Gender

How We Are All Connected

As an Asian-American activist, I must constantly negotiate what it means to be a woman faith leader – all while challenging misconceptions of the “model minority myth” and the “otherization” of my identity in a dominant culture that often sees anything other than whiteness as foreign, exotic, or suspect. And yet, I know that my experiences do not pale in comparison to the hardships of those experienced within the greater sisterhood.

Dismantling Gender Bias

Illustration by Jon Krause

Illustration by Jon Krause

AS WE APPROACH A PRESIDENTIAL election in which each candidate’s gender is sure to be discussed, it’s worth evaluating the automatic assumptions we—yes, all of us—make when it comes to women, men, and the meaning we attribute to gender. These assumptions include everything from outright sexism to subtler forms of gender bias, such as the knee-jerk association of men with “competence” and “gravitas,” women with “incompetence” and “emotion.”

“The battle for women to be treated like human beings with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of involvement in cultural and political arenas continues, and it is sometimes a pretty grim battle,” writes Rebecca Solnit in the title chapter of Men Explain Things to Me, a 2014 collection of essays that helped coin the term “mansplain.” “This is a struggle that takes place in war-torn nations, but also in the bedroom, the dining room, the classroom, the workplace, and the streets.”

I would add, of course, that this battle also takes place in the church, our spiritual homes. After all, for women this is a struggle that’s older than feminism, perhaps as old as our faith traditions themselves. So how, exactly, can we end the battle?

The answer, it seems, lies in understanding the difference between explicit and implicit bias, the former resulting from deliberate stereotypes, the latter a growing topic in social science that doesn’t absolve us of guilt but helps us understand how biases of all kinds have been so difficult to identify, name, and change.

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When Being a Woman Comes at a Cost

Often I wonder, what is it about me that puts me at the table? I love my x chromosomes and femininity; being a woman is an amazing thing! But in these circles, they seem to come with a cost. No, I’ve not been barred from sitting at the leadership table, but am I only here because I don’t have two other things I longed for – a husband/partner to share life with and children to love and care for and call my own.

How To Erase a Person

“When I see you, I don’t see color,” is something white women have said to me for decades. When heard from white women I see as sisters in Christ, these words erase me. For years I tried responding. I might say, “I get that you are refusing to attribute to me the bad things you have heard about people of color,” to which might come the response: “Oh no! I was raised to accept everyone!” Or I might say, “I know you mean that as a compliment,” and she might say, “I really mean it; I don’t see your color!”

Myths of Masculinity

Man Enough / Amazon

Man Enough / Amazon

MOST CULTURES have ways to initiate boys into manhood. Being a man is thus seen as an earned status that must be maintained, which can generate tremendous anxiety. (This is similar to what Simone de Beauvoir observes in The Second Sex about being a woman—one is not born but rather becomes one.) I’ve felt this anxiety myself in social spaces where masculinity is outside of the norm: I’m forced to think through how I am a man and what that means.

Nate Pyle confronts some of this anxiety in Man Enough. He explores how being rooted in Christ can seat the Christian man’s identity more firmly in Jesus. Rather than trying to frantically maintain any particular form of masculinity, we can rest our identity in Christ.

This is key to freeing us from ridiculous posturing and status games. Pyle fleshes his argument out not only through scripture and ethical reflection but also by powerfully recalling his own personal development as a man.

Still, as Pyle puts it, “saying Jesus defines what it means to be a man is easy; actually defining manhood in light of Jesus is harder.” We have so many pictures of Jesus in the New Testament, from the righteously angry Jesus condemning the false teachers of his day to the Christ restraining his power and submitting to death on a cross. Perhaps, Pyle argues, this is the point: Jesus is complex, so any picture of how to be a man (or a woman) needs to be similarly complex.

