Archive for Criticism

Paper Cuts, Singleness, and Politics

Since school started up again a few weeks ago, my hands are covered in little paper cuts. As a book-wielding librarian, these little slices are the inevitable collateral damage. In the midst of a busy class, I often don’t even notice when a page I’m turning or a plastic book cover has broken the skin until after the kids file out of the library and I glance down to see yet another angry red slash on my fingers. In that moment, when noticed, the pain finally hits and can take days to heal enough to no longer irritate me.

Similarly, these past couple of years, I feel like I’m walking around with little barely-there slices and dices out of my heart, my soul, myself.

A much beloved former student reposts a meme about how untrustworthy all single people are, how married folks need to avoid us lest we seduce them away from their spouses. Supportive comments follow, mostly by men, all affirming the truth of this ridiculous cliché. And it cuts.

Kavanaugh lies and dissembles before the senate and is defended and even praised by people I know, people who claim to love God and love others. He would never assault a woman because he’s such a “good” guy. And why didn’t she report it? And if he did . . . it was just a youthful indiscretion. And if we start holding all men accountable for the dumb things they do as teenage boys, where would we be? These slices hurt more than you initially think possible, endlessly causing pain and discomfort. Even when I’m not thinking about it directly, the pain lingers.

The mother waiting for her child to finish his AR test after school strikes up small talk by asking me how old my kids are. I flinch, awkwardly not knowing how to respond, confused by this out-of-nowhere assumption. When I reply that I don’t have any kids, she looks at me with confusion, then surprise, then pity. One more slash.

Alums from my graduate school days post unwavering support for a divisive, unnecessary, and incredibly problematic statement made by many modern American evangelical pastors and leaders against social justice. Another furrow gashes my heart.

I know many people who would just call me a Snowflake and tell me to suck it up. They’d look at my sliced up self and scoff, thinking I must be weak and overly sensitive, a SJW who just needs to lighten up. But the minute I question the church’s idolatrous views of marriage, the GOP’s continued support of irrational, abusive, but powerful men, or the shirking of the church’s mandate to love its neighbor, I am faced with people questioning my faith, my character, and my intellect in shocked, offended tones.

What’s so wrong about being sensitive to others? I’m a Christian forgiven and beloved by God, a school librarian who works with little children, and a counselor who helps those in the darkest of times – shouldn’t sensitivity be a requirement in my life? Can’t that sensitivity strengthen my resolve to fight for what is right and good and just? Shouldn’t I be a warrior for all kinds of justice?

I am an educated, middle class, employed, white woman living in a first world country with a supportive family. If I walk through each day like the walking wounded, bracing myself for the next injury, flinching at each attack, I cannot imagine what life must be like right now for those with less privilege.

So each day, I walk through life with tiny open wounds – not enough to kill or cause permanent damage, but enough that even tiny movements are felt, every flex of my fingers may make me wince. Each turn of the page reminds me that my skin is breakable, that I’m at risk. I used to be tougher, better able to ignore all the incisions, but now I’m just tired and sore.

So each day, I apply bandages to these injuries, to protect myself. I fortify myself with prayer and Scripture. I deleted Twitter. I stopped going to small group at church. I give myself permission to block or mute people on social media so they cannot continue to wound me or my readers. I read fewer news articles. I seek out podcasts and sermons that lift my eyes to the Lord. I cling to my family and friends. I check to make sure I’m registered to vote. I co-facilitate GriefShare each week, and grieve deep losses with those who suffer deeper wounds than mine. I listen to music that lifts up my soul. Little things that help me heal. Band-aids and plasters to cover up the cruelty of this world. I know these paper cuts are part of our broken world, inevitable and unstoppable, but I still pray for a day when fewer of them are caused by those of us who claim faith in Christ.

How to be Single, Celibate, and Happily Turn 40 – Embrace Having Nothing to Prove

High school was not a pleasant time for me. A geeky girl with few friends, I could not wait for those years to be over. And then something happened the second semester of my senior year – somehow, I stopped caring what everyone else thought and started doing what I wanted to do. I went on the senior trip even though none of my little group of close friends were going. I went to grad night. I read a poem at graduation even though it terrified me. I started going to the college group at my church because I didn’t fit in the high school group. That last semester was the first time I enjoyed high school even a little bit.

