Let’s REALLY talk about institutionalized abuses.

So yesterday I wrote a blog post which I worked very hard on.  I tried to compassionately ask that men please just listen to the women sharing their stories right now, and then I told my OWN story in order to illustrate a culture of misogyny that I had experienced.  I only had one sentence in the entire blog post which made a generalization about the male experience, and it was “and men are trained that it is okay to blame us, because their privilege is more important than our rights.”

Did I say that all men abuse women?

NO.

Did I say that all men are evil?

NO.

Did I even say that all men are complicit?

NO.

What did I say?  I said that society, as a whole, has a different attitude towards men than women.  Men are given license, by society, to blame women for the way in which women are treated by men.  I was very deliberate in not having gone any further than that and stopping my claims there.  Partly, because a blog post should only ever be so long; but, mostly because I understood that no matter what an individual writer says, when you’re writing about an issue which is broadly in the media people tend to react to the issue itself instead of your words.

I immediately received a personal backlash.

The thrust of the arguments which I had with several men, both privately and publicly, is that it is wrong for women to make generalizations about men.  Making those generalizations weakens women’s argument, puts men on the defensive, makes dialogue impossible, and so forth.

I was forced, then, to make a choice:  To either continue to restate my actual argument which necessitated a generalization, or to capitulate.

Why does the argument necessitate a generalization?

Let me take you to a moment in Guadalajara Mexico,when I was cornered by a police-man on a motorcycle.  My gut clenches and I am looking for any avenue of escape, but there is none.  Why am I looking for an avenue of escape?  Because the woman I am staying with, a native of the city, says that police men are known to rape white girls when they are on Spring Break.

She made a generalization, didn’t she?  But she made one because the generalization was necessary.  Sure, she could say, “some policemen have”, but that is still general.  Or she could say “there are a hundred known cases of”, but that is actually too clinical to be effective.  The problem that she is addressing, that she is trying to communicate to me, is one that is endemic in the way the policemen of that city operate.  To address an endemic injustice, one MUST use language that encapsulates the system.  The system of police, in that case, which is based summed up in the statement “policemen are known to rape.”

Or, let’s look at the civil rights movement.  In his infamous “I have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, said, “Instead of honoring this obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked ‘insufficient funds’.”  This is literally the first of many generalizations that the good Dr. made in his speech.

Okay, men, go dig him up from his grave and explain that making generalizations weakens a person’s argument.

Sometimes, when you are talking about systemic injustices that are institutionalized in the very way in which society operates, generalizations are all you have left.  When a black person talks about their experiences, generally, with white society, do we accuse them of being prejudiced against white people?

See, the #YesAllWomen movement has been characterized as being sexist in the way that generalizations against race are racist.  There’s a difference, though, between being racist and addressing systemic injustices that are based on race.  When someone says “all black people are lazy”, they are being a racist.  When a black person says, “white people are better rewarded by the academic system”, they are simply pointing out an injustice which society ignores, an injustice which is documented and undeniable.

When women say, “men are given permission to silence women who speak up about abuse by slut-shaming them or making them responsible for their own mistreatment”, women are simply pointing out a systemic injustice in society which, guess what!  Is documented and undeniable.  Sociologists have been puzzling over issues such as these for decades, and it is undeniable- empirically, scientifically undeniable-that there is a double standard in society.

So I will ask again that men listen to women address these injustices with open ears, open eyes, an open heart, and a closed mouth.

Men. Women. Society. Meh.

First, I have to say that I understand why the #NotAllMen backlash is happening.  It’s a frightening thing to feel that you may be unwillingly drafted into a bitter generalization.  The immediate response is to say, “not me, right?”  But, friends, that doesn’t mean it is the right response.  Let me illustrate with a story.  The college campus I work at has a majority of Hispanic students, and the Writing Center where I work is often a home-away-from-home for students that are looking for a quieter environment to study.  This is a good thing, as we work hard to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere for our students. Sometimes that safe and comfortable atmosphere lends itself to somewhat uncomfortable conversations.  For instance, once I was sitting at the front desk when a handful of Latina girls started talking about their frustration with a particular instructor.  Soon that conversation ballooned into their frustration with the attitudes they encountered as Latina students in a world that seemed stacked against them, where men and white women seemed to hold all of the power and they were minorities on many levels.  It wasn’t long before they were talking about how white women don’t seem to understand how much luckier they are than women of other races and cultures.  And I was itching, absolutely itching, to join in the conversation and talk about how many odds I had to face and to more or less ask, “not me, right?”

Thankfully something told me to hold my peace.

The conversation wasn’t about me and shouldn’t have been about me. I learned something.  Despite all the hardships I faced, the fact that I’m attractive and white has definitely helped me to edge out other women who are just as deserving as I am, but just happen to have darker skin and rougher features.  My whiteness has benefited me, but I’ve been allowed to ignore that fact and focus on the areas that are still a struggle: that I’m a woman, that I’m a returning student, that I’m a mother.  Because I do face prejudice I can take it for granted that I also have a great deal of privilege.  

Let me repeat that:  I have a great deal of privilege.  I have the benefit of pale skin and a middle class upbringing that allows me to sidestep institutionalized prejudice.

