What's a girl worth?

Monday, 26 September 2011

The problem with "worth" is that it has become difficult to accept that it might be inherent, rather than dependent on following sets of rules and scriptures, academic achievement, jobs, relationships, looks, possessions and what others think of us.

At different times in our lives we struggle with different facets of these issues and on our bad days we might start to feel like we're somewhat lacking in worth. We might feel like that all the time. People in our lives might make us feel like that. Terrible things might have happened to us that make us feel like that. And it's difficult to turn this around, I know.

What are you worth?

1. In my little world One of the great trends in blogging/online writing in recent years, to the extent that I think it's become a cliché, is the Faux Angsty Post Because I'm In My Late 20s and Society Quite Obviously Hates Me Because I'm Not A Responsible Adult, Married With a Mortgage and Climbing The Career Ladder. I say "faux angsty" because it's usually very evident that the writer is actually pretty happy with their life and just kind of likes the idea of looking like they're sticking it to the man, rather than just being your average urban middle class hipster.

If you let it get to you though, it will - and suddenly your worth will be bound up in how much you've achieved in your career and what you've got in your house and what sort of wedding you're going to have. It's whatever expectations society's currently pushing. What your parents expect of you. What the media's telling you. If it's not the Wedding Industrial Complex, it's the body beautiful or the look that this blogger has or the hair that this other blogger has or what the other women are saying on that forum. If it's not your friends and acquaintances it's the way that porn and exploitation has infiltrated culture to the extent that a girl's worth is measured by one thing only. Rachel Hills recently posted on Tumblr saying:

"Thought: Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc make people feel more crap about themselves than any women’s magazine ever did."

That could be a long, long essay.

What's a girl worth - and how much does it depend on her looks, her possessions and her lifestyle, her relationships and her sexuality?

2. In the church Sure, you might be told that you're made in God's image and that He sees you as a "princess", but how many of us know that reconciling our worth with the things we hear and the impressions we get can be really, really hard? On one hand you've got the lists of scriptures assuring you of your worth in Christ, on the other you might be getting all sorts of messages about how your worth relates to the way you dress, whether you're single or married, how many children you have and how they behave. What you do at church, how often you're there and how holy you act. In some churches, your worth might be bound up in how well you're seen to be submitting to your father or your husband, because only they can facilitate a connection between you and God. And when you don't follow the rules, bad things happen.

Bad things that might not be as bad as getting disowned by your family or thrown out of the church (although they might be), but as "small" as doubting your calling because you don't know if it's right for a woman to want to do that, or doubting what God's saying to you because it means stepping outside the box that the church so often creates for "the fairer sex". One of the feelings I've seen most expressed by women and girls in my years as a Christian is that they're "not good enough", whether that means God's standards or the church's standards or other people's standards. Why is this - and are we doing enough to deal with it?

What's a girl worth - and how much does it depend on how much she follows the rules and projects a certain image?

3. Out in the rest of the world The fact is that the world is not a good place for girls and does not recognise their inherent worth. Their worth continues to go unnoticed when they become women. If it is noticed, it's quantified by the extent to which they follow rules, keep in line with society's expectations, don't rock the boat and don't push for change.

Women perform 66 percent of the world's work, produce 50 percent of the food, but earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property.

What is the worth of girl according to society when she can't get an education, when she risks death or injury for going against her family's wishes? When she risks being sold, trafficked at a time when there are more slaves than at any other point in history? When she has to drop out of school with the advent of puberty because she doesn't have access to sanitary products? When she's an unwanted child purely due to her gender, so that she's aborted or abandoned at birth? When she must marry at the age of 11 or 12?

What is the worth of a girl when she becomes a woman and has no legal rights and cannot vote? When she is excluded from gaining skills she needs to earn money? When she cannot access healthcare when she is pregnant? When the police will do nothing if her husband beats her? When she is the face of global poverty? When the armed forces and the authorities are complicit in her rape and abuse? When she and her daughter must go hungry because it is more important that her husband and her son eat?

What's a girl worth? We know that the answer is "so much", but this is not a reality. Half the world. Made in God's image. As potential bearers of new life, the future of humanity. With the power to change society, change culture for the better, turn around economic problems, assure a better life for their families. With the power to lead, learn, educate, nurture, support, raise up, influence, complement, break boundaries and set the world alight - through being who they really are and doing what they were born to do. Not conforming needlessly, not suppressing and not laying aside their dreams.

