Thursday, December 20, 2012

Women and power tools

Oh, how I wish I felt more competent with power tools.   This is not a particularly profound article, but it does tap into a major component of singleness that partnered people tend to forget: when you're single, you're responsible for EVERY bit of household management, all on your own: scrubbing the bathroom, doing the laundry, cooking the food, checking the oil in the car, trapping mice, climbing on a ladder to trim the tree branches off the roof of the house, shoveling the snow off the walk and the driveway, paying the bills, fixing the fence... if you don't do it by yourself, it doesn't get done. 
"As the country’s demographics shift, more women are making more money and staying single longer than ever. Consider this seismic shift: There are nearly twice as many single female home buyers as there are single male home buyers, according to 2011 data from the National Association of Realtors. These women don’t have to rely on men to financially support them — but somebody still needs to rewire that light switch and unclog that drain. That somebody is them."  Read it all.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Four-legged friends

So as I’ve been thinking about Elise’s recent post (below), it has occurred to me that one of the things that helps me live fully is the presence of a certain four-legged creatures in my life.  Being around sentient creatures who are totally in the moment helps me to be aware and in the moment as well.  Also, the single academic life can be soul-crushingly lonely.  More than anything else, the one factor that has helped to mitigate that loneliness in my life is this: 

I’ve never been a cat person, but The Archbishop adopted me as much as I adopted him, and every single day I am grateful for it. 

On days when I can hardly get out of bed and can’t manage to accomplish anything substantive, I have the satisfaction of knowing at least I can provide him with food, water, a clean bathroom, and a scratch under the chin… which is really all he wants.  The Archbishop follows me around the house, greets me when I come home, helpfully sits on whatever papers I’m trying to grade, and lets me talk to him as much – or as little – as I want.  When I wept over the recent news from Connecticut, he simply leaned his head on my arm and sat very still for a long time.  

And then there are these comedians, Spot and Speedy, in the backyard: 

I have loved horses since I was a little girl, and the incredible gift of having these majestic creatures around all the time takes my breath away.

Something about having to care for the material needs of other living creatures helps me to get out of my self.  To have a purring cat curl up next to me on the sofa -- The Archbishop does not believe in sitting ON laps, only in sitting next to them -- is soothing.  Watching the raw physical joy of Spot and Speedy racing and bucking around the pasture makes my own heart leap.  If there is anything more comforting than the warm, sweet horsey breath, or more exhilarating than an autumn canter through the woods, I don’t know what it is.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What does that MEAN?

The other morning I was working from home and so had the rare fortune of being on Skype at the same time as my college buddy E-Dubs, back in the States. As always, conversation was both edifying and ridiculous. Love that girl.

One of the things we talked about was the idea of "living fully". You can insert modifiers of any sort you wish: living fully... as a mother, as an atheist, as a divorcee, as a Christian, as an adjunct prof, as a single adult, as one of those first-time-on-the-job-market-and-I-want-to-plunge-myself-into-a-deep-dark-bottomless-pit people (for which, THIS).

Part of this blog's quest is to figure out what it means to live fully as a single, and as we talked I realized I thought it meant, in some measure, "being at peace". But E-Dubs reminded me that that can't be it, in part because as a Christian a full life must somehow be reminiscent of the life of Christ, yet Christ himself lived a life of sorrow, of solitude (both sought and unsought for), of frustration at the myopic lives of his closest friends--the men and the women who were his disciples.

Anyway, we all know to be wary of the Grass is Always Greener: I'll be at peace when___ (I get tenure, I have a husband, I have a good job, I own a house, I learn how to cook a decent risotto, When Christ Comes Again To Earth, etc.). That's no good, yet it's not bad to live in hope of those things. (Here's me whipping out the theology: it's about learning to live fully in the midst of eschatological tension--the historical era between Christ's first coming (hurrah for Christmas!) and his second).

So here's the question for discussion. If "being a peace" has less to do with living fully, then what DOES? What does that phrase really mean, anyway? And what if you just..aren't...getting...there (whereever "there" is)?

Help a sister out; tell me what it means, in some small way, for us to live fully.

