I certainly do exert a uniquely feminine emotional energy towards my home. When my husband walks into a dirty kitchen after an exhausting day of work, he thinks, “Great — the kitchen’s dirty again.” When I walk in to a dirty kitchen after an exhausting day of work, I think, “I am a total and utter failure of a human being and should not have been allowed into adulthood at this young of an age.”

In other words, guilt. Guilt is that special feminine ingredient to housekeeping.

On top of it all, I am a Type B cleaning personality raised in a Type A cleaning home. This means that my mom and my sister, the women closest to me, could not stand clutter or dirtiness at any point during the day. They cleaned as they went. I’d get up from a cozy blanket on the couch for a cup of cocoa, only to find, on my return, the blanket folded neatly over the couch top.

It’s humorous, actually. On one of Erich’s first visits to my parents’ home, somebody put his empty cup in the dishwasher before he was finished with it. He now finds inventive ways to hide his cups from prowling cleaners — like hanging them from light fixtures in the kitchen.

So I have these examples and expectations of housecleaning perfection before me, and none of the energy or interest to meet them. (Read: more guilt.) Erich and I have an extremely high tolerance for clutter and filth. An unhealthily high tolerance, I should say.

It’s frightening how long you can handle counters-full of dishes when you don’t have a dishwasher.

As I thought more intentionally about an egalitarian way to split up chores, I realized that this mindset, this mindset that it’s more my responsibility than his because I’m a woman, has got to go. The cleaning and upkeep of our home is our responsibility, equally. I have to care. He has to care.

While we don’t have children yet, I think this is a crucial component to happy households even if a wife quits her full-time job to stay home. I used to think that I would take over all housecleaning once I stayed home with our baby. After all, I would have eight hours that my husband didn’t to do laundry and wash some dishes.

But after listening to moms with kids underfoot, moms who were drowning with childcare, I realized that I might not have the time — or the energy — after all.

I work in childcare. It is a full-time job that encompasses every spiritual, psychological, and physical inch of your soul and body. Just because stay-at-home moms don’t get paid for their labor doesn’t mean motherhood is any less all-encompassing.

That’s where couples get in trouble, I’ve noticed. Stay-at-home moms run themselves weary keeping up with the kids and still feel obligated to keep up with the onslaught of daily chores too. Meanwhile, Daddy comes home feeling entitled to a break because he worked all day.

Well, Mama worked all day too. So instead of getting into a battle over who’s more exhausted at the end of the day (something my husband and I row about even without kids), it seems more reasonable to assign equal emotional responsibility over household upkeep.

What does this look like practically in our home?

We tried chore lists, but I never did mine, and Erich kept reassigning hated chores to me. So right now, when we see something that needs to be done (i.e., when we max out on our tolerance for filth), we do it ourselves and ask the other spouse to chip in with it or with another chore.

If Erich starts a load of laundry, he might ask me to fold the laundry or point out that I still haven’t done my dishes. If I notice the carpet needs vacuuming, I’ll grab the vacuum and ask Erich to tackle the urine stains on the toilet. And of course, we take personal responsibility for our own stuff.

The only thing we specifically assign are dishes and cooking: whoever doesn’t cook does the dishes. (Because we hate dishes.)

This works for us, because we (usually) respond well to the other person’s initiative. And by “works for us,” I don’t mean “keeps our home in immaculate order.” (We’re working on that.) I mean it keeps our marriage unclogged with cleaning resentment. It helps us feel like a team.

I don’t expect this to change much when we have kids and I stay home with them — except that I’ll have more opportunity to do chores than he will. If I have time and energy during the work day, I’ll do the necessary chores. There’s no point in putting off chores just to make it “fair.” It’s still partially my responsibility, after all, and I would want my husband to tackle the dirty work if he had the opportunity instead of leaving it all for me.

But if I can’t get to chores, or if I’m absolutely sick of doing chores, I won’t feel guilty either.

After all, it’s not wholly my responsibility.

Is Egalitarianism a Slippery Slope to LGBTQ+ Acceptance?

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I remember when I was just starting to question complementarianism, when the world was black and white. The good guys were the Republicans, the anti-feminists, the Reformed, conservative, John Pipers. The bad guys were Democrats, secular feminists, progressives, and liberals, like Rachel Held Evans.

I wanted complete assurance that exploring egalitarianism would not lead me into the enemy’s camp. Egalitarianism, I was warned, was the tip of a slippery slope leading to horrible things like social justice, Episcopalianism, and the very gravest, the absolute lowest of all low valleys — LGBTQ+ acceptance.

Once you tumbled that low, you were lost to orthodoxy forever.

