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Christianity Makes Me a Better Person, but Feminism Makes Me a Better Christian

One day a few months ago I came across an old blog post I published to this site. It was a review I wrote of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I hunted it down on purpose with the intent of showing it to someone on Twitter who had asked for people’s thoughts on Hemingway. For a lark, I read through it again myself and laughed out loud upon reading a line that said, “I’m no feminist, to be sure.”

Quickly I checked the date of the post. Wow, it’s already been five years since I wrote that? And then, on the heels of my astonishment, some surprise: I actually sound kind of proud to be claiming not to be a feminist. A curious realization, considering how sharply my views have changed since then.

The cherry on top, of course, is the part where, at the beginning of the book review, I claim not to be a feminist and then spend the rest of the review lambasting Ernest Hemingway for his blatant misogyny. So it seems that, even though five-years-ago Audra may have been resisting feminism on a conscious level, its deep moral truths had already woven themselves into, at the very least, my subconscious. How I couldn’t see that for myself at the time, I don’t know. If I were a prouder woman, I would delete that post and try to erase all memory of ever having been such a contradictory yet transparent writer. But I’m not all that proud, and besides, that post is part of my journey. So I’ll leave it on my blog. I just won’t link to it.

So now we’ve arrived at the main topic of this post: feminism. At first, I’ll admit, I did resist outwardly identifying as a feminist, although only because I didn’t understand it. Back then, I found it easy to believe that “reverse sexism” was actually a thing. I am aware that I only fell into the same trap that all young people fall into–erroneously believing that they’ve magically figured out the mystery of life by the time they’re twenty-three, and that all the opinions they hold at that age are going to be their opinions for the next sixty years too. But even allowing for the ignorance of youth, I still find myself embarrassed by some of the things I used to believe, and steadfastly. The older I get, the more I realize how much I’ve never known and how much more I never will know.

But feminism has changed my entire life, and I say that non-ironically and completely in earnest. As a younger woman, I measured my own self-worth only in proportion to how much I was valued by my male friends and family members. I did this because society taught me to do it. I was termed (both by myself and others) as “boy-crazy,” as extremely “flirtatious,” as a “tease,” and as a “heartbreaker.” I wore these sexist and demeaning labels proudly, like Girl Scout badges. I sought the company of the opposite sex at every opportunity and shunned the company of other girls and young women almost exclusively.

In part, society trained and encouraged me to behave this way. In part also, I felt more comfortable in the company of the opposite sex because I never quite grew into the feminine persona that I was told all women “should” be. Since I was raised in a Christian environment, my preference for the company of boys was viewed especially harshly. One male youth worker warned a guy who was actually dating me to “stay away from her; she’s a bad influence.” The boy repeated that warning to my face, I guess because he thought it was funny. But I wasn’t a bad influence. I wasn’t sexually promiscuous, although I did enjoy kissing and cuddling and making out. (What teenager doesn’t, though?)

But there was another reason I didn’t like other girls. Sure, I didn’t feel I could relate to a lot of them; I wasn’t fashionable, I couldn’t do my hair, I was awful at applying makeup, and dressing up was a chore reserved for Sundays rather than an elective treat. But that wasn’t all of it. Other girls were my competition. Or, at least, that’s what society said. Plus, I found out quickly and early that if I made fun of my fellow female adolescents for behaving in ways that perpetuated stereotypes, I gained more favor with the guys. So I made fun of gigglers, of bathroom posses, of hair-dyers, of manicures–you name it; if another girl did it, I made fun of it.

But this behavior didn’t really yield positive results for me. What happened instead was that other girls started talking behind my back about what a nasty person I was. What happened instead was that, when the guys whose company I preferred decided they were ready to date the girls I myself had ostracized, I found myself alone and almost friendless. I noticed the negative results of my behavior when I was in college, and I attempted a corrective action in the form of a New Year’s resolution that I sarcastically called Operation: Be Nice to Girls. But it took me many years to figure out how to engage other women in my life in genuine friendship. It took me far longer than I’d like to admit before I stopped viewing other women as competition for male attention (single or otherwise) and started viewing other women as true potential friends and allies in a world where power has been derived from keeping women down.

It’s easy to look at this behavior and judge it as wrong. For those who have never struggled with this, it might be doubly easy to judge. For myself, looking at it in hindsight, it tempts me to feel shame over the person I used to be. But, as a former pastor and fantastic friend once taught me, shame is not productive or constructive. Shame has no positive side effects, and shame has no place in any life, but especially not in the life of a Christian. (Nota bene: Shame and remorse are not the same thing.) But more than that, my behavior was a form of internalized sexism. A sexist world taught me to believe that all women (except myself, of course) were somehow bad.

Other forms of internalized sexism have manifested in the way women have been conditioned to be perpetually dissatisfied with our bodies; we’ve been conditioned to shame women who don’t act in ways that society deems appropriate for a woman; we’ve been conditioned to see beauty only in what we’re told is beautiful (like thinness or tan skin), rather than what we ourselves might find naturally beautiful if we were never influenced by outside factors; we’ve been conditioned to blame other women for making the problem of sexism worse. To linger on that last point for just a second before moving on: Calling out sexism as the primary role player in these issues does not absolve anyone of responsibility for resolution, but blaming women for perpetuating sexism is as vile, inaccurate, and ultimately unproductive as blaming black people for racism or rape victims for their clothing.

But feminism has opened my eyes to the realities I’ve described here. Feminism has taught me that women are not inherently bad, and they are not automatically the opposition. Feminism has taught me that femininity is not about wearing the right makeup and always crossing one’s legs and making sure to be polite and never using swear words. Femininity is not about being a good housekeeper or a good cook or a tolerant/easygoing wife. Feminism has taught me that I am a woman because that is my physical biology. Not to digress too far, but in that same vein, intersectional feminism has taught me that I am a woman because I feel like I’m a woman. Luckily for me, these two things coincide. I was born with a vagina, making me biologically female, and I also identify in my heart and mind with what biology tells me I am. But we don’t need to argue the merits, the reality, or the morality of transgenderism here. The point is, I don’t have to conform to societal expectations in order to be a woman. I am a woman even though I hate pedicures, don’t brush my hair, don’t love to go shopping, and hate wearing heels. I am not less of a woman for not liking the kinds of activities that society has assigned as girly.

Honestly, that conclusion wasn’t the hard part for me. The hard part was the piece feminism taught me after that: Other women are not less valuable just because they do like activities that society has deemed girly. Women who enjoy shopping, who love having their nails done, their hair dyed, and walking in six-inch heels are just as validly women as I myself am. I’ve fought so hard to be accepted as a woman even though I don’t want to be traditionally feminine, so it only makes sense that I would extend back to women who want to be traditionally feminine the exact same grace and acceptance I have demanded for myself. People are people, and they are complex. Women are women, and they are complex. Women can enjoy rom-coms, chocolate, and pink. Women can also enjoy sports, science, and technology. Women can be any combination of these things or none of these things and still be women. The beauty of a free life is that we get to choose who we want to be.

