“I’m not a Feminist, I’m an Equalist” (GamerGate, Misogyny, and Me)

(Warning: strong language, but honestly not as strong as I wanted to use.) 

I’m sick of GamerGate, sick that anyone would be treated this way, that Anita Sarkeesian would be driven from her home by death threats over criticism of video games. I’m sick that anyone would be threatened with death, by anyone, but especially by gamers, a tribe I felt I belonged to once.

So let me address one comment that drives me up the muggle-loving wall.

“I’m not a feminist, I’m an equalist.”

Equalist? What does that mean? Weren’t they the villians in The Legend of Korra, season 1?

I know some of the people using that phrase are just using it as a smokescreen for their own misogyny. I’m not talking about them. If you really think women and men are equal, you don’t call women who point out sexism “stupid cunts” and tell them you hope they get raped.

For the ones who truly believe it, let me say this. I thought that way once, too. Feminism has gotten a black eye largely because of a handful of loud, outspoken feminists who apparently hated men. They said some things that maybe were taken out of context, or maybe weren’t, but they created quite a lot of controversy..

But they had their day about 30 years ago, and they’ve mostly either mellowed, died, or faded into obscurity. And I don’t think they truly represented the main body of feminism, even at the height of their fame.

And honestly, I think their actual opinions were exaggerated into caricatures because it was easier to dismiss straw feminists than real feminists, easier to dismiss misandrist boogeymen (er, boogey-womyn) than actual human beings.

In the last fifteen years or so I’ve been looking into actual feminism as it actually exists. And what I’ve found is this: if you want men and women to be equal, if you love men and women, you should be a feminist.

That’s what “feminist” means. Why? Because patriarchy hurts men, too.

You think only women are hurt by the powers and principalities of sexism? Let me run some scenarios by you.

Think about the (heterosexual) boy who is called a faggot, excluded, and threatened or even assaulted because he doesn’t like sports or isn’t good at them.

Think about the boy who wants to play flute, but is told (after a good ass-whipping) that he will play drums, or tuba, or trumpet, or maybe football, even if he hates it, because only girls and faggots play flute.

Gamers, think how you and your fellow-gamers were treated by the jocks and bullies at school. It’s because spending all your time gaming online or playing D&D doesn’t measure up. You’re not a man. Men don’t respect you. Women don’t want you.

Think about the kid who’s actually gay. If the straight kids who don’t fit the mold get treated like that, how does he get treated?

Now, let’s flip it around and look at the kid who does fit in, who does what the culture tells him.

Think of the kid who fits the mold perfectly. He plays football in the fall and hunts deer in the winter. He drinks beer, drives a hot rod, and fucks the cheerleaders, just like he’s supposed to.

And when he gets older, he gets a manly job and settles down to raise a family, just like he’s supposed to. He still hunts in the winter. He watches football live every chance he can, and never misses a game on TV. The hot rod is in the garage, and he swears he’ll get it running again someday. He has kids, raises his son to be a man like he is.

He hardly knows how to talk to his daughter, other than to tell her to keep her legs closed, and to make sure she’s in by ten (his son doesn’t get a curfew). She chafes against the double-standard, but Dad’s rule is iron.

And then his son comes out. And he doesn’t know how to deal with it. And he rages, and he threatens, and he pleads, and he punches the wall. And he loses his son forever, maybe to suicide, maybe to estrangement. And his daughter? She blames him. Maybe his wife does, too.

And forty years of doing what he’s supposed to do leaves him with a wife he barely knows and a son who’s dead or may as well be. Forty years of doing what he’s supposed to do leaves him with a beer gut, an empty bed, and a mouth full of ashes.

Patriarchy hurts men, too.

So yes, feminists want to burn down the powers and principalities of sexism, to utterly destroy the privilege systems that try to force men and women into ancient molds of macho subject and sexual object, of tooth-and-nail competitor and prize.

Feminists have been pouring the gas for one hundred and fifty years, and if you actually want men and women to be equal, to be free, you should be bringing the matches.

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An Epidemic of Obesity, a Pandemic of Self-Hate

Obetrol, with amphetamines, a favorite of Andy Warhol

Obetrol, with amphetamines, a favorite of Andy Warhol

America suffers from an epidemic of obesity. Ask anyone.

But America also suffers from a pandemic of body-hate, shame, and self-loathing.

Ask anyone who’s tried to lose weight, or worse, lost it only to regain it.

Why the obesity epidemic? There are so many possible explanations:

  • the wider availability of high-quality food,
  • the end of hunger (though not necessarily malnutrition) in the industrialized world,
  • more sedentary lives,
  • high-fructose corn syrup,
  • video games,
  • a downward cycle of yo-yo dieting, etc.