How much are you making the girls and women in your life aware of their worth and helping them to achieve their best?

And I mean, REALLY? And it's got to be more than a few platitudes in a blog post or reading some article by a lifestyle guru. What's a girl worth to you? Do you truly believe she's worth investing in? How can you show her that she is worth so much more than gender stereotypes, than a second-class citizen, than her relationships with men? In a world that doesn't do this very well at all, we need more people to help girls understand and come to terms with their worth.

This post is a contribution for Tamara Out Loud's call for responses to the question "What's a girl worth?"

Further reading: The 10 Worst Places to Be A Woman and The 10 Best Places to Be A Woman.

Image via Samyra Serin's Flickr.

Sex-selective abortion and playing into anti-choice hands

Friday, 23 September 2011

How can we encourage effective, productive debate on sex-selective abortion?

Most of us are aware of how this practice is contributing to declining ratios of girls to boys. We hear the most about the problems it's causing in India and China, but recently have learnt more about the fact the "trend" is now affecting countries such as "Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, the Balkans and Albania, where the sex ratio is 115/100".

Clearly, the issue of societies that value boy children over girl children (and the associated issues this ends up contributing to, such as sex trafficking and prostitution) to this extent should be a major area of concern for gender equality activists, but what poses a problem here is the extent to which any discussion is obviously going to provide fuel for anti-choice fires.

I haven't read Mara Hvistendahl's book Unnatural Selection, but her analysis of the situation got plenty of attention this summer.

"Historically, societies in which men substantially outnumber women are not nice places to live. Often they are unstable. Sometimes they are violent," she says.

But instead of purely focusing on the cultural aspects of what makes sex-selective abortion acceptable, she makes a case for the West playing a major part - exporting as it has modern technology, safer abortions and ultrasound scans. What's clear is that there is a lot to be considered.

The way in which discussion on all of this is likely to become unproductive was demonstrated perfectly by Laurie Penny's column in the New Statesman yesterday. Laurie was characteristically emotive, writing of "missing girls" and the "howls" of the "ghosts of girl children", while giving ideas as to how the "trend" can be reversed, citing South Korea as an example.

"Better education of girls, equal rights legislation and more participation by women in public life made prejudice against female children seem outdated, according to a recent report by the Economist," she wrote.

Below the line, several people commenting chose to attack Laurie for what they saw as her "hypocrisy", writing that she "can't have it both ways" and insinuating that her belief that abortion should be safe and legal is an enormous contradiction of her stance on sex-selective terminations. Obviously this is untrue, but I know it made a lot of people wonder how, as feminists, we can move forward in discussing the issue without falling into the trap of using phrases that wouldn't be out of place in anti-choice literature and playing into the hands of those who are quick to call "hypocrisy!".

I think what this demonstrates is the need to be careful with our choice of words, not relying on imagery - such as "ghosts" and "howls" that can easily be turned into an attack from the "other side" and look pretty suspect when we know that we would be quick to criticise the same language if it came from elsewhere. Said @sofiebuckland on Twitter yesterday:

"The last thing we want to do is hand tools to the rightwing or anti-choice to beat us with our own perceived hypocrisies. Which this does."

So where do we go from here? After talking about this on Twitter yesterday, some of us felt that an open discussing stemming from a post outlining the problem might be a good idea because several people had a lot to say. So: feel free to discuss and make suggestions!

Interesting link via Education for Choice on US implementation of anti-sex-selection policies with an anti-choice undertone for those who are interested - Arizona's faulty logic on sex-selective abortion.

Photo via achiemcphee's Flickr.

Stripping off in the fight against discrimination

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

If a group of women pose naked to "fight" ageism and sexism, how much does it achieve?

The problem with ageism on television is that it's also one of those issues that disproportionately affects women. Women who find themselves sidelined and taken off camera once they're a little more "mature". Women who are told they might want to try wearing more makeup to minimize their wrinkles, lose a few pounds and get a more "youthful" haircut.

At the same time, male presenters of advanced years continue to grace our screens, often accompanied by a much younger female presenter (see the pairing of Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing for a start). Older men on television are "distinguished". Older women are "past it" and caricatured as hags.