For me, figuring out that I didn’t have to be like other women in order to like other women was one of the biggest and most important epiphanies of my life. And, strangely enough, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve turned back to some traditionally girly practices in my life. I like dressing up and looking nice (sometimes). I enjoy wearing heels (if they’re wedges). I’ve even been known to enjoy a craft on occasion (if it’s not too complicated)! Once feminism liberated me from the bonds of feeling like I had to prove that femininity could look like nontraditionally feminine activities and interests, I felt free to turn around and start re-exploring some of the activities and interests that are traditionally feminine.

Feminism has helped me become more open, more loving, more accepting, and more encouraging as a person. Feminism has helped me view other people in the most positive light I can. I used to look for the negative in other women. Now I try my darndest to find the things we have in common, and if we truly have no common ground, I do my best to listen to them and learn about their interests so that maybe I can find a new interest myself or, at the very least, I can understand them a little better. Because understanding leads to love. And love is what I am called as a Christian to do. Maybe not everyone needs feminism in order to be a better Christian. But it has worked for me.

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Why Do Christians Get So Judgy?

The more open our country becomes toward people who fall outside the traditional norms we’ve grown comfortable with, the more I watch in awe and sorrow as people who identify as Christ followers become more hateful and look less like the Jesus I know. Although, perhaps not surprisingly, these people do look eerily similar to the Pharisees Jesus repeatedly rebuked and chastised.

In the Bible, being a Christian means letting in “the other”—those previously seen as not included in the blessing promised to Abraham. In the Bible, these are Gentiles, people who aren’t Jewish—in other words, they are the people most non-Jewish Christians alive today are descended from at some point along the line.

In 2016 in some parts of America, being a Christian seems to mean judging the behavior of others, being close-minded, and barring the gates of heaven to anyone who does something that is really hard to understand.

Is it really very surprising that, 2,000+ years removed from the life and death of Christ Jesus, we’re screwing up his message? Anyone who’s ever played a game of Telephone can tell you that ain’t much of a shock.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t sad. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mourn the perversion of the gospel—which is love first and foremost, and then grace, and then mercy. Not bigotry. Not racism. Not class distinction. Not homophobia. Not transphobia. Not conditional acceptance. And not fiery Facebook status updates that proclaim all sorts of things we’d never say to a person’s face and that, above all, tend to prove our own ignorance, our own inexperience, our own lack of empathy.

Aside from the obvious answer—the Telephone explanation—I’ve been thinking about why mainstream Christian culture has become this way. Of course I cannot answer for how others think and act, but I certainly can examine my own life and the times I have failed to represent the love of Christ—almost always because I’ve failed to understand the love of Christ.

I was raised in a Christian home. I grew up going to church and memorizing Bible verses and learning about “the right way to live.” I claim Jesus as my Savior even today—but only because I’ve recognized and tried to shed some of the harmful habits Christianity can enculturate, whether intentionally or inadvertently, and because I finally realized in my mid-twenties that it wasn’t God I was mad at; it was the church.

The main thing I’ve struggled with throughout my life as a Christian is judgment. At church, we use euphemisms that give us permission to judge others—terms like accountability, looking out for the souls of others, and moral behavior. Often, being a good Christian gets reduced to a set of right and wrong behaviors that include perfect church attendance and exclude using tobacco or saying fuck. And quickly, very quickly, we find ourselves trying to follow an arbitrary list of do’s and don’ts that’s longer and more complex than the unwritten rules of baseball.

For me, grace (receiving something that was not earned) and mercy (being granted clemency from deserved punishment) were not concepts I understood as a child. Which is weird because I definitely received both on a more than regular basis.

My parents gave me a weekly allowance that I was supposed to earn by doing chores throughout the week like making my bed, taking out the trash, feeding the dogs, washing the windows, and dusting. More often than not, when Saturday came, I held out my hand, expecting my allowance, with no thought to whether I had actually performed my chores that week (and most of the time I hadn’t). I didn’t earn my allowance. But it was given to me anyway. It’s too bad the lesson of grace didn’t accompany it.

Mercy was even harder. Kids are familiar with discipline and punishment, and I was no exception. I got grounded, I got privileges taken away, I received punishments that my parents thought were proportionate to whatever wrong I had committed. As such, I felt deep in my soul the unfairness of others breaking rules and not being punished, and I styled myself as a mini-vigilante (known in some circles as a snitch, a narc, or a tattletale), pointing out rule breakers left and right, making sure that, since I had suffered for breaking the rules, everyone who broke the rules would suffer in the same way. That was my concept of justice: If I suffer, everyone suffers. Strangely, the reverse didn’t translate. If I was shown mercy—if I was let off from receiving a punishment I justly deserved—I saw no reason to let others off for the same offense. My reprieve should be the exception, not the norm—lest the fabric of society be rent at its very seams!

So when I think about how this applies to the question of why some Christians find it so important to police the way others behave, I really think it’s as simple and immature as my childhood mentality. Since there is such a strong expectation of right behavior in Christian culture, many Christians get caught up in making sure they’re toeing the line. And, by golly, if they’ve gotta toe the line, then so should everyone else! These types of Christians are afraid to confront the possibility that they could do everything that’s “right,” and live their lives as straight-laced as possible, and still not get into heaven. Or perhaps they’re angered by the perceived injustice of the idea that someone else could not live the straight-laced way they’ve done and still slide into heaven alongside them (or, even worse, instead of them?).

This mentality has certainly been a struggle at different points in my faith journey, mostly because, in claiming salvation and inviting Jesus into my heart as a young child, I missed the key to the whole thing, which is grace. I don’t deserve salvation. I’ve done absolutely nothing in my life to earn it, and in fact, I’ve done quite a few things in my life to warrant losing it. But I have learned that it doesn’t really work that way (although I’m far from a once-saved-always-saved apologist). On the other hand, receiving the gift of the grace of salvation is meaningless if I don’t learn how to recognize that same grace working in the lives of others; if I don’t learn how to extend to others my flawed, imperfect, human version of the perfect grace of Jesus.

In my long and slow journey toward understanding the grace that Jesus has extended to me, and accepting my responsibility to extend it to others, I’ve been convicted multiple times by three parables in the New Testament. Some of Jesus’s parables go in one ear and out the other because—let’s face it—they can be weird and confusing. But three have acted repeatedly as agents of conviction in my own life: The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21–35); The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1–16); and The Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11–32). All three contain characters who have been recipients of grace or mercy and fail to understand the true magnitude of these gifts (hint: For once, the Prodigal Son is not the one at fault from this perspective!).

Some people in this world may only ever know the version of Jesus we ourselves translate (usually poorly or inaccurately). With that daunting thought in mind, I’ve become less worried about whether the people around me are going to hell or whether they receive the punishments they deserve, and I’ve grown much more concerned with whether they, in interacting with me, ever experience glimpses of unconditional love, unearned grace, and undeserved mercy.

Jesus said, “Go into the world and make disciples of all peoples” (paraphrase of Matthew 28:19). And he said, “Do not judge, lest you be judged” (paraphrase of Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37).

He did not say, “Go forth and tell those you perceive as sinners that they’re going to hell.”

He did not say, “Go forth and refuse certain people the right to get married.”

He did not say, “Go forth and act like you’re better than everyone who hasn’t read the Bible.”

And he did not say, “Go forth and punish those who don’t engage in ‘moral’ or ‘right’ behavior just because you’re mad that you’ve done it and they haven’t.”

