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.

Feminism

A Feminist Vision for Hermenuetics

I’m wrapping up the semester, and I think I’ll have a much better handle on life balance in the Spring. But, I promised you a sample of some of what I write for seminary, so here’s my term paper for Hermenuetics. We were supposed to explore one concept we’d studied and how we’d incorporate it into our hermenuetic, so I decided to talk about feminist theory functioning as a corrective presupposition.

It assumes you have some familiarity with material we discussed in class (like Gadamer’s view of “prejudice,” which is not the dictionary definition, or the difference between “interpretation” and “re-interpretation”)– if this sparks questions, I can do my best to answer them.

***

When I first encountered Gadamer’s explanation of prejudice, I was intrigued by the possibilities in his concept. My first understanding of his prejudice was intuitive in the sense that it aligned well with my understanding of how the world works. As an explanation for what happens when a reader interacts with a text it has a flavor of common sense about it—of course a reader has to bring pre-judgments to the text in order to have a place to begin understanding it. Some of these are incredibly basic, such as having a pre-judgement that water is wet, it quenches thirst, it is necessary for survival, it can be refreshing, and it can be fun to swim in. We build these pre-judgements from infancy forward; without them we would not be able to function hermeneutically. In Gadamer’s words, prejudices “constitute the initial directedness of our whole ability to experience.”

However, there is a form of pre-judgement that is one layer of abstraction beyond our more intuitively obvious conceptualizations of the world. Brown deals with these abstracted pre-judgements as she discusses presuppositions, which she argues include “pre-understandings.” For example, Christians can bring sophisticated theological concepts like the Trinity or Penal Substitutionary Atonement into their readings and assume the text supports their “pre-understanding” when it may not. Or, it could be a presupposition that is even less conscious than that. White American Christians, for example, have grown up unconsciously swimming in a sea of white supremacy and privilege, and we bring those with us to the Bible whether or not we want to. Brown also goes on to say that “Trying to discover our presuppositions can be rather like trying to see our blind spots—very difficult without outside assistance.”

This is where the possibilities for Gadamer’s prejudices intrigue me, since as a feminist I believe that it is incredibly important for every reader to be aware of their pre-judgments in order to distinguish between what is a “bad” prejudgment and a “good” one. In my view, a pre-judgment is “bad” when it does two things: when it creates eisegesis, or a reading that is not supported by the text; and when it creates an interpretation that either erases harm or causes harm.

I believe that feminism is, at its most fundamental, a hermeneutical task. Feminism requires us to analyze our biases and our presuppositions, even when they are cherished traditions or powerful systems. Feminism is an attempt to interpret the world accurately: it is an awareness of how nearly every form of human endeavor is affected by the subjugation of women and the men who align themselves with womanliness. As feminists, we view the interwoven stories of humanity with self-critical and text-critical eyes. Phyllis Trible notes in her essay on hermeneutics that the point of Christian feminism is “To reclaim the image of God as a female [and] to become aware of the male idolatry that has long infested faith.” In short, I believe that feminism can help illuminate where our “blind spots” are—at least some of them.

Feminism is not just a means of illuminating our presuppositions; I also think feminism should be a presupposition in all our engagements with biblical texts. To Christian feminist scholars like Trible, Russell, and Fiorenza, there are two primary avenues for feminism to function as a “good” prejudice. The first is as a hermeneutics of suspicion, and the second is as a hermeneutics of remembrance.

A hermeneutic of suspicion, at first glance, may not appear to be a pre-judgment worth having. To approach any text suspiciously may seem needlessly antagonistic; however, in the context of the biblical canon and Christian theology, it is important for feminists to confront patriarchal understandings of either. That is what it means to be “suspicious.” As a hermeneutical pre-judgment, feminist suspicion requires readers to be mindful of how “the principal actors, preservers of communal memories, and writers [of the Bible] were men, most of who occupied positions of privilege in patriarchal societies,” as Clifford notes.

From a practical point of view, what would this look like and how would it affect hermeneutics? First, it asks feminists to interrogate their presuppositions: have we ourselves prioritized male voices and male authority in our personal lives, or in our theological lives? This step should direct us to begin evaluating both our fundamental and abstract presuppositions. Is it possible that my understanding of something as unassumingly benign as “water” could change within a feminist framework? Is there something unique to the feminine experience that we do not even have a word for, and therefore would not even think to include in our sacred writings? If women were involved in the early formation of doctrine, would a concept like Mary’s virginity have been included in our creeds? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Feminist suspicion demands that we ask.