The problem of women being sidelined as they reach middle age has, in the past few years, reached the stage where one television presenter, Miriam O'Reilly, has won an employment tribunal against the BBC on the grounds of ageism, and it has been reported that the BBC has settled out of court with 12 other women presenters.

In 2010 former newsreader Selina Scott spoke out in the press about the problem of sexism and ageism on television. This year, a group of presenters and actors are going one better in their quest to prove that middle-aged women have a place on screen.

In a magazine interview and photoshoot this week, Loose Women presenters Sherrie Hewson and Andrea McLean, along with actors Beverley Callard and Gillian Taylforth - who range in age from 41 to 61 - discuss ageism on television. In the feature for Best magazine's "body image issue", they talk about feeling passed over for roles because producers think they're too old and because few storylines are written about women their age.

"In TV, it's OK for men to be 50 or 60, but for women it's very difficult. Older actresses can feel put by the wayside," says Taylforth.

The best, however, is yet to come. In the photos accompanying the story, the four women are seen posing naked. Tastefully naked, I might add, covering up breasts and with strategically placed legs. The point, of course, is to show that while they may be middle-aged, they've still "got it". That producers may sneer at their wrinkles, but they're embracing the way they look because it's a natural part of getting older.

There's just one thing. Isn't it telling that you'd never expect to see a group of male actors and presenters "stripping off" in a bid to prove they're still worthy of airtime? Can you imagine George Alagiah or Terry Wogan getting naked, revealing what clothes size they take and the secrets of their exercise regimes (as the four women do) while discussing ageism on television? You can't, because it would be ridiculous.

It's only ever women who end up having to do the whole "Look! I've still got it!" routine for the media. Men never have to go through the whole charade - why would they? Women having to prove themselves shouldn't be our reaction to the problem of discrimination. It should be seen as part of the problem.

It's pretty sad, to be honest, that the first thing that comes to find when the media wants to focus on a major issue of sexism and ageism involves targets of said sexism and ageism stripping off to "prove" themselves worthy contenders in the "fight" against such discrimination. It's similar to when the newspapers profile groups of businesswomen and insist on "sexy" photoshoots, or when they run features on sportswomen and show them in lad's mag-inspired poses, talking about their love lives (of course!).

On one hand they're trailblazers and role models, on the other it's still part of their job to be hot when required, lest they run the risk of becoming one of those women in the public eye who's derided for having a "mannish" haircut or wearing unflattering jackets.

I do think there's a lot to be said for attempting to promote satisfaction and body confidence among women of all ages and so I can see why Best chose to run the feature. It's good that it's getting more coverage outside the usual news stories of women in television suing their employers. Plenty of people are probably going to see it as a light-hearted bit of fun - so Calendar Girls!

But what I'd really like to see is the problem tackled in a more imaginative and truly positive way. There's so much work to be done and I wonder how much of an impact women "stripping off" can have outside of providing tabloid fodder and further ingraining the difference between the way men and women in television are expected to look and act.

Let's not fight ageism and sexism with more sexism, albeit sexism that's wrapped up in a chummy, encouraging, Gok Wan-esque package.

 This post originally appeared on BitchBuzz. "Home made Botox" photo via Emanuela Franchini's Flickr.

Coalition plans to win back women voters

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The coalition has finally wised up to the fact it's done nothing but annoy the fairer sex since the last election. It must be time for a patronizing strategy!

It emerged yesterday that the government is planning to win back female voters by implementing policies such as changing the way child benefit is distributed and developing a strategy to encourage more women into politics.

A leaked memo, circulated to government departments in the past few days, outlines possible actions and details the need to "assemble a first-rate team" to develop the most effective strategy possible, with the aim of bringing "good news for the next generation", recognising "what women do" and underlining that "women are key to British growth and success".

Sounds good, right? In the months leading up to the 2010 General Election, we heard over and over that women's votes were key and that the parties were going to do all they could to get us on board. Unfortunately, this seemed to play out as little more than a few soundbites on issues related to children - as if that's all we care about. The press responded in the same way, speaking to women voters about issues they were interested in, but making it all about nurseries and child benefit, keeping all other issues - the supposedly "big" issues, firmly as "men's issues".

Obviously childcare in the UK is a major issue, as the recent news stories about the fact it's the most expensive in Europe and extent to which it is forcing families into debt show. But plenty of women I know felt sidelined and patronized back in 2010 - and they feel much more strongly about it now, with the government cuts having disproportionately impacted women.

