Oops . . . My Feminist is Showing!

As a girl, I learned about friendship from Frog and Toad, Anne and Diana, Frodo and Samwise, Han and Chewie. I learned about adventure from Huck Finn, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Peter Pan. I learned about growing up from Jo March, Douglas Spaulding, Ender Wiggin, and the Cosby children. I learned about courage from Spider-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman. What an amazing way to grow up! I had so many kick-ass role models to look up to. The fact that the vast majority of these characters were male never really registered with me. I was able to read books and watch movies, identifying with the hero or heroine, enjoying the stories of both men and women, getting something out of male or female targeted fiction. This is the world I grew up in, what I knew and never questioned, an excellent world – one which I loved.

As I got older, I noticed more and more how much of the literature I read and the films I watched were dominated by male heroes. Ensemble casts would add in one or two women, but were still mostly male, one Hermione to both a Harry and a Ron, a Black Widow and a Scarlet Witch to the rest of the Avengers.  As an elementary school librarian, I still have to search to find books with female leads – even when they’re about animals and not humans. Even after the fabulous push for strong heroines in sci-fi books like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent,” they are still the minority. At school, at least three out of every four books assigned were by male authors.

And yet, as a girl who grew up on this literature, watching these films, reading these stories and poems and books in school, I was still able to find great value in them. I never really had a choice – it was either find something I could identify with, appreciate, or be entirely left out of the story. I was never taught to do this – no one ever sat my sister and I down and said, “now we’re going to read a book written by a man about boys, but you can still appreciate it and get something out of it.” No, we just learned to do that by reading and watching and putting ourselves into the heroes’ shoes. It was expected that this would come naturally to us, and, for the most part, it did.

This, by the way, is how half the world grows up – being exposed over and over again to the male perspective as representative and authoritative, and we mostly accept it, even love and appreciate it. These mostly male-dominated stories and characters are dear to my heart, and helped shape me growing up – I have nothing against them. I am the first in line for the latest “Batman” movie clearly targeting a male audience, and have read and reread the almost entirely male “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

As a geek and a Christian, this ability to put myself into the male narrative became even more necessary. Both of these cultures are dominated by male voices, so I learned to listen to pastors give illustration after illustration of being husbands and fathers, and I learned to somehow apply the lesson to my life. I read comic book after comic book in which many of the female characters were just there to be rescued, depicted scantily clad, or were just absent and I learned to love the story line, the artistry, and the adventure anyway.

And yet, when the 13th Doctor is announced as female, the internet reveals pockets of geeky men who just can’t handle this. When “Wonder Woman” strikes a powerful emotional chord with its female audiences, boys are confused about why. When Christian women bloggers start to bring up topics like this one, articles are written on how they need more male supervision.

I realize the trolls in comment sections aren’t the best way to judge how most people feel or think about controversial topics, but they do represent a growing, vocal cohort of the population. About a female lead for “Doctor Who,” one thing the more logical, thoughtful male commentators say is, “well, I’m not a misogynist and have no problem with women, but I just think this is going to alienate the original fan-base.” The assumption that the original fan-base was all male, and all macho men who can’t handle a female lead, is problematic in and of itself. I personally, woman that I am, have been watching “Doctor Who” since Eccleston resurrected it back in 2005. More importantly, why on earth should a female lead alienate anyone? Male leads haven’t alienated female audiences, why can’t men appreciate the courage, passion, and awesomeness of women in fiction just as much as we appreciate it in male characters?

“Wonder Woman” was a big deal, but if we bring up how powerful and important it is for us to see a strong female superhero as the lead of her own blockbuster movie, we are called “libtards,” “PC snowflakes,” or other words I won’t honor in print. When Christian women ask genuine, important, thoughtful questions about gender roles in the church, even those of us who are actually quite conservative in our beliefs, we are called “rebellious,” “unbiblical,” “upstarts,” and again other words I won’t honor in print by so-called Christian men.

In the library, I’ve had multiple little boys tell me they can’t read particular titles because they’re “girl books.” I have yet to have a single little girl tell me they won’t read a “boy book.” When I was a high school teacher, I never had a female student groan about the assigned text just because it was written by a man or for a mostly male audience, but the minute I assigned a text by a woman or one written for a mostly female audience, the teenage boys would whine and complain as if I was asking them to exert themselves in some horrible way.

