Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In which I criticize one of my selves and defend another

I promise that the post I said I would write on HBO's feminist fairy tales is coming soon. It's a lot longer and more involved than I thought it would be, and I'm trying to prepare to teach at a new school right now, so I'm a little busy. It'll be here eventually, though. In the meantime, I'd like to respond to two posts I read on the internet recently. While they are on wildly different topics, they are related, at least given my personal standpoint and overlapping identities, because both posts comment on/define something I identify as and are written by people outside those identifications. I've been thinking a great deal lately about inclusion and exclusion and labels and how those three concepts are so often inextricably linked for us as human beings when we identify or describe ourselves (to ourselves or to others), and these articles caused me to think a bit deeper about how I define myself and what those definitions mean or should mean to me.

The first article is on the website Jewcy.com, which I've been exploring a good bit recently. It's an informative, often quite funny, and sometimes satirical site that seems primarily to endeavor to counter the widespread (mis)conception of Judaism as antiquated, boring, or irrelevant. The article I want to discuss is entitled 10 Things We Can Learn From Evangelical Christians. I was linked to the article from another site, and was originally intrigued by the title, as so often the word "Evangelical" is coded as backward or closed-minded. While I don't like his tone or diction very much at all, I do agree with the majority of the points the author makes. For example, the first thing Aleph cites that Evangelical congregations do well that synagogues should use is free food. It's always made sense to me in terms of ministry to use meeting basic human needs as a gateway to meet the spiritual needs of those who may be afraid of discussing such things outright. Not onlt is it practical, but sharing a meal with someone allows for conversation and relationship-building. If someone is comfortable with me as a person, they'll ideally feel less pressured or like I'm just trying to convert them if I try to open up a spiritual discussion.

While I thought that point and others in the article were spot on, I took issue with others, specifically "Making Denominations Irrelevant" and "Creating New Traditions," and I took issue with these points because I don't think they work within the Evangelical church the way Aleph seems to think they do. In regards to the first, Aleph writes that "[Evangelicals] talk about 'The Church" as if all Christians, regardless if they go to Faith Harvest Ministry or Harvesting Faith Ministry, are a part of one body. While I've certainly heard that phrase used in that way, I don't think that its being used means that Evangelicals don't care about denominations. In my personal experience, the contrary is often true. Fun fact: In my (private, Christian) high school, Baptists and Methodists openly mocked one another and ocassionally wouldn't speak to each other. I've seen that kind of pettiness mostly disappear with the arrival of adulthood, but I think that a lot of Evangelical churches hold in high esteem the social capital or privilege that comes with a certain denomination in any given area.

The "Creating New Traditions" section reads thusly: "This is something that I've seen the Evangelical World do, really well. Ever heard about 'Hell Houses', the Evangelical version of a haunted house which literally scares-the-devil-out-of-you? Or what about Promise Rings and Abstinence Pledges? These are all the new traditions of the Christian faith, and Jews could do the same thing." While I agree with Aleph's implication that new traditions can invigorate worship, I think he's missing a discussion of respect for doctrine. I realize that he may be ill-equipped to discuss Christian doctrine specifically, and that's fine. I just think that his comment as is is severly oversimplified and essentially says new=good.

The second article reflects a trend in the feminist blogosphere that I just can't get behind: polyamory as anti-patriarchal empowerment. I won't speak about it at length here, but I may return to this trend in future posts. In one such article on one of my favorite blogs, Feministe, guest blogger Frau Sally Benz is writing a series of posts about her entry into the "poly" community. The point she makes about monogamy in her most recent post that really irritates me is this:
The problem with many of our contemporary relationships is that we’re meant to be everything to another person: to fulfill all and every need. I see this in parenting, where one couple are supposed to be everything for their children. I see it in relationships that have gone destructive, like mine described above: where I have felt that I had to be everything to another person, and felt continually like I would never ever be enough, that I had to set myself aside in order to be enough. Where I have felt bad for having needs that my SO didn’t know how or didn’t want to fulfill. In poly, there’s no assumption that you ought to fulfill all of someone else’s needs, or that they ought to fulfill all of yours. Those responsibilities, which can weigh so heavily on relationships and on partners, can be shared. And they can be shared in ways that are made explicit, which are negotiated. Which means that women have space to be less self-effacing without feeling like they’re putting the relationship at risk by not being able or willing to fulfill a need or desire. And yes, that negotiation is possible in a mono relationship—and is engaged in, in the ones that work, I think!—it’s just that because poly is unusual, in my experience, people don’t assume they have a right to things, or assume they’re fulfilling your needs based on some pre-defined notion of what a relationship is, as is so clearly defined for mono relationships in almost every love story ever.

While I appreciate her asserting that some people in monogamous relationships are vocal about their needs with their partners (I'd like to think that my husband and I try to be that way with one another, though I'm sure he'd say I need some work in that area), I object to both her assertion that monogamous people look to their partners to meet ALL their needs and her further implication that poly relationships are better because the pressure is less when multiple relationships can spread out the need-meeting. It seems to me that FSB is viewing monogamous people as cut off from the outside world. I don't get all my emotional satisfaction from my husband. I have friends, a family, a job, a religion. All these things contribute to my mood, my joy, my sense of self. Given that the effect she attributes to poly relationships also probably happens to people in monogamous relationships who interact with other people in any kind of meaningful way, polyamory just seems selfish, like an easy way out.

And those are my rants regarding self-definition. Comments are welcome and appreciated.


  1. Respect for the doctrine, absolutely. I've never been comfortable with the idea that (pardon the label) evangelical Christianity is all about selling the doctrine.

  2. Well, I'm uncomfortable with the word "selling" there, but I understand what you mean. More than that, I'm uncomfortable with the focus that that bit of the article places on selling trendy concepts that may or may not be doctrinally sound. Thanks for reading!