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.