Two women seeking equality in a state where some couples are more equal than others.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Coming Out: I'm a Feminist, & Here's Why

This started as an e-mail response to the writer of a Christian non-profit that focuses on women's safety primarily in the developing world. As usual for this blog, I won't disclose specific names, as the goal of this post is to address the underlying belief, not to guilt or shame a particular entity. Also as usual, I've been thinking about these concepts for a while but this post responds to something of a catalyst in the form of a newsletter from the aforementioned non-profit.

Dear Writer,

You say that your daughter's generation falsely believes that your organization is feminist and that they state wrongly that feminism is a belief system in accordance with Christianity. You assert that your generation correctly believes that feminism is problematic, bashes men, and has fascist tendencies.

I am of your daughter's generation, I suppose, if we must sort people by age, and gender, and country, and all of these other artificial divisions, and in that artificial division you have created, it is not "us" who have feminism wrong. You have mischaracterized feminism and even implied that feminism is a profane word we should avoid using.

The following is a description of my logic for supporting Christian feminism. Those not adhering to Christianity have a completely different process for arriving at feminism. Because you identify as a follower of Christ, I hope that you will find it clarifying.
Given that all good things come from God
Given that humans are created in the image of God
then the Christian God must have all of the positive characteristics culturally attributed to both genders
and from that it follows that as we become more like Christ, we will attain more of the positive qualities ascribed to both genders
Given that God created humans in the image of God
Given that God sent Jesus to save all humankind
Given that God calls all humans into a relationship with the Trinity
Given that Christians are called to proclaim the Gospel and use the talents God has endowed them with to advance a world of peace, justice,  and unconditional love
then it follows that Christians of every gender must advocate for humans of every gender to be treated as having inherent value and thus afforded all rights and opportunities associated with such value.

In truth, the Christian feminism your daughter's generation holds is the belief that many women may be called to more than cleaning house and being sexually available to a male partner - a belief I know that your nonprofit shares. It is the belief that current constructions of masculinity prize aggression, hypersexuality, and stoicism, and that hurts men and women both.

Christian feminism calls for vulnerability for all, protection (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) for all, and says that men too, are harmed by an artificial binary wherein men are strong and women are sensitive.

You know that many of your women are physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually very strong. You know that many men are compassionate, sensitive, nurturing. 

I don't see how acknowledging the soft side of men or the strong side of women or the coexistence of both of this is twisting what humans - male and female - were created for, as you imply it does. We don't need a new word to use instead of this supposedly profane "f" word, though some have been using "equalism," if you are still in search (problems with framing the issue as equalism will be deferred to a later post). We don't need a new word. Those who have distorted and denigrated the concept of feminism need new insight. I hope that this message provides a little, as the word itself is viable and vibrant and not going away.

In fact, the feminist movement is the reason that my generation generally has been able to take for granted that we will attend university and get the training to pursue our callings. It is the reason we have a voice for the women you serve who have no voice. It is probably even the reason you are able to head an influential nonprofit. It is the reason we have female legislators to pass laws to protect women. It is the reason that you and your women in the United States can hold your own paychecks and bank accounts instead of giving their income to a father or husband. It is the reason that you and the women you protect who become US citizens can vote. In short, it is the reason that women in the United States are (mostly) no longer viewed as property, a belief your organization hopes to spread to the developing world.

This is why "my" generation says that your nonprofit is feminist. We value the dignity that your organization gives to all people. We see your team as helping all whom they help to move closer to God and closer to their God-given callings. I don't know what would be profane or fascist about that.
In short, you are a feminist, whether you believe it or not.



Thursday, November 26, 2015

Confessions: I'm Thankful that My Wife is Working Today (for surprising reasons)

I'm thankful that Rebecca is working today.

Not because I wanted to spend the day without her - I wish that I could spend this holiday and every holiday with my beloved helpmate.

Not because of the holiday pay, though I believe she will be paid a little extra.

Not because I approve of the kinds of shifts they've been forcing her to work - today is only 13 hours, but she averages 80 hours a week on rotations like this and has worked shifts as long as 28 hours this month.

