Reminder: AWH has moved! Update your links and feeds.

Just a quick reminder that Are Women Human has moved to I’ll be setting up a site redirect today so that all links from this blog automatically direct to the new site, but I’m not sure whether this means that RSS feeds will update automatically, so please change your feeds to those for the new site (RSS feed info is at the bottom right on the new site). Email subscribers will also have to resubscribe on the new site; you can do so in the right sidebar. See you at AWH’s new digs!

AWH is moving!

Happy New Year! I’m starting off 2012 by moving Are Women Human? to a new address and platform. I’m really excited about what this means for the blog – there’s a lot more I can do with it as a self-hosted blog, both in terms of the kinds of content and media I can work with, and in terms of supporting reader contributions and a more interactive community.

The new URL for Are Women Human? is All new posts after this one will be on that site only, so please update your links and your RSS feeds! In a day or two I’ll set things up so [] automatically redirects to the new address.

Readers who have been getting new post notifications by email will have to re-subscribe to get email post updates on the new site. The form to subscribe is in the sidebar on the new site. users, if subscribe using the same email adress that you use for your wordpress account, the new AWH site will show up in your Dashboard under “Blogs I Follow.”

See you all on the new site! <3

Top AWH posts of 2011 + exciting news!

I’m sure you’re all dying to know what the most popular posts (not to say the best ones) from Are Women Human? were in 2011, so here you go, a top ten list, roughly ordered by how much I like them ;)

10. Documents that led to C.J. Mahaney stepping down?
9.   Confirmed: SGM leader C.J. Mahaney to temporarily step down
8.   Reaction to Brent Detwiler’s documents – highlights
7.   Damage control at Covenant Life Church, pt. 1
6.   Mark Driscoll: If you don’t believe in hell, you’re going there
5.   Dianna Anderson: Dear Mr. Driscoll
4.  Ann Voskamp and Jesus as lover: Perspective from the Puritans, pt. 1
3.   Must read: On Cage Fighting, “Masculinity, Misogyny, and the Fear of Losing Control”
2.   Mark Driscoll Apologism Bingo (a top post in large part thanks to it being linked by Slacktivist! So exciting.)
1.   About Penn State

I guess people like reading about bizarre culty church scandals and Mark Driscoll. Go figure.

As for the exciting news: AWH is moving! I’ve been feeling constrained by the limits of as a platform, so I’m moving the blog to self-hosted WordPress. The blog’s URL will be changing, so readers will have to change their bookmarks and update their RSS feeds to the new address. I’m hoping to have the new site live on New Year’s Day (that is to say, tomorrow). I’ll make a post here when it’s up.

Happy New Year’s Eve!

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Recapping the Mars Hill Documentary: Love of money

Trigger warning: classist and racist language, misogyny, cissexism, spiritual abuse/cults.

Part 1 // Storify of my live-tweets // Mars Hill Documentary

I’ve noticed for some time that Mark Driscoll is at least as obsessed with money as he is with sex and gender roles – and further, his obsession with money is directly connected to his preoccupations with sex and proper gender roles. So it was interesting to see the considerable degree to which money is a major theme, if not the single dominant theme, in the Mars Hill documentary. Driscoll talks about money literally from the first minute of the film right through to the very last minute.

The douchey beginning: It takes less than a minute for Driscoll to make a nasty remark about “men in dresses.” Not one minute. The full comment reflects how how class and wealth are integral aspects of what Driscoll believes separates “manly” men from “girly” ones:

The last thing I ever thought I would be was a pastor, ’cause growing up Catholic, the pastor is a guy who lives at the church, is flat broke, is committed to never having sex, and walks around in a dress. So pretty much that was [the] last career choice of all possible career choices. – Driscoll, ~ 00:50-1:05 in the film.

Driscoll, of course, is not this kind of pastor. He owns a home. He’s not broke. He has lots of sex. He dresses in an appropriately virile fashion. And apparently, part of his job as a pastor is to make sure that everyone is informed of these facts. Repeatedly.

The vast middle: Driscoll repeatedly regales viewers, accompanied by sad womp-womp music in the background, with tales of the days when Mars Hill was “broke” and “homeless.” Homeless,” apparently, means “renting out someone else’s building for services rather than owning our own property” and “broke” means “not having as much money as other churches.”

