From the Basement

September 15, 2010

Taylor Swift & Metal Music: Love Story?

I’m not a huge fan of Taylor Swift. While I can appreciate the reasons for her popularity (and her attempt at maintaining a “wholesome” image, whatever that means), her lyrics often border on the [fill in your adjective of choice].

Given my proclivity for fairy tales, several friends sent the hit song “Love Story” my way. They didn’t know that my ears were already bleeding – I ran a day camp for elementary school kids last summer, and listening to 6-year-old girls sing about Romeo & Juliet and The Scarlet Letter infuriated both the English major and the overprotective teacher in me. There is a generation of girls who are in for a big surprise when they hit high school English class, and I hope to God they don’t want to be Juliet.

In a fairy tale turn, however, my fiancé rescued the song for me. He’s a not-so-closet metalhead, and he sent me a fabulous cover performed by Amongst the Ruin.

Maybe it’s just me, but the juxtaposition of Twu Luv lyrics with metal music casts a deliciously dark and ironic light on the song. Finally, the allusions to depressing literature make sense!

This version is definitely love… twu luv.

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August 5, 2010

Thoughts from a Christian Feminist

I am a Christian. I am also a feminist. I triple majored in English, Politics, and Women’s Studies in college – suffice to say I sought answers in feminism that I could not find in the church. In the church, I saw leaders who told women they should stay at home, who said women’s primary purpose was to be wives and mothers. There were fellow congregants who stood aghast when I declared my ambitions, who were equally appalled at all the original oratories I took to speech competitions on gender pay equity, violence against women in advertisements, and women and the presidency.

For a long time, it seemed like I was on the outskirts of both groups. I was too liberal for the church, and I was too church-y for my women’s studies classes, what with my views on, well, the church (or rather, should I say, Jesus Christ).

For the last decade, any mention of Ephesians 5 has been enough to make my blood boil. Suffice to say that I grew up in a home where headship was abusive and un-Christlike, even after my father’s conversion. Male headship was something to be feared. A husband could do anything he wanted to the wife, and she had to obey for “the good of the family.” And let me tell you, much as I heard pastors rail against abuse and male domineering within marriage, I watched again and again as pastor after pastor ignored my parents’ situation. (It is my personal opinion that for every pastor out there willing to confront an abusive marriage in his congregation, there is one who cowers in his office, fearful of confronting it, hoping he can just pray it away – particularly if it’s not life threatening to the wife and children. Cynical? Maybe. But it’s just my two cents.)

So to say I have baggage regarding marriage is an understatement.

But over the last few months, the Lord has really brought me to a place where I’m reconsidering crucial questions within a biblical light – often for the first time. It’s grace. Total grace. I still have fears, and the desire to control is very strong within me, but I’m learning – slowly – what marriage is about, what it was intended to be. (To spell it out, I affirm Christ-like headship and submission.)

Part of my reluctance in discussing this is that feminism is viewed as an enemy by prominent Christian theologians; it is very much figured as a war on the church. I’m in a unique position in that I am intimately familiar with both sides of the war, as it were. I’ve read Grudem and Piper (the experts on complimentarianism), and I’ve read “evangelical feminists” like Craig S. Keener. It goes without saying, given the Women’s Studies major, that I have read at least the basic texts in each major feminist theory. (Which is – I think – more than Grudem and Piper can say, given some of their arguments.)

This post was inspired by something that struck me tonight; it’s a very small point but I do feel the need to introduce it within its larger context. A friend recently blogged about her frustration with extremism in the feminist blogosphere, and the discussion brought up issues of identifying as a feminist and as a proponent of gender equality.

The term equality has never sat very well with me. It posits a binary in which Man is Equal and Woman is Unequal; at its core is the assumption that women need to be “brought up” to men’s standard. And man is not the standard!

This is what I love about Christianity: it eradicates having “man” or “woman” as the standard – Christ is the standard. Look at how Christ treated women – he was an absolute feminist, for at its core, feminism is about acknowledging the value of men and women, and how much more can you affirm the value of both sexes if not by offering both eternal life? (Notwithstanding the fact that both were created in God’s image to begin with.)

Like I said, small point.