I want to address this particular fear head on — the idea that egalitarianism is one step away from embracing the LGBTQ+ community. While I do get a good laugh at my black-and-white world and the paranoia that resulted from it, I realize that’s still a present and legitimate concern for many people who, essentially, mark orthodoxy by how immobile one is against the siren call of LGBTQ+ acceptance.

The short answer is no, egalitarianism does not a LGBTQ+ ally make.

Prominent egalitarian groups like Christians for Biblical Equality and The Junia Project share marriage between one man and one woman as a core value: “6. God’s design for relationships includes faithful marriage between a man and a woman, celibate singleness and mutual submission in Christian community.”

Many of the denominations who celebrate women’s full participation at all levels of leadership also express the one man, one woman line. The Anglican Church in North America is one such faith tradition. Tish Harrison Warren, one of its female priests, recently wrote about the need for church oversight of female bloggers — particularly because prominent female leaders like Jen Hatmaker are espousing an LGBTQ+-affirming stance.

Another example is the Christian Reformed Church in North America, which views same-sex orientation as “a condition of disordered sexuality” that should not disqualify individuals from community acceptance. But, it affirms that, “Homosexualism (that is, explicit homosexual practice)…is incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Scripture.”

And the reason why these and other faith traditions and individual egalitarians can affirm women in all levels of leadership but declare homosexual activity as sinful is simple: they’re not the same issue, Biblically speaking.

Egalitarians who oppose homosexual behavior will talk about “the movement of Scripture.” There is no “movement” in Scripture toward accepting same-sex relationships, whereas there is great movement toward elevating women. Women serve in leadership in both the old and new testaments. Even in more patriarchal passages that seem to support a gender hierarchy (such as the household codes), the movement is not toward “putting women in their place” but rather elevating women to an equal level with their husbands.

Though it can and has been argued that Scripture is silent on monogamous same-sex relationships, or that the core principles of Christianity compel one to embrace the LGBTQ+ community, there isn’t the same explicit “movement” in Scripture toward LGBTQ+ acceptance the way there is toward women’s equality.

That would be, in a nutshell, the egalitarian differentiation of women’s equality with the LGBTQ+ movement.

Still, we all can think of dozens of friends or prominent voices who started out egalitarian but not affirming and then later allied themselves with the LGBTQ+ movement. I don’t have any hard statistics on it, but anecdotally, the egalitarians who are allies seem to outnumber the egalitarians who aren’t.

And here’s why: egalitarianism doesn’t automatically turn you into an ally, but it sure makes you think about becoming one.

I can’t think of any egalitarian who hasn’t wrestled with LGBTQ+ issues. Biblical movement aside, there are parallels between egalitarianism and LGBTQ+ issues that would move any ardent supporter of women’s rights — both want full equality and normalcy, both involve minorities, and both are misunderstood and maligned, particularly in the church.

As a woman whose motivations, salvation, and common sense get questioned because of my egalitarian stance, I’m far more sympathetic to minority groups seeking equal rights and understanding. I know firsthand how people use “the Biblical worldview” and “orthodoxy” to silence the legitimate pain and discrimination I’ve experienced. I’ve seen how women’s voices get ignored and explained away because it challenges long-held “Biblical” beliefs.

So when I’m tempted to write off LGBTQ+ complaints of discrimination, I remember the time when I experienced discrimination and nobody came to my defense. When I’m tempted to wonder if LGBTQ+ people are overly sensitive and milking their minority status for a political agenda, I remember when people called me overly sensitive and promoting a feminist agenda. When I’m tempted to doubt LGBTQ+ voices on their own experience because of this verse in the Bible or science or “common sense” or what if they’re deceived?, I remember when my pain, my experience, and my thoughts were real, true, and completely dismissed.

Add to that the church’s long, often abysmal record of hurting those most in need of support — and I know I’ve got a heck of a lot of listening to do.

That’s why, I think, egalitarians as a whole tend to strive for empathy and a listening posture with the LGBTQ+ community — and why many of them end up allies.

Here’s the truth: if you become an egalitarian, you’re guaranteed to come out with at least a more nuanced view on LGBTQ+ issues. Egalitarianism doesn’t roll you down an inevitable hill toward LGBTQ+ acceptance, but it does kick the door open for genuine soul-searching on the issue.

And I don’t say that merely as a comfort to people interested in egalitarianism but worried about falling down a slippery slope. I say that because listening to LGBTQ+ people, working through your own preconceptions of, well, everything, and wrestling with all the components that make these issues complicated — it’s no easy tumble.

In fact, I think understanding and/or accepting the LGBTQ+ community is an uphill battle — something that requires intentionality and effort.

(NB: In this post, I’m not addressing whether we should or should not accept the LGBTQ+ community and/or their lifestyles. It’s an important discussion that I do not feel qualified to lead or moderate, so I would appreciate if all comments stuck closely to the intersection of or divergence with LGBTQ+ issues and egalitarianism. Thanks.)