I'm thankful that she is working in the ICU today because I can't imagine a more challenging holiday than having a loved one in intensive care, fighting to survive. I can't imagine having to discuss whether to intubate or resuscitate a loved one on a holiday like this. And I know that Rebecca will be as compassionate as possible. I know that she will explain to them gently, answer their questions, and keep patients as comfortable and dignified as possible. She will, today as all days, put the family in family medicine.

I would want that if a loved one or I were in the hospital, especially on a holiday like today. I take comfort in knowing that staff at a major metropolitan hospital - staff such as my wife and her colleagues - is there to care for the families struggling through illnesses.

She is away from her family. So are the other residents, nurses, attendings, mid-level providers, custodians, cooks, cafeteria workers, social workers, paramedics, and so many others. If you are not in the hospital and don't have a healthcare worker family member on the list, it's easy to forget the sacrifices they are making to care for people. It's easy to take it for granted. It's easy to sit down at a table in front of a home-cooked meal and forget that those at the hospital are lucky to get enough of a break to make it down to eat cafeteria food. It's easy to pat a full tummy and lay down for a nap while healthcare workers fight to stay awake near the end of a long shift.

I am thankful that my wife is working today, because it means we live in a place where we can count on medical care. I am thankful that other families will have compassionate providers to help them.

Even if I miss her.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Confessions: I Hated Being Poor

I just read an article posted by a friend of a friend about the trend of tiny houses and the glorification of poverty or "the simple life." You can read The Troubling Trendiness of Poverty Appropriation
for yourself - it's definitely thought-provoking. It isn't demonizing the practice of minimalism for a reduction in consumerism, but it criticizes the middle class and wealthy, particularly hipsters, of romanticizing and copying behaviors or items they associate with poverty. Pretty sure reusing Mason jars counts. Ditto the obsession with "authentic" dive bars, dumpster diving, and a trend I don't understand where anarchists go on welfare to avoid participating in capitalism (yeah, read the article, I guess people do this, though given how hard it is to go on welfare in Michigan when one actually has no other option, I don't know how they manage).

I read the article introspectively - things were really tight for a while during the Recession while I was underemployed/underpaid/underinsured and Rebecca was in med school, and as members of the LGBT community, we also faced oppression in terms of some of the systems we could have used. Our marriage wasn't recognized, which affected our tax status and my access to her insurance. So as you know, we were on food stamps for a little bit, I calculated the price of food per pound, I worked two jobs with irregular hours, avoided seeing the doctor so I wouldn't have to pay a co-pay or deductible, visited the student food pantry, and rented out our second bedroom to lower housing costs. That's around the time I started playing the remnant game, too.

It wasn't simple. It wasn't easy. It was really, really hard, even with an end date. Some of you remember the story about the second worst day of my life and 72 hour psych holds, which happened in the thick of this. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, I know that we didn't stay broke forever, and that I would mostly get my mental illness managed on much lower amounts of medication than I thought possible, and that someday we would be buying a house, and that having money drastically reduces the likelihood of having to sleep on someone else's floor. At the time, though, it wasn't glamorous.

And in some ways, for us it was a choice for Rebecca to follow her calling (into a career that admittedly hasn't made enough room for people with even slightly limited means, such as her, let alone people who grew up in poverty). She could have remained a despairing pharmaceutical engineer with a high salary and no integrity. We could have lived in a nice suburb, driven nice cars, eaten whatever people eat in that situation. We still had access to credit that helped prevent the worst effects of poverty and the knowledge that it would be over someday, or even that if it came down to it, Rebecca could leave med school (or I could take a position in Asia that paid a significant amount for the teaching of English).

Our poverty was clearly temporary and to some degree, optional, and it was still incredibly difficult. Romanticizing it, and worse, capitalizing on it, is strange. I learned a lot during that time, and I hope I will continue to use my resources well. 

I also hope I will never have to scramble like that again.

Stop calling women irrational; It's just lazy

I've been female all my life.

So for a long time, I didn't realize how many beliefs I held were socialized to be appropriate for me, as a female, but weren't necessarily true, or weren't things male members of the population thought about. Once I started realizing that the rules are different for males and females, I started noticing that males don't necessarily realize that. A few friends have posted this link about that very state of affairs. I was shocked how much it resonated, despite the fact that I'd consider myself generally fortunate.

