Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I Am a Theatre Artist

I am a theatre artist. And I've noticed that in the past couple of years I've lost a lot of confidence. Now, I haven't lost any confidence that theatre is what I want to *do*, but I have lost confidence in the way that I *say* that to other people. I've actually started to dread the "What are you studying...and what do you want to do with that?" conversation, because so many years of fake smiles, so many years of "do you want to be a teacher, then?", so many exclamations of "but you're so quiet!", and so many jokes about becoming a waitress, majoring in hobbies, and hints that I'll change my mind or that I should get a degree in "something that I can use" have chipped away at my desire to talk about my career plans with people who aren't artists.
So, here is my real resolution for 2015. I will quit caring about other people's reactions. I will stop skirting around that conversation just to avoid judgement. I am a theatre artist. I am pursuing acting. Yes, acting. We can talk about why I think acting is important later, but for now, know that I am in fact pursuing it. I am not going to teach acting, not to high school students, not to college students, not to children. (Well, maybe as a volunteer thing at some point, but teaching theatre will not be my career.) I have utmost respect and admiration for theatre instructors and for teachers in general, and to treat their career choice as a consolation prize for people who didn't "make it" is an insult to a group of very hard-working and intelligent people who have earned their place in the academic field. I will not do theatre "on the side." I will not "keep it up as a hobby." I have wanted to make acting my job since I was fourteen, and that hasn't changed.
Will I fail? Maybe. It happens. Does that scare me to death? Duh. But I'd rather try and fail than fail by avoiding my desired career because it got difficult to talk about during Thanksgiving.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ways to Know that You're Dating a Woman, Not a Girl

1) She's at least eighteen years old.




...That's basically it.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

An Open Letter to the Girl Who Wrote "Nice Guy"

For context, read "An Open Letter to the Girl Who Let the Nice Guy Go" first, then read the rest of this post. The original post was first published in June of this year, but I only recently saw it on my facebook newsfeed. This is my reaction to the letter. 


Dear Writer, 

I can see that your letter comes from a good place, that you are probably writing on behalf of your friends. You've probably seen some wonderful guys get ignored, and I can see that this frustrates you. As a woman, I too have experienced the frustration of being ignored. Perhaps you have too. I applaud you for questioning the minefield of dating, because it truly is a minefield, and trying to navigate it brings up all sorts of difficulties and heartbreaks. 

But now I have to address the sentiments of your letter that bothered me, the attitudes that are pervasive in our culture. These attitudes may spring from a place of good intentions, but ultimately they hurt women. Your open letter is full of genuine concern, but beneath the surface, some problematic outlooks lurk. 

First, you begin by lamenting the women who consistently date men who treat them like dirt. And then you said this: 

So you tried to push the nice guy away. When he wouldn't go away, you pushed harder. Still, he didn't give up and every time you pushed harder, he pulled you in even more. He ignored your fears and forced you to grow; He fought for your passions when you were too busy writing them off. He forgot your wants and focused on everything you needed. Then you walked away because he was too nice. 

This may come as a surprise, but she probably walked away for reasons other than him being "too nice." Let's talk about consent for a minute. We usually talk about consent in terms of sex, but no means no whether or not the situation involves sex. You're asking for a commitment that goes far beyond sex. The "nice guy" here wants an emotional commitment. He wants her heart, her time, her trust. He wants what she clearly isn't ready to give to him yet, and he's not respecting her "no." In fact, he's willing to "pull [her] in," "ignore [her] fears," "force [her] to grow." Words like pull, ignore, force, and forget your wants, should send up a giant, bright red flag. If we were discussing sex, it would. But we're discussing something even more important than sex. That's not to diminish the importance of sexual consent but to highlight the importance of emotional consent as well. Her mind, her heart, and her soul are all more important than her body, and the "nice guy" wants her to give all of those things to him on his own terms, not hers. The first paragraphs in your open letter reveal that this hypothetical woman has probably been hurt by the men in her life. And yet the "nice guy" thinks that she should be ready to date him because he's nice. It's not just about him. It's about her too, and whether or not she is ready to be in a relationship with him. He can't force an emotional bond with her. No does not mean please ignore what I want. No does not mean you know what I need better than I do. No not mean pull me in further when I push away. No does not mean maybe or keep asking or I'm playing hard to get. No means no. That's it. The end. 

