Feminism Exposed

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cherry blosomsIf there was another word, I’d be happy to use it, but since there’s not, well, I feel like I need to redeem it.

I am a feminist.

I have been for years and years, I just didn’t know it, because I never actually looked up what the word meant, I just listened to scared people talk about what they didn’t understand, and became one of them.

Contrary to how I imagined feminism to act, this movement isn’t about how we women treat other people (though the decent ones among us work within the Golden Rule: treating others the way we want to be treated). It isn’t about bringing men down or punishing them for the sins of their fathers.

Feminism (the ideal and the activism) is about changing the way people are treated.

Women in particular, yes, but ultimately all marginalized people.

TeacupFeminists are speaking the obvious, because it keeps being ignored. They’re saying that women have historically been treated as less than men (anyone who’s paid attention already knew this. Google is your friend if you weren’t one of them. I won’t judge). We’re pointing out that “humanity” has meant men by default (Medical studies are a terrific example of this bias). And we (some of us) are pointing out how males are getting a bit irrationally testy at being limited to 50% of the good stuff.

I use the “Merry Christmas” kerfuffle as an analogy.

At some point, retailers noticed that some people spend money for reasons other than Christmas. Not being the types to discourage consumption for any reason, these proactive capitalists modified their advertizing materials to be as inclusive as possible. The use of the words “Merry Christmas” plummeted.

The pro-Christmasers fought back with their dollars, which is totally their right, but others (inappropriately) called the change in language religious persecution.

I argue that the majority simply got a taste of what the (holiday) minority lived with for generations. For me, it was an education, not an assault.

Pro-MCers can totally ask for respect and acknowledgement. Feedback is a great way to teach people who want our money. The point is that MCers were used to being the default, and I wonder sometimes if the outrage expressed isn’t about change and demotion along with all the other loaded elements of the shift.

As for my brand of feminism and faith, I have often rejected the role of activist, but I have walked for a while now as an advocate.

It makes sense if you think about my role as a writer, as someone who offers words as bridge between people and ideas.

I was gratified this weekend to read a list of [faulty] reasons attempting to explain why women’s gifts are largely ignored by the Church.

Calling them what they are (largely fear, and lack of experience or imagination) really put things in perspective for me.

Then a dear Christian lady, who would never approve of women in leadership, asked me what kind of female leadership I was advocating within the church.

It made me frightened and angry and sad, all at the same time, because I knew there was nothing I could say that would make her approve of my position, and I didn’t want this issue to be a relationship-breaker between us.

I went with the truth anyway, wording my answer as carefully as possible.

Anywhere a woman is gifted, that is where she should work. God gives gifts to be used, and scripture has examples of women at every level of leadership.

This is a painful subject for me, because management (specifically of food and children) is all women are typically allowed in the church, and is something I am distinctly *not* gifted in.

Not where I am now, but both for teaching (even beside/with Jay) and for music (songs a man picked) I was told “No-because-you-are-a-woman.”

It left me useless, which is nothing I wish on anyone.

Feminism matters, in life and in the Church, because change does not happen spontaneously, and our culture, both of faith and general practice, is anemic. We are sick and undernourished because fully half of all the population is excluded by default, or challenged to “do better” with fewer resources.

broken bridge smallWe have people, valuable contributors, who never reach their potential because enough other people have made decisions before considering the individual.

It is a logistical nightmare, but that is part of why it takes so much energy to sustain this movement, why some people complain feminists are fixated on one problem, how this one way the world works is all they see.

There is nothing easy about telling the world over and and over again that the sky is blue, that water is wet. There may be “bigger” things going on every minute, but what is closer to home than our value and identity?

This is what we are fighting for as feminists: to do what we were created to do, and not be patted on the head (or carefully not-touched) as we’re told by someone not-our-creator that the way He made us doesn’t fit their plan.

The Necessary Fight: Helping My Depressed Child (Wyn Magazine)

I had to have enough conviction for the whole family when I knew it was depression. That effort on top of the grief, guilt, and personal disappointment was so draining, I couldn’t do anything beyond the naming. I felt helpless, and was silent.

