The Ain't I a Woman blog examines the many ways Christian culture lets women know exactly who they should be. We deconstruct those messages that we find troubling--and, in the process, construct a different message: one that allows Christian women to be all that God intended.

Put Away That Razor: It’s Time to Man Up

The call to all smooth-faced men went out this morning via Twitter: Want to start a Christian revolution? Want to make a radical affirmation—via your face—that you are a child/man of God?

It’s time for you to man up and grow a beard.

I know, I know, it’s not even No-Shave November, so the proclamation here in the middle of October seems a little puzzling. But apparently R.C. Sproul, Jr., son of the well-known Calvinist theologian and radio broadcaster, has had a vision of Christian men taking a stand for Jesus via their chins.

Here’s the Tweet:

sproul

 

Ah yes. The beard is clearly further proof of God’s different plans for women and men, part of the biblical design determining that men are meant to be assertive leaders in the home and public sphere, more capable interpreters of scripture, strong and protective and true; and women, lacking the ability to grow beards, are designed for special—but different—roles, requiring essentially that they keep their beard-free pie holes shut.

My first thought upon reading Mr. Sproul’s tweet was this: Apparently, Mr. Sproul’s dearest bride has avoided letting her beloved spouse know what can often happen to women, especially as they grow older and chin hairs begin to sprout inexplicably overnight, so that in the span of a few hours and without extreme vigilance, a woman (say, for example, me) can discover a full mustache blooming on her lip.

Perhaps peri-menopausal women are more interchangeable than younger women who have not yet faced this blight. What say you, Mr. Sproul?

I wonder, too, about the young men inhabiting my classrooms, inspired to grow beards because of the bearded professors they admire (not me)(I don’t think), but who are only able to produce sparse patches of hair across their cheeks—reminiscent of my backyard in August, when only a few bright spots of grass remain alive.

Are these earnest folks aced out of their biblical manhood?

I suppose not, since Mr. Sproul does offer a caveat of sorts, suggesting that those who can, must; and the rest, too bad. The pitiful guys who cannot participate in this facial revolution? You may need to find other ways to make your radical affirmation of biblical manhood.

Might I suggest eating some barbeque? Holding a gun? Kicking the crap out of your enemy?

No?

Because It seems like doing these stereotypically “manly” activities as a way of asserting one’s biblical manhood makes just as much sense as growing a beard to establish the differences between men and women. We all know men and women are not interchangeable, but what Sproul et al. really mean is this: because God has designed men and women differently, women must be relegating women to the “special” roles men like Sproul have deigned for them.

More than growing a beard, calling bullshit on that claim is the kind of radical affirmation Christianity needs.

Killing Our Darlings: An Update on Our Book

I had a donut this morning, washed down by Diet Coke at 7 a.m. For lunch, I’ll probably have potato chips, alongside my second (or, let’s be honest, third) Diet Coke of the day. I haven’t planned dinner, but imagine there will be sugar and caffeine whatever pseudo-healthy fare I make for my family.

Cutting stuff out of my diet has never been easy. No matter how often I vow to stop drinking Diet Coke—or stop drinking it before 10 a.m.—I feel myself slipping back into the daily habit within moments of my vow. I know, I know: I’ve read the scary articles people post online about how Diet Coke will kill me, or how cutting sugar out of my diet will make me a more virtuous person; my husband has lectured me about how potato chips are empty calories and a bane on our household.

But, let’s face it, cutting out things that matter to us—to our happiness, if not our health—can be very difficult indeed.

The same applies to writing.

In August, a few weeks after submitting our manuscript to Chalice Press, our publisher, we received word that we needed to cut out almost a third of our book, and before the end of October if we wanted to meet our April 30 publication date.

Cut out several 100,000 characters? The task seemed impossible. Painful, at least.

But we trust Chalice Press, who has been publishing some great books. We knew they understood the market, and that they knew what was best. We began the hard work of cutting out our hard work.

Writers know about what it means to “kill your darlings,” to excise those sentences and paragraphs that seem profound, stirring, finely wrought.

We killed a lot of darlings in September.

The task is nearly completed, though, and we’ve reached our goal. One more read through and we will resubmit our much leaner manuscript. Leaner, but also much better: Turns out, killing your darlings can often be exactly what your writing needs. And the extra work we did in the last month has distilled our manuscript, until we are offering readers the best of what we’ve got.