So, men, I’m going to try to say this all as kindly as I can:  You have the privilege, you have the power.  Like me, you don’t have to think about your privilege because from your perspective it’s just how life works, and you can drum up a million examples of struggles as evidence that your privilege isn’t complete.  Yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, you have privilege.  And the only way you will learn to appreciate that privilege is by listening to the other voices in the room without exerting your ability to co-opt the conversation.  I get that you wonder, “are they talking about me?”  I get that you see the anger unfolding and you don’t want to be subjected to it.  I get that you may even be angry that you feel like you are having to shoulder some of that bitterness unwilling and undeserved.  The truth is that you will now know whether or not women are talking about their experiences with men like you until you take the time to actually listen.

Please.

Just listen.

Now, my lady friends:

Don’t shut up.  Please don’t shut up.  The worst part of the institutionalized misogyny of our culture is the way in which it robs us of our voices because we are trained to expect every outcry to be met with criticism and scolding.  Even when we’re assaulted, even when we’re raped, even when we have blood and bruises to demonstrate the wrongs against us we still have to prove that we are victims.

We learn, pretty quickly, that things heal better if we nurse them in silence.  But, that silence leaves us at risk for greater pain.  So do not, ever, shut up.  

When I was seventeen I went to college for the first time.  I thought I was ready, but I wasn’t.  Stress and poor grades and frustration led me to drop out a semester in.  Or, at least, that’s the story I tell.  But really, I may have done a lot better if a few weeks into my stay there I hadn’t been assaulted by someone I thought was my friend.  Now, I was told that it was my fault for being alone in a room with him.  I was told that it was my fault for dressing provocatively.  (In jeans and a tank top?)  I was told that it was my fault for “leading him on” or not “reading the signals.”  And for a long time, I did believe that it was my fault.  

It wasn’t until recently that I put any amount of thought into how twisted it was that this guy, who stuck his hands down my pants uninvited, was treated like a victim of MY sexuality and naivete and everyone, even my girlfriends, played along.

Thank God my brothers had taught me how to throw a punch.  But, even so, I was lucky.

In the movies, girls sit around sipping cocktails and talking about when they lost their virginity.

In my own experience, we show each other our scars and speak in hushed voices.  We each share our stories of assault.  Rare, very rare, are the girls that have no such story.  We imagine such girls like birds of extravagant plumage, floating down from heaven, like unicorns or mermaids, creatures of fantasy.  We imagine unstained girls as such because we do not known these women.

Yes, all women I know have a story of the time that they were handled roughly by men.  Maybe a husband, a lover, a father, a brother.  Maybe a stranger on a bus.  But we all have our scars, and many more of us than are willing to admit have physical scars we invent fictions for, so that when someone says “what’s that mark on your chin?” we can laugh it off and tell the charming story of our own clumsiness.

Because the real story of having our head shoved down against the bedpost is just way too humiliating, right?

Because it’s somehow our fault?

This, right here, is the institutionalized misogyny.  We, as women, are taught to bear the burden of our victim-hood as if it is our responsibility that we are victims.  And men are trained that it is okay to blame us, because their privilege is more important than our rights.  Now, not all men see women as extensions of their will or objects to be used.  I understand that.  But the patterns of behavior that trap women in perpetual silence are propagated by society and are misogynist.  Sometimes, men participate in the cycle completely unaware.  Often, women do the same.

And what could change that?

Women, don’t shut up.  Men?  Listen.

 

Superheros, Fiction, TV, and lady troubles part 2

See part one to get the backstory.

  1. Women of strength are almost always an extension of male power.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer?  She’s watched and trained by a male watcher.  Xena the Warrior Princess owes her salvation (and the existence of her franchise) to Hercules.  The ladies of the X-Men?  Xavier’s.  Across the board you see women who are taught to be strong by men, or women who operate under the covering of a man’s world or man’s blessing.  There are some rare exceptions, like Wonder Woman, whose existence seems to point to a flaw in my logic.  But, if you will experiment:  write down every female superhero/action hero/TV protagonist that you can think of and then highlight all the ones who are completely independent of operating under male authority.

    Trust me, you won’t need your highlighter much.

  2. Either their sexuality is hidden, or is a weapon.  Women in traditionally masculine roles are given very few options: either hide your femininity in order to dress and operate like a man, or flaunt your femininity like a weapon.  You see it in the over-sexual poses on comic book covers, in the drastic v-necks and skin tight blouses on TV, in the made-up faces and perfectly coiffed hair that have no place in a crime scene or hiding behind surgeon’s masks.

    What’s up, world?

    And most of the time when you see a female character who has taken pains to neither dress in a masculine way or use her sexuality as a weapon, the situation will be contrived at LEAST ONCE to make her into a sexual display.  (For example:  Castle’s Beckett, who normally is neither overly masculine or feminine, is contrived to have to play the role of a model on a catwalk.  Why?)  How often are male police officers forced to go undercover as strippers or whores?  When male spies have to seduce someone for information, do they have to subjugate themselves sexually to do so?  Come on.

  3. Nurture: there’s a loaded word.  Whether or not male superheros have family can be a loaded issue.  Normally, their family relations are taught with loss or lies.  Peter Parker’s guilt about Uncle Ben, Batman’s loss of his parents, and many more such examples.  But for women in the power game, the issue of family tends to come down to nurture.  The choice is clear:  for the woman to have power, she must scorn nurture.  It is implied, therefore, that nurture is a “default mode” for women that must be shut off for them to have strength.  Yet the nurture still ekes out in the form of Wonder Woman comforting Superman against her breast.

