When I was about 8 or 9 years old, we heard that a chapter of the KKK planned to hold a white supremacy rally in my small Midwestern town. Whether this was planned or just rumored I’m not sure, but we took the threat seriously.
I titled this “breaking my silence” not because I kept silent about this on purpose. I just never got around to it. After reflection, I regret not getting around to it, so I’m going to say something now, three months later.
Everyone probably remembers the New Year’s attacks on women in Europe that took the news cycle by storm. These attacks raised a big concern: that some refugees who come from very different cultures may carry out violent or sexual acts against women, acts that would be culturally acceptable in their own homeland but are obviously unacceptable to Western beliefs about gender equality.
This heated up the debate on whether Western countries should welcome migrants.
Now, I think people are too quick to broad-brush all refugees. It should be obvious that the majority of migrants are not attacking anyone, and not everyone outside of Western countries comes from a misogynistic culture. However, the concern over those who do is, indeed, a sobering question. But I’m even more concerned with how we choose to approach the larger question of women’s rights around the globe.
When this news story broke, I saw many conversations about how to protect Western values. I agree that we should have a conversation about that—it’s important to preserve what elements of physical, legal, and economic safety the West has managed to build for women. But I was extremely upset to see that most, if not all, of these conversations made no attempt to go beyond that. If we stop at merely protecting ourselves, I fear what that implies about our larger worldview.
Do the people who write these news stories, and the shocked Westerners who share and talk about them, pause to consider that sexual assaults and violent attacks are a daily reality for literally millions of women in various cultures around the globe? Do those writers, and the political advocates who are talking about these reprehensible attacks, plan to tackle the worldwide plight of women? Or do we only care about Western women?
People say this situation proves that we should not attempt a mass-assimilation of people from differing cultures (as if most people from non-Western countries are abusive rapists, which is not the case). This argument suggests we should leave people in the cultures they are familiar with so that they don’t visit their culture’s problems on us.
So then, it’s better to leave rapists and violent misogynists with other women, rather than to try and address misogyny and figure out how to bring egalitarianism to it?
We’ll be satisfied as long as those rapists keep raping other women and not us? And that’s where the conversation will stop?
Do we believe, in some back-alley corner of our subconscious, that there’s less urgency about the rape and abuse of women in other places because, after all, they’re used to it? And that it’s really important to protect ourselves, because our women are more enlightened and so it will hurt us more?
As ugly as that statement sounds, I fear that is the subconscious assumption that drives us. Otherwise, why would we be satisfied to say, “Let’s keep those problems in that culture rather than letting anyone come here.” Why would sending rapists back to “other women” in “other places” be a better approach than trying to bring principles of gender equality to them here and now? If we know men from certain areas are abusive to women, why is it okay to just leave them there to do their abusing and stop the conversation at that?
I have been guilty of putting my heart in that place more than once, I can tell you.
Of course, no one is actually saying that it’s okay for people in other places to rape women. No one wants that to happen. And yet, isn’t it still a problem for us to say that we’d rather build a wall against the problems than engage them? Isn’t that a way of prioritizing the safety of women who are like us and not doing the hard work of recognizing ourselves in women who come from dissimilar backgrounds?
This situation exposes the lie behind the idea that Western women are doing “enough” when we focus on the misogyny of our own culture. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, after all, and we’re learning that in a big way through this situation. Many of us have been complacent about addressing the suffering of women worldwide, and now a global migrant situation is bringing that problem to our door, albeit in a very small way.
Looks like it’s time for us to start caring. The fantasy that we can avoid other people’s problems in an increasingly connected global world is just that—a fantasy.
If you’re outraged about what happened at New Year’s as I am, be outraged that millions of women experience that as the norm in every facet of their society every day, and no one is going to write an angry news piece for them.
It is your problem. It is my problem. And not just because all women share a bond of sisterhood or because it’s hypothetically the ethical thing to care about, but because misogyny is a mighty tide of evil that won’t always stay behind the walls we think it will stay behind.
