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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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!

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.

Sierra: How modesty doctrines harm young women

Trigger warning: objectification of women/female-assigned people, disordered eating, spiritual abuse, sexual assault and rape.

Alternet has a great article by Sierra on the various ways evangelical and fundamentalist teachings on female modesty are  concretely harmful to women and, though she doesn’t touch on this aspect, female-assigned trans or genderqueer people as well. All of her points are on target, especially her comments on how ‘modesty’ discourages women from activities that would build up their physical strength, and also promotes a mindset that easily lends itself to distorted body image and disordered eating:

Modesty was not just about dress. It was also about moving like a lady. Knees together, butt down, breasts in, arms down. It is impossible to get physically fit while adhering to ladylike movements only. You might be able to run, but only if you wear two sports bras to keep anything from jiggling inappropriately. You certainly can’t do anything with weights. [She goes on to talk about how she avoided exercising in the presence of men because of the constraints placed on her by modesty rules.]

… before I got to college, modesty contributed to my eating disorder. How? Because I noticed that the best way to keep men from staring at my ass was not to have one. Ditto boobs. The skinnier I got, the less womanly I looked, and the more “modest” I felt, until I was 25lbs underweight. I was perpetually “fat” in my own mind – because in my own mind, the only acceptable body type was an androgynous one – one that could not possibly provoke a man to lust.

Sierra gets at one of the aspects of modesty culture that isn’t discussed much, i.e., the very real ways in which it functions to severely limit the ability of women and female-assigned people to move and act freely in public spaces and the public sphere. Requiring people to be constantly aware of how their bodies and appearance are perceived by others – more problematically, holding people responsible for how their bodies are perceived by others – places real constraints on what people can do in public or in mixed company. Of course this is true to some extent for everyone, but it’s particularly true for people who are or are perceived as women in a way it is generally not for people who are or are perceived as men.

We’re the ones called to justify what we are doing or wearing when we are harassed, assaulted, or raped. To answer whether we were behaving or dressed “suggestively.” Whether we gave someone reason to think we were sexually available? Whether we “provoked” sexual harassment or violence against us in some way by, well, being provocative. The implication behind such questioning being that someone subjected to sexually threatening or violent behavior is only truly sympathetic if they appear to hold no sexual attraction to others.

When you argue that modesty is just a “debate” that must be won by those whose arguments are strongest in the abstract, you ignore the fact that the “debate” has consequences you don’t have to live with. Women have to live with the consequences of modesty debates. Those debates impact every sphere of their lives: work, play, even their own health and wellbeing. If you think that, as a man, you can somehow argue “objectively” about what women should or shouldn’t wear and “win” a debate fair and square, let me remind you of a few things. If a man “loses” a modesty debate, nothing about his life changes. If a man “wins” a modesty debate, nothing about his life changes. But if a woman loses a modesty debate, the entire fabric of her existence changes. If a woman loses a modesty debate, she has lost whole areas of freedom in her life. She now has more things to worry about not doing so that men will not get aroused. There is no such thing as an “objective” argument in which the stakes are astronomical for one side and nonexistent for the other. Furthermore, by even accepting modesty as a valid area of concern for women, you have accepted a premise that defines women by their looks and objectifies them. Women have already lost the moment a modesty debate begins.

And as Sierra points out, this is a losing proposition from the outset, for many reasons. It’s premised on confusing (or willfully choosing to associate) sexualized exercise of power over another human being with sexual attraction. It assumes that it’s possible for a woman or female-assigned person to present themselves in such a way as to prevent any sexual attraction or response on the part of another person – when in reality, there’s no way to anticipate what will or will not be attractive to another person, and more importantly, it’s absurd to hold someone merely going about their business responsible for the thoughts and actions of another human being.

Absurd or not, this is precisely what our society in general, and modesty culture in a specific and extreme way, both do to female and female-assigned people. We are expected to shoulder responsibility for the sexual feelings and behaviors of men (usually cisgender), while the fact that men are perfectly capable of choosing how to act on their sexual thoughts and feelings, and therefore accountable for their sexual behaviors, is completely erased. And we are sent the message that we can be sexualized and objectified at any moment of any day, in any context, no matter how banal or public. We are always responsible for how our bodies are perceived.