As my wonderful brother-in-law pointed out, this isn’t just a problem of sexist men, but rather the result of a society in which men are expected to behave in very specific ways, one which is sadly emphasized too often in the church. “Manly” men are all the rage – some churches even preach this as the theologically necessary view of manhood. Therefore, even if a little boy wants to read “Nancy Drew” books along with his “Hardy Boys,” he might be bullied or seen as effeminate, so that desire is crushed out of him. In this way, I actually had more freedom as a little girl since I was never judged too harshly for reading “boy books” along with my “girl books.” So this issue goes beyond just a few sexist men to the way both fathers and mothers, pastors and teachers, really our whole society, raises its children. 

As I would tell my teenage boys when they groaned as I assigned Charlotte Bronte or Maya Angelou: “your female classmates, half the class, have been reading books by and for men since they started school and they haven’t once complained, the least you can do is read one or two by and for women.” All I’m asking is for those threatened guys to quiet down for a moment about not liking a woman being cast as the lead, or not understanding why a female superhero movie is a big deal, or not wanting pastors to allow female voices and stories be heard in the church, and instead learn to find the value in hearing someone else’s story. Rather than only being able to identify with stories when they feature someone exactly like you, do what the rest of us do and learn to use your imagination to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And if you don’t understand why things are a big deal to women, please ask us. Avoid the temptation to mansplain why it shouldn’t matter, and just listen for once.

This disparity in representation between men and women only increases when discussing people of color, and especially women of color. At least as a white woman, I have a few heroes that look like me – but the minute you add any race other than Caucasian into the equation, the chances that you’ll find yourselves depicted as the hero or lead diminish to almost nothing. Though the focus of this article is on sex and not race, I cannot keep from mentioning this because it is a topic which seems to bring out the worst in people. If you think men shouldn’t have to be alienated by trying to appreciate a female lead, then how much more do you think men and women of color are alienated by having to try to identify with often stereotypically white macho males being held up as the quintessential hero?

What is my goal with this rant? I call upon my two favorite communities, Christians and geeks, to take a step back and ask ourselves if we are showing compassion and understanding to those different from us by allowing them to tell us their stories. Are we shying away from hearing someone else’s voice because it does not specifically represent us? Are we refusing to read or watch or listen to something because we might feel uncomfortable or alienated? Are we raising our sons to think anything written by a woman or with a female lead is too girly for them? Are we judging the value of story only based on things we know we already like, already can relate to? Like men and women of color, and women in general, have we ever trained ourselves to be able to listen to voices other than our own and still find value in them, or do we groan, whine, get angry, turn away, and search for a face that looks just like us?

My challenge to all of us this week is to read a blog or a book, watch a movie, or listen to a sermon by someone totally different from ourselves, aimed at a different audience. Take it in. Ponder. Look for something other than confirmation bias from it. Try to find points of connection. Do what every single woman and person of color spends their life doing. Who knows, you might find a new voice you actually like.

*If you are reading this via e-mail and are unable to see the gifs, please click through to the webpage, there are a lot in this one! 🙂

Top 5 Things I Love About Being Single

Last week I looked at the Top 5 Things I Hate About Being Single, so it’s time to explore what I love about the single life. The more I ponder this, I realize the things I currently love coincide well with what I hate about it. Instead of just giving me what I think I need or want, removing difficulties, and fulfilling my desires, God is giving me different gifts to fulfill my needs, using difficulties to grow me, and helping me prioritize my desires to recognize that his will truly is best. I have a long way to go before my mind and heart constantly dwell on this list rather than the previous one, but when I do, I realize that my single celibate life can actually be pretty sweet. Just as life can be tough for everyone no matter what state they find themselves in, it has joys and good gifts from the Lord as well, so here are my current favorite aspects of life in Episode VI as a single woman at the end of my 30’s.

1. Embracing My Own Team

I may not have been chosen by one other human being to be his lifelong teammate, but I have an epically awesome team in my life. And the fact that I’m not committed to a husband and possibly kids allows me to build closer relationships with the rest of my family and friends.

At the end of last January, I sat in the room I’d just moved into in my third Los Angeles apartment trying to catch my breath in the midst of some of the deepest grief I’d felt. I was now living with my 11th amazing roommate (not counting family) in the 16th residence (not counting study and travel abroad) of my life. And all I could see ahead of me was a lifetime of moves like this, from flat to flat, flatmate to flatmate, never having someone else help me carry the burden, always fighting through life alone. I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I must’ve always thought I’d have a husband by this point, a more permanent roomie, so it hit me hard – panic, grief, anger, fear…all of it. The depressed, suicidal thoughts of my teenage years crept back into my mind, unbidden and unwelcome. I was crushed, exhausted, lost. I was much too focused on what I didn’t have to see what was right there in front of me – a family.

