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SamanthaField

Theology

update on seminary

Today is a really high pain day (thanks fibromyalgia) and I have a migraine I’m having trouble kicking on top of it … so no Redeeming Love review today. I have a big week and I need to try to put myself back together a little bit. Instead I’d give you all a peek into what it’s like for me in seminary at the moment.

I’m taking two classes this semester– What is Religion and Social Analysis and Community Engagement. I’m excited about both so far, but it’s only a few weeks in so we’ll see if that feeling lasts beyond mid-terms.

For SACE, the big class project involves something called participatory action research— the description of it had so many buzz words I couldn’t help laughing because I had no idea what it really was. Then we read some work by Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, a latina theologian who is now one of my favorite people. I’m now in love with PAR, as it’s called, and I’ll be working with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice for my project. Depending on what happens with that, I might ask you to be involved with my class project– wouldn’t that be exciting? We’ve also talked a lot about #BlackLivesMatter (!!) and we’re reading a book called Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed— which is, so far, a truly enjoyable book to read as well as being inspiring.

What is Religion is one of the foundational seminary classes, and we got thrown into the deep end with Schubert Ogden’s “Theology and Religious Studies: Their Difference and the Difference It Makes.” That was … I think it was from that era in academia where if you didn’t obfuscate your writing you weren’t being scholarly enough or something. It was a little painful. But, after reading it three times I think the point he was making is an important one (theology isn’t just a massive case of special pleading, essentially).

We also turned in our first paper yesterday– a thesis proposal. It’s a little far out for me to be nailing down a thesis topic, but it’s going to be about something to do with Christian feminist ethics, so I went with it. We were required to put together a research bibliography, and I’m rather proud of it. I think it might also make an interesting reading list for anyone interested in Christian ethics, liberation theology ethics, sexual ethics, or feminist ethics. Since you’re here, reading my blog … chances are one of those is a topic of interest for you.

The bibliography is based on the paper’s requirement to demonstrate my awareness of and ability to interact with the “cultural and theological heritage” of my faith, so that’s why there’s Kant and Barth and Thomas Aquinas in there. It’s an attempt to incorporate the significant Christian ethicists in my tradition as well as pointing to all the significant and most relevant, formative texts in this particular sub-field. If anyone is noticing a huge gaping hole in this, feel free to point it out to me.

Barth, Karl. Ethics.

Cannon, Katie. Black Womanist Ethics.

Cone, James H. A Black Theology of Liberation.

Daly, Mary. Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation.

Davis, Angela. The Meaning of Freedom and Other Difficult Dialogues.

De La Torre, Miguel. Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins.

Farley, Margaret. Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.

Fiorenza, Elisabeth. In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins.

Gutierrez, Gustavo. A Theology of Liberation.

Harrison, Beverly. Our Right to Choose: Toward a New Ethic of Abortion.

McInerny, Ralph. Ethica Thomistica: The Moral Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.

Neibuhr, Reinhold. Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics.

Nelson, James B. Embodiment: An Approach to Sexuality and Christian Theology.

Parsons, Susan Frank. Feminism and Christian Ethics.

Simmons, Frederick and Brian Sorrells. Love and Christian Ethics: Tradition, Theory, and Society.

Sullivan, Roger J. An Introduction to Kant’s Ethics.

Welch, Sharon D. A Feminist Ethic of Risk, Communities of Resistance and Solidarity: A Feminist Theology of Liberation.

West, Traci C. Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter.

Bonus point for me: Embodiment was written by a professor at my seminary back in the day, and his work is one of the reasons why United is known for being one of the earliest LGBT-affirming seminaries in the country. United is also in the process of becoming a sanctuary school, and they released a statement opposing Trumperdink’s Muslim ban– just some of the many reasons why I’m happy I’m at this particular seminary right now.

I’m also taking on more work politically– I’m getting very involved with the local Democratic organization, as well as the organization that sprang out of Pantsuit Nation when the original founder decided to keep PN “story-based” (grr). It’s called Together We Will, now, and there’s local and state-level chapters of it, as well. It might be a group worth looking into if you want to be more active in your resistance to the regimeadministration.

Social Issues

stuff I’ve been into: winter edition

First up: my new blog feature of making blog recommendations. I’ve fallen a bit out of touch with the blogging community, and this is my solution to that, as well as starting to help build connections. We’re going to need that more than ever in the days to come.

Everyone, meet Bailey. She writes at her blog Ezer, which y’all know is a nod to ezer kenegdo and the big complementarian vs. egalitarian debate about “helper.” She reminds me a lot of me when I was first starting out. Obviously we disagree on some things, but her writing and thought process makes me want to engage with her– when I usually just want to rant at people about how ill-informed they are. It was a welcome experience.

I’m also very excited to introduce Zaynab, who runs the Queer Muslims blog on tumblr. Her twitter and the tumblr she runs are good resources, in my opinion, and I’m so happy to have discovered them.

Feminism

I responded to Kate Shellnut’s “Women’s March Sets Out to Exclude 40 Percent of American Women” by tackling the misunderstandings driving the whole conversation and talking about the limits of “big tent” feminism. There was one part of Kate’s article that bothered me, but I didn’t have the time to really dig into since it needed an article of its own. Thankfully, Ruthie Johnson wrote on it: “Stop Appropriating Intersectionality.”

A colleague of mine wrote this, and I absolutely adore it because it made me Think New Thoughts. I present “Discourse in the Garden of Eden” by Amethyst Marie.

Abortion is a Social Good” by Veronica Flores is not as well-argued as I would like (in the sense that her intended audience is already convinced abortion should be legal and accessible), but it’s a less abrasive presentation of this argument than many that I’ve come across.

Judith the Activist” by Alicia Jo Rabins is a good introduction to this apocryphal character that we should all be better acquainted with. I’m a big fan of women weaponizing femininity because I have a dark sense of humor, so Judith and Jael have a special place in my heart.

I’ve known for a while that Monopoly was stolen from a woman inventor, but I had no idea how awesome her story really was. “Monopoly’s Radical, Anticapitalist, Feminist Origins” was a great read.

In the “things everyone needs to be aware of category,” we have “‘I Have to Text my Rapist’: Victims Forced to Parent with Attackers” by Thom Patterson. And yes, this even applies to fathers who were convicted of assaulting their child’s mother.

Racism

Sometimes There are More Important Goals than Civility” by Vann Newkirk II is, in my opinion, incredibly well written and well argued. It does everything I want good argumentation to do– acknowledge the strengths of your opposition, the nuances in the argument, and then shred them all to bits. Respectfully.

If you haven’t read “White Evangelicalism is White Nationalism” by Fred Clarke, read it now and then bookmark it as a resource. I’m sure there will be a lot of conversations over the next four years where it will be relevant.

Misc.

Not everyone is a literary nerd like me, so “In Defense of Facts” may not be the writing you’re looking for, but honestly William Deresiewicz is commenting on a broader trend than just John D’Agata’s A New History of the Essay. I don’t know how I ended up on the side defending Facts and Truth, but somewhat hilariously I am and I’m also arguing that everyone else should care about them, too. How I changed places with fundamentalists on this, I’m not sure I’ll ever know.

