Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Attention Petrina Fadel!

The whole point of this post is to take a conversation from the comments thread of another blog over here. So, Petrina Fadel, if you'd care to extend our earlier exchange, I'll do my best to keep up. (I think you're probably able to post more than I am at the moment, judging from Amy's blog thread, so bear with me. It's a stressful time for me, work-wise, as you can guess from how often I've posted in October.)

In the interests of full disclosure (and perhaps risking my sons' privacy) we didn't have our boys circumcised. However, I'm not a Jew, so God didn't command for MY people to be circumcised. So there's that, for one.

But also, if I understand you correctly, you suggest that it is against official Catholic teaching to have one's children circumcised. I disagree. I think it's something about which Catholics are allowed to disagree. You've made a case - based on the fact that a Pope spoke negatively about circumcision at the Council of Florence (which I didn't know, so thank you); on the fact that the Catechism includes a proscription of gratuitous amputations and the AAP calls circumcision an "amputation; and on the fact that Paul says certain negative things about circumcision. I'm not saying that your case is bad, I'm just pointing out that its pertinence to the issue of whether contemporary Catholics should circumcise rests on interpretive leaps made by you.

Which is fine. Other people could argue other things -- and have, in (among other places) Catholic Answers, hardly a bastion of liberal cafeteria Catholicism. They could point to the fact that it makes no sense to believe that God commanded the chosen people to do something that was intrinsically a mutilation, let alone a violation of moral or natural law. Over at the other blog, another commenter and I both mentioned Paul's socio-cultural reasons for saying what he did about circumcision. And I could point to things that popes have said, especially post V2, about the dangers of supersessionism.

We could arrive at different conclusions, is what I'm saying. But my contention is that it's not (excuse the unfortunate pun) cut-and-dried, the way you initially seemed to make it out to be.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Regrettfully-Heteronormative and Heavyhanded Fable About Christian Masculinity

Once upon a time, there was a village in which the men married themselves.

Oh, of course, a wedding would include a bride. But the bride was not the groom's beloved, nor did anyone expect her to be loved. The groom's beloved was a future version of the groom himself -- the man that marriage would make him into. Who was more worthy of love than that man?


And here is how the weddings would go:

The priest would hand the groom a mirror and ask: "Do you promise to be true to the husband you will be? To love him more than anything? Will you work to make sure that when anyone looks at you, they see him?"

To which the groom would respond: "For the love of him, I promise."

Then the priest would hand the groom a sword and ask: "Will you use the best parts of yourself to wage battle against the worst parts of yourself?"

To which the groom would respond: "For the love of him, I promise."

Then the priest would hand the groom a brick and say: "Will you build walls to keep out enemies, and levees to hold back the raging sea?"

To which the groom would respond: "For the love of him, I promise."

Finally, the priest would hand the groom a spade, and say: "Will you devote yourself to the relentless cultivation of your own virtue?"

To which the groom would say: "For the love of him, I promise."

And the priest would say, "I now pronounce you a husband." And the gathered assembly would praise the husband for his selflessness.


Then the priest would turn to the bride and say, "Don't you agree that the man we've just described -- selfless, heroic, virtuous, self-giving, and self-contained -- is worthy of praise?"

And the bride would agree that such a man would be praiseworthy indeed. And she'd be pronounced a wife.

And the husband and wife would move toward each other to embrace, only to find that the husband's arms were too full. For he was still holding the mirror, sword, brick, and spade.


Marriage in this village had a curious effect on brides' bodies.

After the wedding, a wife would follow her husband home as a solid creature, with a distinct shape, distinct features and textures that were her own. But gradually, as her husband became the the diamond-hard man he'd promised himself to be, and as her own body stretched and gave way to the children his love had begotten, she would lose this solidity.

And here is how the disappearance would go:

One morning she would wake up, begin getting dressed, and stop in fear.

