2012: a recap and some links

Monday, 31 December 2012

I seem to have spent most of December cleaning up the by-products of a succession of infant colds and stomach upsets, and stopping a now mobile Sebastian from eating power cables and houseplants, hence the lack of blogging here. It's now just under two months until I return to work and despite the way that time at home with a baby seems to drag, I really don't know where 2012 has gone.

This year, I:
- Got more and more pregnant
- Facilitated part of a session on faith and feminism at Go Feminist!
- Got really sick of being pregnant and found my prayers answered as I gave birth four days before my due date, two hours after arriving at the hospital
- Celebrated five years of marriage and ten years since I started dating Luke
- Found summer at home with a newborn really isolating and miserable. It was like Groundhog Day with nappies, and I really hoped it would get better.
- Took a two-month-old to a gathering of women leaders where he was the much-loved Token Male, and a  three-month-old camping (and survived)
- Found that things did get better and that however it has made me feel, it's been really important for me and for Sebastian that I've spent this time with him (even though I'm definitely looking forward to working again)
- Read barely any books, and listened to barely any music
- Felt hopelessly out of touch with what's happening in the news and on blogs
- Helped form a the collective that founded and launched a new UK Christian Feminist Network (email cfnet@ymail.com to be added to our mailing list!)
- Went for precisely one run, but generally walked several miles every day
- Struggled with "doing" church with a baby
- Was really grateful for the support of online friends
- Got into Pinterest

This month:

Mormon feminists wore trousers to church on December 16th as a way of raising awareness of gender equality issues, identifying themselves as feminists to their communities, and generating discussion. For something intended as a fairly innocuous, peaceful action it really didn't go down too well with those who don't believe in gender equality, don't believe in rocking the boat, or basically think that women have nothing to complain about and need to put up and shut up. Pantsgate 2012, as it became known, fascinated me for a good few days as I read posts and discussions about it. I wrote about it for BitchBuzz, but here are some interesting posts from actual LDS women:

- From C. Jane, who I might add has had a great blogging year and is one of my favourites: The Worst Thing Is Pants; The Worst Thing Is Pants Part II; Proving Myself.
- Young Mormon Feminists: Panstgate 2012
- Zelophehad's Daughters: four posts, here; here; here and here.
- Feminist Mormon Housewives: pretty much any post from the week or so leading up to Wear Pants to Church Day.

Since November I've been a curator for Threads, a blog for 20-something Christian voices that won Best Blog at the Christian New Media Awards in October. Last month I expanded on my feelings about the pro/anti-choice debate and where Christians can fit into it. This month I've written about new motherhood and the changes it brought to my emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

I also wrote my annual Year in Feminist Rage round-up for BitchBuzz.

Next year I really want to return to blogging more regularly. Where this will fit in around working full time and parenting a baby I have no idea, but I'd really like it to it to happen somehow. I was chatting to a friend a couple of months ago and she said she was so impressed that I "hadn't missed a beat" with blogging despite having a baby. Believe me, this is not how I feel about it and there are times when I've felt quite miserable about the lack of posts and lack of time to write about things I really want to write about. Here's to a more productive 2013.

Young motherhood, feminism, and privilege

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

There's a good piece in the Telegraph this week. Written by Prymface, it discusses women who have children in their teens, the inequalities they have to battle, and how all this relates to today's feminism, which can focus overwhelmingly on taking a path through life that doesn't involve young motherhood. Prymface writes:
"As a society, we spend a lot of time helping those with the most options in their lives to have access to even more choices. When we talk about inequality, we need to look at where we are placing our values and whose values we are adopting."
This is an important point and of course, where privilege comes in. We see it in the focus on getting more women into boardrooms and in the way that media coverage of young feminists - and the activism of young feminists - is often limited to the experiences and concerns of middle-class university students and graduates. This isn't to say that these things aren't important, but it can all be pretty excluding for women who have different priorities and are facing different inequalities and judgement from people.

As a young(er) feminist issues surrounding children and motherhood weren't really on my radar either. I was one of the aforementioned middle-class university students and the big issues for me were objectification, (thin) body politics, rape and sexual assault, the media and advertising. Pretty typical, and it did take a while for my horizons to broaden. It's only been in recent years, as I started to consider becoming a mother, that the battles associated with what a speaker at a conference I once attended referred to, not entirely favourably, as "the mummy track" became apparent to me.

I couldn't find an up-to-date statistic on the percentage of women in the UK who do not have, and will never have children, either by choice or circumstance. One statistic from a few years back put it at around 20%, which indicates that therefore four out of five women do. This should tell us that feminist issues related to motherhood and children are pretty important. I hate Daily Mail-style handwringing that positions joyful motherhood as the ultimate goal of all women as much as the next person, but sometimes I think the inevitable ensuing chorus of "We're not just WOMBS, you know!" misses the point that these are issues that matter to women, whether you, personally, have chosen to have children or not.

I believe that the way we focus on abortion rights can often have the same effect - an emphasis on not having children, excluding those who have chosen otherwise and meaning that the issue of forced abortion as a form of abuse, and abortion as a way out taken by women who would have preferred not to have one but felt they had no choice (feminist issues both) get overlooked. I don't want to be misunderstood on that point - I say it as someone who is pro-choice and has written about it many times, but it ignores the full spectrum of issues.

Considering motherhood and children is hardly something new or revolutionary - free childcare was one of the seven demands of the British Women's Liberation Movement (and of course the cost of childcare remains one of the most important and limiting economic issues affecting women and their working lives). But in today's discussions of giving up careers to stay at home, or the "consequences of delaying motherhood", or  endless dissection of the choices exercised by relatively privileged mothers, the issues affecting young mothers - and by association working class mothers are left untouched.