(Note: you may now leave comments anonymously on this blog-- this is to encourage more dialogue)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Quick! Have a baby! (Or not.)

So there I was, driving down the road, minding my own business, listening to NPR, and this story came on the radio.  It's stayed with me.  Or rather, the sense of shock I felt as I listed to it stayed with me.  I wasn't surprised to hear that wealthy women in Manhattan are freezing their eggs, or that it's hard to get pregnant at 40.  I was surprised at what I didn't hear: any mention of the ethical, economic, and health issues involved.

Now, I'm not an ethicist, so I'm not going to weigh in here except to say that the ethical issues around freezing eggs, surrogacy, IVF, etc. are real, and deserve to be taken seriously.  I do think that well-meaning, intelligent people can come to different opinions about what is or is not ethical, but for heaven's sake, let's have the discussion, rather than pretend that there's not really a decision to be made here.

While we're discussing things, let's talk about the economic issues as well.  I was absolutely floored to listen to a doctor advocate procedures that could very easily hit $40,000 to be standard for women in their twenties.  Who can afford that?  How can she afford it?  To whom, precisely, is all that money going?  Also, that is a LOT of money; what are the ethics involved with spending it in such a way?  People may certainly decide that this is an appropriate use of their financial resources.  But what was staggering to me was how glib every single person in that story was about the cost.  As far as I could tell, they were not actually talking about Monopoly money.

And now, while we're having meaningful discussions, let's talk about the long-term health effects of undertaking what is, essentially, a very unnatural process.  We do all sorts of unnatural things with our bodies.  I get it.  In the best case, we make informed decisions about what we're going to do to our bodies, even if we periodically and unnaturally have cheeze puffs and skittles for dinner.  But there are, surely, very significant potential health issues for both parents and child in undertaking this sort of procedure.

And all that leads us to Judith Shulevitz's "The Grayest Generation" in the latest New Republic. Shulevitz is concerned with the wider health issues around advanced parental age, particularly the challenges faced by children born to older parents.  It's an interesting piece, and one that raises some fascinating problems... without proposing a single solution.  The implied solution seems to be "just have babies already... or better yet, ten years ago." But Shulevitz makes a few fatal assumptions.  First, she assumes that most people of childbearing age who want to have children are in stable relationships (or, second, if they're not, they're willing to have a child solo) and finally that potential parents are in stable economic circumstances.  

In my world (single! graduate student living very close to the poverty line! 30 years old!), none of those assumptions are accurate.  I am not in a stable relationship;  I have a hard time going on a dinner date.  There's absolutely. no. effing. way. I'd have a child on my own.  Quite apart from the moral and ethical issues involved there, I live alone, hundreds of miles from extended family.  And I, like so many people in my generation since 2008, am not wrapped in a cocoon of financial security.

So what, precisely, am I supposed to be doing? 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You're such a nice girl; why aren't you married?

A little reminder today from the blog Her-meneutics
"Marital status does not reflect the loveliness of one's personality--or God's special favor.  The world is more complicated, marriages are more diverse, and God's ways are more mysterious than that."  Read it all.

And then, for a lighter and more crass version of the same messagetry this oldy but goody.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Don't clean up.

The attentive ones among you may have noticed that this post first appeared a few days ago.  Still trying to figure out precisely how blogger works... *sigh*

Several years ago, when I was at the major conference for my discipline, I attended a session on Women in the [Field].  There was a panel discussion among five or six scholars at all ages of their careers, and they provided witty and insightful advice about navigating the gender gap in our field. When I asked what advice they would give a graduate student or untenured professor trying to sort through the gender dynamics in a hostile environment, the panelists all hemmed and hawed a bit, deferred to each other, and then the most senior scholar, professor emerita after a distinguished career, looked me straight in the eye and said:

“Don’t clean up.”

Her words stuck with me.  If you want to be seen by your [male] colleagues as a colleague, then you behave as they do.  They don’t clean up, so you don’t clean up.  If I am here as your peer, I will not do your dishes nor your laundry.  I will not take messages for you, or organize the transportation to other events.  I. Will. Not. Clean. Up.   