I also know this experience will make me a better writing teacher, because I’ve gone through a process I often exhort my students to experience, too. Besides, I’ve kept all the superfluous material excised from our original manuscript. It’s in a file titled “Spanking for Jesus.” Sometimes, the really good stuff will have to wait.

This is all to say that our work, tentatively titled Meant to Be, is still on track to be published in the spring, and Kendra and I are thrilled. I might have another Diet Coke, just to celebrate. We can’t cut everything out of our lives all at once, right?

The Power of the Past

A few spare minutes this afternoon found me finally tackling that pile of accumulating papers in my home office. I’ve successfully avoided clearing this pile of clutter for about four months, claiming all summer I would take care of it only to find myself looking the other way each time I passed by. But today, for whatever reason, I stopped, allowing curiosity to finally have its way: what in the world is in those two yellowed envelopes covered with dust, anyway?

Perhaps I wanted to know because I was already feeling a little more reflective than normal. I’d just read a blog post by Beth Woolsey about my friend and co-writer’s sixteenth birthday party, or rather her birthday sans party because all of her so-called friends stood her up. Because I have known Melanie for several years and because we have shared not only our joys but also our disappointments, I realize the trust Melanie has for Beth to tell her about this painful experience. I can almost hear Melanie’s voice when Beth writes about Melanie’s pain that night some 30 years earlier as well as the night she told it to her friend while the waves crashed ashore on the rugged Oregon coast where they walked. Beth and others recently threw Melanie another birthday party—sixteen plus thirty—one that I’m sure brought surprise as well as healing.

I was still thinking about the power the past has on us when I noticed my paper pile still sitting in my office gathering more dust.

The first envelope was plain, nothing on the outside to give away its contents. As I pulled out a collection of papers, various sizes, I realized one displayed my hand-writing; another was printed by the old dot-matrix printer which was my first foray into a home-computing system (along with the mammoth computer and monitor that took up almost the entire living space of my little apartment). This paper was obviously the typed version of the first document. Finally, in the hand-writing of my pastor at the time, was the final version of my wedding ceremony.

The second envelope contained a check I had written for my first car, a used tan-colored Chevy Camaro. That small slip of paper represented several summers of farm work; hours spent on the tractor plowing endless fields on the western Kansas plains. Money I thought would build in my bank account for the next several years turned unexpectedly into my first car—a small detail my father didn’t tell me when he asked if I wanted to go with him to find one to take to college a few weeks later.

These seemingly disparate elements of a few spare moments one afternoon hardly seem worth noting. In fact, most days I probably wouldn’t have even thought about them for more than a second. And yet, these are the moments that make up the vast amounts of our lives; some monumental that leave us scarred and hurt until a trusted friend hears our pain and invites us to claim a different memory, and ones that shape huge parts of who we are like a marriage ceremony marking a new trajectory, one that seems so different from what that young woman wrote about years ago when she outlined everything from the biblical texts to be used to the points to be made in the homily (yes; I was this presumptuous). Too, these moments that compose our lives are filled with the tension of surprise and regret, like the new-car rush accompanied by the weighty prize of an empty bank account.

But this, it seems to me, is part of the wonder of life. That we somehow stitch together a series of unrelated experiences and they constitute the fabric of who we are. They show us our capacity for suffering as well as the potential of soaring joy. They teach us to travel lightly, realizing the path we have chosen probably doesn’t take us where we thought it might. And they enable us to meet the unexpected with flexibility, or, at least the willingness to trust the outcome will be okay.

And maybe this is part of the power of our past. It represents where we have been and who we are, but it does not have the ultimate prerogative of determining where we go from here.

 

What Women (Really) Want

I am confused. Admittedly, this might be a surprise. I suppose for many of you I seem pretty confident in what I think, not easily swayed by others, a bit resistant to flimsy ideas or fads.

Despite this confident exterior, I don’t really know what I want if I’m to believe the authors of a brand new book on the right kind of feminism.

Instead of relishing my faded blue jeans with holes (always) in the right knee, or my well-worn sneakers I wear without socks just as long as summer will allow, what I really prefer, according to them, is a dress and high-heels, to spend hours coifing my hair and learning how to dab mascara on my eye-lashes. Because, of course, all women want to be feminine.

