Perspectives on egalitarian relationships: @god_loves_women

Monday, 30 April 2012

This week's guest post comes from someone who really inspires me with her passion and motivation. @god_loves_women tweets and blogs about her faith, her convictions for overcoming gender inequality and injustice, and gender issues in the church and scripture. She is married, and has two children.

What does egalitarian marriage look like to me?

Beautiful, challenging and working through problems
Nobody top, nobody bottom
Living life in the tension, that neither is fully right
Neither of us having a full line of sight

We both can speak and both learn and both get it wrong
It’s part of the rhythm of marriage’s song

I pray to God for answers, as does he
Neither assuming the other better hears the Almighty

God created me with a mind, voice, soul and heart
My husband he created with the same
Together we’re better, stronger, lovelier
It’s not him being in charge…it’s not me being beneath

Because when it becomes about who makes the decisions
Or whether we get a blue or green car
When it’s one way or the high way
We can be sure that we’ve lost the way

Because love is too big for someone to be in charge
It’s not me or him but rather He, the Creator who commands our way
His will is highest and all that we desire
Not my way, or his way, but His way forever

Digital Christianity and "keeping it real"

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Throughout the week, Stephanie Drury of Stuff Christian Culture Likes often retweets the best (worst?) of cringeworthy Christianese that she comes across. If you follow her, you know what I'm talking about. There's the date night tweet: "Date night with the hottest hubster on the planet: thank you Lord!". There's the Sunday morning tweet: "So blessed and inspired by the rockin' worship at @ontrendchurch today!!!" I made those up, obviously. But they could easily be real.

As should be the case, many Christians are taking to the digital sphere more than ever to talk about their beliefs, make new friends, and engage with people in different ways. Why? Why does anyone seek online community with people who share their interests and opinions? We learn from each other and help each other to grow. Then there's the other side of things: reaching out. Digital evangelism. "Doing church" online. Or even just living out your faith publicly, in an attempt to show others what being a Christian is like. It's been really interesting to observe and be a part of this - through events like the Christian New Media Conference, or by keeping up with research from CODEC, or reading #DigiDisciple posts over at the BIGBible Project, or reading the work of bloggers like Vicky Beeching, who discusses digital media in many of her posts.

When it comes to church and social media, views are still pretty divided and emotions run high when certain things are discussed. Live-tweeting a sermon or church event, using a phone or tablet to take notes or look up resources during a service? Not a problem as far as I'm concerned, but I came across a post on a forum this week where many people considered that sort of thing to be the height of rudeness and "disrespect". Some months ago, when a post was made on my own church's Facebook page canvassing opinions on livetweeting Sunday mornings, people were either very enthusiastic or completely disapproving. Many Christians make a point of giving up social media, either indefinitely or for a shorter period of time such as Lent. It's often seen as something that's "unhelpful" and detracts from the importance of "real" relationships.

To me, seeing online relationships as "less real" or less "authentic" or "helpful" compared to relationships with people we didn't meet through the internet is outright wrong. I don't really feel I can sugarcoat that. As an introvert, I'm not sure whether I'm more likely to think that, but I'm also someone who has got to know a lot of wonderful people through blogs, message boards and social media. I can't imagine seeing all of that as the enemy, something to be given up or deleted purely for the reason that it might detract from so-called "real" community. I was definitely in agreement with Vicky when she wrote a post earlier this year about why she disagrees with "giving up social media for Lent".

"I feel that the internet is a crucial place to be – a genuine space for community, relationship and mission. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s learn discipline and boundaries and become people who can occupy the online space well and healthily," she said.

Occupying the online space well is a key issue here. The digital world doesn't have to be less "authentic" than the offline world. It can, however, take on that feel. People say things online that they wouldn't dare to say to someone's face. They create internet personas through social media and blogging, and it doesn't always go down too well. Some of the people who come in for the most criticism are the bloggers who are viewed as focused on creating an image of perfection, or are considered "fake". We want people to be "real".

One thing I think we should feel challenged about, as Christians who "do" digital media, is keeping it real. I talked about trite Christianese tweets at the beginning of this post because they're now ubiquitous enough to be parodied, and they're an example of people "doing" digital media in an attempt to reach out, or be a good witness, or whatever you want to call it, but failing to keep it real. So your church has encouraged people to get involved in social media as a way of sharing their faith and being positive about Christianity? Get involved. But keep it real. What do I mean?