I’ll be blogging about feminism and Christianity in the future, but can I leave you with some thoughts? Both “sides” – the church and “feminism,” so called – make terribly general assumptions about each other. Of particular concern to me is how the church discusses feminism. The Great Commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds, and Faith is not an excuse for:

a)    Rash generalizations (e.g. feminism is responsible for the downfall of the family)

b)    Not doing your homework (e.g. not reading feminist texts and theory)

c)    Poor arguments – the result of being uninformed and general

And it seems that most discussions of feminism in the church today are, frankly, all of the above.

This is not to say that writers like Grudem and Piper have not produced outstanding scriptural exegesis on passages like Ephesians 5 – quite the contrary. Piper in particular gives the best explanation of Ephesians 5 I’ve ever heard. While they sometimes push too far for my liking (e.g. stating that mothers should not work), I think they’ve done outstanding work.

It’s when the church starts blaming feminism for everything that it displays a remarkable lack of self-reflection…

But that’s the beginning of another post.

P.S. Here’s a link to one of Piper’s sermons on marriage, entitled “The Beautiful Faith of Fearless Submission.” http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2007/2088_The_Beautiful_Faith_of_Fearless_Submission/

May 22, 2010

On the latest Miss USA scandal

In college, I triple majored in English, Politics, and Women’s Studies. I mostly don’t blog about politics or feminist issues; I’ve mellowed over the years and opted to make faith and life transition the focus of this blog rather than using it as a platform to discuss issues.

But, even though I’m a little late to the party on this one, I couldn’t help but put my two cents in.

Over the last ten days or so, scandal has erupted in the Miss USA world (again) as two racy sets of photos were released about Rima Fakih, the latest winner. One set features Fakih competing in a stripper pole contest at an event held by a Michigan radio station; the judges were strippers, the audience was female, and there was no nudity. The second set – if I’ve done my research correctly – was released by the pageant itself and featured Fakih in lingerie, at times topless.

And so the media finds itself once again between a rock and a hard place, alternately celebrating and stigmatizing the actions of hypersexualized beauty queens, while the public reacts in outrage that “such a woman” (not quoting anyone directly there) would be uplifted as a role model and as a representative of the United States. Both sides seem to ignore their complicity in creating a culture where this behavior thrives.

Quite simply, women in beauty pageants are in – do we honestly need to be reminded? – beauty pageants. In that industry, good looks are currency and good presentation is a deal-breaker. I have a cousin who was a child beauty queen (was Little Miss [state], as a matter of fact), and my uncle pulled her from the pageant circuit when he saw how deeply it was affecting her even at ten years old. That’s anecdotal, and it’s not meant as exclusive evidence but rather to help prove a point: most of the women in Miss America and Miss USA pageants did not enter on a dare but rather were brought up on the pageant circuit, being bred for these very contests.

They are raised in a hypersexualized atmosphere that values them for their body – that gets them public acclimation, money, and awards if they win. But when these women take charge of their bodies, whether it’s on a stripping pole or in a sensual photography session, we vilify them. (Though whether they’re taking charge or are delving further into their prescribed roles is a matter of debate).

In short, the media feigns outrage when they’re well aware that they fuel the atmosphere these women thrive in.

Quotes from the film Miss Congeniality come to mind when I try to put myself in the contestants’ and contest organizers’ shoes. “This is not a beauty pageant; this is a scholarship program!” And I do not doubt that many of the women in the pageant are remarkably intelligent, accomplished, and driven. There’s no way they’d get where they are if they weren’t.

It just so happens that the vehicle they’ve chosen (or perhaps, their parents chose) to propel their success is one that, first and foremost, values them for their bodies, for their beauty, for their ability to physically appeal to a mass audience.

For me, the issue is not that Fakih posed or stripped. She’s an accomplished woman who – more to the point – is an adult woman who is perfectly capable of making her own decisions (the level of how much they are culturally informed by the beauty industry is another discussion). The issue that sparks my indignation is our reaction as a culture, the blatant hypocrisy, the stinking self-righteousness as we set these women up to take a “fall.”

I’ll close with a quote from Donald Trump. When asked about the racy stripping and lingerie photos, he said “It would be foolish to consider anyone other than Rima to represent the USA.  The photos taken from our website are no more provocative than those on the Miss USA website.”

Exactly.

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