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.

China’s Masculinity Problem and America’s Solution

According to The New York Times, China has a boy problem. More specifically, “a generation of timid, self-centered and effeminate boys” (quoted by The Dallas Morning News, Feb. 7, 2016) is plaguing China to such a degree that the government has decided to take action.

While I certainly applaud China’s attentiveness to the need for boys to act more like boys and less like girls because, you know, acting like a girl is about the worse thing ever, I’d suggest there is more that could (and perhaps should) be done to address this disturbing problem.

But first, what excellent measures are underway so far?

To their credit, in a similar fashion of American girls signing purity pledges to their fathers, Chinese boys in some schools are signing petitions to “act like real men.” Presumably acting like real men includes martial arts, working on computers and knowing physics, all classes designed in Zhengzhou to achieve more “real men.” Or, in Hangzhou, “bringing out the men in boys” includes taekwondo as part of a summer camp program.

Too, the Chinese government is recruiting more male teachers whose maleness is intended to “salvage masculinity,” because, let’s face it, having too many female teachers at any age is worrisome. I mean, who can really trust women with knowing stuff, much less being able to teach it to boys?

While these efforts to teach their young boys to “man up” are laudable, China is really missing a huge opportunity to undergird their men with just the right kind of aggressiveness. So, maybe China should take a page out of America’s successful handbook.

According to The Associated Press, an average of 760 Americans was killed with guns annually by spouses, ex-spouses or dating partners between 2006 and 2014. 80% of those killed were women. (The Dallas Morning News, Feb. 6, 2016).

gun

Guns, in and of themselves are not bad, of course, and guns themselves do nothing but sit in dusty drawers. Furthermore, I’m sure it is pure coincidence that the vast majority of people killed by such innocent weapons are women and that the massive NRA lobby is merely protecting a time-honored freedom and we should not make any unwarranted logical assessment between the prolific availability of guns/lax gun regulation and disproportionate deaths of women.

Still, I imagine if China is really serious about its masculinity problem, the government may want to look to our American practice of protecting guns, even at the expense of women. We know a thing or two about cultivating masculine preference.

The (Gendered) Problem with Performance Reviews

evalsEven now, twenty years into my teaching career, I still fear the performance reviews that come at every semester’s end, when my students spend 10-15 minutes evaluating my course on anonymous forms. These evaluations are returned to me about a month into the new term, compelling me toward yet another panic attack.

Since I began teaching, I’ve opened these envelops with trembling hands and behind my locked office door, a private moment affording me an opportunity to hear just what students think about me. (Though not wholly private, as these performance reviews are read by my chair and my dean, and in years when I was up for tenure or promotion, by a personnel committee made up of peers from across campus.)

Although I recognize the need for student evaluations and performance reviews, this process also sucks, both in the figurative sense, but also in the literal sense of sucking my confidence away. Several recent studies suggest the entire performance review process, in universities and elsewhere, sucks a bit more for women than for men. New reports out this week argues that, according to NPR, “student evaluations are systematically biased against women — so much so, in fact, that they’re better mirrors of gender bias than they are of what they are supposed to be measuring: teaching quality.”

This statistical analysis reflects what Inside Higher Education reported last year: in a small pilot project at North Carolina State, when students assume an online professor is male, they will provide more positive reviews than when the teacher is assumed to be female. That study concluded “a female instructor would have to work harder than a male to receive comparable ratings,” all other aspects of the courses being equal. You can read the fascinating—and depressing—construction of the study, and its results, here.

As the Inside Higher Ed. report suggests, earlier research about teaching evaluations also concluded that women are often expected to be more nurturing and supportive than their male colleagues, even though taking on these character traits may make them seem less authoritative.

The more recent study, published on the ScienceOpen web page, concludes that gender influences even how students rate seemingly objective aspects of teaching, “such as how promptly assignments are graded,” and that “gender biases can be large enough to cause more effective teachers” to get lower evaluation scores than less effective teachers.

A recent report in The Economist suggests students more often use the term “brilliant” to describe their male professors, and more often use the term “horrible” to describe their female professors. Apparently, in fields like English, the disparity between female and male professors is especially wide in this regard: students find their male professors more brilliant and less horrible by wide margins, compared to fields like mathematics.

I should probably be shocked by such a study, but am not, in part because I remember my own reaction to professors when I was an undergraduate: when the English department hired a female faculty member, I was initially disappointed, believing the new hire would not be as authoritative, nor as inspiring, as her male colleagues. It took me about 1.5 semesters to realize my initial, incredibly biased perception was wrong, and I now can’t imagine being where I am in life without her influence.