"Wait," the nice guy may be thinking, "but why is she saying no to me but not the jerk?" Well, if somebody is hurting her, if he's abusive in any way, be that physically, emotionally, or sexually, then Nice Guy should do something about it. He should encourage her to get help. Call the authorities if she's unable to get help on her own. But he does not get to decide that a relationship with him is what she needs to heal. He may offer support, but he should not force her into a relationship. A "nice guy" coercing her into an emotional bond is the last thing she needs, especially if the aforementioned jerks have toyed with her emotions in the past. 

This letter assumes that women owe men. Hollywood has been perpetuating that idea for many years. But it's time that we call out these attitudes so that we can put a stop to them. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Covenant House

"Oh please please please snow," I muttered while staring out the window. We'd had a light snowfall already, and it wasn't sticking, but because this is Texas I was holding on to hope that my classes might still be cancelled. It's the benefit of living in places like Texas and Tennessee. When you don't get much snow, the tiniest bit of it will shut everything down and give you a day to read books and watch Netflix. Or finish that paper on Russian theatre. I had the news turned on. They kept talking about the dropping temperatures, because again, we panic about that stuff over here. Nothing about school cancellations, though.

"Come on, snow!" I whispered. I was getting irritated. And then I looked at the TV, and I forgot about school for just a minute. On the screen, a group of women were setting up a table of hot food. The camera panned over to a group of homeless men. They lined the sidewalk, huddled up against a building, bundled into sleeping bags, hats, and earmuffs. It wasn't enough. How could it be enough? And then it struck me: I'm sitting here praying for the exact thing that can only make their lives worse right now. Suddenly avoiding my classes didn't seem so important.

I enjoy winter, but I realize that everything I love about winter involves avoiding it. I like the giant sweaters, the time spent in front of a fireplace, and wrapping up in a blanket while I enjoy the aforementioned books and Netflix. If I didn't have food, shelter, and heat, winter would be a nightmare.

And for many people under the age of twenty one, winter is a nightmare. Think of the last time you felt truly cold, when the wind crept under all the layers and cut into your skin, when you shivered violently as your body desperately tried to get warm again. That moment might have been this morning, but how long did it last? Long enough to get your car warmed up? Long enough for you to dig your keys out of your bag and get into your house? What if it didn't end? Can you imagine spending an entire night feeling that way? For homeless teens, these nights aren't just cold. They're dangerous.

That's why Covenant House, an organization supporting homeless teenagers, is so important. It's more than a shelter. Yes, it does provide shelter and warm beds, but it also provides job training, help for mothers, and so much more. I only found out about Covenant House a month or so ago, but it's clear that they provide a lifesaving work. And if you, like me, don't have a lot of extra cash lying around, there are ways you can help that won't cost you any money, although donations are always helpful as well. For now, why not take a look at the website and just get to know the organization a bit? It may inspire you to make a difference.

Monday, December 1, 2014

If We Treated Everybody the Way We Treat Artists

I am a theatre artist. I'm a theatre artist suffering from a huge case of Impostor Syndrome, but I am theatre artist. Recently I started wondering what it would sound like if we treated everybody the way we treat artists. All of the following are based on things that have been said to me or about me. 

  • I want to be a high school teacher.
  • Hey, you know what you could do? You could teach middle school! 
  • Well yeah, if that's where the jobs are, but I really want to teach high school. 
  • Or elementary school! 
  • I'm not actually great with kids... 
  • You can be a coach. 
  • I'm not athletic. I just want to teach high school. 
  • And that's it? 
  • Yes. 
  • Oh. 

  • Look, you should at least minor in education. You can totally still do your business administration thing on the side. 

  • Your work can't be that hard. You're a math major, right? 

  • What's your major? 
  • Engineering. 
  • Oh, so you want to be a teacher?
  • Actually, I want to be an engineer. 
  • Really? 

