Month: February 2015

Feminism February: Open Letters

Happy Monday, everyone, and welcome to my favorite Feminist February post yet!

I really love letters of all kinds. But especially hearing the thoughts of cool people.

I really love letters of all kinds. But especially hearing the thoughts of cool people.

Here’s the question: Write an open letter (fine, with the word count, an open postcard) to either men in the church on something you wish they realized/put into practice or women in the church addressing an issue you want them to be aware of regarding their gender and their faith. 

KaceyDear Christian women,

I hate to write a letter to you as if I thought there was something wrong with us all that needs fixing. Still, I do think there’s a trap that’s easy to fall into when you live in Christian community, surrounded by people you admire: envy and emulation.

Someone may have their life Pinterest-perfectly together and be a fantastic pillar of strength in your church, but your job isn’t to be like her. You may know someone whose wisdom and philanthropy you admire, but your job isn’t to be like him.

Micah 6:8 – “He has shown you, oh man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

The only person we should strive to be like is Jesus. You, like me, may have trouble living that out, but as you’re working on it, don’t worry about what you should be doing based on what others are doing. They have their histories and circumstances and are walking their paths; don’t use theirs as a map for yours. You won’t get where God wants you to be.

Much love,

Kacey

For more from Kacey, visit her blog, Inklings.

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Feminism February: Prejudice is a Thing

It’s time for another round of Feminism February, where our distinguished panelists answer my questions with a ridiculously short word count (which, for writers, is cruel and unusual punishment).

For those of you new to this series, you can take a look at past discussions on Disney princesses and stereotypes of Christian women.

Before moving on to the question, I want to say that this post is not meant to be seen as women complaining about stuff. A more helpful way to read it, I think, is a reminder that we do not always give other people’s stories and struggles the respect we should. (For more detail on that, read this post.)

When I read these answers, I immediately thought of all the ways I create my own “us” vs. “them” situations. I had flashbacks to the times I’ve shut down conversations by, basically, telling people they were just wrong and I was right so that settles it. I was reminded of the little ways that I don’t love people as well as I should. This is not necessarily a fun realization. But it’s important, especially because, as Christians, the #1 distinguishing mark of our faith should be our love for each other. Considering questions like this, I think, is a great place to start.

Also known as the "crazy woman driver" phenomenon.

Also known as the “crazy women drivers” phenomenon.

Here’s the question of the hour: How would you respond to someone who said that women don’t really face prejudice anymore—in fact, in our male-bashing media, men are often the ones who are unfairly stereotyped? (more…)

Three Reasons Why Ruth is Awesome

As a girl, I did not like Queen Esther. Like, at all. Because A. her story always felt shallow (beauty pageant winner hosts a banquet to stop a genocide that includes her–duh, how was that even a struggle?) or B. she was the one most other girls liked, and I hated doing things like everyone else.

That’s why, of the two females who got a book of the Bible named after them, I was always in the pro-Ruth camp. It was more of a reaction against Esther than anything else.

As I got older, I realized that many of my favorite fictional characters were basically Ruth in different settings. Like, really different. Middle Earth, a preschool daycare center, and Wild-West-dystopian outer space, for starters. Here are three reasons why Ruth is awesome, and a few characters who remind me of her.

(Contains spoilers for Firefly, The Lord of the Rings, and Toy Story 3. Those of you who haven’t seen/read these, you should probably do so. Like, now. I’ll wait.)

One: Mal Reynolds and Zoë Washburne

Mal

I couldn’t find a clip for this one, but one of my favorite (non-joke) lines in the T.V. series is from “The Message”: “When you can’t run, you crawl. And when you can’t crawl…when you can’t do that anymore…you find someone to carry you.”

The key here is who is being carried. In this scene, Mal and Zoë’s old war buddy puts everyone in peril by running away from an incredibly dumb double-crossing choice he made. And yet, when he flees to his friends for refuge, they take him in and refuse to hand him over to the people who want to murder him. It gets complicated from there, but that old saying still sticks in my mind as a raw and beautiful portrayal of love for someone who can barely hold it together. Of love when love is hard and the object of love is not particularly loveable.