Books and TV

Facebook had been pushing The Magicians trailers on me for a few weeks, so I decided to watch the first season on Netflix before the second season aired. I did not regret it. Like most new shows it takes a bit for the writers/directors/actors to gel, but once they it got interesting. It’s being advertised as “Narnia meets Game of Thrones” which confused me at first until I figured out that “_____ meets Game of Thrones” doesn’t mean “______ meets epic scale or political intrigue”– it means “______ meets We Kill So Many People. So. Many.” Mostly it’s just very … whimsical yet dark. Like things are cute and light-hearted and a little bit quirky and then someone kills a puppy or a fluffy bunny rabbit and oh my heart. So– I warned you. It’s good, but may not be for everyone.

Also: massive trigger warning for the season finale, where there’s a rape scene. I trust the writers and directors and show runners not to ruin it for me and I think they’ll handle the storyline well, but it was really triggering … largely because of how well it was shot, interestingly enough. I’m not usually triggered by rape scenes because they’re usually … well, the “masked man in a bush, she fights and screams and kicks and also we’re going to make it seem a little bit sexy” variety. The one in The Magicians is much closer to my actual experience and what I think rape is actually like for many of the people who experience it. They don’t sexualize it, and it’s compassionately filmed … all of which made it difficult for me to handle. I think it does get one thing amazingly right: the character who is raped doesn’t fight, and doesn’t really articulate a verbal “no” in any way that I can remember … and it is still absolutely clear that her character is most definitely not consenting. For that one thing alone I can appreciate what the show did by including a rape scene. It’s clearly, unambiguously rape, but they did it without signaling that to the viewer in a way that reinforced rape culture.

I read Ender’s Game as a young teen, and that book shaped a lot of my experiences over the next eight years. I’ve read it somewhere around a dozen times– I’ve bought multiple copies of the book because I’ve worn a few out. So when Earth Unaware, a prequel set during the First Formic War, came out I was so excited. I read the first prequel trilogy over Christmas and then went to the bookstore to buy The Swarm the second I finished Earth Awakens. It introduces a new character, a Buddhist chemist, who is amazing. Most of the characters are amazing– Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston are doing a fabulous job.

I also really enjoyed The Invisible Library trilogy by Genevieve Cogman. It was delightful, and I’ve blown through each of the books. Each one has a different flavor– the first is solidly steampunk although I wouldn’t necessarily categorize the next two in the same way. It subverts a lot of tropes and it has a “magic” system that my writerly heart deeply appreciates. One complaint: Genevieve does the thing where her main character thinks of herself as “plain” but like three dudes and some ladies interact with her like they think she’s gorgeous, so blah. But otherwise I liked them.

I read Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch a while back, and I’m liking the sequel Windwitch just as much– sometimes second books aren’t as successful as first books, but I think this one is standing up to the promise of Truthwitch. I enjoyed Susan’s explanation of her writing process, too– “Writing Out of Order.”

Larkin and Erik K both recommended that I read Michella Sagara– and while the library never got her book in for me, the first book in Chronicles of Elantra was 99 cents recently so I downloaded it. Cast in Shadow was entertaining– I don’t usually read fantasy series that are intended to be a “monster of the week”-style story, but I’m enjoying the second book so far. Although, question for you two: where does Michelle go with the flower on Kaylin’s cheek (cough cough)?

I also convinced my dad to buy Terry Pratchett’s A Hat Full of Sky for my mother for Christmas … and then I read it. Because obviously the way I’m dealing with everything that’s happened since November is reading every book I can lay my hand on. A Hat Full of Sky was what you’d expect from Terry Pratchett: solid gold, and an amazing ending that manages to communicate Deep and Abiding Truthfulness without gettting preachy.

***

So what all have you been reading and watching?

Photo by Laszlo Ilyes
Feminism

The Women’s March is a Culture War

I was raised to be a culture warrior.

As a member of Generation Joshua (the first generation of homeschoolers), I was supposed to be a well-trained advocate for the theocratic Christian fundamentalist cause, through any means I had access to. In college I picketed reproductive health clinics, I protested, I went door-to-door getting signatures for ballot measures, I went to political rallies. I spent the bulk of my life trying to convert people to Christianity, or persuading more moderate Christians to join my causes– young earth creationism, King James Bible Only-ism, complementarianism, the stay-at-home-daughter movement … One of the issues I cared about the most was abortion, which I saw as murder and wanted to restrict through any means necessary. If that meant forcing those murderous clinics out of business, or making it too difficult for women to get an abortion, so be it.

I saw it as my Christian obligation to convince as many people as I could that women are supposed to submit to their husbands, and that feminism is a lie from Satan meant to pull women onto the path of destruction. I believed that being my version of a godly woman would shine like a beacon into the world and demonstrate the truthfulness of Christianity. To me– to most of us, I think, the Culture Wars were never just about changing the laws: it was about changing the culture around us. Taking back my country for Christ couldn’t possibly be accomplished unless most of us were fundamentalist Christians, and that meant we needed more than just mere conversion. I wanted to radically and fundamentally alter the way my culture saw social, historical, political, and religious issues.

It’s perhaps ironic that none of that has actually changed. Oh, it’s changed in substance, but not in form.

***

I went to the Women’s March on Saturday, in DC. I marched with a group of straight, bi, lesbian and trans women, non-binary people, Jewish women, a Latina woman, and one straight cisgender white male ally. Most of us had gotten together for a sign-making party the weekend before, and chose a variety of phrases for our signs. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, a quote from The Handmaid’s Tale, was a favorite. I’d been torn between a few ideas for my own sign in the weeks before. “Fear is the Mind Killer” from Dune, or “I will be Non-Compliant,” a reference to Bitch Planet, topped my list of possibilities a while. I was trying to figure out what I wanted the Women’s March to mean to me, what I wanted to remember about it and why I’d gone.

Eventually I settled on a quote from Susan B. Anthony: “Organize, Agitate, Educate must be our war cry.”

I chose it for a variety of reasons– I’m a huge nerd being one of them– but mainly I chose it because it’s what I wanted the March to do. I want every person who marched to become a part of the resistance against hatred, bigotry, and totalitarianism; I want us all to agitate to make our voices heard and make our message clear; I want those of us who can to educate the people who don’t know what’s at risk and what they can do to stop it– or change it.

So I imagine you’ll understand that I find some of the reactions to the March … disheartening. Over the past few days I’ve seen a slew of facebook posts and articles going through my newsfeed, most accompanied with something like “THIS.” There’s one about how men not being patriarchal enough is why we marched. Or another condescendingly and patronizingly “apologizing” to women who have it so much worse than these ridiculous American women who just don’t know how good they have it and how selfish they are (to address the claim that American women have it so good, please read this, this, and this). It’s been frustrating, to say the least, because my vision for Marching was so clear, but I didn’t know how to explain to my friends how we’re seeing that protest in fundamentally different ways. There’s a lot of language being bandied about how vulgar it was, how demeaning, how disrespectful, how pointless and all I could articulate to myself was arrrrrgh!

