Monthly Archives: May 2013

To Be or Not to Be Called a Feminist

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Last week I read an article by a 14 year old girl named Anne G., entitled, “Feminism’s Not Dying, But it May be Changing a Little.” She brings a millennial perspective to a recent survey by HuffPost/YouGov which found that a majority of respondents (81%) claim that “women and men should be social, political, and economic equals.” Yet, only 20% embrace the term “feminist.” Notably, CBS polls show this has been true for the past 20 years—around 20% call themselves feminist, with a far higher number when feminism is defined as a belief in equality.

My first reaction to that statistic was pleasant surprise. I never expected that kind of strong minority to identify with such a radical term. “Feminist” is a committed word, like “evangelical.” It implies much more than the definition of feminism as “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” It brings to mind someone who is willing to apply that theory. Someone willing to make waves, speak up, change rules and laws, make people unhappy if necessary—an activist who is willing to talk about the hard stuff about the way women are treated in society, or in a family, and do something about it.

Alexandra at Feminista.com, notes that people are scared of feminists, because “the first harbinger of change” is “the women in protest, rejecting her assumed docility and with it our entire gendered world in its current form.”

I agree. A lot of men and women do not like the traditional “angry feminist.” These days she might be wearing high heels and lipstick and referring to her “girlfriends,” but it doesn’t matter. And that’s a part of the problem feminists address: men can get angry and still be good men–or not, but good women must exude sweetness and light, with a smiley face after any truth-telling statement. If we do not behave, there is a boat-load of nasty labels waiting for us. One of them might be “feminist.” 

Yet, it is the fighting spirit in women that has brought about the economic, political and social changes we benefit from, over the last 150 years. We act as though these have always been: women’s right to vote; to attend a university; to work outside the home in a variety of professions; to earn a (more) equal wage; to be (more or less) protected by the police when husbands and boyfriends abuse. All of these changes took place through women and men boldly, passionately, and intelligently speaking out in hostile environments. Susan Faludi says, “The meaning of the word ‘feminist’ has not really changed since it first appeared in a book review in the Athenaeum of April 27, 1895, describing a woman who ‘has in her the capacity of fighting her way back to independence.’”

I remember the moment I decided to become a feminist, in college, in 1989. I was sitting by a window in a class called “Music, Poetry and Ideas” taught by a feminist music professor. I knew her mainly as “pro-choice” because I was actively pro-life. As she spoke about the prevalence of husbands abusing wives, young men mistreating girlfriends, I felt deeply moved in a way that only a 20-year old can. I made a conscious decision to become a feminist and take the baggage with the term, which for me included being misunderstood on the issue of abortion and misunderstood by my evangelical community. But when I said “yes” to “feminist,” I said yes to women, to the never-ending discomfort of intentionally making myself aware of injustice against women, and to being sometimes stereotyped. I never expected to be in a majority.

Yet, in a sense, I now am. Another bit of happy news from that poll is that, thanks to feminists, 81% of those surveyed have a new normal when it comes to women–they expect equal rights in all spheres. In a CBS poll from 2009, 77% of women said their opportunities are greater than their mothers’ were, and they credit the women’s movement with that. In fact, 69% said the women’s movement “had improved their lives.” This is remarkable in that, in 1983, only 25% of women said the same.

The women’s movement was and is made of feminist activists. That brilliant 14-year old girl I mentioned in the first paragraph notes that a changing feminism flourishes among the Millennial generation. For example, her high school supports a Young Feminist Club and hosted a SlutWalk. (If you need to understand why feminists feel angry, read the SlutWalk link, an article by a man who walked with his boys.) Though she says that for her the term “feminist” is inconsequential compared to the ideology, for me, the word can be embraced by all who know there is still a lot to be pro-actively compassionate and angry about.

For just one example, the soil of the Internet has unearthed a new men’s movement (Men’s Rights Activists) that is not only about men’s rights, but is often actively misogynist. Woman-hate has in fact become so mainstream that Facebook didn’t object to ads promoting rape and violence against women until companies began removing their own ads in protest. And this is with Sheryl Sandberg in charge.