    While I understand that feminine physiology demands that women address the issue of childbirth, I also find it odd that men can have children in these situations where women cannot.  And why can men?  Because they impregnate women who do the nurturing for them.  The nurturing happens removed from the source of strength.

    When I think about it too much, I get a headache.  What, exactly, does this symbolize?

  4. Humiliation.  When male superheros are beaten down and humiliated, it usually takes the form of them being bound and gagged and their strength being mocked.

    When females are humiliated, it is all too often sexual in nature.

    Hm.

  5. And the double standard of tears.  In the first Die Hard movie, the protagonist is reduced to tears.  This stoic crying is seen as a symbol of his strength and perseverance.  Compare that to any woman crying ever.

    No, really, any woman crying ever.  I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of any time that a woman crying is seen as a sign of strength and perseverance instead of a sign of weakness and over-emotion, and I can’t think of one.  Men are allowed to cry on occasion because it is seen as a sign of them being in control, them willingly connecting to a depth of emotion that is understood to have an “off” switch if necessary.  Women, on the other hand, aren’t supposed to cry because it is seen as them being unable or unwilling to harness their emotions appropriately.  Women cry when they are in pain so that men heal them, they cry when they are upset so that men stop, they cry in this or that situation because they are unhinged or just neurotic.

    Sigh.

    When Batman cries it is because he is strong enough to acknowledge his grief.  When Catwoman cries she’s just psycho, yo.

 

what makes women objects?

The more the Miley Mania drags on, the more I want to throttle people.

I need to say this:  If you are implying  that Miley SHOULD NOT twerk all over the person of her choosing, you are taking away her freedom to explore her sexuality in whatever way she wants (however freakish and unsettling you may find it) and you are taking away her right to be the kind of performer she wants (however embarrassing and grotesque it may be) and trying to craft her into an object of your desiring.

Yes, it is fine and good and occasionally beneficial to talk about what kind of a society we live in and what kinds of examples we want our daughters to follow, but the Miley Mania has gone far beyond that.  I am starting to find it acutely disturbing.  People are saying, in not as many words, that Miley somehow owes something to their families and should remain the chaste, adorable teen idol she started out as.  As if, because she was thrust into the spotlight at a young age and profited from it, she now owes society back.

She’s not a person, she’s an object.

The objectification of Miley Cyrus as a sexual being started LONG before the VMAs.  It started with the blurred lines between her and Hannah Montana, the plastering of bedrooms with her face, and the parents who willingly told their daughters that she was someone worth becoming.

Which, I must point out, objectified their daughters, too.

Anyone who is shocked that such a journey would culminate in the show at the VMAs must not pay attention to how the world works.  Sexual imprisonment does tend to lead to sexual rebellion- and public sexual imprisonment does tend to lead to public sexual rebellion.

But let’s talk about objectification more, why don’t we?  Because it’s oh so tempting and oh so easy to blather on about objectification as if the only time it happens is on billboards and magazine covers and on TV, as if the only way women are ever objectified is as sexual objects that men control and consume.

Ha.

If only.  If only.

Women are also objectified as virgins and mothers and cohorts and workers and teachers and on, and on, and on.

Women are still treated as commodities that society controls.  Sometimes it’s the way Miley Cyrus has been, and sometimes it’s the way Marisa Mayer has been, or the way Michelle Obama has been, or the way my junior high English teacher was.  I mean, there are a million ways to make other people into objects.  It happens to men, too.  Men who are “supposed” to be strong when they want to lay down and cry and take a nap, but then society tells them their man card will be revoked.  Or kids who are told that they should be playing with toys instead of reading, or that they should play sports instead of music, or that science is for nerds only.

But I suppose women feel it the most strongly still- not because we’re objectified as sexual beings (although that sucks) but because we’re objectified as persons.  Women’s bodies, for instance, are legislated to an extent that men may never fully grasp.   Our reproductive organs are debated in the legislature routinely by people who don’t even possess them, as if by being born female we are born potentially guilty of crimes we must never be allowed to commit.  Crimes like, for instance, wanting to not have a baby.  God forbid the “naturally tendency to nurture” not kick in and we don’t rush to sacrifice our careers and marry the bad sexual choice who impregnated us.  And we’re objectified as workers- told we don’t have the “natural competitiveness” to take on the sorts of assignments that are given to men, so over time we earn less and less money.  BUT THAT’S OKAY.  Because, as the objects in need of protection and provision that we as women naturally are (that is sarcasm, in case it’s not clear) we will marry one of those “naturally competitive” men who can foot the bill for us, and the progeny we are legally obligated to some day provide for him, should we ever conceive.

And don’t get me started on the way that abused women are objectified.  First, by the guy that gives them the black eye.  Then, by society.

Our choices are debated as an entire subclass, as if all women are the same and can be held to the same standard.  And the women who do live up to the standard become objects of adulation.

God help them should they make the wrong choice the next time around.

“She should have known better.”

F***ing objectification, right there.

So stop objectifying Miley Cyrus.

Stop objectifying women.

Stop objectifying people.