Finally, one friend asked “Which rights don’t I have that I’m supposed to be marching for?” and that’s when it finally crystallized for me what the people I know aren’t understanding about the Women’s March. It’s not about formal, legal, written-on-paper, law-of-the-land capital-R Rights. Technically, in America, women have “Rights.” We can vote, we can own property, we can serve on juries, we can be autonomous legal agents, we can inherit, etc. Coverture is gone and suffrage is here. In the words of Ainsley Hayes, “The same Article 14 that protects you, protects me, and I went to law school just to make sure.”

The Women’s March is many of the women of this country declaring a culture war on misogyny, hatred, bigotry, racism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, femmephobia, and one Party’s intent to destroy not women’s “Rights,” but all of our freedoms: The freedom of the press, the freedom of speech, the freedom to peaceably assemble. It’s not just our Bill of Rights that are under a war of attrition, either. Women marched this past Saturday because our realities are not all the same, and we have to protect each other. Some women are complaining that they feel “demeaned” by the March because they don’t personally feel that they needed it. Like Ainsley Hayes, they feel “humiliated” by the very notion that some women don’t think we’re equal (which, hate to break it to you ladies, we’re not).

I could go on. The list is, for all practical purposes, endless. I didn’t even begin to touch some of the other horrific and nightmarish problems we have in this country. Many of the ones I’ve listed above affect men as well, obviously. And even though I’ve highlighted a few places where women don’t have Rights, the larger problem isn’t whether or not we have laws in place that enumerate these rights. In some cases we do, in some we don’t. Regardless of a legal reality, it’s not a practical, livable reality until all people are truly seen as equal.

I will organize with others to enumerate or protect our rights. We will agitate against a government that wants to strip all of us of our protections, to hamstring every attempt to fight violence against women. Together we’ll educate others on the risks we face and how to fight.

I decided not to let my fear keep me voiceless, motionless, actionless, so I marched. Not to be vulgar, not to sow division, not to be angry and bitter. I marched because who we elected president is a symptom of a cultural problem, not its cause– and it’s a culture I will go to war against.

Feminism

Redeeming Love Review: God and Family

Plot Summary:

  • Michael realizes he’s been incredibly bad at actually taking care of Angel.
  • He takes her to Sacramento, where he buys her fabric for clothes.
  • He takes her to church, where she has a panic attack.
  • On the way back to the farm, they meet a family in a broken wagon.
  • Michael offers to let them stay in his cabin, informs Angel they’ll be sleeping in the barn.
  • Angel has a flashback to when Duke had her sterilized.

***

This section brings us back to more character introspection instead of action; Francine halts plot movement in order to have the space to tell us how Angel and Michael feel about everything instead of integrating that into the storytelling. I know I’ve started basically every review post saying “this is a badly written book,” but it’s true, and I just keep being reminded of it. So, I’m passing that on to you, dear readers.

Chapter seventeen opens with how guilty and dirty Angel feels– she “wanted to make up for what she had done, and sought to do it by labor” (211). This is, clearly, Francine beating us over the head with the salvation allegory she’s worked into Redeeming Love, and is condemning Angel for thinking that works can earn forgiveness. It’s also making sure we the reader know that Angel has done something that needs forgiveness– and we should all be at a loss for what, but we’re not. Angel has done nothing. She was abducted, and escaped her abuser at the first opportunity … and then was forcibly dragged back again. As Francine’s readers, though, we “know” what Angel did “wrong.” Satan told her that she deserved independence and freedom, and she believed his lie. She’s not just Gomer, now– she’s also Eve (217).

This is where Angel begins accepting Michael’s abuse. He’s forcibly demonstrated that she can’t escape him, no matter how she resists. He won’t use her name, he won’t let her leave, he orders her around (“Go to bed” [212] and “You’re going with me” [214]) and neither verbal or physical refusal stops him. He will simply overpower her; she has no choice left but to accept that this is her life now.

So, like most abuse victims, she turns to scrupulousness. If defiance won’t work, maybe doing everything she can to make sure her abuser is happy will. He told her that the garden was her responsibility (212)– so maybe if she works the garden perfectly he’ll see her as a human being worth respecting. If she anticipates his desires, if she makes the cabin comfortable, if she cooks flawlessly and obeys instantly … maybe just maybe he’ll “forgive” her and stop his abuse. If this sounds familiar to you, that’s because this is the method advocated by every single complementarian marriage-advice book on the planet. The way to a happy and healthy marriage is by being the perfect homemaker. If you’re not dutifully submissive and fulfilling your patriarchal gender roles, your husband will be unhappy and angry and take it out on you. It makes sense that this is the path Francine has Angel take.

***

This section largely deals with Angel’s understanding of religion and God. Frustratingly, her point of view is basically a badly-informed evangelical stereotype of Catholicism, and what’s “wrong” with her understanding of God is “Catholic.” She has a “Catholic” understanding of the Garden of Eden, her interpretation of Bible stories aren’t evangelical so they’re wrong, and of course Catholics don’t read their Bible.

What we as the reader are supposed to take away from this part of the story is that Francine’s view of God is horribly wrong. Evangelicals of course know that God wants to have a relationship with us, that he loves us, that forgiveness and grace are freely available if we just say the word. Angel, however, think that God is angry and wrathful and vengeful, and is waiting up in heaven to crush her “like a bug” (227). She even introduces the Problem of Evil:

Michael took her hand again and wove his fingers with hers. “God had nothing to do with it.”

Her eyes felt strangely hot and gritty. “He didn’t stop it either, did he? Where’s the mercy you’re always reading about? I never saw any given to my mother.” Michael was silent for a long time after that. (229)

Honestly, this is the first thing Francine’s done that I’ve somewhat appreciated. Angel’s life, as Michael described, has been “hell,” and God in his heaven had never intervened. This is a legitimate question, and one I’ve never satisfactorily answered for myself. Redeeming Love doesn’t provide any answers, either– at least not here. I imagine we’ll get the “free will” answer at some point.

However, what Angel and the reader are supposed to understand is that God is not like her father, or Duke, or any of the men she’s known– God is like Michael. God is forgiving and loving and wants to know us, like Michael loves and forgives and wants to know Angel. The problem with all of that, of course, is that Michael is an abuser. Angel thinks that God is waiting to crush her like a bug … and Michael is waiting to drag her off to anything he so wishes. Evangelicals talk a big talk about how amazing their God is, but when the rubber meets the road and they start talking about what God is like in practice and not just in theory, he really is just a bully. He abducts grown women — repeatedly– orders them around, and overcomes all resistance with physical force.

Angel is not wrong about Michael’s God.

