Monday, December 13, 2010

On Feministing's "Faith and Feminism" Series

I've already spoken on this blog about what I see as's unwillingness to respectfully acknowledge feminists of faith. As such, I was intrigued to notice that the site is beginning a series called Faith & Feminism. The first post in the series is entitled "A Message to Secular Sisters," and is a list of "four common problems that come up when feminists talk about women and religion." I have seen or expressed chagrin at all four in some form, and am optimistic about the site's expression of such statements. It's not the post that bothers me, though I'd like for my religious friends to look at the list of problems and tell me their thoughts. I'm deeply troubled by the comments to the post, most of which take the opportunity to complain about what the post is not rather than appreciate it for the step forward it seeks to make. One commenter laments that atheism will likely not be acknowledged as a religion in the series, while others object to the original author's suggestion that the irrational has something to to offer us both spiritually and politically. There are also some commenters who just want respect for believers, and I'm glad they're speaking up. I haven't stepped into the fray yet myself, because I'm really disappointed in the negativity surrounding what was clearly meant to be an olive branch. Any thoughts, friends?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Quick Hit : Housewives of God

I was really surprised and interested to see this article in the NYT, which provides a fairly even-handed look at the role of female preachers and teachers within the argument of Christian complementarianism v. Christian egalitarianism. Often, religious columnists seem to take a condescending view of believers (I'm looking at you, Hanna Rosin!), but this piece examines multiple sides of a very complex issue. Any thoughts, friends?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Read-through Blogging, Part Three

Being Feminist, Being Christian: Essays from Academia. Ed. Allyson Jule and Bettina Tate Pedersen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Chapter Two: "Silence as Femininity?: A Look at Performances of Gender in Theology College Classrooms"

This chapter is by the book's other editor, Allyson Jule, and I found it incredibly illuminating. Jule begins by self-identifying as " an applied feminist linguist-educationalist," saying that she "explore[s] the patters of girls and boys and women and men in various contexts, particularly...classrooms" (35). She follows up this definition of her chosen field by saying that her interest in the way gender shapes language and communication stems from her personal experiences in Catholicism (35).

I'm very interested in in her recounting her initial consciousness of gender in religion. She says she always felt acceptance in Catholicism, and her personal proof of this comes from the fact that she and her mother and sister were heard and respected when they intellectually engaged with priests or other men in the faith, as well as from the fact that such men shared in labor traditionally gendered feminine, like cooking and cleaning, when the gatherings that produced their discussions took place. Since my feminist consciousness comes largely from an absence of gender equality in the religion in which I was raised, this view is foreign to me. I agree with her ultimate conclusion that human rights are central to the doctrine of Christianity, but I can't conceive always knowing that. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

After detailing how feminism and Christianity intersect for her personally, Jule gets to the question at the heart of the chapter: "What might gendered patterns of language use mean when they intersect with a religious identity?" (37). She begins by giving a quick overview of feminist linguistics, and she mentions a book that helped me in college, Robin Lakoff's Language and Woman's Place (pub. 1975). Lakoff said that women have linguistic tendencies that are read as passive ( frequent use of qualifiers such as "sort of" and "like," raised inflections that can sound unsure, etc.), and that these tendencies cause men to dominate conversations. After the book was published, a nature/nurture debate regarding these tendencies sprang up, and it's a debate that hasn't stopped in the intervening thirty-five years. Something interesting that Jule does in this section is to interrogate the role of teacher in the classroom power structure. She questions where the line is between open-ended discussion and a lack of guidance, specifically from the perspective of a teacher at a Christian university, who she suggests (and I agree) is obligated more than most to ask students to formulate their own opinions while still offering moral, ethical, and religious direction. That balance is something I'll be thinking about a great deal in the coming months, and I'd welcome advice there as well.

Because I'm still working out my thoughts on Jule's classroom observations on gender and language, that's another post.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Read-through Blogging, Part Two

Being Feminist, Being Christian: Essays from Academia. Ed. Allyson Jule and Bettina Tate Pedersen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

"Christian Feminist or Feminist Christian: What's Feminism Got to Do with Evangelical Christians?"