Some Christians in America in 2016 act like salvation is an exclusive club that anyone can get kicked out of at any moment. But that vision is a warped, garbled, Telephone-scrambled misunderstanding of the truth. Salvation and the gospel of Jesus are wildly, scandalously inclusive.

And thank God, or I would’ve been eliminated from contention years ago.

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American Sniper: A Short Argument Against

Yes, I saw American Sniper. I didn’t want to at first because it is essentially about everything I stand against, namely: violence, violence disguised as patriotism, sexism bred by violence, racism bred by violence, and war. Another part of me didn’t want to see it because of the outpouring of ignorant support that followed the movie and bathed the late Chris Kyle in a hero’s infamy. I had very strong doubts about whether there was anything heroic about Chris Kyle or his life and career as a sniper, and I didn’t want to align myself by association (the association of having seen the movie) with such an ignorant stance.

But I ended up seeing it anyway because I realized I couldn’t argue against the movie, or the mindset it seems to perpetuate – if not directly encourage – if I didn’t see the movie myself and know exactly what I was arguing against. The movie was “good” in a Hollywood way – meaning, I was never bored. It was awful in almost every other respect. Many people have written more well-informed and articulate articles than I will about this movie, and they have touched on the many good reasons there are to hate this movie and its inaccurate, more-humane-than-reality portrayal of a man who, from what I can gather, was a black and white thinker and nothing more.

In the movie, Bradley Cooper portrays a man who does see gray areas, who does struggle, at least a little bit, not only with his actions but with their consequences. Bradley Cooper is a great actor, but based on what I’ve heard and read from other, trusted sources about Chris Kyle’s life and thought as described in his memoir, Cooper got the character of Kyle wrong. Cooper allows far too much gray to seep into a strictly black and white paradigm. This seeming inaccuracy, combined with the respect I have for Bradley Cooper as a professional, made it difficult for me to distance myself from the character and dislike him entirely, as I was prepared to do from the outset. Perhaps that’s a good thing, because it did allow me to open up my mind and concede (not for the first time in my life) that war is not a black and white thing, no matter what anyone says about it, no matter how black and white its soldiers’ values might be. This fact doesn’t change my staunch pacifism, but it does help me see the gray, and as someone who believes that almost nothing in this world is black and white, an ability to see the gray is very important to me.

There were two major ways in which the movie impacted me after I left the theater.

First, I was left with an itching suspicion that the real-life Chris Kyle, as humane as Cooper tried to make him appear, lacked any degree of critical thought in his convictions and motivations. Some of the questions asked of the character Kyle in the movie – the questions you can tell are supposed to be the “hard-hitting” ones – are answered with such vague simplicity, such automatic and embarrassing machismo, that I couldn’t help but suspect that, as much as Cooper may have gotten wrong in his portrayal, the absolute absence of critical thought in Chris Kyle’s psyche was something he got right. In the numerous articles I’ve read about this movie, about Chris Kyle as a person, and about Chris Kyle’s memoir, the one ringing consistency is that Chris Kyle’s belief system left no room for deep and critical thought or analysis. The biggest problem with a worldview that is black and white is that the people I’ve known in my life who ascribe to such a rigid belief system are people who not only seem incapable of critical thought but actually actively resist what they seem to view as an immoral temptation to examine a given situation beyond its surface. And this appears to be the problem Chris Kyle had. Chris Kyle was clearly and without question a dutiful, honorable* soldier.

Second, I walked away from the theater recognizing the tendency toward violence that violence-centered movies and other media bring out in me. There’s a reason I stay away from movies and media like this for the most part. Killing, fighting, and insulting others is not only a practice that is normalized by media such as this; it is encouraged. And that’s how I found myself, about halfway through the movie, wishing I had my own sniper rifle so I could take aim and shoot the fellow moviegoer on the front row who kept pulling out his or her phone, the bright light irritatingly drawing my eye and my attention away from the movie. Some might dismiss that thought as harmless, a mere snipering joke in the context of the movie; no harm done. For me, however, that kind of thought terrifies me. Only because I had been watching a guy lie on rooftops and shoot the enemy for over an hour – and getting caught up in the emotion of hoping he succeeded in killing his targets – did I have a thought like that. So, yeah, okay. Maybe it’s nothing to worry about. On a given day, I don’t wish I could shoot with sniper rifles all the people who annoy me. And, of course, even in the movie theater, I didn’t have a sniper rifle, and it’s not like I got up out of my seat and went down to the front of the theater to dispense some civilian justice. But what scares me is that, no matter how unrealistic the scenario might have been, the thought and desire were there in my mind, however jokingly, after only an hour of watching someone shoot people from rooftops. That bothers me a great deal. And it should bother you too. And what scares me even more is that such a thought doesn’t bother any of the people who have raised this movie and, with it, Chris Kyle, to an undeserved pedestal.

Am I glad I saw American Sniper? Yes. Am I glad the movie was made to begin with? No. Especially considering the cultural climate this movie was released into: Our country is embroiled in a very heated political struggle right now over gun control laws, so a movie like this – one whose message encourages violence under the guise of protection – is the worst possible ammunition (no pun intended) for the pro-gun faction.

A movie like American Sniper isn’t going to aid in moving our country in the peaceful direction it ought to go.

*The word honorable here is used simply to mean that he exemplified the qualities that are most prized in American soldiers, those qualities being discharging one’s duties faithfully and without doubt or question.

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An Existential Treatise on the Futility of Rationale

I’ve noticed myself becoming marginally less argumentative and aggressive as I age in this life.

Ha. If you asked for my fiancé’s side of the story, he would probably recount to you the three biggest fights (so far) of our relationship and say adamantly, “Less aggressive? No way.”

But it’s true. The older I get, the less energy I have for arguments (especially on Facebook) that occur between privileged, middle-to-upper-class, white college graduates (and yes, all of those descriptors apply to me).

It’s odd because my belief system is as “figured out” as it’s ever been. I know where I stand on the issues that plague general society and, often more significantly in my circles, the issues that plague the church.

But I have less energy and enthusiasm for an argument with a gun-rights advocate whose platform is so flawed and vague and just…absurdly selfish, I guess, that I get lost when trying to decide how to approach it to pick it apart. But aside from that, even if I knew exactly where to start, I don’t have the motivation.

I have less energy for an argument with a woman who thinks that sexism is a myth, one who is so buried and embroiled and surrounded by the latent sexism in our society that she thinks feminism is a four-letter word instead of what it actually is – a movement that recognizes a severe imbalance in this world and desires to take the steps to equalize it.

I have less energy for an argument with fire-and-brimstone Christians who care more about hatefully espousing their opinions about the eternal souls of those with whom they disagree than they do about getting to know a person who is different from them.

I’ve become disillusioned in this life I’m leading, and I’m past the point where arguments on Facebook, either with strangers or with people I respected until I found out what their politics or morals are, are satisfying to me. I’m past the point in my life where sitting around and debating issues that MATTER is the only thing we do. I live in a privileged world where I get to go to an office every day and earn a yearly salary, complete with healthcare benefits (although sometimes the high deductible feels more like a burden than a benefit). In my position as an editor, I’m constantly engaging and reworking and immersing myself in content that discusses helping, ministering, loving, being Christlike, putting our words into actions (or “feet on our faith,” as one of our monthly periodicals puts it), and I’m tired of these things being words to me and nothing more.