Bonus: the use of “ghetto” (though not by Driscoll) to describe the temporary housing of the Mars Hill offices and three male church staff in the Driscoll home. Staff who, by the way, despite being grown and capable adults, left Driscoll’s wife Grace to do their dishes and clean up after them. Real manliness, y’all!

Driscoll talks about Mars Hill like it’s a business (to be fair, like most megachurches, it is one). In fact, he seems to see churches in general in business terms. He describes established denominations starting new churches as equivalent to a big business opening a new branch – denominations simply “write a fat check” as seed money and they’re good to go.

So it’s not surprising that Driscoll also casts Mars Hill as a brash and cutting-edge startup that “innovates” and bucks church traditions out of necessity (read: being “broke”). Traditional churches simply use their oodles of money to try to “buy cool” instead of innovating themselves.

The “absolute gamechanger” in Mars Hill’s history: receiving gigantic sums of money from wealthy donors. The first large donors to Mars Hill – a couple who single-handedly donated $200,000 – are described as “the first ones to believe in the possibility of what we were doing.” Because, as my husband says, you can tell who’s the first to believe in you by who gives you a large amount of cash.

The real kicker, though, is that Driscoll immediately follows this rhapsodizing about rich benefactors whose generosity saved Mars Hill from imminent demise with the sage conclusion that these donations came in because “God showed up….There’s another Trinity behind Larry, Curly, and Moe [Driscoll and his fellow pastors] actually putting this thing together.” In case that’s not clear, he equates people donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mars Hill so that they could renovate a run down church building with divine intervention and favor.

Why doesn’t God “show up” and help actual poor people? This remains a mystery we don’t really need to question. But we can rest assured that God takes time out of the divine plan to make sure people like Mark Driscoll have awesome renovated church buildings so their churches can grow. And we can tell who God really favors by who has big churches with lots of money, obviously.

The shocking conclusion: Let’s start with some context.

    • In fiscal year 2010, Mars Hill received about $13 million dollars in general giving, and is on track for $14-15 million dollars in giving for FY 2011.
    • Mars Hill owns over $16 million in total net assets
    • Between FY 2008 and 2010, their “excess revenue over expenses” – ahem, that is to say, their annual profit – has ballooned from $15,000 to $2.1 million dollars.
      [all numbers from the Mars Hill annual report, thanks WeenatcheetheHatchet for pointing me to this]

Keep these numbers in mind as I tell you how this shining record of Mars Hill’s history, this testament of “God’s work” and Mars Hill’s witness, ends. Given these numbers and what’s come before, you might think Driscoll would conclude by talking some more about how God has showed Mars Hill with money favor. Or perhaps with one more nostalgic anecdote about how “poor” the church used to be, but no longer. You might think that, but you’d be so very wrong.

Long story short? The documentary ends with Driscoll complaining at some length that Mars Hill “has often, quite frankly, really stunk at giving,” then trying to guilt people into giving more money to the church.

No, really. In Driscoll’s mind, “most of the people in the church need to be giving a whole lot more.”

[Partial transcript] Mars Hill has often really just, quite frankly, stunk at giving, and I think the last thing to be saved is a person’s wallet. And so I’m just going to tell you that most of the people in the church need to be giving a whole lot more.

Some of you are being generous. I’m not talking to you. For those people, we’ll have a separate conference for you in a phone booth.

For everybody else, the sad, cold, hard truth is about 24 percent of people at Mars Hill this year have given nothing. In addition, another 41 percent have given $500 or less. So that’s 65-ish percent of Mars Hill, two-thirds of Mars Hill’s twelve thousand people who are giving nothing or nearly nothing….

And I want you to ask this question of yourself. At the end of the year, how much do you anticipate that God wants you to give? We’re at that place now where it is going to take everyone being very generous to open up an opportunity to welcome nine thousand more people, all the new churches, seats, opportunities.

So is it about the money? Yes, it’s about spending the money to reach people for Jesus. Everything costs something. And we think that if you love Jesus and you believe people are going to hell, you should give at least as much money to that as toilet paper, and many of you aren’t.

Bottom line: you can do better. We love you and we trust in the grace of God. You will be more generous.

People are getting saved more than ever. Churches are getting planted more than ever. Leaders are rising up more than ever. Opportunities are surfacing more than ever. And this is the best possible time to get onboard, to pray, give, serve, because I promise you, what comes next is the kind of thing that you’re going to tell your grandkids about.