  • She got a degree in biology. I think she's going to get a Master's in something she can use. 

  • Psychology is a hobby, not a career. 

  • He's probably really full of himself. All architects are. 

  • Are you still doing that dentistry thing?
  • Yes. 
  • What do you want to do with that? 
  • Uh...dentistry. 
  • Huh. You dating anyone yet? 
  • Nope. Pass the mashed potatoes. 

And finally...

  • I gave up sociology when I converted to Christianity. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why I'm (Still) Writing About Introversion

Last week I ran across this article several times on facebook, and you should totally read it. It's about some of the problems that extroverts face, and it has a lot of points that introverts may not have previously considered. For example, I hadn't realized that while I can't stand it when people assume that I'm sad all the time, many extroverts can't stand the pressure to act happy all the time. And the fact that many people perceive extroverts as shallow is really unfair. An extrovert can contemplate deep subjects. And I can look like I'm deep in thought while remembering that I'm out of shampoo. So yes, do read that article and others like it. If you don't know much about the extroverted personality, go ahead and do some research on it and its unique set of challenges. While you're at it, look up ambiversion too, because those guys aren't super represented right now. (Ambiverts fall somewhere in the middle of the introvert/extrovert spectrum.)

But I do have to admit that there was something about the piece that bothered me. Not the list itself. No, that list needs to be read, shared, and discussed. That list is important. But the opening paragraph made me feel uneasy.

Here it is:

Over the past few years I’ve noticed a growing number of articles exclaiming, “How To Take Care of An Introvert” or “10 Things Everyone Should Understand About Introverts” and while I have no real problem with introverts and introversion, my issue is with the fact that people of the internet seem to have romanticized introversion in a way that turns any possible social impediments a person might have into desirable quirky traits. Not only this, but extroverts are suddenly the bad guys for not understanding introverts or mistreating introverts, etc, etc. As a self-proclaimed extrovert, I’m pretty sick and tired of people assuming that introverts are the only people who have got it hard. Really, seriously? Are we really going to play this game? Now you look here, mister. Extroverts may not seem as delicate or may not seem as complex and diverse, but extroverts have a whole different category of BS they have to deal with too. It’s not easy out there for anyone.

And on facebook, I've seen a certain level of annoyance over the posts about introverts. Now perhaps I feel a little uneasy simply because I'm one of the ones writing those posts. But I honestly think it goes deeper than that. 

Specifically, the part that claims that we have "romanticized" introversion and the part that equates my personality with "possible social impediments" really bother me. Introversion isn't about social impediments, and this paragraph reveals that our culture still doesn't quite understand what introversion is. (Introverts are people who have the most energy when they are by themselves or in small groups. Extroverts are people who have the most energy when they are with larger groups.) 

So yes, we do talk about introversion a lot. I talk about introversion a lot. But because of all of the annoyance and irritation over these posts that I have seen others express, I thought that I might take a moment to explain myself. 

Please understand that I'm not saying that extroverts shouldn't write these posts, that they shouldn't express examples of their own difficulties. On the contrary. I ask that you please keep writing them, because honestly, as an introvert, I may not always understand some misconceptions that you continue to face. I am, however, going to address the sentiment of annoyance and (occasionally) outright hostility that I've seen against all the posts about introversion, and I do want to explain why we are still, after all of this time, writing about it. 


So why do introverts suddenly have such a big voice on the internet? Why are we still talking about it? 
I'm not sure how exactly this whole thing got started, but I think we can at least partly thank/blame Susan Cain for this. She wrote a really fantastic book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. And while a few other authors have written about the subject (I have a stack of those books on my shelf right now), Susan Cain's book gained a significant amount of popularity. And as a result, introverts have taken on a new level of interest in their own personalities and have exhibited a desire to talk about it more publicly than they have in the past. 

Now, while I do have to acknowledge that extroverts can be pretty fantastic ("No, you don't get it. Some of my best friends are extroverts, okay?"), and I absolutely understand that each personality type has its own list of difficulties, I'm not going to stop writing about introversion.  