As Anne G. notes, even within the feminist movement itself, we need women’s voices speaking out, because there are ways to be more inclusive, ways to empower the women who are least likely to be heard, kinder ways to speak to each other. It’s okay for women to notice injustice, be angry about it, and voice it. It is the time-honored role of the prophetess or prophet to speak truth to power, or from places of power.

We need feminist men’s voices, too, as they are still more likely to actually be heard. We respect and honor a male feminist; they surprise and delight us; and they are out there doing the work, too.

Let’s keep the “feminist” label if we can wear it proudly, with an understanding of its amazing history—one that most of us appreciate. Being known as a feminist predictably means being misunderstood, marginalized or even despised, by some men and institutions that do not want the balance of power to change too much. And also, sadly, by some of the women who have benefited from the women’s movement.

That very resistance to us is why society still needs our unrelenting, prophetic—and righteously angry—feminist voices.

What do you think? Do you call yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

Exulting Over Micah

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“But Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha! Every woman’s path is difficult, and many mothers were as equipped to raise children as wire monkey mothers. I say that without judgment: It is, sadly, true. An unhealthy mother’s love is withering.”

Anne Lamott, “Why I Hate Mother’s Day”

In honor of my child, Micah, and with a nod to Anne Lamott

Not sure who started it, but “luv you, buv you” caught right on in our family. We say it a lot. We say it in our king size bed when the three of us lie down, all cozy, and talk our 7 year old son to sleep. Some nights lately, Micah says “luv you, buv you” or just “luv you” to us a dozen times, and each time, we say it back, until it is tempting to ask him to stop. It finally occurred to me, that there must be a reason he keeps repeating this. He’s not quite getting his love needs met. Our languid “luv you buv you, too”s weren’t doing it.

One day recently, he walked into the little room where I exercise to DVDs, and said, “Mom must be turning 79 on your next birthday in July,” and then “You don’t love me as much you used to.” Somehow, death was linked with the loss of love in this seeming non-sequitur.   I had felt gloomy and was withdrawn that day, even though I thought it wasn’t showing much.

Micah picks up on these things. It doesn’t take shouting, harsh reprimands, irrational punishments or crazy consequences for him to know when he is not being loved. He’s always been that way. When he was 3, we read a book called The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron, and thought, “This is our kid.” By the time he was 5, we were hearing painful echoes of “Asperger’s,” “Autistic Spectrum Disorder,” and “Sensory Processing Disorder,” from people like our pediatrician, the preschool teacher, and even strangers.

It took a long time to come to the conclusion, with a psychologist, that he is on “the spectrum,” if on the high functioning end. One of the reasons it was hard to accept this diagnosis is he so exquisitely sensitive to us, to God, to animals, to plants, and to anything created.  When he was 3, we often watched home repair videos on the computer because he enjoyed them. When a commercial for a mouse trap was advertised, Micah’s eyes welled up with tears. We have introduced the idea of the food chain very slowly to him even though he is 7 now. He has finally accepted that fleas must die in our house.

Rondalyn Varney Whitney, author of Nonverbal Learning Disorder: Understanding and Coping with NLD and Asperger’s—What Parents and Teachers Need to Know, says this of Spectrum kids, “The message these kids bring is, ‘If you tell me exactly what you mean, if you are honest with me and kind to me, I’ll be the most amazing kid you’ve ever met. And if you’re not, I’ll be your worst nightmare. Not because I’m trying to punish you, but because I don’t know how else to be. So you can use me as measure of your clarity, your honesty, and your kindness. Here I am.’” And she is right. There is no fooling our child (or any child) with conditional love.

Sometimes, when Micah can’t get a bad memory out of his head, something that I have done, he says, “I love you…but sometimes you make mistakes.” And we talk about the memory. Lately it is a memory of a time when Micah and I drove to the pet store in town—two years ago. He enjoyed watching a worker install a water filter in a fish tank, and peppered him with questions. Until the guy stopped talking, entirely. Embarrassed, I tried to get Micah to leave with me, but he wouldn’t. Finally, I pulled him out of the store.