Why the self-loathing pandemic? There are just as many possible explanations:

  • the sheer fact of our increasing weight
  • media idols held up as impossible ideals
  • relentless messages from media, friends, family

All these play a part, I’m sure. But this is America, and I think we all know the #1 reason we hate our bodies so much. There is a lot of money in selling hate. $60 billion a year, according to Marketdata Enterprises.

As Christians, we realize that all people are the image-bearers of God. That all people are loved by God, loved to the point that he emptied Himself of His glory and power, walked on earth, and even died for us.

You and I are part of “all people.” You and I are loved that much, by that awesome of a God.

So why do we hate ourselves so much?  That hatred does not come from above.

I am hesitant to call things Satanic, but self-loathing is, and those who spread or profit from it for any reason should be ashamed of themselves. Its fires burn in every skeletal anorexic, every compulsive eater, every cutter, every suicide.

What does that mean for our bodies? I think we owe it to ourselves, and maybe even to God, to try to keep ourselves in good health. And that includes not only illness but physical fitness. I have reached a point in my life when I have fallen far short of this goal. I must struggle to strengthen my body, and resist the things that weaken me. Fortunately, it isn’t always hardship.

But the driving force that leads us to care for our bodies should be love. It should not be Hollywood, magazines, or the advertising machine of the diet and weight-loss industry. And our goals should not be to look like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie. Vanity is no virtue, and envy is a poor motivator.

And most of all, we should learn to see ourselves as God sees us, to love our own bodies as they are, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) … not as they will be “after I lose 20 (or 50, or 100) pounds.”

Research shows that those of us who are really heavy will probably never be thin, not for the long term. But most of us can be a lot healthier than we are now.

And all of us can learn to close our ears to the malevolent, avaricious cacophony of advertisers, to gracefully throw off our body-shame, our self-loathing, and to let God’s love flow through our bodies … even if they weigh 350 pounds.

The Farmer’s Wife (Complementarianism, Again)

Farmer and Wife, Irving Rusinow, 1941

Farmer and Wife. Photo by Irving Rusinow, 1941

A farmer’s wife is a farmer, not a housewife.  I know that because my maternal grandparents were farmers.  There was a division of labor, of course, but it wasn’t some philosophical self-conscious complementarian structure, but a legitimate division of labor.  Pa Clarence didn’t know how to sew, and Nanny Jet couldn’t fix or maintain a tractor, for example.  But the men and the women all picked crops (as did the boys and the girls, once they were old enough).  Both cooked, at least some: Pa Clarence made the best biscuits I ever ate (and he took the recipe to his grave).  Nanny Jet was the cornbread champion, and their chicken and dressing was a kind of joint effort, using his biscuits and her cornbread, though she prepared the dressing itself (a recipe that has been passed down to her daughters, and, through Mom, to me … but Katherine makes it better than I do).

Yes, men and women were different.  Men and women are still different, though changing times have revealed some of those differences to be cultural constructions, rather than biological conditions.  Perhaps in the future, even more of the differences between men and women will be revealed as nothing more than socio-cultural artifacts.  The gospel will endure, even as it endured blue stockings, suffrage, and industrialization, as it survived the birth of pantsuits, career women, and birth control.

The difference between a farmer and his wife and a 21st century complementarian is this: the farmer and his wife did what they did because it worked.  They were raising crops and livestock and children, and their life was in the land.  Every year, they planted their livelihood in the ground in an earthy leap of faith that most of us have never had to take.  They didn’t have time to theorize from their wealthy, government safety-net supported, megachurch attending, paid by a seminary or church, privileged position.  This wass as true of first century farmers and shepherds as early twentieth century farmers.

The complementarian movement isn’t returning us to some pre-industrial idyll.  At best, it’s sanctifying the white-upper-class privileged gender roles of an idealized 1950’s.  At worst, it’s dragging us back to old Greco-Roman house codes.  Some complementarians, like Douglas Wilson, Steve Wilkins, and George Grant, have even ventured into slavery apologetics.

As bizarre as that seems in this day and time (paleo-confederate?  Really?), it really is the natural, logical conclusion of God-ordained male dominance.  After all, the passages that teach women to submit are always located near passages giving slaves the same instruction.  The Greco-Roman households Paul wrote to were ruled by men, with wives having more status, but no more freedom or authority, than slaves.  Paul’s admonitions to mutual submission upended the heart of this one-sided power-structure, but in the interest of civil peace, he urged Christians not to flout the laws and customs of his day.  Twenty centuries later, we can do better.