As I said while live-tweeting, you could land yourself into a coma if you had to drink every time Driscoll mentions money. But it wasn’t until these final minutes that I realized that money isn’t simply a recurring motif in the film, but rather what it’s about. The final note of a film like this is the take-away message – not necessarily the consciously intended message, but a moment that sticks in the viewer’s memory, precisely because of its finality, because it’s the last message you hear.

And this is the message Driscoll chooses to leave viewers with: God wants you do give us more money. You can show you love Jesus by how much of your money you give to me (note: not to charity, not even to Christian causes, but to Driscoll’s church specifically). If you don’t give us money, Jesus is going to send people to hell. Please ignore the fact that we believe in predestination, and no amount of money or time you spend on church will change supposedly preordained divine decisions about who ends up in heaven and hell. Don’t sweat the details! Just do better with the whole giving us money thing.

I mean – you can’t even call this an ‘appeal’ for more money. It’s blatant money grubbing, privileged and entitled grumbling from the pastor of what’s undoubtedly one of the wealthiest independent churches in the country, if not the world, and unashamed emotional and spiritual manipulation.

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That time of year again: Mark Driscoll’s “Daddy Christmas Tips”

I see that Mark Driscoll has recycled his “Daddy Christmas Tips” for 2011. Since all the “tips” are identical to last year’s, it seemed right to re-post my comments on them. Enjoy!

Christmas is around the corner, which for Mark Driscoll, apparently means yet another opportunity to bully men into being just like him.  Driscoll, an extra unique complementarian snowflake about who’s certain to come up more on this blog, is the senior pastor and bully-in-chief of Mars Hill Church, a Seattle megachurch (and the biggest church in the city).  Driscoll’s confrontational and chauvinistic style of preaching has gotten him a lot of attention in the mainstream media, much more than most complementarian pastors, who usually fly under the radar.

So! Christmas in Driscoll-land. “Daddy” needs to have a holiday agenda for the family; godly leadership means telling people what to do and where to be all the time.  At least, that’s what leadership means for Driscoll, and funny enough, it turns out to be what God means by leadership, too!  Clearly that’s what it has to mean for everyone else.  Hence Driscoll’s “Daddy Christmas Tips” – some interesting ideas on how fathers should be running the show during the holidays:

Tip #1: Dad needs a plan for the holidays to ensure his family is loved and memories are made. Dad, what’s your plan?
Right off the bat we’re in weirdo land.  How do you “plan” for people to be loved?

Tip #6: Dad needs to manage the extended family and friends during the holidays. Dad, who or what do you need to say “no” to?
Apparently mom doesn’t need to be a part of this decision.  Or maybe she just doesn’t have an opinion?  Thinking something different from her husband might be a sin, after all.

Tip #7: Dad needs to schedule a big Christmas date with his daughter(s). Dad, what’s your big plan for the fancy Daddy-daughter date?
Tip #8: Dad needs to schedule guy time with his son(s). Dad, what are you and your son(s) going to do that is active, outdoors, and fun?
We can’t call a dad’s special time with his son a “date” – clearly that would be inappropriately sexualizing.  Men don’t go on dates with each other, gross!  But dads can totally take their daughters on dates – there’s nothing inappropriate or creepy about that. (Hint: if a parent can only go on a “date” with a child of the “opposite” sex, um, you are sexualizing the relationship between that parent and child, not to mention being super heteronormative).  Also, there’s no way a real girl would ever want to do something “active, outdoors, and fun” with her dad.  Girls just want to be fancy – and real boys, obviously, don’t.  Because the activities you share with your children are entirely dependent on their genitalia, not on, you know, their actual opinions or interests.

Tip #9: Dad needs to help get the house decorated. Dad, are you really a big help to Mom with getting things ready?
Because decorating the house is really mom’s job.

Tip #10: Dad needs to ensure there are some holiday smells and sounds. Dad, is Christmas music on the iPod, is the tree up, can you smell cookies and cider?
If you can’t smell cookies and cider, your wife is doing something wrong.  That kind of laziness cannot stand.  Better get on that, dad.

Whew.  Dad has a lot of things and people to stay on top of during the holidays!  But remember tip #4: Dad needs to not let the stress of the holidays, including money, cause him to be grumpy with Mom or the kids. Dad, how’s your joy?
I’m sure it’s really easy to both be constantly obsessing over whether or not you’re micromanaging the holidays and your family appropriately, and actually enjoy the holidays with your family.  Yea.

