Breaking my silence on the New Year’s assaults on women in Europe.

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.

What everyone missed in Partridge’s yoga pants post.

I’m already tired of what I have deemed The Yoga Pants Kerfuffle of 2015.

I bet you didn’t know yoga pants could kerfuffle, but they’ve caused quite a stir. Or, rather, one Christian blogger’s decision not to wear them has caused a stir. Veronica Partridge made internet headlines when she announced her conviction to ditch yoga pants in order to prevent lust in men.

Many writers and bloggers replied that Partridge was shaming women and removing responsibility from men, while Partridge maintains that she was only sharing her personal journey.

Much as I’m not a fan of the modesty narratives, I’m going to leave that point to other capable Christian bloggers because I see a glaring issue that seems to be falling through the cracks of the discussion. It’s staring us right in the face but my guess is that you, like me, didn’t see the forest for the trees at first.

In explaining why she wants to avoid tight pants that might cause lust, she cites her daughter as a major factor, saying:

I want her [my daughter] to know, her value is not in the way her body looks or how she dresses, but in the character and personality God has given her.

Fair enough. I agree with that.

But does this belief extend to any area beyond yoga pants?

Partridge appears on her blog and in a recent Buzzfeed article looking absolutely pristine. Her makeup is that combination of smooth, stunning, and natural that comes from careful study and a practiced hand. Her abundant hair is styled with every lock in place–and trust me, as someone who had long hair, I can attest that this would take a bare minimum of 30 minutes. Her clothes are trendy. The main picture on her blog honestly makes her look like a model.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with spending time on your appearance, but because women have been socialized to put so much worth in looking pretty, it’s an area of life where every woman should honestly explore her motives. Is she frilling up because she loves doing that? Or because she gets a sense of self-worth from meeting the visual standards in movies and magazines? If it’s the latter, that frantic need for approval becomes a cage that she might need freeing from.

It’s entirely possible that Partridge is completely consistent in her values, and spends time on her appearance for the sheer enjoyment of it, rather than from any sense that she should look this way or that way. I’m not trying to pick on her or guess her motives, I just want readers to not overlook that aspect of the conversation. You can (rightly) teach your daughter not to place her self-worth in societal standards of sexiness, but if you teach her that grown women shouldn’t be seen without makeup or styled hair, you’ve taught her to place her self-worth in societal standards of “safe” beauty instead—and still not solely on the value of her character.

Again, I want to stress, I’m not accusing Partridge herself of holding that double-standard. I just want women who read her article to reflect on that in their own lives, and not miss the bigger point that this modesty post accidentally brings attention to.

And I’m not saying that attention to your appearance teaches your daughter bad things. Enslavement to your appearance, however–the palpable fear that you don’t look okay, the stressed-out prioritization of an expensive beauty routine that you actually hate doing, the refusal to be documented in photos without sufficient time to glam up–well, that might not be so good.

Now, if we can be done with kerfuffling yoga pants for awhile, I’d really like the internet to move on to something else.

Is Egalitarianism Prescriptive or Descriptive, Part 2

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.”

Is Egalitarianism Prescriptive or Descriptive?

male and femaleIn 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!

How the Accidental Complementarian confused the bejeebers out of me today!