1) Talk about stuff other than church

Yes. We know you go to church. But you also have a life outside of Sunday mornings, prayer meetings and other church events. Talk about it. If every single tweet, status update or post is related to something that happened at church, how awesome church is and how much you love it...well, great as that is, it gets a bit wearing. Believe it or not, you can have opinions about things without them having been mentioned at church that week. You can, believe it or not, talk about current events, or your hobbies, or even pander to all those people who really hate social media by talking about what you just ate for breakfast.

2) You can admit to having a bad day, or struggling with something

Okay, so it's probably not so good if things go the other way and every single online interaction is a whine. But it won't make you look bad. You don't have to pretend you're relentlessly upbeat and ecstatic about everything. When things aren't going so great, people won't judge you and your faith. Okay, some might do, but you should probably just ignore them. Most people will want to support you. Other people might see that you're going through something, that you're questioning something, and feel more of a connection than with someone who seems to have it all figured out. Don't feel you have to stay "on-message".

3) Interact with people in ways that don't seem like an advertisement

We know you love your church. But you know, moderation is the key here. People don't want to feel like they're being sold something when you live out your faith in front of them. They're consumers, but they're also wary of ploys, of feeling like they're being scammed. We shouldn't reduce Christianity to slick branding (regardless of what you think about "branding" Christianity, which is another can of worms and probably a whole series of posts). Stop feeling like you have to constantly advertise, and build relationships instead. Reply to people. Engage them in conversation about their newest blog post or a news story they've retweeted. Help them out if they have a problem (in a genuine and compassionate way).

4) You can just be you

You: the person you are "in real life". Don't use trite Christianese platitudes "in real life"? Don't do it on the internet. If my next Facebook status or tweet actually said "Date night with the hottest hubster on the planet: thank you Lord!" it might get plenty of "likes". I might also get a couple of confused messages from people wondering why I'd suddenly started using phrases like "hottest hubster on the planet", and whether I'd forgotten to precede said tweet with a SNARK KLAXON. Besides, we don't do a weekly "date night" (I know, I know, disowned by Christian Culture right there, marriage down the pan, etc etc) so my own husband would be pretty confused as well. You don't need an online persona in order to talk about your faith.

5) When it all goes overboard, it can - and will - alienate people

Here is a post on the Her.meneutics blog about the "worst ever Christian clichés". It sums up what I'm trying to say. US Christian culture is worse for this than UK Christian culture, it has to be said (sorry, friends across the pond. Maybe it's got something to do with our complete lack of well-known young preachers). So you can guarantee that plenty of your fellow Christians find it a bit too much. But outside of Christian culture altogether, no-one talks like this, ever. And reaching out to people is about reaching them where they're at, not bombarding them with phrases and terminology that can genuinely sound a bit bizarre if you didn't grow up in the church. Similarly, there's a lot to be said for not trying to be overly "trendy", if it's just not you. Just relax.

Image from here.

Full term

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Well, we made it. Today marks the magic 37 week point of my pregnancy. Full term; ready to roll; lock and load. The point at which you know that within five weeks, there will be a baby. Obviously, sooner than in five weeks' time would be nice, because I'm not particularly patient. Said baby is still all up in my ribcage and I'm thoroughly looking forward to the day when I can bend in the middle again and easily turn over in bed. Things I'm also looking forward to include walking at my usual pace, wearing non-maternity clothes, alcohol, eventually getting back into running, not being stared at in public as if I have two heads, and actually meeting the child my body has been working so hard to produce since last August.

I don't feel as if this baby-making thing has secured my womanhood and led me any closer to having a concrete answer to the question "What does being a woman mean?". It has made me certain that I hate "Mommy/Mummy Wars" discussions. It has made me certain that I get irritated by unsolicited "advice" about being a mother, particularly the sort of "advice" that intimates come next month, I will cease to have a life. That's about it so far.

But as is the case with a lot of people I know or whose blogs I read, gender expectations and stereotyping as they relate to babies and children have already become apparent, and given me plenty to think about when I wonder what it's going to be like to bring up a son or a daughter. It starts when, like me, you don't know the sex of the baby you're having, and some people treat you as if you're being difficult, stuck in this ridiculous sexless limbo that means you must be at a loss how to decorate the baby's room, or buy clothes for it. Admittedly, this does depend on the shops you frequent and the attitude you have towards colours, but I've already been informed that red, green and yellow are "boy colours" and that "you can't put a boy in a cardigan with ducks on it" (watch me).

This, of course, is the age of PinkStinks and Pigtail Pals and Hamleys doing away with its "pink for girls" and "blue for boys" signs. All that sort of stuff gets flak from certain news outlets and commentators for the supposed "anti-pink" stance ("girls are WIRED to like pink and that's a fact, people" - or otherwise - "urgh, first world feminist problems"), but we all know it goes further than that. It's not about being "against" the colour pink (I'm certainly not, despite the fact it's far from my favourite colour), but the way it has taken hold as the only option available, while displays of toy domestic appliances leave us in no doubt at which gender they're meant for.