Because while extroverts do have struggles, the fact is that extroversion is seen as normal. It's seen a sign of mental health while its opposite is seen as a sign of neuroticism (See the OCEAN personality test). I'm not exaggerating, either. Introversion was literally almost included in the DSM as a sign of a mental disorder. A mental disorder. This was in 2010, by the way. We define introversion by its lack of extroverted traits and not the other way around.  We assume that extroverts make better leaders than introverts. Extroversion is the default. Any deviation from the default is odd. Introversion is often seen as a defect. Introverts are told, sometimes even directly, that they must change their personalities. 

Lexus thinks that introversion is a pathology that needs a cure. 

And sometimes people of faith assume that God Himself is an extrovert. From this sermon about Christmas.

According to Richard Haverson, just by virtue of my being introvert, I am a failure as a Christian. How do you think this makes me feel?

Speaking of faith and introversion, the aforementioned book by Susan Cain points out that there is an extroverted bias in evangelical Christianity. She quotes a certain evangelical requirement for church leadership:

Like HBS, evangelical churches often make extroversion a prerequisite for leadership, sometimes explicitly. "The priest must extrovert who enthusiastically engages members and newcomers, a team player," reads an ad for a position as an associate rector of a 1,400-member parish. A senior priest at another church confesses online that he has advised parishes recruiting a new rector to ask what his or her Myers-Briggs score is. "If the first letter isn't an E [for extrovert]," he tells them, "think twice...I'm sure our Lord was [an extrovert]." 

Wait, how is that okay? Why do these particular Christians think that it's perfectly fine to discriminate in such a way against introverts? How do you think people would have reacted if they had advertised for the opposite?

This whole "introversion as an illness" trope exists everywhere.  Even Google defines introversion as "a shy, reticent person" when in fact, one can be an outgoing introvert. My psychology textbook in college went so far as to claim that introverts don't like fun. My psychology. Textbook. As in a vetted academic text that was edited several times before publication. That is not okay. Sigmund Freud himself decided that introversion is a prelude to narcissism. He thought that introversion was the result of sexual repression because he's Freud and so of course he did. And this nonsense is everywhere. 

The structure of American offices? Built for extroverts.
Our entire educational system? Built for extroverts.
Television? Idealizes the extrovert personality.
The job market? Favors extroverts.

So take just a minute to step into an introvert's shoes. You have been told (sometimes literally) throughout your entire life that you will be a better person if you just acted more extroverted. You have been seen as a project or a trophy. Your personality, part of the very essence of who you are, has been de-emphasized and sometimes demonized. Psychology textbooks and dictionaries have said that there is something wrong with you. You live in a world that just is not built for you. You've been made to feel that you are not normal. You have been called selfish for turning down social engagements because you needed time to recharge.

And then somebody writes a book that makes you sigh in relief. Somebody else publishes an article that expresses everything you've been going through for years. Suddenly, you realize that you are, in fact, normal. You see that you are not strange and that at least a third of the population is experiencing the same thing that you are. You can talk to other people about this! Not only are you allowed to acknowledge that your personality is not a defect, you are now even allowed to like your personality. You have the chance to actually celebrate the parts of you that people have tried to make you hide for so long. Wouldn't you hold on to that chance for dear life? Wouldn't you relish that newfound freedom? Wouldn't you celebrate?

I'm going to give a somewhat clumsy comparison. When I was in eighth grade I realized that all of the other girls my age were straightening their hair. Straight hair was the norm. Curls and waves had to be dealt with and taken away. In college I decided that I actually liked my curls and that I wasn't going to straighten them anymore. Does that mean that I have some sort of bias against straight hair? Of course not! It just means that I appreciated this aspect of myself. That's all. It's also like when I say that I'm proud to be a woman. Does that mean I have something against men? Nope.

When we write posts about introverts and introversion, when we dedicate pinterest boards to the subject, when we talk about it on tumblr or share it on facebook, we are not trying to attack extroverts, claim superiority, or say that introverts are the only ones with problems. No, we are just trying to celebrate our newfound freedom to be proud of or even okay with our own personalities. It's a freedom that we didn't have for a very, very long time. 