Whereas in the past I faced my depression alone, hiding it from the world, this time I shared it with my pastor, weeping in the counseling room as he listened. I visited my mum and cried on her shoulder. I told my sister that the dark thoughts were back. And it helped – they all helped. They listened and cried with me, held me, brainstormed ways to overcome these feelings, and challenged me to change my perspective. I was not alone. I did have a team – a very dedicated one.

Those dark couple of months last year spurred me on to view family differently – less traditionally, and hopefully more the way God views it. I felt so alone, but that feeling wasn’t trustworthy. The “American Dream” still thrives in the modern American church, forever including the husband/wife, 2.2 kids, house, and dog. But this isn’t necessarily God’s dream life for all of us, just as it wasn’t the goal of the disciples nor Christ himself. While he may not have provided spouses for all of us, he does provide us all with family.

So, the older I get, the more I embrace my rambling, internationally scattered, diverse family made up of old friends and new, of my mum, siblings, nephews, niece, and cousins, of pastors and biblical counselors, former flatmates and travel buddies. I no longer see these relationships as mere ministry opportunities for me to serve others, but as loving, complex, mutually challenging and beneficial bonds between people who love each other. I am not all on my own or insignificant – God has provided me with an entire family to help me try to glorify him and enjoy him forever.

Romans 12:4-5

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

2. Future Freedom

One of the most awesome things about being single is how much freedom it allows. I’ve never been that person who knew exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up. Other than wanting to help people, there was no specific dream occupation. Because I don’t have to worry about what a husband wants or my children need, I’ve been able to pursue a couple of different careers in my life, from social work to teaching, and to move so I could live close to these jobs and give my all to them.

When I was a high school English teacher, our school offered international trips each year and since I never had to worry about who would take care of my kids for 2 weeks, I got to go on more of these trips than most of my married coworkers. I had passport, could travel. I got to see the world through the eyes of dozens of teenagers, which was surprisingly moving. I got to serve them and care for them while they were far from home, and experience some of the most amazing countries on earth.

As in the past when I decided to go to grad school, move, quit my job to go to England for 3 months, or work 3 part time jobs I enjoy instead of 1 full time one I might hate – I currently have the freedom in my life to figure this out. I can spend focused time in prayer, get wise counsel from people I trust, delve into what the Bible has to say, and be free to walk the path I think God has for me without hesitation, not having to acquiesce to a spouse’s desires. Singleness does not mean we should be foolish and make selfish, careless decisions but it does give us a slightly more blank slate to work with.

When I think ahead to my future, I have no idea what it will look like. Other than my couple of months of panic last year and when future fears crop up now and again, I usually find this exciting. God can do what he pleases with my life – he can keep me in the desert with my family, or take me somewhere else. He can allow me to continue on as an elementary school librarian, which I adore, or he can lead me to a different job. He can open up doors for me to get into counseling ministry again or keep them shut. No matter what happens, it’s just between God and I, and that is beautiful and freeing. I can be anxious about the things of the Lord and not worry about having to please anyone else.

1 Corinthians 7:32-34

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.

3. Gaining Space

The whole not having sex part of the celibate single life can suck, and as mentioned in the last post, it is difficult to live without the human connection of touch. Still, I’ve gotta say – having a room all to myself is one of the greatest things ever. I often think if I ever do marry I’d prefer to go Ricky and Lucy in it and have separate beds at least, if not separate bedrooms like the upper class gentry in all those period pieces I love to watch.

Growing up the fourth of five children in a family that at times was middle class and others was, well, just poor, I shared a room with my sister and sometimes our little brother too. Memories of sneaking out of my room after everyone else went to bed to raid the bookcases for the next classic I hadn’t yet read, of reading by flashlight or just laying there frustrated until tears came, an insomniac trying so hard to just sleep like everyone else still haunt me to this day. On family trips, I was often found at 2 or 3 in the morning sitting reading in the motel bathtub so as not to disturb the rest of the peacefully slumbering family. Even now, traveling with others or staying with friends can be difficult as I must take my night owlish ways into consideration. Just the sound of someone else’s breathing, let alone snoring, can make falling asleep that much more of an arduous task.

