Hodgepodge of Thoughts   4 comments

The world is interesting, you guys. People are interesting. Societies are interesting. I have some thoughts on this. Are you surprised? Some thoughts are directly related to feminism and suchlike; some are more general and/or rant-y and/or some sort of rambly “hey, what’s going on here?” musings.


How to be an Actually Nice Guy, as opposed to a Nice Guy(TM), an anecdote:

I got flirted with while I was on the bus the other day. There were several elderly people waiting in line, plus me and one attractive youngish guy. A few moments after the bus had pulled away from the stop, the young guy (who had been sitting a row or two back from me and across the aisle) moved to the empty seat next to me and struck up a conversation. It was quite definitely flirtatious on his side; he was extremely complimentary of my looks, my Spanish, etc. But here’s the thing: he wasn’t pushy. He didn’t ask me any personal information. He asked questions about what it was like to be an American student here and how it was different from home (he didn’t even ask where specifically that was!), and we discussed what we’re each studying in university (he was also a study-abroad student, from a Spanish-speaking area of Morocco). He actually listened to and engaged with my responses and questions.

Just before I was going to get off the bus, he asked if I’d like to hang out with him sometime and said he could give me his phone number. I said sorry, it’d been lovely chatting with him but I have a boyfriend and I don’t give my info to strangers. He laughed, said basically oh, well and it was nice to meet me anyway and he hoped I had a pleasant day. I got off the bus.

There was no anger, there were no slurs, there was no pushing. It was pleasant, personal but not invasive, comfortable, eminently human. Once we started talking he was complimentary of my physical appearance, but it was very clear that he was interested in what I had to say, not just in getting a date or related attentions from me. If I weren’t already attached, and if I were going to be here a longer time, I’d at least have considered the possibility of going on a date with this guy, because he treated me like a human being, up to and including the point where I rejected him, instead of railing at me when I failed to deliver what he was looking for.


How to be a Not-Nice-At-All Guy, a list:

  1. Yell at me from your car window or motorcycle.
  2. Yell at me from across the street.
  3. Yell at me from anywhere, really.
  4. Put your arm around me, without knowing me or asking my permission.
  5. Touch me in any way, really.
  6. Call me bitch, whore, tramp or slut.
  7. Call me blondie.
  8. Call me anything except my name or a formal business-setting salutation, before you actually know me and know what nicknames I’m comfortable with, really.
  9. Bark at me.
  10. Growl at me.
  11. Howl at me.
  12. Whistle at me.
  13. Make any sort of inhuman noise at me, really.

All of the above are good ways to be a Not-Nice-At-All-Guy in whatever country you encounter me.


On Bullfighting:

So, I went to a bullfight a week ago. It was upsetting.

I’m not much of an animal-rights activist. I eat meat with a great deal of pleasure. I basically only give money to human-oriented causes (though I am glad there are people who advocate for animals in horrible conditions). Consequently I didn’t really expect to be in much distress about the fight. But… I was.

We saw six fights. Two fighters got hurt in startling ways. As a show, it was thrilling and dramatic and entertaining on some level, certainly. But I didn’t like it. The bulls were clearly suffering, in whatever capacity they have for that — I personally don’t really think they have a very high level of sentience, so pain probably doesn’t affect them in the same way it does us, but still, it was pain and rage and ultimately death. It was cruel, brutal, senseless. Six bulls died, unknowing, hurt, angry, bewildered, all for the sport and pleasure of a crowd of humans.

Overall, though, my discomfort was not so much about the bulls themselves. The problem was sitting in a stadium full of people who were reveling in the sensation, the blood and gore, the genuine danger in which the fighters placed themselves and of course the genuine suffering the bulls experienced. The problem was experiencing a culture in which the most macho thing one can do is kill kill kill. Certainly it involves a great deal of skill, but there’s no question the bull is always going to die.

It seems that in many (most?) cultures, killing is a highly-valued expression of masculinity. The ability to kill means dominance — over animals, nature, other persons. I suppose that makes some sort of twisted sense, but honestly, it’s not all that impressive to me. I appreciate the skill and work that goes into becoming an expert bullfighter, or a top-notch assassin, or a great military strategist. But what would happen if all that talent and effort were directed toward creation and healing? Isn’t it far more radical, transgressive, impressive, strong and admirable to defy traditions and rules and expectations? Everything that lives, dies. That’s the way the world works. Becoming part of that cycle doesn’t strike me as all that valuable.

I’m reminded of what Opal McHone said to her husband in Catherine Marshall’s Christy: “Tearin’ down or killin’, that thar’s easy… It’s fixin’ that’s hard. Takes a heap more doin’.” I respect women and men who take up the hard and dangerous task of defending their lives, their homes or their countries by fighting. But I have more respect for people who take up the hard, endless task of building families and societies without violence and cruelty, creating love and beauty and joy in cultures full of hatred and ugliness and despair.


Customer Service?:

I think there are many things wrong with capitalism as practiced in the U.S., but one thing I do not find fault with is the general idea that businesses should treat their clients well and endeavor to make their experiences pleasant, in order to attract their continuing support as consumers.