When she left her home, Naomi was at the “run” stage. When her husband died, it was time to crawl. But when both her sons died, leaving her alone and destitute, she needed someone to carry her. And Ruth did. Even though, let’s be honest, people, an old woman who tells everyone to call her “Bitter” cannot have been terribly fun to be around. But she was family, and Ruth was determined to stick with her. (more…)

Theologian Valentines

A few years ago, I saw some hilarious Valentines based on dictators. And I thought, I should totally do that with famous theologians! (Because, you know, that’s how my brain works.) So here you go!

Also, if you don’t present the Calvin valentine with a bouquet of tulips, you are missing out on a prime pun opportunity. Just sayin’.

Theologians

Disclaimer: I have the greatest respect for all of these folks from church history and their contribution to the faith. I also think they might have found these amusing.

 

Any alternate caption ideas or ideas for theologians who aren’t featured?

Feminism February: Revenge of the Proverbs 31 Woman

Welcome to our second panel of Christian women writing about issues related to faith and gender and a whole lot of really interesting topics. Catch up on last’s week’s panel on Disney princesses, and read on for some thought-provoking reflections. (You will probably also want to be friends with all of these people because they are so thoughtful and articulate.)

Today’s topic is close to my heart because I know many women who get exhausted after just reading Proverbs 31. And because I know teenage girls who have worried that they should be “less” of something if they wanted nice Christian guys to like them—less intelligent or opinionated or capable. And because I once thought I was a terrible person because I did not have a “quiet and gentle spirit.” (Note from context: the opposite of a “quiet and gentle spirit” is not a “feisty and exuberant spirit.” It is a “self-flaunting and obnoxious spirit.”)

Prov 31

I have nothing against this passage. Just like I have nothing against Benjamin Franklin’s schedule. But seriously. Who does that?

Question: What comes to mind when you think of what most Christians in our culture think a woman should be? Is this helpful or hurtful, and in what ways?

StephanieThe ideal Christian woman: she’s married, has three kids (named after Bible characters, possibly Old Testament prophets), either home-schools them or invests a large amount of time in protecting them from negative cultural influences, home-cooks every meal, hand-makes her children’s birthday gifts using less than $5 and her mad-crafting skills, is warm and friendly (but not too opinionated or loud), teaches Sunday school, runs the church potluck and missions committee, attends three Bible studies, always looks put-together and attractive (nothing immodest of course: think Ann Taylor Loft clothes bought on sale, and the perfect amount of make-up to enhance her natural beauty) and is a constant support and encouragement to her husband in the work he does providing for the family and leading in the church.

The biggest problem I have is that this story revolves around the woman being married. If you’re a single Christian woman, the only way you fit into this story is in the prologue, where you hone your skills and sing, “One day my Prince will come.” I think as Christians we need to tell ourselves (and our children) a story of womanhood that doesn’t completely base our identity nor define virtue around how we respond to our husbands/future husbands.

–Stephanie E.

For more from Stephanie, visit her blog, Bridging Hope.

ChelseaI could make a list, but the biggest thing, I think, is that we’re often expected to be the same. We hear sweeping statements about how women “give sex to get love,” are more emotional, are more nurturing, etc. While there certainly are behavioral trends among women (and men), I think it can be harmful to act as though these tendencies are absolutes which apply to all women, everywhere, at all times. Not only does this thinking ignore women who don’t fit the mold, but it also encourages the idea that if we can only figure out who the “average woman” is, and what she wants, then we’ll finally understand the women in our everyday lives.

But it’s just not true. The “average woman”? She’s isn’t me. She’s not my sister, my aunts, my co-workers, or my friends. She certainly isn’t my sisters in Christ. She’s an amalgamation, a creature made from surveys and studies and polls, and pretending otherwise is—quite frankly—dehumanizing, as though women are merely carbon copies of each other and not individuals made in the image of God. Dorothy L. Sayers talks more about this in Are Women Human?, which I highly recommend reading.

–Chelsea Molin

DianaI imagine that for people who grew up within privileged white evangelical homes like mine, we see Her as stylish but “modest.” Confident, but not too loud. Smart, but not pretentious. The first to volunteer, but only for the “right” roles. The one holding a baby, but never commanding a room.

Behind Amy’s question lies a paradox: to describe the ideal Christian woman, you have to assume she exists; that gender “norms” exist; that there is a dominant cultural image of the ideal Christian woman. It’s a self-perpetuating system. We draw hard lines around “the Proverbs 31 woman” and hand women the crayons.