Last month when I asked people about their perceptions of womanhood and femininity, Sarah Ditum told me she'd been pitched into the "war on pink" when she became the mother of a daughter, before it made her wonder just how consistent that made her as a role model - which I think is a really good point.

"That was interesting for a start – to realise that I'd designated 'boy things' as neutral and 'girl things' as optional extras, even though a lot of my identity and personal happiness is vested in [enjoying fashion, makeup, and other 'feminine' things]," she said, adding that she has no problem helping her daughter understand that these are things that make her comfortable with her identity as a woman, even though she doesn't necessarily see them as synonymous with "femininity", or necessary.

"It's impossible to be truly neutral," she said. "Instead, I hope that I can at least introduce them to the way gender is made at the same time that they are learning its codes."

I think part of doing this in a positive way is obviously about how gender is modelled within the family, and this is partly why I've been recently featuring guest posts from blogging friends who practice egalitarian relationships and shared parenting. It was interesting to read this piece by Jill Filipovic for Comment is Free last week, entitled "How gender equality is the friend of the family". Filipovic highlighted some recent research from the US that shows women now, more than ever, consider job success and satisfaction extremely important. Yet the research also found that there's also been a significant increase (since 1997) in the percentage of both men and women who see being a good parent as a top priority.

"Both men and women spend more time, and more quality time, with their kids than ever before – even more time than at the height of the stay-at-home mother," she writes.

"Dads who also balance work and family mean working moms aren't under quite as much pressure to be full-time employees and over-time parents, and so young women now can reasonably expect to have a fulfilling career and also be great moms. And dads, relieved of the burden to be the sole financial provider for their entire families, can recognize that their contributions to their kids can go far beyond the monetary, and include the tough but fulfilling emotional work of parenting, as well."

Filipovic adds that naturally, there is still a long way to go, in terms of equal pay, in terms of differences according to class privilege, in terms of the division of labour in the home. This much is true and must not be forgotten, but it was good to see a piece that didn't fall for all the usual "Having It All" or "Mommy Wars" clichés, or highlight some research claiming to show that women are more unhappy with their lives than ever - thanks, of course, to modern society making them feel they have to subvert traditional gender roles.

I'm left wondering how my own perceptions and opinions might change in the next few months. For now, I await the arrival of the baby.

Some recommended reading: blogs that deal with motherhood and parenting issues. I've been reading a fairly limited list, but these are the ones I go back to.

Kate and Pippa: Influential for the wrong reasons?

Friday, 20 April 2012

The fragrant Middleton sisters are among this year's most influential people. Why? For looking nice and keeping their mouths shut, apparently.

Time magazine's new list of the "100 Most Influential People in the World" is out, and I have to admit it's so exciting seeing the Duchess of Cambridge and her younger sister among such luminaries as Tilda Swinton and Barack Obama. Our girls, Kate and Pippa, flying the flag for all that is quintessentially British and awesome and now according to Time, influential in 2012. You know I'm being facetious, right?

At first glance the blurb about the sisters appears to be giving the finger to the snobbery of the press and "society", in years gone by full of sneering asides about the Middleton family's background (a former flight attendant for a mother!), supposed ruthless social climbing, and snark-worthy heritage (they had to make their money: so nouveau riche). But then you look closer. Kate has "successfully scaled the palace walls". Pippa is now "globally recognized, especially from behind" - and British newspapers are offered up to 400 paparazzi photos of her every single day.

Oh yes, this is what it amounts to. As "avatars of inspiration", Kate and Pippa's influence comes from the fact that one married a prince, one has a good backside, and they both wear outfits that women want to copy. We know this already, of course, because they're never out of the press. Pippa goes to a party and it's news for a couple of days. Kate goes out in public: what is she wearing? How is she looking? Could she be pregnant? When the two wear high street clothes, they fly off the rails. A few weeks ago, Kate was photographed playing hockey with the British Olympic team. Days later, the papers were reporting that stores had seen sales of hockey equipment go through the roof.

Yes, apparently there is nothing the nation's women won't do to become that little bit more like the Middleton sisters. But the best thing of all, according to Time's Europe editor, Catherine Mayer? Kate and Pippa are keeping quiet about it all.

"Latter-day Mona Lisas, they smile mysteriously and keep their mouths closed. In an age of bleating, tweeting, confessional celebrity, the middle-class Middletons show real class."