The above is the title of the first chapter of the book I'm blogging my way through, and it's written by one of the book's editors, Bettina Tate Pedersen. The chapter begins with a series of "introductory anecdotes" that seem to be meant to situate us as readers within both Pedersen's personal feminism and her personal theology, while the rest of the chapter attempts to tease out the ways those spheres intersect. In the anecdotes, she discusses conversations with a student I know quite well, "the I'm-not-a-feminist-but student" (10). Pedersen notes that this student isn't only present in Christian schools, but thinks that that identity "has a particular significance and currency in [a Christian] context" (10). As someone who uttered this phrase in high school, before the occurrence of a series of what third-wavers have taken to calling "click moments" in college, I feel like I have a foot in both camps of this predicament, and though that should perhaps make me empathetic to such students, I think it just makes me confused about how to communicate with them.

Pedersen says that a similar experience has taught her to be tolerant of such students' evolving consciousnesses, to shove down an impulse to begin preaching at them about the benefits they reap which are direct results from a movement they are unwilling to acknowledge (More women in universities! In big business! In politics!). It calms me greatly to know that this pedagogical give-and-take is a common one. Her discussion of that give-and-take continues when she focuses on the importance of using the word "feminist." She says that most of her students either think feminism is a dead issue or antithetical to "the Christian 'man-as-head' paradigm for relationships" (12). She then lists feminist accomplishments of the recent and not-so-recent past: women outnumber men in colleges, can vote, can dress "for practicality and comfort," have control over their own reproductive processes (14). She goes on to say that "[dismissing] the term or ideology because improved (some what more egalitarian) conditions exist in some measure and in some places, we fail to understand the depth of feminism's critique, and we risk losing sight of the very conditions and manifestations of sexist oppression that a feminist critique has helped us to see" (14).

The greatest thing about that quote for me is the consciousness of other places and viewpoints that it presents. Pedersen acknowledges many waves of mainstream feminism, as well as Womanism and Global Feminism in her chapter. This acknowledgment seems particularly relevant to her religious position to me. As Christians, we're taught that Christ wants us to acknowledge "the least of these" as an act of worship, to look beyond our privilege. If I had to pick a flaw that I think is academic feminism's biggest, it would be that lack of perspective and dialogue between multiple feminisms.

Pedersen ends the chapter by acknowledging that her experiences in Wesleyanism paved the way for the development of her feminist consciousness. Because she sees her religion as primary to her politics in both chronology and importance, she calls herself a Feminist Christian, not a Christian Feminist. This book is the first thorough explanation I've gotten about that linguistic choice, and I'm grateful for it. If anyone reading this identifies as both Christian and Feminist, what do you call yourself, and why?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Read-through Blogging

Being Feminist, Being Christian: Essays from Academia. Ed. Allyson Jule and Bettina Tate Pedersen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

In an effort to think more about how my politics and my theology should be/are intersecting, I'm reading through the above book. Its chapters cover the personal, the political, and the pedagogical, among other focii, and the fact that others who identify as both religious and feminist seem to be thinking through similar issues that I'm struggling with makes me feel a little better on the whole. For the next few weeks, I'm going to be devoting the blog to a discussion of Jules and Pedersen's book as I read it, most likely a chapter at a time. Feel free to contribute your thoughts in the comments, or to email me at

The book's epigraph is Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." I'm not sure what this is doing yet, what it says about the book's project as a whole. On one hand, it seems a cry for equality; labels don't matter and we shouldn't use them because the grace of Christ frees us from the restriction that such labels necessitate. That sounds nice. Looking a little deeper, though, what place does such a sentiment have in a book whose very title suggests reconciliation between two seemingly conflicting labels? Why title the book that way if the book is going to say we need to dump the labels through which we define ourselves? Just something I'll be considering.