***

The last message that Francine wants to beat us over the head with is how wonderful complementarianism and gender roles are. The Jewish storekeeper thinks “As gentle a man as he was, as tender was his heart, there was nothing weak about Michael Hosea” (223), which we know from the fact that Michael took on all comers in a barfight and walked out unscathed. Later we meet the Altmans, and we get this description:

The Altmans fascinated Angel. They all liked each other. John Altman was clearly in charge and would tolerate no disrespect or rebellion, but it was clear he was not held in fear by his wife and children. Even Jacob’s [eldest son] rebellion had been handled with good humor. “Whenever you don’t listen, there’s going to be stern discipline,” his father said. “I’ll supply the discipline, you’ll supply the stern.” The boy capitulated and Altman ruffled his hair affectionately. (240)

Through the pages that introduce the Altmans, we get a picturesque, Rockwell-style happy family. The siblings all get along splendidly, and the father is respected, obeyed, and adored. Michael is basically enraptured. He wants them to live in his cabin until spring and be his friends– without bothering to consult Angel, he just decides— maybe even buy the farmland right next to his! They’re just such wonderful people, wouldn’t that be grand? It’s clear Michael thinks they’re the perfect family. He even falls asleep whispering about how he wants one basically just theirs (241). A family where his word is law and everyone is just so dang happy about it.

Which is of course where we get hit with a double-barrel flashback to Angel being sterilized. I can’t wait to see where Francine goes with that.

Feminism

Gatekeeping vs. Coalition Building

The second I first heard about a possible march happening in DC the day after the inauguration, my reaction was where do I sign up. Marching will not be the only way I resist the incoming regimeadministration, but I will stand in the streets tomorrow and scream my rage and sorrow with my sisters. I know many of you can’t– having fibromyalgia means I will be paying for this all next week, so I understand not being able to make marching work for you. I also know not everyone feels that the Women’s March tomorrow either represents you well or is something you want to give your energy to, and I respect that.

However, since Wednesday, a large part of the conversation of can I, should I march on Saturday has revolved around abortion, and I feel that the conversation has been plagued with misrepresentations. We are talking about abortion after all so the fact that everything is being flagrantly misunderstood is unsurprising. Since I’m in seminary primarily to advocate for reproductive justice in my Christian context, this conversation is critical to me, and I want to try to push it in an honest and fact-based direction.

The discussion we’re having was sparked when the Women’s March leadership decided to partner with an organization called New Wave Feminists. I am frustrated with the people who made that decision because it’s clear that New Wave Feminists was not vetted at all. If they’d looked into this organization, they would have found out that the founder testified in favor of HB2 in Texas (the bill Wendy Davis filibustered)– the bill that would have removed abortion access from most women in Texas. New Wave Feminists also lie about hormonal contraception and their founder said that women shouldn’t be “full-service sluts.” The goal of this organization is to restrict abortion access, restrict access to birth control, and control women’s sexuality. It is not an organization that the Women’s March should support, and they were right to remove them as partners.

However, after removing them as partners, they faced some criticism. I heard about it because Rachel Held Evans– as y’all know, one of my heroes– tweeted “Progressives have a chance to build a broader coalition here, and they are blowing it” … which was incredibly disappointing because of the narrative that weaves. Over the past two days I’ve seen a ridiculous number of people claim that the Women’s March is forbidding any pro-life woman from participating, which is just ridiculous. Removing an anti-woman organization from partnership and being unwilling to partner with those who want to make abortion illegal does not mean that pro-life women can’t march, if they want to. They couldn’t have made that clearer.

Rachel’s tweet– and the widespread sentiment her tweet represents– was also incredibly frustrating on top of being disappointing because this situation is the result of a terrible amount of confusion. The New Wave Feminists are an organization pro-lifers like Karen Swallow Prior, Sarah Bessey, and Rachel Held Evans want to defend? People who lie to women, who lie about medicine, who shame us and demean us? Who call us “sluts” for having sex, who misrepresent themselves and their goals?

I have saidrepeatedly— that I want to work with the sort of pro-life women Rachel represents. I value their work, I value them, and I understand where they’re coming from. In the past I’ve respected their position because I saw it as realistic, loving, and consistent. I welcome their particular articulation of pro-life ethics into my feminist work with open arms. I may think that abortion is ethical, but I understand having reservations. This isn’t an easy issue– and, regardless of why any particular person may be having an abortion, it represents a failure somewhere. People who will fight with me to overcome those failures– who want to make birth control accessible, who want accurate and thorough sex education, who want to remove the cultural oppression that force women into these situations– I want you at my side.

After all, I’m pro-choice. If someone is having an abortion because they have no other option, I do not consider that acceptable. We should be able to choose whether or not we want to remain pregnant, and not have circumstances limit us or force us. We should be able to feed our babies, we should be able to get our children to the doctor, we should be able to keep our jobs, we should be able to recover after giving birth … and it’s wrong that those are the considerations pregnant people face.

So I’m all in favor of coalition building. I think feminism is a big tent and a lot of us should be able to squeeze together under here– even if we don’t always agree.

However.

There has to be a line somewhere.

If you’ve read me for a bit, you know I’m not a fan of shibboleths. I don’t like setting up a bunch of fences and boundaries to movements and I don’t, in general, like people who say “you’re in, you’re in, you’re not.” I like big, broad, encompassing tents. I like it when we don’t always get along, don’t always agree. I want serious discussions, not a bunch of people who preach to the choir all of the time.

But I think it is appropriate and good for feminists to say “being a feminist means you don’t support policies that lead to the suffering and death of women,” and unfortunately, that’s what being “pro-life” means for a not-insignificant part of the pro-life movement. If there’s going to be a line that keeps some people out of the feminist tent, the “you want women to die for no god-forsaken reason” is a damn good line. It’s the only line really worth enforcing. If Feminism weren’t The We Want Women to Not Die tent, it wouldn’t be good for anything.

I’m not apologizing for that being my price of admission. If you support policies and laws that lead to nothing else but suffering and death, I don’t want you in my tent and I don’t understand why you’d want to be in it. Banning abortion, criminalizing abortion, “making it illegal except in cases of life-threatening emergencies” leads to death and suffering. Those actions do not change the abortion rate— they result in the same number of abortions, but more life-threatening medical problems, more death, more abuse, more violence, more tragedies, and yes, women being sent to prison because they miscarried.

On this one issue– whether or not our nation’s laws result in women dying– I will be a gatekeeper. Kate Shellnutt and Hannah Anderson at Christianity Today want to tell me that ““If Dem[ocrats] could have entertained possibility of a pro-life women’s vote, they’d have won,” and it makes me scream inside because that “pro-life women’s vote” was a vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and make abortion illegal. It wasn’t a vote against rape or sexual assault. It wasn’t a vote to protect our jobs, our wages, our children, our healthcare, our autonomy, or our bodies in any way. It was one vote: to criminalize abortion. To condemn women to needless suffering, unnecessary physical torment, and death for many of us. No, I will not “entertain” that idea, and I don’t think feminism should.