Cameron and co. seem to have finally worked this out - and it's no surprise, seeing as recent polls show that just 18% of 18-24 year-old women support the Tories, compared to 30% in 2010, with support for the Lib Dems having fallen from 34% to just 8%. And so they're concocting a plan to encourage us to put our faith in them again.

Says the memo: "We know from a range of polls that women are significantly more negative about the government than men". It goes on to say that there are many coalition policies that "are seen as having affected women, or their interests, disproportionately". It goes on to say that they've recognised they haven't really lived up to their promise to be the "most family-friendly government ever".

I have to say, it's nice that those in charge finally seem to be catching on, 18 months after women's groups and some politicians started saying that the cuts would hit women the hardest - because at the time there was precious little concern from Dave et al. And so a list of ideas - from banning advertising aimed at children to promoting women in business and reconsidering the decision not to criminalize forced marriage - has been drawn up.

There's just one little thing. Does the memo point to a genuine concern for the issues women care about and the damage the coalition is currently doing with its cuts and its dismissal of gender issues? Or is it simply a cynical ploy to turn around falling approval ratings and claw back the support that women have withdrawn over the last 18 months?

I'd say it's the latter. Why? For a start, Cameron needs to look at the way he and his colleagues are treating the women they work with, not just the electorate. There was Cameron's "calm down, dear" riposte to Angela Eagle back in April. Last week, we watched aghast as he quipped that Nadine Dorries was "frustrated" during Prime Minister's Question Time, then sat back as his cronies sniggered like 15-year-old boys. I have no love for the thoroughly unpleasant Dorries, but she didn't deserve to be treated like that.

Secondly, the fact the content of the memo clearly comes as a response to lack of support and the fact the coalition has gained a terrible reputation among most women speaks for itself. It's all about approval ratings, gaining power and preserving their reputation. It's a bit insulting, to be honest. So the women are revolting? Throw them a bone! Big up women in business and chuck in a few platitudes about women being "the future". That'll make 'em vote for us come the next polling day!

I'd like to see lots of the ideas in the memo become reality. It's just sad that they have to be dreamt up as a "tactic" by politicians who have realised just how angry women are with them, rather than politicians who thought this stuff up in the first place because they really do see women as "the future".

I didn't vote Conservative in 2010, and I'm pretty sure the plan to "up the game" on communications, using these ideas as a "hook" to draw us in, isn't going to change who I give my vote to next time. And I know I'm not the only one. Sadly for the coalition, I don't think the majority of women will be as easily placated as they think.
This post originally appeared at BitchBuzz. Image via The Prime Minister's Office on Flickr.

"Thinspiration", as seen by the Daily Mail

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Hey, Daily Mail!

I don't believe I've done this for a while, possibly because there's only so many times we can criticise abominations like the Sidebar of Judgment and the Mail's hypocrisy relating to the sorts of pictures and stories they feature there, but I felt I should point something out following Lorraine Candy's most recent column, published yesterday.

In this column, Candy talks about being amazed at the self-discipline and willpower Victoria Beckham must have to be appearing in public looking "back to normal" so soon after the birth of her fourth child. And so as one might expect, the Mail decided to illustrate this point of a picture of Beckham with baby Harper.

What I find particularly inappropriate, particularly "squicky", about this is the picture caption, which reads "Thinspiration: Victoria Beckham".
Let's get this straight: "thinspiration" isn't some casual descriptor you can insert into picture captions on the website of a national newspaper. It's a term that has long been used by pro-eating disorder websites and sufferers, as described in the Wikipedia entry for "Pro-Ana" (warning: triggers abound in the form of photos).

It has very particular connotations, none of which make it acceptable to use in a column about post-pregnancy weight loss. Given that the Mail has enjoyed, over the years, expressing outrage at the harmful influence of thin celebrities, Kate Moss's quote "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels" and "the size zero trend", you'd think it would be clued up on appropriate usage of the word "thinspiration".

Let's not see this become a regular occurrence.

Man attempts to sue LSE over "sexist" gender studies course

The Evening Standard reported on Monday that a man is taking legal action against the London School of Economics, claiming that its gender studies courses are discriminatory against men.