The Billy Graham Rule

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I’ve been listening in on a lot of conversations about Mike Pence’s decision not to eat alone with another woman.

They covered all sorts of territory: Can men and women have close relationships? Does being “above reproach” mean maintaining your reputation at any cost or doing the right thing no matter who’s looking or not looking? Are all male/female relationships one hop, skip, and a jump from adultery? Is it reasonable to fear a loose women might try to destroy your career?

I grew up in a culture where male/female friendships were frowned upon, where I felt uncomfortable with a dad driving me home after babysitting his kids, where this Billy Graham rule of never being alone with a person of the opposite sex made perfect sense. I’d never thought all the way through the implications of a man making this “rule” his own, and I’d never heard the stories I did during these conversations — men moving their desks outside of an office to avoid sharing it with a woman; women never getting mentorship or advancing in their field because they could never privately meet with their male supervisors; women awkwardly listening in as a husband dialed his wife: “Hey, I am in the car with another woman alone right now — just so you know.”

Many women shared how demeaned, sexualized, ignored, excluded, and distrusted they felt when men declined to meet with them one-on-one for business, mentorship, or friendship.

***

One of the big reasons men follow the Billy Graham rule is protect themselves against the end of their careers and reputations because of rumored misconduct.

My take on it is this: I get wanting to protect yourself from false accusations.

I’m a teacher, and we have rules about being alone with students, particularly in a bathroom, both to protect against child abuse and to protect teachers from false accusations that could destroy their career and reputation. We don’t have that rule because teachers feel like they couldn’t control their sexual urges around children; it’s mostly for reputation’s sake.

A safeguard designed to protect both children’s well-being and teachers’ reputations seems reasonable. Likewise, a safeguard designed to protect both the well-being and the reputation of two people of the opposite sex seems reasonable to me.

But where I would take issue with that sentiment is if it began to interfere with one’s work or to exclude women from networking, mentorships, or just plain doing their jobs.

Not all women are temptresses waiting to seduce a man. The Billy Graham rule came about not because he lunched with a trusted female co-worker but because a naked woman broke into his hotel room. A woman building a professional relationship over a lunch outing or discussing company business over a coffee break is not remotely similar to a woman lounging nakedly on a hotel bed.

It comes down to this: Not all one-on-one meals or conversation with someone of the opposite sex are sexual in nature. Honestly, I would be a little offended and shocked as a woman if a man refused to meet with me one-on-one in a public place to discuss business, or to provide private counseling as a pastor or psychologist.

It would be like a woman saying, “Sorry, but I don’t meet privately with men in case they sexually assault me.”

That shows an egregious lack of trust and respect, in my opinion.

Yes, sexual assault happens. Yes, adultery happens. And yes, they happen mostly by people you know and trust. Reasonable safeguards against those things may prevent those realities from occurring. But reducing a professional partner or client to their genitalia and sexual urges and then fearing them because of it — that is not a reasonable safeguard.

***

I can’t speak personally about this situation. I’ve never had a man tell me, “Sorry, but I don’t meet with women alone.”

But I think about all the great conversations, relationships, and mentorships I’ve developed both personally and professionally with men. My college experience — the most transformative four years of my life — would be drastically different if my guy friends refused to grab lunch with me, just the two of us, or if my male professors wouldn’t meet with me in their office unless their wife was present, or if a priest was uncomfortable discussing my spiritual questions without a chaperone, or if my counselor turned me away because he didn’t want to be alone with a female behind closed doors.

I would be more broken, less educated, less well-rounded, lonelier, and missing out on a huge part of the college experience. I owe much of my education, spirituality, and quality of life to amazing male friends and professionals. I cannot imagine having that taken away from me because of an irrational fear that I would try to seduce them over lunch.

Part of working in a co-ed professional environment means working closely with those around you, even if they’re the opposite sex — and that includes developing relationships and maybe breaking bread together.

I think there are ways to be prudent about one’s reputation and opposite sex relationships — meet in public places, keep the door open, have a window in your door, etc. — while still having meaningful professional relationships with one’s female clients, co-workers, and peers.

Speaking as a Woman

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Hardly anything bothers me more than women dismissing other women’s concerns.

“Oh, come on. You’re not that oppressed. No woman know deals with that. Women and their victim complexes these days….”

And I get it. Sexism, misogyny, and oppression are not often words that describe my personal day to day experience as a woman.

I have never experienced workplace discrimination. I am paid the same wages as my male counterparts. I have never been catcalled, sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, or raped. I have never felt slut-shamed or body-shamed. My husband wouldn’t even think to tell me to submit or remember my place as his wife. I can think of only two guys in my life who treated me differently than they treated men (or perhaps I imagined it).