For many children, this is one of many every-day scenes where parents take control physically, or deliver consequences as though the child actually had bad intentions. Too many moments like that to remember, and maybe kids get used to it, or change their behavior, or harden their hearts. But our son won’t let us get away with the parenting we ourselves were raised with.

From reading Alfie Kohn (Unconditional Parenting), to Naomi Aldort (Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves), I have had to look at my parental underbelly and see what was there. I realized that I learned, somewhere along the way, to live in my head, and to keep my emotions well in check. Not because I don’t feel them; just the opposite. But I have learned a self-protective way of being in the world. That emotional style impacts how I parent Micah.

The last year, Micah has been intensely, loudly sad and scared over many things—monster play at preschool, our two cats getting out of the house and disappearing for a day, moving from a house he loved, and seeing a deer carcass in the forest near the new house—to name but a few. My son has expressed deep and terrifying emotions—guttural cries, copious tears and much anxiety in the aftermath.

Around the time all these crises began, I read The Whole Brain Child, by Siegel and Bryson, which helped me see how I needed to change my response to Micah’s emotional storms. I realized that I retreat to my rational left brain when overwhelmed. I needed to re-engage the right brain, where my emotions are formed, in order to truly connect with and calm my son when he was distressed. My too-calm voice when he was upset did not match the measure of my love and commitment to Micah’s well-being.

So I have gone to work on my brain in those moments that frighten us. I have looked carefully at Micah’s tear-stained face and tried to remember feeling that tenor of sadness, fear and vulnerability that only a child can feel. I have felt that upset, too; we all have. And somehow that memory trace from my own childhood has been just enough to kick-start true feelings of empathy that Micah can lean on in his most scary moments. When I empathize with my words, my feelings match now.

The other day, I read this cool verse from the Bible, and thought of Micah not being quite satisfied with our responses to his love at night: “He will exult over you with singing, as on the day of a festival” (Zeph. 3). God will karaoke and have a party over you. Just as Micah needs my true empathy, so he needs that kind of delight, exultation, rejoicing over who he is.

In my “I love you”s and “luv you buv you”s, he wants to hear in my voice tone the height and depth of my emotions. What Micah demands is divine love. That’s what he knows he deserves. And as I tap into both divine rejoicing and my right brain, he will know for sure that he is loved.

The Love of Respect

Some of you may have heard about or attended a Love and Respect marriage conference at an evangelical church near you. Dr. Susan Biali, MD, blogged on psychologytoday.com about her and her husband’s transformative experience at one of these conferences. She learned that husbands mainly want respect, not love (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prescriptions-life/201304/relationship-advice-women-need-love-men-need-respect).

This was Biali’s summary of Eggerich’s recommendations to women:

A man feels respected when:

1) You tell him thanks for going to work every day and praise his commitment to providing for you and your family (I know, you very likely go to work, too – as do I – but to men it’s particularly important to have their efforts and dedication acknowledged)

2) You ask him to talk about his dreams.

3) You praise his good decisions (and don’t keep bringing up the bad ones)

4) You honor his authority in front of the children – and others in general – and differ with him in private

5) You thank him for his advice and knowledge (men love to help and advise)

6) You do recreational activities with him, “shoulder to shoulder”, such as watching the football game, going along for a drive, or going camping with him (here’s a kicker, though: apparently it’s a huge gift to men if women keep them company but don’t talk the whole time. I have been working on this one, it is not easy!)

7) You respond more often to him sexually (I think this one needs no explanation)

What do you think about this? I for one really enjoy the feeling of being deliberately, consciously respectful, of letting a man be a man and recognizing him for his “manliness” and his internal blueprint for leadership. Men really are very different from women, I think that’s pretty obvious to anyone.