That doesn’t really happen here, at least not in the same way. I went to buy a mobile phone, and it took almost an hour. To begin with, when I was wandering around looking very lost, none of the many employees came over to ask me if I needed anything. Then, when I went over to the phone section, I had to (actually my roommate did it for me, as she had already been through the process) ask the worker in that area of the store to tell me about the options. The long part came in when she was trying to use the computer to fill out a form with my personal information and print out a paper that I would have to take down to the cash register to pay. Her computer was crashing repeatedly and she took an extremely long time trying to restart it over and over, finally ending up filling out the form by hand and then finding another computer to use to print my payment ticket.

There were several issues here. One was that this employee was hardly interacting with me personally at all throughout the process. No apologies, no explanations of what was going on, no assurances that everything would be worked out soon. Another was that she spent quite a bit of the time (e.g. while the computer was starting up again) ignoring me and going over to have chats with another employee who was stocking shelves and whatnot in her area. Another was that when she left a couple of times, to have such chats as well as to look for someone to help with the problem (I think), she simply left my passport sitting on her unattended desk. (I took it back or stayed within two inches of it at all times.) Another was that it took a freaking hour.

I’ve worked in customer service, so I generally try to be a very forgiving, patient and non-demanding customer when I’m on the other side of the register. But the lack of communication, the lack of concern for my time or comfort (if I’d been elderly or disabled, standing at that desk for an hour could’ve been a serious problem) — I felt disregarded and disrespected. I’ve had other disconcerting experiences: sitting at the counter in a coffee shop when the manager was loudly and angrily chastising a waiter, having to try multiple times to get a waiter’s attention to obtain my check, walking into a bank and also a government ‘services for citizens’ center and being completely ignored until I got right in front of a receptionist’s face and started talking… It’s weird and uncomfortable.

Part of the point of a store is to make it easier for the average consumer to make purchases, right? That’s part of what we pay for when we buy a product — if not for stores (and restaurants) and their facilities and employees we’d all have to go right to manufacturers (or make our own food all the time), and maybe we’d get things cheaper but it’d all be more of a hassle. Right? That’s what I always assumed. Don’t get me wrong, as I’m generally laid-back about time (hah! Laid way, way back is more like it) I don’t care about things taking longer, and much of the time things are fine, and it’s just me being a reticent introverted Midwesterner reluctant to ask for help. But still, I often feel like I’m paying for a level of ease and comfort in transactions that I’m just not getting. It’s frustrating, and I don’t like feeling like I have to make things happen for myself when I’m spending money at someone else’s business. I especially don’t like being ignored and treated as if my time and my money and my concerns don’t matter.


Final Note:

I’m tired of people saying “I’m not racist, but…” or “I don’t care what you believe, as long as you don’t…” or “It’s not sexist, it’s just…” and then following up with really bigoted things. I’m just tired of it.


Posted September 19, 2010 by skreps in Feminism, Gender, Sexism

My Church is So White   1 comment

Oh I love my church. I love it so much.

The church that I’ve attended most regularly for the past two years is a somewhat medium-sized church just barely across the border between the city of Chicago and the suburbs — technically it’s on the suburban side but it feels pretty urban; it’s conservative in a theological sense but has a pretty contemporary vibe and is very racially diverse. I like it quite a bit. I have learned from the teaching and have connected with God in serious ways there.

However, My Church, the church where my heart belongs, is a suburban megachurch in my hometown, which I attended with my family from seventh grade until I left for school. It’s a half-hour drive away and the sanctuary is always freezing cold. Yet I get so excited when I’m home on a break and I get to go to it, because something about that space, that music, that preaching, that congregation, impacts me deeply. Some of my family don’t like it as much because of the megachurch aspect; they want more personal connection and community. I never had that much of a problem with it, because I’ve always been blessed with close Christian friends and mentors through my social circles at school, so it has been all about the teaching and worship, for me. I come home for a vacation, and I know that the way the worship music is played is going to feel like home too — artistic and creative, mostly familiar songs but not the ones that feel uninspired and overplayed, free and melodic and rhythmic and just the type of music that lifts my heart up to God. I know that the teaching is going to be tough and challenging and exciting, profoundly intelligent and intellectual but never divorced from everyday life, and delivered in a highly engaging style. It all just meshes with the ways my brain and spirit work. I’ve learned that’s a pretty rare thing to find, and I treasure it.

But you guys, my church is so white.

It is SO. WHITE.

Obviously, I’ve always known it was white. It’s a megachurch in an affluent Upper Midwestern suburb. A large gathering that is Christian + affluent + suburban + Upper Midwestern = supersuperwhite, with very few exceptions. Yet somehow it had never really affected me before, except in a fleeting sort of way when we would have a visit from the pastor of one of our partner churches, a smaller younger church in a very urban area, with a congregation and staff mostly consisting of people of color. Even then, though race was clearly an issue with some part in the relationships — positive and negative — between and within our churches, I don’t ever recall it being discussed directly. It was all about class differences and urban vs. suburban culture differences and generational differences and whatnot, a tiptoe conversation.