The introduction proper is a collision of the personal and the political in which Jules and Pedersen recount their own backgrounds and the circumstances that made religion and feminism collide for them, as well as try to make since of the increasing global importance of religion in a post 9/11 world. I really like the inclusion of the personal here; I probably wouldn't have wanted to read the entire book if that dimension wasn't present. I believe that both religion and politics cannot be responsibly practiced without a connection to the personal. A connection to the intellectual or philosophical is also necessary, of course, but for me, the personal came first in both cases, and the rest has developed and is developing as I experience life.

A bit of the introduction that make me think this book is going to be amazing for my political and religious development:

Like others of our time, we grew up surrounded by a stubborn myth at work in Western society: that one's faith undermines one's thought and scholastics, that one cannot believe and think. If one is a 'Christian,' then one must adhere to certain performances of that identity; if one is a 'feminist,' then one cannot have a dynamic religious faith because religious faith is too patriarchal and demeaning to women. To be a woman inside Christianity necessitates the role of submitting, while to be a woman committed to feminist ideals necessitates a role of assertiveness or aggression (5).

WOW. Just wow. That paragraph pretty much sums up every problem I've had from age fourteen to now. I like so much about it. I like that this incompatibility is going to be questioned from multiple angles. I like that the editors are not afraid to employ quote marks in a Poststructuralist way that questions the validity of group labels (or "metanarratives," just so I can exercise my Derridean cred). I really can't wait to dive in to the rest of the book.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

My Childhood Obsession, Reclaimed?

Those of you who know me personally have heard me do a lot of complaining recently about artifacts of my childhood, like Rainbow Brite and the Lisa Frank line, being sexualized in order to appeal to today's preteens, raised as they were on Bratz dolls and kiddie thongs. Well, there's one update that I just can't abide, the bendy straw that breaks the pink, sparkly camel's back, and that's the Sweet Valley High reissues.

I, like many women my age, devoured the books, dreaming of a high-school experience filled with convertibles and love triangles. I always knew I was more of an Elizabeth than a Jessica (the former edited the school paper; the latter spent more time chasing boys), and even then I knew there was a bit of a madonna/whore thing going on, but the books were fun and silly and age appropriate. To this day, I still think of The Unicorns (SVH's popular girls, "school royalty") whenever I see a young woman in purple!

They've already been discussed and decried in feminist circles, with former fans citing outrage that Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, the novel's protagonists who were once "perfect size sixes" now being "perfect size fours." I agree that the focus on body image and the ever-shrinking perfect teen is certainly alarming, but it seems there might be vindication for SVH fans on the horizon.

Diablo Cody, known for her work on Juno and Jennifer's Body, which I've discussed on this blog, has been tapped to write a film version. She's been quoted describing the film as "the madonna and the whore, running around," and that makes me a little excited, like maybe she can come up with something that gets around all the posturing and the body image nonsense. I dig Cody's quirky lexicon, and I see it as akin to the way girls that I age speak to one another. My friends and I had our own code words; I think that resonates. Needless to say, not everyone is a fan of the project. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what happens, though.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