These “pro-life women voters” like the New Wave Feminists have spent a massive amount of time telling us that our actions have consequences– and surprisingly, this is where I agree. Pro-life people who want to ban abortion apparently live in a land without consequences. They want to enforce their religious interpretation of when life begins onto everyone and pretend that nothing bad could ever come of that. That their actions, their choices, would not be the reason why more women would be thrown in prison or killed. They want to ban abortion– even though it would not even accomplish what they want. They want to prevent us from accessing birth control– even though that actively opposes what they want. They want to punish us for even daring to take control of our lives.

If that doesn’t describe you, welcome inside my big feminist tent.

If it does, stay out in the cold and shiver.

Social Issues

re-writing bad advice #1

Among my favorite things in the world are advice columns. I read Dear Abby every week growing up, and as an adult I discovered advice columns like Captain Awkward and Dear Prudence— which is written by Mallory Ortberg, one of the founders of The Toast  and who is definitely one of the funniest women on the internet. Captain Awkward has been life-changing for me and many of my friends, and I can’t recommend her enough.

Not all advice columns are created equal, and some are really, really bad. One of the worst offenders, in my opinion, is the advice column at Boundless. If you’ve never heard of Boundless before, it’s a branch of Focus on the Family and is designed for twenty-something singles, “with the goal of helping young adults grow up, own their faith, date with purpose and prepare for marriage and family.” I heard of it when I was at Liberty, where it was really popular because it pitched itself (oh-so-slightly) against the I Kissed Dating Goodbye narrative. One post in particular that went viral is “Learning from Ruth” which encouraged women to make romantic overtures toward men.

I read Boundless regularly for several years until I couldn’t take their advice column anymore because it infuriated me so often. A long time ago I kicked around the idea of taking the letters written in to the Boundless team and answering them with better advice, and I’ve decided to actually go ahead a do it. With almost 600 letters to choose from, there’s tons of fodder and it should be light-hearted and easy enough to continue when I’m slogging through mid-terms in seminary.

***

I’m a 28-year-old guy with stable income. I feel mentally and emotionally ready for marriage. I’ve been praying about it for sometime. I met a wonderful Christian lady during my college years. After we both graduated, we stayed in touch. She has all the characteristics of a godly woman, and I am sure she will be a great wife. The only problem is that I am not attracted to her.

I know that she is somewhat attracted to me, and even her family seems interested in me.

Should I pursue her, hoping that I will become attracted to her, or should I keep my distance?

If you read the original response, Candice Watters tell him that being a man means “leading his feelings,” but that he’ll need God’s strength to do so. She goes on to tell him to spend time with her “with all purity and honor” and that he might be surprised if (heavily implied when) he becomes attracted to her.

Dear Stable Income,

Before I answer your main question, I want to address a possible assumption here that might affect other choices you make about dating relationships down the road. You said “she has all the characteristics of a godly woman, and I am sure she will be a great wife,” and your phrasing here implies that the first guarantees the second, when that is not how relationships– especially marriage relationships– work. Godly characteristics can be all well and good, but they must be placed in context; depending on the context, those “godly characteristics” may be fine for one relationship and disastrous for another. Take for example the virtue of patience. To one person, how they demonstrate their patience may be comforting and helpful– to another person, it could feel constrictive and overly passive. People are complicated, and it all depends.

Figuring out who you want to date and eventually marry isn’t about finding someone who lines up with your Godly Woman Checklist. Two women could appear to have the same exact list of “qualifications” you’re looking for and one could be a good match and the other your Date from Hell. It is important to find someone who shares your values, but equally as important is that you’ll be sharing your entire life with a partner. Your personalities should mesh well, you probably shouldn’t have wildly conflicting ideas of how you want to spend your average day, and you should respect their ideas, arguments, point of view, opinions … even if you don’t always agree. That and so much more goes in to figuring out who you’d like to eventually be with.

In short, don’t obsess too much about whether or not she meets your definition of A Godly Woman and instead figure out if you even like her and want to spend time with her, for starters.

Now, moving on to your main question. Chances are since you’re asking this question you know a) what attraction is and b) that you’ve experienced it. While it is possible to develop an attraction over time, I’m guessing you’ve known her for at least six years at this point (if you graduated around the average time) … if after six years you’ve never been attracted to her, you’re probably not going to be attracted to her. Not every person wants or needs to be sexually attracted to their life partner– see asexual people who have platonic partners– but since you’re writing the question I’m assuming you’re not one of those people.

Sexual attraction isn’t the end-all-be-all of marriage (neither is sex), but it is a component that shouldn’t be neglected for those of us who feel it. It’s totally normal to feel different kinds of attraction for different people, but it would be unusual for attraction to develop after you’ve known someone this long. Not impossible, though– so if you want to hang out with her and see, there isn’t anything stopping you.

Which leads me to my final piece of advice: if you date someone and it doesn’t work out, that’s ok. The world will not end, and you will not have given (or taken) a piece of heart you can’t get back. That’s not how it works. If you do decide you want to see if something could happen between you and your college friend, just make it clear to her that’s all your interested in for the time being, and that neither of you should feel obligated to force anything if there just isn’t a spark. There’s no need to tell her “I want to see if I can be attracted to you,” but do be honest that you’re not hearing wedding bells and that this is just to see how it goes. If she’s not interested in that, well, there’s your answer.

Kindly,

Samantha Field

Photo by Steven Depolo
Feminism

Redeeming Love: Brothers and Bothers

[Content note: discussions of abuse and coercion]

Plot Summary:

  • Paul, Michael’s brother-in-law, returns.
  • He recognizes Angel, thinks she deceived Michael about her profession.
  • Paul leaves to get supplies, demands sex in order to take Angel with him.
  • The Palace burned down, so Angel’s money is gone.
  • She returns to prostitution.
  • Michael finds her, fights everyone in the saloon, takes her back to the farm.
  • Angel tells Michael about her past.

***

As you can see, stuff actually happens in these three chapters (14-16), and there’s so much to dig into. So much. It’s a little overwhelming, especially since this section pushed almost every single one of my buttons. One of the first is how magnificently obtuse Francine is about her own characters. We’ve seen this before, but it becomes a problem in this section when she introduces us to Paul. He’s been trying to “get rich quick” in the mountains, but is returning in an almost prodigal-son-like fashion to the farm, where he also has a cabin apparently.

Francine is attempting to give us a foil for Michael. We’ve only been watching how Michael interacts with Angel, so we’re given Paul in order to demonstrate just how wonderful and supportive and nice Michael actually is, because look at what this horrible brute does to Angel.

He makes an almost-incredible amount of assumptions about Angel– beginning with a bunch of (coughnothistoricallyaccuratecough) stereotypes about prostitutes, leading to the belief that Angel is deceiving Michael about what she used to do for a living, and ends with him convinced that she’s a stone-hearted bitch (a phrase Francine very awkwardly avoids using, which reminds me of the note in the beginning about her editor cleaning the book up for a “Christian” audience). He’s horrifically judgmental, calls her a liar repeatedly, and constantly thinks about being horribly violent toward her. It’s all capped off with him forcing Angel to have sex to “pay” him for the ride into town.