This morning, however, the first time I’d been to my church since I really started wrestling with feminism (and all that it entails), I ran a sweeping gaze over the people as they slowly organized into clumpy lines and filed out of the sanctuary, and formed their little cliques in the large lobby. I believe I saw two Asian or Asian-American people — East Asian, seemingly, not from regions where darker skin is more typical. There were no black families or Latino families or Southeast Asian families… everyone else (in a crowd of seven or eight hundred people whose faces I noted as they moved up a slight incline toward the back of the sanctuary where I was) was white, as far as I could tell — I don’t mean to dismiss people who are biracial or Hispanic but look white; that’s just what I could see.

And I thought, you know, I don’t remember knowing a single person of color when I was in youth group here when I was younger, or taking care of a single baby who wasn’t white when I worked in various nursery/early childhood rooms. I’ve never seen someone who wasn’t white in a position of leadership or even in the worship band. I think it’s pretty sad that I’m really only thinking about this now, and that clearly the vast majority of people at the church have never really thought about it, and never concluded that it is a bad thing.

Is it a bad thing? many of you may be asking me, in your heads. And I, also in your head through the magic of the written word which your brain is probably transmitting to you as an internal voice, say yes. Yes, it is a bad thing.

I have such frustration with the Church in America over this issue right now. Having spent so much time over the last several months reading lots of social justice writing, blogs written from secular progressive perspectives, I am beginning to think “why for the love of heaven have nonbelievers figured this out before the Church?” Why has the body of Christ on Earth failed to pay attention to and truly wrestle with issues of privilege and oppression? Why have we let this go on for so long? Why have we rejected civil rights activists, feminists, all sorts of crusaders against bigotry who have so much to teach us about how to truly respect our fellow human beings?

Brace yourself for shocking news: The Church, as an institution in the West, has been a major force of oppression for several hundred years now.

Are you stunned? Do you need a fainting couch? I’ll get the smelling salts.

Honestly though, I think we Christians tend to imagine that the perpetrators of the Inquisition and the leaders of the Crusades and maybe whoever the Pilgrims were trying to escape as anomalies. We think of Christian history as a history of the persecuted, the underdog, the oppressed ones ourselves. I don’t mean to deny the Biblical truth that when we truly devote our lives to following Christ we will be persecuted by the world — living our faith is difficult. That’s not what I’m talking about. I”m talking about the historical reality that the Church has caused and participated in a lot of institutionalized and systematized hatred, marginalization, bigotry and oppression. Because you know, in religious wars all over Europe throughout the previous millennium, the Church was involved, hating foreigners. At the Salem Witch Trials, and plenty of other trials like it, the Church was hanging around, hating women. At the formation of America, through the tumultuous years leading up to the Civil War, during the Civil War itself, through Reconstruction, through the long terrible decades of segregation and the KKK and Jim Crow and sorts of other atrocities, the Church was always there, hating black people (in ways that differed between South and North, but were pretty much still hateful). Right now on the steps of government buildings and in the news and in private schools and family homes, the Church is present, hating gay people.

Bigotry is not an anomaly for the Church in the West. Just because mainstream church leaders will no longer openly make overtly racist and misogynist statements does not mean that we are practicing loving equality. We have not solved this problem yet.

For so long, simply claiming membership in the institution of the Church — Catholic in some eras and places, Protestant in others, whichever dominated really — was a way of claiming privilege. Most mainstream churches silenced, dehumanized, infantilized or outright rejected women, people of color, people with disabilities and poor people. Black churches were segregated; the poor and disabled were seen as defective and pitiable and less-than; women weren’t listened to or respected or allowed to teach or lead anyone but other women and children. Society only valued people who were valued by the Church. The Church gave enormous privilege to straight wealthy able white males. Obviously there have been exceptions, but they are just that: exceptions to a rule. Society at large and the Church worked together in tangled and reprehensible ways to keep oppressed groups down.

And yet, as I said, claiming church membership has been a way of claiming privilege. It’s happened throughout history — oppressed and marginalized people do everything they can to try to meet the standards of the privileged oppressors, hoping that will make them more acceptable and less targeted. In the process they often actively work or speak against other members of their group or class. This happens when women slut-shame rape victims, when educated black people revile other black people for speaking and dressing in certain ways, when gay people hate other gay people for being too effeminate for men or too butch for women.

The Church in America is all about a mess of privilege, is what I’m saying. Churches are largely segregated. Women are not valued as leaders (see my addendum to the dancing post). Class issues, especially as they are so tied up with race in this country, make less-affluent people feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in megachurches like mine with budgets of millions. We pretend that we have overcome these things, right along with the pretending of the rest of the country, but we are even more completely blind to our privilege, because we have these comforting ideas about spiritual equality and unity.

These ideas are important. As Christians, work toward social justice must be based on a shared love for God and desire to glorify Him. But we’re human, we live in a fallen world and a severely messed-up culture, and we’re not going to overcome prejudice and bigotry or even begin to see past our own privilege without hard work and the disciplines that progressive thinkers have puzzled out in secular academia. When we insist that we’re all the same, all Christian, all equal at the foot of the cross, we are speaking truth — but it is not a whole truth, it is not a truth that will draw the rest of our culture to the light that flickers at the heart of the Church. We need to learn to acknowledge — fully, openly, brokenheartedly — the role that we have played in so much oppression and marginalization over the last 1,500ish years. We need to understand that that oppression and marginalization continue at our hands: because when systems of oppression have been so firmly established, so deeply rooted for so long, they perpetuate themselves.

