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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Dianna Anderson: Dear Mr. Driscoll

Trigger warning for anti-trans and misogynistic gender policing. In a development that will come as a shock to exactly no one, Mark Driscoll has once again indulged in misogynist, bigoted douchebaggery. This time he invited his Facebook followers to mock “effeminate” worship leaders:

Text: “So, what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed?” [Screencap from Homebrewed Theology]

Well, I have many thoughts. The first being that this would be an excellent candidate for a post at Tea Party Jesus. Can’t you just see those words issuing from the lips of Jesus himself? I know I can.

Second thought: This dude is epic fail as a pastor even by his own supposed standards of faith. Honestly, what kind of a pastor invites people to MAKE FUN of worship leaders because of how they look or act? Isn’t leading worship supposedly an act of service to God and a ministry to the congregation? Isn’t worship a sacred time of expressing love and reverence for God? So how exactly is it acceptable to “lead” people to mock worship leaders based on external appearances or presumed anatomy? Isn’t that blasphemous? Doesn’t God judge the heart? Explain this to me, conservative Christians. I am baffled.

Also. There’s the whole part about how worship leaders are human being like anyone else, with real feelings and all that. Not to belabor the whole Jesus thing, but I’m missing how it’s repping Christ to talk about people like this under the guise of being a shepherd of souls. ETA: Joy makes a similar point here.

A further thought: When he calls “effeminate” male worship leaders anatomically male, he clearly means that they are only “anatomically male,” i.e.,  not really male. It’s quite amazing, really. Mark Driscoll is so obsessed with this gender role nonsense that he’s now taking it to the level of genital policing. He might as well have said that effeminate male worship leaders are male in penis only.

This raises all sorts of questions. What makes him think that anatomy determines gender identity or should limit gender expression? Again, again, a penis is not what makes someone male. The colors or clothes a man wears or how he talks or walks are not what makes him a man. A man is someone who identifies and understands himself as a man. Period.

Perhaps even more confusing… what makes him think he can tell what someone’s anatomy looks like beneath their clothes? More to the point, why on earth does he CARE so very much about what’s going on with other people’s genitals? And what’s up with his FB followers and defenders elsewhere who seem to think he’s making a harmless joke, or worse, a really profound point? I get the feeling if he had put his comments in plain words and actually used the word “penis,” those same people would be up in arms.

Text: Mark Driscoll providing the definition of effeminate: 1: having feminine qualities untypical of a man: not manly in appearance or manner 2″ marked by unbecoming delicacy or overrefinement. [Screen cap from Jesus Needs New PR].

People who defend Driscoll. Let me break this down for you. This isn’t clever or funny or insightful. It’s stupid and juvenile. Let me translate for you.

Driscoll: “I think that person has a penis! But he moves and talks funny! This makes me feel vaguely unsettled and insecure! I don’t want to think about what this means for me as a man so I will mock him mercilessly instead! Har har, look at that guy with a penis who looks funny!”

Ask yourself, Driscoll defenders, why you tolerate or even expect this kind of immaturity from a pastor. From a leader. Ask yourself why this man is so clearly unsettled about his own gender identity that he needs to take potshots at other people’s gender to make himself look and feel more manly.

And ask yourself the excellent questions that Dianna Anderson asks of Driscoll:

I want you to ask yourself this: You are a married man. You have (according to the info I could find) five children, a couple of whom I imagine, by sheer probability, are female [Driscoll has at least one daughter – G]. So think of your wife, think of your daughters, and ask this: Is being female a bad thing?

I know the response already: being female isn’t a bad thing for girls, but it’s a bad thing for a man to display female characteristics.

Why?

Ask yourself how this kind of incessant degrading of feminine behavior and appearance makes women and anyone whose identity is in any way “feminine” feel. How it hurts us.

Let’s say that we live in a world where women are in charge. Instead of male pronouns to describe God in the Bible, it’s all female. There’s a zealous writer named Pauline whose words about pastors don’t talk about the pastor having a wife but rather a husband. Her instructions about being quiet in the church are directed at men. Now say you go to a church – you’re faithfully trying to live your life following a savior named Jesus, a woman, who preached great love and sacrifice and spreading the word of her Gospel through the world. You’re doing the best you can to follow what she said in a broken world.

You go to church with your wife and family. She works while you stay at home with the kids, because it’s what men do in this world. And your pastor preaches time and time again about a “feminine” Christianity, about a womanly savior who exhibited all the good things about being female, and she complains about a church that is masculinized, of a church too taken over by men that it’s uncomfortable and wrong and even, possibly, sinful.

You, however, have a complex sense of your own gender identity. Sure, you like doing “manly” things, but you equally feel fine when you do feminine things. You never felt like you quite fit into that subservient role in this Matriarchal world. How does hearing that it’s a bad thing to be masculine, that it’s awful for your wife to share some of your burden as a man, that it’s sinful to the point of keeping [her] from heaven to be masculine?