So, to my dear extroverts and ambiverts: I'm listening. I want to know what you are going through. I want to hear about the biases that have been used against you. I want to understand the times when people have given you problems because of your personalities. Please tell me. Blog about it. Tweet about it. Share it on facebook. Talk to me about it face to face. Understand that I appreciate you for exactly who you are. But please, please try to understand why I have to keep writing about introversion as well.

Likewise, the extroverts in my life 
have significantly contribute to my healing...
Extroverts who have learned how to gently 
draw out the opinions of introverts 
and who give us the space to think quietly
are truly God's grace to us. 
-Adam S. McHugh-  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Даунсайд Ап (Downside Up)!

Before you do anything else, watch this video:

It's a vicious, disgusting cycle: Lock up children with disabilities, deprive them of nutrition and human interaction, watch them become unresponsive due to your actions, conclude that all disabled children will become the same way based on your observations. Repeat. It's horrifying. Of course kids turn into what you call "vegetables" when you don't treat them like humans. Of course they regress when they stay in a crib for eighteen years. Did you stop to think that their problems don't come from their disabilities but from the fact that you locked them up, starved them, and abused them? No?

Imagine that you are a new parent. The doctor tells you that the child you've just given birth to will be a drain to your family, that she will never be able to learn anything, she will never be a successful adult. You will never be able to take proper care of her, the doctor says. The state institutions, on the other hand, can take care of her. They have the equipment and the skills that these problem children need. Plus, society won't ever accept your child, so it's best that she's hidden away.

Of course, none of the above is true, but how exactly were you supposed to know that? You've never talked to somebody with Down Syndrome, and besides, the doctor is the expert. He should know best. And he won't stop pressuring you. So finally, reluctantly, you sign the forms. You leave the hospital, and the baby stays behind. The doctor has assured you that you can try again.


Today in Russia, 85% of babies with Down Syndrome are given up to state "care". This has to stop. It has to end now. And the people of Downside Up are working hard to make that happen. Downside Up is a nonprofit organization in Russia. It provides support and education to parents of children with Down Syndrome. It has an Early Intervention Center in Moscow that provides resources, school, and therapy. Most importantly, it changes society's incorrect views of people with Down Syndrome and decreases the number of children abandoned in orphanages. Check out that link above or like them on facebook to show your support and see other ways that you can help. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014


If you're a fan of Harry Potter, you recognized the title of this post immediately. In Harry Potter's world, lumos is a spell. But in the muggle world, lumos is much more powerful.

As I advocate for specific children to be adopted, I also want to devote time to organizations that keep kids from being institutionalized in the first place. J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter novels, founded one such organization. This organization is called Lumos. 

The problem with keeping children out of orphanages, as I've pointed out before, is that it's not a matter of addressing one issue. It's a multifaceted problem. The death of a parent isn't the only thing that will turn a child into an "orphan". Sometimes poverty will put a child in an institution. Often, when a child is born with special needs, the doctors will encourage (read: pressure, almost force) the child's parents to give up the new baby. The parents are told that the child won't amount to anything in society and is better off hidden away. Discrimination against the Roma has led to a high amount of Roma children in orphanages. Where does one even begin to solve this problem?

Lumos is a really good place to start. It's focus is Eastern Europe, and it works to undo the oppressive systems that lock children up. From education about disabilities to fighting neglect and abuse, Lumos fights for a world in which these harmful institutions don't exist. Click here to visit the website and see some of the work that this organization does to protect children.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

For All the Starfish

Do you know the starfish story? Chances are that some relative forwarded it to you in an email sometime around 2005. That's why I know about the starfish story. It's also why, on principle, I shook my head and ignored it. I never forwarded anything, and I don't repost on facebook. Jesus still loves me. I still love Jesus. It's all good.