As an instructor, too, I have recognized the many ways my gender informs students’ response to me, and there have been occasions where I am almost certain that the male professors in my department—indeed, in the entire institution—are treated far differently than their female colleagues.

Students who undermine their female professors in the classroom, or who show disregard for their professors’ knowledge or who speak out of turn in those classrooms, often show far more deference in classes where my male colleagues are teaching. This has been especially true at the Christian university where I teach, and where some students have deeply internalized the sense that women shouldn’t be teaching—shouldn’t be in the workplace—at all.

And now there is data to substantiate this sense that gender biases definitely do exist in the classroom. Unfortunately, bad student evaluations do more than merely make professors despair: they are used by institutions for promotion and tenure, and can be the difference between someone getting and keeping a job—or not.

When universities are grappling with how they can recruit and retain women for faculty positions, they might need to start here, by recognizing the ways seemingly “objective” student evaluations—in addition to other institutional policies and procedures—are part of a system that creates an uneven playing field for women. Doing away with anonymous student evaluations might be one place to make sure that playing field becomes more fair.

Marco Rubio: On Choosing Wayne Grudem

I’m a political junky. While I have no idea what season of Survivor we are now witnessing, nor even where such people are surviving, I can tell you when Mark Shields and David Brooks offer their assessments of the week’s political developments (Friday evenings midway through the PBS News Hour). I only know the name Kardashian because it is impossible NOT to hear the name, but I don’t know anything more than it is ubiquitous in American pop culture. On the other hand, I religiously watch Rachel Maddow and occasionally Fox News to get the “fair and balanced” perspective (ahem).

Even though I spend way too much time listening to political news, I seldom post on FB about my political leanings, figuring many if not most of my friends really don’t care to know. And that’s ok. I probably don’t want to know too much about their political allegiances, either.

So, if you are looking for me to say something about who deserves your vote in this post, I fear you will largely be disappointed. Still, because of our research for If Eve Only Knew I may have some information that could be useful, especially to women planning to vote in our upcoming primaries.

Earlier this month, Republican candidate Marco Rubio announced his Religious Liberty Advisory Board. This fifteen member panel is composed of a well-known mega-church pastor, some academics, even a non-Christian. Some could say it is surprisingly diverse. Unless, of course, gender is any consideration.

Rubio, perhaps sharing some similarity with former candidate Mitt Romney, needs more assistance locating skilled women who can advise him because in this list of fifteen people chosen for their expertise in all things religious, only one woman made the cut: Kelly Fiedorek, legal counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom.

I suppose one could say this dearth of women among Rubio’s Advisory council is an oversight on his part (this hardly seems possible) and given another chance, he might see the wisdom of locating a few women (he might ask Romney to borrow his “binder of women”). On the other hand, maybe women—and those who are concerned that political leaders are held accountable as representing all segments of our population—should give Rubio’s choices further scrutiny.

A member of Rubio’s Board is Wayne Grudem, a professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary. Grudem represents a movement within Christianity that urges women to resist working outside of the home while encouraging them to see their primary responsibilities as those of mother and wife. Grudem and an organization he helped create—The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood—have worked relentlessly to jettison feminism, claiming it is antithetical to Christian teaching. This way of seeing the Bible not only limits women so that they feel guilty about developing themselves as whole persons, it puts limits on the ways God works in the world.

Maybe Marco Rubio did not vet Grudem as much as he should have. On the other hand, perhaps this kind of patriarchal vision is in keeping with Rubio’s convictions. Either way, I’d think all primary voters should take the members of Rubio’s advisory board seriously. A democracy is built upon the necessity of doing so.

For more on Grudem and the Complementarian movement, see Chapter 6, Setting Captives Free, of If Eve Only Knew.

Building a Wall for Refugees

In March 2000, my husband and I spent a Saturday afternoon browsing our way through a local home and garden show. We left with a yard ornament and an application to host an exchange student!

It wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind in our going (I had hoped for sparking an interest in a nicer outdoor patio). But, we followed through with the application and a few months later—after some screenings—we welcomed a young German into our home.

This was a pretty big change for us. Thomas was seventeen and since we did not have children, we had never had anyone live with us before, let alone a high school student whose first language was not English.

We were nervous—and excited—as we drove to the DFW airport to meet him. We easily picked him out of the crowd, not only because of his 6’7” frame, but also because he looked “different.” His socks and shoes especially set him apart from what most American boys wore. But his quick smile and easy-going attitude quickly put us at ease and I think our interest in his country and family immediately helped him feel welcome in our home.

