Friday, April 27, 2007

The Pretty Noose

"Diamond rope, silver chain
Pretty noose is pretty pain
And I don't like what you got me hanging from."
Chris Cornell, 'Pretty Noose'

Thinking Girl's Feminism Friday post about The Weaker Sex started me thinking about the other generalizations that I've heard applied to women. Of course, I grew up hearing that generalization -- usually in the lovely metaphorical form the weaker vessel. I also grew up hearing that women were better at lots of things: like taking care of children, or visiting people, etc.

Last summer, as I dug through the archives of the Gospel Advocate exploring Silena Moore Holman's (that's General Holman to you) attempt to bring the Woman Movement into the proto/early Church of Christ, I noticed a disturbing tread in the arguments used against Holman. The editorial staff of the Gospel Advocate would lavish hyperbolic praise on the work they insisted women should be limited to. In comparision with other Cult of True Womanhood pieces of the time, I suspect the writing was actually quite tame -- given the largely agrarian audience of the GA not surprising, but as Mr. Lipscomb -- normally fairly nuanced and reasonable for a post-bellum white southerner -- descended into apoplexy, the melodramatic exaltation of woman's work as the "queen" of the home stood out in the context.

I became, in my notes, to label this particular argument: The Pretty Noose. It's basically lipservice exalting the position of women as purer, nobler, more glorious than that of men who have to deal with the dirty public square. Women should be grateful to have been given such an honored position within God's creation. The limitations placed on them by society are there to honor them.

Yes, you may start the cries of "BULL!" now.

I've recently heard this same line of argument used in a handful of online debates and repeated in a number of more recent materials from more-conservative elements in the CofC (*cough* Getwell *cough*). Not to mention conservative Christians outside of the CofC. And not all of the people I've heard it from are intending to be patronizing. They -- it comes from both men and women -- genuinely believe it. And I'm willing to speculate that at the beginning of the Lipscomb/Holman debates, Mr. Lipscomb genuinely believed this as well. This is why the mania that ensued after Holman continued to press her case (It basically consisted of this: some women were better suited for work in the public sphere than the private sphere and further than following in the footsteps of Mary of Bethany she had the God-given and Christ affirmed right to do so.) is so fascinating. It reveals the lavish praise of women's work to be nothing more than a smokescreen for a deep-seated misogyny -- a pretty noose to keep women in their place and to hang those who dared to step away.

Lipscomb's response to Holman was throughly out of character for him. His mockery and temper reached new heights, and Lipscomb, well-known for publishing opinions with which he personally disagreed, failed to publish at least one of Holman's responses. Sewell's responses surpassed Lipscomb's in excessive rudeness. Finally, Lipscomb's record played out into his true opinion of women. Women were not, as he had previously insisted, the guardians of everything pure and good in the world. Women were nothing more than the daughters of Eve and responsible for every evil that existed in the world. Allowing women to exist independent of a male head would “introduce confusion and strife for supremacy into every household. When woman did take the lead she shipwrecked the world” (Lipscomb, "Woman and Her Work," GA, Oct. 13, 1892).

And, so spun out in the pages of the classic Gospel Advocate we find that the Pretty Noose has revealed itself to be just that. Women aren't encouraged to stay home an raise babies because society values that work above all else; women are constrained because society possesses a deeply internalized hatred and suspicious of them. At the end of the day women aren't valued -- they are feared, they are weak, and they must be controlled by a male.

“While it does seem rather bad that two big brothers must fight one little sister, still, I am grateful for the implied compliment, and feel encouraged to continue.” Silena Moore Holman, 1888.

Oh, Holy Sophia, did I hear that right?

Paraphrasing, but apparently the purpose of tracking a woman's menstrual cycle is to know when she's "in heat."

Yes, heard by yours truly today. Followed by yours truly shouting out, "Did you just say that?"

Then there was much awkward laughter in the room.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Makeup Mystique

As I was brushing my teeth last night, my gaze fell over my roomie's make-up and the description of one of the shades in a set she had gotten. i.d. BareMinerals, in case you were wondering.

"Glee captures the look of pure joy on a women's faces when describing their most joyous time in their life, such as their wedding day or the arrival of their first baby." Not to knock such occasions, but seriously -- those are the only two examples of joyous women of which they could think. Futhermore, such makeup can "provide a natural luminosity that is similar to the dewiness of a child's skin." Because, yes, the patriarchy demands that you look like a small child. While entering into lawful matrimony for the production of small children. But you'll be happy -- gleeful -- while doing so!

Umm, feminine mystique much?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mary Winkler: Comments from an ex-CofC Feminist

So, a lot of my friends and a couple of my family members have asked about my take on Mary Winkler’s trial and the verdict. And because they know, I’m a theology geek and a feminist, they also expect my take on the interaction of CofC doctrine and practice with spousal abuse. A caveat: Trying to apply the term doctrine to CofCs is artificial at best.

So, here’s Metra on the subject:

1) I don’t think Church of Christ doctrine on the relationships between men and women produces spousal abuse, or abusers.

