Yeah, I’m a Feminist

Okay, it’s been a couple weeks on Catchy Title Goes Here (if anyone has any suggestions for a better name, I would love to hear them; I’m horrible with titles) and the folks who have been regularly reading have probably picked up on something that I didn’t mention in my introductory post.

I’m a feminist.

Userpage icon for supporting gender equality.

My only regret with this picture is that the symbols are color coded. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, those of you who know me personally already knew that.

And since ‘feminist’ is one of those terms that’s loaded with tons of different meanings, I should explain what I mean when I say it.  Put simply, I think that men and women as groups are equal in capability and value.  The sexes are both equally rational and emotional on average, and any perceived sociological differences arise from our cultural upbringing instead of our inherent natures.  The only differences between the sexes that can be generally applied are biological ones, i.e. sex organs.  Concurrent with these beliefs, I believe that women, as half of the global human population, deserve equal opportunity, compensation, and representation within society.  A culture that promotes such equality would be a better one than what we have currently.

This hasn’t always been the case.  I went through a very anti-feminist phase starting late in college around the time that I became a Christian.  That’s not coincidental.  I live in the American South, and the type of Christianity that’s most prominent in these parts is a very socially conservative brand of evangelicalism.  Part of the package of beliefs that I initially picked up included the idea of spiritual differences between the sexes with an implicit hierarchy of leadership that places men above women.

According to the model as I received it, men are supposed to be active leaders and protectors who do the hard work and make the tough decisions.  Women should be passive and gracious, and their primary purview is within the home.  The two sexes fulfill different roles in the Church, and without both of them things break down.

After graduating I spent a couple of years working a cubicle job while building my life with my wife Rachael.  We got married about six months after college, and in our pre-marriage counseling we were advised to adhere to the model above as closely as we could in order to make our marriage fulfilling and Godly.

We quickly learned that the model didn’t work well for us.

I was supposed to be the “head” of the marriage, but I’m not an assertive person, and I realized quickly that I didn’t want to be the one responsible for making all the important decisions.  Rachael wasn’t happy with the idea that she was supposed to be responsible for maintaining the house when she was also working full-time.  I acted very much like a man-child during those first couple years, and after much fighting we eventually decided that the one head model just didn’t work for us.  We needed to be partners.

That’s not the end of the story.  I was still a long way from reaching full anti-feminist recovery.  I had to deal with the hurdles of being one of a handful of men in a cohort of women when I went to graduate school for my teaching degree.  I like to think of that period as my “men’s rights” phase, which is to say that I felt my privilege being impinged upon in my professional environment, and I resented it.  It was around this period that I read John Eldredge’s Wild At Heart, a book that was very popular in certain Christian circles a few years back.  I bought into the idea of innate masculinity, and it soured my attitude towards my schooling.  There was a great deal of dissonance between thinking that I had a uniquely adventurous spirit and sitting in a classroom learning how to be an educator, a career that oozed with the trappings of a feminine domain.

Fortunately for me, that phase didn’t last long as I watched Rachael deal with some issues in her job that led to us both becoming more interested in the problems that women face in the workplace.  It’s hard to hold on to anger about your own loss of privilege when you see up close what conditions are like for people who don’t have that privilege in the first place.

By the time I graduated and found a job (a long, grueling process that would be better left to a different story), I had pretty much reversed my anti-feminist stance.  Rachael did a lot to help with that, because she took an interest in it first, and we discussed it constantly.  We’d remodeled our marriage to be an equal partnership (my spending a year unemployed and responsible for the housework while Rachael worked full-time helped with that), and I gradually became amenable to the idea that women are not only men’s equals, but that the only discernible differences between the sexes as groups are biological ones.

This had some implications for my understanding of theology, and eventually I learned that the position that I’d grown into was a model known as egalitarianism, and the model I’d originally learned was called complementarianism.  Rachel Held Evans has a fantastic blog that highlights issues surrounding the tensions between these two theological models.

I think that brings everything up to date regarding my story of becoming a feminist.

Of course, being a feminist carries with it some difficulties, especially given my personal interests.  I’ve written before about problems with how women are portrayed in comics and video games, which, despite those problems, are, objectively, some of the best things.  I think about these issues a lot, because I think that our culture shapes and defines us in very subtle ways.  Our society does not have gender equity, and part of that is due to the fact that we portray ourselves as not needing it.  That’s a mistake and, within the subcultures that I associate myself with, something that leads to not only inequity, but implicit misogyny.  As a Christian I find myself unable to abide that inequity, and as a feminist I try to point out the problems that I see.

So yeah, I write about feminism a lot in context of my other topics.

What do you guys think?  Do you have any personal experiences with feminism that have shaped how you see the world?  What do you think of the feminist label in the first place?