And I thought of her again last night, as after a department reception, I looked around and saw I was one of four students who had stayed to help clean up: three women, one man. 

When I first arrived in the department *cough* years ago, 2/3 of it was comprised of men, 1/3 of women.  That's evened out now to roughly half and half, and yet the women in the department still do the lion's share of set up and clean up for every event, as they did when they were the significant minority when I arrived. Especially clean up. 

I know all this, and it is crazy-making, and yet I do it.  So why do I clean up?  I've figured out a few reasons: I'm good at it, I notice when it needs to be done, I have a strong sense of community loyalty, I like to do what I'm requested to do, I feel terribly guilty about leaving someone else with a mess to which I (by virtue of eating cheese and crackers and drinking a glass of wine) contributed...

And there are all sorts of subsidiary problems here, particularly problems of class and economics.  Why is cleaning up such a menial task?  Why do we disparage those who do it?  What kind of privelege are academics embodying if we are defined as people who can't pick up after ourselves? 

Is the best solution really to plead senior student status and retreat before the time for cleaning up draws near? 


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Would you like a side of guilt with that? (Or, women, the internet, and the modern publishing industry)

In the past few years, the Atlantic has published several provocative articles about women, singleness, and professionalism.  This review brilliantly captured what I oft have thought, but ne'er so well expressed, i.e., "Wow, these articles are really manipulative."  And so, argue the editors of n+1, they are.  Many thanks to John, Friend Of This Blog, for passing the story along.

"Every time a plane flies over New York, we think, 'Oh my God — is it another Atlantic think piece?' We mean, 'an Atlantic think piece about women.' The two have become synonymous, and they descend upon their target audience with the regularity and severe abdominal cramping of Seasonale. 'Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,' 'The End of Men,' 'Marry Him!' These are articles intended to terrorize unmarried women, otherwise known as educated straight women in their twenties and thirties, otherwise known as a valuable market, if not for reliable lovers then at least for advertisers....

What do women have to do with the internet? We submit that, at least in the eyes of media executives, women are the internet. Women, we mean the internet, are commanding a larger share of the traditional print market. The internet, we mean women, is less responsive to conventional advertising than to commenting, sharing, and other forms of social interaction. Women, we mean the internet, are putting men, we mean magazine editors, out of work. The internet, we mean women, never pays for its content — or for their drinks! The only dignified solution for publications like the Atlantic is to die, alone and unread, in the ghost town of the printed word. But the Atlantic has chosen the survivalist alternative: abandoning the old settlement for the domestic, we mean digital, realm, where it gives women what they want and, even more than what they want, what they fear."

Go on, read some more. You know you want to.

The Question of Subordination

On the way home from work tonight I thought I'd do a bit of light reading. Taking up dear old pal Mark's recommendation, I snuggled up on the bus with Kevin Giles' 2008 paper, "The Evangelical Theological Society and the doctrine of the Trinity".

Not exactly light reading. (Theology is hard, dude). But it was fabulous reading, and one very fabulous thing about it was that it helped answer a question nagging at the hearts and souls and kidneys of Christian women everywhere: whence all this "subordination" tripe? (If we can find the source-- the root-- than we can pull up the weed) Just where, when, and why did mainstream theologians start incorporating that blasted phrase into everyday theology, most marriage ceremonies, innumerable sermons on gender roles, leadership councils, etc.. and thereby infuse the minds of generations with the repellent notion of a Scripturally-instituted male-female hierarchy? Just when did this heresy become convention?

Yes, heresy. This is what Giles so excellently points out: not only does he begin to explain the source of gender inequality in modern Christian theology, but in a very short space provides knock-down, drag-out arguments to the effect that adopting a "woman as subordinate to man" position is not only disturbingly myopic exegesis of richer (albeit difficult) Biblical texts, but it is at its core a position motivated on grounds that lead straight back to ye old Arian heresy (that the Son is subordinate to, and not of the same essence as, the Father)-- the heresy that inspired the Church to compose the Nicene Creed in response ("...Deum de Deo, lumen de lúmine, Deum verum de Deo vero, Génitum, non factum, consubstantiálem Patri.." Really, quite beautiful. Well said, Old Church Guys.)