We all grow tired of those celebrities who constantly embarrass themselves via social networking, public spats with each other, and foot-in-mouth interview moments. But what does it say that these two women are lauded for keeping their mouths closed? When you think about it, it completes the checklist nicely. Attractive. Bagged a prince. Well-connected. Thin. Classy outfits. Glossy hair. Safe. Mouths firmly zipped. Everything that's to be expected from a real lady. Everything us mere mortals should strive to emulate. Like one of those sexist Twitter hashtag games where very sad men list what they expect from a "bird", it makes you disappointed and ragey in equal measures.

Everything about it harks back to a bygone age, where women were women and knew it was their place to look nice, marry well and not let their lives be tainted by having opinions or rocking the boat. You might be thinking "What do you mean?! They're modern gals! Pippa was recently in attendance at what the Daily Mail has termed a "dwarves and chastity belt party"! She's known as 'Her Royal Hotness', for crying out loud!"

This may be true, but slightly risqué nights out aside, it's all about the class and being demure. The being totally uncontroversial and the sensible skirts and jackets. And according to Time magazine, it's about being two of the world's most influential women due to all of the above, but also for keeping schtum about it. Last year I was bemused by the incessant press coverage of William and Kate's "very modern marriage". It may have been 2011 and they may have - gasp - cohabited before the Big Day, but Kate was being hailed as the ultimate specimen of womanhood for all the same reasons we would have been encouraged to look up to someone in, oh, the 1940s. It's like that thing they used to call "women's lib" never happened.

Cheers for the inspiration, Time, but I'd rather keep on with the bleating and tweeting, having bad hair days and not having to be regarded as the Nation's Premier Womb.

This post originally appeared on BitchBuzz. Image via WeSpeakNews.

Perspectives on egalitarian relationships: Alan Molineaux

Monday, 16 April 2012

It's been great to feature some wonderful guest posts over the past few Mondays. Today's contribution to my series on egalitarian relationships comes from Alan Molineaux. Alan combines his work for the church with running training courses in business management. Having originally studied electronics he went on to complete an MA in Pastoral Studies with The Cambridge Theological Federation. He lives in Bingley with his wife Beverley. They have four grown up daughters. Alan's blog can be found here.

Rooted in an Egalitarian way of life.

It is very difficult to consider a subject like this without projecting ones own prejudices upon the topic. Perhaps, however, a healthy starting point is to acknowledge the drivers of these possible projections in advance.

I am a man; I am the husband of a very capable wife; I am the father of four excellent daughters.

I became a Christian in a denomination that had egalitarian roots (although in practice this was not always actively encouraged).

These factors probably fuel my passion for the subject, yet I have genuinely tried not to let them blinker me from seeking an honest answer to the question of male and female relatedness. Evangelicalism tends to be drawn towards the making of definitive statements. Indeed the consideration of orthodoxy often hangs upon the making of, or agreeing to, such statements. I am happy to say that I no longer feel the need to make such definitive statements the starting point in such matters. Indeed it seems that such a position, heavily dependent upon definitive statements, could be prone to its own amount of projection.

My starting point, however, is the journey to find the question rather than the need to make the right statement. To my mind it is the search for the correct question that should be our goal. In this regard I feel comfortable putting aside such questions as 'should women be elders/preachers/bishops' in the search for a deeper ontological question such as:

'What is to be found in the biblical narrative the reveals the very nature of personhood?'

There is much we could say in this regard but I will focus in on the revelation of God as Father and at sometimes Mother (Consider Jeffrey A Benner's work on translating el Shaddai as 'mighty teat').

The climax of this revelation is seen in the teachings of Jesus who encourages us to pray 'Our Father'. None of these representations seem to indicate a different approach to, and relationship with, God for men and women. In fact the very notion of Fatherhood gives way to the picture of us as children. In this regard it does not seem wrong to declare that our gender is not a defining factor. The kingdom of God, inaugurated by Jesus Christ, does not allow for anything other than equality.

For sure, in his ministry Jesus used the cultural language and norms of his day; he adopted a rabbinical position and drew to himself a group of men to learn his new teaching. Yet for every social norm that Jesus seems to adopt he brings a challenge to the very core of local sensibilities. We could look at the honoured place of Mary and Martha, and the former's lead role in proclaiming the good news of the empty tomb; but that would be to become too mechanical.

It is the ontological truth of personhood revealed in God as divine parent, and we as his children in the Kingdom, brought through Jesus, that is the marker for how are to move forward. Whatever the difficult passages mean, they cannot mean a change to the equality revealed in the gospel. It is at this point that we have a choice. We can either chose to approach such passages by seeking to implement seemingly restrictive roles upon women, or we can hold on to the motif of equality as we seek to understand them.