They quote Paul, but they recreate themselves in the image of Ward Cleaver and seek to forge women into the image of June Cleaver, using the Bible as a hammer and tradition as an anvil.  They claim tradition, but in truth, lack all authenticity.  Past social arrangements were based on physical and economic necessities.  Past social arrangements made survival possible.  They may not have been just, but they were necessary.  This?  This is the retrograde fantasy, a dangerous escape from modernity.

Toxic Legalism (Jeremiad #1: Sexism, Lies, and Ecclesiastical Bling)

Lazarus and Dives by Fedor Bronnikov, 1886

Lazarus and Dives by Fedor Bronnikov, 1886

A new, toxic legalism, based on a shallow, piecemeal, combative reading of the scriptures, is choking the Evangelical faith like a clinging vine.  Our churches are shrinking, and our reputation is mud with the wider world – they think we are immoral in our vitriol and our intolerance.  They see us as less moral than non-Christians, as moralistic and manipulative and controlling.

And they’re right.  Our churches are segregated, even today.  Our divorce rate is no better than the non-religious.  Spousal abuse still lingers, and in some cases is even tolerated.  And our advice to abused women is often dangerously, even fatally wrongheaded.

You can proof-text me all you want, but homosexuals are not the ones degrading our nation’s culture.  We are, with our arrogance, our lingering racism, our commercialism and consumerism.

We build multi-million dollar churches, yet leave the poorest of the world (who often need things like $18 mosquito nets and $25 vaccinations) and the poor and homeless in our own cities to fend for themselves.

We keep spending money to prop up dying churches that exist only because a few elderly people don’t want to find a new church, but which are doing nothing for the community, spiritually or materially. We spend ungodly sums on “faith-based extravaganzas” on Easter, Christmas, and Halloween (“scare them to salvation with Hell House!”).  And all the while, like Dives, we watch the poor man starving at our gate.

We degrade our name, and our nation, when we let our political leanings dictate our theology.  Case in point: it’s no secret that the Southern Baptists are going whole-hog for Mitt Romney.

But when I was growing up, Southern Baptists considered Mormonism a “cult.”  Some still do.  Oops, never mind.  He’s backing Romney now.   So, which is it?  The answer no one will give you is this:  “it doesn’t matter, as long as he dislodges that black pro-death, pro-gay, liberal socialist we’ve got now.”

We bring shame on our name and Christ’s through our sexism and incredible insensitivity to the realities of women’s lives.  You can proof-text me all you want, but the truth remains:  when you pre-determine a woman’s role in life based on her gender, you take away her right to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance, you take away her Imago Dei, and you make her less than human.

Who should we obey, God or Men?  The reality of complementarianism, as it is often preached, is this: Only men get to obey God.  Women obey men, and access God through the male spiritual heads – first their fathers, and then their husbands.  But I think we all know the right answer to the question, both for men and for women I think the answer is clear [Acts 5:29].  We obey God, not men.

Why I Have to Talk About Complementarianism

Solomon's Judgment by Peter Paul Rubens

Solomon’s Judgment by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1615

Edit : I realized that in this post, I’m guilty of doing something I all too often do; letting an extreme group stand in for the whole group.  I’ll post more on this, above, but suffice it to say that I’m talking about the far end of complementarianism, not the centrist end.

You know, there was a time when I thought the complementarian/patriarchy issue didn’t affect me. I wasn’t raised that way, I had (and continue to have) an egalitarian marriage, and, frankly, this “gender roles preset by God, regardless of the individuals’ specific gifts” business sounded like nonsense to me.  This was never something I personally had to grapple with, and so I never really thought it was important for me to turn my attention to it.

But now I see how much it impacts people raised within it.  I see how much it colors discussions on Christianity.  Just because I’ve been sheltered from it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  And maybe I haven’t been sheltered from it as much as I thought.  Maybe, being male, I heard it and forgot it.

So it is possible that I encountered complementarianism and just didn’t realize it.  I do seem to remember a couple of sermons on Ephesians 5:22, and thinking those sermons might have been different if he’d read the rest of the chapter instead of just that verse.  This was, of course, pre-Danvers Statement, before there was an organized movement to sanctify soft patriarchy and return the church to 1950’s American gender roles.

Maybe I wasn’t hit by it because I wasn’t the target.  Complementarianism in practice is all too often about telling women how to be “biblical” – that is, how to be submissive and dedicate their lives to the support and edification of their husbands. The husband’s role, to love her and guide her as Christ loves and guides the church, may get equal attention, but it may not.  And it’s also harder to define, harder for a church community to agree on what it will look like, and, clearly, harder to enforce.