The only real sexist discrimination I faced came from a fundamentalist church that I no longer attend and ideologies from my past that I no longer submit to. I notice sexism around me, but it doesn’t cut too deep. I see that my Christian school asks only men to pray at our meetings, for instance, but I would guess they would welcome a woman praying in public as well. And I didn’t even attempt to look for a teaching position that corresponded to my major (Christian studies), simply because I’d never heard of a female religion or Bible teacher in a secondary school.

I don’t feel that I am actively oppressed. I don’t often blame the patriarchy or think of the patriarchy or discuss the patriarchy outside of critiquing explicitly patriarchal views circulating in fundamentalist Christianity. Except in the Christian community, I feel free to be who I am and do the work I’m called to do, .

So if you asked me, as a woman, to weigh in on whether my plight looks like the oppressed female life feminists bemoan, I’d have to say no, not really. I notice sexism around me, of course, and how it sometimes ripples up in my direction, but it’s not screaming in my face at all times in all places. (Except in the Christian community. Gosh, I hate having to clarify that.)

But if the theoretical you that asked for my experience as a woman stops there, you would get a very privileged, lopsided view of what women face in the world, your country, your state, your city, even your circle.

I am, after all, only one woman among billions. And women’s issues is comprised of more than my experience and the women who chime in, “Me too!”

***

Women have incredible power to shape discussions on women’s issues. They have the power to create empathy and awareness in men and other more privileged women, and they have the power to dismiss, deride, and distract from real issues women face.

Almost everybody nowadays is somewhat sensitive to minorities, somewhat aware that things weren’t always done right by minorities, that white, male, cis, and/or middle-to-upper class people need to tread a bit carefully before speaking authoritatively about what minorities experience.

People get it.

And at the same time they don’t, because they grab hold of the stories and the experiences that fit their narrative of how things are — usually a narrative that downplays or denies the experience loudly protested on the streets and social media.

If women aren’t careful or if the conversationalist is on the hunt to hijack narratives, one woman could end up representing the whole of female experience.

“Well, my wife gets paid even more than the men at her workplace.” “My female friend has never been catcalled in her life.” “Bailey’s a woman — a feminist, even! — and she doesn’t consider herself oppressed.”

But worse than a man using one woman’s experience to gloss over other women’s problems? A woman doing the same thing.

I’ve seen women use their minority status to completely dismiss real problems women face. You have too — every time a beautiful woman films herself giving an anti-feminist rant, every time a confident woman writes the why she doesn’t need feminism trope, every time a woman implies or says straight up, “Well, I’m a woman, and I don’t feel that way.”

I wrote a letter to that fundamentalist church about how it felt to see only men in visible church positions — greeting visitors at the door, passing out the offering plate, reading the announcements, leading worship — and how it felt to slowly realize that nobody ever asked me to read the Bible on Sunday morning like the other teen boys got to, not because I wasn’t capable or even more capable of doing so, but because I was a girl. (Yes, I do realize that the full rationale was “because you’re a girl and the Bible says only men should lead and God wouldn’t say something unless it’s for the best,” but that extra reasoning doesn’t negate the utter sexism of the first part.)

I expected the men to get upset about it. (They did.) What I didn’t expect was the women feeling just as offended and incredulous. Women do all kinds of things in the church! Here’s a list! And you failed to address these Bible passages! Here they are! And even if this was a real problem, there are so many bigger problems to worry about.

And a woman can say that.

A woman can say hurtful, sexist, dismissive things, she can openly support a patriarchal system in a way a man cannot. A woman can say them in an authoritative manner. A woman can say them bluntly, shamelessly.

She can say them, because she is a woman, and what woman would actively support her own oppression? She wouldn’t (the thinking goes), and so the thing that another woman (or many women) feels is sexist or oppressive is deemed acceptable. And if a man is looking for an excuse to keep his ideologies the way they are, he can gently point all “oppressed” women by the way of the women loudly and proudly defending his ideologies.

I truly believe that little will change in communities where women, speaking as women, shut down other women’s experiences.

There’s already incredible pressure to not look like a chauvinist pig, so men are careful. I’ve noticed that many complementarian or patriarchal men honest-to-God respect and honor their wives, daughters, and other prominent women in their communities. If every woman spoke up against complementarian or patriarchal views, men would have no choice but to listen and conform.

If their wives were opposing it, if their daughters and their sisters and their mothers and the woman next to them at church and the pastor’s wife and their liberal coworker and the conservative neighbor across the street — if everywhere men turned women were vocally opposing or questioning certain ideas and practices that discriminate against women, communities would change.

