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Loving Women

2012 February 14

So with starting the semester, attending two conferences, finishing a major writing project, and having my laptop crash this blog has been a bit neglected the past couple of weeks. I’m still working on a follow-up post on Process Theology and will be launching a blog series in relation to a class project later this week, but today in honor of Valentine’s Day, I think a post on gender is called for.

Thankfully, being so busy recently has (mostly) shielded me from the latest sexism in the church controversy. Apparently John Piper once again said something offensive effectively denigrating women in the church; I haven’t bothered to pay that much attention to it. Then I attended the regional Popular Culture Association conference where I got to hear a bunch of talks on how we are living in a postfeminist world and so don’t need to bother with seeking gender egalitarianism anymore since that is just the air we breathe these days. The whole – women are strong independent individuals who don’t need to rely on anyone any longer, we are the stars of our own stories, how dare second and third wave feminism hold us back! Oh, the irony.

During one session on a postfeminist assessment on Hermione Granger, I had to speak up and challenge the assumed benefits of postfeminism. Just as the patriarchy kept women oppressed by telling us we need men to care for and or complete us, postfeminism holds women back by making us believe we can do it all on our own. This independent woman thing is actually backfiring for women. Instead of networking and relying on friends to help them advance in this world, women often think they must be self-made in order to be considered successful. Instead of surrounding ourselves with a community of support, we women often feel that we must be strong enough to manage by ourselves. To me this is just another ploy to resist the goals of the feminist movement and keep women powerless and vulnerable. Men take advantage of such things, but women sacrifice the strong support structure of community in an attempt to live up to this postfeminist lie that they don’t need help from no one.

I see just as many issues in telling women that they don’t need the support of community as I do in Piper saying that the church has a masculine feel. Both exclude women, cut women out of the core group. It has the feel of a predator stalking its prey – trying to separate it from the herd so it is more vulnerable and easier to take down. To reverse that metaphor, this seems to be based in a deep rooted fear of women. Fear that women – when strong in and of themselves and with the support of a network or community – are worthy and deserving of respect. For men who see having to acknowledge the worth of women as threat to their own positions of power and privilege (as opposed to those who see power as something the worthy should by nature share in service to all), strong women are to be feared and weakened by whatever means necessary.

One session I attended presented a historical overview of the idea of the Virago. In its original conception it was simply the female counterpart of the virtus – a person of strength, courage, and stature. Overtime it came to be a term for a woman who had transgressed her gender, become like a man and abandoned her female characteristics in order to succeed. So in dictionaries these days the terms is defined both as a woman who is strong and courageous as well as a woman who is loud, scolding, and domineering (the insults usually used to weaken smart or strong women). A term originally used to describe the strength of women was twisted into a term of insult that served to demean all women who showed signs of strength and courage. What was feared had to be brought down.

Even in this day and age as women (in some realms) are treated with greater respect than we have been historically, there is still an undercurrent of fear that needs to denigrate women. The sexual objectification of women is an obvious example of this, but even common parlance serves this function as well. Consider the ubiquity of the term “douchebag” as an insult these days. Even the most progressive self-labeling feminists I know use this term to describe the lowest, most despised jerks in our culture. This (to use Catherine Keller’s term) tehomophobia of the deep waters and funk of the womb, represents the underlying fear of women. Our sexuality, and especially our ability to bear children, becomes just another way for women to be redefined as weak or offensive. We are taught to despise our strengths, and even of late to call it sexist to list motherhood as a female strength. Fear runs so deep that even those that respect women are manipulated into twisting our strengths into negative qualities and therefore into keeping us weak.

I’m over that. I don’t care if it is a stereotypical sexist pastor or a postfeminist hipster, I’m tired of people trying to keep me weak. I have strengths and I do not fear them. So on this day devoted to showing love, I move that we start loving women instead of fearing them (that goes for us women too). That we stop separating women from the herd to make us vulnerable or use female sexuality as our preferred form of insult. Forget flowers and chocolate, let’s truly start to love women by celebrating instead of diminishing our strengths.


13 Responses leave one →
  1. February 14, 2012

    Well, it looks like you managed to write down one of your ten blog ideas!