Second, a hermeneutic of suspicion acts as a sort of lamppost as we engage with biblical texts. As we use all the various tools at our disposal, from reader-response theory, speech-act theory, to historical criticism, feminist suspicion is an awareness of how patriarchy interacts with all of the above. Historical analysis is flawed in any attempt to represent the diversity of human experience because history—and historians—have (intentionally or not) silenced women and erased womanly experiences. Even a concept like speech-act theory might be skewed to benefit patriarchy—after all, if the purpose of language is to do, to act, we need to question how that may align with Man as Actor and Woman as Passive Object.

From a textual standpoint, a hermeneutic of suspicion reminds us that the text, at the very least, was recorded by men and that it is impossible to tell how much women were involved in the passing of the oral tradition. As the first men transcribed the oral tradition, how much of their experience as men, even as innocuous as that is—how could we expect a male scribe not to include his male experience?—entered the text and affected the implicit and explicit meanings? This feminist suspicion also does not trust that the men who wrote the biblical texts were well-meaning in their regard for women. When we read that women will find salvation in childbirth, a hermeneutic of suspicion forces interpreters to ask how misogynistic that might have been intended to be, regardless of whether or not misogyny would have been the logical consequence of the writer’s historical location.

This is how a feminist hermeneutic of suspicion can provide a corrective for interpretations that cause harm. Clifford highlights this idea when she says “if a biblical text fails to liberate women (and subjugated men) from patriarchy to the fullness of life, then it must not be true or has been misinterpreted.” There are two possibilities in Clifford’s statement: the text can be wrong, and the text can be misinterpreted. It is the feminist interpreter’s responsibility to view Paul’s (or pseudo-Paul’s) argument in this light, to ask if Paul was wrong about women being saved in childbirth, or if we do not yet “understand it as [we] ought.”

It is also important for feminist hermeneutics to aid us in avoiding the consequence of a “bad” prejudice in erasing harm, and this is where the feminist hermeneutic of remembrance enters. Trible defines a hermeneutic of remembrance as a means of retelling “stories in memoriam, affirming sympathetic readings of abused women.” This emphasis on remembrance can also be drawn on to “look behind the stories about men’s experiences of God to unveil women’s experience in the unrecorded silence.” A hermeneutic of remembrance is therefore two-fold because it is a dialogic encounter with the texts. Feminist interpreters can find meaning in the text as they identify with and feel sympathy for the women of the Bible, and we can draw upon our experiences of being silenced and our awareness of the historical silencing of women to see the women who have been rendered voiceless by biblical—largely, if not totally male—authors. Women like Trible and Clifford are drawing upon reader-response theory, which they admit to, but I believe that even this hermeneutic of remembrance can be a part of our prejudices without it becoming a re-creation or re-interpretation.

I believe this is possible because to be human is to be hermeneutical. We are creatures of firelight and story. If biblical stories are to do anything, they are first to function as memorials. Part of the implicit purpose of recording anything is to ensure that the stories will be remembered and preserved. As feminist interpreters, we ensure that it is not just men’s stories that we remember, but women’s stories—and the stories of men who were not powerful, who did not rate as important enough to include. We are to remember that just because a woman was not mentioned does not mean that she was not present, and we ask how her presence might have affected the outcome. Sometimes this form of remembrance is preserved for us intentionally. In the story of Jepthah’s daughter, the only conclusion of any sort offered by the text is that Israel’s daughters created an annual memorial to her. Feminist scholars have pointed out that the Hebrew—so often overlooked by male theologians and translators—makes it clear that Jepthah’s daughter was the crux of this remembrance: not her death, not her father’s foolhardy promise, but herself and her life.

A feminist vision for hermeneutics begins in our presuppositions, our biases, our pre-understandings, our prejudices. Instead of attempting to eliminate any form of prejudice in order to become “objective,” as some hermeneutical scholars have advocated, feminist hermeneutics asks us to be prejudiced for women in order to overcome our unconscious patriarchal biases. We should be suspicious of all the ways women have been harmed in history and in theological applications and to remember all the women whose lives have been erased from the text and from our interpretations of the text.