But that isn’t happening. Men, genuinely curious about women’s experiences, can hear a feminist painting a picture of female oppression and go home to his wife, who rolls her eyes at feminism and the modern victim complex.

That is the danger and the responsibility of speaking as a woman.

P.S. Why reasonable, confident women support benevolent sexism

The Need for Prominent Women

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In a rather hostile, one-sided “conversation” about feminism and female priests, a priest noted that confession is one reason why female priests would be unhelpful: men would be more comfortable confessing sexual sin to a male priest. I can grant that, though I have been the unlikely confessor for young men’s sexual sin in the past.

But if that’s true, what about the opposite — what about the women and their discomfort with confessing their sexual sin to a male priest? Would that not be an argument in favor of the need for female priests?

What about women wanting female pastoral care, period? Would that not require a female pastoral staff?

As an academic and wannabe theologian, I got used to male mentors. All the pastors were men. All the Bible students were men. All the religion professors were men. Many of my theologically-inclined friends were men.

It was my male pastor who answered all my theological inquiries as a kid. It was a male professor who stopped me outside of Delp Hall to ask about my feelings, because I had been crying during his class the night before (and not, he had intuited, about the Summa Theologica). It was a male professor who oversaw my thesis on gender and spirituality. It was a male professor who heard all the angst about my spiritual life. It was a male counselor who walked me through relationship quagmires.

And yes, I even had dispassionate and theological conversations about sex with men. Was it uncomfortable? Slightly, in the sense that I was wondering whether it was uncomfortable for the man and whether it should be uncomfortable for either of us. But there was nobody else to talk to.

Ministry and academia are dominated by men, and I adjusted to that. I don’t regret any of those friendships or mentorships. I don’t resent my mentors for being men.

At the same time, I did want female mentors. Women have different perspectives than men. Women can talk firsthand about being a wife or a girlfriend or a female, about motherhood, about feminine spirituality (or even if there is such a thing). There are problems and questions I had that I wanted to address to a woman as equally thoughtful, intelligent, and educated as the male professors, pastors, and counselors in my life.

And there were certainly such women at my college (and maybe at my church). They just weren’t obvious fixtures in the community. There were the deans of women, there were pastor’s wives, yes. But those were titles with which I wasn’t familiar. They didn’t connote a pastoral or professorial nature. So I never went to them.

It wasn’t until the end of my junior year when I finally stumbled across these female mentors and struck up equally satisfying friendships with them. Those friendships with intelligent, thoughtful, caring people — both men and women — are what I miss most about college.

All of this leads me to say: We need prominent women in every community that cares for souls — particularly women’s souls. 

I developed relationships with the people who taught and guided me — pastors, professors, and counselors — that is, those readily available. They were advertised as counselors. They stood in front of the class every other day. They addressed the congregation each Sunday. They were visible. Their beliefs and concern for their students or congregants was visible. And that made them prime candidates for mentoring.

In the churches I attended, that was not so. Women were not allowed to lead or teach in any way, shape, or form, so there were no prominent women. You didn’t know if a woman held a theological or counseling degree, and even if she did, whether she wanted to be a mentor or would be a good mentor. You never heard her teach, never could evaluate from afar whether she would be a safe person with whom you could confide.

That, to me, is a travesty. Even the early church had female deaconesses for the care of women before baptism. There’s historical precedent for an organized, prominent group of women for the spiritual life of other women.

It’s all very well and good to talk about the Titus 2 model of mentoring, but the reality is that many women don’t know who those “older women” could even be — because they’re not prominent in the church’s pastoral life. In many churches, there is no opportunity to walk up to a woman after her sermon and kickstart a relationship with a question about her main point — because women aren’t even allowed to read through the church announcements.

Like it or not, the people who look “prominent” in a church or a community are those up front — those you see and those you hear on a regular basis. If communities are serious about providing female mentors for women, they need more prominent women in their community.

Black Feminist Inspiration for #BlackHistoryMonth

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My friend Stephanie was born and raised in South Africa by her American missionary parents. She works for iThemba Projects and writes about race, missions, and social justice at her blog Bridging Hope. We met at a summer camp several years ago — co-counselors for a cabin-full of girls. We went separate paths globally, but we keep reconnecting as our spiritual and social justice journeys cross paths. Here’s Steph. 

Since it’s Black History Month, I’ve been learning a lot about black women in American history and the contributions they’ve made to the feminist movement. I thought I’d share my mini-history lesson (which mostly came from Paula Giddings’ book Where and When I Enter).