The TL;DR version of that article is that because men don't experience sexism or may not see how pervasive it is, they don't understand why women are upset by it or how much it affects us. The author explains that all women (#yesallwomen) have to de-escalate situations or work around their gender on a daily basis in a way that makes them deeply aware of their femininity in a way men may not have to persistently carry their masculinity. She also optimistically suggests that if men saw this more or we told them about it, they would be different.

I have a post percolating on the number of moments in a day that I choose not to do something because it is on the list of behaviors that would get me victim-blamed if I were assaulted. It includes activities such as stopping to help a motorist with the flashers on, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, wearing pencil skirts, and sitting in my car to make a list after I've gotten in. Yes, at some point, all of those have been suggested as choices that could increase the likelihood I would be sexually assaulted. None are moral failings.

I also have started mentally noting when I do things at work that I'm fairly certain I wouldn't have to worry about if I were male. Picking clothing carefully - even things appropriate in an office environment could draw comments from male students (and somehow adolescent males get even more a pass on appropriate behavior), softening comments, adding the word "just," being meticulous about paperwork and not seeming "hard to manage." It's a lot of little things.

I have even brought this up with male coworkers or posted about it on social media and had debates with male friends.

And I'm concerned.

I'm concerned that many of them, even when women explain, disagree. I'm concerned that they continue to call women "crazy" or "irrational" -

because it's easier to disregard women's comments as unfounded or unimportant than to consider that the rules are different (and worse) for women.

Some of those social media debates have resulted in a male friend victim-blaming consistently and then messaging me later to tell me that after thinking about it, he realized he was wrong. And getting that message was great - as a teacher, there's little more rewarding to me than helping someone have an epiphany - but getting there was exhausting. Being told I was wrong about my own experience (and that there was something better to handle it that I didn't think to do already) was really, really hard.

And I've had similar conversations with no epiphany. I've had similar conversations where I defended my actions or the actions of my fellow women, tried to explain the underlying reason for a behavior men didn't understand, only to be laughed at or discounted because the male person had never seen this. And having to defend myself, being laughed at, being told I'm irrational or silly or wrong - I should be used to it as a woman, but somehow it's worse when I'm trying to share an experience like this, when I'm being vulnerable and trying to let a man into the club of people who understand the female experience, and he decides it's easier to say that what I'm doing doesn't make sense.

No, I get that he wouldn't do that thing.

It wouldn't make sense for men to do or say many of the things I do or say. 

 That doesn't mean that it's irrational for me to do it. And dismissing my choice and my planning and then subsequently victim-blaming me when I fail to prevent an undesirable situation or don't de-escalate something successfully makes me disinclined to continue going on trying to let men into the club. After all, according to the rules, vulnerability is a moral weakness committed mostly by women. According to the rules, men's perspective is more important than women's.

And honestly, it's not my job to educate those who seek to oppress or discredit me. It's not my job to leverage anecdote after anecdote and statistic after statistic to convince someone that I deserve to be treated like a human being. I sometimes choose to. But that information is out there on the interwebz, available for men who truly want to be enlightened. If I choose to share my personal experiences, it is a gift to the man in my company to be trusted enough that I am trying to bring him into the club. It is not an obligation. Failing to provide an experience that strikes a chord doesn't mean I am less deserving of consideration.

So men, don't call me irrational when I do something you don't understand. Women, don't accept or perpetuate that label. It isn't accurate.

Calling women irrational when they protect themselves isn't considered or strong or rational.

At best, it's lazy. At worst, it's dangerous.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Silver Linings Club: I'm Exhausted but Grateful

The last three weeks have been a lot. I've spent much time overwhelmed, in tears, and calling in reinforcements to keep me from utterly falling apart. Everything is moved into the new apartment in Southgate, the essentials are unpacked, furniture is arranged into a non-deathtrap configuration, the cats are settling in, and our rent will be $150 a month cheaper. I have an awesome team of family and friends that came together to help.