Looking herself over, she would discover that it had all gone blurry: the arm that he'd stroked, the face that he'd kissed, the hand that he'd held tenderly. Blurry, and unrecognizable. For example, her birthmark might be gone, or in a different place. The bemused glint that would appear in her eyes sometimes -- also gone. In fact, her whole face was no longer recognizably hers; it was just a vague quantity of Face. And her whole body was just a vague quantity of Wife.

She would rub her eyes, and wonder if her vision was failing. But then she would look over at her husband, and find that she could still see him clearly.

It would continue in this way. As time went by, she would find she was only barely-there, floating through her own home like she was half vapor. The hazy outline of herself would get fainter and fainter. In a moment that nobody could pinpoint or predict, the lingering definition and shapeliness would be gone. She would evaporate, joining the indistinct vapor of all the wives before her.


Generations passed this way, faint outlines of wives disappearing every day.

The husbands thought them gone, if they gave them any thought at all. Meanwhile, their marriages to themselves were strong.

But the vapor wasn't gone. It hung heavy over the town.

What the husbands didn't know, and what the wives didn't know, was that this vapor was volatile, highly-combustible.

One day (and who knows what ignited it?) it all caught fire. And the fire burned for days. The vapor fed the fire, and fed it, and fed it, until it had all been entirely consumed. The whole village was consumed by it. There were no survivors -- not husbands, not wives, not brides, not grooms, not children, not priests.

But there is a happy ending.

For this fire, though huge, did not burn very hot, as fires go.

It was not as hot as the glassblowers' fires out of which had come the glass for the grooms' mirrors. It was not as hot as the ovens that baked the clay for the grooms' bricks. It was not as hot as the smiths' fires that refined the steel for the grooms' swords, and the iron for their spades.

So those artifacts survived -- unchanging testaments to the husbands' constant virtue, a legacy for the ages.

Centuries later, these artifacts were preserved in glass cases in museums. Observers would file by, regard them reverently, and exclaim, "How strong their men must have been!"

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Yeah, it's economic armageddon, but have you ever noticed...

...that "somatoform disorder" looks a lot like "tomatoform disorder"?

...and then pondered what a "tomatoform disorder" might be?

...and then thought to yourself, "Well, according to Wikipedia, one of the somatoform disorders is hypochondriasis. Maybe tomatoform disorder is where you fake an injury using ketchup as pretend blood"?




Sorry so silent. Have been: stressing about the economy, stressing about being on the academic job market during a downturn in the economy, stressing about the fact that if I am lucky enough to get a job it means selling our house in a few months which right now sounds only slightly more difficult than getting an academic job during an economic downturn, writing cover letters like mad, being kind of pissy to my family members, and not sleeping as much as I ought.

On the upside, we this evening had an impromptu pumpkin party with friend. The Undersea Explorer was supposed to go on a field trip this morning -- his first-ever field trip of preschool -- and it got canceled due to rain. So the much-anticipated field trip was a bust (and the much-anticipated rain didn't happen, either.) He was SO crushed; not in a tantrummy way, but just in a "WHY, cruel world? WHY do you hate me so, that you would raise my hopes and then dash them as though they matter not?" kind of way. So, to cheer him up, we had another family over for dinner (beef stew served from a pumpkin), bread, cider, pumpkin ale for grownups, and a cookie-cake with a frosting pumpkin on it. I made the stew, bread, and orange frosting but everything else was store-bought. It was a success, I think. But now I think I'm coming down with a chest cold. Which hopefully may explain the stream-of-consciousness reporting style of this post; I just don't have it in me for another self-reflective or politically analytic post tonight.

Spouse just asked me why I was making agitated noises, so I think that's a sign that I should sign off...

Friday, September 12, 2008

(Pt.3 of 3) On Missing Genealogies, Or How I Learned I Was Ugly

Part 3: The Mirror

(Please read Part 1 and Part 2 first.)

Like, I suspect, most people with internet access, I learned to interpret real bodies with reference to fake bodies.

The real body I have came from my mom's and my dad's real bodies, and the bodies of their forbears. My general body type is mostly from my mom, I think, although my funny gait is definitely my dad's, and I got my red hair from my dad's side.

