Category Archives: Womanhood
This weekend I attended the Women’s March in Washington, DC. It was an incredible experience to be surrounded by so many people passionately expressing their beliefs in a whole host of causes, and I was proud to be included in what I know deep my bones will be regarded as a historic event in the years to come.
The March in DC was largely touted as a pro-choice event. Of course pro-lifers were welcome to march, but they were not represented among the list of speakers for the pre-march rally, and pro-life organizations were not allowed to be listed as partners on the official Women’s March website. Many of the signs at the March proclaimed pro-choice messages that largely pertained to the idea that women ought to have the right to make their own choices when it comes to reproductive health.
All of this has inspired me to share my own complicated feelings about abortion, since to be honest I took issue with many of the pro-choice signs I saw. The more I consider this controversial issue, the more I realize how terribly complicated it is, and how difficult it is to develop a view on abortion that is morally consistent.
Growing up as a conservative Christian, abortion was one of those many issues in which there is only one “godly” position to take: it is nothing less than murder, and as a Christian I am obligated to support legislation that would make abortion illegal, since a fetus is a human being entitled to all the same rights that an infant, child, or adult would have.
I first started to question this belief when I stumbled across the blog of Samantha Field. She wrote a six part blog series called the Ordeal of the Bitter Water, and at the time I stumbled across it I believed in the divine inspiration of the Bible enough that if the Bible taught certain things, I believed that teaching should hold true in my life in some form. So when I learned God mandated abortion among the ancient Israelites as a form of punishment for an unfaithful wife, I was shocked. Reading about this caused my first tailspin into doubt, because I realized that the Bible is more complicated than I thought when it comes to scriptures about abortion. If God mandated abortion in ancient Israel, how could I say that my pro-life stance is in line with God’s will? If God could justify abortion, then why shouldn’t I?
The more I learned, the more confused I became. At first I thought it was pretty clear that the root issue that determines whether a person is pro-choice or pro-life is the personhood of the fetus. After all, if you believe a fetus is a human being, you can’t really regard abortion as anything less than murder.
I have a few problems with this, though. The first is that natural abortion – a.k.a. miscarriage – happens all the time. It is a natural part of the reproductive system. The reason this complicates things is this: who gets to decide whether a woman has had a self-induced abortion or a miscarriage? There have been women who have been wrongfully incarcerated for as many as 30 years in prison when their miscarriage was determined in court to be an abortion. This is a travesty, and it is an injustice someone who is pro-life will need to come to terms with if they believe abortion should be criminalized.
That is the problem with taking a hard line on treating a fetus as a human being. One cannot regard a fetus the same way that they would an infant because that fetus is growing inside a woman who also has rights. That is not a nuance I have ever seen in a pro-life stance, and it’s because they can’t take that stance; you have no choice but to place the rights of a fetus over the rights of its mother if you end goal is making abortion illegal. And that is a big problem.
The second problem I have with the pro-life stance is that it takes for granted that life begins at conception. This is also illogical when you really think it through. From what I understand, the most widely accepted definition of cconception is when an egg becomes fertilized by a sperm. If you are hard-line pro life, it is from that moment on that abortion becomes murder. Yet, women naturally dispel approximately 80% of these fertilized eggs before they plant on the uterine wall. How can one possibly say that a fertilized egg that is naturally dispelled suddenly becomes murder when it is expelled through medical means? I would never be able to wrap my head around charging a woman with murder for having such a procedure done, when it is one that her own body does naturally. Yet that is what you must do if you believe a zygote ought to be endowed with the inalienable rights of a human being who has been born.
Thirdly, I cannot accept the pro-life stance because it deprives women of choice. For a long time I never fully understood the gravity of this. I bought into the conservative lie that women always have abortions for selfish reasons; they are not responsible enough to be abstinent, and they don’t want the responsibility that comes with having a baby were the two biggest reasons I heard for why women have abortions.
