Sunday, April 28, 2013

A real béguine

There's a marvelous obituary in The Economist for Marcella Pattyn, the last living béguine, who died April 14 at age 92.

Read it all.

Monday, April 22, 2013

...and a little Cole Porter

Well kids, we haven't said a single thing about Cole Porter yet on this blog. Terrible. Not living up to the subtitle of the blog. Hold us accountable already, will ya?

That said, have this:

Happy Monday!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

An Experiment in Self-Image

Dear All,

It is perhaps time for a positive reflection. A facebook friend who counsels college-aged women brought this experiment to everyone's attention this morning. It is a 6-ish minute video, but ladies: it is well worth the time. In it, Dove conducts a fascinating experiment with several women to get them to reflect in a novel way on their perceptions of themselves. The results are surprising, lovely, and deeply convicting.

So have a look during your next coffee break-- I challenge you.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Blethering Idiots

Oh, dear friends. Would that you were with me here today to snap me out of my mood.

I walked to the bus stop this morning amidst gale-force winds here in The Land In Which I Live, eventually hopping on a double-decker for the 32 minute commute to my office. I was reading a publication of the Rede Lectures from several years ago, minding my own nerdy business as per usual while the bus bumbled along the high street, when I began to notice increasingly loud and rude conversation between two young dudes at the back. Their invasive interactions with each other frequently included a third party on speaker phone, usually incorporated lots of, um, choice vocabulary, and several times involved rapping sharply on the windows for a sustained time to get the attention of someone on the street below.

Sweet Lincoln's Mullet it was annoying. But after news of the bombings yesterday in Boston, I reflected that perhaps there were bigger things to be annoyed about than two punks on a bus.

I'm sad to say my resolve faded quickly. After yet another round of sharp banging on the window, I turned around just to see what in the name of Odin's Beard was going on. I should not have made eye contact. Because when I got off the bus shortly thereafter, both of them howled after me like that damn wolf in the old Betty Boop cartoons (please tell me I'm not the only one who desperately wants to stab Betty Boop in the leg with a spork, repeatedly.) I was furious, but did nothing. And now I'm in my office trying to put the incident out of my head by working or at least meditating on weightier world issues, but am unable to get past the injustice that women still have to deal with this kind of [insert scatological synonym] on a regular basis-- that just because I happen to have a vagina, two dudes felt it was within their rights to invade the entire bus's space and publicly demean my personhood. Even worse, perhaps, is the thought that while I left the bus and launched into a serious think about how to make the world better for my nieces and other precious young women, those two dingleberries no doubt sauntered off the bus, went to piss on a flowerbed in someone's yard, and then carried on with their days.

Now, I am personally blessed not to experience this kind of effrontery on a daily basis, but when I do I usually have enough gumption to shoot the offending party an angry look or reply with something that is equal parts witty and cutting (...even if only in my head, and several minutes later). I am convinced that women should NOT just walk away as I did today, because then we are sending the message that this sort of rapscallion behavior is okay, and women just have to accept it as part of life.

We sure as hell don't. This is not a case of turn the other cheek, my dearies, because I suspect that most of these men are too self-absorbed or unaware to realize that their asinine, unwelcome and offensive commentary really affects us. Therefore, I want to launch a Witty Insult Campaign. Every woman should collect a few good comments for her arsenal, and then deploy them when the time is right. Sometimes women will say to me they feel unsafe responding to hecklers. I argue that usually these incidents occur in quite public places (like a street or on a bus), that there is no bite to back up the bark (just a man feeling he is free to express himself however he pleases, wherever, whenever, and to whomever), and finally, in keeping with my assumptions about the originators of such commentary, they aren't anticipating a comeback because they don't see their target as human and capable of response. Hence, they will be dumbfounded or respond unintelligibly, by which time you will have put more distance and persons between yourself and the idiot. I also believe that if our retort is of a sufficiently "Oh, SNAP!" nature, the (i) public embarrassment of the offender and (ii) the entertainment value for all bystanders will cause all parties to ponder the incident more than they would otherwise. It's all about raising awareness, you see.