When I was a teenager, then a college student, then a young twenty-something, I dreamed of moving to another country and changing the world. Not in a big way. I don’t have the tools or skills to change the world in a big way. But in my small, linguist-centered way, I was going to make a difference. But now I’m not a twenty-something anymore, and I haven’t done any of the things I thought I would, and my passion has waned.

I don’t know if it’s because I am tired of arguing without doing, or because my arguments get me nowhere, or for some other reason I haven’t yet thought of. But my passion, my energy, my characteristic aggression has diminished.

And what in the world do I do about that? Maybe it’s a good thing, I reason with myself. I wasn’t really argued into any of the beliefs I currently hold. I came to embrace pacifism (and gun legislation), feminism, anti-homophobia, and all of the other issues I am passionate about by observing, studying, reasoning, practicing, and praying. Therefore, what’s the use of arguing my views to someone who doesn’t share them, or holds the opposing viewpoint? If I wasn’t argued in, how can I expect someone else to be? On the other hand, if nobody ever engaged in arguments, would social progress and change ever occur, or would we still be slave owners, who don’t allow women to work or vote?

But did those changes come about because Person A argued with Person B and Person B eventually saw the light and gave in? I don’t think so. I think they came about because Persons A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, and N argued with Persons O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z until some kind of conflict occurred and an obvious winner emerged. Whether the “conflict” be a war or a riot or a vote/election, usually the losing party isn’t suddenly converted to the other side. It’s just that they’ve become a subordinate somehow.

I guess I feel saddened and discouraged that conflict of some kind must occur before things can be made right. I guess it makes me feel powerless. Tweeting about sexism isn’t going to cause employers to raise all their female employees’ pay to match what the male employees make. Arguing with a middle-aged (or older) Christian, who’s claimed Christianity all his or her life, about whether gay people should be afforded the basic rights that everyone else gets isn’t going to legalize gay marriage in the last remaining states. Trying to reason with the overzealous second amendment defenders on Facebook isn’t going to get Congress to pass the gun legislation that this country sorely needs. And writing a blog post about the futility of it all isn’t going to change a damn thing either.

So, don’t mind me. I’m just over here having an existential crisis. I can afford such a luxury since all my other basic needs (except for equality as a woman) have been met. Nothing to see here. Move along, please.

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The Beauty in a Body

I’ve been avoiding writing this post for a while, for many reasons – the main one being, who wants to listen to a girl of reasonable weight discuss body issues? Well. If you don’t want to, this is your cue to step out because that’s the topic today.

So here’s the thing. I don’t think I’ve ever met a girl – not even the most confident one – who doesn’t have at least a little bit of a body image issue. It’s a spectrum for sure. Some are far more severe on themselves than others. But all girls and women have something they don’t like about their bodies. The funny thing is, it’s usually something that nobody else has ever even noticed, and in some cases, it is something a lot of other people actually like and find quite pleasing about that person. But none of that matters because all the girl can see is a huge flaw in herself.

We all know the reasons this issue exists: the male-driven mass media, male-driven society, male-driven porn industry, and female-driven comparison games. There is no need to tell you what you already know. I’d rather just talk about my own body image and how I’ve dealt with some of my personal struggles.

I was allowed to be mercifully ignorant for a very long time of how the particular shape of my body measured up against other girls. The only thing I noticed and which bothered me as an adolescent was that my breasts didn’t develop as quickly as some of the other girls’, and when they did eventually grow in, they never got even close to being as large as what seemed average (and they probably never will). My flat-chestedness was the only thing that bothered me about my body for a long time. Otherwise I really had nothing to complain about.

In my late teens I started noticing the…shall we say, athletic-ness, of my thighs. I noticed they weren’t as slim as other girls’ thighs, or as ramrod straight. I saw my thighs as thick, chunky, fat even. I stopped wearing shorts for the most part. If I went swimming I preferred to keep my bottom half under the water or just wear shorts instead of bikini bottoms. I did almost anything I could to cover up my thighs, to the point that people would say, “How can you be wearing jeans right now, it’s so hot out!”

I have no idea where I got it in my head that my thighs were fat, or that muscular thighs were unattractive. But the comparison game struck once again. All I saw was that other girls, with pretty faces and pretty hair, had smaller thighs than I had.

Because of a gift of good metabolism and (maybe?) good genes, I never battled a weight problem until very recently. I’m going to be straight with you here and provide numbers so that everything is on the up and up. All through high school and college I weighed between 110 and 120. Totally fine with that. In my 20s it crept up to 125, then 130. I started running, which maintained things around 130 except in the winter, when it would go up around 135. I accepted all of this as part of growing older but also kind of assumed that 130-135 would be my base weight from that point on.

Over the last couple of  years, my body has gained more weight to accommodate a medical condition that was diagnosed four years ago but not cared about or monitored by a doctor until this year, and that condition is uterine fibroids. I won’t bore you with the details of what that means, but the long and short of it is that they are taking over my uterus in a way they are not supposed to, which has caused multiple side effects as a result (including becoming a threat to my fertility), but the one that has bothered my vanity the most is in the area of weight gain.

Currently I weigh the most I ever have in my entire life, tipping the scales at 145. This fact has puzzled the few people I’ve told up to now because, according to them, I don’t look like I weigh that much. I don’t look like I’m carrying an extra 15 pounds, and I’m “hiding it well,” as they say (which is an unfortunate reflection of what it’s clear our culture and society value – thinness). But, whether others can see it or they can’t, I know it’s there. My pants fit tighter. My stomach has a pooch it’s never had before. When I eat, because of how things are situated in my uterus, the pooch becomes a bulge until I have a bowel movement (sorry to be graphic). My running pace is slower because I have more weight to haul.

There are lots of ways that my body reminds me that all is not right inside at the moment. The sad part is that, because of the culture and society I live in, I’m usually more focused on my new weight, and how I look in certain clothes, than I am on the scary reality that this condition may very well prevent me from conceiving and giving birth to my own biological children. There is something very wrong with that. Very, very wrong.

Body image is being talked about a lot more these days, and I’m glad. Many celebrities and a few corporations are speaking out about the negative and untrue messages the media and our culture have hammered over women’s heads for years and years. (Unsurprisingly, these efforts are often also tied to the fight against sexism, since sexism is the biggest reason women have body image issues to begin with.) As I’ve watched my body age in ways unrelated to my weight, my perspective on beauty has changed significantly. I have begun to realize something I wish I’d seen long ago.

It began, for me, with teenagers. I do this church/Bible-related volunteer thing that puts me in the company of a bunch of teenagers for several hours on a Saturday once every month (sometimes twice, depending on the schedule). I’ve been doing this particular volunteer activity since my freshman year of college, and in the last couple of years, I started seeing the teens differently. Teenagers are wonderful creatures, if you didn’t know, especially the ones who don’t realize they are wonderful. They’re so fragile and yet so resilient. It’s amazing, really. But one thing everyone generally agrees on when discussing teenagers is their awkwardness.

Adults talk about the awkwardness of teenagers because we remember what it was like. We remember feeling like our legs were too long, our noses too big, our faces too pimpled, our breasts too small, our breasts too big, our biceps too undefined, our braces too obvious, our teeth too gapped, our legs too hairy, our legs not hairy enough, and on and on and on. I remember. You remember.

