Browsing Tag

Christian Patriarchy


feminism and American exceptionalism

Every so often I bump into an anti-feminist or an MRA who tells me that it’s ridiculous for me to be a feminist in America. If I was really a feminist I’d expel all my time, energy, and attention on real problems like the horrible subjugation of women in the Near and Middle East. Jessica Valenti has written a response to this sort of false equivalency, saying “The goal of feminism is justice – not to just be better off than other oppressed women. There’s no such thing as equal by comparison.”

But, I want to talk about this because I have something Jessica Valenti doesn’t: lived experience with Christian Patriarchy.

The above accusation– that if I were really a feminist I’d only care about “third world country oppression”– is driven by the belief that American-focused feminism is petty, shallow, ridiculous, unnecessary, and somehow vengeful, like how this article paints it by limiting American feminism to “banning the word bossy.”

First, I’m not interested in playing the “who has it worse” game. I’ve never engaged in Oppression Olympics, and I’ve never gotten behind the idea that, for example, my partner shouldn’t complain about his headache because I have fibromyalgia and endometriosis. Yes, I think it’s absurd that women in Saudi Arabia can’t drive. Yes, my stomach turns at the rape crisis happening South Africa and the growing frequency of acid attacks in India. Yes, I’m horrified that, last week, a 15-year-old girl was strangled and then incinerated for helping her friend elope.

But, the people who tend to throw this particular accusation in my face aren’t actually upset at my supposed lack of empathy for these women. Their argument is made from ignorance, and they make it because they are privileged and willingly blind. They say we can vote, and we have [some, and eroding] legal rights, so I should just stop being such a harpy and getting my panties in a twist because I don’t like how often women say “sorry.”


Almost 1,500 American women are killed by their husband or boyfriend every year. More than half of them will be shot to death. 1 in 5 high school girls report being physically or sexually abused by their male partner, and 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted or raped in college (and to be pre-emptive, that’s a link to the Post-Kaiser poll, which was a random sampling of 1,053 of current college students, so you can take your “that 1 in 5 statistic doesn’t count ‘cuz it was only two colleges!” bullshit elsewhere).

But these are all problems we’re familiar with, mostly.

What they don’t know is that all the problems they point to in those foreign places (which are populated by brown people and are usually culturally Islamic, let’s be real about the racism and Islamaphobia happening)— they exist here. In different forms, sure– we don’t use the term “honor killing” when a man murders his wife for adultery– but the consequences of misogyny and patriarchy in America are far-reaching.

I grew up in a culture that explicitly taught me that I, as a woman, shouldn’t vote. In fact, I must not vote if my vote were to contradict my husband’s, they argued. Thankfully my parents countermanded this, but the reality is that I personally knew a few dozen women in college who didn’t vote because they thought that women’s suffrage was wrong. Since I’ve started moving in ex-fundamentalist circles, I’ve found that it wasn’t limited to my neck of the woods, either– Libby Anne once argued as a teenager that “in an ideal world, women shouldn’t vote,” and she’s from the Midwest, not the Deep South. Oh, and this argument still exists today. In fact, Nancy Leigh DeMoss called the women’s suffrage movement sinful in her enormously popular Lies Women Believe.

So while yes, technically women can, legally, vote– a toxic and widespread culture frequently forbids it. Even if something is legal, what good is it if women can’t access it?

I was taught in the Stay-at-Home-Daughters movement that women shouldn’t be educated, and were forbidden from leaving home to seek employment. I was taught that women can’t be trusted to supervise, manage, or govern anything– we barely even run our own households, and we certainly shouldn’t be given control over our finances. We didn’t have to wear burkas or hijab (although the definition I was taught for “modesty” was based on a Hebrew word that means “long and flowing” and a lot of us wore head coverings), but we were prevented from basically ever leaving our houses or existing in the public sphere.

And even though marital rape was made illegal everywhere in the US in 1993, there are still eight states that have “marital exemptions” for rape– and that’s not even touching all the Christian people who think “marital rape is an oxymoron,” including people like Nancy Wilson, who’s the wife of one of the biggest names in conservative evangelicalism. She’s written regarding marital sex that “But of course a husband is never trespassing in his garden.” Your basic, run-of-the-mill, everyday conservative Christian is as rabidly misogynist as Vox Day.

It looks different than what people think happens in the Arab world, but it’s a similar ideology with similar practical consequences.

These positions are championed by the homeschooling world’s biggest names, presented at basically every convention, and the related (although not identical) Quiverful movement has had multiple reality television shows about it, most famously 19 Kids and Counting. That supposedly nice, happy, perky, oh-so-chipper family share the same fundamental beliefs about women as those who shot Malala Yousafzai in the head. Christian fundamentalism can no longer be discounted as “fringe” when Ted Cruz is almost as fundamentalist as they come, and he earned 45% of the Republican delegates– with plenty of evangelicals feeling that he closely aligned with their values and beliefs.

Oh, and just in case you thought that the oppression of women and children was limited to keeping us chained to our homes and dismissing marital rape as impossible, it’s not. A few weeks ago I saw a bunch of articles on child marriages go through my feed, with many people shocked and horrified (which they absolutely should be). When I told a woman who’d exclaimed “I’m so glad that doesn’t happen here!” that child brides do indeed exist right here at home, she didn’t believe me. It’s not her fault. Most people are unaware of the long and continuing history of child marriage in America.

Growing up, one of the most romantic, lovely, well-circulated and highly praised stories of courtship I’d ever heard was told about Matthew and Maranatha Chapman:

When Matthew first expressed his interest in Maranatha … Maranatha was 13 and Matthew was 26. When Matthew heard from God that he was to marry Maranatha, and begged Stan [her father] to let him propose marriage to her, Maranatha was 14 and Matthew was 27. When Stan gave Matthew the go ahead to propose to his daughter, Maranatha was 15 and Matthew was 27. They were the same ages when they married just over a month later.

A 26-year-old man was sexually interested in a 13-year-old little girl, and this story gets passed around as the ideal courtship. In fact, when Matthew confesses his attraction to Maranatha’s father, Stan’s response to is say that his feelings for a 13-year-old are from God, I shit you not.

But that story is from the 80s! It’s over two decades old! Well, this one isn’t. It’s from this week. A misogynist decided to organize an event where patriarchs can go and sell their daughters for a “bride price,” and the man running it said this on the event’s website:

The woman who has arrived physically and sexually at a point where she is ‘ready’ for a husband, is ready for a husband, else we make God out to be a liar… Calvin and Gill, quoting the Jewish authorities in reference to the term Paul uses in I Cor 7:36, place the lower limit of this at twelve years old for girls

Scripture speaks of the father of the son “taking a wife” for his son, and the father of the bride “giving” her to her husband  It gives example after example of young women being given to young men, without the young woman even being consulted …

And while this stinking pile of shit thinks “not very many girls” are truly ready for marriage at 12 years old, they could be and he says there’s nothing wrong with marrying her off for a bride price without her consent.