This is not true. There are many cases in which a pregnancy is not viable, and the woman must have an abortion to save her own life, or cases when the pregnancy is not viable. When I reach of one such case, it just about broke my heart. This woman named Karen conceived, and she and her husband were joyful with anticipation. They found out she was a girl, and they named her Evelyn. Twenty weeks into her pregnancy, Karen discovered that her unborn daughter had a disease called skeletal dysplasia. Not only was the disease lethal, Evelyn was also in terrible pain. Karen and her husband had a choice to make: carry the baby to term with excruciating pain and the very small chance that she may live up to a few hours, or terminate the pregnancy and spare Evelyn that pain as well as lower the health risks to Karen.
This couple chose abortion. In my mind, there is no argument one could make in which the government would be justified in charging Karen with murder for aborting her child. She wanted this child, she was this child’s mother. By choosing abortion, she believed that she was making the best possible choice available not only for herself, but for Evelyn as well. It was her right as a potential parent to make that choice, and no one – especially not the faceless legal system – has any right to make that choice for her.
I chose this story as the last and biggest problem I have with the pro-life stance because it also highlights the problem I have with the pro-choice stance as well. Often, among those who are pro-choice, I see the unborn child stripped of all humanity; it is a collection of cells, it is a developing fetus; it is not a human being. It is almost as if an unborn child is not human at all – just a thing developing in a woman’s womb – until that child is born. Women should feel empowered about abortion; they should not feel guilt, or angst, or have any negative emotions.
This is troublesome to me because like it or not, a fetus developing in a womb is potential human life. That is something that should be taken seriously, because every single human being on the planet was once a developing fetus. They are so much more than a collection of cells, and I think the idea of abortion on demand undermines the sacredness of that potential life.
A world in which abortion is freely accessible to anyone, anywhere, for any reason is a world that is, in my opinion, freakishly unbalanced. Just as the pro-life stance does not value the woman enough, the pro-choice stance does not value the unborn child enough. Especially when I see those rare few stories of late-term abortions, I am horrified that we have compartmentalized humanity so much that we justify ending the life of an unborn baby as old 7 months.
In many cases, I can see why women might believe abortion is the best choice available for themselves. But on the other side of the coin, I can’t help but wonder if having an abortion chips away at the heart of the woman. After all, abortion is not a routine medical procedure no different than a minor surgery; it is the end of what would otherwise one day grow up into a boy or a girl as beautiful and unique and full of personality as you and I are. It is no small thing to make that choice, and I believe that the psychological damage caused by abortion is often underestimated among those who are pro-choice.
As I said in the beginning of this post, this is no easy issue to navigate; it is very complicated and the more I think about what is at stake for both sides, the more I realize that neither really has an answer that would grant autonomy to a human being because before a child is born, that unborn child and its mother are one. To argue for the rights of the unborn baby denies the rights of the mother, and to argue for the rights of the mother denies the rights of the unborn baby. And what is more, the concerns that both sides of this issue have are valid and worth considering.
Typically when one writes a post like this and hashes out the “for” and “against” reasoning behind an issue like this, they conclude with taking a stand one way or the other. But for all the reasons stated above, I truly can’t. What I can say with conviction is that I believe with all my heart in minimizing abortions. At least half of abortions occur because the woman cannot financially afford a child, did not have access to affordable birth control, or is too young to be ready for motherhood. Under the Obama administration over the last eight years, abortions have reduced to an all-time low in this nation precisely because the pressures of all the above factors were alleviated.
So if there is any stance that I have on abortion, it is this: for the sake of women everywhere, and also for the sake of unborn children everywhere, let’s make it our primary goal to reduce abortion by improving the condition of the pregnant woman instead of taking hard-line stances that dehumanize mother or child. Investing our efforts in that cause will achieve a result that everyone can get behind.
Okay so this post won’t have much of anything to do with the sorts of themes I usually tackle on the blog. It won’t even have anything to do with Christianity, to be honest. It’s just something I’ve been mulling over in my mind for the last few days.