This cultural “picture” also universalizes (Western, white) privilege without recognizing that for women around the world, issues like employment are a question of survival, not a theological debate.

The conservative, evangelical Christianity I grew up within sponsored these gender-based cultural expectations in a way that excluded and wounded people who didn’t fit in—and allowed those who appeared to fit in to remain invisible. When we tell people what they should look like, who they should be, we also say don’t be this, don’t do that. We say, no room here for you.

–Diana M.

For more from Diana, follow her on Twitter (@dianameakem), or visit her blog, Wordflow.

RuthieThe first image that pops into my mind is a stay-at-home mom with 3-5 kids, although I think that image of ideal Christian womanhood is quickly becoming outdated. I think it’s difficult for Christians to know exactly what a woman should be, partially because there are so few positive examples of biblical womanhood. I mean, you have Esther, Ruth, and Mary the mother of Jesus, sure, but after that? Jezebel, Bathsheba, and Rahab? Not exactly women we’re able to hold up as paragons of virtue.

So many times, biblical passages involving women just bring more confusion. Should women speak in the church or be silent? Can they teach or should they leave that to the men? What role should childbirth and motherhood play in the life of a woman? No one has definitively answered these questions in a way that satisfies all Christian men and women, and so most people are left a little bewildered.

Personally, I’d like to see more encouragement from Christians and the church for women to be whole people, rather than fragmented stereotypes. Maybe she’s a mother, maybe she’s a career woman, maybe she loves baking and taking care of guests, maybe she loves math or sports or life in the corporate world, maybe she’s vulnerable, maybe she’s strong. Maybe she’s a little of all of these things…and that’s okay.

–Ruthie B.

For more from Ruthie, visit her blog, Stories that Bind.

Thoughts? How do you think Christians can affirm women and speak to issues that affect their lives without stereotyping them?

Feminism February: Are Disney Princesses Good Role Models?

After my last post on guys holding doors open, I had several people send me messages asking about my opinion on feminism/gender roles. So I started drafting a post on the topic.

It was super boring. And also really, really long.

So I thought, Hey, Amy, you know a lot of intelligent, gracious Christian women. Why not ask some of them to take over your blog and write about issues related to faith and feminism? So I did.

Some of these women would describe themselves as feminists, some would not. Some are married, some are single. Some are egalitarian, some are complementarian, some are please-don’t-give-me-either-of-those-labels. All are my friends, and I am so excited to share their thoughts with you over the next few weeks.

Welcome to the Feminism February series!

princess

Here’s the first question I asked: Do you think Disney princesses are helpful or hurtful in teaching young girls what it means to be a woman?

TaylorSome people have concerns about Disney princesses creating unrealistic beauty standards and looking to men for fulfillment (which are definitely worth talking about), but I don’t think they deserve the entire conversation. Most of them demonstrate character traits that are great for young girls to see. It’s hard to choose one favorite, so here are three: I love that Rapunzel is selfless but still knows how to fight for herself and the truth; Jasmine refuses to be objectified by her father and other men in power; and Cinderella shows kindness and graciousness in long-suffering.

The only princess I take real issue with? Ariel. This 16-year-old breaks the only rule her dad has (which is actually pretty reasonable) and sells her soul to an obviously evil witch to woo a man she’s never met (only with the help of her appearances). Though she runs into brief trouble, there are hardly any consequences in the end. But she’s a pretty singer and feels like an outsider sometimes, so I guess it’s okay?

– Taylor B.
For more from Taylor, visit her blog, Crowd vs. Critic.

LizDisney princesses portray characteristics that everyone—not only women—should have. Belle (my personal favourite) ignores an entire town’s derision, stands up for her father, says “no” to a man everyone else thinks she should marry, reads books, sacrifices herself for someone she loves…those are things every young girl should be taught to value. Be yourself. Follow your dreams. Keep your word. Be strong, be honest, love learning.