Take your anger and your outrage and use it to change society.  Change yourself.  Change your need for puritanical teen idols for the girls in your life to adore, as if YOU, YOU cannot be the example they need to see of how a woman can be successful.  Change the rules that say that women can’t make good choices about their own body and their own reproduction- or bad choices, too.  Change the stupid standards of society that say that women can’t deal with difficult and demanding jobs and shouldn’t be paid well when they do, as if women are just beings that should have been born men but don’t have enough testosterone to function properly.

Just stop.

All of your outrage just fuels the idea that a woman needs society to tell her what to do.

 

rape should be blamed on the rapist.

So a few days ago, a friend of mine linked to an interesting picture on Facebook.  It was of a topless woman who had written “STILL NOT ASKING FOR IT” on her breasts and abdomen.  I won’t post it here, because I know some of my readers find nudity distasteful*, but it sparked a very interesting debate.  I’ve seen it shared a few other places since, and every time the comments are just breathtaking.

You wouldn’t wear a chum suit to swim with sharks.

There is this idea, beneath the surface of almost all of the comments, that women’s bodies are a dangerous weapon that once unleashed turn normal respectable men into mindless automatons of desire with undeniable destructive force.  There are two issues to be addressed there:

  1. Men are not savages, and society should not give them permission to behave like such.  Showing men a pair of perky breasts should not turn them into raping machines.  If they cannot control themselves in the face of a flash of skin here or a lowcut top there or a pretty lady in high heels and a skirt walking through the park in twilight, this really isn’t the lady’s problem.  It’s the man’s.  If the men in our society cannot bear the sight of a little boobs or butt without losing their minds, I think that we should either blame society or men, not women.  That’s sort of like saying, “I know I promised not to eat any more sugar but then there were chocolate bars in the checkout lane and I completely lost my mind and woke up the next morning with a Hershey’s mustache surrounded by shredded wrappers.  I blame Safeway.”  Uh, no.
  2. Women’s bodies aren’t chum.  They aren’t a shredded bucket of viscera whose only purpose is to attract sharks.  Imagine for a moment that a man was painting the side of his house in only a pair of tight shorts and the woman who lived there invited him in for a cup of lemonade, roofied him and raped him.  Do you think society as a whole would say, “man, you really shouldn’t work with your shirt off.  You KNOW what those rock hard abs do to women.”  No.  Because there is a double standard, and women’s bodies are the only ones treated like a weapon.  Women are told to be demure, to be “good”, to keep their breasts and buttocks covered, to not wear too high of heels, etc, etc, etc, to “protect themselves” or to “protect men from temptation”.  Then, women are told that they should be sexy to keep their husband and they must dress attractively to be respected and on and on and on, because apparently our bodies aren’t our bodies, they are a tool.  A tool that must know when to be used and when not to.  A tool that is constantly meant to be in the service of others.

I don’t normally cuss on this blog, but I can only think of one word to sum up my feelings on this subject:

bullshit.

Let’s make one thing clear; the only time a woman is “asking for it” is when she says, “give it to me, I want it.”  Simply having a pair of breasts isn’t asking for it.  Even showing you her breasts isn’t asking for it.  Her body isn’t consent, period.  I know people who think the act of sexual intercourse is in and of itself consent, which is such an utter crock of insanity I hate to even write about it because it makes my heart bleed.  It really does.  Women have a right to decide when they want to have sex and when they don’t.  I once jokingly told someone that it’s a little different when you’re married, because there’s this assumption that your bodies are there for each other.  I was talking to a guy, as a matter of fact, and his response was that while some guys might think it’s cool for their girl to just stick her hand down their pants and say “give it to me” it really doesn’t work that way.

And you know what?  It doesn’t.

We live in a world where privacy is something that you can have or give away with the click of a button, it’s a commodity that is bought and sold without so much as our knowledge.  Our bodies may be our last line of defense.  Our bodies may be the last place where we can truly feel ownership of ourselves, the last thing that isn’t being bought and sold and grasped at for profit.  And for women, that feeling of ownership and peace has never really truly fully been there.  We’ve always understood that our bodies belong to our children, to our husbands, to our world as a whole.  Our beauty has always been something we’ve been told to use to our advantage, if we’ve got it, or if we haven’t that’s always been something that has set us apart.

But violence.

Violence.

To tell us that our bodies deserve violence because they are appealing, that it is our duty to avoid violence by hiding our bodies…

NO.

Let’s make everything very, very clear:  No one’s body belongs to anyone else, even if you are married.  You give access to your body, but it must be a gift and it must be given freely.  If a woman is less than dressed, that’s not consent.  If she’s passed out on the couch, that’s not consent.  If you have some control over her, as her boss, as her lover, as coercion, that’s not consent.  If you didn’t ask and she didn’t say please, one of those two things has to happen.  And the reverse is true, ladies: men don’t want it by default.  Don’t go around sticking your hands down their pants.

We don’t have a right to each other’s bodies.  Nothing but permission gets that for us.