I feel comfortable that scholars have shown that the texts can be read in a way that does not contradict the equality brought by the gospel. I am comfortable that this is the bigger story and that the other verses are representing some cultural context that our distance can only glimpse.

In light of this I choose to be part of the call for liberation. And personally, to continue my cry against voices that seek to confine women in the name of Christ (or any other name for that matter). In this context my wife and I, and my four daughters for that matter, can approach the Father God, revealed in Christ, as children without reference to our gender.

I could break my own rule at this point and make a definitive statement, but I would rather ask a question: What would it look like if we tried to live out the equality brought about by God being our Father?

I know you had no idea, but: feminism's back!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

On the subject of feminism being 'back', you know how I feel. If you don't, it can be summed up in three simple points.

1) It never went away!
2) According to the media, the 'new feminism' has been undergoing a resurgence since round about 2005. Clearly it's not 'new' any more.
3) The 'new' feminist activism actually focuses on more than lad's mags, assuring men that they can be feminists too, and Playboy. Not that you would think it, because most other issues aren't titillating or 'controversial' enough for the papers.

Monday afternoon. Enter a Guardian piece entitled 'Feminists hail explosion in new grassroots groups'. Let's get a few things straight. I don't think this is a bad thing. I like the fact that it talks about teenagers organising a feminist group at their school (I'm not sure I had any real awareness of gender issues whatsoever when I was their age, sadly, so good for them). I think the fact that the number of grassroots feminist organisations in the UK has doubled in the past two years is awesome. I obviously have no issue with men expressing solidarity and challenging problematic patriarchy-related issues.

But I do think that yet again, it needs to be said that it would do the Guardian et al good to step outside their comfort zone and discuss the 'new feminism' without going over the same issues, without getting quotes from the same people, and without failing to represent the movement accurately. Sian has also blogged about this today. She says:

"...the ‘new feminism’ is repeatedly portrayed as being only and always focused on matters pertaining to sexual objectification in itself, away from its impact. They also tend to refuse to acknowledge that there are other feminist orgs beyond UK Feminista, Object and the Anti Porn Men’s Project. I’d love to read a ‘feminism’s back’ article that interviewed other organisations that are active on a range of vital feminist issues. Sexual objectification and the sex industry is a huge issue that impacts on many, many issues that need to be tackled. It doesn’t exist in isolation and it shouldn’t be reported without investigation of its impact. By portraying the movement as only focused in this area, the media is doing feminism, and the orgs being represented, a big disservice."

Actually, when it portrays the movement as solely focused on 'objectification', it not only does feminism a huge disservice, it also annoys a lot of people. People who campaign on other issues or mainly focus on other things, and feel that their voices and their causes don't matter. People who, just for once, would like to see a celebratory article that talks about other issues on the feminist spectrum. How do I mean? Well, other people have been writing in response to the article. Adunni Adams, on the Black Feminists blog, says:

"The announcement that something (or anything) is happening at the grassroots level of the feminist movement – not to mention the fact that the movement has caught the attention of the mainstream media – could, and should, have reflected the true strength of the movement in its depth, dynamism and diversity at all levels."

And another post that raises some important issues has a similar point to make:

"I do support action which highlights the objectification of women and girls, but there is such diversity within this movement, and it is being ignored. I am glad that these actions are taking place and I don’t wish to criticise participants. I wish to criticise media bias. 
"When our movement is portrayed like this, it actually excludes women and girls who need feminism most. It seems irrelevant. It seems silly. It seems like a hobby."

As I've pointed out before, some of the first negative comments that arise in response to articles like the one in the Guardian on Monday are always those that accuse 'the new feminism' (Media-Acceptable Variety) of being nothing more than a series of get-togethers for middle-class white 'girls' who have nothing better to do with their time than worry about trivial first world problems. And that criticism doesn't just come from trolls 'below the line'. It comes from within the movement, from people who feel excluded and pushed aside by the messages they're seeing in the news and the faces they're supposed to identify with as spokespeople.

I wondered recently whether or not 21st century feminism needs easily-identifiable 'leaders', and expressed concern that media-appointed 'leaders', who very often have no desire to be viewed as such, are often predictably-chosen, cause division, and end up being cast as celebrity activists whether they like it or not. They become the go-to for a soundbite, the go-to for a headshot. The 'important' ones. And funnily enough, they don't often represent a huge amount of diversity. Believe it or not, this ruffles feathers. We've seen it happen over here with that documentary series on feminism from a couple of years ago. We've seen it across the Atlantic with the way discussions about spokespeople and 'leaders' and media-appointed 'influential feminists' (that would be white, straight, affluent ones) play out. I think the media has also got somewhat fixated on the inclusion of men. Yes, we get it. The 'new feminism' isn't about man-hating! These days you can want equality and have a boyfriend at the same time! In trying to make gender equality more palatable, is this focus diluting certain key aspects of feminism?

