NaBloPoMo so far

Day 15 of NaBloPoMo: All of my post drafts are still in fairly drafty form, so I don’t have anything topical to post today. Instead, you get to read (or skip, hah!) my thoughts on how NaBloPoMo is going and future posts I’m working on.

One of my goals for doing NaBloPoMo was to get myself to loosen up a bit about the writing process and what I share on the blog. I’ve tended towards long, article or essay type posts here, and while there are things I like about that blogging style (in part because it reflects the way I think), it takes a really. long. time. for me to get posts of that sort fully drafted, edited, and ready to go up on the blog. I was hoping that committing to blog every day would be a good way to make myself post pieces that haven’t touched on every single possible point I think I could make, and to trick myself into writing shorter and more manageable posts.

So far, it’s working. I’m still posting a few fairly long pieces, but for the most part I’m writing posts under (or not too far over) 1,000 words that either stand alone or are concrete chunks of larger series.

I’m also finding that it’s making me agonize less over the wording of posts being perfect, or every point being as completely clear or articulated as possible. I have a lot of perfectionistic tendencies (not helped by growing up Calvinist, let me tell you) that can really slow down my writing, especially when I’m in a particularly self-loathing mood (cf the whole Calvinist thing). I have to constantly battle the voices in my head that are never satisfied with what I write – it could always be more clear, more elegant, more concise or more comprehensive, more exciting, more funny, more insightful….on and on and on.

Those are all good things in writing, but being obsessed with everything being as perfect as it can be is a surefire way to get no actual writing done. And in the end, writing that you want other people to read has to be just done at some point. Not perfect – it will never be that – but done.

Agonizing less over elusive perfection also means that I’m writing posts a lot faster than I ordinarily do. Or perhaps that goes without saying since I don’t usually post every day. In any case I think there is some trade off in terms of the quality of the writing I’m doing, but not so much that it’s a really obvious drop, and posts are still readable. And writing more in over a certain period of time is better practice for improving one’s prose (and one’s speed at writing good prose) than producing less content that’s as polished as it can possibly be.

I guess the thing is that I’m a pretty risk-averse person. I don’t like to be wrong. I don’t like to have things missing or out of place. And I have to consciously fight off the idea that posts need to have every conceivable base to go up on the blog. And really…a blog full of perfect writing doesn’t sound all that interesting – not that I could produce such a thing in the first place! The best discussions often come out of points that aren’t completely articulated, or out of silences or thin spots that people fill out by thinking through a piece of writing together, once it’s done.

I certainly don’t want to get in the habit of sloppy writing. But I do want to train myself to not let the perfect the enemy of good enough when it comes to writing. To recognize that in the end, good writing is as much about knowing when to stop and just put it out there as it is about polished prose.

So I think I’m learning a lot, and getting a lot more on the blog in the process, so it’s a win all around.

What I’m working on:

– I have some more thoughts on Penn State that are still in pretty chaotic form, writing-wise. Before I read Toranse’s posts about the gaps in feminist writing on child sexual abuse, I’d been thinking about how patriarchy and specifically ideas about masculinity factor into the sexual abuse of male minors by male adults. There are really strong parallels here between the male-dominated hierarchies of the sports world and much of American Christianity, particularly in terms of what’s considered to be “manly” behavior, and how relationships between older men and boys or young men are seen as instrumental in shaping “real” masculinity. Both sports and religion set up male authority figures set up as proxy fathers to the boys and men under them – coaches, priests/pastors, etc. And there’s this idea that these kinds of figures, whether actual fathers or men who serve in similar roles, are absolutely necessary for strong or healthy male identity to coalesce in boys. There’s a recurring pattern where this role as father-figure and the trust invested in it are either exploited by child predators who use it to get access to boys and young men and youth of all genders in general (like Sandusky, like Eddie Long, like so many other predators in churches and sports teams and other institutions), or they’re built up into an extreme, uncritical devotion and loyalty to paternal figures and institutions that produces a culture of silence around problematic or abusive behavior.