The other day, I read this post on a blog I follow regularly. The writer, Samantha, discusses a YouTube video that recently went viral in which a woman dressed in a fitted t-shirt and jeans walks around New York City with a very passive face, making it clear to passersby that she is not interested in interaction with others. Throughout the course of her experiment, which lasted several hours, she received catcalls, sexually suggestive comments, and was asked for her number multiple times.
Samantha called this street harassment, and she shared her own experiences going through the same sort of thing throughout her life. They are frightening, unnerving stories, and a part of me was quite resentful of reading them, because as I did I felt paranoia rising up inside me.
I have had quite different life experiences from Samantha and the girl in the video. I grew up in a small town, and street harassment was never something I experienced at all, either in high school or college.
Now, though, I work in Wheeling, WV, a town that isn’t exactly big, but it definitely has a bad reputation in the area for violence, drugs, and crime. And I work second shift, so I walk to my car every night around midnight to go home.
And I’ve been cat-called a couple times, and men have said “heeeeeeey, girl” to me in a suggestive manner, and once a man easily twice my age asked for my phone number.
So I have a little more experience with what Samantha is talking about, and I can sympathize with her for defending the girl in the video. A lot of the YouTube commenters were terribly harsh towards her and accused her of just seeking attention, and blowing the men’s greetings out of porportion. But Samantha calls out the ignorance of these commenters very poignantly:
“They don’t understand. They’re screaming about “how can just saying “hi” be harassment?! Feminists are just so stupid and sensitive,” and I want to scream because most of the street harassment I’ve ever experienced in my entire life starts with “hi”– and it never ends well. You say “hi” back and all of sudden you’ve given them permission to follow you. You flip them off, and they get pissed– really pissed. You ignore them and suddenly it’s all about how ugly you are and how they’d never f*** you anyway.”
As I thought about Samantha’s blog post, and the woman’s video, and my own comparatively harmless experiences, I have come to realize that I can’t be that person. I understand the importance of caution when you are cat-called on the street, because it can easily escalate into something dangerous.
Yet…not to sound narcissistic, but one of the qualities I hold most dear about myself is my tenacious insistence in believing the best about people. Sometimes it borders on naivety, and I am hurt when I realize just how flawed some people around me are. But in general, I don’t want to lose that. So when a man says “hello” to me on the street, I will always smile back and return the greeting, even if it makes me a little uncomfortable. I will always give the people around me the benefit of the doubt until something happens and I can’t reasonably do that.
And I understand that this mindset of mine probably exists because I’ve never been assaulted by a man, never been forced by a man, never experienced any sort of sexual harassment beyond the quite mild situations I described above. Because let’s face it, if the worst I can say about my experiences with strange men in public is that a man twice my age asked for my phone number, I think I’m pretty safe in saying I have room for faith in men that other women might not have.
So, I guess, all that is to say I understand the importance of taking to heart what Samantha has said, and I appreciate the importance of the video’s message. I know that ignoring the reality that street harassment can potentially escalate is a dangerous thing to do. And I know it is important not to downplay these situations, because to do so is to ignore the reality of stories like Samantha’s. I just think it is important to find a balance—a balance between being cautious without being paranoid, wise and yet gracious.
Because here is the truth. I am the kind of person who believes the best about people. And I hope I always will be.
Before I delve into the wonderful gem of a film that is Philomena, let me offer a quick apology for the lengthy hiatus. Work and life have been keeping me very occupied these last few weeks, and I just haven’t had the time to write as much as I would like. Now that I’m falling back into a routine, hopefully I’ll be able to write much more regularly.
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Let me be blunt, right from the start: Philomena is one of the most captivating films I’ve seen in a very long time. The film touched my heart and left me in awe of the power of storytelling to leave such a profound impact. The acting is fantasic, the storyline is well-paced and the plot is irresistibly alluring. I found myself watching this film, and hoping desperately for a happy ending even as the tone of the film revealed itself for the bittersweet, realistic portrayal of heartbreak and healing.