Burn it down. Burn everything down.

Our belief in American exceptionalism prevents nearly all of us from seeing these things as they really are, as they really happen. We hear about some “Get Them Married Retreat” and think “oh, that’s Kansas, that’s Christian fundamentalists, that’s hilarious.” As if the thousands upon thousands– if not millions– of children being raised in conservative and fundamentalist households don’t matter, or aren’t significant enough to care about. It’s easy to think of brown, Islamic people being horrible to women and children because that fits in with our imperialist and white supremacist view of the world. It’s easy to dismiss anything white, Christian people do because we can justify them as “outliers” … and because they look like us, it can’t be that bad.

Except it is. It’s worse than you think.

Photo by Joe Campbell

Fascinating Womanhood: Pandora's Box


I’m going to be honest: I have no idea what to do with this chapter. None. So, for today’s post, I’m going to quote a some larger portions, in their entirety, add some of my concerns, and see what you all think of what she says.

In a Pandora’s Box reaction, instead of the man responding with love and tenderness, he becomes angry and pours out hostile feelings toward his wife. Why does he do this? Up to now he has been afraid to express his anger. In the face of his marriage problems he has felt he must suppress his anger to hold his marriage together. This it not to say that he acted wisely, but only to say that he did so out of what he felt was a necessity. A high-principled man who loves his children will make every effort to hold his marriage securely together.

When his wife applies Fascinating Womanhood over a period of time, he begins to feel secure in his marriage. He no longer feels he must hold his troubled feelings within and loses his fear that speaking out will cause marriage problems. Then one day, at last, he dares to open Pandora’s Box and release the resentful feelings he has kept hidden there.

If you should face this situation, allow him to empty Pandora’s Box. You should, in fact, encourage him to speak freely and completely. And you should not make the mistake of defending yourself, justifying yourself, or fighting back. You will have to sit there quietly, taking it all and even agreeing with him by saying “I know, I know, you are right.” But, when the last resentful feeling has been expressed and Pandora’s Box is empty, he will have a feeling of relief, and a love and tenderness for you not known before. And if has had a reserve, it will probably come tumbling down along with the Pandora’s Box . . .

She then goes on to relay stories from readers, two of which are horrifying and involve verbal abuse and extra-marital affairs that the wives in these situations “humbly accept” and “know that they deserve.” For the wife whose husband cheated on her, she woke up in the hospital after getting her tubes tied so her and her husband could have more sex (they’d been on NFP previously, and they were both Catholic)– only for his “mistress” to be in her recovery room the second she wakes up. And… she blames herself entirely. The fact that her husband didn’t even bother telling her that he was cheating before she had an invasive medical procedure performed just . . . Ack. And then it’s her fault. I can’t even.

But, back to her opening paragraphs: I can somewhat understand where she’s coming from with this. I’ve been in some relationships– friendships and otherwise, where I didn’t feel comfortable enough to ever be honest about my feelings. Our relationships just weren’t the kind where we could talk about things that were bothering us– and that was ok with me, I just didn’t put in a lot of effort to those relationships, and they either never deepened (which is fine, you don’t have to be “bosom friends” with every Tom, Dick and Harry on the planet), or the relationships died– which was also fine.

I imagine, in a marriage relationship, becoming comfortable enough to share your feelings could result in this “Pandora’s Box” situation she describes, but there seems to be several assumptions going on in the background:

  1. She assumes that if you don’t follow the path laid out for you in Fascinating Womanhood, then your husband is hiding all his true feelings from you. The only environment where a man can safely express his feelings is one where the wife is following Helen’s plan to the letter. Any other marriage style will result in your husband feeling unsafe, trapped, insecure, and unloving. She makes this attitude clear in the stories she chose to include.
  2. Communication, apparently, is a one-way street. You’re not allowed to criticize, you’re not allowed to have needs, everything you want, everything you need, is supposed to be superseded by his preferences, his wants, his needs, his desires. He is allowed to resent you, treat you badly, disrespect you; you are required to “take it all” and “agree with him” without the opportunity to have a discussion.
  3. This “Pandora’s Box” situation, she assures us, will only happen once. After he has emptied it, you will never have to revisit these issues again. That one just seems impossible. I’ve watched marital relationships closely for over 20 years– I’ve never seen a couple who could talk about an issue that caused deep resentment and anger only once and never, ever, have to talk about it again. This Pandora’s Box, she says, can last “up to several months,” but then she confidently tells us that the only thing he’ll express is “love and tenderness”– as long as we keep following Fascinating Womanhood, that is.

For those of you who have been married a while, what do you think of this?


Fascinating Womanhood: wounded pride


Picking up from where we left off last week, we’re about halfway through the chapter “Masculine Pride.” Helen has spent a lot of time explaining exactly what she means by “masculine pride” and went into a lot of detail on what men are proud of and all the ways we women constantly destroy them, by doing things like having a job or having interests he doesn’t share. Next she’s going to explain to us how the entire world seems designed to break and humiliate men and all the ways women are responsible to make up for how terrible the world is.

This will soon be clear (if it’s not already), but the kind of behavior and reactions Helen is about to describe as completely normal, natural, inescapable, and unchangeable are what most of society classifies as immaturity. She describes things like withdrawal and pain avoidance, which are normal human responses. We all struggle with hurt feelings and humiliation, and to some extent, we all know that it’s a part of life. We learn to process it, confront it if necessary, but ultimately move on.

However, that’s not what Helen describes.

She begins by outlying how men have grown up in a world hell-bent on making sure they are fragile and weak. Their families mock teenage boys for their youthful beards: “their mothers may have viewed it with disdain.” So, men have grown up where families show endless disdain for their burgeoning “masculinity.” Then, it’s the working world, which is “brutal,” “sadistic,” and “undermining.” Which, granted, it certainly can be all of the above. And, finally, his wife “wounds his pride” by showing “indifference” (previously described as being busy or preoccupied). All of this, she argues, leads to a very specific set of reactions that men cannot help but have. These responses, she says, are always how a man responds to his environment.

Reaction #1: Humiliation

This happens because you, his wife, has touched “the most sensitive part of his nature.” A woman who shows indifference becomes “repugnant,” and Helen is not surprised when “he reacts by being explosive.” This is one of those times when Helen’s language deeply concerns me. Her word choice has been far too consistent for phrasings like this to be accidental. Over the course of this book (and we’re almost halfway through it), Helen has deliberately chosen to use words like “violent” and “explosive” to describe how men react to wives that displease them. Almost always, these words are accompanied by “no wonder” and “unsurprisingly.” Given all the threats she makes to her readers, it deeply bothers me that she also threatens us with our husbands’ overt and physical violence.