I know in the romance novels he always gets that look in his eye and she just knows and they fall on each other like wolves in heat and it’s so whatever, but that’s not life.  I know in the movies they never talk about it either.  It’s ridiculous.  We’re adults, and we’re responsible, and this is the real world where consent is necessary.  If you’ve got someone willing to communicate with you about sex, by all means communicate.  And if you don’t, you should very seriously think about whether or not your sexual life is really what you imagine it is, because there are plenty of people out there afraid to say no, afraid to say slow down, afraid to say I don’t want this.  They are afraid because society has taught them that if someone goes after their body it must be their fault for taking the lid off the chum.

So don’t treat each other like chum.  Honor and love and respect each other.  Treat the gift of a lover’s body like the miracle and art that it is.

I guess that’s all I’ve got to say.

 

* Side note:  I see nothing shameful in nudity.  God created Adam and Eve naked, and they only felt ashamed after experiencing sin.  I, personally, believe that our bodies are a good creation, and in their purest (nude) form are not an embarrassment but a testimony to the art and pleasure of our Creator.  

Feminism and the ailing of western society

Can someone please explain to me what is so bad about being a feminist?

I’ve seen a lot of Christian forums wherein feminism is blamed for high abortion rates, single parent households, working mothers, males being “emasculinated”, ADHD, drug use, sex in the media, and so on and so forth.

I just don’t see the connection.  I don’t see how me- a woman- wanting to have equal rights with men means that my neighbor will get an abortion, her husband won’t feel like much of a man, their son will get ADHD and shoot up a school, and her daughter will be “over-sexed”.  I really don’t see how there is anything resembling a connection.  Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that all of these things are connected.  It may be quite possible that men feeling out of place, mothers working, kids having higher incidences of ADHD and other disorders, and higher abortion rates all share a single source.  But if that were the case, if this laundry list of societal ills is easily blamed on anything, doesn’t it make sense that the blame should be placed not on women but on society as a whole?

Isn’t it more to blame on consumerism, on modernity, on the digital age, on the loss of a connection to nature and work and simplicity?  Isn’t it more about the kind of world we live in these days?  No longer hunters and gatherers are we.  No longer do we live in a world where the man works and earns his place by the sweat of his brow while his little wife stays home and wins her salvation through childrearing.  No longer do we depend on neighborhood and community, no longer are we all well known to each other.  Perhaps all of these things are easily blamed on something.

It’s just not me or my rights.

It’s the world, it’s need and greed, it’s the ailing of souls who have lost their connection to the divine.

Perhaps the Christians who are so quick to point fingers should examine themselves.  They should ask if they’ve bought into a world of consumerism and capitilism.  They should ask if they’ve turned a blind eye to the “sex sells” and “anything for the bottom line” mindset that pays so many of our paychecks;  If they’ve spent more time trying to pad their wallets than care for their hyperactive sons and over-sexed daughters;  If they’ve confused the real message and instead of teaching their children to win favor by compassion and good works, taught them to win by competitiveness and pettiness.  Perhaps there is someone who ought to be blamed.

Perhaps it’s all of us.

It’s easy to fall back on flashy headlines, pointed fingers, fear and disquiet.  It’s easy to bring in the readers through controversy and infighting on your forums.  It’s easy, but it’s not right.  It’s not right to blame a movement that one could easily argue Jesus himself would have supported.  It’s easy to say the common line.  But what is right?  What is right is being honest and real.

Reality is that if anyone is to blame, all of us are.  Christianity perhaps the most of all- because we’re supposed to be the ones bringing life and healing.  And instead, once again, we bring condemnation and blame.

Rape, and why I think submission in “all” things is a dangerous concept to handle.

I do believe in the existence of good doctrine.  And from time to time I write about those beliefs on this blog.  Not in the sort of vague “it has to start with us loving each other” terms, but in terms of real verses that make real commands of us, and what I think of them.

And every time I write about these things, it gets uncomfortable.  You see, for the last couple of days I’ve been involved in (and then following) a conversation on another blog about wives submitting to their husbands.  The topic was breached in the absence of talking about the husbands role, and inevitably turned to the question of the wife submitting when she disagreed with her husband about something that would have long term repercussions, like family being sent to boarding school.  And I tried to respond and did a poor job of vocalizing myself.  So I tried to write about it here, and again did a poor job of vocalizing myself.

The idea of submission still holds a great deal of fear for all women.  The idea that my husband could make any demand of me, and I would be expected to offer myself up to him as to Christ.  That’s terrifying.  And anyone who doesn’t find that terrifying and respect the power that such fear holds for women obviously knows very little history.  There was a time when women were seen as less than men- as property, as pawns in a game of chess, as a method through which to gain an heir and keep the house clean and often little more.  We all should know this fact because that time was roughly when Ephesians would have been written in the first place.  And the thought of women as lesser continued for some time.  Daughters were the property of their fathers while sons gained autonomy, wives were possessions, women were thought of to gain a soul later in life then men, to be more prone to witchcraft and evil, to need this evil purged from them by a heavy hand as much as possible.

Women were on a level above cattle, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like much of one.  Honestly.  The right to vote and hold property is still a historically recent one.

And the idea that a husband “can’t” rape his wife is still one being debated in some circles.

So let’s talk about submission, in frank terms, and let’s not mince words.  Does anyone reading this believe that I should submit to my husband if he allocates money that needs to go to feeding my children to buy himself a gaming system?  Does anyone believe that Ephesians five requires me to submit myself to his will when he demands sex and I’m ill, or tired, or otherwise not compliantly disposed to the idea?  Does anyone believe that if my husband heard a word that he should take a second wife, that I should say, “yes dear?”  I’m hoping most would say no, because these are extreme examples.