Those traits came to me thanks to genes, which are of course tiny little bits of bodies. And as you can tell from the fact that whatever great-aunt I got my red hair from is no longer living, the bodies that gave me the body I have are also bodies that die. Get sick, age, and die.

However: before I ever had any concept of any of that... before I understood that you get your body type from your parents... before I can even remember having a conscious thought about bodies... I had already learned that human bodies were fake bodies.

By which I mean, bodies in entertainment and advertising. Smooth, well-lit bodies with no rough places or saggy bits. Bodies that have been photoshopped, sculpted, rearranged and augmented. Bodies frozen in time. Bodies with no context: those fetching green eyes on the model in the perfume ad do not make you think, "Oh, you can tell she's Daisy's daughter," or "Oh, she always gets that look when she's impatient." They aren't meant to make you think anything but, "I feel inadequate yet vaguely titillated. I think I'll buy some perfume so I can be titillated AND adequate."

Those kind of bodies.

I can't remember a time when I didn't simply think that's what a normal female body was. A human female's body was smooth, lanky, unblemished, unwrinkled, intriguing, lovely. And, it moved product. You were a better person, I thought (still think?), the more your body approximated those fake bodies.

I'm an only child, so the only frankly real female body I saw, as a kid, was my mom's. My mom's body was not perfectly smooth, lanky, or taut. And because I had learned that a human female body was what print ads and television said it was, my mom's body looked monstrous to me. It looked monstrous to her, too, and she feared for me lest I be similarly afflicted. I picked up on that pretty early, her internalized hatred of her own body.

As I've said, I mostly got my body from my mom. But even more - and to connect this to the theme of female genealogies - I also got my visceral hatred of that body from her. That's not to say that it's her fault. Hell's bells, I am so SICK of mothers getting blamed for everything; almost as sick as I am of the beneficiaries of sexism wringing their hands and moaning, "Why do these silly women DO this to each other?"

I just mean that I learned how to be a woman from my mom; specifically I learned how to be a woman with a particular kind of body -- the one that she and I share. And a big part of that education involved getting very, very, very good at thinking of myself as a certain collection of physically-realized shortcomings.

(In fact, let's take it from (ha!) the top: Hair too thick and given to frizz, shamefully unable ever to be long and flowing. Face that is sallow and prone to breakouts. Circles under my eyes; even in high school a teacher would tell me I looked like someone had burned two holes in a sheet. Jaw too square. Smile vaguely reminiscent of the Joker in the 1989 Batman. Unfeminine shoulders. Squishy armpits that hang out of sleeveless shirts like two drunk frat boys yelling obscenities out the two back windows of a car. Saggy boobs. Ridiculously high waist. Long slack torso. Man hands. A belly that, after two kids, looks and feels mangled. Saddlebag thighs. Proportionally short legs. Rough knees. Big bulky calves. Boat feet that turn out funny, giving me a duck walk that I correct for even though doing so gives me hip pain. Ugly toes. And everything just too big. And that's... me. Hi. Pleased to meet you. No, really, I promise I have some beautiful qualities on the insi... oh, you're gone. Okay.)

Looking back, I wonder why my mom gave me some of the lessons she did. Like telling me about how she was the alternate on the cheerleading squad because although the coach said she was one of the most talented people to audition, she was a little chunky. Or the time that they got weighed in gym class, and her teacher was so astounded that she weighed ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN pounds that she blurted it out, gobsmacked, to the class. Or the rule that her mother had told her: a woman should weigh 100 pounds at five feet tall and five additional pounds for every inch above that.

I think all of these were said, at least in part, as cautionary tales for me lest I turn out as bad as she thought she was... but I wonder if, too, she was trying to clue me in about the kind of cruelty I could expect from the world?

Of course, like my mother, I have my collection of plain-girl autobiographical vignettes: dieting in the primary grades, enduring private-school-mean-girl torment in middle school, entering high school and then college and not believing that any boy could like me who wasn't a loser and so letting myself be treated unkindly by boys who most certainly were losers; discovering I was an incredibly talented actress but also discovering that it didn't matter because I wasn't pretty enough to make use of my talent... blah blah blah, if you've ever been the ugly weird kid you know exactly what I'm talking about, and if you haven't then you won't understand anyway although you will probably imagine that you do.)