– I’ve still got a lot more to say about race and class in the cult of true womanhood. I have a post halfway drafted about more of the gender and race implications of Michael Emerson’s findings in Divided by Faith. I also have a rough idea for a post sharing my and a few other black women’s personal experiences of dealing with misogynist, racist stereotypes about our sexuality and reproduction.

– More on the Duggars and the question of choice: specifically, my frustration with how the rhetoric about how they’ve chosen their lifestyle erases the fact that the Duggar children are being raised in an environment rife with spiritual abuse, have almost certainly been subjected to severe corporal punishment that would qualify as physical abuse (and if they haven’t been, are very much an exception for Quiverfull families), and that the girls especially are being deliberately denied an education and any vocational training for work outside of domestic duties, and having their unpaid time and labor systematically exploited all so that their parents can keep having more kids. This is not ok.

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On comments, safe spaces, and free expression

Trigger warning: child sexual abuse, doctrine of divine sovereignty as it applies to child sexual abuse.

I got a comment on my post about Penn State that I’ve left in moderation for several days now, and that I think I will ultimately delete. I haven’t quite been able to get myself to click the button yet.

Let me explain. When I started this blog, one of the goals I had in mind was to foster a conversation that would be a fairly open and free exchange of ideas and experiences. My thinking at the time was that a mostly hands-off approach to comment moderation was an important part of achieving that goal, specifically only deleting comments that were outright hostile, personal attacks, or trolling. I wanted people to feel free to say what they believed as long as they were respectful of other people’s beliefs.

The comment sitting in moderation doesn’t fall under any of my original criteria for deletion. But I’m realizing that my original criteria were pretty crappy.

One big reason for this: the idea that “open and free exchange” of ideas exists doesn’t really reflect reality, any more than the notion of the “free hand of the market” leading us towards an progressively more meritocratic society reflects reality.

I mean, one of the big reasons why this blog and others like it exist is that certain perspectives are hugely privileged while others are completely erased and silenced – in the church and in society in general. It’s not as though the internet is an exception. Look at which voices online are most represented, have the most chance of being amplified and supported, have the most influence…they’re the same voices that are most represented in the offline world (and usually despite being a numerical minority – hello, white straight cis males).

Leaving a comments section largely unmoderated would really be allowing the status quo to prevail – allowing privileged voices to be dominant and underrepresented voices to continue to be drowned out. What’s actually called for is a moderation philosophy that counterbalances these tendencies and creates a space where people who are ordinarily not heard can speak as freely and safely as possible – a space where marginalized voices are not only represented, but actively supported, centered, and amplified.

The comment in question expresses a hope that the boys abused by Jerry Sandusky will come to understand that God is in control and knows our pain. I’m sure the person who left this comment (presumably a Christian) believes very sincerely in divine sovereignty and honestly thinks that such a belief would be a comfort or help to abuse survivors. Probably that belief has been something of a comfort to this person. And perhaps for some survivors it can be, too.

But for a lot of survivors, especially those coming out of environments where the doctrine of divine sovereignty was used a tool to manipulate people into not speaking out about mistreatment or abuse, “God is in control” is the opposite of comforting. It’s frightening enough to contemplate the idea of an all knowing God, who knows children are being raped and either can’t or won’t do anything to stop it. But the idea of a God who is in control even when children are being raped, who can somehow make child rape part of “his” larger plan? Is absolutely monstrous.

As somatic strength has written about related beliefs that God can reveal to Christians things that have happened in secret, these doctrines can do a lot of harm to survivors of abuse in Christian contexts – by giving false hope that their abuse will somehow magically be brought to light, that a rescue or a way out will suddenly present itself:

When I was sixteen, I begged God to tell someone at our church what I was going through. They didn’t have to specifically know about the abuse – I’m confused about what I wanted about that now. I think I wanted them to know, but not know, because I had determined to take it to the grave. In my head, talking about it was my death, talking about it ensured that something absolutely and horrifically terrible would happen, though I didn’t know what. I just knew that it would. There was no way I could tell, so I wanted someone else to know the effects of what I was going through.