But what about less extreme examples?  What if I am sick, and exhausted, and don’t have the energy to cook a meal, and my husband complains that he’s been working all day and shouldn’t have to work at home?  Or what if I haven’t seen my family in over half a year and he demands that we spend Christmas with his, meaning that I won’t get to see mine?  Or what if I feel God is calling me to a position in my local church body and my husband says that he will not have his wife teaching other men, and forbids me to do it?

Do I really submit to him in all things, to the cost of my body, my family, my calling?

Or by submitting to my husband, would I in some things draw myself further away from God?  In order for both my husband and I to follow God and serve him with all our hearts, my submission to him MUST follow, CANNOT be without his submission to God and his loving me as his own body.  These things are NOT seperable.  Likewise his loving me as his own body and cleansing me as Christ cleansed the church MUST be, CANNOT be without my submission to him.

Both parties must obey God in their commands, or one will get hurt.  That is the beauty of the arrangement- the two become one, or they don’t function, period.

Now, in case I haven’t made myself clear:

  • The wife does not, by submitting, become her husband’s possession or subordinate.  She is his servant, but by choice alone.
  • The husband, should he demonstrate a pattern of making unfair demands or abusing his wife’s submissive position, is not acting in a holy manner and should be called on it- first by his wife, then by his church.
  • Both partners serve God first and each other second- if either one interferes with the other’s servitude to God, something is wrong.
  • Children come first.  If either one places demands on the other that interferes with the raising of their children, something is wrong.
  • If something is wrong, both need to go before God and their local spiritual leaders and sort it all out.

I’ve seen numerous books on the subject which talk about how women can win over their husbands through loving submission.  And at it’s root it’s not a bad thing.  It’s in the Bible! The problem comes when it’s taken to far.  Anything, no matter how good, no matter how holy, becomes bad when not delt with in reason and moderation.  When a woman stays with a drunk who is abusing her kids to win him over in loving submission, it’s not good.  When a wife does nothing about her husband overpowering and raping her to win him over in loving submission, I am sure that is not what God intended.

These concepts must be handled with the respect they deserve, because mishandling them takes advantage of weakness and can lead to real damage.

And I guess that’s what I needed to say.

Wives, Submit to your Husbands

Ephesians 5:22– 24  Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

These verses make a lot of women uncomfortable, and even more women angry.  (And, don’t worry, girls- I’ll be poking the husbands later in “husbands, love your wives.”)

I think that a lot of the frustration with Ephesians 5- not just with these verses, but with the entire chapter- is that we misunderstand what the end goal is.  It’s not in defining lines of who is above whom and who matters most.  It’s about helping us to lead happy, healthy lives.  We are told as believers to submit to ONE ANOTHER in Christ.  Children are to honor their parents, slaves their masters, masters to treat their slaves well, and thusly.

People usually cherry pick the verses about marriage.  Why?  Well, because the other ones can get sticky.  Why?  Because no one likes thinking too much about submitting and honoring.  Why?  Because of that inevitable question: “What about when the other person is WRONG?”

So let’s talk about that, briefly.  What if I, as a wife, am unsettled about a choice my husband has made?  Or if I, as a parent, make a choice for my child’s life that they feel is wrong?  Or if my husband’s employer makes a demand of him that he feels is unfair or harmful?  What does a good Christian do?

We should do the uncomfortable thing- we honor each other as before God, and trust God to be a good mediator and the lifter of our heads.  Yeah, I know, it’s painful.  No one likes reading those words because it means that we will inevitably have to endure hardship in our relationships.  It means we’re going to have to go places we don’t want to go.  It means we don’t get to have our way. Let me ask you all a question that may not be taken well:

What, exactly, makes us feel like we have the right to have our way?

I’m not being tongue in cheek or sarcastic.  I am sincerely asking that question.  Where, in the Bible, does it ever uphold someone’s right to be selfish?  Where does it say that the wife has a right to demand that her financial security come first?  That she ought to undermine the way her husband wants to discipline the children?  That if she wants him at home and there’s a boys night out she actually should call him selfish and throw a public snit that embarrasses him?  Women can be selfish.  (I know, I know, I’ll get to the men tomorrow, I promise!)

God commands us to submit for a reason.  Because we, as Christians, need to learn to set ourselves aside.  We need to learn to treasure our spouses as we treasure ourselves.  And God knows that if the shoe were on the other foot, if we were the ones making a bad financial decision, if we were the ones laying the lines of discipline, if it was a GIRL’S night out that would be missed, we’d want our husbands to put us first.  We’d want to feel him honoring us.

And why would he, if we didn’t honor him first?

Submission isn’t subordination.  It isn’t saying that we are beneath him by default.  It’s not saying that we are less valuable or important.  It is our gift to our spouses, our way of affirming our love for them and displaying our trust in them and in God.  We submit to show that we trust that they are taking care of us, that they will continue to do it.  We submit to honor.  We honor to show that we ourselves are worthy of being honored.

Think of each act of putting yourself aside (be it with your husband, your family, or your boss) as a speech.  What you are saying isn’t “I am less valuable than you”, but instead:

I love you more than I love myself.  And I am strong enough to not always need to get my way.