I'm really pleased that Lexy Topping, who wrote the Guardian piece, has responded in the comments on the Black Feminists blog and detailed how it wasn't her intention to portray the movement in this way. As I said at the beginning of this post, I have no problem with what her article is getting at and I don't think that the other responses I have linked above are meant as an attack on her either. Let's hope the discussion started by all this leads to some more diversity in the future. There is activism beyond Object. But then you knew that, didn't you?

Perspectives on egalitarian relationships: Jenny Baker

Monday, 9 April 2012

Today's guest post - on the theme of shared parenting - comes from Jenny Baker. Jenny is the director of the Sophia Network and has been married to Jonny for nearly 25 years. They have two sons.

Sharing work and parenting

I grew up in the Brethren church which had very clear divisions of labour along gender lines – men made the decisions and women made the tea. My mum and dad had a very traditional, and very happy, marriage with mum giving up her job as a teacher when she had children and dad working long hours as the breadwinner. As a teenager considering what was modelled at my church, I found myself on a pendulum swing – one day thinking ‘if that’s what God wants for men and women I don’t want anything to do with God’, and the next thinking ‘if that’s what God wants then I’ll put up with it because I want to follow Jesus.’

At university when I was in a relationship with Jonny, who is now my husband, someone gave us a book called ‘Marriage as God intended’ which had incredibly prescriptive roles for men and women. That was the clincher for me; it just made me determined never to get married because I knew that constraining myself into those roles would make me slowly die inside.

Fortunately, the church we were part of put on a series of evenings exploring what the bible said about men and women, which made me rethink all I’d previously taken in through osmosis as a child. It was really liberating to discover the full equality and partnership that’s described in the bible and to think through what the redemption that Jesus won on the cross meant for relationships between men and women. It also transformed my thinking about marriage much to Jonny’s relief and we’ve now been married for nearly 25 years.

We talked a lot about what a marriage of equals would look like in practice, and from the start shared all the domestic work that comes with being an adult, as well as both finding work. After all Jonny had cooked, cleaned, washed clothes as a student and it seemed bizarre that I should suddenly do that for him once we were married as if he were a child and I was his mum. We decided that if and when we had children, we wanted to share work and parenting too. I think it was really important to make those decisions early in our relationship and to be intentional about sticking to them. I can remember feeling incredibly guilty when Jonny ironed his shirts because something in my gut said that I ‘ought’ to be doing that for him, even though rationally it made sense that we should each do our own ironing as both of us hated doing it. That feeling soon went away, but it would have been easy to give in! As one of the slogans of second wave feminism says, the personal is political – what we do inside our homes and the way we organise our relationships does affect the time and energy and attitude we have to engaging with the world outside it. So many women do the ‘double shift’ of being employed and running the household and then wonder why they are exhausted.

We had children quite early in our marriage when we were both youth workers with YFC. Although I loved my baby, I struggled with being at home on my own with him on maternity leave. So when Joel was about three months old, Jonny and I started to job-share. We ended up working three days a week each, and found a child minder for one day a week so that we could have a team day for the meetings we both needed to be at. Harry was born a couple of years later and slotted into the pattern. We had quite set routines which suited us; whoever had been at home would cook the evening meal so that we could all eat together early evening then the parent who had been at work would bath the boys and put them to bed. We were fortunate to have a management committee who gave us a six-month trial to see if it would work, and having made the decision to rent rather than buy a house, we were able to live off one salary between us. Both of us benefited from being fully engaged parents and having the stimulus of work, although I know Jonny was lonely at times as there weren’t many other dads doing the same.

We moved to London when the boys were three and five, and as they went to school we changed jobs and increased our hours until eventually we were both working full-time but in flexible situations which meant that one of us could always do the school run while they needed that. Working in the Christian charity sector has given us more freedom than other sectors so we’ve been fortunate in that sense. We had to be very organised about our diaries and discuss trips away before committing to them, to ensure that one of us was able to take care of the boys and at times we did do the ‘tag-team’ parenting thing where one of us would get home just in time for the other to go out. For us, mealtimes were really important as a foundation of our family life and we’ve really valued the discipline of sitting down together around the table every day, taking time to talk to each other. And we had to recognise that there would be seasons when one of us was incredibly busy at work and the other would need to pick up the slack at home; but then a few months later it would work the other way round.