Sure, many believers, especially educated, affluent, pleasant, relatively thoughtful ones like those in my church, have renounced open racism and misogyny. But the systems of oppression self-propagate if we simply sit back and let the status quo do its thing. Women have been considered the lesser sex for so long that simply ceasing to say that they are the lesser sex is not going to make any women feel stronger, more confident, more valued or more welcome. Same goes for people of color, poor people, disabled people, LGBTQ people. Unless we, believers, churches, take active steps to seek out and promote the voices and perspectives of marginalized people, declaring their validity and worth for the body of Christ as a whole, the marginalization will never end.

It’s not a problem that will solve itself. It takes people who are willing to give up the automatic authority and centrality that is bestowed on them at their privileged births, who are willing to re-examine expectations and standards, who are willing to reach out to people who make them uncomfortable, who are willing to truly deeply consider why other people make them uncomfortable and whose responsibility that is.

To quote the always-amazing Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown,

Privilege causes ignorance of the lived realities of non-privileged individuals, and a corresponding insensitivity to them; it grants the privileged individual the luxury of assuming that his own viewpoints and experiences are “authoritative” and “universal.”

Also please read this post by Harriet J of Fugitivus, about the problems inherent to all-white spaces.

It’s a problem. The Church keeps allowing this to go on, sitting pretty with our privilege. The rest of the country needs to deal with it too, but we are the Church. We’re supposed to be a major way God gets work done and shows Himself to people here in the world. We’re supposed to be the very ones who care for the lost and broken and hurt and abandoned and marginalized and hated and feared. This is our job. And when we reject the methodology and thinking of progressive scholarship on social justice, we reject some of the best tools anybody has to help us figure out how to break down the privilege and stop the oppression and draw people to us.

Let’s start taking active steps to break free of our privilege and fight oppression and welcome the marginalized. Let’s start doing the actual work to pour love and joy and peace and hope out on everyone in our hurting messed-up culture, not just the ones we see all the time or the ones who look and act like us. Let’s love our neighbors.

Addendum   Leave a comment

Meant to add this in the part where I was talking about how the church needs to learn to treat women as whole individuals, equal to men. One thing I think is really important to that is teaching about women in the Bible. So often, in-depth teaching about Ruth and Deborah and Miriam and Esther and even Mary — I mean teaching their stories, diving in, considering what made them exceptional and how God worked in them and how we can learn from their mistakes and emulate their righteousness — is relegated to women’s Bible studies and discussion groups. Why? Why why why why WHY?! There are long intense sermon series on the lives of David and Moses and Peter and Paul and John the Baptist all the time, with the assumption that everyone can learn from them.

Obviously, there are ways in which studying female figures of the Bible can be specifically helpful for women in gender-specific intimate groups; same with men studying male figures. Figuring out how to deal with things that the world throws at women, in a Godly way that works for women, is important for many of us. I’m not saying that should stop. I AM saying that we should stop acting as if men’s stories, men’s examples, men’s voices are the only ones that have value for all people. That would be a big part of the church culture I long for, which truly values all women and teaches young men to value them too.

Posted August 20, 2010 by skreps in Faith, Feminism, Gender, Sexism

Latin Dancing Christian Feminist   Leave a comment

(Sorry for the delay. I think this is my seventh draft of this post? Let’s hope I make it through this time.)

I want to talk about sexy dancing.

Specifically, I want to talk about how my habit of dancing sexily works with my Christian faith and with my feminism.

I first started with the sexy dancing when I was twelve years old. Well, I suppose nothing I did on the dance floor was overtly sexy until I was thirteen. Yeah, I definitely learned how to shimmy and do a body roll the summer before freshman year  (I turned fourteen at the very end of that summer), in preparation for the samba formation in which I was to perform for the studio’s fall Showcase. By that time my competitive teacher was certainly taking some time in lessons to show me “this is how you play with your skirt when you do a lock-step, this is how you run your hand over your hair and down your body, this is how you make a sultry figure-eight with your hips”.

This scares some people.

My instructor, and everyone with whom he surrounded himself, was (is) a paragon of professionalism and integrity, which made things easier. He did everything he could to make sure he wasn’t overstepping his bounds, and he assured us that he never wanted to be like other instructors who put their young female students in dresses that were too adult and routines that were too thoroughly erotic. As I matured, we worked more and more on the artistic performance aspect of dancing, and things definitely became much more sexual, but it was always at a level where I was comfortable. Also, significantly, it was always discussed in the context of the aesthetic and athletic goals of dancesport: portraying beauty in relationships between bodies and between people, through physical movement and emotional passion. These factors allowed my parents, who were (at the very least) sort of uneasy about sending off to learn how to dance sexily, to trust my instructor, and to trust me to handle all the various issues the dance world tossed at my head.

