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! 🙂

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.

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

If you have been single past the age of 20 in the modern American Christian world for more than a second, you’ve probably had people tell you some, if not all, of the following things:

  • God’s waiting until the right time to bring Mr./Miss Right into your life.
  • God’s just using this time to grow you!
  • Don’t worry, when you’re ready God will provide your spouse.
  • God will bring them to you the moment you’re not expecting it or when you’re content being single!

What many of us hear is “this is why we can’t have nice things.” Like a chastened child who has made a mess, we end up thinking the reason we’re still single is that we’re just not mature enough, not content enough, not ready enough, not grown enough, not good enough.

While reading a pretty standard blog post about singleness on Relevant Magazine’s site this week, my spidey-senses were tingling. It was . . . not quite right. It means well, I’m sure, but it could end up doing more harm than good by perpetuating certain myths regarding singleness and marriage that have been allowed to subtly yet powerfully infiltrate much of the modern American church. So, instead of my intended blog post continuing my “What Do You Believe About Singleness” series, I’ve decided to delve into the intimidating world of blog critiques because I believe it’s important to highlight some of the misleading theories threading their way through this article.

Entitled “3 Things Every Single Person Needs to Stop Doing . . . Like, now” writer Quasha Ross Ross gives three pieces of advice that would probably help most single people, well, actually, they’d help most people. Advice on not complaining about our state in life, not just using others because we feel lonely, and not comparing ourselves to others is pretty solid stuff. She tailors each for singles, but really these things are just helpful for humans in general. It’s not Ross’ main points, it’s the reasoning behind this advice, the assumptions made about singleness and marriage, that is problematic.

Let’s look at a few of Ross’ statements to discover her thoughts on singleness. As she preferences her use of Philippians 2:14 to tell us not to grumble, she states: “The harsh reality is that many of us have not found our “Boaz or Ruth” yet. To be completely honest, God may have them scheduled to appear weeks, months or maybe years from now.”

This might seem pretty innocuous, but it reveals a belief that is embedded in our culture – the belief that God has scheduled a future spouse for each of us, though we might have to wait awhile. Let’s just leave out the disturbing use of “Boaz or Ruth” as the Christian equivalent to Mr. Darcy or Elizabeth Bennet as romantic ideals and see that there is a hope based on a non-biblical premise that we just haven’t found them YET but they do, indeed, exist for each of us.

Then comes my least favorite paragraph in the article: “Instead of complaining, show God that you are content with him alone and then maybe He’ll trust you with a relationship. He wants to know that when He does bring someone into your life, you won’t bail on Him and worship the gift rather than the gift-giver.”

There are quite a few things to break down here. One is the lack of acknowledgement that there is often actual grief and loss felt by many singles, especially those of us who are out of our 20’s, for not being able to experience marriage and the family we’d like. This article makes it seem like any negative statements we might make about our single status, any heartaches we might have, are just “complaining” and are therefore sinful and wrong. Instead, we are to show God we’re content with him alone.

While our contentment should indeed come from the Lord and not our circumstances, even God himself said “It is not good that the man should be alone” after he created the first human (Genesis 2:18). So, God created another human forming the first marriage, the first family, the first community. Single or married, we are not meant to be completely content alone – we are meant to live in community, to love one another, to serve one another, and be in relationship with other humans. Also, this might give someone the idea that they need to gain contentment in God alone in order to gain a relationship, which rather defeats the contentment in the first place.

Then, once we’ve shown God we are totally cool with just him, Ross claims that maybe God will trust us with a relationship. Sigh. I don’t understand where this thought came from, but it just keeps circulating in the church even though it is oh-so-wrong. I’ve heard this repeatedly in different forms, that when I stop looking God will bring the right man into my life, or God is just waiting for the moment singles are mature enough or ready or content to bring us our person. But this isn’t how God works. We do not earn gifts from God, we do not earn our spouses. They are not rewards for faithfulness. If they are, then most of the disciples, apostles, and Jesus himself must’ve been really immature and discontent since they hadn’t leveled up to spouse status yet! Just look around at the married and single people in your life and you’ll see that the married couples didn’t have their relationships with God completely figured out before they met their match, nor are many of the singles floating around in a more immature and ungodly state. Ross goes on to presume to know what God wants in order to bring someone into our lives, again reinforcing the idea that singles just aren’t there yet, but married people must’ve been to gain this reward. Plus, looking at many counseling cases I’ve had dealing with Christian marriage, God’s been making some huge mistakes if he’s been waiting on Christians  who “won’t bail on Him and worship the gift rather than the gift-giver” before he gives them their spouses.

The next point about not using others to fill the void, again a good point, goes on to say that a cure for discontentment in singleness is to go on a cruise, climb rocks, hop beaches, attend concerts, and join a small group. All of this “instead of sitting home waiting on ‘the one.’” Now maybe it’s just because I lived a single life with many fabulous single friends in the big busy city of Los Angeles, but I have yet to meet someone who sits around at home just waiting for their future spouse to knock on their door. I understand the sentiment behind this advice, and agree that it’s great for all people to use our time enriching our lives, but the way it is stated here is very condescending and a bit unrealistic.

The third point about not comparing ourselves to those in relationships again has some wisdom. Comparison can be so harmful for us, single or married. But the line “God has called us to be set apart, even from one another” is confusing and I’m still not sure where she’s getting that. I am glad that Ross goes on to explicitly state “being single right now doesn’t mean that you’re going to be single forever or that you’re not worthy to be a wife or husband.” This, however, appears to contradict what she said earlier which seemed to teach that some of us just aren’t worthy, at least not yet. Also, an acknowledgement that some of us will indeed be single forever as part of God’s perfect plan for us, or might become single again due to divorce or death, would be nice.

The next paragraph states: “Maybe God just has some work for you to do in His kingdom and He doesn’t need you preoccupied with everything that a relationship or marriage demands. He may also want to refine you in some areas.” I would argue that God has work for all of us to do, married or single, and is refining each and every one of us using various aspects of our lives, so this isn’t specific to singles.

Ross ends with this final thought: “Singleness does not define who we are, but gives us time to understand and embrace who God has called us to be. Once we have this understanding, we may be ready to invite someone else in.”

My take-away from this conclusion is that I just need to understand and embrace who God has called me to be (what does that even mean, anyway, to embrace it???) and then God will reward me with the Mr. Darcy of my dreams. The flip side of that means that, since I’m still single all these years later, I must really suck at my relationship with God and have no understanding of who he’s called me to be. It means that all singletons just aren’t as godly and mature as married folks. Also, what does it meant that “we may be ready to invite someone else in”? Perhaps I’ve watched too many vampires movies, but this does not seem like the best wording. It also makes it seem like those of us who are single just aren’t open to our future spouses yet, and just need time to grow and then we’ll let them in. Not a biblical idea, nor one that is proven in the lives of many singles.

So, while I think Ms. Ross makes some good points and has some helpful advice in this article, I’m concerned that they will be wrapped up in false assumptions not backed up by God’s Word. Christians need to stop perpetuating the myth that God gifts relationships to those who are somehow more mature or ready for them, and withholds them from those who are immature or less godly. We need to realize that there is no promise in the Bible of future spouses for all Christians, and that singleness can be a whole, full, rewarding, godly lifestyle in itself. Though many Christians might not explicitly support these misleading theories, they are woven into the fabric of the church and into this article. It’s time to start carefully plucking those threads out.

Featured image “Some Things Can’t Be Saved” by Joshua Kemble, used with permission. Check out his other awesome art on his website or his Society 6 page.