Valentine’s Day sneaks up on me every year. I don’t usually think on it too seriously until about five minutes before it happens, then I run around in a panic to make a homemade card and figure out which eating establishment is passably romantic.
This year, however, I started thinking about Valentine’s Day early when I was inundated with social media promotions for a new Christian movie called “Old-Fashioned.” Watch the trailer here.
I’m curious. I’ve largely stepped out of the Christian art scene these days, because so much of it is overly-pointed and reliant on stereotypes rather than creativity, but I’d like to think Christian art can still surprise me sometimes.
My goal is to watch the movie when it comes out and give it an honest review. But right now, I’d like to start with an honest review of the movie’s first impressions.
An honest review means looking at both the good and the bad, so I chose a rotating “good/bad/good/bad” format so as not to align myself too strongly with either side before I’ve even seen the film.
Let’s start with something pleasant, yeah?
Good 1—Stylistic Consistency
I give the marketing team kudos; everything about this film screams “old-fashioned,” and not in a bad way. It maintains a feeling of bygone days, of sentimentality, of detachment from a lot of the modern hustle and bustle. That consistency is one thing I admire about the trailer and the marketing campaign.
It starts right away with the logo.
The classic symbol (in our culture, anyway) of male and female, participating in the timeless act of getting engaged, and designed to look like a sweet cartoon done in crayon. It’s simple, to the point, and keeps with the theme of old-fashioned.
The trailer features soothing guitar with gentle vocals. Yes, this style of music is actually pretty popular nowadays, but it’s one of our current musical obsessions that at least maintains a classic style.
The visuals keep it old-school, too. We see the young female protagonist living in a rustic apartment with a tea kettle, gas stove, and rotary phone. Our film’s protagonist does woodworking. Rather than watching TV, checking their phones, or e-mailing each other, this couple chops wood outside, makes homemade shoeboxes with surprises in them, roasts marshmallows, sits on swings at the park.
A+ for consistency in tone, marketers. You knocked this one out of the park.
Bad 1—Failure to Stand On Its Own Strength
The trailer’s fatal flaw—one that spills over into the Facebook marketing campaign—is its reliance on setting itself up against the “50 Shades of Grey” movie, also out on Valentine’s Day.
If the film is good enough to warrant the time, money, and effort to create it, not to mention the price of a movie ticket, it should attract audiences on its own. By selling itself as merely the counter-point to 50 Shades, the film is implying that it only exists to be an antidote for something the audience doesn’t like. I’d rather a film sell itself as a fun and entertaining flick in its own right.
The marketing campaign suffers from this the whole way through. Here’s what the Facebook branch of “Old-Fashioned” has to say about itself:
Fifty Shades of Grey was just rated R for ‘unusual behavior.’ We also have unusual behavior in Old Fashioned, you know, respecting women, the sanctity of marriage and God-honoring romance. On Valentine’s Day will you choose Clay or Grey?
It’s really dangerous to give me a choice like that, because I’m likely to say, “Neither. I choose Indiana Jones,” and spend Valentine’s Day watching that at home. It saves the price of a ticket.
The trailer tells us almost nothing about the story, but instead focuses all its energy on how it’s the opposite of 50 Shades.
Sexy Corporate Mogul
Sincere Small Businessman
Sweet Midwestern Girl With A Cat
The little indie movie that some people have heard of
Brings you a love story that most only dream of
Mr Walsh Will See You Now
Love is anything but Grey.
Okay, so I get that I’m not seeing “50 Shades of Grey,” but what the crap am I seeing? It makes me concerned that the filmmakers may have cared more about being different from 50 Shades than they did about writing well.
Good 2—Good Fit For Target Audience
Most Christian movies market themselves to people who are already Christians, particularly Christians who worry that secular culture is eroding important values.
