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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Quiverfull and reproductive choice: it’s complicated

Just a warning that this post is on the rambling side. It’s unedited and, well, I’m kind of upset.

Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar announced today that they are expecting their 20th child. Naturally this has sparked all sorts of reactions from the internets, some of which are really problematic.

I’ll just get it out of the way that calling Michelle Duggar’s uterus a clown car is pretty misogynistic, calling her and her husband crazy is ableist, and saying they’re stupid is narrow-minded. There’s no need to denigrate Michelle Duggar’s body or reproductive capacity to critique Quiverfull teaching, people live with mental illness and don’t have 10 or 20 children, and plenty of intelligent people end up in high control communities like Quiverfull and Christian Patriarchy.

With that said: another response that comes up every time the Duggars announce they’re expecting another child, one that’s been bothering me all day, is the response from many that believing in reproductive choice means that we can’t possibly critique the Duggars’ continual expansion of their family.

I have a lot of reactions to this. Mostly it makes me feel like ranting. A lot.

Yes, people have a right to choose to have more children, regardless of the opinions of others on whether or not they’ve reproduced enough, regardless of how distasteful or wrong-headed others might find their personal beliefs or lifestyles. This is true.

But here’s the thing. The Duggars don’t believe in choice. I don’t mean only reproductive choice. Any kind of personal choice at all. There’s finding and following God’s will, or rejecting it. That’s it. This is true in terms of how they worship, how they court and marry, how they choose vocations, how they educate their children, in every aspect of their lives. And it’s true in how they approach reproduction, too.

As my friend Sae put it, “autonomy is not a factor in why [Michelle Duggar] is giving birth again.” This is rather clear in what Michelle Duggar herself has said about having more children, e.g.:

  • “Many years ago, Jim Bob & I gave this area of our lives to God, allowing Him to grant life as He saw fit.” (their announcement today, via NLQ.)
  • “God is the one who gives life…We would welcome another [child] if He saw fit, but we’ll wait and see.” (Last year.)

So when people talk about the need to respect Michelle Duggar’s reproductive choices I can’t help but feel they either don’t know much about what the Duggars believe, or they’ve decided to ignore it. Because what they’re doing is describing Michelle Duggar’s pregnancy in terms she would find morally abhorrent. She hasn’t made a choice to have a child, in her view. She’s been given a child by God. The only choice she claims is the choice to be happy with whatever God gives her and when. Reproductive choice is an utterly meaningless concept in this worldview.

Another problem: even if Michelle Duggar did understand her pregnancies in terms of choice, that wouldn’t necessarily mean she’s exercising it.

Here’s a parallel: Many believers in Christian patriarchy hold to teachings that married women are not permitted to ever refuse their husbands sex. There’s even a segment of the movement that considers it a sin for a couple to not have sex when the wife is ovulating – i.e., sex during ovulation is religiously mandated. I doubt many feminists would claim that sex that a woman literally can’t turn down without sinning is fully consensual. So why would we claim that a pregnancy conceived in a context where women are outside of God’s will if they take any sort of action (including avoiding potentially procreative sex) to prevent or manage reproduction? If the sex that produces the pregnancy isn’t quite consensual, how can the pregnancy that results be entirely a choice? I’m puzzled by this.

It seems to me that part of the problem is that choice feminism is often too simplistic in its assumptions about people’s actions and the possibilities available to them. There’s often no recognition of the fact that people’s choices can be severely constrained by the circumstances around them. When people say they respect Michele Duggar’s choice they either don’t see or don’t recognize the ways in which her hands are tied by the culture she’s part of.

‘Cause here’s the other thing. Christian patriarchy is a high control culture. It’s a cult. And people in cults often claim, often quite sincerely, that they’re making free choices even as they repeatedly “choose” the same things everyone else in the group does. They often honestly believe that they really truly want and independently choose things that they really have no choice but to accept as members of a high control group.

Cults are real. Brainwashing is real. Mind control is real. People can be manipulated and controlled. People can think they’re making “free” choices and not really be doing so. I know. It happened to me. It’s happened to many, many people who ultimately leave high control groups and realize, in retrospect, that they were had.

I don’t know if this idea scares people, and that’s why they resist it, or if people just don’t believe it because they haven’t experienced it. But these things are real. It doesn’t mean people are stupid. It doesn’t mean people are incapable of making decisions. It just means that free will and personal autonomy get really complicated when you mix them up with bullying, manipulation, and spiritual abuse.

More thoughts on this coming.


Sunday Roundup

This week in God and Gender:

A San Diego Catholic congregation ordained a female pastor.   More power to them!

Information from the TransGriot on an upcoming October TransFaith in Color Summit in Culver City, CA.

Also via the TransGriot, sobering reminders that transphobia kills people: yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the death of Tyra Hunter due to medical transphobia.  Last Thursday would have been Angie Zapata’s 21st birthday.

Heteronormativity kills, too: A 17 month old boy was beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend for “acting like a girl.” Heart-wrenching, difficult article to read, but important.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on why abortion is not comparable to black slavery: “This is not a matter of being pro-choice or pro-life. This is a matter of living in a country that is more fascinated with the machinations of Stonewall Jackson, than Sojourner Truth. One reason that black people grimace at invocations of their history to justify the struggle du jour, is because, very often, the invokers really don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. Put bluntly they have no deep knowledge of the black struggle, and are not seeking any. For them, black history is a rhetorical device, employed to pummel their ideological foes, and then promptly discarded for more appropriate instruments.”

Anne Rice discusses her decision to leave Christianity: “It’s a matter of rejecting what I’ve discovered about the persecution of gays, the persecution and oppression of women and the actions of the churches on many different levels . . . all of this finally created a pressure in me, a kind of confusion, a toxic anger at times, and I felt I had to step aside.”

From No Quivering,When Bad Things Happen to Quiverfull Moms – A sad example of how common dissociation (especially psychological numbing and disengagement) is as a coping mechanism for suffering and abuse in these communities.  AKA, how a quiverfull mom excuses having no running water, a smoke-filled living room, a freezing family, and a first floor that’s flooded for months, all because her irresponsible husband refuses to fulfill his responsibilities to the family that he’s forced into a prairie frontier lifestyle.

Some international news, via AWH reader Jordan: A Malaysian state is to allow Muslim girls under the age of consent of 16 years to wed in a bid to stem unwed pregnancies, angering the country’s women’s activists and politicians.