Tip 4: Embrace Having Nothing to Prove

There is a certain wisdom that can come with age if we let it, a freedom from the fear of man. For me, this includes the fear of my own previous expectations of myself as well as those of others. By I now have 4 decades to look back on God’s faithfulness in my life, which helps me realize I truly can trust in him to love me and guide me; I don’t need to be anything other than what he wants me to be (Proverbs 29:25, Ecclesiastes 4:4).

To be honest, I’m still working on this one. There are still voices in the back of my head that shame me for working fewer hours, or earning so little compared to my education level, or no longer having a position of honor at my church. It’s hard to let go of my pride and allow myself to be free to spend time with my family, enjoy rest and sleep, and follow others’ leadership instead of being the ever-busy leader myself. I’m still learning that Christ came that I “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

When I took my little sabbatical at English L’Abri for 3 months in the midst of reevaluating my life, my tutor reminded me that there is nothing I can do today that will make God love me any more than he already does. I am his beloved, and nothing will change that.

One of the hardest parts about being single into adulthood is feeling the judgment of others. We experience expressions of pity from the old couple at church who’ve been married 50 years. We dodge scathing critiques from those who think it’s our fault because we’re too fat, too opinionated, too ambitious, too selfish, too something they obviously are not. We suffer through bad advice fed by even worse theology – lines like “just give it time, God has someone for everyone,” “make sure you’re putting yourself out there,” “have enough faith, and God will bring them when you’re ready,” or “perhaps you should just change this huge part of yourself and then you’ll get a date!”

At this point, 40 years in, I’ve heard it all and I honestly can say I just don’t care anymore. I know what the Bible says. I know what God thinks of me. And it gets easier year by year to let these comments slide off my back, or even better, to gently reply to the well-meaning critic with truth instead of these silly platitudes.

ProTip:

Realize the love of God emanates out of himself, and therefore is not contingent on you fulfilling everyone else’s expectations. You have nothing to prove.

Swing by the Awkward Spinster tomorrow for the last tip in the How to be Single, Celibate, and Happily Turn 40 series.

The Childless Woman

My high school math teacher passed away this Saturday night. She had been ill for quite some time, so we knew it was coming, and knew it would be a relief for her to be free of her suffering. Yet I’m still sad. She was an influential woman in my life, kind and intelligent. She was one of my mom’s close friends. Married for ages, she and her husband never had children. But even though she may never have been a mother, she certainly mothered many teenagers through the tough stages of high school in her decades as a teacher.

As a woman close to 40 who will not have my own children, I looked to her, and others like her, as an example of someone who led a valuable and meaningful life outside of motherhood.

When I got the text from my mom that she had died, a tweet from earlier this week came to my mind yet again. On 5/17/18, a young woman named Candace Owens who is a spokesperson for a pro-Trump organization tweeted:


When people responded negatively to this, she doubled down, making a video in which she defended her stance including the following: it’s “just conversation,” “everyone is so triggered,” “just calm down,” perhaps “women who don’t have children turn into children themselves,” and telling how a friend at that lunch “suggested that women who never marry, don’t adopt and/or have children of their own become bitter over time.”

While I don’t usually pay attention to anything this particular personality says because she is constantly stirring up controversy and believes many things I find horrific, this tweet kept popping up in my feed and in my mind.

I’m not sure people realize how frequently women are judged for being childless into adulthood. Miss Owens isn’t the first person to say things like this, nor will she be the last. But lumping all perpetually single and childless women together, and often adding in married women without children, is just another way of dehumanizing us. Instead of seeing us as individuals with different reasons for why we live life the way we do, it’s easier to throw us all together and turn us into one giant bitter, unreasonable, pathetic, and possibly insane group.