If we let heckling go on uncommented or adopt a passive attitude toward it, then it will become normalized--an accepted social practice--to even greater degree than it is already. Surely a more active approach is warranted. So today I'm going to begin compiling a list of snarky comments for men who feel it is their prerogative to verbally assault me in public. (A good place to start is the list Tina Fey gives to misogynist critics in Bossy Pants. Hilarious.)
Feel free to contribute.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Reclaiming Singleness (in the Church)

"Here's a little joke for you.

What do Valentine's Day and Church have in common?

Answer: They're both depressing for single people."

Ouch. Read it all.  This is the best thing I've read on singleness and the church in a long time.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Eye Candy, Tooth Candy

I've decided it is rational to allot exactly zero time these days to dithering about boys because I don't even know where I'll be living in a few months anyway, and you know, I've got other priorities right now.  (The reader interjects: "That's wonderful, E's brain!  Now if only you had the means to actually enoforce such a *cough* rational decision...")

Speaking of which. I had an almost exciting encounter with my new dentist yesterday.  He was entirely gorgeous and entirely foreign (to this country and my home country, and that's entirely appealing) so of course I was entirely awkward because I'm out of practice dealing with handsome men of my approximate age because of entirely serious abovementioned rational decision and anyway he told me I have TWO cavities and the last time I had anything wrong with my teeth at all and I mean in the slightest was, oh, 15 years ago so of course I tried to explain all this to Dentist Pretty Face of the Eyes the Color of Finely Polished Chinese Jade Resplendent in Sunlight while he was sticking that stupid tiny mirror thing all the way to my back molars but I ended up not speaking full sentences at all and instead mumbling and giggling and when he asked if I had any questions I said "Oh, no, no" and walked away but then immediately walked right back to gaze at his baby-blue be-scrubbed yet dignified aspect one last time and enthusiastically cried "Wait! Do you mean questions about teeth? In general? (I flip hair over shoulder) Uh, in which case, um, (I giggle inanely) uh, ah, no! I mean, no I don't. I mean, ahahahaha! I'm fine..." and then dashed out of that dental practice like a wee lamb escaping from the fence but day-dreamed about him all the way home on the bus and then went online to book my next appointment and of course googled Mr McToothCare once I knew his entire name which was really long and über foreign and found out that he's entirely... married.

So then I laughed at myself, reprimanded my heart and overactive imagination for not heeding my rational brain-parts (when will you learn, E? Those brain-parts win. They win, I say!) and then I ate a bunch of old candies I found in the deep recesses of my cupboard just despite dentists everywhere. I mean, I really rolled that sugar around in my mouth.

And that was it.

Friday, April 5, 2013


I read a brief essay today on Huffington Post written by Lauren Dubinsky.  She echoes many of the gender role issues mentioned in my friend's letter (see yesterday's post) as well as the viewing-woman--beyond-gender theme in the writing of Ranier Maria Rilke that I mentioned a while ago (cf. this post).  You can read Dubinsky here.  I've coined this philosophy of going beyond gender (and its associated social baggage) "Transcendgendering".

(Come on, that's pretty good, eh?)

Marriage (& dating) is not about a woman struggling to understand a man qua his being "a man" (and therefore other); neither is it a man trying to cope with the intricacies of some fictional collective called 'women'. It is primarily about two infinite and infinitely different souls trying to live in communion with one another.  And this is a calling-- this project of sharing one's life meaningfully with others--that is unqualifiedly universal.

Frankly, every time I encounter the sort of wisdom Dubinsky presents I feel immense relief.  Because while gender roles/stereotypes are surely contributors to some marital strife or misunderstanding, it is far from the sole explanans for it.  The same goes for the positive aspects of marriage.  This means that part of what makes marriages special, intimate, outrageously hard yet wonderfully rewarding...has to do with two people learning how to do life alongside one another.  And that kind of relationship is by no means restricted to and cultivated only within the marriage club.

Thus as a single woman, I am not missing out, not excluded from some super duper special class of women who really "get" men, who really understand their ways (again, referring to an idealized collective).  By choosing not to date (or having that choice made for me, let's be honest) I have not cut myself off or been denied access to crucial information about the other sex that would help me find and keep my future husband (if there is such a one), or to become a paradigm of my own sex.