What “valuing modesty” means is that the appearance of women and people perceived as women is always open to question. The message at the heart of this is that we cannot simply exist in the public sphere or in public settings.*  Our right to be in such spaces, to move with relative freedom and self-determination through such spaces, can always be challenged.

*Indeed, this is a luxury few outside the norm of white, male, able-bodied, class-privileged, straight cisgender folks enjoy – e.g., black men and other men of color often have to worry about how their appearance or behavior is perceived in a racist and white-privileging culture that sees nonwhite masculinity as inherently threatening.

Guest post: “God is not in it”

Today’s guest post is by Faith, who previously shared about growing up trans and Christian. In this post she writes about how her faith and spiritual life have been affected by her transition. 

I wanted to acknowledge that parts of this post may be difficult for some readers who have either left Christianity, and/or have been subjected to the theological ideas that Faith discusses positively in this post in abusive or damaging ways. These experiences can and do coexist together. The same theology or scripture can be affirming for one person and detrimental for another.

Faith’s experience isn’t my experience, in many ways, but to me it’s worth listening to and sharing because, in addition to it being her story to tell, it shows that religious faith isn’t and doesn’t have to mean just oppressive theologies – it can affirm equality and liberate people as well. And it shows that faith isn’t exclusively owned by people who fit or conform to the norm in various ways – it challenges the narrative about “what Christians believe about trans or queer people” as though “Christians” and “queer or trans people” are mutually exclusive categories.

“God is not in it” wrote a childhood friend after he learned of my transition.  I shrugged off his Facebook message as the knee-jerk reaction of a fundamentalist and didn’t feel the need to spend time refuting what I know to be nonsense.  But the text for the sermon the following Sunday kept prodding at me.  “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so!” (Ps. 107:2, NRSV) Here I am to “Say so.”

I believe that transitioning is part of God’s plan for my life.  Matthew 7:16-20 says  “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus,by their fruit you will recognize them.” (NIV)

There is always fruit in our lives, whether it’s good fruit or bad fruit depends on whether or not we are following God’s leading.  Back when I was resisting God’s plan for my life by suppressing my true self, there was a lot of bad fruit in my life.  I was depressed and constantly anxious, I always had a knot in my stomach.  My relationship with God consisted of begging God to take the drive to be a woman away from me, and being mad at God when that didn’t happen.  I isolated myself.  I had no friends and very few acquaintances.  I ate compulsively.  All I wanted to do was sleep, I would watch the clock until bedtime – sometimes going to bed as early as 7 PM.  Sleep was my only relief from the constant reminders that I was not being who I was meant to be.  I tried many things to distract myself but none of them worked for long.

Once I made the decision to transition and began taking action, the bad fruit fell away and the new fruit began to emerge.  I am continually filled with joy, I don’t want to go to bed at night and I bounce out of bed before the alarm most mornings.  My days are filled with prayer and praise to God, I can’t get enough of worship.  I have friends now, and I build relationships instead of walls to keep people away.  If God is not in my healed and transformed life, how did this happen?

s.e. smith on not being a feminist

Alright, I’m ceding defeat on getting a full blown post up for tonight. I’m too tired and it’s too late for me to finish any of my drafts in progress. But! I can share some writing by s.e. smith, who’s an amazing gender equality, genderqueer, disability, and economic justice activist and whose writing I highly recommend. I’ve been thinking about writing sometime soon about why I identify as “feminist-with-qualifications.”  s.e.’s article on why ou* is not a feminist is good prelude to that future post, whenever it goes up (*ou = s.e.’s chosen gender pronoun). An excerpt:

The early roots of feminism are tangled in a lot of dubious origins. Some of the heroes of the movement were, sadly, the same people advancing arguments like that white women should have the right to vote to ensure that white folks could outvote Blacks in elections, and that birth control would prevent “the unfit3” from reproducing.

Classism, racism, and ableism were deeply intertwined in early feminism, even though people of all classes, races and abilities participated in emancipation marches and fought for civil rights.

This isn’t just history — these are issues that continue to the present day, an ugly fact that many feminists don’t like to be confronted with. It comes up with racist signs at Slutwalk, with casual ableism in feminist spaces, with classist comments about who should be allowed to “breed.” The concept ofintersectionality, of considering other lived experiences, is present in some forms of feminism, but it’s not universal, and sweeping these issues under the carpet both doesn’t make them go away, and, yes, alienates people who feel excluded by spaces where it’s made clear that they’re not welcome.