That never really occurred to me, perhaps because Dad and I studied the Bible together from before I was old enough to remember it up until I was in high school.  We used commentaries and chain references to see how the scriptures interacted, to explore their context, to get clarification for terms that were unclear or might have multiple possible translations.  I asked questions, and if Dad couldn’t answer them, he’d ask around until he found someone who could (our preacher had to call one of his seminary professors to find out what a “Tishbite” was, as in “Elisha the Tishbite.”  I was a little disappointed that it just meant he was from Tishbe).

So I knew about Deborah, Ester, Aquila and Priscilla, Lois and Eunice, and other Biblical women.  I knew that Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus, and was chosen to tell the Twelve that He had risen, to be the Apostle to the Apostles.  As far as additional reading went, I grew up on C. S. Lewis, not John Piper.

From my perspective, separate roles for men and women, based on gender and not on individual gifts or callings, seems legalistic, proscriptive and authoritarian, and maddeningly tied to an idealized version of 1950’s American conformity.  It seems so unlike the great freedom granted by Jesus Christ, even deaf to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  I’ve read the verses on wifely submission, but knowing what I know about first century Greco-Roman house codes, I see those verses (in context) as radically upending the existing sexual hierarchy.

Yes, women were to continue in their first-century gender roles [Eph 5:22 ], but wives and husbands were to remember that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” [Gal 3:28]  And the idea of mutual submission, of laying down one’s life for one’s wife, loving her like Christ loved the church?  Radical at a time when (as they were for most of human history) women were, legally speaking, property.

It’s important to remember that one of the big “wives, obey your husbands” verses is Colossians 3:18.  The next seven verses talk about husbands’ responsibility to love their wives, children’s responsibility to obey their parents (along with an admonition to fathers not to “exasperate” their children), and finally, how Christians who are slaves should relate to their masters.  If we really think first century Greco-Roman house codes are some kind of Godly ideal, doesn’t that mean we need to bring back slavery?  And if we’re not willing to hold our fellow man in bondage, why do we want to hold our fellow women in bondage?

I don’t want to write this as if I have all the answers.  I created this blog to live in the questions, to grapple with scripture, God’s will, and my own thoughts, not to preach a certain viewpoint.  Unfortunately, I’m having a hard time doing that here.  Okay, I’m failing utterly to maintain any questions, any objectivity here.  Which of course makes me question whether I should even post this.  But I think I have to, because of this next paragraph:

But now I realize it affects me.  If I have a daughter, it will affect her.  It affects everyone around us.  If my unborn child is a daughter, she will inherit a Christianity very different from the one I grew up in.  She will inherit a Christianity that tells her that her purpose comes not from what God can do through her, but what she can do to support whatever God is doing through her husband.

I don’t want my (possible) daughter to hate her own independence, to abhor her ambitions, to denigrate her dreams.  And I certainly don’t want her to base her sense of self on a man, other than the Son of Man Himself.

Those of us who are male can sit in our safe places and pretend it isn’t happening, just like those of us who are white can ignore racism, and those of us who are heterosexual can ignore homophobia, and those of us who are wealthy and live in post-industrial nations can ignore the suffering of the world’s poor.

But it doesn’t make it right.

A Clarification About College

College Graduate Knit Doll by Carey Bass

Image by Carey Bass, Creative Commons

Something I posted in my last post on modesty may have come off as derogatory to those without college educations: “Soon they’re protecting [women] from going to college and learning difficult, even un-godly things.”  I don’t mean for it to be read as putting down those without academic degrees.  I have nothing but respect for people who have gone directly to work and have made a good life for themselves and their families (and I won’t be so arrogant as to judge from outside what a “good life” necessarily looks like).

I know that college isn’t for everyone. Right now, borrowing money to go to an expensive four-year university is a poor return on investment for almost everybody.  Tuition is up, scholarships are down (the one that carried me through my undergraduate education no longer exists), and jobs are scarce, even for college graduates.

The echoing propaganda that everyone “has” to go to college to be worthwhile, or to have a good life, has led to the near-bankrupting of an entire generation and the watering-down of academic rigor at American universities.  The only people it’s helped are the bankers holding the student loans (which are not, I might add, dischargeable through bankruptcy) and their friends on Capitol Hill.

So, no, I don’t think everybody automatically needs to go to college, but … For today’s teens, there are vanishingly few living-wage jobs available for someone with only a high school diploma.  There was a time when this wasn’t true, but things have (unfortunately) changed.  Some people will get the skills they need through apprenticeships, vocational certificate programs, the military, or other experience.  Some will get these skills through college.  Both paths should be respected and honored.

But the choice as to which path to take must be based on the person’s gifts, aptitudes, and interests, sought through prayer and careful consideration, not based on the person’s chromosomes and genitalia.