I won't rehash those memories, but there are a few observations I'd like to make, in no particular order:

1) Part of my lessons in ugliness included instruction in how I was a class traitor. It was never stated that clearly, obviously. But my parents had come into a lot of money in their lifetimes, and I was a smart kid attending a super-fancy school in a super-fancy neighborhood. SO WHY (I somehow learned to scream at myself) DIDN'T I HAVE A NICE LANKY WASPY BODY THAT LOOKED GOOD IN UPPER-CLASS DESIGNER CLOTHES? Why did my body have to be the dead giveaway, the proof that my family was secretly vulgar, not beautiful or refined?

2) Learning to hate my body was the first kind of self-hatred I got really good at. And it made other kinds of self-hatred come much more naturally. For instance, I have a clear memory of being in third grade and really, really overreacting to another classmate doing something obnoxious to a box turtle I had found and brought in to show the class. I remember thinking, "Other kids don't react to things as intensely as I do. Other kids don't think so hard about things as I do. What's wrong with me? Why can't I be normal?" That's the first (of countless) times that I remember wishing away my intensity. And yet, by third grade I was already putting myself on diets without a thought. I was already looking in the mirror and spending ten minutes hating everything I saw.

3) I never felt as though I looked like myself. I felt, in other words, like my body and my personality didn't match up. Suppose you were casting a role in a play. Suppose the character was female, intense, intelligent, emotional, startlingly honest, and unceasingly creative. You would NOT cast someone who looked like me. You would cast someone -- and how well I have this image in my mind, having thought for years that it was who I really should have been and that my real body was some kind of horrible mistake! -- who had long flowing dark hair, clear pale skin, burning green eyes, and a willowy lanky body. (And I flag again, here, the fact that prettiness - as defined by the dominant culture - is terribly intertwined with racism; with whiteness serving to put prettiness more "within reach," even if it isn't sufficient to bring it about.) I could not play myself in a play, because nobody would believe I was that person. Functionally, as far as I could see, this meant that I was not, in fact, that person.


So what now?

For the first time in my life I'm dealing with this by plowing straight through it, for the whole Big Dark Barn of the internet to see.

I'm realizing that I will not, in this lifetime, ever achieve Pretty. That is one ideal I simply will never meet. I almost came close once, but that's in the past, on the other side of motherhood, and I'm only going to get further and further from Pretty.

I have not quite come to terms with my experience of pregnancy and birth as profoundly disfiguring. It scares me to see my own body following the pattern of my mom's body. She, too, was at her Prettiest before she had a child; she, too, found having a child disfiguring and has spent decades hating herself for getting uglier.

I am so thankful that I'm not raising daughters.

I wish I could be Pretty. I desperately wish I could be Pretty. I wish I could have a fake body that would better match the real me.

I'm angry at the cultural forces which taught me that "the real me" doesn't include my far-from-perfect real body. I'm angry at the cultural forces which ensure that self-hatred is part of my legacy from my mother, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. No name, no marker of our connection; but instead a certain body type, and a way of hating it that has been honed for generations.

I wonder whether, if I were Pretty, other people would see someone intriguing, fetching, worth loving.

I'm frankly terrified that nobody will ever again look at me with a face full of love, interest, delight, acceptance, and recognition. I imagine decades stretching out ahead of me, and never being looked at that way again.

(Pt. 2 of 3) On Missing Genealogies, Or How I Learned I Was Ugly

Part Two: My Belly Button

(Please read part one first.)

Last week I found myself looking at before and after pictures of tummy tucks, wondering whether I might want to get one.