As has been true in so many areas of my life, it was a story that brought clarity and gave me the images and language to move forward. Bearskin, a picture book illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, crossed our collective laps at this very opportune time.

The title character is raised by a bear, and early in the story he chooses to fight a dragon (“I will go myself if nobody better is to be found.”). The interesting thing is that his Mama Bear does not fight for him. She’s not that sort of mama bear.

She has raised him on bear milk (making him strong), and before his fight, she provides him with armor and weapons, but then he faces the dragon on his own.

I remembered the dragon that stalks me.

Recognizing that it was now going after my kids, my first response was fear, because I knew I would not be able to fight the dragon for them. Even if I had unlimited strength rather than my present weakness, there is not enough “environmental shaping” or help I can give them to keep the dragon away. It attacks from inside them.

Somehow I had to train them. I had to make them strong. And how could I do that when I can’t slay my own dragon?

(Read the whole article at Wyn Magazine)

What Women Want from the Church: to Celebrate Emotions

This piece should be read from the front of every church.

Not because every church is dismissive of emotion, but because every gathering of believers should proactively affirm the rightful place of emotion alongside learning, growth, and our aging human bodies: they are part of how we’ve been created, an important way we interact with the world and circumstances we’ve been given.

Without emotion we are less than God created us to be. To deny its role is to reject part of God’s plan.

By Becky Castle Miller via Elora Nicole.

What women want: for you to know we aren’t drunk.

Becky Castle Miller is the Managing Editor of Wyn Magazine (wynmag.com), providing resources and hope for mental and emotional healing. She and her husband, with their four kids, are American expats in the Netherlands, helping with an international church. She is part young executive and part five-year-old playing with kittens.

“Misanthropy Was so Much Easier.”

Flanderization is the process by which a legitimate, often fully developed, character becomes a parody of him- or herself.

I believe this is what has happened to the cultural perception of Sherlock Holmes.

John and SherlockHe is portrayed as a brilliant but socially and/or relationally irresponsible individual who redeems himself (reaches “likable character” status) through selective niceness. It seems to me that those who don’t identify directly with Holmes frequently do with Watson, and so any harshness or undiluted rudeness to others is glossed over. Sherlock (BBC iteration is freshest in my mind) has proven his worth by being willing to die for the few he loves.

That action is enough to redeem all his other faults, apparently.

Sherlock’s familiar attitude is well summed up in a painfully honest assessment of another admirer, Jane Eyre, speaking of her employer, Edward Fairfax Rochester.

RochesterHe was proud, sardonic, harsh to inferiority of every description: in my secret soul I knew that his great kindness to me was balanced by unjust severity to many others. He was moody, too; unaccountably so.

…I believed his moodiness, his harshness… had their source in some cruel cross of fate. I believed he was naturally a man of better tendencies, higher principles… I thought there were excellent materials in him; though for the present they hung together somewhat spoiled and tangled.

janeAs the more Sherlockian of the Watson/Holmes pair, and the more Jane of the Eyre/Rochester pairing, I see a great deal of personal indulgence on both sides.

First, you have an adoring subordinate who revels in the superiority of the other. This is an egotistical indulgence on the part of the writer who is (perhaps) an unacknowledged genius, creating a socially-acceptable display of their deepest hungers and wish-fulfillment.

Then, for Jane’s, or John’s (or Sherlock’s fans) part, they latch so much on to the selective kindness of a man “harsh to inferiority of every description” that they seem to let themselves be flattered at his mere acceptance. It is high praise to escape his harshness, and that awareness only magnifies the felt-kindnesses of a man who actively proves his ability to be kind when he wishes to.

An interesting thing about Sherlock’s kindness is that it is not so much overt choice (“I should be kind to this fellow creature”) as it is his form of need (he needs a mirror, a prism, a case, applause), creating a vacuum for another individual to fill. The reason he has so few connections in his world, so few deep friendships, is because he acknowledges so few needs.