For me, dancing thus became a very healthy way to fulfill my yearning to be beautiful and desired. This way of expressing sexuality was a performance, and personally I found it very satisfying and very safe. There were limits: sexy dancing within the bounds of appropriate times and places allowed me not to worry too much about being sexy at other times and places. And yet I think it still freaked people out, because guess what! The world has PROBLEMS with women and their bodies and their sex lives. And so does the Church, only the misogyny in those problems is harder for many people to recognize and fight because it comes tangled up with some very legitimate concerns about the world’s issues with sex in general. (Also because heartbreakingly few leaders in mainstream American Christianity consider it worthwhile to study social justice in-depth from a comprehensive perspective taking progressive academic thought into account rather than tossing around vague proclamations about love for everyone and unity in Christ. But that’s a different post. Actually many different posts. I need to stop getting ahead of myself.)

Cultures build some messed-up fences to rein in women and our bodies and our sexy dancing. Most of these fences are constructed of shame.

Slut-shaming: it is a major problem. While the classic double standard of “men who sleep around are players and women who do anything more than kiss their boyfriends are dirty whores” is not, as far as I can tell, as intractable and prevalent as it once was, it manifests itself in infinite subtle ways. Anything from the idea of “daddy issues” to rape humor and apologism shows that. We still believe that all women inherently want romantic love more than they want sex, with every partner and in every circumstance; our culture just can’t process that many women might just enjoy sex because it’s supposed to be enjoyable, and that that, in itself, is okay. Our culture professes to be concerned about the risks women face — disease, pregnancy, abuse — in sexual relationships, but when faced with a woman who engages in frequent and varied sexual behavior but successfully and deliberately protects herself aganist those risks, the ultimate reaction is that she must be lying. She must have psychological issues; she must be a nymphomaniac with a hormone imbalance; secretly she wants to become pregnant so her man will stay with her; something has to be driving this because we all know women just don’t like sex, and they shouldn’t because women should be sweet and fresh and innocent and pure, or they should be soft and nurturing and maternal.

For the very small number of women whom we do want to be sexual — the young, thin, super-attractive, straight (or maybe bisexual if they mostly kiss girls because their male admirers think it’s hot), cisgendered, generally white and affluent and able-bodied — they must not be subjects. Again, they can’t actually want the sex. They are the recipient; they can give off signals that they are open to being acted upon sexually but they can’t truly initiate and follow through with encounters simply because they want to. So society shames women who unapologetically claim sexual agency and enjoy it.

Within the Church, this dynamic is far more intense and far less subliminal. Young men are shamed for wanting sex and being lustful, though of course we pay lip service to the idea that that’s just how they are. For young women, everyone assumes that they don’t have a “problem” with actually wanting sex so the responsibility to make sure no sex occurs in any romantic relationship — the pressure “not to give in” — is placed largely on their shoulders. If, heaven forbid, they do show signs of having real sexual desire (I mean actual desire, arousal, lust, not just wishing for an intimate relationship with a boy which might include physical intimacy because that’s what boys want), they’re made to feel like hopelessly unfeminine, hopelessly ungodly freaks.

This is just so upsetting to me. I’m not saying that the Church should start promoting casual sex or anything like that. I’m just so frustrated with the shame. I’ve heard from so many Christian young men how a struggle with pornography and lust seems to consume their whole lives, how they feel so horribly guilty that they can’t grow or move forward in relationship with God, how they’re terrified that their (current or future) girlfriends will think they’re weak and spiritually immature, how they’re stuck in cycle from which they can’t escape. Nearly every time I’ve heard a teacher (of faith, meaning a youth leader or Bible teacher or pastor or whatever) speak about sex to young men, it’s in the context of a “battle”: fighting your desires, beating back lustful thoughts, cutting out pornography, violent and negative language ad infinitum. With young women, it’s language of resistance — even after they’ve said men must fight their urges, there’s a sort of wink-wink, nudge nudge, “they can’t really restrain themselves, know what I mean?” vibe when teachers speak to women. You ladies have to make sure you’re not dressing immodestly, wearing too much makeup, moving provocatively, talking about titillating subjects, being too physically affectionate, getting too emotionally intimate with any male friends, language of restriction and resistance ad infinitum.

Some of these things, in theory and abstraction, are probably good things. But they are not good things solely, or even primarily, to my mind, because they will help young men “fight their lust”. It’s not appropriate to be showing off much of your body through the way you dress or move when you’re at a church function, because the point should be giving glory and worship to God and learning m ore about Him, not drawing others’ attention to how good you look.

But listen — when you talk to young men about what might possibly trigger them to have sexual thoughts about a woman, just about every possible type of clothing and movement comes up. The way a girl talks, walks, styles her hair, holds a book, eats her food or carries her purse can all “provoke” “lustful” thoughts. I believe it’s profoundly misogynistic and controlling to expect women to change everything about the way they inhabit their bodies, in order to protect young men from temptation. Frankly, the way some people talk about modesty borders on victim-blaming: actually, it is victim-blaming, blaming victims of objectification for that objectification, and that can easily slip into the territory of blaming victims of sexual harassment and assault for those crimes committed against them.