Several months ago, though, as I sat in a room with the eyes of eight teenagers all fixed on me, I looked at each of them and noticed how they varied in size, stature, and stages of physical development. And, remarkably, all I saw was beauty. These were developing persons, sitting right in front of me. I almost felt as if, if I just looked closely enough and watched for long enough, I would see them fill into their bodies. I could see the ways in which they probably felt insecure. One boy in particular didn’t seem to be able to control his limbs, which were quite long. The rest of his body didn’t fit with the length of his arms and legs yet. One girl in particular was several inches shorter than her peers, though I knew her to be in the same grade. Looking at them, I could see the beauty in what had developed, and what had yet to develop. I could see the beauty in what they would become, in what they currently struggled through.

Unfortunately, I could also see their insecurities. In the slumped shoulders, the eyes cast down to the floor, the shuffling feet, the crossed arms. So many actions that essentially added up to this: They were turned in upon themselves. They felt unbecoming, awkward, ugly, because society has told them that’s what they are. We – adults – have told them that’s what they are because that’s what we remember feeling when we were that age. I wanted to hug them, and tell them all how magnificently, and simply, beautiful they were. But I also wanted to keep being allowed to volunteer without being viewed as creepy, so I kept my thoughts to myself. But it brought tears right to the edges of my eyes to sit there and see them that way, and know that they didn’t see themselves that way.

On the other side of things – perhaps because I’m growing older myself, perhaps not – I’ve also noticed that my view on beauty has changed in regard to age. No longer do I see old people as unattractive. Wrinkles, hair color, and looser skin are all indications of life lived, and how can anyone not recognize the beauty in that? I look at the elderly people around me and marvel at the histories they’ve built. I look at the middle-age people around me and see how the continual maturation of their physical bodies does nothing to diminish the light that comes from within them.

Our bodies are shells, intended as a means to house the essence of who we are; a way to live out who we are; a shelter to grow and maintain who we are. And they are beautiful. My body has never been perfect, but it has always been mine, and it is the body I was given to hang out in while I formed the essence of Audra.

My best days are when I look into the mirror and get a momentary flash of what my fiancé must see when he tells me I’m beautiful. It’s brief, it lasts only an instant, and it usually begins in my eyes, but it ends up encompassing every single part of me. I see it more and more frequently when I let go of the American media’s shouted lies about what beauty is, and listen to the whispered truths that come from God, and from my fiancé.

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No Gifts, Please

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, in the midst of wedding planning, is how the very idea of the wedding itself (at least, in American culture) is contradictory to a lot of the values I’ve claimed I want to foster and maintain in my life. Right at the start of our planning, I knew I didn’t want an expensive wedding, but that has a lot to do with the fact that I’m 30, and covering some of the cost myself. Setting money aside for a minute, I thought I would hate every second, every detail, of wedding planning. I have always thought that. I’ve always, my entire life, dreaded the idea of planning a wedding.

And, to be perfectly honest with you, I have hated some of it. We haven’t been treated well by all the vendors we’ve contacted, and I can’t help but see dollar signs looming over every decision we are asked to make. I’ve worked hard over the last five years or so to try to embody a personal philosophy of living simply. I haven’t been as successful as some friends of mine who attempt to do the same thing, but I’ve done my best. I do own a house, which I will have owned for five years by the time our wedding rolls around. Funny thing about having more space than you need is that you tend to fill it up with things you think you need that you really don’t need. In truth, yes, my house is larger than Soren and I – by ourselves – needed. My reasons for buying it would encompass another post entirely. (Luckily, it’s going to be a perfect size for myself, a husband, and three dogs.)

But the point is, because I’m 30, and because I’ve lived in my house for five years already, I have accumulated everything I need to have a home that is decorated the way I want, enough furniture to entertain, proper kitchenware for cooking and eating, and appropriate bedding. Add to that the fact that I’m marrying a man who is in essentially the same position (minus maybe a few things here and there, given that he doesn’t own a house), and you get a weird combination in the end that adds up to a lot of duplicate stuff, a lot of stuff you don’t need, and, just in general, a lot of stuff.

To put it simply, “stuff” stresses me out. I see it as clutter. After moving in and out of a dorm room for four years, I then spent the next four years moving in and out of two apartments and two houses (the second house being the one I’m in now). I’ve moved a fair amount. It’s stressful and tedious, and it’s a good way to get rid of things you realize you don’t need. It’s also been the main conduit for my finding out that I don’t like “stuff.”

So, keeping all these factors in mind, I was ecstatic when I spoke to David about gifts and a registry and found that he thought along the same lines I do, which is: We don’t want gifts. We just don’t need anything, and the idea of asking for things we don’t need makes me feel a little sick to my stomach, not to mention greedy. I had a friend get married a few years ago, and she had all her own stuff already as well but still did a full registry, even asking for things she already had. When I asked why she was replacing items she already had that were still in excellent condition, she said, “Because. It’s fun to get new stuff. You’ll understand when it’s your turn.”

As condescending as that felt, I conceded that, yes, maybe I would understand when it was my turn. It’s been almost four years since that happened, though, and I still don’t understand. And I don’t have to understand. She can do what she wants. But I don’t have to do what she wants. The beauty of planning our own wedding, everyone has told us, is that we get to do what we want. And what we want happens to be very different from what other people want (which is, again, fine).

One of the things we do want, however, is help paying for our honeymoon. We have this epic, two-week, baseball-centered, west-coast trip planned, but baseball games and the west coast ain’t cheap. So, since we don’t need anything for our home, we decided to set up a honeymoon fund, where people can either give us general gifts, or contribute in specific ways to different portions of our trip (we’re also planning to go to Six Flags Magic Mountain!).

The thing about this is, some people think that it’s tacky for us to ask for money/vacation help, or they just think it’s tacky to give money in general, or something. I’m not sure, but there has been some resistance to our simple request for no gifts. I’ve been advised that plenty of people will ignore the request entirely, so we might as well create a registry because, if we’re going to get something, might as well get something we want. So I followed this advice, and we created a registry, and guess how many items it has on it? Nine. And they’re not really low-cost items either. They are all items we would have plans to purchase within the first two years of our marriage, probably, but we certainly can’t afford them now, or soon, given wedding costs.

Other voices have told me, “Screw what other people say. It’s your wedding. If you don’t want gifts, don’t be afraid to say that. If people ignore you, they’re being rude.”

And that is where I struggle. The idea that it’s rude for someone to go expressly against our wishes and give us a wedding gift has reigned supreme in my mind over the last several weeks. I understand the arguments of sentimentality, of contributing something that will last, of wanting a gift to mean something. I would argue that contributing to our honeymoon is sentimental to both David and myself, that our memories of it will last our entire lives (whereas a coffee pot will eventually break, or a quesadilla maker may never even get used), and that the knowledge that our friends and family want to help us have the best honeymoon we can dream up means a very great deal to us, even if they do not realize it or think so.

So it’s easy for me to get defensive about the gifts thing. I truly don’t want them. It’s not a pretense of humility. I cringe every time I imagine having to find space for something kitchen gadget-y, or having to write an insincere thank-you note for something I plan to give to Goodwill within a month. And I tell myself it’s okay to stand my ground on this because, as others have told me so many times, “It’s our wedding, not their wedding, and we can do what we want.”