Over the course of that year, we developed a genuine love for this person whom we would have never met had we not taken a chance of extending hospitality to a stranger. It was a simple thing: provide a place to stay and some food and maybe a little guidance from time to time. And yet the experience itself transcended the practical measures of shifting our lifestyle for a year.

In contrast, as I listen to some of our public discourse today, mostly what I hear is “us vs. them.” We, as Americans, seem to make “other” so many people: immigrants, refugees, minority groups of all sorts. The literal and metaphorical walls appear to get erected before we even try to build a bridge.

Last weekend as my husband and I Skyped with Thomas and Sabrina (he is now married), Thomas excitedly told us, “we built a wall!” He then proceeded to show us how they had divided their two-room apartment to accommodate one more living space.

They had been distressed by the current refugee situation in Germany, feeling like they wished they could offer a place for someone to stay but knowing their apartment as it was would not work well. Instead of giving up, however, they decided to build a wall—but not to keep someone out. They created a third room so that they can host a refugee.

Sabrina and Thomas also told us about how small villages throughout Germany are finding buildings to host refugees—not vacated buildings, but places where recreation occurs. In other words, they are sacrificing public spaces in order to practice hospitality.

These aren’t the kinds of stories that make our daily news cycle. Even today I heard how refugees are creating havoc in Germany and the chaos is escalating. But I also know what else is going occurring. A young couple is opening their home to a stranger; they are extending hospitality. They are showing the love of God in a hurting world.

It’s a lesson for us all.

Facing our Fears and Following Jesus

I am embarrassed by where I live. Irving, Texas, used to be known as the home of the Dallas Cowboys, the professional football team. In fact, Valley Ranch, the specific area of Irving where the Cowboys practice, is just a few blocks away from my home. It isn’t this part of Irving that embarrasses me, however.

During the last few weeks, Irving has become known for its anti-Muslim sentiment, clearly displayed by a group of protesters, who have camped outside of a local mosque with their guns and signs prominently sending their message: fear and hatred.

irving+student+arrestBefore the Muslim protests, there was also the young boy who took his home-made clock to school. Instead of being lauded for his creativity and initiative, he was scolded and isolated, his Muslim identity called out as teachers and administrators chose fear over any other reasonable response.

Being afraid is, well, pretty terrible. Our heartbeats increase, our hands become clammy. Our physical bodies, in other words, register a built-in reaction to something or someone alarming. And yet, as we learn when we were young, often our fears are unfounded. That unexplained noise rousing us in the middle of the night, upon investigation often turns out to be not someone breaking in, but the dishwasher or ice machine.

As it turns out, however, learning about our fears is more difficult than creating barriers. Embracing fear rather than seeking to understand where it comes from leads to easy solutions. We simply create boundaries that allay our fears by keeping them hidden. The walls we erect are not just physical such as borders and fences, they also are ideological. How and when and where we draw these boundaries convey much about who we are and what we fear.

It is easy to reflect upon the current political milieu as an illustration of our propensity to react to fear with increasing amount of boundary talk, whether in the form of deportation, inhospitality to refugees, or religious-based immigrant policies. Those with simplistic answers and certitude have been given the most air-time; their approaches rewarded by numerous people who are giving into the temptation to let fear have the final say rather than examining where it comes from and why it has emerged with such power.

As we are fully in the embrace of Advent, awaiting the birth of a little baby, I am struck by the paradox that exists in this event we celebrate. The Incarnation—God in the world—is nothing short of learning to welcome the unknown. What does it mean to follow Jesus? Doesn’t he take us into the slums, to eat with those we don’t know? Into the back alleys to share what we have with those in need? Into the temple to challenge those who have created religious systems that benefit the rich? These are dangerous places; places where fear is surely felt.

Jesus’ actions lead us to the very places we are scared to enter. But he didn’t create boundaries; instead he extended compassion—at great cost. The question seems to me: what are we willing to lose in order to follow Jesus?

For further explorations of Jesus and other biblical figures, check out If Eve Only Knew!book cover

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Is Baking Bread a Feminist Statement–Or Not?

Working as a Christian feminist at an evangelical college sometimes makes me feel like my ideas are, you know, out there. Having a sense that men and women are created equally, and not bound by specific gender roles tied to God’s presumed design, makes me a rebel, in a way, especially at a place where feminism is sometimes the other “F” word.