I never missed a Sunday at church. I waited for the person who would come up to me and tell me, “God put you on my heart and I just wanted you to know that He says it’ll be okay. You’ll get through this.” Something like that. Something that would let me know that God was thinking about me, that he hadn’t abandoned me through all this. I wasn’t sleeping anymore. I couldn’t talk anymore. I was consumed by the most horrible feeling of dread that there was no future for me, that the only way out was to die….

In a church that contained a number of people who believed they had a “discerning power” and a girl who couldn’t talk for a few months begging God to let others know and give her hope, he did Absolutely Nothing. And to believe that he is capable of doing that, to believe that he does that for some and not for others is to say that while he is willing to help others, he looked down at me and, probably in his sweetest, most emotionally manipulative, passive aggressive way, told me the equivalent of “you’re not worth it.” (somatic strength: No one saw anything)

So this idea that God has a handle on everything that happens, no matter how horrible, can be incredibly triggering for some survivors. It’s certainly not reliable as a comfort – again, not to say that there are no survivors who find this idea comforting, because some certainly do. I can say for myself as a survivor of emotional abuse that continues to affect my life on a literally daily basis, the idea that God is in control of my being chronically depressed, living with extreme anxiety, and struggling to cope with basic responsibilities is the opposite of reassuring.

It’s comforting; to think that these things will be brought to the light. To think that something like this could never be gotten away with, because even if they commit the perfect crime, God will tell someone. (somatic strength)

Like somatic, I think when these beliefs are expressed about God’s ability to control or magically reveal abuse, it’s often more about what’s comforting for someone to cling to in the face of a horrifying crime, than what’s of actual help to abuse survivors. And while I understand that the person who left this comment probably had nothing but good intentions in mind, the intent behind a statement doesn’t determine what it’s actual effects are. For me, the comment felt like a downplaying of abuse – like it would somehow be ok because God is in control. And I suspect many of the readers here who are also survivors of various forms of abuse might feel similarly.

And really, that’s who this blog is for. People who believe God is in control in every situation have plenty of spaces where they can freely express that belief and find loads of people who will agree with them. People who are potentially triggered by that idea don’t have the luxury of many spaces where their feelings and experiences will be validated. There isn’t a proliferation of spaces where you can speak out about abuse and be believed and supported.

So in rethinking my original policy on comments, I’m realizing that I need to approach moderating with an eye to maintain a space for free expression by people who are ordinarily silenced, dismissed, and pushed out of conversation in various ways – including by comment spaces where triggering statements are allowed to stand unchallenged. That means limiting to some degree the expression of ideas and perspectives that haven’t been marginalized in the same way.

All that said, I’m not completely decided on how to deal with this comment. I could of course just delete it, and probably will. It seems particularly ill-conceived as a response to a post about how racism and classism make children of color even more vulnerable than children in general to rape. Or I could publish it, and respond to it (or just link to this post I suppose). I’d welcome thoughts on how to manage it.


Re-centering

Are Women Human? is now on Facebook – you can “like” AWH using the button in the right sidebar, or on the AWH Facebook page, also linked in the sidebar.

Sorry for the long and unexplained absence from the blog! I had a number of obligations and was also on the road a bit; I thought I’d still be able to get some writing done despite all that, but clearly that wasn’t the case.

To be honest, another part of the delay in writing has also been a bit of burnout over the SGM situation, or perhaps more over the way I’d been writing about it. Put simply, I’m a bit tired of writing about privileged white men all the time. That’s not what, or who, this blog is about. There’s no shortage of writing that centers privileged white dudes, way more than there ought to be, and not nearly enough that deals with the concerns of people who are not privileged white men (which is most people, after all). I’m not sure that the way I’ve been writing about the current drama in SGM does much to balance the disproportionate focus on people with privilege and power.

On the one hand, there’s no way to write about the issues I care about without spending a significant amount of time writing about privilege and power. The abuses that this blog focuses on are a direct product of inequitable distribution of power in the church, and abuse of religious authority and influence to promote teachings that oppress and harm people. So I need to talk about power, and powerful people – and when it comes to talking about Christianity in the U.S. or American society in general, that means spending a good amount of time talking about privileged white men.