Tom Martin quit the Gender, Media and Culture Masters course after six weeks and is hoping to sue the university for breach of contract, misleading advertising, misrepresentation and breach of the "Gender Equality Duty Act" which, weirdly, doesn't actually exist. He claims that the course had a "sexist agenda" and that he was required to read "anti-male" texts.

Ho ho ho, "what about teh menz", right? It's all faintly ridiculous and seems like a bit of an attention-seeking stunt by a guy who didn't like his course and is bearing a bit of a grudge. "Man objects to learning about things from the perspective of women".

The first thing I'm wondering is that surely he read about the content of the course and knew at least some of what to expect before he applied for it? Having looked at details of its content, areas of focus and recommended reading areas on the LSE website, I know that such information is out there. It's also pretty clear that the recommended reading isn't exactly a catalogue of man-hating extremism - focusing, in fact, on a wide range of topics and the intersection of gender, race, sexuality, class and economics. This particular course is called "Gender studies" rather than "Women's studies" for a reason.

Secondly, I'm wondering whether it was less a case of "anti-male" teachings and bias, more a case of actually having to study oppression and discrimination in detail and feeling uncomfortable that men seemed to be playing a pretty big part in it all?

It's a common argument you see when someone writes an article about rape statistics, or atrocities committed during wartime, or to be honest, most areas of discrimination and attack by men, aimed at women. Men get upset that simply by mentioning that some men have done bad things, the newspaper or the blogger in question is "anti-male", or "tarring all men with the same brush". Sometimes these comments are mild-mannered and jokey, but often they're vitriolic and on blogs in particular they seem to have a habit of turning into threatening diatribes.

The thing is, analysing experiences as they relate to women isn't anti-male. Addressing issues which only affect women isn't anti-male. It seems like Tom Martin could be suffering from a particularly belligerent case of unchecked privilege. And he's not just making a snarky comment on a blog in retaliation - he wants £50,000.

And as we all know, when privilege goes unchecked, when people don't acknowledge that they are at a significant advantage, any challenge to the status in society it gives the most privileged is often seen as "discrimination" or "unreasonable". We see this when measures to ensure greater racial or gender equality are implemented somewhere and as a result, white people or men start claiming that it's SO UNFAIR because having a problem with patriarchy is totally the same as hating all men.

These complaints against universities aren't new. Over the years there have been several cases, in various countries, where students have attempted to claim that having a university Women's Officer is discriminatory - and in 2009, London's School of African and Oriental Studies debated whether it would be a good idea to appoint a "Straight, White, Men's Officer". As many people pointed out at the time, the point of having officers to represent non-white students, or women students, or gay students, is because there are particular issues affecting them and it's important to have space to discuss it all, as well as the opportunity to organise campaigns.

An investigation carried out by the LSE following Martin's comments has apparently found "no evidence" to support his claims and the university's legal team has claimed that any "discriminatory effect" was "justifiable", which I have no doubt it was. For the time being, I'm wondering how long it'll be before the right-wing press picks up on this and starts analysing the nefarious impact of gender studies courses on the nation's men.
This post originally appeared at BitchBuzz. Image, showing an image and slogan that was actually campaigned against by men's groups in 2003, via Phil Wiffen's Flickr.

Edit: Jonathan Dean now has a post up at CiF attempting to dismantle some of the myths about gender studies courses and critiquing Martin's opinions. As usual, people commenting haven't bothered to read what he's saying, nor do they seem to understand what gender studies courses entail. There are over 600 comments and I wouldn't advise reading most of them.

"The people you meet": gender and the church edition

Monday, 5 September 2011

The "Chesney Hawkes" "The choices I have made are the ONE AND ONLY indicator of true womanhood and YOU CAN'T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME. You say that equality is about choice, but if you had your way I wouldn't be able to be a wife and SAHM, which is, by the way, MY CHOICE, thank you very much."

The "Delusions of Gender" "But I'm a girl! I like baking and babies! If equality means having to do icky guy stuff like go on camping trips and walk the dog, then it's not for me!" Sadly, I haven't even made that up.

The "Keep It Sweet" "Isn't it such a shame when our dear sisters turn from the Lord's plan for their lives, bless their hearts!" You know what they say about the phrase "bless your heart"? Yup. 