Maria Stewart: The first “Jesus feminist” was black

Sarah Bessey’s popular book Jesus Feminist makes the argument that we should primarily be looking at the way Jesus treated women when forming views on the role of women today. Well, flashback to 1832, when twenty-nine year-old Maria Stewart from Connecticut — who was the first American-born woman to give public speeches and leave extant texts of her addresses—stepped into the public sphere to talk about women’s rights and the abolitionist movement. Stewart had experienced a religious conversion; today we’d probably call her an evangelical, or “born again,” person, not just a culturally religious person like so many in that time period.

At the time, there was strong cultural and religious pressure for women to refrain from speaking in public. But that didn’t stop Stewart. “What if I am a woman?” Stewart declared. “Did [God] not raise up Deborah to be a mother, and a judge in Israel? Did not Queen Esther save the lives of the Jews? And Mary Magdalene first to declare the resurrection of Christ from the dead?”

Paula Giddings, in her book Where and When I Enter says, “Stewart was confident enough to challenge the exhortations of Saint Paul, whose words had long been used to justify slavery and sexism.”

Stewart, well, simply went over his head: “Saint Paul declared that it was a shame for a woman to speak in public,” she noted, “yet our great High Priest and Advocate did not condemn the woman for a more notorious offense than this….”

In any case, Paul’s words were of another time, and Stewart was convinced that if he had understood the urgency of these times, his attitude would have been different. “Did Saint Paul but know four songs and deprivations,” she said confidently, “I presume he would make no objection to our pleading in public for our rights.”

Ida B. Wells: Who says you have to choose between kids and career?

While white women (who had the economic privilege of not having to work) have throughout the centuries seen a dichotomy between having children and working, black women (by sheer necessity) have not. They’ve always balanced work and family, and their contributions to the greater society have been massive.

Even highly educated white women have throughout history shown a reluctance to engage in the larger workforce because marriage and family were seen as exclusive (and highly prized) occupations. A study of an Ivy League women’s university in the late 50’s concluded that women were “convinced that the wrongs of society will gradually right themselves with little or no intervention on the part of women college students.” A study in 1956 revealed “that 60 percent of all women college dropouts left school to marry or because they were afraid too much education would be a bar to marriage” (Giddings).

It wasn’t until the “Women’s Lib” movement of the 1970’s that white women “got woke” to the problems embedded in this idea.

But black women?

In the 1890’s, Ida B. Wells-Barnett single-handedly led an anti-lynching crusade, owned her own paper, and began investigative journalism into lynchings, which forced her exile to the North. She had her first child just before the founding meeting of the NACW (National Association of Colored Women).

But 1896 was an election year, and soon after the meeting, Wells-Barnett was asked to campaign through Illinois for the Women’s State Central Committee, a Republican political organization. She accepted the invitation on the condition that arrangements be made for a nurse for her six-month-old son, Charles. The committee agreed to provide someone to take care of him in all the cities where she was scheduled to lecture. “I honestly believe,” Wells-Barnett recalled, “that I am the only woman in the United States who ever traveled through the country with a nursing baby to make political speeches.”

She said a year later, when she was pregnant again, that she was retiring from public life. But this lasted about five months. “A brutal lynching in South Carolina compelled her to lobby the President and Congress in Washington, D.C. Again she took a nursing infant along. This was followed by her work for the Black soldiers in the Spanish-American war, activities in the Afro-American Council, her continued anti-lynching campaign, and the birth of two more children in 1901 and 1904″ (Giddings).

Unlike the white women of the 1950’s who thought social problems would go away on their own, Ida B. Wells did something about social injustice. She loved her kids— but she realized there were other families out there besides just her own, and her contributions were needed to bring justice and safety to them as well.

How Sexist Men Change

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I read an article sharing an experience with a male internet bully who called the author a “c***” for being liberal. Her sister jumped to her defense, calling out the irony of this man, a recent father of a daughter, calling another woman such a degrading term.

The point of the article was that by using degrading language toward a woman, he is fostering a culture of disrespect that will eventually harm his own daughter. He is, more or less, making it okay for someone to call his daughter a disgusting word.

He didn’t respond after that.

I thought that was brilliant. I’m a big fan of humanizing issues for others who fail to see people as anything more than living representations of evil beliefs.

But then, of course, someone responded with the oft-heard feminist complaint, “I’m frustrated that the author is encouraging the idea that women are only valuable as mothers or wives or sisters. Women are valuable because they’re human beings. Period.”

And sure, I get that. That’s the goal, isn’t it, of all efforts for equality — people are valuable as people, period. It doesn’t matter if they’re related to us or connected to us or connected to anybody else we value or connected to any other kind of person we value. We respect, honor, and protect them as humans. I agree with that. That is ideal.

But I disagree that comparing a woman to a man’s daughter or wife or mother is counterproductive to that end.

Sexism, prejudice, hate, and fear run deep. They’re also hypocritical and blind and lacking in empathy. They’re incapable of viewing people as people.