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Recapping the Mars Hill Documentary: gender, race, sex, and cults of personality

Trigger warning: racism, misogyny, cissexism, spiritual abuse/cults. 

So Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church made a documentary… about themselves. Specifically, about the history of the church and how it came to be where it is today. The full documentary is online: God’s Work, Our Witness. Quite the title.

I watched the documentary over the weekend and tweeted my reactions while watching it. You can read the round-up of my live-tweeting on Storify. I can’t embed or post the full text of my reactions to the documentary here; it’s pretty long. But I can sum up a few things that struck me after watching it.

Predictably, much of it consists either of Mark Driscoll talking about himself, or other leaders from Mars Hill talking about Mark Driscoll. Also predictably, there’s a lot of talk about manliness, sex, and money, from the typically boorish and self-obsessed “Pastor Mark” perspective. Let’s break it down.

Gender: The documentary is slightly over an hour long. In that time, only two women appear on screen without their husbands, one of whom is Grace Driscoll. The other women who are featured barely speak in comparison to their husbands. They seem to mostly be there to look supportive, smile, and hold their husbands’ hands. So it doesn’t really come as a surprise when one of the pastors’ wives, recalling the challenges the church staff faced during a period of sudden growth, says the following (emphasis mine):

It was just really intense, really busy…it was trying to [pauses, looks at her husband], the guys were just trying to keep up with what God was doing. And so I think all of us wives were just holding on for the ride. With our kids in tow. [looks at her husband, smiles].

Well. Sigh. The church belongs to the men, you see. The women and children are just along for the ride.

Then there are the lovely bits where he talks about how he decided to start doing a church-wide men’s meeting because he simply didn’t have the time to yell at all the men individually, poor thing, so he just had to gather all the men in one place so he could yell at them at the same time!

This is real innovative leadership, y’all. You should take notes.

Naturally what one does when one has a captive audience of men is to tell them to “sit down and shut up until I’m ready to yell at you,” and then in fact proceed to yell at them for 2-3 hours about about “all of [their] perversion… laziness…lack of drive and ambition…ungodly living.” Oooh, also, hand them stones with Bible verses written on them, with instructions that the men hang on to them “until they get [their] own stones.”

Like I said: real cutting edge stuff. What a memorable and classy way to “lead” men!

Not only is Driscoll communicating to the men he leads that they are “inadequate” men (they have no stones), he’s communicating to them that he is in a different, higher position than they are. Not only does he have “stones,” he’s in a position to judge their lack of “stones.” This is all part of Driscoll’s whole shtick, which is not only about putting women in their place, but actually about putting everyone, including and perhaps especially other men in their place – namely, beneath him. Eeeeveryone is inferior to him. No man is as manly as he.

And this manipulative, toxic behavior is part of a long-established pattern. From the discussion of the documentary the Stuff Christian Culture Likes FB page, we learn that in the earlier days of Mars Hill, the church had a message board on which Driscoll had two accounts: one that was known to other church members as be his account, and another, “anonymous” sock puppet named “William Wallace II” (oh, the evangelical male obsession with Braveheart. A post topic of its own). Driscoll used this fake account to rant about how the U.S. is a “pussified nation” and to angrily challenge other men in the church to “man up.”

Let’s be real about what Driscoll is passing off as “leading men” here. Questioning someone’s gender is an attack on their identity and very personhood – I’m not talking about intent, but content and effect. Driscoll goes way beyond that. He deliberately tries to undermine people’s security and confidence in their gender identity. He deliberately tries to induce a feeling in men – and people of all genders – that their gender is actually or potentially not “real.” That? Is abuse. Period. It’s a deliberate attempt to degrade people and make them *feel* the degradation, make them feel ashamed, and it’s not leadership. It’s abuse.

It’s also cissexist as hell – i.e., treating people whose bodies, appearance, or behavior don’t conform to arbitrary norms of the gender they are, or are assumed to be, as lesser than people who do conform to gender expectations. It’s bigoted behavior that literally kills people. That is the “bold” leadership Mark Driscoll is selling.

Race: There are also precisely ZERO visible people of color in the entire documentary (I say visible because some of the people in the documentary may have nonwhite ancestry that’s not immediately obvious). This is a documentary about a twelve thousand member church, in a huge city, with one of the biggest Asian-American populations in the country. And there appear to be no black people in it. Nor any Asians or Asian Americans. Nor any Latin@s. Zero.