The problem lies not in what Disney says a woman should be, but in why. Most Disney princesses’ sole purpose for being strong, independent, clever, etc. is to catch a prince. The message is not “you are a valuable human being” but rather “if you’re all these things, a more valuable human being will fall in love with you and fix your life.” Be good enough, and you’ll get a prince. Life doesn’t work that way—life shouldn’t work that way. A woman shouldn’t make herself into something a prince wants; she should make herself into whatever she wants to be. I think Disney is helpful in teaching girls what a woman should be, but hurtful by turning healthy striving for valuable characteristics into pressure to become “worthy” of a prince.

– Elizabeth S.
For more from Elizabeth, visit her blog, Everyday Terrors.

OliviaLet me just start off by saying that I love Disney princesses. I’m a sucker for a good Disney movie, and I probably know all the lyrics to every Disney song. Belle was always my favorite princess growing up, and as a bookish, imaginative child it encouraged me that even the bookworms can be heroes.

However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look critically at the way Disney portrays women. While there’s a lot to be learned from our favorite princesses, there are some serious issues that can be raised. One issue in particular that I want to raise is that the majority of leading princesses are white, and the princesses of color tend to be either whitewashed in marketing or marketed less than the others. It wasn’t until 2009 that we had a black princess. For this reason I fear that we have children of color seeing these Disney movies and thinking that only white girls with blonde hair and blue or green eyes can be the heroes. Children pick up on these things. While Disney is doing better, the lack of diversity in Disney the princess lineup is a serious feminist issue worth considering.
– Olivia J.
For more from Olivia, visit her blog, And a Pot of Coffee.

PaulaI don’t think they have to be harmful. The Disney princess has done a decent job of evolving (Ariel took us a few steps back). Like cultural blogger Colin Stokes (whose TEDtalks and blog posts I cannot recommend enough), I think a lot of the problems attributed to Disney princesses are more closely related to Disney marketing.

Take Cinderella. Essentially, it’s about a young woman who responds to jealousy and mean-spiritedness with kindness and optimism. Her kindness gains her devoted friends who help her when she’s in trouble.

However, you can’t sell kindness: just glittery costumes. Disney makes money telling girls that Cinderella is about a beautiful princess in an overpriced tiara, not a kind girl in rags. As a result, the virtues celebrated in Cinderella—like gentleness and compassionare labelled “for girls only.” That’s sad news for girls and boys.

That being said, it’s worth considering when girls should watch the earlier princess movies. Why not start off with more proactive Disney heroines and introduce Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty later? As they mature, girls may be better able distinguish between cultural values and timeless virtues—a skill they will always need, no matter what movie they’re watching.

– Paula W.
For more from Paula, visit the blog she contributes to, The PWR Lounge.

SuzanneI could argue that certain princesses do better than others as role models for young impressionable children. But since I take it be fairly obvious that Belle is objectively superior to Ariel, I’ll focus on the effect of the princess trope on feminine development.

Most princess stories problematically establish romance as the telos (purpose, end) for women. Now, there’s nothing wrong with romance itself. But when our stories tend to place exclusive and supreme value on the girl ending up with the guy, I get concerned.

Romantic love is nice, great even. But there are other kinds of love that are equally important and other relationships that matter.* We can’t lose sight of the beauty of family and richness of friendship. You can live a life full of love in the absence of romance. Recent films like Brave and Frozen get this right. Girls should learn that romance is only one dimension in the world of love, and our princess stories ought to reflect that.

*Stuffy theological footnote: In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis explores four different varieties of love from a theological perspective: affection, friendship, romantic love, and charity.

– Suzanne N.

For more from Suzanne, convince her to start a blog, because the world would be a better place if she did.

Your turn: are Disney princesses good role models? Do you have a favorite?

Why I Write Love Letters

When I graduated from high school, I started a list of people I wanted to thank—the ones I looked up to, the ones who encouraged me, the ones who were my heroes even if they didn’t know it. I even started to write a few letters.

But I never sent them.

Love Letters tied with a Red Ribbon

I called them the “Dead Letters” and kept them in a folder in my desk, tucked away inside the bottom drawer, under a collection of half-filled journals and unfinished scrapbooks. A manila coffin where the letters could die quietly, peacefully.

Four years later, getting ready to graduate from college, I realized I had another chance. There were so many people who had changed and challenged me, whose everyday actions had taught me a little more about grace. I made a list of names. Bought a box of envelopes. Found some nice stationary.

And I couldn’t start writing. Could. Not. I would pick up my pen and stare at the paper, all of my words gone. (more…)