The story, on the rare chance that you haven't heard it, tells us about starfish that have washed up on the beach. These starfish are going to die if somebody doesn't put them back into the water, so a child starts walking along the shore, tossing the starfish into the waves. "What are you doing?" Asks a cynical man. "Throwing starfish in the water," responds the child. The cynic reminds the child that s/he can't possibly make a difference because there are thousands of starfish washed up along miles and miles of beach. The child picks up another starfish, tosses it into the waves, looks back at the man, and says "It made a difference to that one." Again, I ignored this story until I started working with my own starfish. 

I've been feeling really overwhelmed over the past couple of days. Every time a child gets a family, I am over the moon excited about it. But for every child who learns that they really are loved, there are millions more who never will. Children in the US and in countries all over the world will age out without ever being adopted. Right now, young boys are turning to crime because it is literally their only option for survival. Teenaged girls are being sold for sex, either because they were kidnapped or they were lied to and promised real jobs. Children are committing suicide. And usually, when I get overwhelmed over the statistics, one of the only things that helps me keep going is to think about specific children who used to be orphans and remember that it made a difference to that one. 

But right now, as I'm walking along this shore line and tossing individual starfish into the water, I wonder if there is a way to keep them from washing up onto the sand in the first place. Of course, somebody has to fight for the starfish that are already on the shore. But if there is a way to prevent that kind of pain in the future, I want to know about it.

Which is why I started asking around and doing my research. As it turns out, there are many, many ways to help keep children out of orphanages. We need a multi-faceted approach, focusing on alleviating poverty, providing education about special needs, ending discrimination, and several other things. A fair amount of organizations exist to address these issues. So I'm going to keep posting about my individual starfish, but I'm also going to start highlighting ways that we can help prevent children from becoming orphans.

Keep an eye out for these posts in the near future, share them so that others know how to help, and ask me if you want more information about helping the starfish. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

I Am Not Your Project

"I am so glad," I've heard more than one friend say, "that I got you to come out of your shell." 

That bothers me. It really does. Maybe you think it shouldn't because if I'm out of my "shell", that's obviously a good thing, right? Well, yes...sort of. 

If you draw energy from being around other people, then you may not realize that your quiet friends think of this "shell" you refer to differently than you think of it. When well-meaning people tell me to come out of my shell, they're thinking that I'm using it out of fear, that I need a place to hide from the scary world, that I'm shy, that this shell is oppressing me and I would abandon it forever if only one of my more talkative friends would just save me from it once and for all. 

But that's not it. In reality, the "shell" you think of is just a place for me to regain energy when I'm drained. It's just me speaking softly while we gain each other's trust. That's all. 

And for that matter, I was going to come out of my shell with or without your help. Now, don't take that the wrong way. Your friendship is still very important to me. If you are my friend, I treasure you, and just as you will likely need my help at some point, I will also need yours. But I don't need rescue from my own personality. I don't need you to make me more extroverted. But maybe that's what it looked like on the surface. At the beginning of our friendship, maybe I was quieter than most. Over the course of getting to know you, I probably didn't share too much. And then suddenly there was a breakthrough. I started talking more. I started sharing more personal things. I became louder. I felt like part of the group and joined in the silliness...

...and that was going to happen no matter who was there. I don't come out of my shell because you decided that you were going to make me do it. I came out of my shell because I got used to the situation. And that was bound to happen at one point or another. And it'll happen again. I'll be in a completely different group of people, and the whole cycle will repeat itself. And there's not a thing wrong with that. So perhaps it ins't the emphasis on coming out of my shell that really bothers me. It irks me a little bit when people bring it up, but maybe that has more to do with the face that it's a cliche. No, where it gets really problematic is when you bring the I into it. I brought you out of your shell. Of course, if you see me hovering awkwardly at the edges of a party and you do walk up to talk to me, I will appreciate that immensely. If you take the time to get to know me, you'll have a lifelong friend. But do not under any circumstances whatsoever pick the quiet kid out from the rest of the crowd and think, "I am going to get that person to come out of her shell." Once you've done that, you've stopped seeing me as a person. You're looking at me as a project, so that when I do, as I always will, come out of my shell, you will see that as your personal victory. I am not interested in being your project. I am interested in being your friend. My personality is not your prize. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Burn Relief for Alisha

Meet Alisha.  Sheis 7 years old and lives in Pakistan.  God created this child, loves this child, and has placed her in our path.  She lost her mother at the age of only 3.  She was accidentally burned over much of her body by a pot of boiling tea.  