Yet, of course, it is really hard for men to stop objectifying women. I understand that. I do. I get that because of the way men are taught to think, it’s really tough to break out of a misogynistic, objectifying mindset towards women. The way to combat that, though, is not shame and negativity. The way to combat that is offering an alternative: teaching young men and women to view women as real people.

Young men are wired to think about sex, a lot. It’s how creatures on Earth work. We are sexual. We have bodies. Personally, I really don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that. Read the Song of Solomon. Read about the apostles healing the sick and disabled. Read about Jesus turning water into wine, dining with His disciples the night He was betrayed, taking a nap when He was tired on the Sea of Galilee. I think God gave us bodies for a reason: because He wants us to know and delight in sensual and sensory pleasure, the physical enjoyment of food, drink, sleep, movement, hot sun and cool ocean, hardwood floors and soft down comforters, even sex.

The body should not be the be-all end-all of our existence, certainly, just as this life is not the be-all end-all of our existence. We’re looking forward to a remade heaven and a remade Earth; we have a hope of and a responsibility to that future. But that future? It’s going to include resurrected bodies. It’s going to include people who are people, not angels or ghosts or spirits, and as I’ve always thought this world is supposed to be the place where we begin to be transformed into the kind of people we’ll be in that future, that should include how we think about our bodies. Our souls are not meant to be divorced from our bodies. So it’s a healthy and positive thing that we as Christians set boundaries to make sure we aren’t hurting each other or ourselves or dishonoring God with the ways in which we enjoy our bodies, because hurting people and dishonoring God does not jive with Jesus’ “life abundant”. However, it seems we’ve gone so far the opposite way, become so obsessed with maintaining those boundaries, that we’ve lost track of the reality that we’re never going to be completely rid of bodies, and we’re not supposed to.

Shame is not an effective incentive. Teaching young people over and over that what their bodies tell them they want is dirty and wrong? That’s not going to stop their bodies from wanting. That’s going to make them paralyzed with guilt over what they want, unable to focus on anything else, trapped in precisely the body-obsessed-to-the-exclusion-of-all-else mentality that we don’t want, that I believe God doesn’t want.

Instead, why don’t we teach young women that it’s okay to love their bodies, to accept that they have desires, to delight in what their bodies can feel and do? Why don’t we teach them about, and show them examples of, treating our bodies well and enjoying them in positive ways that honor God, living fully in the glory of the bodies He made for us?

Instead of teaching young men that they have to fight their own bodies and that they must resist the allure of young women’s bodies, why don’t we teach them not to freak out over the thoughts that their bodies’ desires evoke? Why don’t we build a culture around them that allows women to be — that even assumes they are — full, complete human beings, with many facets, capable of leadership, possessed of agency of all kinds?

Why don’t we tell both sexes “hey people, God made your body to want sex! He did! Because your body is part of who you are, and God made your body good and intended it to be pleasurable for you to inhabit your body! So it is really okay to want sex, just like it’s okay to want food and sleep and friends. You are supposed to. But hey, we also live in a fallen world, and so there are ways in which obtaining what our bodies want can hurt other people and can be selfish and dishonoring to God — so let’s talk about what those ways are, and then let’s talk about better ways to handle things, and then let’s go through the world striving to love God and love each other above all else rather than being painfully obsessed over what our bodies want or do!”

Again, positive alternatives rather than shame are important to how we think about women and their bodies. It’s much easier not to focus on the sexual nature of another human being, even when your body’s yelling “LOOK A SEXY THING”, if your mind and heart have a strong response of “Yes, that is a person who is sexy but more importantly intelligent/funny/athletic/artistic/compassionate/full of integrity/etc. etc. etc.” Let’s work on creating a world where that’s how we automatically view women. That’s important to society at large, but shouldn’t it be even more important to the Church? Shouldn’t we be striving to see people through Christ’s eyes and loving them as He does — as whole individuals, intrinsically valuable and infinitely worth loving?

I think we should. But usually, we’re not.

So let’s get back to the sexy dancing. (Like I said, all this stuff is related.) I’ve already mentioned how dancing ballroom and Latin gave me a healthy, positive outlet for my desire to perform feminine sexuality. For me, it was even more than that. Dancing, even sexy Latin dancing, is both a feminist act and an act of Christian worship.

Competitive dancesport helped me learn to appreciate my body both for how it could look and for what it could do. I watched and experienced how bodies can relate to each other on a physical level through the movement of dancing, and how people can relate to each other through the social act of dancing as well as the artistic performance of passionate emotions in dancing. I saw how beautiful and strong and fluid and sensual bodies can be, and that my body could do that too, and that it was a good thing. I learned that I can control what my body does. I learned that I don’t have to let other people do things to my body that I don’t like — I can say no to dancing with a man who makes me uncomfortable; I can physically or verbally resist a movement that will hurt me. I learned that I feel better, happier, more functional when I treat my body well, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of exercise in ways that I enjoy. And again, I learned that it’s not intrinsically horrible to want to feel beautiful and desired, and that there are healthy ways of expressing that wish.

All these pieces of knowledge, of self-knowledge really, are things our culture works desperately to keep from women. All these things have helped me become a happy, healthy, functional adult, with a strong sense of my worth and my autonomy. This is why it’s been a feminist act, to me.