Feminism is a heavily sex and gender-focused movement. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sex and gender-based oppression are things that happen and need to be addressed. Unfortunately, my view of the world doesn’t split identities that way; I can’t just look at women, for example. I see the whole body, the whole picture, and that means that sex and gender aren’t one size fits all. That if you focus solely on these issues, you leave out other people, other bodies.

These things are about more than gender. When you focus on reproductive rights solely from the perspective of cis white women, for example, you miss the larger picture of reproductive justice, and the issues that impact people with disabilities, people of color, nonwhite people, low-income populations…and inevitably, you leave people out and make them feel excluded.


Gender, race, and the cult of true womanhood, cont

Part 1 // Part 2 // Part 3

It’s really telling to me that, while laziness and hypersexuality are stereotypes are applied to black people in general, so many of the evangelicals Emerson interviewed for Divided by Faith singled out black mothers  as specifically embodying and being the root cause of what they saw as black individual, family, and cultural dysfunction. This circles back to the gendered double standard discussed in the previous post: under the complementarian view of gender and sexuality, the responsibility for sexual and reproductive gatekeeping outside marriage is placed almost entirely on women. So again, though “promiscuity” and having “too many kids” are behaviors that require at least one man in normative heterosexual pairings, these labels stick to black women in different ways than they do to black men: the women sit home and have babies while collecting welfare checks, the mothers send the fathers away, etc.

I think this is worth noting because criticisms of racist narratives about black laziness or the failure or demise of the black family often overlook the fact that these stereotypes are fundamentally and profoundly gendered.  They’re implicit statements of what gender roles “should” be, based on white, heteronormative, classist measures, and statements that black women and men as a group fail to live up to these measures in gender-specific ways. There’s a reason the prevailing stereotype of black people on certain forms of government assistance is that of the “welfare queen.

It’s a critique of black femininity as a failed or less-than. The welfare queen is not only wanton in her sexuality and reproduction, she is also negligent in her attentions to her children – in effect pawns conceived for purely mercenary purposes (to get money from the government). The welfare queen is not bound to one man, doesn’t have her reproduction limited or controlled by one man, uses and neglects her children rather than nurturing them, and is therefore a bad mother. She stands as the foil to the “angel in the home” – the romanticized, infantilized image of the “true woman” and “keeper in the home” (a carry over of Victorian and other Western european notions of idealized, non-threatening, non-sexual femininity), whose only concern is for husband, children, home.

One of Emerson’s interviewees argued that the government perpetuates black inequality by “[making] it easier for somebody [read: black women] to sit home and collect welfare and have baby after baby.” There’s quite a bit of irony in that statement when you juxtapose it with the fact that for many evangelicals, the highest display of femininity is precisely to “stay home and have baby after baby” after marriage and be a “keeper of the home,” while the husband acts as unquestioned leader and sole income earner (“provider” – as though homemaking and child-rearing aren’t “providing” for one’s family).

So in effect, when the welfare queen stereotype is leveled at black women by white evangelicals who believe that women shouldn’t work outside the home and should reproduce frequently, the criticism is really of black women for supposedly being “dependent” on the government instead of being properly dependent on and submissive to a patriarchal husband. Again, recall another one of Emerson’s interview subjects claiming that “we have paid their [black children’s] mothers to have their fathers stay away from home.”

And by extension this is a critique of “the black family” as failed or in crisis, in implicit contrast to white families. And it’s specifically a criticism that black parents are not living up to their proper gender roles in the presumed heterosexual partnerships and heteronormative families. White evangelical attachment to the caricature of the absent black father who due to custom or culture doesn’t “provide for” or “lead” his family is an implicit statement about the superiority of white fatherhood and white family culture. So too is the attachment to the caricature of the negligent, unattached black mother, often also depicted as loud, violent, and contentious, an implicit statement of the superiority of white womanhood and motherhood – by the standards of white evangelical conservative culture – characterized by a “gentle and quiet spirit” and a self-negating submission to the sexual and emotional ownership of one man and a likewise self-denying level of devotion to children and the home.