His “explosive” reaction to finding you “repugnant” is followed by–

Reaction #2: Reserve

And she makes it clear she doesn’t mean shy. Reserve, she says, is “a wall to protect himself.” And the only possible way we could ever hope to get around this wall is making sure he is:

absolutely certain that his ideas will be met with appreciation . . . the slightest hint of misunderstanding will shatter the illusion and drive him behind his wall of reserve again . . . If [you] indicate that [you] are not the least bit interested, he will wince as if struck by a lash . . . If the girl acts indifferent at such a crisis, she has a heart of stone.

Such is the case with every man . . . He will quickly resume [his reserve] unless he can bask in the full glow of an all-comprehending sympathy . . . the higher the caliber of the man, the more he tends to draw into himself when his pride is hurt . . .

If you detect this reserve in your husband, take measure to eliminate it. If you don’t, he may be tempted to seek the company of another woman.

So, in order for you husband not to view you as “repugnant” or react “explosively,” he must be absolutely certain that you worship the ground he walks on. If you’re confused, or bored, or distracted, you are whipping him with a lash and he’ll cheat on you. This, Helen says, is the inescapable reality of manhood, especially for men of “higher caliber.” She goes on, in the next reactions, to tell us that they’ll also become dishonest, resort to blame-shifting, and start constantly fishing for affirmation.

This is what I meant when I said Helen describes immaturity as a universal, unchanging male constant. Yes, all sorts of people have the kinds of reactions Helen has laid out here. We are all capable of getting our feelings hurt, and doing what we can to protect ourselves. Yes, we are all quite capable of throwing people under the bus and lying our asses off to keep ourselves out of trouble. I’ve even done the whole “fishing-for-compliments-by-belittling-myself” thing. We’re human. We do some ugly, pathetic things.

However, this is not behavior Helen describes as immature, or wrong, or anything. This is not only appropriate, she even says that this should be what we expect from men of higher caliber.

I know I’m reviewing Helen’s book, but this is one of those times when I start thinking “surely this is crazy. Nobody thinks like this anymore.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. These sorts of attitudes about men are not only common, they are the dominant narrative concerning men and masculinity in fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism. Men in these circles are consistently painted as base animals. They cannot help themselves. Their reactions are completely and totally outside of their control, and the only arbiters left, the only barrier between themselves and debasement, are chaste, virtuous women. It’s our responsibility, women, to restrain the beast. Men can’t do it on their own. They need us. We commonly see this crop up in any sort of Modesty Rules discussion– “women, we need your help to keep ourselves pure! We can’t help it when we lust after women who are immodestly dressed! It’s just how we are! We’re visual!”

But do women get any sort of the same consideration?

You cannot pour your heart out to him. You must withhold feelings and confessions which would wound his sensitive pride.”

And that is how Helen finishes this chapter. She has quite efficiently done everything she possibly can to make sure that women are permanently silenced. While we sit in rapt attention, hanging on our husbands’ every word, we also have to make sure that we never say or do anything that could possibly be interpreted as a slight to his pride.


complementariansim and Aphrodite


Aphrodite, goddess of love.

If you’re not familiar with Greek mythology, Aphrodite is probably one of the more important figures in the pantheon. Both Ares and Hephaestus are her lovers, and she is the primary figure involved in many well-known conflicts, such as The Trojan War. By the time that Paul was writing his letters to the Corinthians, Aphrodite was being worshiped as Venus, and there were two major celebrations in her honor in Athens and Corinth. Athens is the patron city of Athena, so the primary celebration was held in Corinth, where there had been a temple dedicated to her (which was destroyed in 44 B.C.). One of the few things we know about Aphrodite’s cult was that worshipers honored her by engaging in sexual intercourse with temple prostitutes. By the time Paul was alive, the temple had been destroyed, but the prostitution continued.

The interesting thing to note about this form of prostitution?

The women shaved their heads.

So, that explains that whole bit about head coverings from I Corinthians 11. Women cutting their hair short, in Corinth, meant identifying with the Aphrodite prostitutes. I’m not exactly sure why this was a problem outside of the general understanding that Corinth was a particularly hedonistic and decadent church. But, it might have been particularly troubling because temple workers — like the Vestal virgins and the Hetaera– were allowed autonomy and independence in Roman society: they did not answer to anyone or anything besides their civic duties. This could explain the connection between “head coverings” and “symbol of authority,” since whose authority a woman was associated with was an important part of her identity in Roman culture.

But, the head covering isn’t really the important part of the passage from I Corinthians 11.

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God . . .  For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man . . . Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.

I Corinthians 11:3-12

Did you catch that?

So man is now born of woman.

Jesus changed everything, and this is a common pattern we see all through Paul’s writing. Paul, as probably one of the best-educated biblical scholars who had converted to Christianity, spent much of his time in his letters re-examining the Law and the Prophets through the advent of Christ. This passage beautifully highlights that transformation. Almost everything people believed and understood about women was based in the idea that men carried anything needed to bear a child (like Aphrodite being born from Uranus’ castrated manhood that was cast into the sea). Women were receptacles. When Jesus was born of a virgin, that changed how anyone understood what God had told the deceiver in Genesis– that there would be enmity between him and the seed of the woman. That was . . . just not possible. Women did not possess seed.

Until Jesus.

And, then suddenly, in the Lord, man is not independent of woman, and that is from God.

Why have we missed exactly how radical a statement this is? Why is it, that so often when we go to this passage, all we see is that “woman was created for man,” and then stop there? Why don’t we keep going to see exactly how Paul is about to completely upend everything? That what he is about to say revolutionizes everything they thought they knew about women? He says that Christ is the head of the man, and the man the head of the woman, but why don’t we think of this as one glorious circle that ends in Nevertheless, so now man, the Christ, is born of woman?

Why don’t we look at how Jesus came to earth, and when he became the leader of his ragtag group of fishermen and tax collectors, that he said that the first shall be last, and that he spent his time washing feet? Why do we look at the word “head” and say commander and not servant?

This passage is beautiful, because it’s really about how much we need each other. In fact, the chapter before it and what follows this passage are a testament to community and people being able to rely on and trust each other. The church in Corinth was neglecting that– when they celebrated communion, some brought enough wine to get drunk when other people in their church were starving, and then did not share with the least of these, their own brothers and sisters. Paul is speaking to an audience that doesn’t seem to understand what it meant to love thy neighbor, and that is what he spends his time focusing on: teaching them what the “unity of the body” should look like. If there’s a word that sums up I Corinthians 11, it’s unity, a body of believers acting as one. He’s teaching them about a place where men cannot be independent of women.

We need each other.

Women are half the people on this planet, and we have diverse gifts, abilities, skills, and talents that we are eager to contribute. Every woman, like every man, has her own unique perspective that can enrich and deepen our communal experiences, especially in our churches. By ignoring, dismissing, and actively silencing half of our church, we are really doing damage to ourselves. There are passages, like those dealing with the spiritual gifts, that make absolutely zero reference to these gifts being limited to genders, and women in the early church were allowed to practice teaching (Priscilla, who taught Apollos), prophesying (all four of Philip’s daughters), generosity (the women who financed Jesus’ ministry), and leadership (women like Junia, who was “outstanding among the apostles”).