Women, the Bible, and My little thoughts.

I was recently asked an interesting question.  To paraphrase, I was asked how, as an empowered female, could I adhere myself to a religion whose religious texts by their nature subjugated women.  I’ve taken about a week to consider my response and research it adequately, and it’s now time to write my response.  I’m not done, by any measure of the word, but I’m done enough to feel confident that I won’t stick my foot so far in my mouth that it will come out the other side, so to speak.

Let’s start with Genesis.

God creates land, he creates plants, he creates animals.  All of these things he describes as “good.”  Then he creates man, and what does he say?  “Is it not good for man to be alone.”  This is when things get interesting- because woman is not an individual creation.  Instead he takes the man’s rib and makes for him a woman.  And when Adam sees Eve, he calls her “flesh of my flesh.”  This can be a difficult passage for some women, because women don’t like to be seen as no more than an extension of man.  The other way to look at this, though, is in terms of what God was doing.  He wasn’t creating all of womankind- he wasn’t creating all of mankind, either.  He was creating one man and one woman from whom the rest would be made.  And he created that one woman to be of equal value as the man to whom she was given, he made her not out of dust, but to be “bone of [his] bone, flesh of [his] flesh”.  She was of equal value to him as his own body was.

This, to me, is significant.  More so because it is only after the creation of woman that God looks at all he has done and calls it “very good.”

Now, about Eve as the deceiver…

Genesis 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Did you catch it?  A lot of people miss it.  It’s the part where it says, “her husband who was with her.”  He wasn’t elsewhere.  She didn’t hunt him down and give him the fruit while he was unaware of what it was.  He was with her.  He didn’t try to stop her.  He didn’t try to reason with her.  He was with her, he watched her take the fruit, and when she handed some to him, he ate it.

Then comes the interesting part.  God comes, and they hide, like little kids, naive of the fact that they are already found out.  God questions them, and Adam says, “look, it was the woman’s fault.”  The woman, not to take the blame, says, “nope, I only did it cause the serpent told me to.

That’s when God starts in with the cursing.  First he tells the snake that it will crawl on it’s belly, in the dirt, and the woman’s children will crush it’s head.  Then he tells the woman that she will find pain in childbearing, and that her desire will be for her husband, and he will rule over her.  That’s two curses for the serpent and two for the woman.

Then comes the man, and this is what God tells him:

  1. cursed is the ground because of him
  2. through painful toil he will eat
  3. God will give him thorns and thistles
  4. He will eat only by the sweat of his brow
  5. UNTIL HE DIES

Numbers two and four are pretty similar- I just find it striking that while the serpent receives two paragraphs of cursing, Eve only gets one and Adam gets three.  It’s fairly clear who God is actually having take the responsibility for the fall- and it’s not Eve.  It’s also interesting to note (although not particularly salient to the topic at hand) that this is when the first sacrifice to atone for sin takes place, as God himself kills animals and gives Adam and Eve garments of skin to wear.

Now- on to the fun stuff.  How many people here have read the entire Old Testament?  If I ask who the old Testament women of note are, most people would probably respond “Esther and Ruth”- two obvious choices, as they have books named after them.  But those aren’t the only women worth mentioning.

Tamar:  The wife of a son of Judah, who after having her husband and her husband’s brother struck dead by God before giving her a child, eventually tricked her father-in-law into impregnating her.  It’s an interesting story not just because there’s so much sex involved, but because Judah says, “she is more righteous than I.” (Genesis 38)

Rahab: The prostitute who took in Israelite spies and hid them from the guards- she was rewarded by herself and her whole family being saved and accepted into the Israelite camp- something which directly contradicted God’s command.  If I remembered correctly, she is in Christ’s lineage (I could be remembering incorrectly, and that’s one of my facts I haven’t double checked).  (Joshua 2)

Deborah: A prophetess.  Because Barak, a commander, wouldn’t ride into war without her, Deborah said that the battle would be given into a woman’s hands.  Jael, a woman, killed Sisera (The Canaanite commander) with a tent peg through his head.  Then Deborah burst into song.  This would make an interesting movie, no? (Judges 4)

Hannah: Hannah was a favorite wife, but barren.  Her rival for her husband’s affections had born many children and mocked Hannah to the point that Hannah was reduced to tears and refused food.  So Hannah prayed that God would give her a son, and pledged that son to be raised by the priesthood.  God honored Hannah’s prayers, and Hannah honored her promise.  That son was Samuel, who has two books of the Old Testament named after him.  (1st Samuel 1)

Abigail:  A woman whose wisdom was so appreciated by King David that he married her when her “surly” husband died. (1st Samuel 25)

This is a woefully incomplete list, but as I said, I haven’t been able to take the adequate time to research things.  Are there as many women playing prominent roles as men?  No, of course not.  But the point is that contrary to what many people believe, the Bible as a whole doesn’t paint all women as wicked Jezebels with the exception of two Old Testament books.  Women are shown in roles both as wicked and good- but the same is true of men.

Let’s talk about the new Testament.  There are a lot of things to say here.  The first is that Jesus showed honor to women, not least of all in that he saved a woman caught in adultery from being stoned (John 8).  There is the oddity of the female disciple, Junia (Romans 16), whose name is often translated as Junias- but why would one translate a name? Also note the amount of times that the apostles, in their letters, mention the women of the church, the women that host people in their homes, the good work of the widows and elderly women…  It’s amazing.  The women truly mattered to the early church- it couldn’t have survived without them.