In Pakistan, the government hospitals are not equipped to deal with such a severe case.  They have no medicine or help for her.  She was taken to the private hospital and was told that they can help, but that the money for treatment must be brought first.  This happens all over the world.  Can you imagine?  No medication?  No pain help?  What if this where your child?  It's almost unbearable to even imagine.

The cost to treat her is $297. I know that we can do this.  That we can reach out across the ocean and spare this child from the pain she is enduring. Alisha needs to know that God has not forgotten her.  It's up to you and me to be HIS hands and feet and minister to the orphan, the hurting, the needy..and she is all of these.  

Any amount welcome.  I had to include a little more in the request to afford the transfer fees and the fees of gofundme and paypal.  

Thank you!
Jenn Anderson
Hands of Action International


Here is the link to Jenn's GoFundMe page for Alisha. Thank you! 

Monday, July 7, 2014

The F Word: On Faith, Voting, and Pants

I didn't really understand that the F word was "bad" until age fourteen or so, mostly because I grew up around people who never said it. Sometime around ninth grade though, they finally explained why it was wrong.

I am, of course, referring to the word feminism. 

And I'm not joking about being taught that feminism is wrong. This wasn't some implied code of conduct or an unspoken sentiment. I mean that when I was in high school, we were literally taught how to argue against feminism. In college I heard dear female friends say "I am not a feminist!" lest their character be questioned. 

So now I've divided my readers into two camps. On the first side, we have the feminists, some of whom are Christians. (I'm a Christian feminist, by the way.) And they're horrified. They're imagining a situation in which teenagers are taught that women shouldn't vote and shouldn't have equal pay. (We're nowhere near finished fighting for that last one, either.) On the second side, we have a group comprised entirely (probably) of religious people. And they're horrified. I've just announced that I am a Christian feminist, and in many minds, those two words should never be put together. If they haven't clicked away from this post already, they're bracing themselves for an attack on their beliefs. They're cringing in anticipation of the moment when I'll inevitably bring out the misandry and the arguments that women should dominate men. 

And that is the problem that happens nearly every time church people talk about feminism. We're arguing about two different things. 


Feminism, at it's core, is simply the belief that men and women are equals. It acknowledges that globally, men tend to enjoy more rights and privileges than women do, and it seeks to change that. Sounds reasonable, right? So where did we get our signals crossed? 

Well, we tripped over some of the different branches of feminism. Just like almost anything else, feminism has a whole list of different types. A google search on feminism will lead you through a labyrinth of quotes and definitions. Type "feminism is" into the search bar, and suggestions will include "feminism is for everybody" as well as "feminism is a hate movement". Cheris Kramarae believes that "feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings", while Pat Robertson believes that it's "about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians". Yes, that is very specific, and no, I didn't make that up. 

Generally speaking, when I talk about being a feminist, I'm referring to the main feminist movement. It's sometimes called "liberal feminism", though the definition of "liberal" here isn't usually about politics, so if that word bothers you, you can pretend it isn't there. This is usually what people mean when they talk about feminism. It isn't about misandry. Women, do you enjoy your right to vote? Drive a car? Own property? Do you like wearing pants? Well, you can thank God for feminism. Are you concerned about eliminating rape? Violence against women? Female infanticide? Trafficking? Then feminism is your friend. Men, do you believe that women are human beings who are just as important as you are? If so, then believe it or not, you are a feminist. 

Now, I'm willing to bet that many, if not the vast majority, of the "feminism is bad!" camp would actually celebrate a closer look into all of the things that I've listed above. I'm making this assumption based on the fact that my high school, the same school that taught against feminism, also taught that voting is important for men and women. Plus, we all wore jeans. 