Does that make you good and angry? Do you think you should be allowed to be masculine or feminine if you wanted because God created you that way? Do you think those archaic gender roles, which aren’t even clearly laid out in the Holy Scriptures of your religion, might just be wrong? Do you feel like who you are as a person is being ignored because of what you happen to have between your legs? [Dianna Anderson, Dear Mr. Driscoll, at Jesus Needs New PR]

When Mark Driscoll pulls stunts like this he’s sending a clear message that anyone who challenges gender hierarchies that place patriarchal masculinity above all else is to be isolated, shunned, and mocked. Men who are not stereotypically masculine. People of nonbinary gender. Trans women. Cis women. Women whose behavior , identities, or personalities at all challenge male assumptions of dominance and superiority. It’s inevitable that there are people in each of those categories who look up to Mark Driscoll as a leader and who read his comments.

Try to see, just try, how this kind of daily, ceaseless attack on femininity makes the many, many people who don’t fit into the patriarchal model of gender feel. Try to see how it makes us feel like we have to embrace an identity of inferiority to be part of the church, or leave.


Manly Men of Yore

One of the most interesting and insidious aspects of complementarianism is its use of alternative (read: false) historical narratives to legitimize its claims about the timeless and universal nature of “masculinity” and “femininity.” Men everywhere have always been like X, and women everywhere have always been Y, and that’s that.

Of course, these kinds of ahistorical claims are hardly unique to complementarianism – you can see the same phenomenon at work in the counterfactual history promoted by the Tea Party and their ilk (Paul Revere’s Ride was about defending the right to bear arms against the British! The Founding Fathers fought tirelessly to end slavery!), or by anti-Muslim warmongers (Islam is a bloodthirsty religion that’s been hellbent on wiping Christianity off the face of the earth for over a millenium!). These kinds of narratives show how important history is, how powerful historical accounts – accurate or not – can be in lending credibility and influence to particular points of view and undermining others.

Unsurprisingly, the actual historical record completely contradicts complementarian assertions of a monolithic “masculine nature.” Sara Lipton’s recent New York Times article on ancient and medieval concepts of masculinity is a great example of this. Our current cultural view of masculinity holds that “all men” or “real” men are characterized by an insatiable and barely controllable lust for sex – which is why we often ascribe the sexual escapades (and far worse) of powerful men to their gender:

The conventional is that when it comes to sex, a certain kind of man, no matter how intelligent, doesn’t think at all; he just acts. Somehow a need for sexual conquest, female adulation and illicit and risky liaisons seems to go along with drive, ambition and confidence in the “alpha male.” And even if we denounce him and hound him from office, we tend to accept the idea that power accentuates the lusty nature of men.

But as Lipton points out, for much of western history, sexual restraint, not excess, was viewed as the hallmark of mature masculinity.

Late antique and Roman writers, like Plutarch, lauded men for their ability to resist sexual temptation and control bodily desire through force of will and intellect….Rampant sexuality was something men were supposed to grow out of: in medieval political theory, young male bodies were used as symbols of badly run kingdoms. A man who indulged in excessive eating, drinking, sleeping or sex — who failed to “rule himself” — was considered unfit to rule his household, much less a polity.

At the same time, lustfulness and sexual excess were in fact associated with women, not men:

Ancient and medieval writers described women as consumed by lust and sexual desire. In 1433, officials in Florence charged with regulating women’s dress and behavior sought “to restrain the barbarous and irrepressible bestiality of women who, not mindful of the weakness of their nature, forgetting that they are subject to their husbands, and transforming their perverse sense into a reprobate and diabolical nature, force their husbands with their honeyed poison to submit to them.” [Of course, this notion of female sexuality as a weapon used to subdue hapless men is still very much with us.]

Because of this association of sexuality with femaleness, men who failed to control their sexual urges or were susceptible to feminine attractions found their masculinity challenged. Marc Antony was roundly mocked as having been “softened and effeminized” by his desire for Cleopatra. When the king and war hero Pedro II of Aragon spent the night before a battle not in prayer or council but in bed with a woman, he was labeled effeminate.

Of course in a sense this trope is not so different from our current cultural framing of masculine and feminine sexuality. Both the ancient/medieval and our model are essentially misogynistic, blaming women for sexual indiscretions or outright crimes by men, whether because of imagined female sexual aggression on the one hand, or because women supposedly stir up uncontrollable male lusts simply by existing (I’m sorry, being “immodest” or “provocative”) on the other. Still, it’s clear that our modern understanding of gendered sexuality didn’t exist in the West as recently as a few centuries ago. Kind of calls into question claims that our notions of masculinity and femininity reflect some divinely created male or female nature, hmm?