Based on what I see in this trailer, “Old-Fashioned” will indeed fill a niche with conservative Christian audiences. I’m thinking particularly middle-aged and older Christians who conducted their own dating relationships in the days before text messaging and Facebook invites. When those people see a couple talking over rotary phone, roasting marshmallows, shopping at an old country store, it likely calls up fond memories of their own young love. Who among us can resist a story that reminds us of the good parts of our lives?
Also, slightly younger Christians who are in the dating pool may find this movie encouraging, as it portrays a relationship that doesn’t have to include sex. I am appreciative when a film shows that it’s possible to wait for sex until marriage. Few venues of pop culture portray that as a life option, preferring either to ignore the topic or assume that no emotionally healthy adult would choose that. Although it’s true that many people don’t wait, other people do, and I welcome something that represents that choice as legitimate—so long as it doesn’t get preachy and judge-y about it.
Bad 2—What is “Old-Fashioned” Anyway?
The phrase “old-fashioned” has really thrown me off as I try to decipher what this movie is about.
On the one hand, the trailer seems to portray it mostly as the decision not to have sex. In two different scenes, it’s implied that the woman would like the man to come into her bedroom, and is surprised when he says no. Is waiting for marriage the thing that makes their relationship “old-fashioned”? If so, doesn’t that word defeat the aforementioned purpose of showing abstinence as a valid choice that people still engage in?
On the movie’s web site, the synopsis exclaims that the two protagonists “attempt the impossible: an ‘old-fashioned’ and God-honoring courtship in contemporary America.”
Give. Me. A. Break. It is not “impossible” to have a relationship that honors God just because you live in America. Perhaps it’s impossible to live within a pop culture that supports each and every one of your romantic values, but that doesn’t impede your ability to live by those values. That sentence rubbed me the wrong way, because it was a shameless buzzword plug to make Christians feel riled up, and I hate that kind of manipulation.
The thing that really concerns me about the “old-fashioned” concept is whether it will include an anti-feminist element. Maybe the film will simply portray an abstinent couple who don’t use Facebook and go to church. That’s fine with me. On the other hand, maybe it will portray a man “leading” and a woman deciding that kind of relationship is more romantic than “modern” feminist notions, in which case I’ll start paging through my Bible for a verse that specifically tells men to “lead” their wives (I’ll be paging for a long time, because it doesn’t exist).
I get that notions of male leadership and initiation are part and parcel of church culture in the evangelical world, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
A related question: who is our audience?
I have one more observation that’s neither a good nor a bad, but more a question to the Christian movie industry in general: Who is our audience?
As I described earlier, the audience that will likely be drawn to this film are Christians who already hold to conservative relationship values and worry that they’re being eroded by pop culture. To be honest, I don’t see anything wrong with art that is directed toward a specific religious audience—mine or anyone else’s—so long as it’s good quality and tells the truth about life. I think the Christian masses have settled for less in recent decades, but that’s for another post.
But it bothers me when Christian art seems only interested in professing Christians. Generally, things categorized as “Christian” don’t have an approach or message that would reach someone who didn’t already agree with them.
Take this film, for example. I’d guess that the people who line up to see it would say, if asked, that they believe the 50 Shades crowd need better messages about relationships. That is one of the implied purposes of the film in the marketing campaign. But by belittling and downplaying “50 Shades of Grey,” the marketing campaign alienates the very people it believes need better messages. So, at the end of the day, it really is about bringing in dollars from people who already agree with the scriptwriters, and has very little to do with actually impacting the wider culture outside church doors.
(Edited: I’m not trying to defend 50 Shades as some upstanding story that should be respected; I’m just asking us to consider whether the marketing campaign was really directed at its fans, or directed at people who already hate it).
Despite all this, I promise to give “Old-Fashioned” an honest review, with good old-fashioned sincerity, when I see it next week. I won’t skip the good, I won’t skip the bad. But I still may watch Indiana Jones on Valentine’s night.
