Tag Archives: feminism

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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#married

Well, I’m married. So that’s weird. And awesome.

Our wedding was the day I hoped it would be. It was fun, and unique, and nontraditional, and different. And we got a lot of compliments from our guests about how we structured the ceremony and the things we chose to include. One person said it was “the coolest wedding she’d ever attended” (and she’s in her fifties, so I think it’s reasonable to assume she’s been to quite a few). Another person said that so many brides and grooms forget to have fun on their wedding day because there’s so much to worry about, and he said he could tell that the only thing we were doing was having fun. Two people asked for copies of the vows we said to each other. And my brother commented at one point, “The only thing traditional about your wedding is that you’re having it in a church.”

These were all very high compliments, and I am grateful people took the time to say them to us. We did have a lot of fun on our wedding day. Nothing was stressful or rushed, and nothing went wrong. (Of course, if you talk to my mom and dad, they might say something different about the stressful part, considering how much work they did.) But overall, it was a hitch-free, smooth, awesome wedding. And I’m really glad people appreciated the nontraditional parts because those were the most fun to dream up.

The two nontraditional decisions we made that we expected to get the weirdest looks for are the two that probably went over the best – the no-gifts request and our name change announcement.

You might remember the post I wrote in September discussing the reasoning behind our request for no gifts, and my fears that people would ignore our desires, and my struggle with whether it was disrespectful of me, and of us, to go against the grain. But my fears turned out to be unfounded because we got three physical presents in total (two were from my grandpa, one from my office), and everyone else gave us money (including that same grandpa who gave us two gifts). So we raised enough to take the full honeymoon we want, and go to every city and baseball stadium we hoped to, and be gone as long as we dreamed. And I’m sure I’ll blog about that (with pictures) after we get back. Stay tuned in July.

And, three other people gave us gift cards, which allowed us to buy an espresso machine (yes, I married a coffee snob) and a rolling kitchen cart I’ve been dreaming about for years that will afford both more storage and more counter space in the kitchen. And finally, one extremely generous guest is paying for one of our honeymoon nights in a hotel out in San Francisco, and it is a very nice hotel. So, despite my fears, the whole no-gift thing turned out far better than I ever expected, and we are very grateful for the generosity and indulgence of our friends and family who have showed their love for us many times over in respecting our nontraditional desires and in helping us have the best honeymoon we could conceive of.

Now, about the name. Since I shut down my Facebook account several months ago, there may be some who read this blog who aren’t aware of what we are doing with our name. Previously I was Marvin and he was Spencer. Now, as a married couple, we are Spiven, a hybrid of both names. The reasoning behind the whole thing would be another blog post entirely, so I’ll just summarize the points for you:

1) Giving up Marvin entirely was harder than I thought it would be.
2) We like to have fun, and this is fun!
3) Patriarchal tradition is boring.
4) There’s an element of creative fun involved.
5) Carving out your own path is a huge part of the joy of getting and staying married.
6) We think it’s FUN!
7) Sexism is stupid.
8) Have I mentioned how much fun we had cooking up the name?
9) Spiven is a great name.
10) F-U-N.

The best part about our name change is how well the news has been received by the people who mean the most to us. Even David’s grandfather, the patriarch of the Spencer family, told us he thought it was “great” and that he thinks every new couple has the right to do whatever they want to do to ensure their life is their own, and he told us we chose a creative, unique, and fun way to start. That was a relief because we both love Grandpa Spencer dearly, and we were afraid he might be hurt by our decision, or not understand it. But you’ve got to give an octogenarian credit where credit is due. Honestly, he may not understand the decision, but he has made it very clear that he respects our right to make it. He seems to understand that loving us and making sure we know he loves us is more important than understanding the decision. And that’s a rare and valuable quality in an elderly person. I feel very loved, and grateful to be part of and welcomed into this wonderful patriarch’s family.