And the boys have turned out fine. Now 19 and 22, they haven’t grown up confused about what it is to be men as some people predicted. They are both quite different in terms of temperament and interests, and I am hugely proud of them. And very grateful that we made those decisions early and stuck to them.

Why the Samantha Brick backlash missed the point

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Samantha Brick is suddenly famous. If you use Twitter, or read the Daily Mail (in which case why are you here? Seriously?), you'll know why. To cut a long story short, on Tuesday the Mail published a piece by Brick entitled 'There are downsides to looking this pretty': Why women hate me for being beautiful. This ridiculous article promptly went viral, with the author's name appearing to be trending on Twitter every time I logged on.

This is not a post about my views on the piece. Of course it was awful, although no worse than Brick's previous efforts for the Mail. With standard and incredibly tedious woman-hating, Femail-fodder headlines like 'I use my sex appeal to get ahead at work... and so does ANY woman with any sense', 'Would YOU let your husband dress you? Samantha does and says she's never looked better', and 'My husband says he'll divorce me if I get fat', I think it's pretty safe to say that I'm not missing out by refusing to give them a thorough reading. I couldn't care less about Samantha Brick's musings - they're typical of the Mail's 'women's interest' offerings. State that women are backstabbing bitches. Talk about how much better life is when men are in charge. Criticise women some more. Pit them against each other and encourage 'cattiness'. You know the score.

This is also not a smug post berating all of you for heading over to Mail Online in order to read it, retweeting it and talking about it because it's just giving the Mail what they want, people! More hits and more publicity! Again, I couldn't care less. And yes, I am succumbing to the hype and giving in and blogging about it. Hate if you want.

This is a post about the way people react to stories like this. If you search 'Samantha Brick' on Twitter and look at what people have been saying about her for the past couple of days, if you look at any comment thread about her on forums or on Facebook or even the 5000-strong comment thread on the article itself, you'll see a theme emerging. People are desperate to give their personal opinions on whether Brick really is attractive or not. The issue at hand: she think she's stunning, people want to take her down a peg or two and point out that she's 'average' and 'nothing special', going right down to 'ugly' and 'looks like a man'. You can't escape people's judgement on Brick's appearance.

For me, the issue that needs to be discussed is not the way Brick looks. It's the way that the Mail exploits women writers to further its misogynist agenda, holding on to its crown as the newspaper most widely read by women. Who knows if the article has much to do at all with Brick's true opinions of herself? It's been well-documented that the Mail can't resist putting words into women's mouths and publishing misleading stories about them, even if this means that their lives are pretty much ruined as a result. Two examples can be found in Anna Blundy's account of being stitched up over a feature, and Juliet Shaw's tale of how the paper completely fabricated facts and quotes for a story about her, leading to her taking legal action.

The Mail has no qualms whatsoever about publishing features like those found when you search for 'Samantha Brick' on its website; indeed it's almost gleeful in the way it offers them up for people to hurl abuse, and for commenters to write vicious responses. Hadley Freeman is spot on when she says that the paper 'simply threw Samantha Brick to the wolves'. The way it uses writers like Brick is so predictable - the stories about deferring to men, bitchy women, weight and women in the workplace form a steady stream of hate.

But people, in general, don't want to talk about this. They want to pass judgement on the woman's appearance, thinking that this is what really matters because they're conditioned to believe that this is what's really important: having the last word on a woman's looks - because that's what women are here for. To be hot - or not. A woman's worth lies in what people think of the way she looks, what men claim they would like to do to her, how many women are secretly envious of her. And everyone has to weigh in with their views on the matter. If it's not her looks, it's her opinions of herself. She needs to be set straight. Who does she think she is?

Last year I wrote about the drama provoked by the way Scott Schuman (aka The Sartorialist) described a woman he'd photographed as 'sturdy'. What annoyed me just as much as the stupid post and Schuman's stupid reaction to it, was the way the discussion became framed around what people really thought of this woman's body type. Was she thin? Was she fat? Was she curvy? Was 'curvy' an offensive way to describe her? You know how it goes. It's a familiar scenario in comment sections. Has she really got good boobs? Is she 'worryingly thin' or 'fuller figured'? Does she actually look good in that outfit? Wherever there is deeper discussion to be had, you can guarantee that people will reduce it to their personal opinion on her appearance. And is there any wonder, when the media continually encourages us to critique, compare and contrast women based on 'who looked the best', 'who wore it best' or 'who has the best beach body'?