All of this is supposed to be in contrast with Michael … except it isn’t.

Since the very beginning, Michael has done nothing but make assumptions about Angel based on those not-historically-accurate stereotypes– she’s a prostitute, so she only understands one kind of “love.” She’s a prostitute, so she’s shallow and manipulative. She’s a prostitute, so she thinks being on a farm is boring drudgery. Etc. He’s also countermanded her about her own feelings and wants and ideas almost every single time she’s expressed any. A typical interaction is “I want XYZ” and he says “No, you don’t.” And then oh there’s this:

He didn’t want to pity her. He wanted to shake her until her teeth feel out. He wanted to kill her. (204).

This isn’t him being overly dramatic, either, because of what happened earlier: He’s taking her back to the farm while she repeatedly tells him to let her off the wagon. When he refuses, she throws herself off and runs away. He chases her down and starts dragging her back to the wagon while she resists, and then we read:

He almost hit her back, but he knew if he hit her once, he wouldn’t stop … If he had hit her back once, he would have killed her. (195) [On recalling finding her at the saloon] If he hadn’t seen her eyes or heard the way she said his name, he would have killed them both. (196)

Francine has made it as clear as she possibly could that Michael actually literally wanted to murder Angel, but through mountains of restraint somehow managed not to beat her to death. She does all of that, and yet the reader is still supposed to see Michael as fundamentally different and better than Paul. The way Michael and Paul treat Angel is fundamentally the same, but again, Michael didn’t have sex with her and reads the Bible a lot so he’s the nice one– ignore the murderous rages, those are fine.

***

One of the biggest problems with this section of the book is that it buys into common — but false– narratives about abuse. Setting aside the fact that Michael wants to beat his wife to death, he does actually restrain himself from physical violence toward her. Paul does not– during the ride into town, he “hits every hole in the road, bouncing and jarring her … He enjoyed her discomfort” (185). The book condemns his behavior here and in other places– physically hurting Angel is clearly out of bounds for Francine.

The narrative condemns physical abuse while giving us a character who emotionally abuses and psychologically torments his spouse and describing emotional abuse as not just normal, but praiseworthy. Francine utterly ignores the fact that not all abuse looks the same– and when Angel reacts to Michael, the text makes it clear that she’s reacting to her past with Duke, not Michael, and her reactions aren’t trustworthy. Her responses to Michael’s incredibly ominous behavior are supposed to be considered unreliable, instead of a realistic depiction of how a victim would react to someone who’s been emotionally abusing them. When I got to this scene, I wanted to cry:

“Because I love you,” he said thickly. He swung her around in front of him, his eyes tormented. “That simple, Amanda. I love you. When are you going to understand what that means?”

Her throat tightened, and she hung her head.

They walked the rest of the way in silence. He lifted her onto the wagon seat. She shifted over as he pulled himself up beside her. She looked at him bleakly. “Your kind of love can’t feel good.”

“Does your kind feel any better? … I felt like killing you when I walked in that room, but I didn’t. I feel like beating sense into you right now, but I won’t …” (197)

I wanted to scream. This is not what love is. If you haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s a relevant scene:

Yondu: When I picked you up as a kid, these boys wanted to eat you. They ain’t never tasted Terran before. I saved your life!

Quill: Oh, will you shut up about that? God! Twenty years, you’ve been throwing that in my face, like it’s some great thing, not eating me! Normal people don’t even think about eating someone else! Much less that person having to be grateful for it!

I’m a big fan of that scene, because as extreme as the Ravagers eating Quill would have been, this thought is practically textbook abuse and Quill’s response is completely brilliant and true. When Michael defines “love,” he says that it’s not killing her and not beating her, like she’s supposed to be grateful.

There aren’t words to describe how horrific and excruciating it is that when Francine is describing what love means, her definition matches that of conservative Christianity’s perfectly. When they say that God loves us, what they mean is that despite all his wrath and fury, he doesn’t murder us where we stand, and we’re supposed to fall down on our faces in worship. “I want to kill you, but I won’t” is part of the bedrock of evangelical theology, and it’s incorporated into any theological discussion of God’s love. It’s sickening.

Another classic sign that Michael is an abuser appears in his internal dialogue after the return to the farm– Angel “betrayed” him. She doesn’t have a conscience. She cut him to ribbons. She should feel ashamed of herself, she was his wife and she left him and had sex with all those other men he could just kill her.

This is textbook abusive entitlement. He practically abducts a delirious woman, manipulates her into “marrying” him, absconds with her to an isolated area she can’t escape, refuses to help her, forces her to work for him, cook for him, refuses to even use her goddamn name, all while she is constantly telling him she doesn’t want to be there, she doesn’t want to be his wife, she wants to leave. And yet when she does exactly all of that it’s such a betrayal he wants to kill her.

And Michael is considered one of the most wildly romantic figures in all of Christian fiction.

***

I promised at the beginning of the series that we’d be talking about survival sex, and we’ve gotten there. Here’s a quick definition and two very good articles about it:

Survival sex is, quite simply, exchanging one’s body for basic subsistence needs, including clothing, food, and shelter.

So, pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Much of the conversation about survival sex focuses on homeless youth because they’re especially at risk, but I think many of us have known an adult woman who had sex with someone in order to have a place to live. It can also appear in abusive relationships– having sex in order to prevent verbal/physical beatings, or to extend to “honeymoon phase.” It’s sex that, given a more ideal set of circumstances, would not happen. It’s sex with consent, but without autonomy. Things like survival sex is why I balk at reductionist approaches to consent— it’s possible that someone can consent, but for their choices to be so bounded that they don’t actually have a choice. It’s consent coerced by circumstances.

This is clearly what is happening to Angel– when she returns to Pair-a-Dice, winter is approaching and she has nothing but the clothes on her back. No food, no shelter, no money. When the saloon owner offers an upstairs room for her to get “back in business” (190), she has no other option. It’s that or either die of starvation or exposure– even if she wanted to go back to the farm and the man who’s been emotionally abusing her, lying to her, and manhandling her, it’s 30 miles away. So, thinking “I’m never going to be free,” (191), she uses sex to survive.