Theodicy

No, this isn’t a post about the Odyssey (though I can understand the confusion; one’s an ancient epic that heavily features gods being jerks and the other’s the theological problem of why God seems to be a jerk).  One of my favorite subjects when I’m studying spiritual matters is the question about the existence of evil.  It’s one that I wondered about long before I became a Christian, and I still feel it’s useful to tackle the question as an exercise in seeing where my reason and faith meet.  I don’t think I have it figured out, and I’m not going to suggest that anything I write here will be especially profound.  I just want to float my understanding of the issue and see if it’s seaworthy.

So, theodicy is more commonly known in the form of the question, “If God is all-powerful and all-good, why does he allow suffering?”

The Fallen Angel (Ricardo Bellver, 1877), in M...

The Fallen Angel (Ricardo Bellver, 1877), in Madrid, cast in bronze for the third Paris World’s Fair (1878). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One answer that I’ve commonly heard is, “It all makes sense according to God’s plan.”  I suppose that’s not a bad answer, but it’s not a particularly good one either.  What this answer suggests is that God’s concept of good is so far beyond our own that what we perceive as evil in the world is actually good from God’s perspective.  It sidesteps the question of omnipotence by claiming that omnibenevolence is something beyond our understanding.  It’s so grand that it incorporates things that we see as evil, like rape, murder, and rock’n’roll (Just kidding about the rock’n’roll).  The problem is that suggesting that God’s sense of good is not parallel with our own throws into question whether morally speaking we should be worshiping him.

Another answer takes a different tack and suggests that God’s goodness isn’t in question, but his omnipotence is.  Maybe he just can’t fix everything that’s wrong with the world.  Christians tend to dislike this answer because if God isn’t capable of fixing what’s wrong with the world, then he isn’t the ultimate force in the universe, so is he worth worshiping?

So we have a dilemma.  We want God to be all good, but we also want him to be all powerful, and we’re not really sure how we can reasonably get there.

I’ll be upfront; I think it’s a baffling question.

Now, I’ve had to spend some time thinking about this issue in the past few months not just for fun, but as part of an examination of my larger frame of beliefs.  I freely admit that after I became a Christian I went to a place intellectually where I had to deny certain scientific facts to hold my faith together.  It was uncomfortable.  Eventually, through various conversations with fellow Christians who had been in a similar position, I had to make a decision about the relationship between faith and science, and I decided that they are not irreconcilable.  The purview of science is a material one, and I don’t take its failure to intersect with the spiritual as a sign of its denial of the same.  Consequently, I’ve come to accept certain scientific facts about the universe as part of what I think of as objective Truth (that process should probably be its own post, since this one’s already running long).  The long and short of this tangent is that I accept the theory of evolution as true, and I’ve had to incorporate it into my understanding of Christian theology, which has introduced me to a concept called kenosis.

Kenosis is a Greek word that roughly translates as “self emptying.”  Within Christian theology we best understand the concept through the example of Christ submitting himself to a humiliating death on a cross for the redemption of Creation.  That the Creator of the universe would deign to incarnate as a human being and then die in such a painful and tortured way speaks poetically to the idea of self emptying.

Okay, so what does all that have to do with theodicy?

Well, if you start with the premise that God created a universe that operates on an evolutionary model, with all of the missteps and false starts that go with such a model, you first need to answer the question, “Why?”  It goes back to the concept of kenosis.  When we say that God is perfectly good, Christians generally mean that he embodies perfect love.  Though love is a complicated thing, I think it can at least be understood as wanting someone outside yourself to be the best possible version of themselves.  God wants that for every part of Creation, but he has to allow Creation to grow into itself.  If he intervenes by correcting the inevitable evils that come with the system, then he disrupts that growth by imposing his will in place of his love.  Kenosis happens not just on the cross, but throughout all of Creation where God holds back his omnipotence in order to foster the growth that he wants for it.

So there you have it.  Like I said, theodicy is a difficult problem to tackle, and I know there are multiple ways to the look at it.  What do you guys think?  Can we reconcile God being all-good and all-powerful with the presence of evil in the world, or do we need a different model for understanding how he works?

Standing Up for God

Let me tell you guys a story.

I work with a group of amazing people.  My coworkers are just phenomenal, and I have nothing but good things to say about any of them.  A couple of them also happen to be atheists.

The school where I work serves a very specialized population, and we have rather narrow demographics in our student body and among our staff.  I think it’s safe to say that everyone at my school lives in a culturally Christian environment.  Still, the staff values diversity, and we actively try to teach our students that differences between people should be celebrated and respected.  Sometimes the lesson just goes a little wonky.

At one point in the past year, we were working with our students, and to demonstrate the importance of diversity, we had all of the staff get together and do a demonstration where we divided up based on various personal factors.  You know, stuff like how wealthy your family was growing up, what kind of home you currently lived in, what religion you were.