Philomena centers around two characters: Philomena Lee, an elderly woman with a gentle yet spirited character; and Martin Sixsmith, a cynical, witty journalist whose career has taken a turn for the worse. Together, Philomena and Martin embark on a quest to locate Philomena’s long-lost son, a boy she gave birth to in a convent as a teenager, who was later given up for adoption against her will. Through flashbacks, we learn of Philomena’s traumatic experiences at the convent and the injustices she endured as a young woman desperate to be with her son, yet parted from him unexpectedly. Martin, upon hearing what happened to her, agrees to accompany her on her search and write a human interest story about their journey.
One of the best qualities of this film is the masterful way it balances light, witty humor with heavy, serious content. The weight of the film lies almost exclusively on the relationship between Philomena and Martin, who form an unlikely friendship despite having personalities that couldn’t possibly be more different. There are moments of dialogue that left me breathless with laughter, followed by seamless shifts in tone when the film turns to its more sobering content.
Both Philomena and Martin process what she went through in different ways: Martin expresses his frustration and distaste for organized religion and the way the convent nuns mistreated Philomena. He defends Philomena in a way she refuses to do for herself, and angrily confronts the nuns responsible for giving her son away. He is blunt in his disapproval of Christianity, yet he never disrespects Philomena for her faith.
Philomena herself reacts very differently to everything that happened to her. She bears no ill will for the convent sisters, and even defends them in some cases. Yet her sorrow at a lifetime of not knowing the whereabouts of her son is also evident, so the terrible actions of the nuns are never presented as anything less than atrocious, despite Philomena’s forgiving spirit.
Sometimes, the best faith films are the ones that are subtle, as Philomena is. It is clear that Philomena is a woman of faith, and the audience sees the fruit of her faith in her ability to forgive and her simple, confident responses to Martin’s tirades about God. Conversely, Martin is a deeply conflicted character filled with angst and cynicism, yet as his character is fleshed out we come to see the goodness of his heart, expressed by his desire to achieve justice for Philomena.
From faith to doubt, hard revelations and redemptive forgiveness, this film is relatable on so many levels, and presents a perspective on the Christian faith that is both critical and positive at the same time. So if you’re the sort of person who appreciates incredible character development, a gripping storyline, and a realistic portrayal of the consequences of abusing religion while remaining true to its ability to bring peace in a troubled life, I highly recommend Philomena.
This past weekend, I started Sarah Bessey’s book Jesus Feminist. I’m only three chapters in, and I’m already convinced that if I were to meet the author, I’d give her the biggest hug I could muster. Why? Because what she has to say about women, the Bible, and Jesus is so liberating. It feels so good to be given permission to be who I am instead of feeling like I have to tone down parts of me in order to be more “feminine”.
Growing up, this was always one of my biggest fears about marriage (yes, I’m a strange girl, and thought about marriage a lot even as a teenager). I would see my parents’ marriage and how it functioned: my mom is a naturally compliant person who is happiest when she can make everyone else happy. She has wonderful diplomacy skills, and she either desires or embodies so many traits that are stereotypically feminine: being a stay-at-home mom, cooking, being gentle and docile, etc. And my dad always performed the stereotypically masculine duties such as making decisions about finances, keeping the budget, mowing the lawn, that sort of thing. Their marriage functions well that way, because my dad has a very assertive, empowering presence that complements my mom’s compliant personality very nicely.
There’s just one problem: while I believe I inherited a lot of traits from my mom, I most definitely inherited a lot of traits from my dad too. I would never feel comfortable letting my future husband have the final say in important financial decisions, like my mom is. I would never feel satisfied and fulfilled as a stay-at-home mom. None of that is my personality, it isn’t who I am. I think there are many aspects of who I am that are considered feminine (one that jumps out is having a very empathetic heart), but I really don’t believe that I’m the sort of person who could fit seamlessly into a complementarian marriage like my mother does.
So because of all that, the prospect of marriage terrified me as much as it excited me, because I thought that I would need to fight against this part of myself that doesn’t fit the bill of how a wife should behave. The idea of submitting to a husband’s authority, of always having to be the one who takes the high ground to quell potential disagreements, bothered me immensely. The idea that it would be my duty to defer to my husband’s decisions because I am a woman is, simply put, suffocating to me.