But there’s a nudge. There’s a tickle. In the back of my mind, in the damp, dimly lit, cobwebby space where my conscience (or the Holy Spirit, based on your belief system) resides, there is a check that says, Is it?

Is it okay for me to be indignant about someone wanting to follow tradition, despite what I’ve specifically requested? Or is it my responsibility to accept whatever is given, which is given in love, graciously and thankfully, despite what I’ve specifically requested?

Though it’s okay for me to buck tradition, and I feel comfortable doing so, is it okay for me to expect others, who may be uncomfortable doing so, to follow suit, just because I’ve asked them to? Or should I allow our friends, family, and wedding guests to show their support for our union in whatever way they feel most comfortable, even if it goes against our express wishes?

Maybe I’m making too much of this. Maybe we’ll get more contributions to our honeymoon fund than I’m anticipating, and maybe we’ll only get one gravy boat in the mail from one great-great-great aunt neither of us has ever met (in which case we’ll just attend an ugly sweater white elephant Christmas party next year to take care of it!). Or, maybe we’ll get something we never thought of but that we desperately appreciate. I don’t know. I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know how the “no gifts” request is going to go over once the invitations get sent out (they’ve gone to the printer, though, so there’s no turning back now!).

What I do know is that David and I will smile on our wedding day, and we will be grateful for the many and varied ways that people have chosen to show their support and love for us.

(But I’m not going to feel guilty for re-gifting that gravy boat! I don’t even know how to make gravy! Doesn’t it have to do with the gross parts of a bird? No thank you.)

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Let’s Talk Sex(ism) [Part 3 of 3: Feminism’s Biggest Obstacle]

I’ve spent the last two posts discussing my struggles with balancing feminism and common sense, and feminism and my faith. As I’ve established over the course of this three-part blog series, the institution of sexism is one I feel called and created to speak out against, and – in time – to overthrow. So does that automatically make my opponents (whether men or women, whether purposeful or unwitting) my enemies? I’m not convinced it does, but there are times that my adversaries do feel like legitimate enemies.

The sad truth is that sexism against women is not something perpetuated solely by insecure, chauvinistic men. If it were, I don’t think it would be quite so difficult an institution to abolish. For me, the most frustrating detractors of feminism are other women. Misogynistic women are the worst kinds because they breed intra-gender discord, and they have an easier time convincing other women that they are less than equal (and not only less than equal to men, but to certain types of women as well). As Jesus said (paraphrased), “A gender divided against itself cannot stand.” When I use the term misogynist women, I’m talking about the ones who are overly competitive with other women, who set themselves apart from and above other women by putting women down, and who are generally nasty to anyone who doesn’t have a penis.

I’ve struggled at times to keep from becoming this kind of woman myself. My personality does tend to mesh a little (or a lot) easier with men than it does with women. I’m not interested in arts and crafts, home decor, fashion, or cooking and baking. I’m not married, engaged, or dating, so I don’t have a man to lightheartedly complain about with my coupled-up female friends. I don’t have children, so I can’t talk breastfeeding, homeschooling, stay-at-home vs go-to-work mothering, cloth diapers, or whatever else the moms think is interesting these days. And finally, I hate Pinterest.

On the other hand, I live alone, my longest-lasting non-familial relationship is with a canine, I eat Ramen and pizza more than is good for me, I enjoy crude jokes, I have thick skin, I’m sarcastic, I enjoy sports, and I stay up later than I should. By default, that usually means it’s easier for me to hang out in male company than female company. It means I don’t have to try as hard, and it means I can talk freely about my own interests, rather than trying to muster up an interest in things I don’t understand. (If we’re being totally honest here, it also means I can fart with impunity.)

Because of this natural tendency to gravitate toward the opposite sex, it’s always been easy to cause friction with other women, and for a long time, I didn’t even care enough to try not to. I do remember one year in college, though, when I decided I should attempt to cultivate more meaningful friendships with women, and I declared a New Year’s resolution that stated simply, “Be Nice to Girls.” Seems comical, but considering that for the past four or five years I’d been going around saying things like, “I hate girls” and “Girls are stupid” and “Girls are the worst,” it was quite an adjustment for me.

What I learned during that year (and have continued to learn in the years since) is that there are deep rewards to be found in meaningful friendships with women. However, I have also learned and relearned that not all women want to be friends, and I’ve been burned in relationships with other women that I thought were real friendships but turned out actually to be only shallow competitions of one kind or another. I wish that more women would realize that feminism and equality could make a lot bigger strides if we would start by being kind to one another.

Women get especially competitive and territorial when it comes to certain of their hobbies and interests that they believe to be unique, such as (gasp!) being a sports fan! The truth is, however, it’s not unique to be a female sports fan. It might be a less common occurrence than a woman being into fashion, but it’s not unique, plain and simple. And who cares? Whatever world it is that a woman is interested in, that she believes to be dominated by men, what’s the big deal if she encounters another woman in that same world? It doesn’t make her less interesting, and it doesn’t invalidate her interest in the least, whether that interest is hunting, sports, video games, comic books, etc. I know some women (myself included) don’t want to associate themselves with women who pretend to be interested in these fields just to get a man’s attention, or to seem cool. Here’s a tip, though: People can tell if you’re faking it. So if your interest is genuine, you have nothing to worry about. So what if Valley Girl wants to wear high heels and pink sports apparel? Does her wanting to look cute make you less of a fan? No. No it does not.

Full disclosure: I do still struggle with this from time to time in my baseball fandom. It’s important to me that people view me as a real fan and not someone who’s just trawling for men. And I don’t want to be associated with cleat chasers, that’s for sure. But, for the most part, I haven’t had to work very hard to establish myself in people’s eyes as a genuine baseball fan. My enthusiasm has done that all on its own, I think. Besides, baseball is too exhausting a sport to keep up with for someone who’s just pretending. Unfortunately, the people I have had to work the hardest to convince of the authenticity of my newfound interest have actually been women, further proving my point.

Other than being unequivocally kind to the women I meet and get to know, I don’t know what the solution to this problem is. It’s my experience that, no matter how kind and open and vulnerable I am with other women, there are some who are just going to be competitive, shallow, catty, or territorial. Since it’s not in my nature to just back off at the first sign of conflict, I usually initiate some candid confrontations, but if that doesn’t resolve matters, my next recourse is to write those women out of my life. I don’t do that to be rude. I do it because I don’t see a positive way forward, and disengaging seems more healthy for both parties than the alternative. And because I loathe pretense and false courtesy. (I could never survive in the American South.)

Now, admittedly, “being unequivocally kind” is not necessarily something that comes easy to me. If I sense insecurity or intimidation in other women, I tend to ignore them because that’s easier than trying to engage them and be friendly and prove to them that I’m worth getting to know. I’m extroverted, but one-sided small talk is hard for me, and if someone doesn’t “get” me, or if I have to carry the conversation, I prefer not to waste my time.

All things considered, even though I have some work yet to do, I know I’ve made a lot of progress both in how I think about my relationships with other women, and in how I execute them. Since I became a Royals fan, I have enjoyed finding other women on Twitter who like to talk baseball. It’s good to have allies. And that’s really what it comes down to. If this feminism thing is going to get us anywhere at all, if we’re ever going to conquer sexism, we are going to need as many allies as we can get. We have to be on the same team. We have to stop cutting each other down and start giving one another the benefit of the doubt.