Again, we just got tangled up in all the different branches. You see, in addition to your ordinary, run-of-the-mill, "women are people and not property" feminism, you also have subcategories such as cultural feminism, radical feminism, socialist feminism, etc... Each of these categories examines how feminism works in different aspects of society. Confusion happens when a proponent of one branch doesn't specify which branch he or she is talking about. If you hear somebody say "I believe in socialism because I'm a feminist", you might conclude that mainstream feminism is all about socialism. In reality, the person you heard is a socialist feminist, and you will probably go on to meet other feminists with very different beliefs. Have you ever heard somebody use the words "introverted" and "shy" interchangeably? It's a similar type of mislabeling (and one that also seriously gets on my nerves). Though some introverts may be shy, shyness is not the same thing as introversion. In the same way, though some feminists may follow socialist (or cultural, or radical, etc.) feminism, those things are not the definition of feminism as a whole. 

Do you see now how we're talking about two different things? 


I'm going to end this post with a these two messages.  

To those of you who readily identify as feminists, whether you're religious or not: Be gentle with those who recoil at the word feminist. These people aren't arguing against a woman's right to freedom and equal pay. They're usually just misinformed about what feminism means. Keep that in mind, and then explain your thoughts calmly and carefully. Really listen to what other people have to say. Chances are that you'll reveal where our wires got crossed, and you may help others understand why feminism is important. It may take persistence. Just be patient. 

To the Christians who have negative feelings about feminism: Be gentle with those of us who call ourselves feminists. We aren't arguing for misandry or trying to say that all men are the same. We usually just want a world where it's safe to be a woman. Take some time to research and allow the stereotypes to leave your mind. Always explain yourselves calmly and carefully, and really listen to what other people have to say. 

To the Christians who work on feminism within the Church, to those who try hard to undo the subtle sexism that happens inside and outside our religious setting, to those who are caught up in the "complementarian" vs "egalitarian" debates, and to those who want to see more female leadership in the church: keep going. I'm fighting alongside you. 


For further reading and research on Christian feminism, I recommend a book called Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey. It often reads like poetry and serves as a good introduction not only to ways we can be feminist and Christian but also why we can be feminist because of our faith. I also highly recommend A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. It will truly make you think. When you have to put a book down every once in a while to turn a sentence over in your mind a few times, you know you've got a good read. (And for an interesting, if infuriating, study on how people misunderstand feminism, research why LifeWay Christian stores don't carry either of those titles.) 

Those are the books on the subject that I've read so far, and I've got plenty more on my to-read list. If you want to recommend a book to me, I'd love to hear about it! 

By the way, did you know that some medieval men were so upset by the idea of a female apostle that they changed a female name in the Bible to a male one? For more information on that as well as insights on women in the church, check out the Junia Project. 

Remember That One Time?

Hey, remember that one time when a bunch of Christians flooded the nation's Chik-fil-A restaurants because we were going to stick it to the world with chicken sandwiches? Yeah. Good times. High fives all around, everybody.

What about that other time when we decided that we needed our own dating site? Eh, I guess that one's not so weird. We have dating sites for every demographic, including geeks, farmers, and pretty people (or narcissists). I didn't make that up. Okay, so while I do have a problem with a "find God's match for you" tagline, I guess there's nothing wrong with a Christian dating site. What about Christian Pinterest though? Christian Youtube? It's not just an internet thing, either. We've got our very own breath mints. I mean, maybe there's not technically anything wrong with those things, but...but...did we actually need any of it? If I eat Christian candy, will my breath smell holier than if I'd eaten one of those secular candies?

My personal favorite is that one time we decided to stop writing letters and sending funds to real, actual children when a ministry decided to hire gay people. Good choices.

Hey, remember that one time when we all stopped shopping from the company that says "Merry Christmas" but doesn't pay women as much as men?

Remember that one time when we wrote to the clothing store that sells "modest" things but exploits needy children and single mothers overseas?

Remember that one time when we took to social media to voice our anger over poverty, hunger, and rape?

Remember that one time we forwarded emails full of ways we could help orphans?

Remember that one time when we held a massive protest against abusers and abusive systems?

...I don't remember those last ones, either.