This, despite the fact that in the past year I’ve discovered, and embraced, the fat acceptance movement. The central concepts of fat acceptance have shed light on so many lies I’d uncritically accepted, among them: that fat necessarily equals unhealthy and thin necessarily equals healthy; that most fat people can become thin if they just try; that fatness and thinness tell you something meaningful about that person’s diet and behavior; that fatness is intrinsically aesthetically inferior to thinness; that fatness is intrinsically morally inferior to thinness; that fat people eat very differently than thin people; that fat people are far less active than thin people; that it’s innocent to impress upon women that their beauty consists in their being small; etc. etc. etc.

It now makes intellectual sense to me – in the light of evidence – that all of those things are false. And yet, it’s very threatening to actually live as though I believe it. Because, before, there was always the hope that someday I’d actually look pretty, as “prettiness” is commonly defined. Oh, sure, that hope came with one hell of a stinger: namely, I believed that the things keeping me from looking nice were reprehensible character traits on my part. Clearly, since I wasn’t thin, I was a BAD BAD BAD eater of BAD BAD BAD foods and had BAD BAD BAD character and a YUCKY BODY EW EW EWWWW.

In theory, though, I could change that, right? I just had to stop being such a loathsome person with no impulse control. Whereas now I’m realizing: crap, this is just how I actually look. I’m simply not a slender person. I’m fairly active, I eat a wide variety of foods I like in reasonable amounts, and this is how I look. Not thin. And even if I were thin, I still wouldn’t be pretty. I mean, I could lose 30 pounds, but my body structure would still be kind of dense and lumpy; I’d still have thick and stumpy legs, uncooperative hair, a square jaw, and breakout-prone skin. (And, oh, the post-two-kids belly. There are no words for my feelings about that.)

Not only that, but I’ve recently realized: I’ve probably already been the conventionally-prettiest I’ll ever be (it was in summer 2001, if you’re interested) and I will never again come that close to the ideal. For instance, I'm beginning to notice the early signs of middle age: already my weight is settling at a higher number than it did before kids, and increased activity no longer brings about weight loss. (Good thing I exercise because I like to, in other words, because the scale sure isn't providing any motivation.)

So I've been struggling deeply with this in the last few months. Oddly, though, I think my recent sense of urgency surrounding this struggle represents a step toward – rather than away from – self-acceptance. Frankly, for much of my life, the issue of prettiness has been so painful that I simply refused to think about it. I Just. Would. Not. Go. There. Over the last few months, by contrast, I’ve been thinking about it a lot, going into the shameful and secret places where before I would not go. And indeed, it’s painful as hell; when the pain gets to be too much, I find myself in the midst of an intense inner backlash. “NO!” a crazy mean-girl voice inside me screams. “No, it’s not TRUE! Prettiness IS within reach. Okay, so it can’t be combined with a healthy and happy life in your case, but it’s still possible. You could eat only 300 calories a day. You could get surgery.”

Hence, the before-and-after pictures of tummy tucks.

Aside from the cost, it seemed just possible that I'd be able to justify getting a tummy tuck. After all, I reasoned, it’s not just cosmetic. They actually go in and stitch together the muscles that become separated – permanently, for some genetically-unlucky women (raises hand) – after pregnancy. With a tummy tuck, I would regain the muscle strength I’d lost in my abdomen; why, then I could jog without wearing some form of back support. It’s a quality of life issue, right?

But then I read this: “Your surgeon will cut a new opening for your umbilicus (belly button).”

And I started to cry. I mean, I just started sobbing.

My belly button is where I was connected to...

(dang it, I'm sobbing now)

...connected to my mom. Absent any name to signify my connection to her (and her mother, and her mother, and her mother), what I’ve got is a belly button.

A belly button I was considering letting a surgeon re-do, because I didn’t like how my belly looked after I’d become a mother. And because I didn’t like the body I’d gotten from my mother.

This is fast becoming too difficult to write, and too long. Part 3 will come later tonight or tomorrow.

(Pt. 1 of 3) On Missing Genealogies, Or How I Learned I Was Ugly

Part One: My Name

Genealogies and lineages are among the casualties of sexism. (And, even more devastatingly, racism: just consider how African families were chewed up and spit out by the American white slave-owning economy. But that deserves its own treatment, and right now there’s something I need to write/think through, for myself, about sexism and female genealogies in my family.)