I loved Sarah Silverman’s response:


If a woman disagrees with certain political viewpoints, or even religious ones, it’s easy to say “well she doesn’t have kids, so she can’t understand this” or “she’s just a bitter old maid” or “those liberal feminists are just crazy.” As if there aren’t mothers with multiple children who don’t understand politics, or bitter wives, or married moms who seem insane.

When I think of the women in my life who were/are single throughout adulthood, or who did not/could not have children my mind is filled with beautiful faces and varied personalities. Yes, some of my single friends are bitter. But so are some of my married ones. Yes, some of my childless friends believe some things I think are a bit nuts, but so do a lot of the moms I know. To suggest that women who do not have children are somehow more prone to insanity is such a vile stereotype to perpetuate.

My math teacher never had kids. I never asked her why not, that was her business, not mine. She did have Lupus, so perhaps she was told by doctors not to have children. Or perhaps she and her husband were perfectly happy with their dogs and summer home by the beach. What I do know is that she cared about me when I was a depressed 15 year old who hated math. She let me come to her classroom after school and patiently went over homework with me, answering all of my stupid questions. She was one of the few of my mom’s friends from work who made it a point to stay friends with her after my father passed away. She and her husband came over to our house a few times for the holidays and brought us homemade quilted Christmas ornaments that still grace our tree. Politically, we didn’t think the same way as I am much more liberal than she was, but she was loving and never pushy with her ideas.

As a woman who looks ahead at a childless future, I count myself so blessed to have many incredible examples of women who are walking with me in this lifestyle. Women who are strong, kind, fierce, intelligent, and compassionate. Women who disprove the tweet above with every breath they take. I strive to be like them, to be like my teacher was.

Earlier this year, I had a couple different friends tell me I should read the children’s book “Miss Rumphius.” Author and illustrator Barbara Cooney is a favorite of mine, so I’m not sure how I missed this award winning book. It’s the first time I’ve read a children’s book with a character like this in it, a single childless woman who is depicted as adventurous and brave, kind and beautiful. I wonder what Candace Owens would make of her? I want to be like Miss Rumphius when I grow up. I am determined to be the librarian, the adventurer, and the auntie that she is. In fact, we all should be more like her.

Instead of lumping all single and/or childless women together into a badly stereotyped box, let’s see each one as a unique individual with varied life circumstances. And let’s all try to be a bit more like Miss Rumphius, and like my math teacher, with the goal of doing “something to make the world more beautiful.”

The Invisible Woman

This week, after a particularly long day consisting of going to 3 of my 4 jobs on top of a raging sinus infection, I swung by my mailbox as I often do before pulling into my driveway. This time, however, one of my neighbors drove up from the other side of the street as I was walking back toward my car from the postal boxes, and blocked me in with his gigantic truck. He parked it illegally in the middle of the street right next to my car, even though there were no other cars present and thus plenty of space on either side of me, turned his engine off, got out, walked to his mailbox, got the mail, all while I had to do a complicated 5 point turn just to pull away and get home. I have never spoken to this man but to do a friendly neighborly wave or head nod here and there. I do not know him. He does not know me. I can only surmise why he did this.

Possible Reason #1: He didn’t even see me enough to realize he’d blocked me in. He was so preoccupied by whatever was on his mind or phone that he literally had no idea what he did.

Possible Reason #2: He purposefully chose to block me in because he either doesn’t like me, he felt he deserved to be the only one at the mailboxes, he felt powerful blocking me in, or some other nefarious plot.

Possible Reason #3: He seriously just didn’t care. He didn’t care about me, didn’t care he’d blocked me in. He just did what was most convenient for him and couldn’t care less that it inconvenienced me.

Sadly, my best guess is that it was done for Reason #3. And, while I realize this sort of thing happens to men as well, I bet if I had been a man in this situation my neighbor would have treated me differently and stopped his giant truck earlier so as not to box me in. You see, as a single woman with no man, I am no threat to him. I can be a nonentity.

One of the more frustrating aspects of single womanhood is so often being overlooked, frequently treated as if I’m invisible or voiceless. I don’t have a man to defend me or speak on my behalf. I don’t have testosterone behind me to threaten or protect.