And beyond my preference for not-so-feminine clothing my career choice has probably been wrong. Instead of university teaching and writing I probably wanted to stay home, thoughtfully caring for my husband’s every need because he, apparently, cannot take care of himself. But because I was swayed by angry feminists (most likely college professors) who convinced me that I did not want a real man (whatever that means, although it strangely has something to do with lots of hair) and that I shouldn’t have children, I find myself lost; no longer knowing what I really want.

My dilemma is perplexing because I have been misled all these years. Maybe I don’t really want what I have thought I wanted. Evil feminists have clearly brain-washed me.

You can imagine my relief when I learned What Women (Really) Want by Ann-Marie Murrell, Morgan Brittany, and Gina Loudon can solve my feminist problem.

Because it is a problem: feminism. But these women are ready to sort out the difficulties beginning with setting me straight that feminism has been only about politicizing women’s bodies. According to Murrell, Brittany, and Loudon, feminists say they do not want to be objectified (wink, wink) but at the same time they support those who dress in such a way as to encourage objectification. Beyonce’s video with her silhouette set against a backdrop with the word “feminist” informed their argument, her statement apparently the first and last for all feminists of all times.

Forget that a few days earlier, Fox News aired a discussion of why women should embrace “cat calls,” including the “stand and applaud” kind (you can see the video here when it was shown on The Daily Show as part of a larger segment about sexism). Like Jessica Williams of The Daily Show, I can easily see how wonderfully refreshing women would find such scenarios. Women don’t want to feel like they are walking across a stage naked; they want confirmation. Regularly.

Also what women really want now that we can vote and have equality in the workplace (and if you don’t, then just get it, you know, on a case-by-case basis) is government out of our lives. Right. I have been baffled by this argument before, but now it makes perfect sense. Women should have the right to make their own decisions about health and reproductive care without being coerced by others. Wendy Davis, a candidate for Texas Governor recently admitted in her new book (Forgetting to be Afraid) she had two abortions. In each case she made a decision based upon the viability of the fetus she carried and in each case, her decision was not easy but she had the freedom to do what was best in each grave situation, a freedom women are now at risk of losing in many states, including Texas.

I guess this is the kind of non-governmental interference Murrell, Brittany, and Loudon say we want. I mean, it would only be big-government wonks who would argue for Washington to make reproductive decisions for millions of women.

Besides Murell, Brittany, and Loudon also point out that women want to be able to protest things like the new common core in our schools but often people do not complain as loudly as they could because they fear being “shouted down” for wanting less government oversight in public schools. There are good reasons we don’t want to ensure people are learning similar things in preparation for college or post-secondary educations. Why would a functioning society give up personal freedoms for such pie-in-the-sky nonsense?

Essentially women want to be what God wants them to be: unshackled from feminists. You know, those evil people whose lives made it possible for women to have an education, to have a public voice, to own land or even a bank account.

I’m so glad there is now a book to tell me what I want.

Even Running Magazines Need Feminism

Remember way back in the summertime, when the evenings were much longer, you could wear shorts with impunity, and women on the internet were suddenly deciding they no longer needed feminism because they loved men and weren’t lesbians?

Indeed, a Tumblr site was created, called Women Against Feminism, so that women of all ages and nationalities could show their certain misunderstanding of feminism’s core tenets by announcing that they didn’t need feminism because

  • They love their boyfriends and husbands.
  • They want to promise honor and obedience to their husbands.
  • True equality already exists in the workplace.
  • Being a woman is more advantageous than being a man.

Skimming through the Tumblr site fills me with a bit of despair. Maybe feminists haven’t been good enough at messaging, because the same tired stereotypes about feminism emerges here: that feminists are man-hating harpies, intent on destroying anyone born; they hate children and abhor families; they want women to be better than men, not equal to them. (Because, of course, equality already exists. Pssshtt.)

Mostly, I think those posting on the Tumblr site need to take a gender studies course, just like the amazing ones offered by my colleagues here at George Fox University.

I was reminded again why we still need feminism when reading Runner’s World, a seemingly benign publication dedicated to all things running related. A recent article describes a Colorado woman’s outright win in the Kauai Marathon, meaning Nicole Chyr beat all the men and the women in the field.