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Beyond Bathrooms: Christians Need to Get a Clue on Transgender Issues

Image via Marshall Childs / RNS

Christians — particularly those of the more conservative variety — often oppose accommodations for transgender persons. But these believers are having a very important conversation in the wrong direction. When trying to understand transgender issues, Christians should start with the personal, not political. When Christians begin by committing to political goals rather than educating themselves on the complicated, sensitive nuances of this matter, they often come off looking privileged, mean, or just flat-out clueless.

But transgender issues are bigger than so-called bathroom bills and similar legislation. Society is beginning to see these issues as personal matters that affect the real lives of real people with real hurts.

A few Christians out there are, thankfully, trying to think deeply about transgender people. Mark Yarhouse is a professor at Regent University School of Psychology and Counseling and author of Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture. Megan DeFranza is a visiting researcher at Boston University’s School of Theology and author of Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God. Here we discuss the complexity of transgender issues often overlooked by Christians.

Weekly Wrap 12.12.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Read the Torture Report
While its 525 pages — and disturbing subject matter — may cause you to opt for the news coverage and analysis, you can actually read the entire Torture Report yourself — even before Melville House Books ensures it’s on the shelves your local bookstore. Download now.

2. WATCH: John McCain’s Floor Speech on Torture
In case you do need some context on the importance of releasing this report, watch this floor statement by Arizona Sen. McCain, quite an authority on the matter. “I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored.”

3. Two Years Since Newtown: WATCH This Father’s Story
Sunday marks the two-year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in which 20 children and six faculty and staff were killed. Mark Barden, the father of Daniel, 7, who was killed in the tragedy, tells his powerful story in this video. 

4. What MSU Protesters Are Really Fighting For
With all of the “controversy” over the Rolling Stone UVA rape story, it might be tempting to think that college campus sexual assault — and the mishandling of cases by college administrators — is not quite on the epidemic scale the piece made it out to be. (Y’know, kind of like when it’s cold outside and people say, “So much for ‘global warming!’” *facepalm*) But it’s not just one person’s story, and it’s not just UVA. Check out this piece to see what’s happening on another college campus.  

 

Seeking Greater Equality, Indian Women Turn to Unexpected Source: Shariah Courts

Khatoon Shaikh founded the all-female Shariah court in Mumbai. Religion News Service photo by Heather McIlvain.

Khatoon Shaikh had no formal education, never worked outside the home, and lived in the kind of neighborhood that many people might call a slum.

But when Shaikh witnessed her sister-in-law victimized, first at the hands of a violent husband, and again by a patriarchal justice system, she took charge.

Shaikh started her own Shariah adalat, a court based on Islamic law, just for women.

“We needed a place where women’s voices could be heard,” the mother of seven said.

That was 20 years ago. Since then, the court has moved from Shaikh’s home to a two-room office in the north Mumbai neighborhood of Bandra. And it now operates within a broader organization called BMMA, or Indian Muslim Women’s Movement, which Shaikh helped form in 2007.

Are You One of Us?

Priest during Mass, Gordan / Shutterstock.com

Priest during Mass, Gordan / Shutterstock.com

I attended a funeral last week and was struck by something that happened at communion.

The church was packed for a loving man who had touched many lives with his kindness. People from varied backgrounds and faiths came to celebrate his life and support his family. The eulogy noted that he never turned anyone away.

At communion time, several young adults from a different denomination got in line. When the first young man got to the priest, he received a question instead of a communion wafer. The priest said something to him. The young man looked surprised and shook his head. The priest traced a cross on his forehead and sent him away breadless.

On a day of shared grief, the young man had given the wrong answer to the age-old question: Are you one of us?

Empowering Women Empowers Us All

Watching the news cycle for the past week or so, I have been pleasantly surprised at how much the issue of poverty is being discussed. There have been many analyses of the successes and failures of the War on Poverty, the 50th anniversary of which we marked last week. But there is one report that has particularly fascinated me -- and many others -- as it describes how women have been struggling the most against poverty in the United States. In partnership with the Center for American Progress, this year's Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Pushes Back from the Brink examines the problem of poverty as it pertains to women and proposes solutions to eradicate it.

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