Resources:

  • Augustine of Hippo. On Christian Doctrine.
  • Brown, Jeannin K., Scripture as Communication: Introducing Biblical Hermenuetics.
  • Clifford, Anne M. Introducing Feminist Theology.
  • Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method.
  • Trible, Phyllis. “Feminist Hermeneutics and Biblical Studies.” In Feminist Theology: A Reader, ed. Ann Loades.
Photo by Andrew Seaman
Social Issues

stomping on eggshells: on white fragility and speaking up

It’s been two weeks since the election, and I’ve been struggling to find something to say. Somehow life has to keep moving, we have to keep going … but it’s difficult to come here and continue reviewing Redeeming Love when it feels like the entire world is going up in flames. On the other hand I don’t want to continue re-iterating what you’re likely seeing through the rest of your social media/blogging channels, and as important as it is for us to be aware of the steps Trump is taking, I don’t want to merely add to the noise.

I went to a march and protest in DC the Saturday after the election. We started at a candlelight vigil, singing 70s-era protest songs and “Hallelujah,” and it was amazing to be with thousands of people who were grieving as much as I was. Then, thousands more of us marched to the Trump hotel– the one he’s asking foreign dignitaries and diplomats to stay in when they come to Washington– and shouted “Islamaphobia is not America” and “My Body My Choice” and “Black Lives Matter.” That whole experience was cathartic, and I plan on taking more actions in the future as they are necessary. I also attended the local county meeting of the Democratic party last night, and I’m going to become involved with organizing on that level. I can’t sit on my hands and watch the world burn. I encourage all of you to take whatever action you can, whatever it is.

Which brings me to the topic of today, which is part criticism, part education, and part encouragement for my fellow social justice advocates and progressives. In speaking with people over the past two weeks about ways to get involved and stand up for vulnerable people– especially Muslims and people of color– I’ve been seeing a common theme. It’s certainly not new, and it’s something I’ve struggled with until relatively recently. People with privilege– white, straight, male, Christian, etc– frequently want to do what’s right, but they feel like they’re “walking on eggshells.” They want to be an ally, but they don’t want to say or do the wrong thing. Many of us feel anxiety or nervousness about racial issues in particular.

I would like to gently and lovingly and directly say that this feeling of “walking on eggshells” is based in a lie, and one we believe because our privilege has made us incredibly arrogant. I don’t say this to be mean or harsh, but because I believe it’s the truth, and one I had to learn for myself sometimes painfully.

To be bluntly honest, I started this blog because I was bored. I’m fortunate now to have a job that only asks me to work twice a week, but three years ago I didn’t have that. I was stuck at home, working on periodic freelance editing contracts and watching TV the rest of the time. After a few months I started writing a blog … and now I’m here. I’m an activist, a professional writer, I’ve been interviewed for multiple BBC radio shows, for the Washington Post and Marie Claire, gave a talk at the Gay Christian Network, and now I’m being published at major feminist websites and helping to organize state politics.

I didn’t intend to become a feminist activist. I almost literally stumbled into it on accident because I started talking about my personal experiences with fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism… and now I’m considered an expert in my field. It’s weird, and mind-boggling. Coming to this the way I did meant that there were more than a few rough patches. I had no choice but to learn as I went, and it was not always sunshine and rainbows.

For a long time I was so incredibly nervous about messing it all up. When you’re first thrown into social justice, it can be incredibly overwhelming. It’s so hard to catch up and learn all the ropes. Is it trans or trans*? African-American or black? What is a polite way to engage with a hypervisible black woman on twitter? How do I find resources? How can I figure out who’s credible and who isn’t? It’s a lot.

Getting started did make me feel like I was walking around on eggshells. When there is that much to try to absorb all at once, how do you even begin without being afraid you’re going to make a mistake?

Here’s where the lie and the arrogance come in: we think it’s possible to avoid making mistakes.

I believed for a long time that I could do enough research and get enough education and listen hard enough to the right people for long enough and that would mean I was ready to be a “social justice warrior” and work for all the causes I believed in. If I worked hard enough at it, I could say everything I wanted to say without any blunders or missteps. I wanted to be a good ally. I wanted to be a part of Jesus’ mission to liberate the oppressed and set the captive free, and I certainly didn’t want to hurt anyone while doing it.

I was so incredibly arrogant to think that was even remotely possible. I was blind to just how much my whiteness could affect me– that my whiteness would affect me. And not only did I believe the arrogant lie that a white person could avoid making any mistakes when talking about racial justice, I was also prioritizing my own fear over doing what was right. I was terrified of being “called out” if I did or said something wrong … so, sometimes, I didn’t do anything. Instead of speaking up, I’d let my anxiety about screwing up keep me silent.

That was my white privilege in action… or inaction, really.