    But seriously, as I read this, I wondered if perhaps . . . just perhaps . . . a lot of the postfeminist jargon you mention comes from this deep fear of taking things too far. The reason why I mention this is because I have a bad habit of being afraid to call out oppression because I don’t want to upset the apple cart. I’m like, “Oh, gee, I better not say anything about non-gay-affirming churches because it’ll upset everyone.” Meanwhile my LGBT brothers and sisters are left as second-class citizens of the Kingdom of God, excluded from full participation in the Body of Christ. You know what I mean?

    • February 14, 2012

      Explain what you mean a bit more. I get the argument, but am not entirely clear on how you are comparing it to postfeminism rhetoric.

      • February 14, 2012

        What I meant by postfeminist jargon was the mentality of “Oh, women are much better off now than they were years ago, so we should stop fighting for gender equality.” That’s what I meant to say, but wasn’t sure exactly how to word it. In fact, I’m pretty sure I called it the wrong thing. Sorry about that!

  2. Liz Law permalink
    February 14, 2012

    I had never thought about the term “douchebag” in that manner. I am of the opinion that the entire douche industry is built upon fear of the vagina in its natural state- hence the need to “clean,” “sanitize,” or “freshen.” In my mind, I considered the “douchebag” the physical manifestation of the attempt to capitalize on this fear. Following this rather labyrinthine train of thought, I reveled in refering to those that embodied a fear of women or female sexuality as “douchebags.” Thanks for making me think a bit more critically about my language.

  3. February 14, 2012

    Julie – “This independent woman thing is actually backfiring for women. Instead of networking and relying on friends to help them advance in this world, women often think they must be self-made in order to be considered successful.”

    Our small group consists entirely of women (divorced, divorcing, widowed, and in on case … all of the above) who are struggling to rediscover who they are (without their men) and who they are becoming. My wife and I bring them into our home every other week to love them like crazy and serve them … and to befriend them in ways that dim the married-single divide and even the male-female one. We love each other as equals. We love each other as God loves us … as far as that is humanly possible. We are learning how to rely on and trust each other as covenant friends. But that is so hard … both for the women for the reasons you have so brilliantly pointed out, but also for me as the only guy in this mix. I get lumped in with all the other guy-jerks like Piper and Driscoll … at first. It takes a long time for my love to be accepted as unconditional, without any hidden agendas, and completely free of any ulterior motives — and egalitarian. It is hard for them to accept a gift that for perhaps the first time is not just a pretty wrapping around an obligation … or an expectation of future reward.

    We all are struggling with this. My prayer is that our love for each other will out-shout the disrespectful, destructive and even deadly voices around us. Keep preaching it, Julie. Loud and passionate. For in that passion lies the Passion of our God in whose image we all were created and in whose Love we were created to share.

  4. February 19, 2012

    I would actually venture to guess that a very large percentage of the men who use the term “douchebag” as an insult don’t actually have any idea what a douchebag really is. Let’s face it – most men are willfully in the dark when it comes to the intricacies of feminine hygiene. They probably heard it once on South Park or the Daily Show and thought it sounded funny and have been using it ever since without even stopping to wonder what the word referred to. At least, I know that was the case for me. :)

  5. Karl permalink
    February 20, 2012

    I think Mike C is correct – lots of boys especially, and even men, who use the term “douchebag” have no clue to what they are referring. There are plenty of legitimate things to get exercised about without seeing sexism where none is (usually) intended. The term “dick” or “dickhead” is no more flattering than “douchebag” and is used pretty much synonymously. Or how about “he’s a real shit”. Body parts and body functions, and particularly bodily secretions, excretions or discharges, have long been used in this linguistic manner. Maybe it’s crass or juvenile but in the case of this particular word I don’t think its’ use is usually sexist, anymore than the term dickhead is usually sexist. Yeah, if used by a woman who hates men then “he’s such a dick” might carry tones of sex-hatred. And the same with woman-hating men who use the term douchebag. But in general? Jumping on people who say “douchebag” seems like the feminist equivalent of fundies who get all over anyone’s case who says “OMG.”

    • February 20, 2012

      Don’t misunderstand me. I agree with Julie’s overall assessment that the use of terms like ‘douchebag’ are examples of our culture’s general sexism and ambivalence towards the female body. However, I think such sexism is inherent more in the structures and collective subconscious of society as a whole, not necessarily in any particular individual who may use the term. No one said anything about “jumping on people who say “douchebag”.” Accusing particular individuals of sexism in such instances really misses the point of what sexism is. It’s not about individual culpability or guilt – it’s about how we all participate in a society that, often unwittingly, reinforces long-standing and built-in sexist attitudes. In that regards, even my own ignorance of what the term meant was probably yet another example of our society’s general ambivalence and apprehension about the female body – I didn’t just not know, I didn’t want to know.