Yet as I’ve grown in my understanding of feminism—a journey I’m still on—I’ve discovered that I really am in the mainstream, not really out there at all. Indeed, some younger feminists might find my own ideology a little bit, I dunno, lame, since I’ve spent most of my efforts advocating for family leave policies, equal pay for equal work, and changes in the ways we understand and talk about gender, especially within the church.

Turns out, I should have been baking bread.

Not any old bread—not at all. No, the kind of bread I might need to break to express female empowerment is one made by vaginal secretions. According to a blogger who goes by “Another Angry Female,” a bread made by one’s own body—and, more specifically, those who might express disgust about said bread—reflects our socially-constructed sense that the vagina is disgusting, mysterious, and to be denounced and distrusted.yeast

In her post about the sourdough bread (which she termed using the re-claimed “C” word), she explains the process for creating the sourdough starter in significant detail, and then wonders, in the comments section, why people might be a little grossed out by her experiment, or why they should be interested at all. (Um, could it be because she live-tweeted the “event” and blogged about it? Why call foul on people who are paying attention to what you asked them to?)

It’s hard for me to know what to do with this kind of “feminist” statement. Part of me wants to shrug and say that feminism has given women the right to choose how they express themselves, and that if a woman wants to express herself by making yeast infected bread, she should knock herself out. Part of me never wants to eat sourdough bread again, just in case.

But maybe it’s just my age showing, because part of me wonders how such “feminist” statements undermine the really serious work feminists have done for gender equity, and the serious work that they continue to do. Like the woman I wrote about in August—who ran the London Marathon without a tampon as her own feminist stand—I wonder how the baker-of-vaginal-products reflects both a privileged kind of feminism, as well as an uninformed history of women’s fight for justice, here and in other parts of the world.

The baker and the marathoner seem to be defining a new kind of feminism, one that attempts to highlight the “normalcy” of women’s biological parts and processes by acting in a way completely outside the realm of normal, calling attention to the act through social media, and then rejecting any criticism of the act as anti-woman and anti-feminist. Consider the California woman who lifted objects with her vagina, including donuts and surfboards, to show a woman’s strength. Or the woman who uses her menstrual blood to paint pictures, in one case a political statement against Donald Trump. Or another performance artist who has taken up vaginal knitting, meaning that when on her period, she pushes a skein of yarn into the space one might otherwise occupy with a tampon, and then knits away, the finished product dyed by her own blood.

While these acts certainly provided ample humor for my friends and me—as I’m sure they did for many other people—I have a hard time figuring out exactly what this new kind of feminism is supposed to prove, especially when it’s accompanied by 1) News stories that label it “feminism,” and 2) first-person blogging about the “feminist expression,” and 3) a sense of outrage when people suggest that making bread with a yeast infection or running with a free-flowing period might be a tad unsanitary.

In our research of evangelical popular culture, we noticed a trend in how feminists were portrayed: They were often college professors, with Ph.Ds., who were childless (or at least abandoned their children to day care). They hated men, and sought not equity with men, but dominance over them. Evangelical books about the “destruction of culture” sometimes put feminists in the middle of the maelstrom: they were responsible for everything from a higher divorce rate to childhood obesity to a weakening U.S. military (probably made even weaker now, with women able to serve in combat).

Such caricatures seemed so far from the feminists I knew that they were funny—but also problematic. After all, the feminists I know don’t easily fit into a monolith: they have children or don’t; they are married or not; they work within the home, or in public; they are Christians—and some are not. They long for equity with men, and it is this desire for justice that defines the feminist work they do: not whether they can cook something with their vagina.

But perhaps my age is showing, or my inability to understand the power of performance art. Perhaps I’m more inclined to see the fight for gender equity play out in different ways; and, like many other second wave feminists, I need to learn what feminism means for younger generations. Perhaps I need help understanding why a sweater made of menstrual blood—or more accurately, the significant press given to the knitter—really bothers me.

Because I definitely don’t want to draw the line, saying people who don’t conform to my understanding of feminism can’t eat at the same table—even if the bread they bring isn’t really to my liking.

Read more about what Christian feminism might look like in our new book, If Eve Only Knew. (It makes a perfect stocking stuffer and is available through Chalice Press or Amazon!)

Preparing for Christmas: What Mary Shows Us

I called my mother today. Although she stopped long enough to talk with me, she was busy, she said, dismantling her fall decorations in order to make room for Christmas ones.

Her routine is not simple, nor is it complete without hours of grueling work, climbing up and down the stairs to unload boxes of decorations. Numerous strands of garland must be unwrapped, lights checked and replaced, if needed before getting strung in the right places. Angels and nativity scenes emerge. Stockings adorn the stone fireplace waiting until that special night to be filled.