A quick browse through Mars Hill’s various staff pages on line shows that this stark absence of people of color in the documentary is in fact reflective of the leadership of Mars Hill as a whole. Just taking men who are explicitly labeled as pastors, there’s only one visible man of color (Asian or Asian American) among the various Mars Hill’s total staff of 31 pastors.

Put it differently: Mars Hill’s pastorate is 97% white in a city that’s 14% Asian/Asian American and has a 30% minority population.

Add in the nasty “joke” about a worship pastor whose poor singing, according to Driscoll, “sounded like he got captured by Al Qaeda,” Driscoll’s complaints about a church building Mars Hill wanted being given to a Chinese church, and appropriating other people’s culture by using a digeridoo in worship, and the lack of people of color in the documentary becomes a glaring problem.

Narcissistic leadership/Cult of personality: I’d say the people in the documentary, Driscoll included, talk at least as much about “Pastor Mark” as they do about Jesus. Probably more. Which is kind of telling in a documentary that’s supposedly about their witness to “God’s work.”

There’s also quite a bit of approving/enabling commentary about Driscoll’s long-established penchant for yelling and screaming at his congregation. This vitriolic sermon style (if it can be called that) is at turns portrayed by people in the documentary as “awesome” or hilarious. Emotionally abusing and manipulating a congregation that looks to you for guidance is so cute!

I had to laugh at the moment where Driscoll introduces the documentary as “one big roadtrip” through the history of Mars Hill, “with Jesus as the driver”…while he was sitting in the driver’s seat of a car. I mean. I know the man has a Jesus complex, but that’s a bit much. On top of that, a good portion of the documentary is narrated while Driscoll is driving, or, bizarrely, parked in such a way that his hands are on the steering wheel in every shot. Which…again, is just a somewhat telling bit of visual and verbal rhetoric. He’s in charge. He’s in the driver’s seat.

More narcissism on display: Driscoll talks about trying “make [people] into Christians,” and also disparages some musicians who left Mars Hill in the early days “over theological issues,” which he sums up as “basically, they decided not to be Christian.” Because disagreeing with Mark Driscoll on theology is exactly the same as not being a Christian. This would make sense if, y’know, Mark Driscoll were Christ. Which he’s not.

Sex: Of course, it wouldn’t be a Driscoll production if he didn’t manage to throw in some kind of gratuitous or vulgar reference to sex. The winner in this regard is clearly Driscoll’s random mention of a member of Mars Hill who, as a new Christian, didn’t want to get rid of his “enormous p@rn collection”  because it was “vintage p@rn [that] cost a lot of money.” Some of it, as Driscoll helpfully and totally necessarily adds, was Nazi p@rn.*

I’m still struggling to understand what would lead someone to think this is an appropriate or enlightening anecdote to include in a film documenting the history of a church. Really?

Not one minute into the documentary, Driscoll states that he never considered his Catholic upbringing meant that he never considered becoming a pastor as a kid, in part because  Catholic pastors are “committed to never having sex.” Let’s just say I have a bit of trouble imagining that a young boy would really be thinking about priestly celibacy in quite those terms.

There’s a lot of talk about how various members of the church used to be goth fetishists, or strippers, and so on – all done in a way that makes it clear that they think this is some sort of badge of honor or bragging right. It confuses me that a church claiming to follow a man openly reviled in his day for consorting publicly with sex workers and people who had committed adultery would pat themselves on the back so vigorously just for being so “radical” as to, gasp, not completely shun social interaction with people outside our society’s sexual norms.

It’s particularly strange to see Driscoll congratulating himself for having former strippers and fetishists in his church. Like…given how sinful he clearly thinks such things are, isn’t it preferable for them to be going to church rather than not? Wouldn’t he rather they be coming to his church rather than not? So why should he get an award for “taking in” the very people who most need church, at least in his conception of it? I am baffled.

But even after having written all the above, the biggest story to me in the Mars Hill documentary was not about gender, race, cult of personality, or sex. No, in fact, the most significant recurring theme in the documentary is money. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s really what the documentary is about. More on that in the next post.

*[redacted to avoid spammers, not out of prudery!]