As a much younger single in college and just out of grad school, I always had to share a bedroom, so at this point in my single life having space to myself is a treasure. I can stay up as late as I like, lights on, reading away. I can light scented candles without worrying about someone else’s allergies. I can sit on my bed blogging quietly, or dance around like a maniac to the Hamilton soundtrack. And I have uninterrupted time to pray and worship, journal and read my Bible.

The older I get, the more free I feel to carve out some space for myself without feeling selfish. As an extroverted introvert at L’Abri Fellowship in England last year, I felt guilty for struggling so much in my dorm room with up to 8 other women and in a manor house with 40 other people. After being encouraged by my tutor to seek time where I could be alone – especially space for me to be alone with God, I was better able to serve those around me. I started waking up a bit earlier so I could have time to read,journal, and pray at the desk in the morning room while everyone else was getting ready after breakfast. On some of our days off I went into a neighboring town on my own to rest and recharge for the very social days ahead. Having my own room for the last couple of weeks allowed me to sleep – and it’s amazing how necessary that is for this whole life thing, especially when that includes reaching out to help others.

Yes, the desire for space can be a selfish one, but it can also be necessary and good. We were built for rest, with limitations, and different people rest in different ways. Some recharge when they’re around other people, and some of us need a bit of time between human interactions to refocus. Christ, even in the midst of his busy season of teaching and healing when people needed him and sought him out, made a habit of going off completely by himself to spend time in prayer to his father. While married people can often use moments alone too, it is a lot easier to find them when you’re single.

Luke 5:15

But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

4. Justified Self-Confidence

As much as I hate constantly having to justify myself as a single woman who should be taken seriously, I do love the fact that I can be independent. After a couple of decades as a single adult, I’ve learned how to take care of myself. I can look back on years of having to make the tough decisions on my own and trust my judgement. I can look forward to the unknown future and have confidence that I am equipped to face it.

I’ve bought cars, rented apartments, researched phone plans, Googled how to fix laptop issues, and killed all my own bugs long enough now to have a level of confidence in my own abilities. I also know when something is beyond me and how to either get a friend to help or hire a professional. Instead of going to my husband when I have a concern or question, I have to ask myself what God would have me to do, look in his word, remember the wise teaching I’ve received throughout my life, trust my education, and have faith that God will lead me.

Because of my track record of being a relatively responsible independent adult, I embrace my autonomous decision making opportunities. As a woman who paid her own way through college, and life thereafter (with some help here and there, thank you mum!) I have become very good at budgeting. My singleness means I get to spend the money I earn the way I think the Lord wants me to, the way I want to, and I don’t have to worry about my husband not seeing eye to eye on this. I’ve had friends who marry men who are thoughtless with money, which causes their wives a lot of anxiety as they try to balance not being nags with being able to pay the bills. I know people who married others who didn’t grow up donating money to charity or giving to the church, so there are arguments about how much they help others. As a counselor, I’ve had many married women express deep concern about the stress caused by the differences in how money is used in their marriage. I just have to look at my list of necessary expenditures, make sure they’re covered, see if anything is left over, and wonder what God would have me do with it.

The same joy of being able to do what I think is best applies to how I use my time and skills as well. Singleness allows me to say yes to what I think God would have me say yes to, and no to the rest, without having to double check with a spouse. Singleness is never an excuse for selfishness or wasting what God has given us. To counteract this temptation, I have amassed quite a few friends and family members who are wise advisers and counselors, to whom I can turn for advice when needed and who will hold me accountable if I start to make foolish decisions.

Proverbs 4:5-13

Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown. Hear my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble. Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.

5. Being Grown and Loved

The last thing I love about being single is how much I have grown to rely on God. Not fitting into the typical view of what a Christian woman my age is expected to be makes me turn my eyes to God, wondering how he sees me. You might judge me or pity me, but since Christ’s death has covered my sin, God looks upon me with love and joy. I am not missing my other half, I am wholly his. Instead of judgement, there is grace; instead of pity, there is compassion.

Instead of focusing my future hopes upon the shaky possibility that I may one day marry, I can place all of my hopes, current and future, upon his unshakable promises. And so far I can confirm that he is, indeed, enough. As a woman who lost her father and never married, I feel especially cared for by my father in heaven. There have been moments when he was all I could cling to, and he sustained me just as he promised he would.

The best part of this point is that we can all experience it, whether married or single. God reveals his love to us and grows us in all of our circumstances. If you are married, he will use your marriage, if you are single, he will use your singleness. He will also use our jobs, families, friends, locations, hobbies, and even things like technology or the weather. God is using everything in our lives to reveal his endless love and grow us into his likeness.