I wonder, then, what needs to happen to encourage such issues to start appearing on the radar of many feminist activists today.

Bristol Christian Union and the "ban" on women speakers

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Last night's big news came courtesy of Bristol University Christian Union, which has caused uproar by stating that women may not teach at some of their events and meetings.

The issue is not that the CU previously allowed women speakers at main meetings and has now put a stop to it - what's happened is that they have clarified their position that women cannot teach in certain situations, but have conceded that they may do so at other times, outside main meetings and weekends away. A move towards an egalitarian position had led to resignations from complementarians. An email to members stated:
"...we understand that this is a difficult issue for some and so decided that women would not teach on their own at our weekly Equip meetings, as the main speaker on our Bristol CU weekend away or as our main speaker for mission weeks, but a husband and wife can teach together in these. This means that women are able to teach."
Single women are therefore excluded altogether from teaching in main meetings, in a move that appears to legitimise the theologically suspect position that women can only exercise authority if they're under the "covering" of a man, often used to mean husbands and therefore prevent unmarried women from doing much at all.

The reaction has been as predictable as you'd expect in the wake of the debate on women bishops. It's no secret, however, that individual Christian Unions have always held the view that women cannot teach men - but this is the first time it has been reported in the mainstream media. This is not an issue exclusive to Bristol University, but one that has caused a lot of hurt to many people over many decades. When I was a student, my CU did not permit women to teach in main meetings, nor did it ever have a woman president. The same is true at several other universities.

Something I think is always a major issue here is immaturity, spiritual and otherwise. These societies are generally run by young people aged between 18 and 21. That's not to say I'm being superior about it - I was certainly no different when I was a student - but I think there is often a lack of awareness and overly zealous attitude that can cause problems in all student movements, not just religious ones. One thing I would hope is that the committee at Bristol are seeking support and wisdom from others rather than just trying to work this out among themselves, as emotions are no doubt running high.

What worries me about all this is that decisions are being made - not just at Bristol - that lead to confusion and disillusionment among young people, who in turn might feel as if there is no place for them or their gifts and possibly, that there is no place for them in the church.

Despite the presence of other Christian socieites, Christian Unions tend to do a pretty good job of positioning themselves as the Christian group on campus. Their activities, for better or worse, become representative of what Christianity is, and they become a main focal point for many young Christians trying to live out their faith at university. Over the years there have been numerous disputes involving Christian Unions and conflicts of opinion on gender, on spiritual gifts, on other aspects of doctrine. Often there has been an attitude that places them above other Christian groups in terms of who the "real" Christians are. All of this does a lot of damage to what Christian groups at universities aim to do and has the potential to make plenty of student Christians feel very unwelcome. You don't have to dig much to find the stories of Christians who felt very hurt and excluded by CUs during their time at university.

I've seen comments from some people that the decision at Bristol CU was made in the spirit of unity, a measure to prevent division. This is an explanation we see repeatedly in response to issues of gender in the church and is, in my opinion, really problematic. Jenny Baker summed up the problem with this stance in a Sophia Network blog post last year:
"My concern is that the ‘centre-ground’ for shared worship and mission will end up being complementarian by default, not a place that genuinely accepts the beliefs and practices of all sides of the conversation.

Let me explain. If you are a complementarian man or woman in an egalitarian space, then you might feel uncomfortable when you hear a woman preach or see her lead, but your practice – the way you are obedient to what you believe God is calling you to – does not need to change.

If you are an egalitarian man in a complementarian space, then again you may feel uncomfortable that women aren’t allowed to lead or preach, but your practice does not need to change. You can lead, preach, teach and innovate to your heart’s content. You’ll be listened to and welcomed round the table, wherever that table might be.

But if you are an egalitarian woman in a complementarian space, then your practice is restricted."
The so-called middle ground that's supposed to prevent disunity always ends up excluding women in an attempt to keep those who want to restrict their ministry happy. And funnily enough, this doesn't exactly instill in women a sense of unity and grace. It makes some of them feel as if they can't do what they feel called to do, what they are gifted to do. One committee member at Bristol CU has resigned because he felt women should not be allowed to teach in any capacity. That doesn't exactly say "unity" to me. As I've written about in the past, restrictive policies and teachings on women in ministry are having a genuinely damaging effect on young Christian women and the way their feel about their faith. Many who cannot reconcile these teachings with their gifts and passions end up leaving the church. Is there any wonder, when they just want serve in the way they're best equipped to do and end up getting called "Jezebels", with the importance of male headship at all times being underlined?

On the subject of grace, there have already been comments to the effect that more people displaying a gracious attitude is what this situation needs. It's predictable that yet again, as with numerous debates on women in the church, "grace" is being used as a silencing tactic. I agree that's what's unhelpful at this point is further speculation about the situation when Bristol CU have yet to make any clarification on what's happening. Neither is a general pile-on in the direction of UCCF useful. It may be the case that many CUs hold a restrictive position on women's roles (thanks to the "middle ground" principle detailed above), but they operate as individual groups united by a doctrinal basis that does not include a position on gender equality, even though it's well known that UCCF has historically tended towards a more conservative position on women.

Last night's news has served to highlight to a more general audience a major area of disquiet within student Christian movements, although it's worth pointing out that it has nothing to do with the Church of England or women bishops. As with the issue of women bishops I'm not sure the best course of action is to demand that a secular body gets involved in sorting it all out. I hope Bristol CU will move to correct any inaccurate reporting, rather than declining to comment on the situation at all, and I hope that it will prompt more reconsideration on the way CUs in general restrict women's ministry.

Further reading:


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