These things I’ve learned also play into how I see dancing as an act of worship, as well. Fundamentally, I believe my purpose as a believer is to live a life that glorifies God. Clearly, He gave me a talent for dancing; developing it is good stewardship of His blessings to me. Dancing beautifully reflects the beauty of the Lord, showing a little bit of His work to the world. That’s all part of a worshipful life, and so is learning to love myself and celebrate the body that He gave me.

So, in conclusion, à la Sady Doyle [ETA: meant to explain, Sady f’ing Doyle is the blogger at Tiger f’ing Beatdown, an awesome feminist blog]: Sexy dancing! It is fun! And it has helped me think about my body! And feminism! And the Church! Which should really think more about how it treats women’s bodies! Woo!

Posted August 18, 2010 by skreps in Dancing, Faith, Feminism, Gender, Sexism

Anti-Abortion, Anti-Abortion Bans   3 comments

Starting with an uncomplicated, uncontroversial blog post would be weak, right?

I’ve been thinking about this intensely since I read this post on Stuff Christians Like. I didn’t mean to get all into it, but I simply couldn’t stop myself from commenting on the second page. And then I got a little bit riled up and made some long posts about abortion and babies and women and the legal system. That was actually what prompted me to finally decide to start a blog of my own, so I thought a more complete, less-riled version of my thoughts might be a good first post.

I’ll try to “begin at the beginning and go on until the end: then stop”, as the Queen of Hearts would advise.

At the core of my pro-choice stance is this: I do not believe that the legal system ought to enforce a moral code. I believe the entire purpose of government, legislation and the justice system is to make society as free and as safe as possible for all persons to pursue happy, healthy lives. Thus, I don’t want laws in place that restrict freedom without making anyone safer, happier or healthier, and that’s why I’m against making abortion illegal.

Laws against abortion do not prevent abortion.

You may not be familiar with this idea. If it shocks you, take a deep breath and relax and try to stay with me.

Laws against abortion do not prevent abortion.

This report [“Induced abortion: estimated rates and trends worldwide”, 2007, The Lancet, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61575-X] states that “unrestrictive abortion laws do not predict a high incidence of abortion, and by the same token, highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with low abortion incidence. Indeed, both the highest and lowest abortion rates were seen in regions where abortion is almost uniformly legal under a wide range of circumstances.” Previous studies like this one [“Relationships Between Contraception and Abortion: A Review of the Evidence”, 2003, International Family Planning Perspectives] cite access to, and effective and widespread education as to the proper use of, contraceptives as the factor with the strongest correlation with low abortion rates. At the time of the study, in places where abortion rates were high and abortion was legal, the high rates could generally be explained by fluctuations in fertility rates and poor access to/education about contraceptive methods.

Laws against abortion do not prevent abortion.

What prevents abortion?

Access to and education about contraception is clearly extremely important. People have sex. Lots and lots of people who are in no position to have children have sex. There is no way that is going to stop. Increased usage of condoms is a really great thing, and should continue, especially because protection from STIs is also important. However, I’d also really love to see more women, and especially young girls, have knowledge of and access to contraceptive methods that they control independently of their partners and that are more effective because they’re easier to use correctly (i.e., the Pill, which has only an 8% failure rate with “typical use” versus condoms’ 15%).

In addition to contraceptive access, I’m convinced America needs much better and more comprehensive sex education in general. Our entire society has some really messed-up ways of thinking about sex, and I really believe we’d be better off, and people who aren’t ready for children would be much less likely to have unprotected sex (or practice other risky and irresponsible sexual behaviors) if we did a lot more to help young people learn about what constitutes healthy, safe and positive sexual behavior. Teach young adults to respect their sexual partners; teach them that sex while impaired beyond reasoning under the influence of substances is not okay; teach them that sexual activity is only acceptable with enthusiastic, positive consent; teach them that using sex to gain power over someone is wrong.

However, unexpected pregnancies still happen. Part of the reason that abortion bans don’t stop abortion is that our culture makes carrying, birthing and raising children incredibly expensive–there are high costs for a woman, in terms of money, time, energy and sacrifices made to so many other important parts of life like friendships, marriages and career. Add those costs to the psychological trauma of massive amounts of judgment faced by women who get pregnant unexpectedly, especially if they’re young, poor, women of color and/or otherwise marginalized, and they will often, understandably, panic when faced with an unintended pregnancy.

In places where abortion is banned, legal repercussions, even harsh punishments, are extremely unlikely to outweigh an unexpectedly-pregnant woman’s terror. Women in a desperate and vulnerable position are going to take the option that gives them a chance of having the life they want–if the options are “have the baby which will ruin my life” and “have an abortion which will only ruin my life if someone finds out about it and presses charges”, a woman is probably going to choose the latter. I’d rather avoid that dichotomy.