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Let’s Talk Sex(ism) [Part 2 of 3: Feminist Christian]

In the last post, I talked about my need to accept that there are legitimate, biological differences that make men and women different. This time I want to discuss the difficulty I have in finding the balance between being a disciple of Christ and being a feminist.

I have been a Christian for many years. So many that I’m not even sure of the exact number. Certainly far longer than I’ve [consciously] been a feminist. So the instructions to treat others as I would prefer to be treated, to love my enemies, to be kind to those who hurt me, to turn the other cheek – basically to lovelovelove until every little thing I do operates from a framework of love – these imperatives are familiar to me. I’ve grown up on them. I cut my teeth on them. I memorized and re-memorized and quoted and re-quoted every Bible verse related to these commands to various parents, teachers, mentors, and spiritual leaders during my childhood and adolescent years.

In addition, I’m painfully familiar with the humility verses too, and there are many. There are verses that make promises to the humble (sometimes known as the meek); there are verses that implore God’s people to take care of the marginalized (sometimes known as the impoverished, the widows, the orphans, or the oppressed); and there are verses that command me to put myself last, to serve others, to lead by following, to understand that someday those whom society puts last will be rewarded.

These verses – the ones that ask me to turn the other cheek and to subordinate myself to others as a humble disciple of Christ – are the ones I struggle with the most, especially when it comes to feminism. Before I became aware of the significance of feminism, before I knew that my voice was muted in the world simply because it’s female, before I knew that women have to fight for almost everything they get in this world, I had the type of personality that finds it difficult to adhere to what I like to call Jesus’s “be nice” commands. I’ve always found it very difficult to “be nice,” especially when I feel that I am or someone near me is being treated unfairly. So, when it comes to feminism, it sometimes feels that my innate desire to stand up for myself and for my entire, oppressed gender is at odds with my Christian call to be humble and kind, especially toward those who seek to oppress me.

There are lots of teachings and theologies and theories out there that describe Jesus Christ as the ultimate feminist, and while I haven’t delved very deeply into any of them, I can’t say I disagree with the surface premise. There are plenty of examples in the New Testament of Jesus showing favor to women, of Jesus trusting women, of Jesus redeeming sinful women, of Jesus elevating women to societal significance (the woman at the well, the woman with the expensive perfume, the adulterous woman, and the woman at his tomb, to name a few). So it’s never been a doubt in my mind that – in some ways, at least – standing up for myself as a woman is right and okay, even as a disciple of Jesus. After all, my personality type (according to intelligent-type books) is the kind that stands up for those who cannot stand up for themselves; the kind that seeks justice and fair treatment for the oppressed; the kind that doesn’t let inequality slide unchecked. So why, when I’m the one being oppressed and treated unfairly, would I suddenly go silent? I wouldn’t.

Still, though. There’s some balance or line or moderation to be found, I think, that I maybe haven’t found yet. Somewhere that I can live both as a humble advocate of love and service without being a doormat or sliding into the realm of the oppressed. I’m called to love my enemies, but I’m not called to submit to them. I’m called to serve, but I’m not called to pander. I’m called to turn the other cheek, but I’m not called to be silent.

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Let’s Talk Sex(ism) [Part 1 of 3: Equal but Different]

As I’ve gotten older, sexism has become a very important issue for me, and because I think about it a lot, it’s turned into the kind of thing like when you get a new car and suddenly start noticing all the other cars on the road that are the same model. Have they always been there? Of course they have. Well, unless what you got was a Prius in 2008 or a Hummer in 2003. Hello, trendy bandwagoners.

In any case, I see examples of sexism everywhere because it’s ingrained in our culture to the point that, unless it’s blatant sexual harassment, most people (men especially) don’t even realize they’re doing it. It’s similar to how people don’t have any clue that gypped is actually a racist slur, or that thug is an offensive term that should not be used to label any given adolescent who happens to be wearing baggy pants. When it comes to sexism, terms that our society considers harmless insults are thrown around every day, especially in the sports world: throws like a girlsissycrying like a girl, etc.

So, because I’ve trained myself to stop ignoring sexist comments or treating them as harmless, I’ve become a bit of a Sexist Nazi, much in the same way that I’ve been a Grammar Nazi my entire life. It’s a soapbox issue, and I know certain people view me as beating a dead horse, or as crusading a pointless cause. I also know, however, that other people are listening, and some are even examining and changing their own behavior and language as a result of heightened awareness. And for that reason, I will probably always raise my feminist voice when I think it’s needed.

However, something I’ve noticed recently is that sometimes the line is blurry between what is sexist and what isn’t. Believe it or not, there actually are some legitimate differences between male and female human beings, and acknowledging such a truth does not make one sexist. I had to confront this reality for myself recently during the Sochi Winter Olympics. For instance, as far as athletic ability, male bodies appear to be predisposed (at least in some sports) to a higher level of elitism than female bodies, which is why they separate the competitions by sex. If the female snowboarders and skiers were pitted against the male snowboarders and skiers, then women would rarely – if ever – reach the podium.

This truth became the most evident to me while watching women’s slopestyle snowboarding just a day or two after watching the men’s competition. The men’s slopestyle competition was impressive. Those guys can do things I would never dare attempt, even underwater or in a padded bounce house. And the judges gave the men impressive scores for their impressive tricks. All right. Cool. I could handle that. A few days later, the women took their turn in the same event, on the same course, with what I presume to have been the same group of judges.

However, even though the women – like the men – did things I will never be able to do, they didn’t seem to be performing as many tricks or turning around in the air as many times as the men had. (Keep in mind, this is the viewpoint of someone who knows nothing about snowboarding, but my untrained eye perceived the women to be turning only once or twice in the air instead of two and a half times or thrice like the men had.) Despite that, they received comparable scores to the men for what seemed like fewer tricks, and less impressive technique. This bothered me because, in my mind, if a man jumps and turns three times around and receives a score of 90, and then a woman jumps and turns around one and a half times and also receives a score of 90, that’s an unjust imbalance, and it’s insulting to both parties. It’s insulting to the man that half as much trick gets the same score, and it’s an insultingly patronizing way to treat the woman. It makes the woman feel like the fat kid who gets a head start in a foot race.

Before I was able to reconcile my indignation with the scoring disparity, the snowboarding announcers (I heard their names were both Todd-something, but I’m unfamiliar with them) made everything worse by making comments such as, “That would’ve been a really good run even for a man!” and, “[She] snowboards better than some men I know, and the men get paid to do it!” It is clear the announcers were trying to pay compliments to what they considered impressive feats of athleticism, but was it necessary to be so condescending?

If a feminist such as myself is going to accept the premise that in some respects, such as athletics, men have a natural ability to achieve higher levels than women, then shouldn’t men accept that there is no need to remind the world that women are inferior? In my mind, it was bad enough that the judges were inflating the women’s scores, but the announcers didn’t need to pile on by opining that it was impressive, for a woman. If everybody knows that, why does it need to be stated outright? I can concede that, no matter how good Jamie Anderson gets at her sport, Shaun White and Sage Kotsenburg will probably always be just a hair better. Not because they work harder but simply because their ceiling is likely higher than her ceiling.