Here are the key points Giles makes:

(1) "The doctrine of an eternally subordinated found only in post 1970s conservative evangelical writings. It is unknown in mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic works on the Trinity."

(2) "Virtually everyone who advocates the eternal subordination of the Son is committed to the permanent subordination of women." The idea here being that just as women are "permanently subordinate" to their husbands at home and to male church leaders, so the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father in terms of authority. [Giles (I think very successfully) argues here and elsewhere that for these men it is this latter idea (2) which gives rise to the FORMER, i.e., the nature of a human relation is used to understand that of a divine relation. This is hugely theologically suspect (and historically suspect, as Giles points out in note 26). The arrow ought only go the other direction: divine relations instruct us as to the proper human relations. Geez, it's like no one reads Augustine anymore..]

(3) "The principal developers and advocates of this novel teaching on the Trinity...have all been at one time presidents of the ETS." I.e., major authoritative figures in U.S. evangelical theology are proponents of these views.

(4) "Because of the conservative evangelical credentials of these theologicans, and the popularity of their writings, this novel, and I think dangerous, doctrine of the Trinity is now widely assumed by conservative evangelicals to be what orthodoxy teaches."

Aha. So THAT'S (in part) where it came from. Now let's yank that weed. To which end: Giles goes on to argue from terminological grounds and exegetical grounds why subordination doctrine is, to put it colloquially, "horse shit".

I will only take up space to highlight one key aspect of Giles' argument from Scripture, and that concerns that highly contentious passage in I Corinthians 11:3 (NIV):

Now I want you to realize that the head of every man in Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

Indeed, this verse is prominent in the minds of those who adopt subordination doctrine. The word Paul uses which is translated as "head" indeed has many meanings, so to insist that it must indicate an authority hierarchy is bad exegesis. Giles gets support here from Thiselton's commentary on Corinthians, wherein Thiselton writes the word in this verse "does not seem to denote a relation of 'subordination' or 'authority over'." In fact, Giles continues, if one insists on the subordination reading of this term, one cannot make sense of Paul's next statement (verse 4) where he talks about women as leaders of prayer and prophesy in the church, which Giles notes are "the two most important ministries in that [the Corinthian] church."

Paul is clearly not talking about a hierarchy of authority like this:

God the Father
God the Son

but instead something richer and more complex and in terms of significance, oriented around notions of differentiation and not of authority or power. And, Giles writes, "Differentiation of course does not imply subordination. Two people can be differentiated yet be equals in dignity and authority."

I've said enough (and more than) for today. In closing, though, I'd like to reproduce a quote Giles gives to sum up his argument from biblical interpretation, this from famous Calvinist philosopher Cornelius Van Til:

A consistent biblical doctrine of the Trinity [implies] the complete rejection of all subordinationism.

Amen, Cornelius.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Oh, look! All the answers!

"Feminism, you see, is the reason why there are no Nice Men Who Will Marry You. Feminism frightened them once when they were children (as this wondeful cartoon illustrates). It was the nasty thing they saw in the woodshed. You, young lady, were foolish enough to think you might manage to pursue your dreams and simultaneously get married and have children. That was your mistake. And that is why you are single. Blame those terrible firebreathing females in the 1970s who removed you from your proper place — above men, on a pedestal, where you should return as quickly as possible."

Read it all. (But don't waste time or emotional energy on the original post on Faux News. Not worth it.)

Evangelicalism and eternal girlhood

"My concern is not about girliness. My concern is what happens when this girliness cannot be turned off, when a desire to avoid womanhood overwhelms an individual and seeps into her life in ways she is not even aware of, and sometimes cannot escape. Within today's overall culture of eternal youth -- with its proliferation of anti-aging products, Cover Girls, Hooters Girls, and even knee-scraped roller derby girls -- the way in which girling plays out in religious communities is unique. Sexualizing secular girling sometimes verges on performance; girlhood can be put on and then taken off. Whereas de-sexualizing religious girling goes deep. Real deep."