After Michael beats up everyone in the saloon and forces her to come back with him, Francine writes this internal thought process for Angel:

Angel felt the building warm of the sun on her shoulders and remembered Michael dragging her with him through the night to face the sunrise. “That’s the life I want to give you.” She hadn’t understood then what he offered. She had not comprehended until she walked up the stairs at the Silver Dollar Saloon and sold her soul into slavery again …

What have I done? Why did I throw it all away? Paul’s words came back: “You’re not even worth two bits.” It was true … it hadn’t even taken a day for her to fall right back into her old ways …

It was all her fault. All the ifs flooded her: If she had never left Duke … if she had never gotten on that barkentine … if she hadn’t sold herself to any passerby on the muddy streets of San Francisco or gone with Duchess … if she had ignored Paul … if she had stayed here and never left … if she hadn’t gone back to Pair-a-Dice or gone up those stairs with Murphy …

Michael had taken her straight out of the abyss and offered her a chance– and she had thrown it away. (200-202)

Francine is oh-so-conveniently leaving out the rather important fact that what Angel chose for herself was a cabin in the woods– independence and freedom. Given the information she had access to, Michael was not the “chance” she’d thrown away. She had her own chance that she’d worked for. She had a plan that was simple and completely achievable. That the Palace burned down and the Duchess left with all of her money is not something she knew when she left the farm. She didn’t choose Murphy and the Saloon; circumstances limited her. But ten pages of the book make it clear that it was really all her fault and she needs redemption and forgiveness, with God repeating “seventy times seven” in Michael’s head.

This book is grotesque.

Social Issues

stepping into the future

I spent the bulk of my early twenties thinking I was going to be a freelance editor, largely because I was a freelance editor. It’s something I’d been doing for a decade by my mid-twenties, and that’s just where I thought my future was going. I got a Master’s degree in English, I went to the Denver Publishing Institute– everything was nice and orderly and mapped out. And then I started blogging, and that managed to blossom into the early stages of a writing career. At first I struggled to keep up with everything that was happening when I started this little adventure with all of you; I’d spent so much time and attention plotting out a different future that when it suddenly changed on me I found myself coasting a bit.

It surprised me when I fell in love with it, found it incredibly fulfilling, and was so thrilled and energized by all the possibilities I hadn’t allowed myself to even imagine when I was thinking I was going to be an editor. I don’t know why I’d assumed I’d fail as a writer without even trying, but I did … until you proved me wrong. Your support showed me I could do this.

So, for the first time, I’m trying to be truly intentional about this whole “I’m a writer” business. Nothing around here should change much, since it’s just going to be me frantically working in the background. Seminary is proving extraordinarily fruitful ground for post ideas– my notebooks are crammed full of dashed-out notes with BLOG written next to them. I think I’ve decided on my thesis topic, which will form the foundational research I’ll need to write the books I want to write. I’m also going to seriously dedicate myself to finding freelance writing opportunities (so if you know of a site like SheLoves, The Mudroom, The Flawless Project, etc, that would be interested in writing like mine, let me know about it).

One of the things I’ve decided to introduce is a monthly community feature. Elizabeth Esther used to do this, but she’s decided to take a step away from writing for a while, so I want to continue what she started. I want to get blog recommendations from everyone– comments, twitter, facebook, private message, e-mail, however you want to get it to me– and every month I’ll choose a handful to feature in my “Stuff I’ve Been Into” post. I’d like them to be either a) less than 3-ish years old, b) have a smaller readership, and c) be written by women, POC, or LGBT+. They don’t have to be religious or have a religious focus, although religious feminist blogs written by people from non-Christian faith traditions would certainly perk my interest. Feel free to pitch your own, even!

I also want to purposely resurrect the Learning the Words guest post series. Check out what’s in the series so you can get a feel for what I’m hoping to see, and then send me your ideas!

There’s a lot of work ahead of us, but I’m ready to get started.

Feminism

the vulnerabilities of choice

I’ve been whining about this (on and off the internet) for a while, and I figured that now was a good moment to sit down and discuss what ails me. Patterns I’ve been watching for a few years are starting to turn in unfortunate and — in my opinion– dangerous directions, and I think feminists need to start examining ourselves and how we’re becoming vulnerable to exploitation by racists, bigots, and misogynists.

To explain, I need to begin with what I’ve started calling “internet feminism.” First, my moniker isn’t intended to denigrate feminist actions that take place on the internet; that would be incredibly hypocritical since most of my work is based online. What I’m referring to is a general sense that online feminist discourse is stuck in a nascent stage. I’ve followed a whole host of sites and blogs like Everyday Feminism and The Mary Sue for a while now, and it seems to me that these ostensibly feminist spaces are stuck in a loop; we only seem to discuss a handful of issues and never seem to move beyond 101-level explanations of things like consent and objectification.

This is not to say that 1) better discourse does not take place online– it absolutely does or 2) that these 101-level explanations aren’t helpful or needed. However, what I’ve experienced is that a lot of online feminists seem to congregate at two ends of a spectrum. At one end you have people like me, who have dedicated our lives to feminism. On the other end are the people who stay in the “shallow end” of the feminist pool; they’re happy to share a Robot Hugs comic when it shows up in their feed … and that’s about it.

I’m not exactly unhappy with this. I appreciate how these 101-level comics and posts are being widely disseminated, and that a lot more people are being educated in the basics of feminism and learning to appreciate it. I especially like that feminism — despite the screaming carrot demon we just elected president– is losing some of the stigma misogynists managed to tar it with.

However.

The “shallow end” is resulting in a certain class of feminist that believes that feminism in its entirety can be encapsulated by a comic strip and amusing videos about tea. This is unfortunate because someone could walk away from the bulk of online feminist commentary and believe that choices — when made by a woman or femme person — are inherently feminist.

I understood how we’ve gotten here. Supposedly feminism is all about offering women more choices, and they’re not wrong … in the sense that Captain America wasn’t wrong when he observed that “it seems to be run on some form of electricity.”

If you follow the history of the feminist movement in the United States (as well as other places, but I’m an American, so), women from the suffragettes to the second-wave feminists to intersectional feminists of today have all fought for the agency and autonomy of women. In a word, that fight is practically represented in choices— the more autonomy we have, the more choices we have available to us. This is why the argument that women should have the choice to remain in the workforce or become a stay-at-home-mom is, from a feminist viewpoint, sound. Feminists argue that neither women in or out of the workforce should be economically, socially, or politically penalized for their decision.

Making our choices truly autonomous ones is the struggle of feminism.

Unfortunately, all this talk about “it’s my choice!” has led many of us to believe that any choice can be a feminist one. This is where I think we’re vulnerable, because it is allowing a certain kind of person to claim their actions  are– or to label the actions of others as– “feminist” even when the decisions they’re making are harmful to women, especially women of color.

Last month I read an article titled “Pushing Back Against Non-Consensual Misogyny in BDSM.” In it she described her relationship: Her and her partner are full-time dominant/submissive, and while I have issues with power play (as opposed to sensation play or impact play), I don’t feel that it’s my place to tell anyone how to live their life. If she thinks it’s “so, so hot” for her husband to tell her when to shave, what to eat, what to wear, etc, whatever. As long as she’s not telling other women they have to submit to their husband, it’s none of my business what happens in their home.

What I do have a problem with is her argument that her husband using misogynistic language and regimenting every aspect of her life is “feminist.” It’s her choice, and she’s free to make it, but it is not feminist. It does not advance the autonomy of women, it does not help women achieve equality or liberation, and it does nothing to fight for our rights. If other women were to emulate her, mimic her, what would be the end result? An equal and just society, where all genders are free? Absolutely not. Her life choices, if repeated by others, would lead to the opposite.