Imagine what our Church could look like today without women.

Jesus would not have been born; he would not have been fully human. The Incarnation is one of the most important parts of our theology– what would it be like if Jesus was more mystical, more divine, and less real?

His earthly ministry would not have been as effective. His disciples might have had to keep fishing, and Jesus might have been limited to teaching near Nazareth as he worked with Joseph in carpentry.

The story of his Resurrection would have been highly suspect; his disciples could have been easily accused of protecting their own interests, and the Pharisees would have had an easier time dismissing the Resurrection.

Paul’s letter, one of the best treatises ever composed on the nature of Grace and Law, might not have been delivered to Rome.

Without Priscilla, Apollos might have continued teaching an incorrect approach to the gospel, and the early church would have been deeply and bitterly divided.

Without Lydia, the Gospel might not have spread into Asia Minor and Europe with the swiftness it did, since she was one of the earliest and best-loved converts. Her ministry was so important she was one of only two people raised from the dead in the Book of Acts.

Without Junia, Paul may not have been able to continue his ministry. He needed her to do for him what he could not.

And I could go on.

But yet, that is exactly what we’re trying to do today. Most of our Church is stumbling along without women– outright forbidding them from contributing in any meaningful way. Instead of opening its arms to women, like Jesus did with the woman at the well, or the woman begging for crumbs, or the woman with the issue of blood, or his own mother on the Cross, the Church bars us– slams its doors shut against us.

What happened to the teaching that there is no male nor female?

What happened to man is not independent of woman?


complementarianism and Crete


According to the online Merriem-Webster’s, a polemic is “an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another.” When most people use the term, it’s to describe how someone uses their words, whether written down or spoken aloud. If we describe something as polemical, what we usually mean is that an argument is a sort of an exaggeration– the person making their argument took a more hardline stance than they actually believe in order to get their point across through shock or strong reactions. When someone is polemical, it means they’re a controversial figure.

Paul is probably one of the most polemical writers in the New Testament, and that’s saying something, because Peter contributed to it, too. When many evangelicals describe Paul, polemical is probably not one of the first words that spring to mind. For many theologians, Paul is regarded as the scholar of the Bible; educated Roman citizen, bordering on lawyer, trained by the Pharisees, intimately familiar with the Law and the Prophets.

However, if we’re being honest, Paul gets . . . well, excited. And I don’t blame him. Frequently, it’s to get passionate about Jesus, which I love, and sometimes, well, he gets carried away with his fervor, and we end up with this:

One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true.

Titus 1:12


It was a common ethnic slur, originating in the logic puzzle made famous by the Labyrinth Certain Death Riddle. This is also known as the Epimenides paradox, and it was originally stated as “How can a Cretan’s statement, ‘Cretans always lie,’ be either true or false?” This conundrum appeared in the 6th century B.C., and the perception persisted; that Cretans were always liars, and Plutarch extended it when he said that Crete had no need for predatory animals because it had predatory people. Paul, writing a letter to Titus on Crete, used an ethnic slur in order to contrast the behavior of the Christians on Crete with what they should not have been doing.

Not cool, Paul, not cool.

However, I’m not really going to be dissecting that today (it’s already been done spectacularly here), because I’m going to be focusing on the second chapter of this epistle– but it’s important to keep the nature of this letter in mind. Paul was writing a letter to a young pastor who was facing some frustrating issues, and his response is true to Paul’s shoot-from-the-hip style. His tone is steeply exaggerated, and he builds and works on extreme contrasts.

I’m going to be talking about this passage today:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

Titus 2:3-5

This portion of chapter two is pretty much the only one I heard preached on growing up. If a pastor was going to Titus, he was probably going for this one. It’s the passage that has been used to found and encourage mentorship ministries because “older women” are to “train the young women.” And what are they supposed to train them in? To be “keepers at home” (as the KJV puts it) and submissive to their husbands.

As a teenager and young woman, the charge that I was intended to be a keeper at home was probably one of the single most influential teachings I received, because it strongly affected many of the choices I made. It practically decided for me where I was going to college (which, *gasp* I went to college), and it most certainly decided what I was majoring in. I became a Secondary Education major with a concentration in music, so that I could be a piano teacher out of my home, and organize my schedule around my children.

Even today, this teaching determined a lot of my decision making. Today, I’m a freelance editor, and I work from home. This works out for me, and it’s been a life-long dream of mine, but that’s the thing– it’s been a life-long dream to be an editor. Even my big, grand, what-if dreams were shaped and molded by the only option I had: to be a keeper at home. Now, though, years later, I no longer believe that there’s anything wrong with pursuing a career– any career.

Interestingly enough, that belief is based on Titus.

One of the most important questions we keep at the forefront of our thoughts when we study any part of the Bible (or any book, for that matter) is Why? Why did Paul write Titus? Why did he say the things he did? Why did he choose the way he said it? What was he trying to accomplish?

The answer: he wanted to help Titus, a young pastor who was struggling with the lifestyle his church had embraced long before he got there. The Christians on Crete were behaving in such a way that they were being judged by the citizens of the island– citizens with a Greco-Roman moral code, a code based on shame and honor. The Christians Titus pastored were bringing shame on themselves in the eyes of the other islanders.

We can see this in two ways through the letter: that Paul emphasizes the need for the Christians to be respected (1:5-7, 1:11, 1:16, 2:5-7, 2:14-15, 3:8). He repeats the idea that their behavior should be so far above reproach that they “cannot be condemned”– by the citizens who would judge them by the Greco-Roman moral code. We can also see this by how Paul also emphasized self-control (1:8, 2:2, 2:5, 2:6, 2:12),  the moral cornerstone of Roman society. Self-control was the most admirable and necessary quality for any Roman citizen. If there’s a message to be pulled from Titus, it’s basically Paul shouting “Get ahold of yourself, people are watching!”

So how does “being submissive” and “working at home” come into play?

Because, like the men, women had a very specific role to play in Roman society, and if they didn’t conform to that role, they would bear the heavy shame of their community. Two primary components of this role was to be under the husband, and the other was to manage their home. However, “managing their home” was a hugely different thing than how we think of it today. Today, a stay-at-home-mom runs errands, cooks, cleans, takes care of the children, and is fairly industrious, but all of it is unpaid and unprofitable in a commercial sense. At this time, however, as Gaston Boissier notes in Cicero, “women appear as much engaged in business and as interested in speculations as the men. Money is their first care. They work their estates, invest their funds, lend and borrow.”

A Roman woman ran the family business while her husband engaged in community service and other things that couldn’t be run from home. A husband and wife were considered, in Roman society, to be a single economic unit, working toward the same goal. In the culture, where men were frequently away from home for up to years at a time, the wives were responsible for everything. They were the COO’s of Roman days.