Skim over the Twilight stuff, but read the rest of it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Poetry for thought

Away from you
I feel a great emptiness,
A gnawing loneliness

With you
I get that reassuring feeling
Of wanting to escape.

"Away from you," Roger McGough, Summer with Monika (London, 1978)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Blazing a Trail?

Before getting to the heart of this post (which will be to say a bit more concerning our hopes and goals for BtheB), here's a little ditty I whipped up for ya'll yesterday during an entirely legitimate and not at all procrastination-abetting "work break":

L and I are aware that our niche is a tiny one, forming a small segment of the church entire (perhaps the cuticle on the pinky of the left hand, or an eyelash. I've always thought of myself as an eyelash). But as L has written, innumerable conversations between us and among others has left us feeling the need to voice our perspective more widely.

We do not consider ourselves among that peculiar class of angry feminist bloggers (although we reserve the right to have entirely justified rants now and again), nor do we want this blog to be an exercise in erudition. It is meant to be a conversation, soliciting thoughtful and loving contributions from people who consider themselves part of any regime depicted above: we want to hear from our feminist friends, from our non-Christian friends, from other academics, from our friends with babies or spouses or both, from our church leaders, from our peers and from different generations.

I read an article last year (possibly in The Atlantic? This is me being less-than-academic...) where the author quoted numerous statistics in order to establish that the current demographic of single, educated women in the U.S. was far greater than ever before in the history of (wo)mankind. Yet it would be trivially easy to demonstrate that the voice of this demographic has not grown proportionally; there is perhaps an even more egregious gap here with respect to Christianity. Not only is this demographic becoming a culturally significant one, but it is so for the first time. Thus in many instances members of this niche feel a bit like trail blazers in an evolving cultural milieu. In our particular case, the added dimension of faith exacerbates things: while the "single, educated women" demographic remains a minority in terms of voice, what little voice it has is almost exclusively a secular one.

We long to be heard and valued, and not primarily for who we might someday be (professors, wives, mothers, fighter pilots) but for who we are now. We are called to live fully in whatever space we occupy, whether we are there by choice or not. We must extend each other the right to claim this full life, and to encourage each other in this endeavor. We are called by Christ to build communities wherein every member is able to be poured out, and every member able to be filled up again, and where all things abound in grace.

So there you have it: we mean to blaze a trail. Well, maybe it will be more like a clumsy yet enthusiastic thrashing about in the undergrowth, but hopefully with a modicum of success such that a person could, if they squinted, see something resembling a path. But whatever it turns out to be, we'd like you to be a part of it. Giddy-up?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gender, Generations, and Faculty Conflict

In today's Chronicle of Higher Education, historian Caroline Walker Bynum muses about coming of academic age in the 1960's and offers a little advice for modern academics and feminists: "With our squabbles about how and whether to 'have it all' and our talk of 70s versus 90s feminism -- behind which we barricade ourselves, defending our choices and definitions -- we are in danger of betraying our own next generation." Read it all.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The mandatory introductory session

Hi everybody!  Welcome to our little adventure in blogging.  We'll see where this goes.

We're two single early-career academics. We're from two different traditions of protestant Christianity.  We are both, to varying degrees, musicians. 

Academia is isolating, being single in a couples' world is isolating.  As two independent, intelligent women, we've periodically felt isolated in our churches as well.  This blog emerged out of our own frustration at that isolation.  It is an attempt to cut through that fog, to share our heartbreaks, anger, and joy with each other and with you. We do plenty of serious, reasoned writing in our day jobs; what's here is intentionally casual.  Respectful, kind dialogue is welcome; dismissive or rude comments are not, and will be ruthlessly spiked.

We like Cole Porter, and the name is a reference to his song "Begin the Beguine."  But the beguines were lay women who desired to live a holy life in the midst of growing urbanization in the late twelfth century.  By the thirteenth century, communities of women who were dedicated to prayer, contemplation, and work in the world were being established throughout western Europe, particularly in the Low Countries.  The women lived in small individual houses which together made up the béguinage.