The magic of John and Sherlock’s relationship is that they are both content with what the other is naturally willing to give. It is a nearly effortless exchange.

Most relationships require giving a bit more than we’re ready or comfortable to give, and that is why most relationships grow and shape us. But there’s no denying the rest of an unchallenging, natural friendship. Continue reading »

Defy (Reading Notes)

Fantasy and wish-fulfillment done well.

You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you.

– Eric Hoffer

Each book, movie and television show, we love reveals some of our own desires, hopes and fears.

Every story is a fantasy.

We don’t read fantasy (just) to escape reality. We read to experience a reality we understand to be true and can’t access as often as we wish for it.

The fantasy in this story is a girl becoming one of the Boyz while still maintaining her attractiveness and desirability, evidenced through the two good men who both honor her and value her skills.

(Full review with spoilers at Writing Hope.)

 

Alienated (Reading Notes)

Alienated (Alienated, #1)Laugh-out-loud funny and emotionally relatable.

Most of the time when teenagers feel alienated, it’s because they haven’t found their niche: they’re running in that in-between zone that doesn’t fit the cliques or stereotypes of their school or culture or region.

Cara, in contrast, is at the top of her game. She’s not driven by “the crowd” but she’s not self-isolated or socially inexperienced either. She’s got a workable plan for her future, and becoming a world-famous host can only help that plan.

It’s because of her personal drive and ambition, along with her killer public speaking skills (she’s captain of the debate team, too) that she’s considered the ideal host for an intergalactic exchange-student program. While her older brother goes to live on another planet, one of that planet’s young people comes to live in Cara’s home.

(Full review, with spoilers, at Writing Hope.)

Noveling Update

I have officially finished the first draft of my 2013 NaNo novel (Sherlockian Daze). Word count is just under 120K, and I did that in just under 5 months.

Which is a super-exciting first for me.

Next order of business is to finish last-last edits on Lindorm King.

I don’t remember if I’ve said here, but a friend of a friend did one last beta and gave me some very meaningful feedback:

I love it when people *get* my story:

“So, I had a bit of time on mine hands, took a look and then was thoroughly hooked. Meaning I read all 344 pages last evening.

I totally adore your women characters. They are strong, but not in the way that “Now I do stuff like the boyz” that so often gets mistaken for strength. I’m fascinated by how they struggle and try to cope with the roles their restrictive society cast for them.

Also, I wanted to hit Tykone over the head frequently for all his subconscious sexism. Very good job on that one, maybe one day a guy reads it and has a d’oh-moment.”

[This last, in particular, was an awesome affirmation to specify on her own: it was an experiment on my part, since I wasn't sure it would even be recognized as sexism since it's so "normal."]

She also had some very useful structural feedback that was very meaningful. Moving back to revision is already proving to be a blast!

It was this reader who pointed out the main (male) character had the only name in the story of Celtic origin, so I’ve renamed him, and it’s going to be interesting as I reread/revise to see a familiar character with a different name.

That said, I started revisions this morning before the kids were up. Got through about 30 pages in an hour. At this rate the revision will take about 12 hours total, which seems painfully slow, since I can only count this as a minimum.

But… after 7.5 years, can I really complain about another 12 hours?

That thing about “momentum” is true. Once you get started, once you’ve proven to yourself what you can do, a lot of the sluggishness falls away.

What Connects with…Me

Image courtesy of Liana Bitoli via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Liana Bitoli via stock.xchng

I found a “coach,” at the end of last year, because most of what I do with my counselor seemed to be coaching, anyway. I was looking for an “outside” voice and perspective that was sharing a brain/time focused on me.

Becky and I have talked about how this is the reason to hire someone: friendships are more mutual, and we don’t want to muddy those relationships to work through our issues.

The coach got me thinking about some good stuff, and some new angles on older projects that have been marinating for a while.

~  ~  ~

Then I got my heart stomped on, and I was back in the counselor’s office.