That’s a bit of a different picture than what I was taught about being a “keeper at home.”

Also, it’s important to keep in mind what Paul was doing in the letter: he was telling Titus that it was monumentally important for the Christians on Crete to have a good reputation by Greco-Roman standards. That the islanders would have “nothing evil to say” about them. That’s the main point of Titus– that Christians should be aware of what their behavior looks like to the world around them. It’s not a prescriptive book in the sense that Paul was laying out a bunch of rules for what every single last Christian should always do, everywhere, for all time– he was writing down the principle that Christians need to examine the priorities of their culture, understand what that culture will judge them for, and adapt (within reason). A possible subtitle for Titus could be: When in Rome.

So, in a limited sense, what does the “moral standard” of American society say about the value of women?

And what does Christian society say about the value of women? And could that message earn us the disdain, judgment and condemnation of the world we live in? Is there anything in the messages we loudly proclaim from the “rooftop” of a hundred different books on “true womanhood” that could cause a non-believer to see how we treat our own as ethically, morally wrong? If there isn’t anything sinful about integrating well with our culture (which 200+ years after Titus was written, the decadence of Roman society could have made this problematic), why do we insist on gender stereotypes that haven’t existed for longer than sixty years and a mode of living only available to the privileged? 


learning the words: liberation


Today’s guest post is from Way of Cats, a former fundamentalist who now considers herself spiritual. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

In my Midwest rural birthplace, my parents had a mixed-faith marriage. He was a Lutheran;  she was a Methodist.

My first firm memories of church were after our move to the small-town South. We went to non-denominational, bible-believing, born-again churches. I joined Youth Group and went to sleepaway Bible Camp every summer. I cried in my seat when a revival group took over evening worship and screamed a blow-by-blow re-enactment of the Passion of the Christ.

I spent seventh grade in a Southern Baptist Christian Academy where we had chapel twice a week. The first row would get hit with spit from our principal, raving about the demonic influences of “rock music.” Girls’ skirts and boys’ haircuts were measured with a ruler. I mastered the art of the five-second shower, lest the Rapture occur during that window, in which case I would be naked in front of God and Everybody.

My science class discussed tectonic plates as though God himself had assembled them. Evolution was a lie, and our textbook for this discussion was a Chick Tract. We grew used to our teacher lifting his head and saying, “Do you hear that? It’s the godless Communist hordes coming down the road. They are going to come in here and point a gun at your head and kill you unless you deny Jesus Christ.”

He would use his finger as a gun, and point to each of us in turn, moving through the rows of desks. The beige weave of his polyester slacks and the ketchup tinge of his breath would embed itself into our about-to-be-blown-out brains.

Make no mistake– I grew up Fundamentalist.

We would get sent home from school if we had the nerve to wear a blouse and jeans, since everyone knew we were allowed to wear a “pantsuit,” where the top matched the pants. Of course we were expected to be chaste before marriage; that was not a part of dating, where That Boy was supposed to Respect Us and get us home by our ridiculously early curfew. A woman could be a manager, a teacher, an accountant or nurse or even a doctor; but she better bring her best covered dish to the potluck, and she would (of course!) do the washing up along with all the other women.

In my early teens, I did chafe at my circumscribed “woman’s role” in the church. I was happy when my intellect was respected by our classically trained minister, who spoke Greek and read Aramaic. He would discuss theology and morality with me and lend me books. Why, I could be anything… except a President, (of anything!) or a pastor.

As a bright, and academically gifted girl, I was expected to pursue a career, so long as it didn’t interfere with the two or three children I was also expected to have. More than that meant I wasn’t “taking precautions” and having too many children for us to support.

What alternate Universe was this? It was biblical-literalist, full-immersion, haters-of-secular-humanism Southern Baptist in the early 70s.

I left Christianity entirely at fourteen, shortly after I did what every Fundamentalist is subtly discouraged from doing: reading the entire Bible, cover to cover, without a study guide or Sunday School teachers or pastors to “interpret” things for me.

Once we have read other works of art, the Bible is so-obviously a collection of history and poetry and myth, the incredibly preserved testament of a people who gave birth to one of the world’s greatest Teachers; Jesus. I took the red words and ran away.

Back then, I thought I was being oppressed. I had no idea.

Now, wandering around the Spiritually Abused sites where people tell incredible stories of inconceivable oppression, I am humble and grateful. As bad as my parent’s divorce was, it at least put us beyond the reach of what the Protestants have become; a Quiverfull, woman-hating, incredibly abusive, sect that has completely lost track of what Christianity is supposed to be about.

God is Love. It’s not that difficult.

While I had legitimate issues with the “role of women” as described by religion during my teens, I was never regarded as Less than Human. I was never just an incubator who cleaned. Sure, I felt that way, but in the early 70s, I was never actually treated that way. What triggered this War on Women?

It was Feminism. That’s all. Women’s Liberation. Because, at that time, what my church taught was not that different from what the entire culture believed and practiced. Women could go so far, and no further. This is what broke up my parent’s marriage.

Years later, when my mother confessed that it drove her literally crazy that my father could not handle money, and she felt driven to divorce him, I was stunned. Why didn’t she, with much more skill as her later life proved, just take over the finances? Because she hadn’t been raised that way. It didn’t even occur to her to do that.

It wasn’t done.

Women escapees from Spiritual Abuse are very familiar with the ways certain ideas are not allowed to be thought– familiar with all of this was a backlash against Women’s Liberation. It’s not God at all.

Be keeping women slotted into housekeeping and shutting up, it’s easier for small men to feel superior. This is what happens when they cannot inspire respect with their accomplishments. They can only bully fear from the weak and vulnerable.

They are mean, petty, scared, small men.

God is much bigger than that.


Introduction to Fascinating Womanhood Review

reading woman

Today I am announcing the beginning of a new project that I mentioned a while back. I’m pretty excited about this, and I hope this journey we’re all about to embark on is entertaining, thoughtful, illuminating, and discussion-generating.

This means I’ll have two regularly running features for now– the Learning the Words guest post series (which is still ongoing and open for submissions), and now my series on Helen Andelin’s Fascinating Womahood.

The format of this series will be similar to Libby Anne’s on Debi Pearl’s Created to be his Help Meet— where I got my inspiration. I will be reading through the book again and posting my thoughts to portions of it. I might speak about a few pages or a whole chapter, depending on what I run into that requires a response. These reactions are going to vary from a serious and thoughtful deconstruction of the explicit and implicit messages of the book, as well as poking fun at some of its more ridiculous moments (of which there are many). There are going to be a few jaw-dropping WTF moments, too. She makes some rather spectacular statements throughout this book.