The article mentions several other women who have won races outright, an accomplishment for any female or male athlete, and then ends with this paragraph:

“Chyr’s win was partly possible because Tyler McCandless, who’d won the Kauai Marathon three times, decided to devote his energies to raising funds for youth health programs on the island and to running the day’s half marathon, in which he set a course record of 1:01:17.”

In other words, “There’s NO WAY that chick could have won if a faster dude was in the race.”

Okay, so maybe that’s true. But isn’t that true of any race? Or, of any athletic competition? Have you ever read an article about a men’s 100 meter that said “Asafa Powell won the race, made possible because Usian Bolt wasn’t there”? Or, “The Seattle Mariners beat the Texas Rangers, but only because the Rangers weren’t playing the Cardinals.”

(Someone may quibble with the baseball analogy somehow, so yes, I know the Rangers and the Cards are in a different league.)

So, if any race is decided by the people who show up that day—and not some imaginary competition not in the race—why would it be important to point this out in an article about a woman’s victory?

Probably, because a whole lot of male runners didn’t want to get chicked. And also, because “chicked” is a derogatory term for getting beat by a woman in a running race (as if, heaven forbid, this is the worse thing possible), I would argue that we still need feminism.

The Problem with Expectation

This week, I started my 22nd year as a writing teacher, my fourteenth full time at George Fox University.

Given my first day’s performance in 1992, no one could have predicted I might last this long. I began that morning by marching into a University of Missouri-St. Louis classroom slick with sweat (from the humidity and fear); I arrived far too early, paced in front of the chalkboard, began class before the right time. On the verge of tears, I handed out the syllabi, shaking so fiercely students must have wondered just who they had standing in front of them. I definitely felt like an imposture, someone too stupid and too shy to be teaching college students.

I was beyond scared.

But only a little less so than when I started college six years earlier, my parents making the one-hour drive with me to my new home, where we unloaded my meager belongings and made the fear-filled trek up the dorm stairs to my second-story room.

My roommate had already claimed her side of the room and unpacked her stuff: an interesting array of kitty posters and pictures of balloons and rainbows. A floral-patterned spread covered her bed; she was wearing a t-shirt with a giant heart on it.  I imagine a Sandi Patty cassette was playing in the background, but this is one memory I don’t fully trust. Sandi Patty was always playing in our room, so surely she was singing Jesus’ praise on the first day, too.

Anyone who knows me—or has any inkling of my tastes—knows that I had reasons to fear my roommate. I endeavored to be game, though, since I’d already been told that I should be excited about college, that it would be the best years of my life!  So, I hugged my parents a fast goodbye, akin to peeling a Band Aid off quickly to avoid any pain. Holding back tears, I began unpacking my own décor: running posters, pictures of high school teammates, several athletic awards.

This was not going to be a match made in heaven, and I didn’t really think I belonged there, anyway. I felt like an imposture then, too, not really interested in college even though I was somehow supposed to be excited about studying and about living with a stranger who was, it seemed to me, also quite strange.

As I embark on another school year, I’ve been thinking of these two selves, and of the nearly all-consuming fear that characterized those new beginnings. That fear was fueled in great part by the unknown. On my first day of college, I wondered what it would be like. How would it feel to live with a complete stranger—and a kitty-loving one at that? How would I survive without my family, without my high school friends? How could I ever succeed in college, when high school was so much of a struggle?

Later, when I began teaching, I again wondered what it would be like. What kind of students would I be facing? How would I answer their questions? Would I be capable of managing a classroom of first-year students, hostile to writing? (I have similar questions even now, 22 years into my teaching endeavor.)

To be honest, though, expectations placed on me by myself and by others also stoked me fears. I’d never been much of a student before college, preferring sports to studies, television to books. My SAT scores were abysmal; I struggled to complete assignments through middle and high school. The middle school principal and I were fast company, in great part because I spent so much time in her office on detention. Though I fared a little better behavior-wise in high school, I wasn’t coming to college as a stellar student, and was certain the life of the mind—whatever that was—could not be for me.