Still, spending an extended period of time writing only or primarily about powerful white dudes in the church doesn’t jibe with my vision for this blog, and what I hope it will grow into in the future. If I believe that the extremely narrow range of voices and experiences represented in most church leadership is a direct contributor to oppression in the church, then part of fighting that oppression has to be devoting more time, attention, and space to neglected voices, and pointing to alternative models of church leadership and community. It has to include making visible the diversity of people and perspectives that the evangelical church in particularly so often marginalizes and renders invisible. In general I haven’t done as much of that kind of writing on this blog as I would like, but that’s especially been the case since all the drama between SGM’s leadership become public. My blogging became all about SGM pastors.

First and foremost I want this to be a space that centers the voices and experiences of people who are survivors of abusive church cultures. Part of that will definitely be continuing to call out men who foster toxic church environments. There’s a lot of therapeutic value in talking about these men and their warped and cramped worldview. When you grow up in this kind of system, you’re taught to self-censor any kind of dissenting speech, or even thought. You’re taught to ignore any doubts or feelings that things aren’t quite right. That any feeling that something is wrong is just you – being judgmental, being angry, being unforgiving, rebelling against God. The church and the pastors can never be wrong.

So when you finally find someone who is willing to name the system for what it is – abusive, oppressive, perverse – it’s a tremendous relief. I remember when I found the SGM Survivors blog for the first time. I wept. A lot. I didn’t even know I had that kind of emotion bottled up inside of me until I found people who were at last confirming what I’d thought for so long, that there was something deeply, horribly wrong in SGM. I didn’t realize until that moment that I thought I was all alone in feeling that way. And in one unexpected moment, I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew it wasn’t just me being paranoid or oversensitive. What I saw and felt were real.

I don’t agree with much of what the folks who run SGM Survivors and Refuge believe, but I’ll always be thankful that they made it possible for me to see that I wasn’t alone. I want my blog to do the same, but to be more inclusive and welcoming of people of color, queer people, trans people, people who are no longer Christian or no longer religious, and anyone who has been harmed or marginalized by authoritarian church leadership. And I want to make more space to talk about religious and secular communities that are working towards being more inclusive and less hierarchical. I don’t want to unthinkingly accept the disparities that exist in the church and the culture at large by spending all my time talking about demographics that are already overrepresented in public discourse.

So what does that mean, in a concrete sense? There’ll still be posts about Mark Driscoll’s toxic notions of masculinity, but I’ll also write more about alternatives to patriarchal masculinity. I’ll still pay attention to the current crisis among SGM leaders, but I’ll be spending more time talking about various experiences of marginalization in the church – e.g., what it’s like growing up as a girl/woman of color in a predominantly white, patriarchal church culture, about the racist and classist assumptions that underlie white evangelical definitions of “biblical” masculinity and femininity, about abuse and recovery in Christian families and communities, about queer sexuality and non-conforming gender, etc. I’ll still write about so-called traditional Christianity, but I’ll be spending more time talking about churches committed to practical theologies of social justice and equality, about deconversion and processing one’s own beliefs and spirituality after leaving an authoritarian religious group, about negotiating relationships with loved ones who believe differently, and other issues.

This blog isn’t ultimately about C.J. Mahaney or Mark Driscoll or any other blowhard complementarian. It’s about those of us who have been and are still being affected by their teachings, and I need to re-center my writing to reflect that better. I’d love hear any ideas or thoughts you all might have about how I can do that, or suggestions about topics that would be good to discuss.


One year blogaversary

Trigger warning – sexual abuse, spousal abuse.

Today is, more or less, my first blogoversary. I published my first real post on Are Women Human? one year ago today. That post was about John Piper’s advice on how women who are being abused by their husbands can still “submit” and affirm their husband’s leadership and should “endure” abuse “for a season.”