Eggerichs and Biali are coming from a perspective that uses the Bible to support their position, that men mostly want respect in marriage, and women mainly want love. In light of that, I want to point out  verses that command husbands to respect their wives, and encourage wives to love their husbands.

Check these out:

I Peter 3:7 “Husbands in the same way [as the women] be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” [Note that my commentary says that “weaker” is “not a reference to moral stamina, strength of character or mental capacity, but most likely to sheer physical strength”—TNIV Study Bible.]

Titus 2:4 “Then they [older women] can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children…”

Even the Biblical writers were flexible enough in their thinking about gender roles to include commands for women to love their husbands, and husbands to respect their wives. That ought to say something to us in the 21st century when women’s human rights are, in principle, acknowledged.

That said, I think that Biali and Eggerichs are right in one way: many men would love their wives or girlfriends to do all of those things. What neither seem to notice, or give value to, is that most of these suggestions, unless they are reciprocated to the wife, are likely to result in an unequal and unfair dynamic in a relationship. (For example, note the fact that Biali, as an MD, may surpass her husband in salary and skill-set, yet she is the one to express appreciation to him for working so hard for the family). If women follow Biali’s model of “being deliberately, consciously respectful, of letting a man be a man and recognizing him for his ‘manliness’ and his internal blueprint for leadership,” then what you have is not a partnership but a leader-followership. It is a reinforcement of hierarchy. That’s not what Jesus would do. If you want to see Jesus’ egalitarian approach to women, read the gospels. Or, at least, my book (http://www.amazon.com/Saving-Women-Church-Jesus-Divide/dp/1594980136/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367961697&sr=1-1&keywords=saving+women+from+the+church).

And do men, in general, really need more respect? The need for respect can be a bottomless pit when the fear of not meeting the standards of traditional masculinity has forged shame into the soul. But, the actual need for respect may, in fact, be strongest in those who don’t get as much in society: wives and mothers, for example. When I withdrew from a doctoral program to become a Stay-at-Home Mom, I realized with a shock that I dropped to the bottom of the societal value-meter. I had to consciously develop such a strong sense of self-respect that I don’t need any one to praise me for the valuable skills I have honed in my current position.

Many men could not function emotionally at all in a Stay-at-Home Parent role. (Let me emphasize that there are some wonderful exceptions to this statement). They have been raised to expect power, respect, status and praise both in the world and at home, more than women have. That expectation can leave them fragile, when it is not met. Note even the sub-title of Eggerich’s book, “The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs.” Should wives feed into this false sense of desperation, by emphasizing respect?

Biali’s final respect-over-love argument is the Mars/Venus one: “Men really are very different from women, I think that’s pretty obvious to anyone.” All our beliefs are obvious before they are tested. Let’s look at a 2013 meta-analysis of 13 gender difference studies (here: http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/02/05/men-and-women-may-not-be-so-different-after-all/51222.html). The review showed “that for the vast majority of psychological traits, including the fear of success, mate selection criteria, and empathy, men and women are definitely from the same planet.

“Instead of scores clustering at either end of the spectrum—the way they do with, say, height or physical strength—psychological indicators fall along a linear gradation for both genders.”

Men and women, because they are both human, more similar in their needs than different, need love and respect in equal measure. Those who say they want respect more than love begin to enter an abuse continuum where the greater power must be maintained in a marriage relationship. Abusive men appear to need no love at all: only respect and power. They are on one extreme end. On the milder end of the spectrum are the men whose self-esteem thrives on subtle and direct communications of wifely deference—the very suggestions Biali has suggested, in fact.

When these men don’t get what they need to feel good about themselves, they often stonewall, says Eggerichs—an adult, quiet version of a tantrum. Stonewalling is one of marriage expert John Gottman’s “Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse” for marriage—a divorce predictor (http://azgrowth.com/4Horsemen.pdf ). Yes, “respect” would end the stonewalling, but not in a healthy way, just as giving a child candy for dinner because he wants it keeps him happy but not well.

As Eggerichs says, respect and love are not the same thing. He notes, “You respect your boss, you don’t love your boss.” Exactly.

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