On Aha! Moments, Stereotypes, and Self-Definition

A central tenet of my personal teaching philosophy is the importance of cultural awareness. That term means several things for me pedagogically. First, it means opening my students up to views outside of their own and teaching them that they can simultaneously disagree with and respect one another. Though my students are of different socioeconomic, religious, and ethnic backgrounds (as well as a number of other backgrounds I haven't named, of course), they all seem to enjoy this part of the learning process, after the initial shock of being allowed to "argue" in class wears off. Though I've introduced this spirit of debate differently in the past, I decided to use a "Lunch Menu" activity from my school's archive of teaching material to serve that purpose this semester. My 1102 class is organized around the topic of community dynamics this semester. We'd been talking since the class began about how the urge to define others was actually in some ways, an urge to define the self. They were in the middle of researching papers on stereotypes of global communities as they are represented in popular media, so we'd already spent some time discussing what creates a stereotype and how generalizations breed inaccuracy. As the class began to look at the menus (one meat and potatoes on a disposable plate, one vegetarian on more environmentally friendly tableware) and decide who would choose what (men, women, Democrats, Republicans, those under 40 or over 65, etc.), they mostly agreed. This provided an opportunity to discuss the fact that stereotypes' generality are connected to their wide dissemination. The trend of similar answers continued through questions about political parties and age groups, but ground to a quick halt when the subject of gender was broached. At first, the majority of the students agreed that men would choose the carnivorous option and women the lighter fare. They cited a cultural equation of masculinity with strength that most seemed to find valid. After a few moments of prodding from me, though, a few men in the class dismissed both meals as too feminine, due to the fact that the steak and potato were accompanied by a double martini--apparently a girly choice of alcohol. I then asked them what fictional character was most closely associated with bringing the martini back into vogue in the 1960s, and some students immediately responded, "James Bond." When I questioned whether or not James Bond embodied masculinity, I could see some light bulbs beginning to go on: masculinity could vary! It could exist in different types, manifest itself in various ways!

As discussion moved on, one male student offered the following justification for the equation steak eater=masculine: "If I was on a date with a girl and she ordered that, there wouldn't be a second date!" I didn't have time to decide whether I was offended at his sexism or overjoyed at the opportunity for discussion, or a little of both. Chaos had officially broken out in room 310. Female members of the class were irate, and many of them offered the rejoinder that they would certainly feel feminine even if they ordered a steak, that femininity was complex, that it should ultimately be an issue of self-definition. At that point, I felt the need to point out two things: first, that the male student felt that dating a girl who exhibited what he considered unfeminine traits, even just once, somehow called his own masculinity into question, thereby proving something we'd been discussing all semester long--in defining other people, you ultimately say something about how you define yourself. Second, I felt the need to push against the women in the class's ire a bit. Earlier, almost all of them had agreed that "women" would order the vegetarian meal. Since several of them now expressed an individual desire to order the steak, by their own definition, they were not women. When confronted with this syllogism, several students protested that they had been deliberately asked to stereotype themselves. I acknowledged that was true, and then ended the discussion by asking them to consider how often the circumstances in which they live ask them to stereotype themselves in similar ways.
This is the second way I would like my students to be culturally aware. I feel like getting them to see the ways in which they are connected to and constructed by the world around them, even through small things like the activity described above, can show them that critical thinking is not just for the classroom. It can help them make sense of a larger world that may not respect them as individuals, as much as they are taught that our society values the strength of the individual above all else.

Thoughts, friends?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Why Tina Fey Needs to be My BFF

I'm so sorry it's been a bazillion years since I last posted. I just had to share the following passage from Tina Fey's recent Vogue interview. Fey is asked about her personal style and responds thusly:
I spend most of my time in my daily life trying to be like a fashion noncombatant. My hands are up! I'm not even trying! That said, to talk about the impact of fashion is really interesting. I think so much of it is tied into feminism. I am a post-baby boomer who has been handed a sort of Spice Girls' version of feminism. We're supposed to be wearing half-shirts and jumping around. And, you know, maybe that's not panning out. But you can tell different generations of women by whether or not they wear that Hillary Clinton blue power suit or the reappropriated Playboy-symbol necklace worn ironically. I think women dress for other women to let them know what their deal is. Because if women were only dressing for men, there would be nothing but Victoria's Secret. There would be no Dior.

How much do I love that she turns a vapid question into an opportunity to criticize equally vapid, commercialized third wave feminist politics? The answer: A WHOLE LOT.

Also, that comment about women dressing for women seems layered and interesting. I totally agree that as women, we tend to see a lot of power in the way we visually represent ourselves, and I agree that we tend to gear that power toward intimidating other women. The last sentence, though, seems to suggest that "dressing for men" can only mean turning yourself into a sexual object, whereas wearing high fashion, like Christian Dior, pays no mind to the male gaze. I think that's a bit too black and white, but I understand her general meaning, I think.

I love that Vogue is running interviews like this now. Thanks, Tina, for showing the world that smart women are totally foxy.