At MOMocrats: Roundtable discussion of HHS’s overruling of FDA recommendation on Plan B

Over at MOMocrats, Cyn has posted a roundup of an email discussion between some of the MOMo contributors, myself included, about the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) decision to overrule the FDA recommendation to make the “morning-after pill,” or Plan B, available without a prescription to people of all ages (it’s currently over the counter for people over 17). The decision of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, as well as President Obama’s comments in support of this decision,  have sparked a sharp backlash from many (though not all) feminists and women’s rights/health groups. As the MOMocrats post shows, reactions from women’s health advocates to this decision are far from monolithic, and many who strongly disagree with  HHS’s and President Obama’s decision also see complicated and complicating factors underlying this issue (I’m included in that camp). To quote Cyn’s conclusion, “We wrestle with tough questions and have differences of opinion and yet are all at our core profoundly committed to pro-choice as part of reproductive justice.”

I have more thoughts on the subject that I hope to be posting soon to the MOMocrats blog; of course I’ll share that post here as well.

I took a longer break from blogging than anticipated, but new posts will resume tomorrow!

World AIDS Day 2011

Today is World AIDS Day, an annual occasion for raising awareness about HIV/AIDS, remembering those who have died, for people living with HIV to share their stories and for those who don’t to support and stand in solidarity with them. This year’s theme is “Get to Zero,” i.e. – to get to zero AIDS-related deaths and zero new infections by 2015.

Many changes need to take place in our society and globally for this goal to be reached. HIV testing needs to become a routine part of health care for all sexually active people (the CDC recommends that all people between 13-64 be tested at least once in their lifetimes for HIV). Access to HIV treatment needs to become far more widespread and equitable than it currently is. In the U.S., only half of people living with HIV are receiving any treatment for it, and only 28% have the infection under control with medication [Loop 21]. About 1 in 5 are unaware of their positive status.

And as I’ve written before, HIV/AIDS is a problem that intersects with and is exacerbated by societal oppressions and injustices like sexism, racism, classism, and anti-queer and anti-trans bigotry. Concrete examples from the U.S.:
– Women of color are at significantly higher risk of HIV infection than white women, even more so if they are poor and/or transgender. Black women are infected at fifteen times the rate of white women, and three times the rate of Latina women. Black women also make up over 50% of new infections in women. [CDC, PDF]
– Black people make up 14% of the U.S. population, but make up almost half of all people living with HIV and 44% of new HIV infections. The percentage of black men who have sex with men who are HIV positive is nearly twice that of white men who have sex with men. [CDC, PDF]
– Transgender people are at significantly higher risk of HIV infection than cisgender people, with some studies suggesting that over half of black trans women are HIV positive [TransHealth, PDF].

Disparities along lines of oppression and privilege apply not only to rates of infection, but also to access to treatment. Similar disparities in infection rates and care exist worldwide. As the Latina Institute puts it, HIV/AIDS is a “two-way road” of marginalization: ”

 It is not only that our society marginalizes HIV-positive individuals, but that the most marginalized people in our communities are most likely to become positive.

Yes, it is important to get tested. Yes, condoms, condoms, condoms. But the truth is that some of us are at higher risk than others merely because of who we are and the communities in which we move. At particular risk for HIV are women of color,transgender folksyoung women. In short, HIV is not simply a disease, but rather an indicator of marginalization and injustice in our society…In the end, AIDS  is a disease of marginalization and injustice, and we will not see an end to AIDS without ending inequity.

As most of us know, HIV/AIDS is a global issue – a pandemic. By focusing on U.S. numbers, I don’t mean to be overly US-centric or imply that the U.S. matters any more than any other part of the world. But I think we tend to think of HIV/AIDS as a “third world” problem, and especially a black African problem. And there’s truth to the fact that most people living with HIV or AIDS are in the Global South – again in large part due to dynamics of power and privilege on an international scale, and due to oppressions like misogyny and poverty on local and national scales. But the reality is that the U.S. remains in the throes of an HIV/AIDS epidemic that is often invisible because most of its victims are marginalized in various ways.

An analysis by the Black AIDS Institute found that if  black America were its own country, it would rank 16th in the world in the number of people with HIV — ahead of Ethiopia, Botswana, and Haiti. [CDC]

“A great amount of attention has been put overseas,” said Marconi, who’s also an associate professor at Emory University’s School of Medicine. “Especially in these economically challenged times, we tend to be myopic in our efforts in our charitable giving. People say, ‘I’m already giving towards the international HIV effort – I can’t see two epidemics happening.’ No one wants to believe that extreme poverty and neglect exist in such a rich and powerful nation as this one.” [CNN]

The invisibility of the American HIV/AIDS epidemic is even more heightened in devout Christian communities. American churches are often willing to talk about HIV/AIDS as an African problem, but unwilling to talk about it as a problem in their own congregations or communities. CNN, for example, ran a few articles this week on HIV/AIDS in the U.S. South, which has a higher rate of infections than other parts of the country, and where HIV/AIDS are highly stigmatized topics – that is, even more so than in American culture in general. This seems to be correlated to high rates of religiosity and the “Bible Belt” culture of the South.