Feminism fights for the autonomy of women; feminist choices are those that resist systems of patriarchal oppression. Choosing to expand my definition of beauty in ways that do not align with white supremacist, classist standards is a feminist choice. Choosing to defend my LGBT siblings against bigotry is feminist. Choosing to surround myself with marginalized artists and creators is feminist. Choosing my fashion aesthetic based on personal preference and without shame is feminist.

Many choices are neutral, and have no real feminist implications one way or the other (like, say, which flavor you want at the fro-yo place). Choosing to have your husband demean you because it turns you on, on the other hand, could even be an anti-feminist choice. These sorts of choices matter because they are a part of the system you’re upholding and reinforcing. If you want to uphold a dynamic where, as the woman, you’re demeaned and infantalized … go ahead. But don’t say that decision contributes anything toward tearing down patriarchy.

Which leads me to my last, and most significant, concern. This sort of emphasis on choice feminism is leading to an environment that allows racism and other forms of bigotry to invade. Last year, Megyn Kelly was hailed virtually internet-wide for her “feminism” when, as a debate moderator, she asked Trump a question about his disdain for women. Megyn has explicitly stated on multiple occasions that she is not a feminist– not that she rejects the label, but that she opposes feminism.

When women like Megyn– anti-feminist, racist, bigoted– are hailed as “feminist icons” for daring to say “calling women mean names isn’t cool” then feminism has been co-opted to serve the interests of Empire. In the context of everything I’ve been railing against in this post, this permissiveness is a result of thinking that merely making choices is what can make a woman a feminist, even when those choices uphold patriarchal systems. Choice feminism and white feminism not only go hand-in-hand, they’re indistinguishable. They both exalt people for upholding patriarchal, white supremacist norms.

Feminism isn’t ultimately about choice. It’s about equality and liberation, and we cannot lose sight of that. Too much is at stake, especially now.

Photo by David Uy
Feminism

Redeeming Love Review: These Boots Are Made for Walking

Plot Summary:

  • Angel continues (physically) healing.
  • Michael takes her to see a sunrise.
  • Later, they have sex for the first time.
  • She tries to leave, but gets lost and has to return to Michael’s farm.

***

As you can see, nothing much actually happens in these three chapters; most of what Francine gives us here is internal emotional struggles happening inside Angel and Michael. From a character development perspective, Francine is focusing on making certain archetypes brutally clear. Up until this point in the book, she’s been focused on the “Hosea” element of Michael’s character, but in these chapters she hits us over the head, frying-pan style, with comparisons of Michael to God and Jesus. He washes Angel’s feet, for one (163), and he’s constantly haranguing her to “put her trust in him” (137).

Francine is not a particularly good writer. This book isn’t the worst thing I’ve read– and it’s passable for the Christian Fiction genre– but this is where she runs into even worse show vs. tell problems than what we’ve seen so far. It’s not that she tells us more than she shows us, it’s that what she tells us contradicts what she shows us.

For example, in Michael’s perspective, we read this:

Most men would have been satisfied to have such a malleable, hardworking wife. Michael was not. He had not married her to have a drudge. He wanted a woman as part of his life– part of himself. (141)

However, all he’s done is tell her that she has to stay there, learn to work, clean, do chores, feed him, and he’s expressly forbidden her from leaving. He won’t even use her name– in fact, in these chapters he calls her Mara, Tirzah, and Amanda. For no reason. He tells her when to sleep. When she wants to sleep, he yanks the covers off her repeatedly, drags her out of bed, and forces her out onto a hike. When walking through the dark is a clearly triggering experience– she even tells him she’s afraid because it’s reminding her of “something that happened” when she was a child– he ignores her and just pulls her through the woods (136-39). A drudge is a “person made to do hard work,” and that’s how Michael has treated Angel for forty pages.

It happens again in Angel’s perspective:

She didn’t like that he didn’t fit any mold she knew; that he kept his word; that he didn’t use her; that he treated her differently from any way she had ever been treated before. (143)

I want to comment on two things happening here. First, it’s not surprising to me that Francine has this problem. In her culture, it is expected for Christian leaders to tell people what and how to think, and how to “correctly” view the things that are happening to them. The Bible, or your pastor, are capable of overriding your own experiences– in fact, they’re supposed to supersede them.  For Francine to expect her readers to listen to her authorial voice over what she’s written the characters actually doing fits right in with that cultural narrative.

Second, the principle struggle for Michael in these chapters is to not have sex with Angel. He goes on long walks in the night, he talks cold baths, he sits by the fire and mopes, all while being “tempted” to have sex with her. All of this is painted as what makes him like Jesus, and a better person than his father (who had the life philosophy that all women want to and deserve to be “dominated” [142]). He’s not having sex with her, and that means that he’s not “using her” and “treating her differently.”

He won’t use her name. He refuses to ever listen to her, about pretty much anything. If she says she wants to do something, like stay in bed, he forces her– bodily– to do what he wants her to do, right that second. He manipulates her– like asking her to collect walnuts because he knows the shells will stain her hands and she won’t try to leave him (148).

But he’s not having sex with her, so he’s a great guy. Again, this point of view is unsurprising. Christian culture is obsessed with sexual “purity” to the point that basically every other concern, including abuse, is tossed by the wayside. As long as people aren’t getting jiggy with it, who cares about whether or not we’re treated with respect, consideration, and kindness?

***

From the opening pages of Redeeming Love, Michael’s been hearing The Voice of God, which appears as bolded text. Well, in these chapters, guess who else starts talking to Michael– and Angel? Satan. He starts encouraging Michael to have sex with Angel, and guess what he starts telling Angel to do:

You have to go back, Angel. You must. You’ll never be free if you don’t … You can build another cabin like this one, and it will be all yours … (145)

Think of having something for yourself. Think of being free. (156)

You’ve got to get out of here! Save yourself and flee! (158)

All of Angel’s impulses toward independence, self-preservation, and freedom are ascribed to Satan. In Francine’s story, Angel wanting to live her own quiet life without interference is an actual literal Devil inside of her head– and of course, to the vast majority of people reading this book, the only logical conclusion is that it would be a sin for Angel to have the freedom she wants– that craving independence is sinful. And, of course, to Francine and her audience, this is all justified because the freedom Satan offers is obviously a lie. Angel can’t truly be free and independent without God … or Michael, who in this telling is both. Considering that the complementarian theology inherent to most of conservative Christian culture almost explicitly conflates the role of God and Husband for women, this is, again, unsurprising.

Interestingly, the fact that they have sex is almost a complete non-event. He makes her say his name over and over again, even though he can tell she doesn’t like it. Apparently this goes along with his “we’ll make love and I’ll show her how sex is REALLY supposed to go!” plan. It backfires because she leaves him the next day– until he tracks her down and finds her bloody and wounded in the rain. But he washes her feet like Jesus so it’s all ok!

Heavens does this book make me furious and sick.