      • Karl permalink
        February 20, 2012

        I should have put a paragraph break after my first sentence Mike. I knew you weren’t disagreeing with Julie and didn’t mean to imply you were.

        The thoughts in what should have been the second paragraph are my own, not meant to be tied to yours. Why is douchebag sexist but dickhead not? What about scatological references and terms that are gender-neutral but used similarly? Why isn’t douchebag of a kind with crass pejoratives like asswipe, shithead and dick, asshole and piss-poor, all of which deal with body parts and functions? Trying to make a term like that out to be some insidious sign of embedded cultural sexism seems like a stretch to me – the result of seeing the whole world through gender studies glasses to the point you are seeing red where there isn’t really red. It seems to trivialize real issues of sexism people ought to all be able to get on board with fighting, and makes people less likely to take you seriously because you start to sound like a caricature.

        Maybe “jumping on” wasn’t the right choice of words. For that matter my fundy leaning friends who would point out that their speaking up against the pervasive use of OMG isn’t mainly about individual guilt but rather calling attention to how we all participate in a society that, often unwittingly, reinforces long-standing and built-in propensity to “take the Lord’s name in vain” probably aren’t “jumping on” people either. But “jumping on” or not, they are still being silly and majoring in highly debatable trivialities and are making caricatures of themselves despite having all the best intentions, IMO.

        And in a sense it still IS also about individual guilt, if in this PC-conscious society you are going to add that word to the list of insensitive words – in the workplace, for example. It’s crass and probably shouldn’t be used generally in most professional or formal social settings for that reason. If the workplace is one where using crude or crass language generally is improper then the crudity deserves censure. But if it’s truly a sexist word, you’re putting it in a whole other category, one that could trigger a Title VII discrimination claim if used carelessly, on the same side of the ledger as an ethnic slur rather than on the “crass but non-discriminatory” side of the ledger with pejoratives such as asshole and the like. I just don’t think it’s generally that sort of word.

        • February 21, 2012

          I doubt the culture will ever ban the word for being sexist. Just like I doubt we will ever hear the end of “that’s so gay” or “you ___ like a girl.” But that doesn’t mean that if we care for people we should use their identity as an insult as if being equated with them is the worst that could possibly happen. Yes, there is a difference between female sexuality and shit, so the term douchbag can be demeaning while crude language is simply crude and reveals our discomfort with our bodies. The real question here is not about getting defensive about being labeled sexist or if the PC police are coming to get you, but thinking through what is respectful and uplifting to women and then living it out.

        • February 21, 2012

          Douchebag is of a kind with those other scatological terms. That’s the problem. For centuries the female body has been associated with the lowest kind of dirt and filth. Douchebag is just one more small example of what is a very pervasive and well-documented cultural tendency.

          As for worrying about being “PC,” get over it already. Like Julie said, it’s not about being PC, it’s about being a respectful, mature, loving person. Do you really need Title VII or social pressure about being “PC” to simply treat women with respect? Besides, “PC” is just a term invented by conservatives to mock what the rest of us simply call being a decent human being.

  6. Ada permalink
    November 15, 2015

    This is a wonderful message everyone needs to hear.
    And yes I think in our society there is a very great undercurrent of fear, both of strong, independent women and women who work together as a group or within the community.
    Take, for example, a look at Disney villianesses. Maleficent, Ursula, Cruella De Ville and Mother Gothel are all single, loud, strong, independent and unmarried women who often have great power over others, have authority, are intelligent, and command others (henchmen and minions). They are either ugly or sexualized. They are always the villain and never given a chance of redemption but are inherentily evil. And yet if they were men they could easily be the hero or at least given a chance of redemption. But they aren’t.
    Note that it is very difficult to escape talking about their appearance because women are always subject to the male gaze – often looked at and therefore judged by how they look, but almost never the one who does the looking (though in reality this is, of course, not true.)
    Also, I really want to stress that both they and female heroes in Disney films and other media stories are often the only female character we see and care about. They are lost in a sea of men. But real life is not like that. So I really think your point that we need to make church less male dominated and more inclusive to women is really important and really truly needs to be changed. We are as Christians meant to be a light for the whole world, not just men. And if you are wounded by that fact, you really aren’t paying attention.

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