There was a slight hiccup with the religion question.

The staff member who was facilitating the lesson was giving us broad categories to associate with so that we wouldn’t have to get into specifics with our students, which was great.  But when it came to the religion question, he said this:

“If you’re Baptist, stand on the left.  If you’re Methodist, stand in the middle.  If you’re nondenominational, stand on the right.”

Do you see the problem?

My coworkers and I laughed about it because we’re adults and it’s funny that we all ended up in the same category of not-Baptist-and-not-Methodist, but the incident’s problematic from the perspective of promoting diversity.  We just reinforced in our students the idea that everyone around them is a Christian, and the minority views don’t rate consideration.

So, enter this news story where the valedictorian at a high school graduation in South Carolina tore up his pre-approved speech and recited the Lord’s Prayer in protest of a recent decision to no longer have officially sanctioned prayer at the school district’s functions.  It’s similar to another incident that happened a few weeks ago where students in a Georgia school spontaneously left class to attend an impromptu prayer group in the school’s gym during class time.  I’ve read about these incidents being hailed as students “standing up for God” in their schools.  Well, okay, I get the narrative that’s going on there.  A large number of American Christians have a tendency to espouse the idea that because we live in a country that values the separation of church and state Christianity is being stamped out by the government.  The natural response to this perceived problem is to vocally protest the removal of things like sanctioned prayer from our school systems.

But take a look at this interview that the student of that first story gave on CNN.  He’s quite respectful in how he responds, but when the interviewer points out that he got a huge positive response from the audience, he says it’s because of his community.  It’s primarily Christian, so of course they would be supportive.  She goes on to ask, if it had been a Muslim or an atheist student espousing their views would the crowd have cheered in the same way?  He says that he hopes they would, but he’s doubtful that’d be the case, again, because of his primarily Christian community.

Assume there are students at that school who identify as atheists, and they feel constantly bombarded by the Christian culture that surrounds them.  They disagree with their peers and their elders, but they don’t feel like they have a safe space to express their opinions.  School’s the closest thing they can get, because no religion is officially endorsed there, so technically they’re on even footing, even though not really.  Then a story like this breaks, and everyone cheers because a Christian within a community of Christians took it on himself to “stand up for God.”  Those atheist kids don’t feel like it’s something revolutionary; they just feel like it’s more of the same from a group who thinks it’s persecuted when they don’t understand the meaning of the word.

A Blog About Something

Hi Everybody!

Where do I start?

I work as an educator for the majority of the year, and this naturally carries with it a particularly unusual phenomenon in American adults: I get a two-and-a-half month vacation every summer.  So here I am in the midst of enjoying the first week of my summer vacation when I have a realization.

I have too much free time.

It’s not the sort of thing that most people would complain about.  Usually I don’t complain about it myself, but I have an inclination toward laziness and ennui, which means that unless something is set before me to do, I will slowly turn into a lump on the couch forever refreshing my cycle of preferred webpages, looking for that next hit of endorphins that comes with the appearance of new content on the internet.

So, I say to myself, “Why not make some content instead of just sitting there refreshing endlessly?”  And I think that it’s not a bad idea.  The only question then becomes, what kind of content will I create?

Professionally, I’m an educator, and I love hearing about issues related to American education.  Mention standardized testing, and I’m liable to begin ranting about the unfair practices that come with creating an educational system based on an assembly-line factory model, and then who knows when I’ll stop to take a breath.  I might write about education a little bit, though I’ll more likely say something minor and then pass on a link to something written by one of my more intelligent and eloquent friends.

Spiritually, I’m a Christian, and I have a healthy interest in issues relating to how the Church is developing in relation to the rest of the world.  I’m not a huge fan of the culture wars, because I tend to see more division than unity created by them.  I think that Christians have a moral responsibility to improve the world around us in tangible ways that involve more than just evangelism.  Jesus went to the poor and did everything he could to make their lives better; as his followers we have a responsibility to do the same.

Habitually, I’m a gamer.  I love video games; I’ve been playing them since I was a child.  I don’t play all the latest stuff right when it’s released, but I try to stay current on what’s going on in the industry, and I really enjoy discussing issues related to gaming.

There are other topics of interest that I’ll probably touch on as I go about figuring out what my focus is going to be: feminism, writing, fitness, nerd culture in general.  It’s not really anything that ambitious.  Ultimately, my goal is just to move myself to spend my free time in ways that are more creatively satisfying.

So, if you’re reading this, then I suppose I should both welcome you and apologize in advance for anything I might say that comes across as vain and egotistical; I think it takes a certain amount of vanity to say things in a public space with the hope that other people will listen, and I am nothing if not vain.  So, sorry about that!  Otherwise, I hope that whatever gets vomited up on the digital page is worth a little bit of your time.