Nor am I missing out on a more general human experience-- the deep pain and joy of really loving someone other than myself.   I too can cultivate the Wisdom of Truly Loving the Other, and the Other can be any, or many: my sister, my father, my colleague, my nieces, my God.  Being single frees me to partake of a deep intimacy with whole communities of my choosing without primary obligations to a husband or children.  I can, and ought to expect, to participate in the same joys and hardships of giving and receiving love whether I am married or not.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Who Wears the Pants

A while ago a very wise, very dear friend of mine shared some thoughts on her struggles with gender roles in church, work and marriage.  I asked if I could post excerpts from her letter, as she presents a different perspective than we at BtheB can provide, yet one that I am sure will resonate with many of our readers.  She writes:

While I am not single and haven't been for a long time, and I am not an academic, I deeply feel I push against assumptions of what it means to be a woman on a regular basis. Most recently (and probably most consistently), this has been in the realm of church life. One of my strongest traits is also one of the least "feminine": assertiveness. And it seems particularly problematic that this trait is one [Husband] does not particularly exemplify. Questions of "who wears the pants in the family" seem to come down to this one trait. The model in our church, and it seems many churches, is that women have roles of leadership over other women, children, music, or other more "feeling-oriented" positions. Few women find themselves in places where they are in executive, decision-making roles in the church, and yet these seem to be where I belong the most. I like thinking about systems and creating structure where none exists and helping empower people to use their gifts in fulfilling ways. I find that I can't help but thinking this way. It is for this reason that I have realized that I need to be fully "in" or fully disengaged from the initiatives I care about. I can't half-ass it. [Husband] has helped me realize this. I think this is also the reason that people either really appreciate me or don't like me.

In the work setting, it is a little easier having this trait of assertiveness as a female. I definitely have more role models. However, I still rub raw against other women especially. The strong, independent, yet passive-aggressive female is the one I have yet figured out how to work with--someone with whom I continually have conflict yet refuses to actually address that conflict. I find it infuriating.  I work with several women like this who I know do not like me. I desperately want to bridge the gap that exists, and yet, they seem to keep their power by not letting the gap be bridged. Perhaps men also operate like this and I am not aware of it, but so far I only have this sort of conflict with women. It deeply saddens me.

In my own marriage, I struggle to find ways and places to "choose weakness" in order to give space for my marriage to thrive. This may seem counter-intuitive or maybe not the place for a feminist, and yet after 10+ years of marriage, here I am. Just like as Christians it is often true that in our weakness, Christ lives. I think I am learning more of what it means to die to self--that I can choose to be less assertive, choose to not always be completely truthful (not in lying but in keeping thoughts to myself), choose to not insist on co-leading in every situation--all in order to empower someone else whom I care about deeply. I think this probably spills over into my other relationships, but I am working on practicing it first in my most important, and most difficult one.

Now, as [Husband] is in the [N]th year of being on the job market, I am in a place where I struggling to find what it means to look to the needs of our kids and me, but to support [Husband] as his "helpmate." I cringe to use that word, as I think it is often applied only to wives as a means to force them into a one-way role of submission. But, maybe as a couple we take turns being "helpmates" in various aspects of our lives? Maybe this is true of friendships also? 

As always, thanks to Friend for sharing this with me and allowing me to pass it on, and for welcoming me into both the hard and the beautiful aspects of your life. I shall do my best to return the favor.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Things I like about being single

Somedays are harder than others.  Today was hard, so here's my reminder.

This is what I like about being single:

  • The dark chocolate with sea salt that was in the fridge when I left this morning is still there.
  • My schedule is my own.  If I want to work late, I can.  If I want a weekend without any obligations, it's mine.  When I can't sleep, I can get up and turn on all the lights and work for a few hours in the middle of the night, and I don't bother anybody. 
  • My money is my own.  Not that there's much of it, but what there is, I can save and spend as I choose.  
  • I can move wherever I need to move.  As I approach the end of graduate school (d. v.), it is terribly encouraging to realize that I could take a job anywhere and not have to worry about a spouse who can't find work in that particular place.
  • I can wear what I want -- and I have a fine selection of barnyard chic -- when I want to.  I dated a guy who didn't like it when I wore red lipstick.  Fire-engine red was my color of choice today.   
  • I don't have people demanding my time and attention.  I dated another guy who expected me always to be available via phone; he got irritated when I turned my phone off or went out into the woods for a few hours and didn't reply to his texts, and his irritation irritated me.  None of that when you're single!
  • That's it from me for now:  I'm going to have a piece of chocolate, turn off my phone, and call it a night.