Not to mention that although our dishwasher is smaller, it actually works. There are six washers and six dryers in our laundry room, meaning that I could do all of the laundry at once if I get there at a time no one else is using them. We have one of those spray-nozzle-hose thingies on our kitchen sink. The dishwasher is in a location that makes sense. The stove has two big burners instead of one. The leasing office staff is actually . . . nice, and our lease here isn't written in size 9 font. We're 3/4 mile from I75. There's a heat lamp in our shower area - I haven't had one of those since I was sharing a community bathroom with 30 other women in my 1 South Mason crew (Rebecca included). Our walk-in closet is set up to maximize space. Actually, the whole apartment is, unlike the last one.

Beyond that, I am warm. I have running water. I have enough food. I have a helpmate who loves me and provides compassionate medical care for a living. She had a day off yesterday (I had to work in the morning), so I came home to three loads of laundry done, and we got to unpack together and make dinner and marvel over the conveniences of this apartment together.

And we're on track to close on our house (well, mostly). And it's a beautiful home that will allow us to do so much, in a beautiful neighborhood with wonderful neighbors. I can't wait to live beside them. When I think of them, my face relaxes into a smile, almost involuntarily. Pulling into my neighborhood, my driveway, walking up to my door, I am so grateful that I will get to do these small things.

I'm looking for silver linings, and every one I find seems to beget another. Gratitude begets gratitude. Joy begets joy. Let's choose gratitude together.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mental Illness & Vanilla Ice Lyrics: Solving Problems

As a one-hit wonder once said:

"If there was a problem, yo, I'll solve it
Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it"

This is how I generally feel lately: powerful, capable, resourceful. I spend my work hours helping people look at test questions differently. I teach them to leverage whatever resources they have, to think outside the box, to grab hold of whatever (ethical) technique gets them to their goal.

It's done something to my brain. When I have a problem, I typically look at it not from a perspective of how I'm "supposed" to do it or what "normal" people would do. Because honestly, if the usual solution worked, the problem wouldn't exist in most cases. And also because I refuse to be caught in dilemmas.

Those of you who have been reading lately know we've had a hard time. All of our things are in our Southgate apartment and our Royal Oak keys are turned in (#byefelicia), but a lot remains to be done, and we still have to try to close on the house. Rebecca is working ridiculous hours and will be until the beginning of December.

So as mentioned, I've had a lot of tearful days. A lot of partial meltdowns. I wrote about a day a few years ago when I ended up on a 72 hour psych hold because of the way I tried to solve (or didn't try to solve) a problem. I've committed to never doing that again, and I know for many people, that seems like a low bar, but it's a worthwhile objective to keep in mind - in part because it keeps dangerous possible "solutions" off the table.

My mantra Monday was literally: "You can cry but don't stop packing." I stood with tears streaming down my face, filling and labeling boxes, trying to prioritize. One strategy there was to have a friend come help. It was a blessing to have someone to offload some of the work to. But allowing myself to cry was also part of the solution. Trying to stay composed and get my work done would have been more work than admitting that it was an awful situation and I was miserable - but that didn't mean I could wish the problem away. I am also now privileged to have access to more financial resources than I used to. And having money definitely creates more possible strategies. So I am not claiming to be magic or amazing or a role model or anything like that. Some of those boxes are labeled "completely random" or were left unlabeled. I threw away a lot of stuff that had use left in it.

But here's the message: We are not called to be composed 100% of the time. We are not called to always have an elegant solution or to do things the way other people do them. Some things will be hard and miserable. And if some days our bar is set at surviving until tomorrow, and we eat Tim Horton's and drink too much coffee and have cookies for lunch and go to bed at 8:30 pm (talking about a friend . . . ), that doesn't mean we've failed.

It means we're human. It means we're trying. It means we turned away from approaches that would do us permanent harm.

In most cases, that problem will still be there tomorrow, and yo, I'll solve it then, as long as I'm here to try.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Call Me Muslim Today - Here's Why

This post has been in draft form for weeks, because I didn't think anyone would much care what I have to say on the subject - until the media lit up of the violence in Paris yesterday. There's a lot I could say about this. A lot. But I'm going to say what I've been thinking about saying.

I grew up in a church that emphasized missions. We got apologetics training (basically an education in how to proselytize effectively) that included, of course, how to defend Christianity against those who would attempt to discredit it, but also some training in why other religions and atheism are wrong.