The "Velvet Glove" "Why, of course I'm interested in productive discourse on this issue! Go ahead and debate with me!" Five comments later: "I no longer feel it is helpful to comment further as the opinions of over-emotional women seem to be the only counter-argument, when I everything is say is totally clear and correct from a plain reading of scripture."

The "No Questions Asked" "You know I don't think it's good to rock the boat. All this upset and bad feeling. This is how it's always been and 90% of people have always been happy with it, right? I mean, look at me! I'm content with my lot in life! AND I can't believe you criticised Mr Famous Pastor's opinions!"

The "Shiny Happy Blogger" "I am sad to say that after posting this comment, I will be removing this blog from my reading list. I used to come here for the inspiring, joyful posts. Posts about "issues" such as this are a sorry indicator of the way the author has changed and I no longer want their negativity in my life."

The "Christianese Overkill" "This is a wordy comment. I mean, it's a really wordy comment. Isn't it just so sad that so many people live their lives blighted by such bitterness and anger? Such a critical attitude! I pity their unhappy, empty lives. Here are some more words, lots of words. Words about bitterness, and critical attitudes. Words about further bitterness and sadness. Let's end with more musings on bittterness. You want lemons with that?"

The "Unoriginal Atheist" "At the end of the day, you wouldn't even have to bother having these discussions if you didn't believe in the SKY FAIRY. Ya hear me? SKY FAIRY. The most amusing description of your so-called 'God' OF ALL TIME. Of ALL. TIME. Never gets old!" Hint: it does. Fast.

The "Older/Better/Faster/Stronger" "You think you know everything about the world because you listened to a bunch of deranged screeching career-obsessed harpies in the so-called 'learning environment' of university?! HA! As you're under 40, you clearly don't know as much as I do. Furthermore, as someone who has no children, your opinions about everything are automatically invalid. Come to think of it, we haven't discussed why you don't have children yet. Oh wait - it's because you're a selfish disgrace ignoring your high calling."

The "Anti-Choice Broken Record" "Yeah, but as a supporter of 'women's equality', you're a baby killer. Nothing else you say matters, because you're a baby killer. I don't care if this discussion has nothing to do with abortion. In case you haven't got the message yet, you're a baby killer."

A couple of weeks ago, Rachel Held Evans wrote a post about the way women get pigeonholed when they try to write about or debate the issue of women and the church. Rachel has been writing about this a fair bit of late and she has noted that with her posts on the topic have come the accusations, via comments, of being "emotional", "snarky", "self-righteous" and "out-of-line". There seems to be concern from commenters that this issue leads women to get angry - and that this is something that automatically invalidates everything they have to say.

Although I meant to, I didn't comment on Rachel's post, but I read everyone else's responses with interest, because the post made me think - a lot. Rachel offered some ideas as to how we can effectively engage with others about women and the church - and for the most part I agree with these. As she says, debating any issue from a place of anger probably won't get us very far, because it means we won't listen to each other properly; we'll be prideful and clumsy in our arguments. She asked readers to offer ideas about effective discourse and how the ways we respond to difficult issues make a difference.

In my time reading about and discussing gender and the church, I've come across all the "people" above. Some of them, if I'm honest, just have to be ignored. Some are really frustrating to talk to. Some just get nastier and nastier until you have to leave it, because you know it's not going to go anywhere productive. The funniest thing about this is even when the comment thread is starting to go that way and you're trying to be "as civil as heck", you know that someone is going to accuse you of being the "emotional, hysterical harpy". You also know that this would not happen to a man blogging about the same issue (as Rachel talks about being the case when she wrote about "Effemigate").

As an aside about the sort of people who declare they're no longer going to read your blog due to a change in subject matter or one post they didn't like, I think this is part of a wider problem where readers of blogs have come to see themselves as the "customer", complaining about posts that don't fit their expectations and being hard on the blogger for not sticking to their usual style or topics, when truthfully, any blogger should be able to write what he or she wants without obligation and shouldn't feel beholden to anyone to avoid controversial posts.

On the other hand, you get people who'll be just as angry as the vitriolic ones you have to ignore, but they'll couch it in "nice" language. And that's something you can't escape if you read blogs written by Christians. People are very sensitive to tone and enjoy calling people out on it. They often don't like snark. For some, expressing a alternative opinion in itself is rude and "critical". They "struggle" with things. They find things "problematic" and they use the word "bitterness" a whole lot. Heck, I even use those first two a fair bit. And why? Is it because I know that my interpretation of scripture alone might get you labeled a "screeching feminist" (that's feminist in the pejorative; I am definitely liable to get called out as one of these except I have quite a deep voice so I don't really screech as such, fyi), so I don't want to open myself up to more abuse? Or is it because, as one commenter on Rachel's post said, because "nice girls don't rock the boat"?