I think this will be my last egalitarian post for awhile, unless some unforeseen blogosphere emergency arises. Starting tomorrow I’d like to switch back to pleasanter topics. But I discovered an article about an accidental complementarian over at Her.Meneutics and was so baffled by it that I had to write a post just to put my thoughts in order. This blog is becoming like therapy for me.
It tells the story of Jen Pollock-Michel and her journey from egalitarianism to complementarianism. She opens with an anecdote about all the times that her husband has moved for a job, leaving her to pack the kids and the house and deal with the responsibilities of relocating. She (and the article’s subtitle) makes reference to complementarianism being a misunderstood lifestyle, and goes on to explain how she came to believe that comp theology is more Biblical, because of her understanding of “head” as meaning “authority.”
I read this article. Then I read it again. I still didn’t fully understand what it was getting at, so I read it a third time. Each time, I gained a new appreciation for the author’s bravery in telling what’s sure to be an unpopular story. Unfortunately, I also gained layers of frustration each time as I tried to parse what exactly she was getting at.
Well, that’s not completely true. I know what she was “getting at.” I think Pollock-Michel wants to remind readers that complementarians aren’t all thoughtless drones who inherited their theology and don’t know better. I think she feels marginalized and wants to express that. She’s asking not to be judged, because she’s dealt with her own share of frustration in embracing something she used to reject.
It’s a venting piece. I get that. Venting pieces aren’t bad. The problem is, this one was a bait-and-switch, and it baited us with something very important: the notion that complementarianism is misunderstood, and the implied promise that she was going to more accurately define it for the skeptics.
Early in the article, she says that comp stereotypes are not “the full truth” and that “misunderstandings about complementarianism abound.” I think it’s true that some people misunderstand complementarianism. And yes, stereotypes probably don’t fully describe the experience of people who live it. Stereotypes seldom do.
The problem is, she never expands on this. What is the “full truth”? What are the “misconceptions”?
She offers us an anecdote about her own life that seems to fit the stereotypes, then tells us the stereotypes don’t show the whole picture, but then doesn’t paint that picture for us.
Let’s back up for a moment, though. The first thing that really struck me about this article was the contrast between what the article states vs. what its tone is.
The article states that negative views of complementarianism are misinformed. But here’s how the tone reads:
It opens with an anecdote about a put-upon wife. It actually draws attention to the fact that the negative stereotypes can feel true. It uses words like “reprieve” to describe the desire for egalitarianism. The best the article can muster in terms of positivity is to vaguely describe submission as “holy beauty”—but even that comes off as being a belief mostly acquired through guilt (guilt for having a “deaf ear” and guilt for being unwilling to match Christ’s attitude about sacrifice). Loudly absent is any concrete description of how day-to-day comp life actually feels beautiful; the beauty is attributed to the theory, not the practice.
And it’s not just the feel of the article that bothered me, but the impossibility of putting together exactly what she’s trying to say. There’s just enough contradiction of language, and just enough missing pieces, to leave readers with lots of questions, all of them unsettling.
First, what message were we to gather from the opening anecdote? Was the prioritization of her husband’s career, and her automatic assumption of solo childcare, a conscious decision they made because of complementarianism? Or was this simply a rhetorical strategy to showcase people’s hasty assumptions about female oppression? The start of the second paragraph makes it seem like just a rhetorical strategy, an example that the author plans to flip around and show a different side of, when she says, “Our arrangement could illustrate the burden…” (emphasis mine). Readers expect a hasty “But you’d be wrong!” followed by an explanation of why complementarianism isn’t actually the killjoy it appears to be.
Yet she never does circle back to refute this “illustrat[ion]” of burdens, and actually ends the paragraph with, “I sometimes can’t help wondering if the stereotypes are true.” Then, she says the phenomenon of overburdened women is not “the full truth” of complementarianism—which, to me, implies that this unpleasant stereotype is the truth and is a reality, just not the whole of it. So, does that mean that she has indeed discovered complementarianism to be a system that causes wives to be more burdened than their husbands? That seems like a strange thing to highlight in an article whose subtitle calls the movement “misunderstood.”
I also wanted more about her thoughts on authority. The concept of “head” meaning “authority” played a critical role in her switch from egal to comp, but what does “authority” mean to her and her husband? What does a man’s authority suddenly look like in a marriage that has always functioned with complete equality? What did her husband have to do differently? Was the prioritization of his career the way they interpret him holding “authority”? It’s the only concrete example they give. Who got to decide what authority meant—him or her? Both?
Part of the reason I ask this (and obsess over that opening anecdote) is that equating authority with bread-winning, and submission with childcare, is one of the most stereotypical and least scripturally defensible beliefs the comp movement endorses. I had thought that perhaps this couple, having started out egalitarian, would define “headship” differently than how many comps automatically do. That’s part of the reason I was interested to read the article, and I felt the subtitle implied it. The article, however, actually gave no evidence that she had discovered complementarianism to be different than she thought it would be as an egal.
Now, perhaps she and her husband do define headship and authority in unique ways. Maybe this anecdote does not reveal their definition of authority. But we’ll never know, because no real definition is provided, forcing us to read between the lines.
Yeesh. I feel like I’m getting really crabby about this. The thing is, I admire this author’s bravery. At least she’s being honest about where she is, and she has every right to keep the more intimate details of her marriage to herself. I just felt that the title and opening of the article were a big bait-and-switch, and I wish things had been clearer.
Truth be told, I want this article to make more sense because it touches on a subject that’s close to home.
The picture of a marriage that starts egal and moves into comp is, in some ways, a frightening thing for me to look at. Jaron and I also married as committed egalitarians. We, too, didn’t use “submission” in our vows. Like the author and her husband (at least at the start of their marriage), we believe that male dominance is part of the curse (I won’t say that male “headship” is, as everyone seems to have a different view of what “headship” means and I’d rather not tangle with that). When someone describes a marriage with a similar premise to mine that traveled to such a different place, I’m invested in hearing how that shook out.
I tried to imagine today what would happen in our household if I told my husband I believed he was my authority. He’d look at me, laugh, say, “Then as your authority, I order you to act like an egalitarian for the rest of our lives,” and we’d probably never mention it again. It’s sort of like when my parents got engaged. Mom told Dad that she was okay with deferring to him on big decisions. “No,” he said, “we should make all decisions together.” To which she replied, “No, really, I honestly don’t mind deferring to you,” at which point he put down his foot and said, “No—we will make all decisions together, and that’s final.”

: )

So I guess we all engage in a little double-speak now and then. I’ll have to forgive this author. It must be hard to write about something so complex in one page, and I don’t have to know her full story to know what my story should be.
But darn if those missing puzzle pieces don’t set my OCD going!
(By the way…if anyone is curious how the egalitarian position can be Biblically defensible, please visit CBE or God’s Word to Women. I don’t want this comment section to begin reinventing the wheel on theology that’s already been exhaustively hammered out in other places.)