But love is powerful, even in a sexist, prejudiced, hateful, fearful person.

When we ask a man to think about how his sexism would affect a woman he loves, we are arousing love. We are arousing empathy. We are arousing protectiveness and anger on behalf of someone, even if it’s partially selfish because it’s “his” someone.

And we aren’t just inviting him to put the woman he loves in the place of the woman he just degraded. We’re inviting him to put himself in the shoes of the kind of man he would punch in the teeth on behalf of somebody he loves.

That’s a clarifying, powerful experience — to realize we are what we hate most, to realize we are perpetrating what we hate most, to realize that our actions contradict our deepest held beliefs.

If you haven’t grown up with sexism, you don’t realize how reasonable it sounds. You don’t realize how the world is taught to you, how your femininity or masculinity is explained to you, how sexism makes perfect sense given certain fundamental beliefs.

If you didn’t grow up with sexism, you don’t realize that sexist people, both men and women, really do believe in loving, respecting, and honoring other people as people. That’s a core Christian teaching — loving the other as human, standing up for them no matter what. But here’s where it gets twisted: if you’re taught that liberalism is evil, if you’re taught that God designed men and women to be happiest within distinct, predetermined roles, your “love for others” will look a lot like hate.

This is how we get devoted fathers calling other women “c***s.” This is how we get women lobbying against who they and their fellow women are. This is how we get demonstrably false ideas like men are inherently more capable of leadership than women. This is how loving, decent, God-fearing people perpetrate hate against others — all in the name of love.

This deception runs very, very deep, and only empathy and love can break it. Only by invoking the true love one has for others can someone see that the so-called “love” they have towards people they hate is horrific.

Perfect love really does cast out all fear.

It’s a process, a deconstruction, to recognize that that your “love” and “decency” and “logic” can be hateful, inhumane, and illogical. We’re really good at mixing up those things. All of us. Even those who lay down their lives in the name of equality. All of us do this, to varying degrees.

We must be patient with each other. We must celebrate the small victory of, for instance, a man seeing the horror of his comments to another woman by invoking his love for his daughter.

Later we can demand that he respect women as humans, period. But for now, we must celebrate this small victory of empathy, this small moment of awakening, this small act of love against hate.

That’s the only way a sexist man will change.

When Protecting Rights Is Immoral

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Trump’s travel ban.

It’s the next thing, in a long line of things, that’s getting me to think about the difference between rights and love.

As a feminist, I obviously advocate for equal rights. I think I thought that “rights” were the highest form of justice: nobody ought to cross anybody’s rights, and once rights are “equal,” the fight’s pretty much over. Taking a stand for “rights” is always the ethical position, I assumed.

But I kept bumping up against issues and situations where ensuring “rights” not only seemed inadequate but inhumane.

The first thing was listening to pro-choice arguments. I keep a wider circle now, and the entry level pro-choice argument, the aha moment for many, is this: in no other situation is a person obligated to donate their organs, bodily tissue, or the like. It’s a noble thing to donate blood for a good cause, or give up a kidney for a dying sister, but nobody can force you to do it. You have the right to refuse. In the same way, a woman has the right to refuse “donating” her body to the fetus residing in it. It’s a noble thing to carry a fetus to term, but a woman is not obligated to do so.

Since it’s convinced so many pro-lifers to go pro-choice, I try hard to understand this argument, but frankly, I don’t. There seems to be another level of ethics beyond merely ensuring “rights” — a moral obligation that obliges you even when your “rights” excuse you. For me, that is why the pro-choice rallying cry of “my body, my choice” moves me so little.

There’s a similar attitude of “rights” when it comes to the refugee debate.

One of my friends made the connection that being pro-life involves protecting both the unborn and the refugee. Someone countered with this: “The unborn have the right not only to life, but to citizenship. Refugees do not.”

I’ve seen this sentiment in various other arguments. It boils down to “we don’t have to care, because refugees don’t have any right to be here. This is a government, after all.”

I hate this attitude that as long as it isn’t people’s “right” to our care and protection, we can turn them away, we can let them suffer, we can ignore their problems, and we can feel morally justifiable in doing so.

It’s a heartless sort of morality, a cold, technical, calculating sort of morality.

It breaks my heart, these sorts of arguments. “You don’t have to carry your child to term, so murder is totally okay.” “You don’t have to welcome refugees to your country, so sending them back to the horrors of a war-torn country after potentially robbing them of their only chance of a better future is perfectly justifiable.” “You don’t have to help that person bleeding out on the side of the road, so just walk right on by.”

Obviously, things get more complicated when it’s a government acting under moral obligation rather than individual citizens, and we can debate to what extent governments as governments fall under moral obligation to welcome refugees, especially if and when it threatens the safety of its citizens.