I had a double bomb in an exhausting 48 hours: First, someone I already guessed didn’t like me confirmed they didn’t like me, and second, someone I love very much– who has a degree in an industry not supported by our local economy– told me they were saving up money to move away to do the work they went to school for.

Both totally make sense, were almost predictable, and so it took me 4 or 5 days to realize I was deeply hurt and grieving. I was so scared by my response (it felt like my depression was returning- freaked me out and you don’t play around with that!) I visited my counselor the day before my coaching appointment.

The counselor gently reassured me that that this wasn’t my depression returning. She affirmed that I was grieving, and validated my experience that just because someone is a jerk, or someone has beautiful dreams that don’t need to include you, intellectual assent doesn’t necessarily change how others’ choices affect you. Continue reading »

Holding the Fear — January’s Life & Fiction Column

If you’ve been around a while you’ve probably seen me reference The Perilous Gard, a book I feel deeply connected to. This month’s essay combines that book with one of my personal wrestlings: How do we respond to something too big to fight?

[Excerpt:]

I am very interested in those characters who are “stuck” with responding, because that’s where I live much of the time: I am faced with circumstances that are bigger than me, and the best I can hope for is that I find and climb on a sort of surfboard and ride the waves as they come. Preferably without wiping out.

When we’re in crisis mode, simply responding is pretty much the order of the day. Strategizing our way around a problem requires energy or clarity of thought that often is out of reach, and it turns out that’s the case for my favorite characters.

All my favorite characters are very much caught up in something bigger than them. Every one is much weaker than the forces arrayed against them, and barely keeping their heads above water, but I love them because they prove a match for those impossible odds—and that’s why I read!

One example: Kate Sutton.

In the young adult novel The Perilous Gard, Kate is sent by the Queen of England to the middle of nowhere. Kate is utterly alone, has no friends, and ends up trapped probably a mile underground.

My throat closes up in the cloying tightness of the memory.

Kate didn’t know if she’d ever see the light of day again. She was a slave, and the only moment of independent choice she had came at the opening of each day. She had a choice to receive or reject “the Cup,” which contained a drug that would bring an artificial delight and mute her senses to the suffering and isolation she endured. She chose to reject it.

Read the rest at wynmag.com

Writer Mama

Today, out of nowhere, Elisha said, “You’re a great storyteller, Mama.”

Tonight Natasha saw me starting in on cleaning the kitchen while she was on her way to bed.

“Why start cleaning now?”
“I just finished a novel,” I said. “I have energy now.”
“Oh,” said Natasha. “That makes sense.”

Another time recently, I asked Melody what story she wanted to listen to, and she said, “Tell us more of your novel!” (I’ve read them bits from Shadow Swan and Lindorm King.)

Being understood by my children is a beautiful thing.  They are proud of me, of my writing, and I can only begin to articulate how much of a gift this is to me: it. is. huge.

Image courtesy of Maare Liiv via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Maare Liiv via stock.xchng

People used to frame my writing in competition with my children.

My enthusiasm for NaNoWriMo and its “treatment” potential (I’ve use the daily goals for depression management in Novembers) was met with the emotional equivalent of a bucket of cold water. More than one person questioned the adequacy of my devotion to my children if I was engaging in this demanding activity (writing with quotas and deadlines).

Such undermining behavior made my automatic language about each piece (“a fourth child”) feel even more scandalous– though no less true.

Each is like a newborn in the beginning, with growing and changing “demands” as the project matures.

Then we had a physical 4th child in our home for 44 days, with no jealousy or angst.

Just tonight I realized that’s how my children take my writing, too. The fourth child.

It’s not a competition, it just *is.*

Sometimes (most of the time) it’s a baseline not worth mentioning. Then there are these moments of understanding, or vicarious pride.

And these moments when they connect– when they play at it themselves– it’s like a toddler picking up a baby doll after mama has a newborn, and surprising me with their tenderness and skill.

I am so thankful to be a Writer Mama.