Yesterday, we established that there’s nothing inherently wrong with an egalitarian couple choosing a more “traditional” arrangement for their roles in the family. Egalitarian men can make more money than their wives. Egalitarian women can cook and clean with the best of them. If a couple functions well that way, who’s to stop them?
Why, then, do egalitarians like myself tend to actively champion nontraditional arrangements? Doesn’t that risk irritating traditional couples for no reason? That is today’s question.
To answer it, I usually start out by making a distinction: There is nothing inherently wrong with a traditional arrangement of gender roles—if that works well for every member of the family.
There’s a tendency in our church culture to assume that, because so many families live out traditional roles, they must work well. Strongly complementarian environments go beyond assuming this and actually teach it outright. And for some families, this is absolutely true; a more gendered role division fits with their personalities and goals. In other cases, however, a husband or a wife may not be the best fit for that lifestyle, and may experience stress while trying to squeeze into that box. Egalitarians encourage couples to ask that question, and to be unafraid of changing their life if traditionalism isn’t their best fit. This advocacy can seem like (and let’s be honest, sometimes is) an exclusive focus on people who aren’t traditional. That’s a pitfall egalitarians should be careful of. In my experience, most of us are willing to be careful about that if reminded, and our motives truly are about helping people who feel stuck rather than penalizing people for whom the system is working.
This desire we egalitarians have to make other couples think about their choices often comes from our own experience. Some of us found great improvement in our lives by moving toward a more 50/50 division of roles, or, in some cases, a reversal of roles. We feel that those benefits need to be common knowledge, since the benefits of traditionalism are already well-represented in church culture and literature. Further, we recognize that the desire for equality and freedom has been vilified by some corners of Christendom, and we want to correct that by presenting nontraditional roles as a normative, positive option.
Which leads to my last point. I firmly believe that cultural and religious biases about gender influence our decisions much more than we realize. I think that about myself, and I’ve been an active egalitarian for eight years! With that in mind, I believe people should use an ounce of caution and a pound of discernment when choosing what is best for their family.
As I said earlier, it’s easy to assume that society’s usual way of doing things will work for you, or is your actual desire—because it’s what you see. It’s the picture you have of doing life. I’ve often observed that, even in environments where everyone says they’re making choices independently, everyone’s choices look suspiciously alike. Chalk this up to many things; society pushing us all the same direction, general trends in what men and women are socialized to value, and yes, perhaps even some general trends in how men and women tend to be wired (how much any of these things plays a part is still up for debate).
And let’s be honest; the very fact of something being usual makes it the path of least resistance. Going against the grain is hard work. You have to be your own role model and cheerleader while simultaneously unlearning much of the subconscious programming you’ve been exposed to all your life.
It takes real motivation to be a woman pastor and deal with suspicion and, from some quarters, hostility. It also takes patience and security in your identity to be known as “the pastor’s husband.” These barriers do not exist for husbands who attend seminary and the wives who support them.
Many men face questions or outright criticism if their wife makes the majority—or all!—of the family income. Meanwhile, that wife has probably observed that women’s careers are more flexible or expendable in middle-class families. Her climb up the ladder may be seen as selfish, or wasteful if her at-home husband could be making more money, while the same effort from a husband would be met with praise for providing the family’s income.
It can be hard for a husband to see the details of household chores that his own mom took care of during his childhood. If, despite his best efforts, the dishwasher is loaded wrong, crumbs still scatter the carpet, and those pens from upstairs are for some reason living in the underwear drawer, the wife may decide at 9 p.m. that it’s easier to fix everything herself than teach him how to do it (a teaching process she may not have seen modeled by her parents, either).
As you can see, many forces both conscious and unconscious can push us into living a certain way, and this is even more true if we live in a somewhat conservative church culture, as so many of us do. Egalitarians can be so outspoken because we worry that these factors discourage couples from asking what’s really best for them. Not only that, but we want future generations to have an easier time making choices, and if we don’t do the groundwork of deconstructing today’s biases and pressures, all we do is pass it along to our kids.