I am horrified that this is this is even an issue. How is it still possible that often men and sometimes women treat single women like we somehow matter less, like our opinions or our very presence is negligible compared to theirs?

This is a struggle for me. When instances like this happen, I battle different responses. What I wanted to do when that man pinned my car in was yell at him, maybe even calling him a few choice words to his face. Instead, I got in my car, safely shut the door and locked it, then proceeded to mumble a few British terms like sodding git and worse, shoot my teacher look at him, then awkwardly back up and pull forward inch by inch repeatedly until I could get my car out of the tiny space available. Bitterness built up in my heart and, to be honest, still lingers as I write this.

And yes, I know, bitterness is wrong. I’m not perfect. Welcome to the life of the Awkward Spinster and my continual journey of progressive sanctification, aka humanity.

I can’t imagine how much pent up bitterness must exist in the hearts of those who are even more overlooked or stepped over – minorities, the elderly, the homeless, those who are disabled. As a white single woman in the US, these experiences are still limited compared to so many others.

Because I have always been a single woman, I’ve developed some coping mechanisms to battle this involuntary invisibility cloak. I’ve noticed lately that I often feel like I have to prove myself, prove that what I have to say is worth being heard, prove I deserve a spot in the room (or the street). I trot out my age, experience, and education more than I should. I know this. But because I look so young and have no kids and no husband, people constantly assume I am young and inexperienced and men, in particular, often don’t take me seriously right away.

When the first question asked women is often “Do you have kids?” and then “Are you married?” I guess it’s easy to assume that negative answers somehow equal naivete or lack of wisdom and experience. The phrase “I’m almost 40” comes trippingly off my tongue at least once a day in an effort to counteract this. My closest friends and family probably roll their eyes at its frequency.

Perhaps this is more about my own personal insecurities than a commentary on how many people in modern society treat single adult women, but I think there’s more to it than that. I’ve seen this happen with other forever-single ladies as well as with women after getting divorced or once their husbands die.

As I’ve reflected over the past couple of years, I realize I’ve gotten louder. I hate this about myself because I was already quite loud. Even one of my nephews, when he was little and had absolutely no volume control, whined “Auntie Fawn, you’re too loud!” once, to the amusement of my entire family. When I look back at why I’ve become so loud when I wasn’t a particularly loud child, I think it stems from constantly having to prove myself. As the 4th of 5 children in a decidedly opinionated family whose favorite pastime is discussing and debating, I guess it was inevitable. It’s speak up, interject, jump in the conversation, or fade away.

Since my early 20’s, I’ve always held jobs in which being the established authority figure in the room was not only helpful, but necessary. From social work to teaching, I had to be the trustworthy, respected adult for the safety and well-being of everyone present. I had to be able to stand eye to eye with a client’s slumlord and convince him not to evict her and her children, quiet a room of 30 plus teenagers in seconds, or assure a counselee that I could actually help her when it seemed hopeless. When I speak, I speak with authority. And it is often loud, passionate, and full of conviction.

But sometimes I’d like to walk into a new environment and just be respected for being a human being. Just be seen and taken into consideration without having to convince people that I should, indeed, be able to fill the space in which I stand (or am parked). And this is why I think this is more of a female struggle than a male one. Again, I do think men probably deal with this a bit as well, but I think every woman out there has to deal with this more frequently. And I think every perpetually single woman knows this experience deeply.

Let me make this clear: a woman’s value is not found in her husband or her children. Human life is inherently valuable. In his work “The Weight of Glory”, C.S. Lewis makes this profound statement:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – These are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” 

One of the saddest parts about this is that the one place in which this shouldn’t be an issue, the church, this invisibility cloak is sometimes at its strongest and we are constantly forgetting the fact that we are never talking to “mere mortals.” Rather than being the safe space where every human is seen as valuable because they were created by God in his image, church can end up perpetuating the myth of a woman’s credibility stemming from her roles as wife and mother alone. Yes, I know, not all churches. But current trends in Christian culture in the US can silence voices that do not occur inside the traditional Christian family structure.