Unlike the rest of Twitter, my feed wasn't full of people calling Samantha Brick 'ugly'. Today, of course, it was full of people bemoaning the fact that those people had given the Mail exactly what it wanted because Brick wrote a follow-up piece, gloating over the number of hits Tuesday's article had received and claiming that the backlash she received just proves that she was right when she said that women hate her because she's attractive. And so it began again.

People: stop playing the game. Stop falling into the trap of judging a woman's worth by your opinion of her looks. Stop reducing every discussion about a woman in the public eye to whether you think she's hot. Stop equating looks with power and success and sneering at those who don't, in your eyes, measure up. Stop treating confidence as something to be torn down and trampled upon. Stop perpetuating the lie that women are by nature 'catty' and 'bitchy'. Stop defending the roadblocks on the highway to equality and giving people like Samantha Brick fuel for the fire as she churns out more articles bemoaning how nasty other women are.

Perspectives on egalitarian relationships: Ruth and Nick Wells

Monday, 2 April 2012

This week's guest post on egalitarian relationships comes from Ruth and Nick Wells, who are both youthworkers living in Bournemouth. Ruth and Nick have been married for nearly 10 years and have two children.

"But who wears the trousers?"

It seems to be a trend to write about marriage as a couple, and so as those who would not want to shirk away from what is trendy (!) we have decided to follow suit. We write as a couple, approaching 10 years of marriage, who met as young people and are both Christians. We also write as people who both hold an egalitarian view of gender and marriage. We are both youthworkers and have two beautiful children. This post is anecdotal rather than an over-arching theological exposition of egalitarian theology – it is our story.

It is not uncommon for the issue of how we ‘do’ our marriage to come up with various people. From the ‘oh so Nick looks after the children too’ to ‘what, Ruth was once your boss Nick?’ we are often met with looks of incredulity! To us this is how things work best, and how we believe we are both able to outlive what it means to follow Jesus.

When people have been able to move on from the fact that we both work, and believe that Jesus, not one of us, is the ‘head’ of our marriage, the inevitable discussion is around ‘but who makes the final decision?’ This question goes something like ‘but the buck has to stop with someone doesn’t it?’ Well we are happy to report that there have been no occasions at which one of us has had to ‘pull rank’ so to speak, and at which we could not reach a decision through negotiation and that mysterious art-form ‘talking to one another’. It isn’t that we always agree - we don’t - but we have never got to the point where we couldn’t resolve something through being together and chatting it through. We have been best friends for over 15 years and as such we find that we have some understanding of how we work.

We believe that marriage isn’t a relationship bound together through the subjugation of one party to another, but is one of mutual submission, respect and love. We also find it hard to imagine that if someone has to always ‘pull rank’ on decisions or forcible stop the buck, that there isn’t something fundamentally at odds in the relationship. It seems plausible to us that no-one needs be assigned the ‘in-charge’ monitor of the marriage. Just as Israel in the Old Testament sought to replace God with an earthly King, we believe that people sometimes mistakenly feel the need to replace Jesus, as the over-seer of the marriage, with man.

So what does our marriage ‘look like’? Well, following having our children we decided to both continue working part-time jobs to not only ‘provide’ financially, but to pursue our callings as people, and also parents. Our children get to see each of us as parents with roles within the home and as providers with our work roles – demonstrating that it is important to have dreams and aspirations and to seek to step into what God has gifted each of us in. We believe that our children do not have pre-scripted roles as they grow up, but are free to explore their own God-given gifting regardless of their anatomical make-up. It is not always easy to maintain this balance of life, work and children, but it is something we strive for and something that others find difficult to grasp.

A case in point would be following an interesting conversation about gender roles one New Year, when we found out that some other local Christians had reported that they knew who ‘wears the trousers in that relationship’! It wasn’t meant as praise for us both feeling able to be articulate opinions as part of dialogue. It was derogatory and hurtful. It suggested that because we both had a say about things, because we were both comfortable and confident to look after our children and because we did not fulfil stereotypes of ‘firm husband’ and ‘demure wife’ there was something wrong. It is saddening to us that the utter joy, love and freedom we find in our marriage is not found by others. It is tragic that so many women feel they have to put their own callings on hold for the sake of their husbands. It is sad that so many men miss out of being ‘Dad’ because they dare not shy away from the crippling shackles of over-working in order to be seen to ‘provide’.

So we want to give Jesus the trousers, if that’s not some kind of blasphemy?! He is the one who heads up our marriage and it is to him that we are accountable. We will continue to try and hold each other in love, respect and mutuality whilst trying to find fun, adventure and joy in the journey.

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