It is a biological fact we can all agree on that, in general, men tend to be taller and more naturally muscular than women. God just made it that way. (Okay, we may not all be able to agree on God’s role in it, but that’s irrelevant.) So, as far as inflated scores go, I get that. If they graded the women on the same scale they graded the men, then gold medalist Sage would stand next to gold medalist Jamie with a huge score disparity. Sage’s gold medal score would be 91-point-whatever, and Jamie’s would be (according to the scale by which they scored the men) 70-point-something, probably. And then people would be up in arms about that because it would feel sexist and insulting, even if it technically isn’t. So I can get on board with separate competitions for each sex, and even with adjusting a scoring scale and inflating or deflating the numbers based on competitive ceiling.

But I cannot get on board with the condescending comments toward women. If we’ve established that the competitions need to be separate events, and scored on a slightly different scale, then why do we need to remind everyone that the cute little women just aren’t as good as the men?

Well gosh-darnit, you gotta give those girls some credit. Sure, they can’t do what the men do, but golly, them li’l firecrackers try their best, and it’s just adorable, and boy, do their boobies look great in those jumpsuits, don’t they. Garsh. I hope my mom/wife has a warm bowl of soup waiting for me when I get home from this taxing, bread-winning job.

That’s what I heard when the Todds made their ignorant and insensitive comments.

I am slowly coming to terms with the concept that the genders being equal does not mean the genders are the same, nor should it mean that. But if men could dispense with the patronizing comments, I could make my progress a lot more quickly.

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The Existentialist Considerations Inspired by the Movie HER

I watched the movie Her tonight, and there is so much going on inside my head post-viewing – and there was while I viewed too – that I don’t know where to start or even if what I say will be cohesive, but I’m going to try to articulate at least a couple of thoughts that won’t go away.

First and foremost, love. This movie – naturally – made me think about love, and how it is both timeless and evolutionary. Love evolves because society evolves, and society will never leave love behind, so love must evolve too. But love is timeless because love simply is. The mechanisms and social constructs we force upon it to make it work for ourselves may help us make sense of it, at least in a small way, but it will always be, and it will always be bigger than we can ever understand or imagine.

Secondly, technology. Her is set in the future, kinda. It is futuristic, but it’s also very present. No, we don’t really have artificially intelligent operating systems to the level that Scarlett Johansson represents in the movie, nor are we quite at the stage of using voice commands for everything, although I do use voice commands a lot more now than I used to. I compose entire tweets, texts, and emails using my voice, if I want to do it while I’m driving. It’s not as foolproof as Joaquin Phoenix’s system appears to be, but it’s pretty dang good. I’m often surprised at the words my phone seems to know, and it still amazes me that I can say “comma,” “period,” or “question mark,” and get the punctuation I need.

Third, the confluence of love and technology. As I mentioned before, love evolves to fit our societal constructs, and right now, in 2014, one of our societal constructs is online relationships, online dating, and the like. Online dating in and of itself isn’t a new thing by any means. Chat rooms have been around almost since the internet was invented. Their societal acceptability has changed a lot, though. People no longer bat an eye when they are told that two people met online, but fifteen years ago it was cause for social leprosy and high skepticism. That’s  because, fifteen years ago, the internet was not as integral a part of society as it is now. Fifteen years ago, a few middle-aged perverts used the internet to prey on unsuspecting people, and something I like to call Internet Stranger Paranoia was born.

Internet Stranger Paranoia (ISP) is the idea that a person “from the internet” is not a normal, functional person, and even though it’s 2014 and the internet has changed a billion times since its advent, there are still some people who cling to the idea of ISP. The funny thing about ISP is that it isolates everybody except oneself. It asserts that everyone using the internet and contacting people on the internet is a weirdo, and not to be trusted, except for oneself. Self is the exception. The only one. The interesting thing, though, is that the weirdos and psychopaths and internet predators have become outnumbered by all the normal people using the internet, and that’s because now everyone uses the internet, and statistically, there are more functional and normal people in society than there are deviants, weirdos, psychopaths, and predators. Therefore, Internet Stranger Paranoia just doesn’t make sense anymore, and I wrote about this once before, when I discussed Twitter specifically.

And Twitter is a great example, in fact. Yes, there are dysfunctional human beings on Twitter. But so are there also functional ones, real people who have no reason or cause or motivation to assume alternate identities and trick you. I know this because I’ve met plenty of them. I also know this because I am one of them (one of the functional, real people, that is). The detractors of internet dating still champion the outdated idea that you don’t know a person you haven’t met in person, and this is what I particularly like about the movie Her. It validates an opinion I’ve had for quite some time now, which is that two people can get to know each other without physically spending time together in the same space on the earth. Two people can get to know each other without making eye contact, without touching each other on the cheek or the knee, without hugging. And not only get to know but simply, eventually, know.

There are two reasons I’ve suspected this for a long time now: 1) I’m a writer; 2) I’m a naturally open and vulnerable person. In person or online, in written communication or verbal, I am the type of person who doesn’t hide much, if anything at all. I don’t find it difficult to open up to people, I’m not afraid of my own emotions, and I’m not afraid of being judged. On the other hand, what I do find is that writing my thoughts is so much easier and more natural for me than speaking them. I’m not an introvert – or, at least, not a full one – but neither am I a spotlight, life-of-the-party type of person. I am comfortable in social situations, and with other people, but if you want to dig into my psyche and consume my most articulate, my most intelligent, and my most well-thought-out, well-stated ideas? Well, you can do that by consuming or experiencing my writing, not my in-person conversation. So I myself am the reason I believe that someone can be known through a computer. I know it because I can be.

On the other hand, the movie brings up another point that has been circling my brain for at least five years now, which is: Can we ever fully know someone? Perhaps, for a short time. But people grow and learn and change all the time, and if we don’t let them, then we lose them. Sometimes we lose them even if we do let them, which is what happens in Her. Some of my romantic relationships have ended because I needed to grow and change, and my partner couldn’t handle that. Every time I think about how different I am as a person now than I was in 2002-2003, or from 2004-2007, or in 2010, or 2011, I realize it’s good that I’ve never married. Those time periods represent the years I’ve spent in serious relationships, and with men who knew and understood the core of who I was at one point in time, maybe. But the Audra I am now might be unrecognizable to them because I’ve changed a lot. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop learning and growing and changing. So far, that’s been the core of who I am, and it’s possible that I’ll always be this way. I don’t know.

As this has to do with Her, what is this movie really about, anyway? I don’t know if I’m even sure, but I certainly don’t think it’s about one particular thing. I don’t think it’s about technology any more than I think Brokeback Mountain is about homosexuality. I’m not even sure I would say it’s about human connection. I don’t know if I’d say it’s about love either. Considering the concepts it’s made me ponder, maybe it’s about consciousness and identity. Maybe it’s about freedom. Maybe it’s about being open-minded. Maybe it’s about evolution and progress and change, or maybe it’s about connection and love after all. I don’t really know.

One line that keeps ringing in my head – mainly because Joaquin Phoenix said it a couple of times, or maybe because I can’t figure out what it means – is what he said about his job: “They’re just letters.”

Are they? I don’t know. In some sense, I guess they are. And we’re just people. And this is just life. And there’s something bigger than all of it out there that we cannot grasp.

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