Dealing with the epidemic in the South “is extremely challenging, because the stigma and discrimination is worse,” said Dr. Kevin Fenton…”There is less discourse around prevention, sexual health, comprehensive sex education in schools or having strong, community-based advocacy activities.” [CNN Also see: Pastor fights HIV stigma in rural town]

I think the tendency to conceptualize HIV/AIDS as only an overseas problem is a reflection of the very same oppressions that cause HIV/AIDS to disproportionately affect marginalized communities in the U.S. In both formulations the status quo in terms of power and privilege is maintained. HIV is constructed as an issue “over there” affecting poor, pitiable, ignorant black Africans who need to be rescued from their plight by knowledgeable and resource rich Americans (mostly white). This formulation falls in line with what’s expected in terms of racial, economic, and international political power dynamics. Similarly, the resistance in the U.S. against recognizing HIV as a very real and present epidemic in this country reflects the fact that the burden of HIV/AIDS is predominantly borne by people who are queer, trans, female, poor, and/or of color. There’s no way so many Americans would be unaware that we continue to have an epidemic on our hands if it were a disease that disproportionately struck down white, straight, middle class, etc., people.

And that casts the charity and goodwill of many conservative U.S. churches towards African “AIDS orphans” and other overseas people affected by HIV/AIDS in a less than flattering light. The patronizing nature of this sort of charity becomes clear when you factor in that it’s coming from the very same groups of Christians who complain and rage about the slightest bit of focused attention or resources spent on U.S. communities of color, LGBT people, women, or poor people (i.e., the groups disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS) as “reverse discrimination” and “divisive.” In both cases – paternalistically providing charity to black people “over there” and angrily demanding that the government withhold support and resources to marginalized people over here – the position of white middle class “mainstream” people as privileged over all others is insisted upon and maintained.

Of course, stigma and invisibility are not only the result of racism – they are also the work of ignorance and resistance, often religious, to talking about sex and sexuality within those communities most affected by HIV/AIDS (See, e.g., HIV AIDS and Black Churches: Ignorance can kill).

So this World AIDS Day, let’s think not only about the AIDS as a global problem, and how injustice on an international scale feeds that, but also about the forces that operate in our local and national contexts, wherever those might be, to produce higher rates of infection and lower rates of effective treatment in various communities.

If you are sexually active and don’t know your status, get tested! Folks living in the U.S. can find an HIV testing site near you by using’s testing and services locator. Encourage people you know to get tested as well.

And check out some of these reads on World AIDS Day:
– On Twitter, ChrisMacDen shared about living with HIV. A must read..
–  Indigenous Youth in Canada are launching National Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week to address higher rates of infection among native youth.
– Black Women’s Health Imperative: What will it take to get Black women to Zero? A discussion.
– On The Issues magazine: Women HIV activists make Sex Ed a reality 


NaBloPoMo wrap-up

So, this is it, the last day of NaBloPoMo. Woohoo for posting 30 days in a row! Some of what I learned by doing NaBloPoMo:

– I have a lot to say! Often when I’m working on blog posts I feel like I’ve run out of ideas, or have nothing to say – especially when I’m feeling particularly anxious or depressed. Turns out I have a lot of things I want to talk about. In fact, there were a number of topics I though I’d be able to touch on this month that I just didn’t get to.
– It’s possible to write a decent post in a day, but I also need to write more often and try to plan out my writing further in advance. And also do more writing just for practice. My long-term dream is to be able to write about gender and religion issues as a career, so I definitely need to think more about my writing as a craft and skill.
–  Daily blogging is hard bloody work! I knew that in the abstract; I mean, blogging a few times a week is also a lot of work. But, whew. I’m feeling a bit blogged out. I do plan on posting tomorrow for World AIDS day, but after that posting may be on the light side for a bit probably more like twice a week.
– Having awesome readers and commenters who leave encouraging and insightful comments gives me energy to blog more, helps me hone my thoughts, and gives me more ideas for posts.