Fascinating Womanhood is similar to Created to be his Help Meet in many ways. It’s a marriage-advice book predicated on the complementarian model of submission and headship. Helen was a Mormon, but there’s nothing in the book itself that makes that apparent (I say that because in my interview with Christianity Today, I mentioned this book and a commenter came back with “Andelin was a Mormon, so obviously the book will be twisted”). Its target market is the same market as Debi’s book, especially since most of the book’s content focuses on helping struggling Christian marriages. She is more strongly anti-feminist than Debi, and her book is not as widely read. However, the ideas in the book are extremely common in pretty much any conservative evangelical environment, and the ideas that Helen presents are the natural outcome of unrestrained complementarian teaching. Helen’s book, unlike Debi’s, however, is entirely focused on teaching women how to make their men love them– and her argument is dangerous, for reasons you’ll see pretty quickly as we get into this series.

Here’s the description from the back of the book:

How to Make Your Marriage a Lifelong Love Affair

What makes a woman fascinating to her husband? What is happiness in marriage for a woman? These are just two of the questions Helen Andelin answers in the bestselling classic that has already brought new happiness and life to millions of marriages.

Fascinating Womanhood offers timeless wisdom, practical advice, and old-fashioned values to meet the needs and challenges of today’s fascinating woman. Inside you’ll learn:

What traits today’s men find irresistible in a woman
How to awaken a man’s deepest feelings of love
Eight rules for a successful relationship
How to rekindle your love life
How to bring out the best in your man—and reap the rewards
Plus special advice for the working woman—and much more!

Fascinating Womanhood offers guidance for a new generation of women—happy, fulfilled, adored and cherished—who want to rediscover the magic of their own feminine selves.

This bestselling classic has already brought new happiness and life to millions of marriages, and now Andelin offers timeless wisdom, practical advice, and old-fashioned values for today’s fascinating woman. Learn how to awaken a man’s deepest feelings of love, eight rules for a successful relationship, how to rekindle your love life, and more.

In many ways, this book is the seminal gender essentialist’s guidebook. If you want to see all the “feminine” stereotypes about women in one place, this book is the place to go.

The web page for this book and the accompanying ministry that grew out of it is worth its own post, and it is illuminating about the ideology behind this book, so it might be worth reading over, if you’re into self-flagellation and stuff.  From what I can tell, it went inactive in 2007, but there is a note on the home page that you can still take the online eight-week course as of Spring 2013. It continues to be a popular seller on Amazon, and in Christian book stores, with well over 2 million copies sold. I’m not sure what the community looks like today, but Time magazine did an interview with Helen in 1975, and she said that the program had over 11,000 “teachers” leading studies on the book around the country. It was a book I grew up familiar with– it was beloved and dog-eared by many of the women in my church, and it was a required textbook in at least one class of Marriage and Family at my fundamentalist college.

The Barnes & Noble reviews are almost exclusively glowing– all along the lines of “this book saved my marriage! we’re like a couple of newlyweds!”

There are 244 Amazon reviews, most of them 4 or 5 stars, with the same sort of praise, although many of the 5-star reviews include some sort of caveat about “needs the language updated” or that there were parts of the book worth ignoring, but that the overall message is worth listening to. Of the 78 1-star reviews, most of them include notes from husbands about being insulted and disgusted by the content, or concern that the message of the books creates co-dependent and abusive relationships.

The reviews on Goodreads are much more mixed, with reactions varying from “comedic” to “frightening and cruel” to “every woman must read this book!”

So, at the very least, we know it’s polarizing.

I’m going to try give my dead-level best to give it a fair shake, but I make no promises. I hope you’ll come along with me as I make my way through this book, and I hope you’ll be a part of the process of helping me– and each other– unpack these sorts of ideas. I’d also like to extend a special invitation to men– the primary and dominating focus of the book is “how to make yourself attractive to men,so I’d appreciate your brutal honesty and your candor. I’ve already had two men in my life read it– my husband, who was absolutely repulsed, and a friend, who thought it was great, nail-on-the-head advice.

My plan at the moment is to update every Monday, but I’m flexible, and there might be Someone on the IntraWebs who Said Something Stupid and Infuriating. We’ll see.


choices and being allowed to make them, part two


I’ve been struggling, hard, with this post, because, honestly, I don’t know where to begin.

I told a story yesterday from my childhood about the ability I had to make choices– to choose not eating something I disliked over eating cookies. My mother would present negotiations like this frequently, but only when the deal was an honest one. Did I want to wear this, or that? Did I want broccoli, or carrots? I could choose not to wear the wool tights if I wanted to put up with the cold. Whenever I was required to do something, like eat my vegetables or dress up for church (I hated dressing up), there was always some sort of choice involved. When my younger sister insisted that she could do it all by herself, she would wear her clothes inside out and two different socks to church. It was important to my mom that her children know the importance of making choices, and that choices have consequences.

When I was nine and we’d just moved to New Mexico, I was placed in the 5-9 year old Sunday School Class, where most of the kids were 6. I decided that I wanted to be in the 10-12 year old class, and I went to the teacher, not my mother, and told her I wanted a transfer. I explained why, and she moved me. All without even asking my mother– I had autonomy, the independence to decide what I wanted for myself and to go get it.

When we started attending our fundamentalist church-cult, much of that evaporated.

But, it didn’t really feel like I’d lost the ability to make decisions for myself, because I was taught, right along with my parents, that they had the duty, obligation, responsibility to make all my decisions for me, because I was a child and couldn’t be trusted (the fact that I was female compounded this exponentially). Verses like “foolishness is bound up into the heart of a child” and a “child left to himself brings shame to his mother” were used to bludgeon us with the concept that children are completely and totally capable of decision-making. Couple that with teachings like that infants are only lying when they cry, and children are essentially property, and you are left with a frightening vision for child-rearing.

And what we wind up with is my sister practically starving herself for two days because she refused to eat cheddar-broccoli soup and smile while she did it. Or me, as a twenty-four year old woman, curled up in a fetal position, sobbing into the carpet, having one of the worst panic attacks I’ve ever had because I wasn’t “allowed” to exit a conversation that was triggering me and go to my room. The insanity of it all was that I could have left the room– my father would never had physically restrained me. But I had been taught, since I was ten years old, that I do not have individual autonomy, free choice, or personal agency. After it was over he realized how insane it had been and apologized to me, in tears.

The problem is that we had both bought into the horrible lie that, as my parent’s child, they were the Absolute and Supreme Authority Over my Life in All Things. It never even occurred to me to think differently. When I went to the gynecologist for the first time, and she asked my mother to leave the room, I was completely baffled by the idea that I might have gone somewhere and done something my mother didn’t know about. The gynecologist was trying to tell me that it was “ok” if I was honest with her, she couldn’t tell my mother, it was against the law. I had a hard time explaining to her that I was with my parents every single waking moment of every single day, that there was absolutely nothing in my life they didn’t know about, because they were responsible for approving and being a part of everything I did.