Finally, I always want to make sure that we egalitarians refrain from judging each other. If a couple feels called to shake up the gender role status quo in their home, they mustn’t judge other egalitarians who don’t feel that call. Accordingly, the traditional couple should not judge the other couple for being too much the activist. There is room for beautiful variation within the Body of Christ. We just need to make sure that when systems like complementarianism try to put restrictions on that variety, we give them a firm “No, thank you.”
In all our discussions of egalitarianism vs. complementarianism here at Observational Ginger, very important questions occasionally arise from readers. My oldest childhood friend inspired today’s topic with a question she asked long ago. My answer then was dreadfully inadequate, and since it’s a common question anyway, I thought I’d take a blog post to soothe everyone’s curiosity. (With the understanding that it tackles the question in general and isn’t a specific response to her situation).
The question: Does being egalitarian mean you must live in a way that eschews traditional gender roles?
Does it mean dividing up everything 50/50 no matter what? Is it wrong if the husband makes decisions sometimes, if the wife stays home, if they don’t divide household chores down the middle like kids divvying up the backseat of a car?
In other words, does egalitarianism prescribe a certain life mold the way complementarianism often does—just a mold on the opposite side of the spectrum?
The short answer, of course, is no. Being egalitarian doesn’t mean you have to live out a certain pattern.
In fact, that’s rather the point. In theory, egalitarianism should free couples from constraints they might feel about how they “should” do things. Most complementarian couples in mainstream churches seem to be okay with some amount of flexibility in how they arrange their lives, but there are areas many still see as uncomfortable, such as women pastors, stay-at-home fathers, or wives who make most family decisions. Egalitarianism removes those boundaries and frees couples to pattern their lives according to however God has gifted them—including following desires that happen to fall along “traditional” gender lines.
For example, a naturally decisive, outgoing man might marry a naturally reserved, type B personality woman. The personalities God gifted them with might lead to a situation where the man makes more decisions or is the energy behind the family’s direction. That’s fine. However, it crosses the line into complementarianism if that couple believes God wants every man to be that way, and every woman to hold herself behind her husband’s lead. If they believe that a type A wife and type B husband are failing to honor God’s gender design, then we have a problem. (With a capital P, and that rhymes with C, and that stands for Complementarianism.)
And it goes without saying that the type A husband must still recognize his wife’s equality in family decision-making, even if she doesn’t exercise it all the time. (Ditto the type A wife to the type B husband, as in my household).
For another example, an egalitarian wife might decide to stay home with a baby. Perhaps they don’t want to use outside childcare and the husband makes more money. Maybe Mom simply wants to stay home. Maybe she’s not done with school and can’t handle kid, school, and work at the same time. Who knows! A complementarian couple, though, might make that choice simply because they’re reluctant to go against what they believe is God’s design for mothers—nurturing—and God’s design for fathers—breadwinning. The egalitarian couple would know that they were free to reverse their arrangement should circumstance or desires change; the complementarian couple might not feel that freedom.
Ditto with chores and such. I’m amazing at organizing and keeping track of things, while J has been known to lose items he was in the middle of eating, so I take on the traditionally feminine role of household organization. But we don’t believe that I’m doing this because God made me female, or that J refrains because God made him male; it’s just who we are. And we realize that J could take over this job with enough practice if some pressing situation took me away from home more often.
The bottom line is not how you and your partner choose to live but why you made that choice. Was it based on your gifts, desires, or maybe circumstances outside your control? Or was it based on a belief that God only sanctions a limited range of choices?
Here’s another way to say it; complementarianism is not the practice of traditional roles. Anyone can practice traditional roles for any number of reasons. Complementarianism is the belief that God has mandated the traditional roles and that you should shape your identity and self-perception around them.
If this is the case, though, why do so many egalitarians seem to actively advocate for nontraditional choices? Why does it seem like we always champion nontraditional people if that’s not inherently “better” or necessarily “more egalitarian”?
Tune in tomorrow for that discussion!