All of my NaBloPoMo 2011 posts can be found here. Thanks for reading!

Keep your pedestals

Trigger warning: female objectification, rape and sexual assault, war.

I’ve been thinking for sometime about how society puts “women” and “femininity” in the abstract on a pedestal in a way that ends up actually concretely limiting, hurting, and ultimately dehumanizing women.

Modesty culture is a good example of this, actually. Part of the idea is that women are supposed to dress and comport ourselves in a way that lives up to an idealized femininity. Wearing tight or “revealing” clothing is unfeminine because we’re supposed to maintain some kind of mysterious allure that is ruined if we “expose” our bodies to male view. Men won’t respect us if we “leave nothing to the imagination.”

“Femininity” means we should be above dirt, sweat, grime, any signs of physical work or exertion. Even above the scents and sounds of typical bodily function. Smell like a garden. Look like your face has no pores.

We shouldn’t be too strong or independent – physically, emotionally, financially. If we’re too successful or content on our own, men won’t think we need them. Men want women who need to be protected and provided for. If we’re too strong, men will be intimidated by us. We’ll scare them off. Men want women who want to be treated like queens. Princesses. Or at least our two-dimensional fantasies of what we imagine the life of queens and princesses to be.

This idea that women’s bodies, appearance, lives should be all roses and delicacy and pampering stands so at odds with the realities of most women’s lives that it’s hard to believe it’s not a deliberate fiction meant to paper over our suffering and oppression.

I read a post once, when I was still a fairly conservative Christian, by a similarly conservative Christian guy quoting a Catholic complementarian on the role of women in war. This man – Anthony Esolen, if I remember correctly – asserted that women don’t belong in combat or in any military roles at all because women should be “above” the fray of war. Combat sullies our delicate and pristine nature. We should be on a pedestal, untouched by the ugliness and destruction of fighting. Because men and their lives are dispensable – are biologically and divinely intended to be dispensable – but women are not, because we are destined to give life and be mothers.

And even at the time I thought this was a load of bullshit, because honestly, apart from children, who is more harmed by the effects of war than women and female-assigned people? Who ends up being left to raise and provide for families alone, under the most horrific and deprived of conditions? Who do soldiers rape and batter with impunity, as a means of terrorizing and demoralizing “the enemy,” or just because they can get away with it?

Girls. Women. Children and adults who are read as female.

Just like modesty is a load of bullshit, because no amount of clothing is any protection from someone who is bound and determined to objectify you, to harass you, to assault you, to rape you. No, modesty is just society’s way of telling us that people who don’t conform to “femininity” deserve whatever we get. That we’re asking for it. And a way of absolving the perpetrator and an enabling culture for responsibility. It’s no protection even for those who conform to it and are subjected to violence. Even then you are held to the stringent standards of performing “femininity.” You must be the perfect victim, or you’re probably a lying slut.

This reminds me that just today, apparently, Jon Huntsman – clearly the most reasonable person in the current GOP presidential candidate field – described the allegations of adultery, sexual harassment, and sexual assault against Herman Cain as a distraction from the issues Americans really care about and a “bimbo eruption.”

Because speaking out about sexual harassment and assault = being a bimbo.

All this twaddle about women being obliged to be vulnerable so than men can swoop in and come and rescue us, this bullshit about how we’re all pretty princesses and mysterious alluring creatures with magical power over men, who men love to not be able to figure out or attain…I mean, what better cover for festering misogyny and the violence that goes with it? Because the reality is, the “femininity” we are socialized into tell us to make ourselves vulnerable in ways that serve to silence and disempower us in the face of (usually male) abuse and violence.

Fantasy: Don’t be too financially independent so your prince can come. Reality: stuck with an abusive partner that you can’t leave because of financial constraints, because you have no place to go. Reality: most people living in poverty are women and children, and economic hardship hits women and children most severely.

Fantasy: dress and present yourself in a certain way and men will think you are mysterious and alluring and irresistible. Reality: dress in a way considered too attractive and you will be considered a slut and not taken seriously. You will be blamed if you are assaulted. Reality: Dress in a way considered not attractive enough, and you will be considered a frigid bitch and not taken seriously. You will be considered impossible to rape, because rape is supposedly about sexual attraction.

Fantasy: You will be safe, respected, loved, and provided for if you do/are this or that. If you are “feminine.”
Reality: Femininity is despised, threatened, hated, marginalized.