Although I became a successful student in college, and decided to pursue an advanced degree in English, those same uncertainties also dogged me when I began teaching, concurrent to my graduate school classes. I obviously wasn’t the brightest graduate student on campus, couldn’t quote lines of Yeats (who I called “Yeets” for the first year of studies, a definite taboo) and consistently spelled grammar wrong (grammer) in my first graduate school paper. How could I ever, ever teach, when everyone else seemed more committed to that life of the mind than did I? At heart, I was still a dumb jock, posing as an English graduate student.

So here’s the thing about expectations, even those that are self-imposed: they can keep you in a box, limiting your potential, making it almost impossible to be all God created you to be. But thank God for people who refused to see those boxes, and who challenged me to move beyond those expectations:

  • A high school English teacher who saw me as more than a struggling student, and who encouraged my writing; her kindness allowed me to begin seeing myself as capable, at least a little bit.
  • A college professor who believed me as more than “just an athlete,” and whose encouragement allowed me to begin seeing myself as an academic, not just a dumb jock whose studies didn’t matter.
  • A graduate school advisor who saw me as more than an incapable teacher, stuttering through her first classes; her support and guidance sustained me successfully through my first year of teaching, reminding me that I belonged in the classroom, that I wasn’t the imposture I believed myself to be.

Sometimes it’s easy to force people into the boxes we’ve built, compelling them to play the roles we’ve defined for them. As Kendra and I have written often in the last few years, we see clearly—over and over again—the ways that women are crammed into small spaces labeled “biblical womanhood” and “godly woman.” I’ve bristled against those expectations as well, knowing that I could not be the presumably “godly” woman defined by Christian culture, and that when I did act in that way, I felt like a fake.

As we start yet another year, I’m thinking again about the ways expectations can be problematic, how they complicate our journeys toward becoming all God intends for us to be. And I’m thinking about those folks who did not compel me to be something I could not be, but inspired me to be more than I thought I could be. Such people still exist in my life, and I am grateful for those who don’t tie me to any expectations about what it means to be a college professor, or a middle-aged woman, or a mother of boys, or a million other things.

One week into another year of teaching—and of feeling grateful for this amazing vocation I’ve been given—I think of those people most, those who saw me as different than I even saw myself, and who helped me become who I am.  My hope is that this year, I can be especially mindful of the boxes I create for others, and also, aware that those boxes can limit others—and myself—from being what God created us to be.

It’s not entirely Mark Driscoll’s fault

Give the guy a break!

What began as a trickle—an occasional criticism of Seattle’s Mars Hill mega-church pastor, Mark Driscoll—has now become a veritable flood. So much so that even those he originally assisted (Acts 29) have join the ranks of piling on Driscoll and he has been stricken from headlining big evangelical gatherings such as the upcoming Gateway conference in Dallas, Texas.

I, for one, think it has been too much already. Come on, let’s just relax a little and quit being so whiney over his mostly inconsequential failings.

Besides, what’s the big deal?

So, Driscoll perhaps plagiarized some material in his books and maybe used a little of his own marketing strategies to bolster his sales. Who in his position wouldn’t do the same? For goodness sake: he is the pastor of a mega-church. How much time do we think he has to write a book on the side without getting help somewhere? And, have you noticed how little pastors get paid? (Ok, probably all mega-church pastors make plenty but who wouldn’t decry the guy from getting a little extra?) Maybe something on top of a generous salary would send the message about how valuable he is to the congregation; to their reputation.

In defense of his naysayers, Dricsoll did say some pretty nasty things about homosexuals and men who aren’t necessarily “manly” and feminists (who, most likely deserve it since we have pretty much destroyed civilization with crazy ideas about everyone being equal), but he did his best to apologize. If he went a little over the line by asking a group of pastor’s wives what sexual positions they favor, isn’t that just part of being a little “edgy,” the kind of shocking thing parishioners want to hear so they keep coming back for more?

Besides, who among us is perfect enough that we should cast the first stone?

Rather than jumping on the Bash Driscoll bandwagon I think we should step back, maybe send a little love his way. His world is crumbling around him and he probably could use a little extra support these days.

Besides, why should he, the pastor of a church he created, be held to such high standards? Like, for instance, being theologically trained (as in earning a Master’s of Divinity degree from an accredited seminary). Isn’t this part of the allure of many mega-churches? Pastors are hip precisely because they aren’t ruined by an education. They rely on the Holy Spirit to guide their paths and also what they say instead of going through the rigors of learning irrelevant things like the history of Christianity or methods of theological inquiry, or God-forbid, learning to consider biblical context when discerning what the Bible could possibly say to contemporary Christians.