Obviously, things are more complicated when conflicting obligations cross paths, period — like choosing between the life of the mother and the child, or stopping to pick up a hitchhiker when you’re a petite female with no self-defense skills, or any number of situations where it’s not clear what’s heroic, what’s stupid, and what’s unhelpful.

I don’t want to make an easy proscription of what to do or not do in all the complicated, conflicting ethical situations we face as a nation, as a pregnant woman, or as individuals in our day-to-day lives. I don’t want to simplify any of this.

But I do want us to think about the possibility of being morally obligated to do something even if it transgress our rights.

Our morality should be empathetic, human, and, yes, sacrificial. Our morality should protect not only people’s “rights,” but also people themselves.

We are morally obligated to protect and care for others even at the potential cost of our rights, even if they have no right to ask.

Women’s March

qc6vnbe4jqs-jerry-kiesewetterI thought about entitling this “Why I Didn’t March” to practice my clickbaiting skills.

I didn’t march because I forgot it was happening. And I didn’t say anything about it because when it did happen, it was by turns so embarrassing and empowering and confusing and controversial and awesome that I didn’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole.

I have three thoughts:

(1) Some of the signs, attire, attitudes, and rhetoric made me think of an Onion article called “Gay-Pride Parade Sets Mainstream Acceptance of Gays Back 50 Years”:

“I’d always thought gays were regular people, just like you and me, and that the stereotype of homosexuals as hedonistic, sex-crazed deviants was just a destructive myth,” said mother of four Hannah Jarrett, 41, mortified at the sight of 17 tanned and oiled boys cavorting in jock straps to a throbbing techno beat on a float shaped like an enormous phallus. “Boy, oh, boy, was I wrong.”

I feel the same way with the feminist movement, sometimes. I try so hard to convince my friends, family, and acquaintances that feminists are just normal people with normal concerns about legitimate issues, and then women wear vaginas around their heads, march naked, and scream about nasty women.*

Of course those are the only incidents of the march that the anti-feminists will see.

Sometimes feminists complain about how anti-feminists view them as angry, loud, obnoxious women with no moral compass, and I just glare at vagina-head.

* I get that the nasty women and pussy power rhetoric was ironic. Anti-feminists don’t.

(2) That said, it’s freaking awesome to me that something called the “Women’s March” spawned the largest U.S. protest, with zero arrests reported; it occurred on every continent; and it brought together a ton of different people. That massive accomplishment is associated primarily with women, the “weaker sex,” the ones “Biblically unfit for leadership.”

That’s a satisfying historical moment.

(3) Speaking of which, one of the most grating things about all the Christian anti-feminist responses is the ignorance about female oppression and sexism within Christianity itself. Someone wrote a many-times-shared “list” of all the freedoms women in America have compared to women elsewhere, implying that it’s ridiculous for American women to claim any sort of systemic oppression from patriarchy. (We’ve all seen similar posts.)

Personally, I have not experienced workplace discrimination. I have not experienced sexual harassment or assault. I am underpaid because I am a teacher, not a woman. I have, for the most part, encountered respectful men. I am not a person of color or an immigrant or a Muslim.

But I have experienced sexism and discrimination, and I experienced it all within Christianity.

Whenever I see this argument, that don’t see any real female oppression happening, I want to say this:

Open your eyes. Now look at your church. Now look at your beliefs. Now look at mainstream Christian culture. Now tell me, with a straight face, that there isn’t any real female oppression happening.

You won’t.

The worst part is that most won’t, because sexism within Christianity is so bad that it’s not even recognized as sexism. It’s Biblically sanctioned sexism.

Christians have told me and many other women, “You can’t do that because you’re a woman.”

That is straight-up sexism.

Our voices, our personalities, our gifts, our perspectives, and, in extreme but all-too-frequent cases, our lives have been repressed. That’s not even getting into the mess certain complementarian and patriarchal beliefs have made of people’s identities, marriages, and families.

Sure, women can pretty much “do as they please” in the secular world, give or take the challenges, but in mainstream Christianity, the majority still think that women are subordinate to men in some way, shape, or form. A vocal part of Christianity is even willing to risk Trinitarian heresy rather than revoke their views on women’s eternal subordination to man.

Even women support these things.

You know you’ve got a problem with patriarchy when it’s the women who argue most vehemently for the subordination of their fellow women.

I know, I really do know, that respectful, thoughtful men and women believe the Bible does not support women in leadership, whether in the home or in the church or in the secular world. I see how and why they came to those conclusions, and I see how and why they still hold to those conclusions (see first point, for example).

But it’s still sexism, no matter how you hermeneutically slice it.

Last Saturday, I hope there were feminists marching to protest Christian sexism, because that patriarchal beast is still alive and well.