I know a lot of single women develop thick skins over the years, and are often seen as lacking qualities we’re apparently meant to have to snag a husband – softness, sweetness, nurture, and other stereo-typically feminine character traits. (Oh my gosh, I just Googled “feminine character traits” and am now determined to be even more of a feminist than ever! Blerg.) The number of times a single adult woman is told she might just be too intimidating for the men around her is gag-inducing. Perhaps we’ve just had a lot of those characteristics ground out of us after years of having to hold our own. Perhaps those traits are actually still there, as our closest friends can attest to, but you just won’t let us display it because we’re in defensive survival mode all the time.

I don’t have a solution for the whole church, but I do know it starts with each of us working a little harder to notice those around us who might be overlooked. It starts with neighbors noticing cars they might be blocking in just to save themselves 2 seconds of having to walk 2 steps further to the mailbox. It starts with assuming our companies have hired the newbie for some darn good reasons, so giving them some respect even before they’ve proven themselves. It starts with assuming the single woman in your Bible study may have a heck of a lot more life experience than you can fathom and maybe asking her about it rather than assuming she’s young and naive. It starts by treating each human we come across like the precious creation of God they are.

As God’s children we are meant to “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Let’s start by removing the invisibility cloaks we like to throw on people who might not seem quite as important to us. Let’s start by becoming a people who truly see others.

A Galentine’s Reading Recommendation

While I am a fan of female writers and do what I can to encourage and support the women who write in my life, I have a guilty secret. When it comes to books written by Christian women for Christian women, my first instinct is to flee. Like King Arthur’s men running away from the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, I cannot bear to stick it out for long. My Amazon queue is filled with books for women just like me, highly recommended by friends, yet they never quite make it to the shopping cart alongside the graphic novels and decaf PG Tips shipped from England.

As a child, I was that little girl who wore pink day in and day out. And then, the day after I graduated from junior high in Pepto-Bismol pink taffeta and tulle, I was done. After several years of wearing all black, it took a conscious effort to reintroduce color into my wardrobe, and only in the past decade have I allowed hints of pink back in. Like most women, I am both a girly girl and a tough broad. I paint my nails, love soaking in a bath by candlelight, and can host the girliest high tea ever, but I also tromp about in Dr. Martens, squash my own bugs, own my own toolkit, and drink scotch neat. This is normal for women – we contain multitudes.

Yet many books targeted to our spiritual growth seem to ignore this fact. From generic “feminine” covers, poorly kerned curly fonts, and chapter after chapter narrowing biblical womanhood down to the big two of “wife” and “mother,” I have developed an uncontrollable cringe at the sight or sound of books for Christian women.

I still have a bit of PTSD from the last time I got excited for one such text. My church (which was fabulous, and never underestimated women) was going to have a women’s tea, and the speaker had written a book entitled “Fierce Women.” For once, I actually wanted to go to a women’s event! Fierce Women!!! Wow. I had images of Wonder Womanesque Amazons dancing in my head as I quickly ordered the book online. After the 2 day shipping, it finally arrived and I tore into the bubbly envelope only to find they had actually put a picture of a bride, in full gown and veil, on the cover. I was floored. And, while I’m sure it’s an incredible book (I think it probably really is, based on what my married friends have told me!), I only got through the first chapter which confirmed that, yes, like almost every other book for Christian women, it highlighted a woman’s fierceness in wife/mother roles in almost every section, with just a touch here and there to placate the singles. Not gonna lie, I canceled my ticket to the tea and shoved the book into my shelves, never to look at it again.