Furthermore, aren’t mega-churches designed to be nimble and therefore do not have the encumbrances of oversight? The United Methodist Church, the Episcopalians, the Presbyterians and others have too much organizational weight; for them to respond to new changes or developments takes an act of God and about two-hundred years, but the genius of mega-churches is that the pastor can essentially do what he likes (and I do mean “he” because how many mega-churches have female pastors?). The freedom of mega-churches to act independently is part of why people are attracted to them.

Of course this autonomy comes with a price.

When a pastor or leader goes astray, perhaps not unlike Driscoll, Ted Haggard, Doug Phillips, Bob Coy, David Loveless, Jack Schaap (there are more; many more, but you get the point) isn’t he just falling into the trap the congregation has unthinkingly created? Pastors are supposed to be magnetic and cool, able to attract not just hundreds, but thousands on any given Sunday morning (ok, with the help of a hip worship band, a big screen, plenty of video clips, and the enticing aroma of fair-trade coffee in the air). And despite their elevated positions, the demand for success which means packing people into huge warehouses, and the expectation that pastors all over the country will be clamoring to “go and do likewise,” they are not required to have the very tools they desperately need: a theological education, an accountability system that extends beyond the local church, and an unrelenting conviction that the people are to be the ministers of the gospel.

Instead of hurling accusations at Driscoll, maybe it is time for mega-church consumers to reconsider the problems they create by demanding entertainment-driven mega-churches, relying on a charismatic individual rather than the call of the gospel.

It’s not just Driscoll’s fault. Mars Hill helped create him, warts and all.

Being Feminist and Christian

August always feels like a whirlwind. A tornado of birthdays greets me as I turn the calendar from July to August—my mother’s and father’s spaced a mere five days apart plus a good friend’s right in the middle—and then anniversaries—for my husband and I as well as my parents’ whose anniversary we share. In the space of about a week, August has the ability to knock me off my feet.

And if I have any inkling of getting up, I’m hit with the shocking realization that summer is essentially over and I’m suddenly scurrying around hoping to be ready for the first day of school. Which is why instead of writing syllabi, checking rosters, or working on Blackboard, I’m writing this.

You see, I woke up this morning knowing that my day will entail brainstorming and writing, planning and revising, planning some more. But in the midst of the pressure to get these things done, I feel tremendous gratefulness for those who made this work possible for me.

The last few years it seems the popular thing to do is to reject the label of feminist. Rock stars and writers, business leaders and a host of others have refused to align themselves with feminism, claiming, somehow that they are not feminists because they do not hate men (a prevalent misnomer), or they do not feel oppressed (a problem with awareness, perhaps?) and cannot figure out why feminists still think there is a problem (hmm, why are women still not paid on par with men?).

And yet, the very positions they hold either as popular media figures or CEOs or authors would not be possible without feminism.

Contemporary Christianity has been especially harsh on feminism, telling scores and scores of women that they must choose one or the other, but they certainly cannot be a Christian and a feminist. Of course such claims are historically invalid as many women in the late 1800s and early 1900s changed American society because of not in spite of their religious commitments. Intrepid women worked for the abolition of slaves, for better work conditions for factory workers, to alleviate poverty and prostitution, to secure a public voice for women by gaining the right to vote. For many, their commitments to changing society were based upon their faith.

In other words, many of the early feminists were feminists because they were Christians. As it turns out, taking seriously the idea that we are all made in the image of God means a radical thing: there can be no oppression, no second-class status, no subjugation of any group for any reason.

As someone whose work involves education and religion, I am enormously indebted to these feminist pioneers who made my livelihood possible. Without them I would not be educated; I would not have the ability to vote; I would not have the plethora of options I enjoy today.

So even as I lament the passing of another summer and I’m feeling more than a little overwhelmed by the mountain I face, the Fall semester looming over me so heavily I can hardly breathe, I remain thankful for the feminists before me who made my path possible.

And because of them I hold my head high when I say I am a feminist and a Christian.

Another school year: bring it!