Most anyone with half a clue about feminism knows about missing female lineages. Thanks to ideas about male authority in the family, they have disappeared, been made invisible. There is no last name connecting me to my maternal grandmother Dorothy, for example; no signifier that I carry on something of her in the world. The last name she was born with, was baptized with, was not part of what she gave to any of her three children – neither the one whom she adopted, nor the two whom she bore. Her husband’s last name was what got passed on to them, marked them as belonging to a family – his family.

That last name became my mother’s last name at birth; and with that name she was baptized. It did not become part of her legacy to me. Although it did not vanish when she was married, it got relegated to a middle name, a polite “C.” that appears atop her resume and in her publications.

The last name I was born and baptized with – my father’s family name; or rather, the name of my father’s father’s father’s father’s etc. – is somewhat ironically the only name I've ever shared with my mother. It's one I have tried to cling to, but in an awkward and ham-fisted fashion. Actually, when I was first married, I took my husband’s last name; I thought it the unselfish Christian thing to do. I insisted that the issuance of my new married name be part of our wedding ceremony. If marriage was going to supplant baptism in such a concrete way, then by golly I wanted the supplanting to happen in church! I also made it clear to all and sundry that I at NO point wanted to be referred to as “Mr. and Mrs. Husband’s Full Name.” Our marriage was an hour and a half old before this wish was violated for the first time, and in a very public way.

In the weeks and months that followed our wedding, it became clear to me that the world had suddenly decided to treat me as (in Carol Tavris’ words) Assistant Person to my spouse’s full and unquestioned Person. Meanwhile, I found out in short order that I was pregnant with our first child, despite our intention and effort not to conceive for at least a year. I felt like I’d been taken over by hostile and alien forces. Where had I gone – me, the person I’d been for as long as I’d had any self-awareness, and believed myself still to be? Who was this wife/mother person that everyone seemed to be talking to instead of talking to me?

And so I began to reconsider the willingness with which I had given up the name that had been mine since birth.

I tried two last names. I tried hyphenating. I retracted the hyphen. My husband took my last name, so that we each had two last names. I tried to go socially by my birth/baptismal name, but at that point the horse was out of the barn.

At this point, what seems to have happened is that most people use both last names in writing, and studiously avoid using my last name in person. It still feels unsettled, unwieldy, and ill-fitting.

What I was wrong about

Dear Spouse and Interested Onlookers,

In reference to yesterday's post (which we had a good and not-very-heated conversation about) here is what I was doing wrong that contributed to the problem. (This is not an exhaustive description; I'm sure there are many other things, but this is what I've got traction on at the moment.)

From what I understand, I sometimes get SO! EXCITED! AND! ANIMATED! about my take on a particular situation -- especially involving church -- that I drown you out, without meaning to. Or maybe I just overwhelm rather than drown out -- because I really am listening intently. I don't know quite how to put it. It's sort of like my dial goes all the way up to eleven, whereas yours has a smaller range from 1 to 2. If your dial goes from 1 to 2, the difference between 1.01 and 1.03 has some importance, far more than on my dial that goes from 1 to 11, kwim? So I miss things. I try hard, but I miss them.

I do get frustrated sometimes because it seems like I have to spend an enormous amount of energy to tease things out of you and take note of these tiny incremental differences in tone and interest, and then on top of that it seems I now have to tone down my reactions so they don't completely overshadow yours. That's a lot of work. It's work that you - by virtue of the very fact that your dial only goes from 1 to 2 - don't do. I kind of feel like, maybe you could put some effort into having bigger facial expressions and working in some vocal inflection to let me know when something's REALLY IMPORTANT versus Pretty Significant versus important versus mildly interesting versus zzzz....boring.