And then there is the simple fact that after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared first not to a man, but to a woman.  This fact is often touted as proof of a genuine story, for if the disciples had wanted to fabricate a resurrection myth, they never would have involved females.

The question then becomes, does Christianity by it’s nature and mythology actually devalue women?  I don’t think it does.  I think that misogyny and the subjugation of the masses in early Catholicism did a lot to harm our perception of what the Bible truly says.  I think that stories were retaught in new ways and certain passages were intentionally mistranslated in order to color things a certain way. The power to think independently was stripped from the masses.  Women were taught to be devalued because they were not allowed to have power- not even over their own sexuality, a thing that they were taught was evil.  The curse that was spoken over Eve and thus over all women- that we would find pain in bearing children, that we would desire for our husbands and they would lord it over us- became a very real one.

But let’s not forget that Christ broke the curse of sin and death- the one that was spoken over Adam.  And he broke the curse spoken over Eve, as well.  We are no longer cursed to desire for men who are our kings in body and mind.  We are free.  We must remember that Jesus honored women- he taught them as equals to men, a thing unheard of in those times.  Women were not even allowed into the inner courts of the temple, they could recieve no teaching except from their husbands.

“Ah-” a clever female reader may respond, “but Paul wrote that women should not speak, but receive teachings from their husbands.”

Yes, my response to that is, but that was a specific letter to a specific church, one in which the women were famous for speaking out about the problems their husbands were facing and generally disrupting the teachings.  It certainly would be better, in those circumstances, for the women to be silent and confront their husbands alone.  There are a lot of ways to view how the Bible portrays women and their worth, but this is my favorite:

Ephesians 5 states that women are to honor their husbands.  This verse has been often used to tell a woman to shut up when her and her spouse disagree.  But what does it say to the husbands?  That they are to see their wives as radiant and without blemish, and to give up their lives for their women as Christ did for the church.  Who, in that situation, is given the most burdensome task?  What’s harder- to honor someone, or to see them as Christ sees them?  To give your life for them?

As my honored mother says, “the reason women are subjugated by the church is because men have traditionally done the teaching, and they’ve had their own reasons.  Let a woman read the Bible for herself, with no preconception as to what it says.  That is when you’ll learn the truth.”

Amen, and amen.

I don’t like Porn

and for some reason, I feel that fact is worth mentioning.  In my last post I mentioned pornography more or less in passing, as something that some couples indulge in and others don’t.  And I know that in saying that I don’t like it I’ll pique the curiosity of at least one regular reader who does (don’t worry, no judging here!) so…  I thought it warranted a post.

There are several reasons I don’t like porn.  I will list them, because I like lists.

  1. I’m not a visual person.  I feel this is worth noting, because I’m not visually stimulated to start out with.  I am very sensual, and things like sensual art and erotic portraiture work for me, but not the kind of pure animal lust that pornography represents.  The times I have seen porn (don’t ask, looong story, will NEVER tell it on this blog) I was left thinking that it was empty, emotionless, spiritless, and really void.  Me sitting there feeling empty and confused wouldn’t lead to anything good, much less good sex.  So my not liking porn can be attributed in part to the fact that I simply have no taste for it.
  2. It objectifies women– yes, I’ve heard all the arguments against this.  “The women choose this life”, “the women in porn are empowered by being able to use their bodies however they like”, “it’s an industry that is moderated”, and on and on.  But, still, at the end of the day you are not looking at a whole person engaging in an intimate and spiritual act- you are looking at a woman who is being made nothing more than a place to stick a penis, or dildo, or broomhandle, or whatever.  It is objectification which cheapens the quality of the human spirit, and I don’t like it.
  3. It cheapens what sex was meant to be–  Sex in pornography is a physical act meant to gratify sexual hunger, nothing more.  Sex is at it’s best a deeply intimate, spiritual act.  It is two people giving of their very essence to each other.  It is intensely personal and individual.  The sex in pornography cheapens that spirit, and I know from counseling others that addiction to pornography can actually inhibit a person from engaging in wholesome sex later on in life.
  4. It can be used as an out when it shouldn’t be- which isn’t necessarily a problem with pornography, but the person watching it.  Even so, too many people turn to pornography for release when they should be turning to their spouses.  Men and women with specific fantasies will seek out pornography that satisfies that desire instead of honesty with their partner, they will turn to porn when there is a “sexual dry spell” instead of working on their relationship, etc.
  5. It can train young boys to be aroused by an ideal that isn’t real–  Yes, saying this makes me sound matronly…  but what is, is.  And most women are not porn stars.  I’ve heard one too many girls crying because their boyfriends didn’t find them as attractive as the porn they preferred, they felt like they had to act and look a certain way to be sexually pleasing… and it’s bad.  It’s bad for the girls who then cheapen themselves in order to gratify their guys, and it’s bad for the guys who are missing out on what sex can be like without all that baggage attached.

So…  will I give a final verdict on whether or not good people can like porn?  No, because that’s not really my style.

I just thought I’d explain why I, personally, won’t be watching it any time ever.