So when I read what Sarah Bessey had to say about how Jesus empowered women, and taught women, and afforded women the same regard that he gave for men, it was so freeing to me. I have an assertive personality, and that isn’t something that I need to suppress in order to be the sort of wife who would please God and her husband. Instead I must use that personality trait, that beautiful part of who I am, to strengthen the marriage I will have one day.
It is quite a tricky thing to find a balance in your beliefs. I want to be open-minded enough that I am receptive and submissive when God works in me to abolish beliefs that are not of him. But I also want to be firmly convicted about the beliefs that I trust in my gut are of God.
I think I’m learning, slowly, that the standard by which my beliefs ought to be measured is love. After all, 1 John 4:8 tells me that God is love. So if love is the essence of the Father, the quality that above all others that characterizes him, I think it is also the quality by which all my beliefs ought to be measured.
For example, one issue I am struggling to come to terms with right now is the role of women in institutionalized religion. I’m pretty sure that I have slowly but surely become an egalitarian, and I’m also pretty sure that this is because love says “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Love does not elevate one gender over another, members of one social class over another, members of one ethnicity over another. Love says we are all on level playing ground, and that our roles in our families, our churches, and our society should be based on the unique qualities God has gifted us with, and not our gender.
Given this idea of love as the cornerstone upon which we ought to build our doctrines, I find it fascinating that love is the one thing that I feel Christians can agree on. We all know what it looks like to treat another with selfless love, and we all know what it looks like when we’re just pointing fingers or lifting ourselves up at the expense of another. Love, I think, is the glue that unifies the Body of Christ.
And I find that to be just beautiful, because God is Love.
Feminism. Such a loaded word. But what does it really mean? And…should I count myself among the numbers of those who support it? My first inclination is to say “no”.
Why? Because I believe that God endowed men and women with qualities that are unique to their gender. I do believe those qualities are generalizations, and apply to many of us, but certainly not all of us. But I also believe those generalizations are there. I don’t think it’s a load of patriarchal bull to say that most (but not all) men feel more worthy and more capable as fathers and husbands when they provide for their families financially. Or that they (again, mostly) have an intuitive desire to protect women. Or that they are able to separate their emotions from their logic, and thus can often make difficult decisions more rationally.
And I also can’t help but believe women have unique qualities too. For most of us, our emotions and our logic are all jumbled up together, which makes it so much easier for us to think compassionately. And most of us have a deeply ingrained desire to fortify our loved ones and make them feel like they can conquer the world. And we also are pretty darn good at nurturing children and raising them well. And so forth, and so on.
So. I guess you could call me a feminist to the extent that I don’t think men are more inherently qualified for leadership roles, and that women would bring an entirely different perspective to the table that is no less important in a role of leadership. But I also think that most women would be less able leaders than men where thinking rationally is extremely important (say, being a military officer). And I think men would be less capable leaders than women where thinking compassionately is extremely important (say, being the head honcho at an orphanage). Do I think there aren’t any women out there at all who wouldn’t make great military officers? Not at all. And do I think there aren’t any men out there who would make great heads of orphanages? Nope. I just think that, generally, each of those roles fits naturally with the unique qualities God gave to men and women.
Now, I’m still not so sure if these ideas are coming from my own mind or from a mind that has been brainwashed by my hierarchy-minded church upbringing (it’s happened before, and I’m still working through breaking out of being “brainwashed”). Maybe this idea of men and women having unique and distinct qualities is purely a social and religious construct, and has nothing to do with how God made each gender. But everything in my experience tells me something to the contrary, tells me that the way I think and act and live my life is pretty different from the way the men in my life think and act and live their lives. So at least for now, that’s what I’m going to go with.
So. Does that make me a feminist or not?
P.S. Gaaah. It definitely is a sign of being “brainwashed” that even typing the above question gave me chills. “Heaven forbid I ever become a feminist!” screams the dying fundamentalist in me. Guess I still haven’t broke free of the stigma surrounding the word “feminist” yet.