Anger can be unproductive, but I think it's also a necessary step in recognising, dealing with and healing injustice. Mike Clawson, the commenter I just quoted, talks in his first comment of the fact that anger should not be silenced because when people have been put down and abused it's a natural reaction. It can be cathartic, it can help express feelings and impact others who don't have a voice or struggle to articulate their anger about the same issue. When we are told it's not appropriate to be "emotional" or "negative" about something, it can suppress things that need to come out and be dealt with - and this can be devastating. One example we can draw on here is the blogs and other accounts written by people who have come out of the Christian patriarchy movement.

Something which has been a real problem in the past - and continues to be one today - is the line of thought which tells women they shouldn't criticise, shouldn't cause trouble, shouldn't disagree, should "keep sweet" and do as they're told. Anger, even righteous anger, isn't feminine - and it emasculates men. One of the insults most frequently thrown at us women is that we're "too emotional". Those who disagree disdain our unpleasant hormonal fluctuations and sneer at us if we cry. It's been used as a reason for us not to lead or preach. Hysterical behaviour. For some, a woman expressing any sort of strong opinion is "out of line".

Obviously, this isn't right. It shouldn't be the case that we can't express anger. As women today, where would we be without yesterday's women of strong opinion? But sometimes we have to sit back, leave it a few hours before we write the post or send the message, and word things carefully. Some of my favourite and most popular posts on this blog have been ones I've hammered out in half an hour after becoming absolutely incensed by something. On occasion, it works - but it can't always be like that. Sometimes it's about knowing your audience and how to best engage with them. Other times it's about thinking things through a bit more and realising that while there's righteous anger, there's also the anger that comes from being trolled, or the frustration of trying to debate with someone who won't stop patronising you because you're female - and that this might not translate into anything productive. As Rachel says:

"So I guess that I'm trying to say is that the anger is certainly justified, but if we let it control us - if we write and speak while seeing red - we'll lose opportunities to affect change."

PS: When she calls for us to make sure we know our scripture, that's vital too.

Image shows a depiction of harpies, via Duncan Harris's Flickr.

Dear Nadine Dorries...

Friday, 2 September 2011

Hey Nadine,

Like many other women have done, I thought I'd write to you about my uterus this week. If I’m honest I know it’s not going to be riveting. In fact, this might be the tale of just about the most boring uterus ever as far as you’re concerned. After a few painful and unpredictable years working itself out in my teens it does the same thing once a month on a nice regular cycle with no fuss save the usual symptoms. It’s also one of your favourite types of uterus, that is to say one that’s happily ensconced inside the body of a nice, married, Christian woman who “just said no” when she was a teenager and has never “got herself pregnant”. It accompanies me to church every week and together we sit and learn more about Jesus and how we can be more like Him.

This brings me round to an interesting point, Nadine. I believe that part of being a Christian is acting with integrity and genuinely trying to help those in need. As a result, I really worry about the level of care provided by the groups you endorse and hope to see offering counselling to women. I have no problem with optional, impartial, agenda-free counselling which helps women to figure out what’s best for them and feel that ALL organizations offering services probably need to assess where they could do better. But I don’t believe that this is what you want. It worries me that research has shown some of the “help” on offer at counselling centres to be fact-free, manipulative and misleading. And that’s just not Christ-like.

I have never been pregnant. In the future, I would very much like to be, meaning that any pregnancies would in theory be planned for and very wanted, given security by my happy marriage, supportive family and (currently) just-about-enough income. But there are other factors I can’t know about yet – my health, for example – or the health of the foetus. And despite my privilege as a potential incubator of new life, I know that countless women are not in the same situation, and that they have different things to consider. I don’t know what’s best for them – and neither do you. Or the people at LIFE, for that matter.

My uterus may have had an uneventful life so far, but that doesn’t mean we have nothing to say on this issue.

Your sister in Christ (Yes! I went there!),


This post is part of the Dear Nadine Dorries project.

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