2) I do think that the doctrines held by the CofC on the place of women within the church family and world can exacerbate pre-existing conditions wherein spousal abuse occurs. In other words, if you hand an already sick man the type of power that CofC doctrine can be interpreted to give him, yeah – location within the CofC can make that situation worse than it might be otherwise.

The stigma attached to divorce is also a factor, as it makes it harder for abused women to leave a bad situation. It’s not an intentional effect, but it is an effect. I’m very confident that the majority of CofC elders and ministers, if they knew a woman was in an abusive situation would not condone the actions of the husband, or try to shift blame to her, and would do everything they could to help out. The system is flawed. The majority of the people aren’t.

My main concern, as a feminist, is the mindset that I have found to be pushed on young girls and young women in the CofCs. Girls and young women are indoctrinated to focus on seeing themselves in roles of wife and mother – defined through others. I spent a good number of years in classes intended for teenaged girls; we rarely talked about anything other than dating and marriage. My little sister was once in a class with the theme: How to be the perfect woman for your future husband. CofC Colleges, particularly Freed-Hardeman, Harding, and Lipscomb advertise themselves as places where “you meet your mate.” The encouragement is to see yourself as attached to a man – there simply isn’t another model for female life and wholeness available to most young women in this context. (Paul might as well have never written that it was best to remain unmarried. Thank whatever god loves me that I had a close spinster great-aunt!) This conditioning, when applied to a person who may already have, for whatever reason, a weakened sense of self and you have a complete lack of an independent self that can contribute to unhealthy, or even abusive, relationships. Not the intention, but a sad effect – illustrated in this tragedy – at which the CofC needs to take a long, hard look.

Of course, the same is true for a number of Christian denominations that promote a hierarchal family structure where the man rules, marriage is overly-idealized, and divorce is heavily suspect. It’s not just a CofC problem. And, to be honest, the CofC isn’t the big fish in the game. It’s Dobson and company and their ilk that you need to be concerned about.

And, yes, I think voluntary manslaughter was a just sentence. It wasn't murder.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

So you don't want to hear about my good day . . .

. . . that's okay, I have a blog for rhetorical ranting. And today it's happy thoughts! (Not the least of which is short meditations on why the existence of the Dresden Dolls makes the world a better place.)

I have job this summer! It pays in the decent range and hopefully won't be as "must kill" inducing as BK. Furthermore, my place of work is across the road from where I will be living. And the hours look like they'll be evening, not night. Works with summer classes. Works with something akin to a normal sleep schedule. Overrated, but whatcha gonna do?

I talked my way into an intro oil painting class without taking any prerequisites! (I have no formal training in art, other than iconography and egg tempera, but I'm a decent sketch artist and refuse to take general introduction to art. Self-teaching works remarkably well with a few online guides and a LOT of free time.)

*Happy dance! Happy dance!*

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Misquoting Jesus

I've read two books for fun this semester. The Last Temptation of Christ and Misquoting Jesus. I realized the other day that this makes me a geek par excellence, but hey, if that shoe fits, I can deal with wearing it.

I basically finished up Misquoting Jesus this morning. I say basically because I would up skipping a few sections that were things I already knew from classes and so on and so on. Anyhow, this book was written by Bart Ehrman, a well-respected Biblical scholar. I had read some of his more scholarly works for other classes, and given that I never know when a family member is going to corner me with, "well, why don't you believe X" (where X = belief that is supposed as clear as crystal from a certain Biblical passage), or that I'm going to give in to the temptation to once again pick internet fights with fundamentalist, evangelical Christians, I thought it might be interesting to see if I can toss an easily availiable and accessible book out as a suggestion for further reading.

Misquoting Jesus is certainly accessible. The reader doesn't need much, if any background in textual criticism, historical criticism, or even Christian history. Ehrman doesn't assume that anyone is familar with the various controversies that were floating around early Christianity, so he neatly sums up things like Arianism or Gnosticism in one or two paragraphs. My thought, as a geek and lover of Gnostics was -- wow, what an oversimplification! Then I remember that not everyone has the time or the desire to slug through various non-canonical texts or Kurt Rudolph's Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism, and that in all reality a complex understanding of Gnosticism was not necessary to understand Ehrman's point. So, my second thought was he does a very nice job at summing up these controversies.

Ehrman also introduces the reader to the principles of textual criticism, with which I'm not all that familiar. I found his explanations of textual criticism to be clear, concise, and imminently understandable.

I was struck at some points by the humor in the writing -- recognizable to me as religious studies geek humor. In scholarly articles, this humor is sometimes present, but it's normally limited to titles or footnotes. I suspect that Ehrman enjoyed writing in a more relaxed genre. I enjoyed reading in a more relaxed genre. To me, the process of reading this book was more like attending a class taught by a professor with whom I'm familiar than it did anything else. (Having never attended a lecture by Ehrman, I can't guess whether his writing style reflects his lecture style or not.)

The most interesting parts of the book, for me, are the autobiographical bits in the introduction and the supplementary material in the back of the book. Ehrman outlines his personal journey from mainstream protestant, to evangelical, to happy agnostic. It's an interesting story, and it functions nicely to pull the reader into the importance of the matter. The personal touch of the book also keeps it from becoming a "dry" scholarly read.