In some ways, I am grateful for the global perspective and comparative religions training this gave me at a young age. I read biographies of missionaries and began to realize that not everywhere is like my home. My sister is currently a missionary with the Wycliffe Bible Translators partly because of this.

On the other hand, some of this training resulted in glossing over possible flaws in Christian history and doctrine and then exaggerating similar flaws in other religions. As a major world religion, Islam was included in this mischaracterization. I'd like to touch on a few of those criticisms, because I'm sure I'm not alone in having heard them.

In terms of theology, one of the biggest critiques I've heard is of the doctrine of abrogation, which basically means that to resolve inconsistencies in the holy writings, the policy is that the one written later is correct. The speaker (I couldn't tell you his name now) ridiculed Islam by choosing part of the text very early, contrasting it with a later-written portion, and then stating that the doctrine of abrogation was inconsistent or foolish.

EXCEPT Christianity basically does that too, to resolve conflicts between the Old and New Testament. If there's a law in the Old Testament that we don't follow, it's typically explained that Jesus came to fulfill the law and has given us different instructions, more recently. I don't see how that's substantially different that the doctrine of abrogation. I just don't. I'm sure someone with a degree in religion could explain the exact theological difference, but for purposes of this discussion, it's not enough to discredit an entire religion.

I have also heard people refer to Islam as a cult, given that it focuses on a single leader and supposedly follows an adapted version of another religion. It's a long complicated thing, and you can read about it more elsewhere - except by that logic, Christians would be a cult too, given our focus on Jesus and the fact that we're sort of claiming to be Jewish but not really.

Another criticism: Islam doesn't treat women fairly. EXCEPT how many denominations of Christianity still don't allow women to become ministers, regulate their dress, tell them to be dominated by their husbands, say that a woman's place is in the home, blame victims of sexual violence for their own abuse, and regulate female sexuality? Kind of a lot. And how many Muslim women are accomplished, liberated, strong, independent? Both religions have successes and failures on this front. So pot, meet kettle here.

And lastly, though this is the one most relevant to this post's timing: the criticism that Islam encourages violence. Yes, a few people who claim to follow Islam do terrible things and blame it on their religion.

EXCEPT what religion does Westboro Baptist Church claim to follow when they picket military funerals, churches, clinics, etc? What religion would most KKK members claim? What religion prompted the rape and pillage of the Americas in the name of its deity? The Crusades? The bombing of abortion clinics? Hint: it wasn't Islam.

If we are going to judge religions by the worst people who claim to follow them, if we are going to let those who perpetuate violence and hate define said religion, then Christianity isn't looking good. 

I haven't read the Quran in full, though it is on my lifetime list of things to achieve. I don't have the pillars memorized, but here is a list I Googled, for those even less familiar than I am: faith, prayer, charity, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca. I find the first four in the Bible as well, and I know many Christians who do travel to the Middle East to learn more about their faith, share fellowship, and experience the history more deeply, also.

There is a reason that Muslims refer to Jews, Christians, and themselves as People of the Book. Yes, there are differences. Yes, some people who adhere to these religions do horrible, evil things. But I hope you're getting by now, readers, that extending one characteristic, one description, especially a negative one, to an entire group is a dangerous line to walk. I hope you're seeing that while I believe strongly in the importance of the Gospel, I cannot claim that the Christian church has always been perfect.

 The Bible would refer to Christians vilifying all Muslims because of this one incident as calling out a neighbor for a speck in their eye when we have a huge plank in our own eye (see Matthew 7).

So if you would still like to criticize Islam on this one incident, criticize me too. Criticize me for valuing faith, prayer, charity, and self denial. Criticize me for the days that I don't adhere to Christianity, don't love my neighbor as myself, don't love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, criticize me for believing that one person can change the narrative and the way we relate to God, criticize me for believing Jesus when he says that we shouldn't stone women for infidelity even though the Old Testament says that we should. Blame me for Westboro's transgressions.

I stand in solidarity with Muslims around the world when I condemn this violence. I stand to say that we should not malign Muslims or Islam because of this incident. I know many Muslims are afraid, justifiably, for their safety.  For the Christians who still aren't convinced, let me end with a line from the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10):

Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?