Preparations for Christmas, it turns out, take time and effort. The Christian calendar marks this time as Advent, the season in which we prepare for the coming Messiah. People often use Advent calendars or wreaths to note each day or week, and the color purple signifies the hope we have in the One who comes into this world.

As I prepare for Christmas this year, I’m thinking of Mary, a young girl whose life took a very unexpected turn.

Luke’s gospel invites us to sharpen our focus on Mary.

When she traveled to meet Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, Mary broke into song. Without priestly intervention or a male religious authority, Mary understood the spirit of God’s good news. Echoing Hannah’s song recorded in 1 Samuel 2, Mary must have been shaped not only by the gracious righteousness of God, but also by the women who went before her. Surely Mary knew by heart the ancient stories of Abraham and Moses, was familiar with leaders such as David and Solomon. Yet, when Mary spoke of her faith in God, revealing her understanding of God, she used the words of Hannah, another woman who played an integral part in God’s grand narrative by mothering Samuel.

Mary’s song, often called Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1, conveys the perspective underpinning Jesus’ actions in the gospels. It is a theology of reversals, where the strong are made weak, and the weak become strong, where the powerful are brought low and the hungry are filled. We can imagine Mary knew the lows all too well. She had been on the receiving end of social systems that disregarded groups of people: women, the poor, the sick, the hungry.

Her positive response to Gabriel surely was motivated by what she understood about God. From Hannah she knew God’s dream for humanity included freedom and liberation for all people, not just for a select few. She understood faith in God meant trusting that God would be faithful, working with God to make life more abundant for all. Mary, the lowly young woman, was the perfect person to give birth to God’s desire for humanity; in her risky decision, she showed the courage necessary to choose the better way. Mary had no idea what was in store for her as Jesus’ mother, and yet she was willing to take a chance on life with God. Her determination to cooperate without knowing the exact contours of the journey provide us today with an excellent example of what is required of us. Whatever the road entails, we can be sure it will be bumpy, because following Jesus means going into the potholes and crevices of social injustice in order to make the rough places smooth.

See more about Mary and other women in the Bible in our book, If Eve Only Knew. (It makes a perfect stocking stuffer and is available through Chalice Press or Amazon!)

Feeling like a Princess (of sorts): About The Faculty Lecture

momanddadWhen we are recruiting faculty to teach at George Fox University, I love to give them my marketing spiel: about how special this university and the community of Newberg is to me; about how I dreamed, as a student, about coming back to teach at George Fox; and about how I can’t imagine working or living anywhere else.

My hard-sell approach hasn’t always been successful; we’ve had candidates say no to an offer to teach here, which is their loss, for sure. But my marketing spiel is definitely sincere. My love for George Fox and for Newberg is so deep that one of two recurring dreams I have is that I am forced to move back to the Midwest and leave my job, my friends, and my family behind. I usually wake up from such dreams feeling unbelievably sad.

A few weeks ago, I had a once-in-a-career chance to share my research with the communities I love in a Faculty Lecture I was required to give as a recipient of last year’s GFU Undergraduate Scholar of the Year award. Doing this lecture filled me with fear: in part because my research critiques the very culture I teach in; in part because my research partner, Kendra, wouldn’t be around to help me with the Bible questions I might receive; in part because I was speaking not only to my professional community, but also to friends and family who don’t usually see me in this context. (My mom and dad–pictured above with me–were in the audience, for goodness sake!)

I did what I could to combat my fear and trembling: I had my personal stylist and all-around amazing friend help me pick out a kick-ass outfit and give me pep talks. I practiced talking to myself. I invited another friend—someone who knows the Bible and our evangelical culture well—to serve as my respondent. And I asked my kids to come watch, probably because I knew they would diffuse any overconfidence I might have. (That strategy worked: I could see them in the back, eating cookies and jabbing each other with elbows.)

And then, when the lecture was over, I felt an enormous sense of gratitude for this community and for their support: for my students, willing to add one more lecture to their over-packed schedule; for my colleagues, who have nurtured and supported me and helped me become the seasoned scholar I try to be; for my friends from the community, who allow me to be someone other than a professor most of the time; and for my family, who have helped me become all God means for me to be.

I’m grateful, too, for others who live far away from Newberg and have asked to hear my lecture. These folks represent people from other stages of my life, many who have helped me become all God means for me to be—and who continue to encourage me, from afar.

Everyone should feel so loved and supported. I am exceedingly grateful.