Books that target Christian single women are almost worse than the ones that have 10 chapters for the married mothers and 1 tacked on to gloss over singleness in shallow fashion. Now, to be fair once again, my automatic flinch mechanism has kept me from reading many published books for single Christian women, so I’m going to work on that and try again. I’ve heard there are some brilliant ones out there now. But if I read one more book that looks at Christian singleness as a place to develop skills to become a fantastic wife and mother, looks at sex as merely something we don’t do until we do (when we’re married, of course), looks at courtship as the answer to all our dating woes, promises a husband when I just change this one thing, or sees singleness as a temporary life stage on the way to the inevitable godly goal of husband and kids, I might just have to start chucking books out the window. Or, better yet, at every singles pastor (all married, every single one of them) who espouses these same views and sees the main goal of their ministry as trying to marry off everyone in their group.

However, over the past year as I’ve been blogging and discussing singleness and womanhood in the church, I’ve stumbled across quite a few Christian women who write, who also happen to be single, and who are awesome. Twitter, which I still suck at, has been eye-opening for me in that there’s this lovely little community of other ladies who love God, write blogs, articles, and books, and also happen to be single. One such woman, Joy Beth Smith, celebrated her book release this week, and once again I found myself excitedly waiting for it to arrive on my doorstep. This time there was no throwing of the paperback across the room or angry texting to my sister for moral support. This time, there was the opening of the Notes app on my phone so I could converse with the book as I read it. This time, there was hope.

Joy Beth Smith is a managing editor with Christianity Today who also happens to have her MA in English Lit, which might be one of the reasons I clicked with her so quickly when I read her tweets (@JBsTwoCents). I’m an English Lit major myself. She’s also 10 years younger than me, which is a bit annoying because she’s not supposed to be able to write a book like this one this well yet. Sigh. One day I might catch up! Anyway, I couldn’t put it down. I read through it in 2 nights, with my mum checking in every hour or two to see if I was still enjoying it. She was pretty surprised to see me reading this bright teal fauxligraphy fonted cover with (gasp) a little black dress as the A in “Party of One.” Yet, there I was, happily devouring it.

Party of One: Truth, Longing, and the Subtle Art of Singleness” is broken into 3 parts dealing with unfulfilled promises, sex and other stumbling blocks, and hopeless dating with hopes for marriage. Though I did take notes as I went through it, I’ve decided not to blog through those because I think you should all order the book and read it for yourselves. The main thing I appreciated about this book is how Smith validates singleness as valuable and godly rather than merely something to be overcome. She reminds us that joy and maturity are accessible to all Christians, not just through marriage and parenting. And she does so with humor, intelligence, a biblical perspective, and genuine knowledge of and care for Christian singles.

She also tackles the oft-taboo topics of sexuality, masturbation, and pornography. I appreciate how she doesn’t sugar-coat or avoid discussing these subjects, things that are often vaguely alluded to or glossed over in much Christian writing for single women. We are adults, we can take it. We need to hear it. We need to discuss it. Maybe it’s because of my background in social work and counseling, but very little shocks me so I find this kind of frank discussion empowering and helpful rather than embarrassing. You might not agree with everything she says, and that’s okay. The best reading will provoke thought and add to the ongoing discussion, and this one does just that.

Using a blend of intelligent questions about the topics, practical applications, real life examples brought up in round tables she had all over the country with other single Christian women, and personal experience, Smith is engaging and thought-provoking. One of my favorite parts is when she presents multiple views on a topic and calls on us to think about it, continue the conversation she’s started, and come to our own conclusions. After sermons, articles, and books written by once-single-now-married people which can come across as unrelatable, heavy handed, or even condescending, Smith’s voice is refreshingly real. This book is more the beginning of a conversation the church should have been having with its singles for decades, but hasn’t gotten the hang of yet. It’s the beginning of the conversation we single Christian women can continue among ourselves and with those who love and support us. There is more to be said on the art of singleness, and this book allows for discussion, disagreement, questions, and further conversation. And, even though the book is mainly aimed at single Christian women, I believe it would be an excellent beginning to a conversation for single men and married couples as well. Let’s not shy away from this, but embrace it, and let voices like Joy Beth Smith’s lead the way.

Who have you been reading lately? Anyone I should put in my Amazon shopping cart, and skip the queue entirely? I promise I’ll try to be more open minded. But if there’s a bride on the cover, I might not be able to contain myself…