This teaching has caused me so many problems as an adult– largely because I’ve been taught that having personal boundaries is wrong. I was taught to always nod my head and do exactly whatever any adult had told me to do, instantaneously, without complaint, and always. There was no room for “can I do it in five minutes?” There was zero tolerance for any kind of refusal, on any basis. There was never an excuse for disobeying anyone. Or even really saying “no” or “stop.” Personal feelings– feeling uncomfortable with a request, for example– were so far outside the point they didn’t bear consideration. And when, as an adult, I started establishing boundaries with people I’d never had any kind of boundary with before, the only result has been the termination of our relationship.

My parents were not abusive, let me make that clear. But, as a family, we swallowed this entire destructive system. Thankfully, for my family, the consequences were not severe. I was so thank-my-lucky-stars blessed because no one besides the pastor in my church abused me as a child or teenager (that would come later, in other relationships). But the consequences, for many, can be. Oh, the consequences can be horrendously and heart-breakingly hideous. The things that have been done to children in the name of patriarchy and “biblical” child-rearing are staggering and horrific.

Because, essentially, in this system, children do not have rights.

In this system, the only rights that matter are “parental rights,” and the organizations that seek to protect parental rights want to see Child Protective Services completely abolished, they openly campaign against the UN Rights of the Child, they call child abusers “heroes.” They openly support (and hire) men who have been convicted of sex crimes against children.

In this system, children are property. And you raise these children to literally be automatons– except, unlike Asimov’s positronic brain, there’s no Third Law— there’s no instruction to protect ourselves, only to obey.


This is where I’d like to ask for your help.

You might be aware that there is a petition for the Home School Legal Defense Association to openly acknowledge that homeschoolers can also be abusers, and to educate their members about child abuse.

I want to ask you to go, read the 300+ stories, and sign the petition. If you’re someone who is familiar with CPS conspiracy theories, or you were someone who was abused in a homeschooling environment, or you knew someone who was, please tell your story, too. There’s other outlets– like Homeschoolers Anonymous, which is attempting to collect the stories of the once-homeschooled adults. There’s Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, which is researching and collating all the documented cases of homeschooling abuse it can find. The Wartburg Watch monitors any and all of the damaging, destructive trends and teaching that appear in Christian culture.

These issues are  . . . so far beyond words. They are horrifying. They are abomination. They are anathema to anything a Christian should believe, to anything a decent human being should believe is true. The fact that there are entire organizations bent on openly supporting these concepts and then blatantly covering up the natural consequences . . . deeply grieves me. I’ve been reading these stories, and there are days where I can’t take it anymore, when I curl up on my bed and weep for all those who have been so gravely wounded– or destroyed– by these teachings.

This post is going to be a safe harbor. Ordinarily my comment policy is as open as I can make it– but not for this. I will not tolerate comments that dismiss or belittle the evil of these ideas, or attempt to justify them in any way. I will not allow that to happen here, on this post.

If you are someone who has been affected by these teachings, who has suffered abuse or trauma because of these ideas, you can speak truth here. You can tell your story– if that is something you want to do. If you want to share your story, but do not want to share it publicly, you can email me, or send my facebook page a message.

forgedimagination (at) gmail (dot) com.


racism, privilege, and blindness


I will be discussing racism today, and my experiences with it. I am a middle class white person, which means that my perspective is one of privilege. If my attempts to confront this issue in my life are offensive, dismissive, alienating, or, yes, even racist (by the conclusion), please do not hesitate to point out to me those errors.

After my father left the military, his new job required him to travel, so in the year I turned thirteen he spent a lot of time away from home. He did his best to make sure that when he was home, that something special was going on, that he was spending time with me and my sister. One of the outings we took was to the county courthouse so Dad could cast his absentee ballot, since he was going to be in Japan.

It was the first election I’d ever paid any attention to, and the only highlight I distinctly remember is something about Al Gore claiming to have invented the internet– and the Snickers commercial that resulted. When we arrived at the courthouse, something big seemed to be going on. There were buses everywhere, and there were huge crowds of people waving signs and shouting, blocking the doors into the courthouse. We were forced to go around to the back and find our way through the maze of hallways to the election office.

When we eventually made it to the office, there was a long line that wrapped its way through the corridors, and the atmosphere was tense. I could tell that the crowds and the environment were worrying my father– there was an almost violent edge to all the noise.

It took me a while to realize it, but eventually I noticed that the line we were standing in was almost exclusively made up of African Americans, and there were a few people who seemed to be “in charge” wandering up and down the line. Out of boredom, I started listening to the conversations happening around me, and what I overheard disturbed me, even at thirteen. The people in the line had been paid to be there– two women standing near us were making plans to go get manicures with the money they’d gotten after they were done voting. When we got closer to the office door, one of the “in charge” people handed my father a sample ballot; it was pre-marked in favor of the Democratic party, and when the woman handed it to my father, she made a comment about how it showed how he was to vote. My father took one look at it, threw it back in her face, and loudly announced that “he wasn’t there with them.” We ended up having to leave before my father could vote because the people in line focused a lot of animosity toward us.

That was the day I became a racist.


Less than a year later, I turned fourteen and 9/11 happened. I was at homeschool group with other children from church when we got the news. We sat, huddled around an old radio, listening to what was happening. I didn’t really understand the significance of what was going on until we were at a hospital in a waiting room, and I watched the second tower fall. When we found out that it had been caused by radical Islamic fundamentalists, I remember seeds of hatred and bitterness against Islam being planted. Over the next few years, I was taught that it wasn’t just radical fundamentalists– every single Islamic person wanted us all dead. I believed that Islam was inherently violent, that all “true Muslims” wanted to kill Americans. When the Patriot Act passed, I cheered.


After hurricane Ivan decimated the community I grew up in, there was one thing that stuck out to me in the aftermath: it was the first time I remember noticing Hispanics, and they were everywhere. They popped out to me– they were at all of the construction sites, in all of the fields. Where had they all come from? I wondered. I didn’t even realize that the influx was a problem, until I was educated on how Hispanics were stealing American jobs, American resources, that they were coming to this country to “breed our liberty away from us.”


When I went to college, everything I learned reinforced my racism. I was taught about the “curse of Ham,” and that “the blacks” were intended for being a “servant of servants” for all eternity. I was taught that inter-racial marriage, if not outright sinful, was at the very least a terribly bad idea. I knew that “stereotypes exist because, well,  stereotypes exist.” Racial profiling was just “common sense.” When Arizona passed SB 1070 the year after I graduated, most of my friends were thrilled, and my alma mater hailed it as a great piece of legislation that would put this country back on track.


During my first year in graduate school, I was in a conversation with Zachary*, a person I had already determined was a “flaming liberal.” He disagreed with me about nearly everything I ever said– and conversations with him were incredibly frustrating. At the time, I didn’t realize it was because every single argument I’d been regurgitating since I was thirteen was horribly awful. I was so completely and utterly blind to my racism, to my privilege. I was arguing that “racism only existed because black people insist on being treated differently” and if they just buckled down and worked hard like the rest of us white people, they wouldn’t have any problems. I capped off everything with the “stereotypes exist” line, and I’ll never forget the look on Zachary’s face.