I’d rather see our society make it less prohibitively expensive to carry, birth and raise children. This means, for one important part of the solution, making it easier for a woman to put her child up for adoption without necessarily cutting off all ties, as that can be really difficult as well. This means parental leave and access to decent childcare for everyone. This means access to decent health care for everyone, without ruinous costs. This means improvements in schools, so that underprivileged expectant mothers don’t have to worry about whether their hypothetical kid can get a useful education. This means decent housing for families. With perhaps the most urgency of all, this means resources for women to leave abusive and dangerous domestic situations–women who are afraid their partners will harm them if they reveal that they are pregnant, or who are afraid to raise children in their homes because they believe their partner will abuse the children, are pretty likely to terminate a pregnancy.

Some of these points lead me to another reason I don’t want abortion to be illegal. Laws against abortion not only do not prevent abortion, but they also indicate significant increases in rates of complications from abortions. Worldwide, 67,000 deaths are caused by unsafe abortions; that’s 13% of all pregnancy- and childbirth-related deaths. Far more of these deaths occur in places where abortion is illegal than in places where it is legal. Legalization allows for regulation, and it allows practitioners to obtain proper training, standardized equipment and safe conditions.

Additionally, far more of these deaths happen to poor women, women of color and women who are otherwise oppressed. It’s bad for everyone–under a legal prohibition, the wealthy and privileged will continue to abort pregnancies, but at exorbitant cost, generally with less-than-ideal conditions and always at risk of manipulation by practitioners. However, the poor, marginalized and oppressed don’t have wads of cash to give to black-market doctors, so they will have friends perform the procedure, they will try to induce miscarriage through physical and/or chemical trauma, they will turn over any funds they do have to snake-oil salesmen. Again, the chance of legal repercussions probably won’t do much to dissuade women who want abortions, or the medical professionals (or not) who want to practice abortion (whether they do it to exploit vulnerable women for a quick buck, or they actually want to help women avoid terrible consequences). It’s not prohibitively difficult to run a black-market practice and hide it from the government–used to be done all the time in the U.S. and it still is done in areas where there are a lot of restrictions. It’s even easier to look up the procedure on the Internet and have a friend perform it with whatever tools are on hand.

I don’t want these things to happen. Laws that set up these sorts of circumstances are laws that do the exact opposite of what I want my legal system to do: make a society that is free and safe for all persons to pursue happy, healthy lives. They are doubly offensive to me as they have a disproportionate negative effect on the oppressed.

Obviously, by definition abortion restrictions have a disproportionate negative effect on the oppressed as they most directly impact women. That’s one of the other reasons I’m pro-choice. Because political platforms that support abortion bans rarely support all the other measures that I believe are necessary to effect real change in the rate of abortions, I regard laws prohibiting abortion as a misguided, nominal-only attempt at protecting fetuses while actually, practically, real-world-ily perpetuating misogyny. Banning abortion is one more way to control women, one more way to limit their choices, one more way to keep women from determining the path of their own lives.

When everyone in our society views women as autonomous individuals, capable of making their own decisions and caring for their own bodies and inherently valuable and worthy of respect, then women will be vastly more free to make responsible choices about sex, pregnancy and childbearing. When everyone in our society treats women this way, men will cease to rape and abuse women and otherwise use sex, pregnancy and childbearing to control them. Both these attitudes are intrinsically valuable, and both can contribute to a society with fewer unplanned pregnancies and fewer abortions.

So, I support pro-choice candidates and policies. They are opposed to the abortion bans that I believe cause really bad problems, and they support measures to create the kind of parent-friendly, child-friendly, woman-friendly culture I’ve envisioned–a culture in which unexpected pregnancies happen less often, and an unexpected pregnancy doesn’t seem like it means the end of the world for so many women.

Personally, I don’t think I would have an abortion. The personhood of a fertilized egg/blastocyst/embryo/fetus is a pretty murky issue to my mind, scientifically and theologically and philosophically–that’s why basically all my thinking on this issue is about the political system, what the laws accomplish and what I want them to accomplish. A lot of the Scriptures that are cited about the sanctity of life don’t appear as clear-cut to me as some people think they are. That’s part of the reason I don’t identify with evangelical pro-lifers who insist that a human person has been created as soon as a sperm fertilizes an egg. But as a Christian, I want to err on the side of life and God. I understand that I’m privileged in about as many ways as this world has to offer, except for my femaleness, and I further know that if, God forbid, I were ever impregnated against my will, the Lord would provide me with the strength and resources to survive the pregnancy and make the best decision for the baby. These two factors combined, both tremendous blessings from God, mean that it would probably never be life-ruining for me to bear an unexpected child.

Part of erring on the side of life is also my desire for the number of abortions worldwide to decrease. I truly do not want innocent souls that have been created in the image of God to die, and as long as I think that’s a possibility with any termination of pregnancy I will long for abortions to stop. But not everyone has the blessings that I have that would enable me to make such a difficult choice, if I found myself in such difficult circumstances. Not everyone follows my Jesus and believes my Bible. I don’t want my government to try to make them behave as if they do. I want my government and my legal system to create a society where everyone is free and safe to pursue a happy, healthy life. All the evidence that I see makes a case that legal prohibition of abortion works directly counter to that goal. That’s why I’m anti-abortion bans.

Posted July 27, 2010 by skreps in Faith, Hot-Button Issues, Politics