Married life has not been total and complete bliss, though. We stayed in a really nice (read: expensive) hotel on the plaza for two days after the wedding, and they gave us a gift to bring home with us afterward: bed bugs! So tomorrow we’ll have our second visit from the exterminator in a week. Luckily this is a check-up visit and much more low-key than the first one, before which we had to prepare the house for treatment by removing all our outlet and light switch covers and bagging up all our clothes, bed linens, towels, and curtains for quarantine. We sealed up 56 plastic bags with our cloth and fabric belongings. The only things that didn’t get bagged up were the clothes on our backs that we wore out of the house while treatment took place. We had to be out (animals included) for two and a half hours, and then when we were allowed to come home, we had to run everything that was in the bags through the dryer for a minimum of 30 minutes. Some of that stuff had to be washed first, so we have spent the entirety of the past week running the washer and dryer perpetually. I counted a few minutes ago, and there are only 18 bags left for drying, so we are almost home free. The first couple days were the worst. We had no clothes and no curtains. We apologize to any of our neighbors who may have glimpsed us in indecent states. We even had to skip church last Sunday because we didn’t have a shower curtain. So it’s been a busy week, to say the least.

But, honestly, when I think about last Saturday, I think less about all the work we did and more about the long walk we took around the neighborhood while we waited for it to be safe to get back in our house again. The weather was nice, and we walked 10 blocks north and about 5 east. In the middle of it, we stumbled on college softball and baseball games and stopped to watch a couple innings of each. Strangely enough, it was the kind of scene I always used to imagine when I pictured married life: walking hand in hand together through our neighborhood, with no agenda, enjoying each other’s company and conversation and simply reveling in the presence of my soul mate. It was perfect. And it probably wouldn’t have happened if not for the bed bugs, so I’m not even mad at the hotel anymore.

Okay fine I’m still a little mad. We had to sign over our firstborn child to the exterminator to be able to afford the treatment. That’s not a cheap deal.

But seriously. We are happy. And when things don’t go our way, we do our best to make lemonade out of sour grapes. I think our future together is bright.

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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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A Short Consideration of Biblical Anti-Feminism

Early this week, I was approached by a female (Christian) college student who had some questions about the Bible, and specifically how she, as a young woman, ought to feel about some of the anti-woman passages the Bible contains, especially those in Paul’s writings in Corinthians. I was deeply flattered that she came to me to ask for my take on some of those scriptures. I am not at all an authority on the Bible, or on theology, or on scriptural interpretation. But this particular young lady is well acquainted with my personality, and knows that I consider myself something of a low-level feminist, in addition to a Christian. I’m not sure how much of a scholarly response she hoped for, but I am certain she wanted my opinion, and that I have in abundance.

As a woman who was raised from birth in a godly home, I too have had these questions and these struggles along the course of my faith journey. Crafting my response to this query was something that required me to revisit some of my own questions, doubts, and even frustrations with what sometimes feels like an incompleteness in Scripture. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have Jesus-in-the-Flesh so I could ask questions like this when they come up. But then I remember how, every time someone in the Bible has a question for Jesus, the riddled answers he gives leave the recipient just as confused as he was before he asked, if not more so. That Jesus was one tricky fella.

Still, though, coming up with a response to the question of how to approach anti-feminism in the Bible forced me to think through some of these things again, and it made me wonder how others handle it. So I’ve decided to share, in its entirety, the response I drafted and sent, in the hopes that some discussion will be generated. I’m deeply interested in other people’s thoughts on the matter. Keep in mind, I don’t have a degree in anything even close to religion, theology, or the Bible, so my thoughts are more ‘Audra’ than they are ‘educated.’ If you disagree with something I’ve said, that’s fine. I’d love to hear from you. I only ask that you please not be rude.

One final note: I wrote this response without actually looking up the Corinthian scriptures. I probably shouldn’t have done that. Still not having looked them up, I now wonder if what my response addresses is actually contained in Paul’s letters, or if it possibly belongs to a different New Testament writer. The bulk of my response addresses the scriptures that talk about how women don’t have a place in church participation and/or leadership because, when I hear someone talking about the Bible being anti-women, these are the first scriptures I think of, and they are the ones I myself have personally wrestled with the most. I won’t pretend to know off the top of my head what book they come from. Perhaps, though, at a later date, I’ll examine things more thoroughly and find I have more to say. If so, I’m sure you’ll hear from me.

That being said, following is the full, verbatim, unedited text of my original response:

Hey, got your text. Had a much longer answer than could be contained in a text message, or than I wanted to use Swype for. So here we are.