Comparing that post to my most recent post on child sexual abuse in Sovereign Grace Ministries, there’s an obvious common denominator of Christianized patriarchy. Piper’s response to abused wives and CLC and FCC’s responses to abused children and their families share in common an assumption that the world should be ordered around the belief that  the authority of straight, gender conforming men over all other human beings should be universal and unquestioned.

Women should “endure being smacked around for a night” so as not to “disrespect” or be “unsubmissive” to to their husband – their leader. Children who have been abused should be sent away from home so that their molester fathers can “stay in the house as the head of the household.” Survivors and their families should shut up and tell no one about the abuse or the identity of the abusers so as to preserve the reputations of the men “leading” the church. Everything is set up so that men who abuse (not that only men abuse) are coddled, protected, enabled.

This is all about Christian patriarchy. It’s all about defending a worldview that God cares about straight cisgender (white) men more than anyone else, that they are worth more than everyone else no matter how disgusting or evil their behavior.

The devastating effects of these teachings on queer people, trans and gender variant people, women, gender people of color, and children are many. And As I’ve written over the past year, this kind of Christian patriarchy is incredibly toxic to men as well. It imposes a standard of perfect leadership and providing that no man can ever live up to. It teaches men that they aren’t “real” men if they don’t live up to this standard, if they are not able to dominate everyone around them (including other men) and thus turns everyone into challenges to be subdued. It primes men to lash out at any threat to their complete control over others with anger and abuse.

As I’ve blogged about these issues over the past year I’ve become even more convinced that they are entrenched, pressing issues that desperately need addressing. To a lot of people, the effects of Christian patriarchy might seem far removed from their lives. But the reality is that Christian patriarchy is just a more explicitly articulated, more extreme, spiritualized form of plain old patriarchy. Its response to rape is a theology that enshrines and sanctifies rape culture. Its response to female, queer, and trans sexuality and bodily autonomy is bigoted, paternalist, and based a belief in the supremacy of straight gender normative white men – just like our culture at large. The only difference is that in Christian patriarchy straight  cis white men are held up as spokesmen and stand-ins for God, who is presented as the ultimate possessive, angry, abusive patriarch.

As I wrote in my introduction to the blog a year ago, many feminists and progressives who haven’t had much contact with evangelical communities don’t fully understand the context for evangelical teachings on gender on sexuality:

I decided to start this blog because I noticed that, while there are a number of blogs and books out there that bring attention to issues of gender and sexuality in traditionalist Christian communities, most are written either by people who are still in these communities or very similar ones, or by people who have never been part of these communities.  Many of the blogs by evangelical Christians speaking out against patriarchy in the church still support homophobia, transphobia, and heteronormativity.  Meanwhile, non-evangelical feminist and progressive critics of religious patriarchy are often puzzled by evangelical beliefs, or don’t take them seriously.

As I read more about Christian patriarchy, I was frustrated by the lack of resources that balanced a feminist and progressive perspective on Christian patriarchy with understanding and empathy for people who grew up in patriarchal communities.  I wanted resources that situated Christian patriarchy in the broader context of gender and sexual discrimination, but also addressed why these beliefs can be appealing, and recognized that it’s a long and often arduous process to work to root out these beliefs from one’s life, and to learn to think about gender and sexuality in more humane and loving ways.

I hope and think what I’ve written over the past year has contributed in some small way to illuminating these issues from a feminist and theologically informed perspective, but I’m also very aware that there’s so much I haven’t touched on yet, much more to be said, much more work to be done. I’ve found writing here to be incredibly fulfilling work and am looking forward to another year of doing it.


Back in the game

Sorry for the blog absence (she said, to her few but loyal readers).  I got super busy for a while there, and then I got sick.  I’ve also been having some trouble with writing as – if I may indulge in a bit of meta-discussion about blogging for a bit – I recently hit a point where I had so many ideas for blog posts that I wasn’t sure what to write about next.  And since I have mostly written relatively long posts so far, they take me some time to write.  I’m going to change things up a little and try blogging more frequently, but with shorter posts, and see how that works.  A new post should be up later today.