We can’t let our pride get in the way of taking steps, of using our voice and our privilege on the behalf of the oppressed. We have to be humble enough to know that we will fuck up. It is inevitable. We will say something racist. We will say something homophobic, or transphobic, or biphobic, or sexist. We have to be willing to speak up anyway, but we have to do so while practicing humility and listening. It would be just as wrong to let our fervor carry us away from the marginalized we’re supposed to be fighting for, which has happened time and time again in progressive circles. We can’t shield ourselves from criticism– either through saying nothing, or refusing to see when we said something wrong.

I think what this all comes down to is that I’m asking us to be bold. To set aside our white fragility and get to necessary work of fighting for justice and equality for everyone– even when we’re uncomfortable, even when we make mistakes.

Photo by Jorge Andrade
Social Issues

the day after tomorrow

I spent last night deliberately avoiding the election results because I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Instead I spent the evening watching Suffragette and season six of The Good Wife. Both Handsome and I had a terrible sense of foreboding watching the story of women fighting and dying for the right to vote. I had high hopes that watching Suffragette would be prophetic, a good omen on the eve of electing our first woman President, that my hope could stave off the fear and dread I felt.

My hopes and dreams did not come true last night. I woke to a dark and terrible world, one filled with uncertainty. There’s no way to tell what the next four years could bring, and I am afraid.

I am afraid for myself. The county I live in is deeply conservative, racist, segregated, misogynistic, and homophobic. It’s almost as bad the town I grew up in– and that town elected the local Ku Klux Klan’s Grand Giant as mayor until the 90s. I’m afraid that I could be attacked for who I am. I’m afraid that the people who hate me will be emboldened, that someone will attempt the unthinkable if I and my queer friends go to an LGBT bar this weekend.

I am concerned about my future health. Right now the main treatment for my endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome is covered by my insurance, but that’s only true because of the Affordable Care Act, which seems likely to disappear next year. What happens then? I don’t know, and I’m afraid.

But mostly I’m not afraid for myself. If Trump keeps his promises– and there’s no way to tell if he will– I’m afraid for the thousands upon thousands of people whose lives could be destroyed because of his policies and the actions of his followers. I have latinx friends– will their families be ripped apart in a mass deportation? I have Syrian friends who still have family there– will they ever see them again? Native Americans are already facing militaristically-equipped police in Standing Rock– are we going to see another Wounded Knee in the coming months? All my disabled friends who depend on the ACA– are they going to die because they can’t afford to pay for their healthcare? Will we actually withdraw from NATO and send the world into chaos? Will our President continue to use an antagonistic nation’s cyberattacks on his political opponents? How many women will die if Roe v. Wade is overturned? Will all the women with my common medical condition end up in prison because we miscarried and even “spontaneous abortions” (the medical term for miscarriage) become suspect? Is the freedom of the press, the freedom to peaceably assemble, under threat of evaporating?

Outside of policy– foreign and domestic–  I’m afraid burning crosses are going to become commonplace again. I’m afraid that the constant barrage of assault and harassment women already face on a daily basis will worsen. I’m afraid that attacks on my LGBT family are going to rise. I’m desperately afraid for my Muslim friends and for their families. I’m afraid for my latinx friends and how the suspicion and mistrust they already encounter could escalate into something far more terrifying.

I’m afraid, and I’m hurting.

***

But.

But.

We have faced all these things before, and we fought.

We have been tortured, and we spat in their faces.

We have been murdered, and we used our grief to drive our fury.

We have been denied the right to vote, and we endured beatings to get it.

We have died of ravaging diseases while a bigoted nation ignored us, and we searched until we were well again.

We’ve been here before. None of this is new to any of us. People of color are brutalized and slaughtered every day, while a black President watched and was helpless to stop it. The Supreme Court said I could marry whoever I wanted, but that didn’t affect the one-hundred-plus rights LGBT people still don’t have that straight people do. Roe v. Wade is still law, but that hasn’t stopped TRAP laws from encroaching on my autonomy or “religious freedom” letting women suffer or die in Catholic hospitals.

We had a long road ahead of us already. It just got longer and rougher.

Today and tomorrow we grieve. We let ourselves experience the full breadth of the horror we’re facing. An excruciating light is burning in our eyes and souls, illuminating the putrescence buried in the core of our nation and our people. The pain can take our breath away today; we have to deal with the reality of the gauntlet that hatred threw down at our feet last night. Today we hold ourselves and each other. We’ll find each other in the aftermath, we’ll search the battlefield for survivors. When we can’t walk anymore, we’ll find someone to carry us home.

And then we’ll fight, like we always have and always will.

Photo by Tim Sackton