But then I remember several things. First, it's not like this is a new trait in you that only appeared when we got married. I found it attractive, initially, precisely because I *do* overwhelm people sometimes with the sheer vastness and intensity of my reactions to things; and I thought your comparatively smaller range would balance mine. Balance? Or maybe, protect me against rejection, because if you don't even have receptors for all that I feel and experience, you won't reject me on that basis? Anyway, now I blame you for those very traits, and that's stinky. So I'm sorry. I didn't know how wearing I would find it to have to do so much detective work to figure out what you think/feel/wish/fear/love so that we can be close. But still, I'm sorry.

Also, there's the oft-trotted-out fact that boys in general aren't allowed to express emotions. And you in particular are from a religious subculture where Emotion = Immature Lack of Control = opening for SIN SIN SIN!!!! = possibility that you might become one of the Unsatisfactory People whom the Satisfactory People love with humiliatingly virtuous grace. You've come to question that cultural message, to a degree I really admire (when I can step back and gain perspective) and you deserve credit for that, I think.

(For my part, I can't say I was exactly ever encouraged in my intensity -- indeed, it's been implicated in my profoundest spells of loneliness -- but I wasn't discouraged from it in the same way you were, growing up. It was more that it was slightly embarrassing. The message I got was not "If you feel things intensely you might get dangerously out-of-control, and your gender especially is supposed to be IN CONTROL!" Rather, it was more like, "Look, it's all well and good to be an extremely smart kid, but the smartness is supposed to have a point: to make you do well in school, pave the way for future successes, make you a leader that gets things done and that other people want to be around. To just be intensely interested in THE DEEPER MEANINGS OF EVERYTHING, to a degree that you end up NOT doing well on school work and NOT impressing people, is missing the whole point of being smart. Just tone it down, will ya?")

And thirdly: I do, as I said, get worn out from doing all the work of taking everyone's emotional temperature in the family. But, you do A LOT of work for our household too. Not just "a lot of work for a man," but "a lot of work, period." And I know you get worn out too. We're both worn out a lot. I'm not sure what to do about this but wait.

Anyway, the point is: I see now that sometimes - not always, I think, but sometimes - the reason I don't hear you saying P, Q, and W is that my espousal of A, B, and C is SO VERY LOUD! AND ENTHUSIASTIC! When you later tell a third party that you think differently than I do, you're really just telling them what you'd tried to tell me, except I didn't hear. Which makes yesterday's script not so accurate, in those situations. So although I don't think this invalidates everything I said yesterday about sexism, I'm sorry for being unfair. Please forgive me.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Attention Spouse! (My attempt to live Matthew 18)

Dear spouse,

Please consider the following script:

-----Scene One-----

ME: So if I hear you right, you think A. And I think B and C, right? These aren't contradictory, so together we think that A, B, and C, yes? We agree? A, B, and C?

YOU: Yep, A, B, and C.

ME: So if I communicate to Person X that you and I together think A, B, and C, I'm representing us both accurately?

YOU: Uh-huh.

ME: Great! (goes off to tell Person X and that together we think A, B and C.)

----Scene Two----

YOU: My wife thinks that A, B, and C. I, on the other hand, think that Q, P and W are better options, and/or what we should be focusing our attention on, and/or a more workable solution than what my wife mentioned.

PERSON X: Really? Fascinating.

YOU: Thank you.

----Scene Three----

ME: WHAT THE HELL? I went to a lot of trouble to PRY your friggin' opinions out of you so that I could pass along what we BOTH thought. You said A, B, and C; not Q, P and W.

YOU: I did say Q, P and W. Once, very softly. Or else I thought of Q, P, and W after our conversation. And anyway, why are you angry when Q, P and W are so obviously better than A, B, and C?

ME: (gets stabby-eyed because that is so far from the point.


I'd like to suggest to you that the frequency with which, if I'm correct, this script gets followed in our marriage is a manifestation of your sexism. Even if Q, P, and Z are genuinely better. Even if on some occasions you DO genuinely think of Q, P, and Z after I do the conversational work to pry out of you what you think.

You know how, when white people get called on their racism and they say, "Oh, but in that instance there was this particular extenuating factor that explains it all. And in that other instance there was this other extenuating factor. And in that other instance there was that other extenuating factor. And my, that's a lot of situations that seem to need an explanation, BUT IT'S OKAY because there is ALWAYS an extenuating factor." it doesn't wash?