He was appalled, horrified.

He looked like he was about to vomit.

And suddenly, so was I.

Because, all of a sudden, it hit me, and the experience was like being crushed by a train.

I’m racist.

For the next month, any racist thing I’d ever said came back to haunt me. I would be flooded by memories of horrible, hideous things I had said and done. I remembered nodding my head in agreement when pastors visited my undergrad college and talked un-ironically about racial profiling and water boarding. I remembered being annoyed by the very mention of “entitlement.” I scoffed at Affirmative Action. I completely dismissed anyone who claimed to have been oppressed– “marginalization” was a dirty word. I applauded people like Morgan Freeman who wanted us to just stop talking about racism. To make it a non-issue by ignoring it.

But, I was still conflicted, and experiencing dissonance so bad I didn’t know what to do with it. Because, I grew up in the South. My best friend wore the Confederate Battle Flag on every item of clothing. An evangelist who came to our church every year had it sewn onto the back of all his coats. Every truck that passed us in the road had the Browning logo and the Flag, displayed side-by-side. Nearly everyone I knew walked around proclaiming that “The South would rise again!” I sat in revival services where black people were expressly told to leave. I grew up in a town where there was literally a “wrong side of the tracks,” and where no one went anywhere near subsidized housing. And I’d grown up in a place where black people were paid to vote democrat, and black teenagers viciously butchered their white girlfriends, and black men slaughtered white women at construction sites . . . and I had no idea, no ability, to know that white people committed the same kinds of atrocities, they just didn’t end up in the racist newspaper, or covered by the racist news crew, or announced on the racist radio programs.

I’d grown up identifying “black culture” as inferior. It never once occurred to me that the “black culture” I was exposed to, the kind of culture where famous musicians refer to women as “bitch” and “ho”, wasn’t black culture at all, but a style purposely propagated, marketed, and sold, by white people for white people.

I was blind.

I didn’t even begin to realize the depths that racism continued (and continues) to affect me.

Until I became a feminist.

And I started being able to identify how, as a woman in a heavily patriarchal culture, I had experienced oppression and marginalization my entire life. How I had been convinced I was inferior, and weak, and how I’d made huge and significant life choices based on what I believed about myself. And, for a little while, I wanted to be able to say that being oppressed and marginalized myself meant that I couldn’t have oppressed and marginalized anyone else. That I understood what it was like. That I could sympathize.

And I realized that was racist, too.

But we do have one thing in common: we’re constantly told to shut up. To move on. That because women can vote and black people can sit at lunch counters, that we’ve achieved equality. We even have laws forbidding employers and landlords from making decisions based on race or sex. Why can’t we just be happy with that? We have the same rights as every other person in this country.

Legally, maybe that’s true. I’m not convinced that it is.

But, culturally, that isn’t the case at all.


ramblings on esoteric and practical questions about gender


I try to have well-thought out blog posts. I tend not to write about things I’m not really familiar with, and I tend not to write about nebulous, unformed ideas (and hopefully you, readers, agree with me), but I’m doing that today, mostly because of a conversation I read last week.

It’s long, and convoluted, and esoteric in the extreme, so I’ll give a summary. It all started with Jennifer Luitwieler’s post on how men tend to avoid reading things written by women (for example, Joanne Rowling had to go by J.K. in order for boys to buy her books), and a commenter, Alastair, responded by saying that he’s just not that much interested in the kinds of conversations women have about theology (which was a little bit beside the point, but ok). He argued that women deal more with practical, real-life aspects of theology, and men tend to deal more with esoteric, abstract questions. Dianna Anderson, a writer I very much respect and someone I’ve learned much from, even though we don’t agree about everything, replied to his argument by pointing out the inherent bias in his claim, and tried to show the elitist, sexist undercurrent in his argument– an undercurrent he explicitly denied having.

So here’s where I get muddled. There’s got to be a middle ground in all of this, and as I followed their conversation (both on Jennifer’s blog and Dianna’s) I couldn’t help but feel that they were sort of talking past each other. Both seemed blind to what each felt was their central argument, on both sides of the road.

Alastair couldn’t see the sexism in what he’d written (which is in the subtext, and implied), and Dianna couldn’t see anything else (at least, for the purposes of the dialog). All Alastair could see was Dianna reacting to something he didn’t believe existed, and he also completely missed Dianna’s point that women are excluded from the kinds of conversations he wants to have (the esoteric, scholarly, abstract ones, which he very subtly implied were superior theological realms).

The problem is that Alastair has a point: the famous women theological bloggers like Elizabeth Esther and Rachel Held Evans don’t talk about the esoteric questions. I have to admit, Alastair is right: I really like theology. Like, a lot. But I’m not all that fascinated by the super esoteric questions Alastair is. And, from what I’ve gathered, there aren’t too many women blogging about super esoteric things. I certainly don’t.

However, Dianna is also completely right. Women are excluded from the esoteric, scholarly conversations by an entire system dedicated to keeping women “in silence with all subjection.” A woman who enrolls in seminary has a huge, mountainous uphill battle to fight. And a lot of us just don’t have the kind of passion to overcome the innate sexism in the seminaries. Fighting sexism in our every day lives is enough of a struggle for most of us.

There seems to be a problem here, and I’m having a really hard time figuring out what it is. There’s an awful lot of gendered assumptions spinning around on both sides, and one of them is Alastair’s: that “men” are interested in esoteric questions, because they are men. That’s not the case. There’s way more men who are way more interested in “practical theology” then there are men who like the esoteric questions. There’s probably just as many women who are theological scholars (a close friend of mine, Mary*, comes to mind), but we don’t see or hear from them because of the stacked deck. Which was Dianna’s point. But, Dianna seemed to be doing the same exact thing Alastair was doing: devaluing the “practical theology” viewpoint. They both fell into the “super-intellectual-esoteric-stuff-is-better-than-practical-stuff” trap.

So, something that I’m mulling over is the “practical theology” approach. The work-a-day theology, the theology that lives and breathes in our life. I think women tend to excel at this, especially since it’s been the only area of theology we’ve been permitted access to, but also because of how our culture emphasizes relational aspects of gender as innately feminine. We’re allowed to be more relational; men are nearly forced to be non-relational. But, then I think about bloggers like Micah Murray or Preston Yancey, and they turn that all on its head.

This is, I think, one of the many ways that sexism and patriarchy have left deep, deep scars on Christianity. By setting up these gendered dichotomies, we’ve been forced into sex-based boxes, where men are logical and rational and women are emotional– and women are weak, therefore emotions are weak, so we’re not going to permit emotion into our theology. We’re going to restrict theological pursuits to esoteric, scholarly, abstract questions, and leave the mundane, unimportant stuff to the women.

That approach has robbed us, and I think in many ways left our theology bankrupt of humanity and compassion.