Your question is rather loaded, but I find the answer to be fairly simple, at least for me. First off, it’s important to remember how highly contextualized the Bible is. The books were not really meant to be passed down thousands and thousands of years. When I say “meant,” I am of course only speaking of the authors’ intentions. No author of Scripture intended for his words to be read in 2013, and certainly not adhered to as gospel truth.

It is my opinion that if Paul or any other writer of any other book of the Bible – especially the New Testament books – came back today and saw the way that Christians and the church misapply his contextual words, he would both laugh and cry. And then he’d probably write a letter to the new world, chastising us for being such incompetent fools that we can’t even take the spirit of Scripture and figure out how to apply it to our own contexts.

Now, (*Obama voice*) let me be clear: I think the Bible is important. But there are contextual details in Scripture that do not apply to the world we live in today, and how could they? It’s just not possible.

When I read Scripture that feels misogynistic or seems to disagree with the world I’m encountering (this includes the anti-homosexual scriptures too), I run it through the Greatest Commands filter:

1) Does this scripture – beyond the surface – speak to Jesus’s command to love God? If so, how can I apply it in that way? Loving God does not mean not being who you are (as a woman, in this case; as a gay person, in other cases; as a myriad of other things in a myriad of other cases).

2) If the answer to the first question is no, then it should be yes here: Does this scripture – beyond the surface – speak in some way to Jesus’s second-greatest command to love others? If so, how can I apply it in that way?

The writers of Scripture were human, and they were not without sin. Paul contradicts himself a zillion times. Some of this is because he has different things to say to the different towns/churches because they have different problems. What’s true for Galatia is not true for Corinth, and vice versa. Otherwise, he could’ve just written one document for everyone. Paul wrote from prison, trying to put out specific fires in specific communities. I highly doubt he had any concept or inkling that his writings would survive thousands of years and be taken at total face value in 2013.

Those who chose and compiled the canon were also human, and not without sin. I’m not saying that I don’t believe the Bible is inspired by God; I do believe God inspired Scripture; but I AM saying that I don’t believe in the concept of inerrancy of Scripture, at least not in the literal sense. Especially when the versions of the Bible we have today are so doctored and transformed from the original texts. It blows my mind when someone dissects a paragraph for me and explains all the various meanings that could be meant by one Greek or Hebrew word. The difference is too vast for me to say that my NIV, modernized, Anglicized, translated-into-American-English version of the Bible is totally without error or fault.

When I memorize Scripture, I don’t find it important to memorize the potentially divisive ones that are so highly embedded with contexts and cultures that are dead today. I find it important to memorize the ones that transcend context and culture, such as the one I tattooed on my arm, Philippians 4:12. Oppression of women does not transcend context and culture, but trusting God enough to be “content” (wherever the various nuances of that definition may take me) in any circumstance – that does transcend. It’s a totally timeless concept, as are the two commands to love God and love others.

If the anti-women scriptures are that important to you, dig into their history and find out why exactly that view was important enough to Paul to write it down. And find a way to prove why it’s irrelevant today. Heck, find a way to reapply the Scripture so that the word ‘woman’ isn’t what’s important. Why did he not want women leaders in the church? I doubt very much it was because they were women. Today the application of that Scripture might be more along the lines of, “Hey. Don’t let someone who hasn’t studied up on theology lead your church.” Back then women were not allowed to be scholars. So should they have been leading congregations? Probably not. Today, should someone who has never studied the Bible, or its culture, or its history, or the ancient languages surrounding it, or any type of theology whatsoever, be leading a congregation in a significant way? Probably not. Saying ‘women’ could have been an easy (albeit, lazy) way to say that the uneducated person should not lead the church. I don’t know. I haven’t dug into it myself.

I’m really glad this question and consideration has become important to you. We serve a good God, and we serve a God who made both of us, and called it ‘good.’ Love God; love others. Not easy concepts; but simple. Also, this is the tip of a pretty contentious iceberg, so good luck and be careful digging in!

PS I mentioned this conversation to a friend, and he recommended a couple of resources. The first takes an open perspective and theology on the importance of both genders and God’s original intent for both men and women (the most important detail being that the inequality is a result of the fall, and of a broken world).

And here is one that Nazarene Publishing House published that is no longer in print, that specifically addresses Paul.

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