Look, you're planting turds in my pocket, and I don't like it. And you seem to do it mostly with Christian communities -- churches and small groups. What's the deal? I am seriously considering the possibility that I can't be part of the same Christian communities as you, because you have a pattern of undermining what I say and making me look like the inept fool in our family.

I think of the Mennonite church we used to attend; I thought we had said we would approach the pastors about the sexism that we'd seen at the church, but then in conversation with them it ended up that I was complaining about the sexism (and getting patted on the head over my obviously hurt feelings) while you were bringing up your objections to the liturgy. (Which were indeed valid; again, though - not my point.)

I think of my attempts to talk frankly with our current pastor, about things I believe I had every reason to believe we were agreed on (because, as usual, I'd done the conversational work of getting out of you what you think and feel.) And then you went and talked to her later, and undermined everything I'd said.

And now with this small group that's forming. You've done it again. Now I don't feel like this is a group I can join.

Since we've been married I've noticed - and communicated to you - that my status in Christian groups seems to have plummeted. I chalked this up to the fact that Christians are generally pretty sexist and while they might be able to see a young single woman as a thinking agent they have a lot harder time with affording that respect to a mother of young kids. I also reasoned that our marriage coincided with a move to a conservative state, so that was part of the equation as well.

I now find myself wondering how much of it is just you.

Am I one hundred percent correct in all of these situations? No. I might be lots wronger than you are. I get angry in ways that give me no moral high ground. I don't always pick up on your (frankly, very subtle) cues early on that what you really want to talk about Q, P, and W rather than A, B, and C. When I get angry later I might not remember every tiny little fact correctly or get my timeframe precisely right. I might fume at you in ways that are unhelpful and prompt you to get defensive. I might have a chip on my shoulder. Sometimes I might see this pattern in operation when it's not, really. Those things are mistakes of mine; I don't pretend they're not.

Again, though, please note the presence of the pattern in the first place.

Stop it, please. I've asked you already one-on-one, and it continues. You claim to want accountability. We're not in a church community that knows how to practice mutual accountability, so I am posting this on my blog that at least one person you know reads.

I'm also disabling comments. If you know my spouse, and you want to talk to him about it, feel free to do so. I don't think anyone else need criticize him, though.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Where'd the blog go?

Short version: There's a group trolling another blog where I comment, that has sometimes made trouble for academics over comments made on blogs. I don't think they'd made trouble for me -- I am a Christian (though theologically I'm far more liberal than what they'd probably consider respectable); I've never taught anything at a Catholic institution that contradicts Catholic teaching and have gotten along well with the most conservative students as well as the most liberal*; and I actually do think this group is correct that a certain segment of the left believes it's totally fine to take cheap shots at Catholicism (though I do not agree with its tactics and means).

I'm so sorry, y'all. But I've had to delete old posts, to make sure there wasn't anything connecting to any other places on the internet where I have been too loose with the potentially-personally-identifying information.

I apologize from the bottom of my heart for deleting your comments... but I wasn't brave enough to risk an assault on my career before it even started.

(And, crud, I just realized... Carlie, I deleted the one already with your contact info, in which you were going to help me with some professional goals! Blargh!!)

I hope to be blogging again after it's blown over.

* - I actually think it's one of my strengths as a teacher that students across the theological spectrum seem to think that I basically understand their worldview; and, if I level critiques, I do so respectfully and with an understanding of the inner logic of where they're coming from. (So, in other words, my critiques do not mimic the "DUH! It is OBVIOUSLY a cracker, y'all!" inanity. Not to mention any names in the blogosphere.) I'm proud of this, because too often it's assumed that a good teacher of my subject will turn the pious drones into uncritical advocates of post-enlightenment liberalism. I did not do this. I'll say, I didn't do as well with the completely nonreligious students who weren't raised with any tradition; so that sort of shows where my sympathies lie, I suppose.