Psalm 68:4-6a

Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity.

So, all in all, although there are some things I hate about the single life, it can be pretty spectacular if my eyes remain fixed on his.

Psalm 16:8

I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Human Kind Cannot Bear Very Much Reality

Somehow, I have the ability to unlearn everything I learned only a few days ago. A week ago, I was sitting in a hammock, ginger beer in hand, reading a domestic thriller under the canopy of pine trees. I went partially outside of my comfort zone to go camping (pretty normal for me) with 3 married couples (not normal for me) and it was wonderful.

I had made up my mind the week before the trip that I would enjoy it. There was that one moment of panic and dread when I found out I would be the only single person going, but I took that thought captive like a pro and decided I’d go into it with a great attitude, reasonable expectations, and the goal of trying to get to know these couples better.

In the early mornings, just as dawn started to peep out over the treetops, I would sit on the picnic bench reading and journaling alone as everyone else slept. I’ve been rereading T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” since I was in England last fall, a little here, a little there, and then again. It’s one of those pieces of art you can peruse over and over again but never grasp in its entirety, which keeps me coming back to it. The first of the quartets, “Burnt Norton,” introduces the theme of time past, future, and present. One set of lines in particular keeps circling around my mind:

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind

Cannot bear very much reality.

Time past and time future

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present.

Now there is a lot to get from this poem, dissertations could be written on these lines alone, but up there in the fresh air of the mountains, dodging mosquitos, bundled against the cool morning, I kept thinking how important it is to be present. As the bird says, I often feel I “cannot bear very much reality,” but dwelling in “what might have been and what has been” will get me nowhere.

At L’Abri, something I was reminded of by one of the workers is that we are already in eternity. It doesn’t just start when we die or when Christ returns again – eternity includes our current earthly lives. God is eternal, was, and forever will be. My life entered into this eternity – I am not eternal, for I had a beginning – but I have joined God’s timeline. These thoughts, hard to put into words, “point to one end, which is always present.” Last weekend, when camping, I made it my goal to work at this presence.

This is easier to do on a mountaintop where there is no cell phone reception, I admit. And monster mallow mushy s’mores, giant telescopes staring up at Jupiter, wine, and friendly people help. So instead of feeling left out or awkward or uncomfortable because I was the lone single surrounded by 3 couples, only one of which I knew very well, I asked questions. I listened. I laughed. I rambled on. I stayed behind by myself as couples broke off for walks on their own and enjoyed reading in a hammock, just me and the birds. I learned the pleasure of having a tent to myself for the first time in my life – my gosh, the space!!! A tent of one’s own is a magical thing, especially if you’re an insomniac like me. It ended up being one of the easier weekends away I’ve experienced.

Coming back, I was tired but happy. Due to the exhaustion, extra work hours, and time with my family I decided to take last week off blogging, but planned to write about being present and that weekend today. But then it got hot, very very hot as only the desert can get, and work got a bit more complicated, and the Philando Castile verdict still weighed upon my heart, and the Senate healthcare bill proposed taking away coverage for many people I love and possibly myself, and Trump tweeted stupid things, and Panda Express forgot my orange chicken. And I got tired. And grumpy. So right now, the last thing I want to be is present. Instead, I want to “go, go, go” as the bird said, for I “cannot bear very much reality.”

This Saturday, we had a blackout which affected a few blocks, our house included – and instead of staying home to deal with the increasing heat as the AC didn’t work and the encroaching darkness of night, my mum and I hopped in the car, and drove to the movie theater to see “Wonder Woman” again. And it was fabulous. I cried, again. We both adored it, again. And we came home to a house with electricity. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that at all – going to see “Wonder Woman” is a good life choice. But it shows my reluctance to bear with reality.

And tonight I cannot dodge it – I must be present, for tonight is our biweekly global prayer meeting. In 15 minutes, I need to be present to discuss current events in our world and pray through them with several women who are equally concerned about our world and our country. So I will turn to Philippians once again, and beg God to help me be able to both be present and yet still find peace and rejoice.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise,think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Here’s hoping I’ll be able to better remember my mountain top lesson throughout the rest of this hot, busy week instead of only around the campfire. Here’s hoping you will all be able to find a way to be present, not dodge reality, not dwell in the might-have-beens, and yet still experience true peace and joy.