Bow down, bitches, and I shall lift thee up

One of the elders from the church I used to belong to loves Africa. Many sermons contain references to things witnessed during his travels there. Usually these anecdotes fueled the romanticized white saviour mentality endemic to “mission work”.

This elder described witnessing a traditional greeting among one particular tribe from a place I do not remember.

Women always wore a sturdy apron because when they greeted a man, they fell on their knees with their heads down. They remained this way until the man fulfilled his part of the traditional greeting by doing something that allowed them to stand back up. I forget if it was a pat on the shoulder or something else, but it hit a cringe factor in me, mostly because I had experienced something similar and felt condescended to.

I waited for what spiritual truth this greeting would illustrate. Was it maybe Galatians 3:28  “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  That we don’t need to have anyone debase themselves because Christianity brought equality? (Yes, I actually thought that, and yes, its totally colonialistic.)

No. This elder got weepy and wistful. He talked about how beautiful that greeting was. How this was a beautiful enactment of proper gender roles.

Women are always more beautiful and godly when submitting-  oh if only Canadian women could greet men like that. Plus giant aprons covering the knees mean more modesty! (aaahh!)

Because the man was supposed to use his authority (and superiority) to lift women up! After they bow down before him. Because men are like god and women are the fallen creation.

Did it not occur to him that it was actually two adult humans, both walking, until one of them had to do a display of subservience until permitted to resume to the original position? That he was metaphorically pushing her down so he could pull her up and take credit for it? (This is how it was portrayed in this man’s illustration; I cannot comment on the actual greeting habits and symbolisms of a culture I do not know.)

No, this couldn’t have occurred to him because it means starting from a position of equality and that isn’t how to do  gender roles beautifully.

The sad thing is, this elder is easily the most progressive and feminist elder in that church.

God needs lipgloss

I loved last Easter weekend!  In part because after a white-out snowstorm, we had some nice weather and the kidlets could have an Easter egg hunt outside!  In part because we had some nice visits with people in the secular community, shared good food, conversation, and fun games!  Also in part because we were not at my old church’s family camp.  

A friend who heard the sermons at church informed me of the usual gender-policing, homophobia and general sex-negativity that was preached.  This was a little different because of the way the girls reacted.

I grew up hearing the modesty talks, which were interspersed with gender policing.  The message was generally: don’t be too attractive, but put in an effort to be attractive in a very specific way.  God apparently wants women to have long hair, skirts, and wear pink.  This year the supposed omniscient creator of the universe added to his list make-up and lip gloss.  For girls to be godly women and pleasing to the old men, er, god, they NEED lip gloss.

 applying lipgloss 

I mean, how omniscient can the guy be if he needs make-up and lip gloss so he can tell the differences between the sexes?  I wonder if this god is aware that most make-up and lip stuff has toxic heavy metals, or if he just doesn’t care. 

Back at the girls’ dorm, there were tears and panicking.  Many of the girls, especially the 11 and 12 year olds, don’t wear make-up.  They thought god was angry at them for not being ‘feminine’ enough and calling them out on their “bad behaviour”.  

Fortunately, some of the girls actually questioned the sermon.  Here are some excerpts of a letter they sent to the elders.
[The first part was a list of things they agreed with like needing a spiritual authority, this is part of what they disagreed with]

“1. Lipgloss and excitement over clothes does not make a woman a woman. Neither does vanity. And we don’t think that God will bless us for either. (Girls were crying because they were worried they hadn’t worried about appearances as much as they should have.)

2. The way he brought up sex outside of marriage. That is between a person and God. The message felt condemning. And there are those who have come out of the world into our church and talking about it all over again may make them feel like it’s something they can’t let go of. Even though God has put that sin behind them.

3. The way he brought up homosexuality and used Leviticus. We don’t follow many of the laws in Leviticus. And Jesus said in John that it’s not our place to judge. Jesus taught love and the old ways were done away with. And we feel that if there were any homosexual people in the church that heard that they would no longer continue coming to church and they wouldn’t want to confide in their elders. …”

You go girls!  (Except for the part about sex that isn’t between a cismale and cisfemale with a legal document being sin.)

 

I really did internalize the narrative of Persecuted Saviour.  

When I was first allowing myself to think about gender equity, I realized how persecuted I was a female.  I’ve written about this quite a bit.  That was real.  It perhaps affected me more than it did other people who had a greater hold on the culture at large and didn’t really believe everything they were told.  

During this time,  I thought I could be the gender Savior to my church.  I could teach them what gender was.  We could talk about the narrow cultural confines of popular femininities and masculinities.  Trans people could be seen as legitimate men, women, or whoever they identified as.  Homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality would be understood and welcomed.  
Women would then be free to be as human as men and given the same respect.  I could preach.  My daughters would never be taught they were more prone to sin, or less able to lead.  Then we could work on our relationship to Third World churches.  Yes, I could save them.  Ha ha.

After I deconverted, I was going to save friends and family from fundamentalist Christianity. Then I rediscovered prejudices towards atheists as they were directed at me. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging this, but I was making it part of my identity.
I’ve realized that I am carrying this narrative of Persecuted Savior with me.  

Previously, I thought that feminists were all sorts of horrible things, including the personification of the Persecuted Saviour. However, through taking Women’s and Gender courses, I’ve learned that feminism is not all about whining how women are treated unfairly. What I am learning about is the study of privileges and oppressions. Much of the critical thinking we are encouraged to do is towards ourselves and our own attitudes. Gender, race, class, sexuality, ability, age and many other categories are used as shortcuts to make judgments about people, and I benefit from some prejudices. I am constantly challenged to acknowledge my own privileges and to learn to listen better to others especially when it makes me feel uncomfortable.
Surprisingly to me, it has been feminist critiques that are helping me work through my internalized Persecuted Saviour complex.
I am ridiculously privileged.  There are some ways in which I am not, true, but that doesn’t change how privileged I am in so many other aspects.  

I am not anyone’s Saviour.  Except maybe my own. Not sure about that yet.

Narrative: Persecuted Saviour Internalized

Madame Brouette

I recently watched Madame Brouette, which is a joint project between Senegal and Quebec filmmakers.

Spoiler warning.

The summary was intriguing.  It described Mati as a “spunky street vendor … who defies the male-centered traditions of her culture with hopes of leading a dignified life.  Having escaped from a violent marriage, she dreams of rising above the world of abuse that surrounds her by opening a cafe.  Fate steps in when she meets and falls in love with Naago, a smooth-talking charmer who happens to be a crooked cop.  When the neighbourhood awakens to the sound of bullets and Naago is found dead, all fingers point to Mati.   Part detective story, part fable”

The director said in the notes that he made this film to discover why some women stay with abusive men for 35 years while others stay for 2 months.  His film had his own answers, but I think he would have learned more if he had talked to credible social workers, women’s shelters, or even some women in that situation.  I am sure he didn’t because his answers don’t stand up to reality.

His main answer to that question is that some women don’t find out their abusive partners are terrible people right away.  To demonstrate that, Mati didn’t discover her lover was cheating on her, extorting prostitutes, and willing to kill innocent children to make money right away. When she found out, she tried to break up with him.

The filmmaker did have other answers to the question.  Mati’s best friend was in an abusive relationship where she was regularly beaten by her husband.  Mati charges in, confronts the huge angry man, and walks away with her friend.  Her friend just needed a place to stay and couldn’t leave until Mati offered.  This friend then is mostly cheerful and supportive for the rest of the movie, regardless of the fact that her children are still at her abusive husband’s place.  Many women (and some men) stay in horrible domestic situations if their children can’t leave with them.  I couldn’t believe this scenario.

The other thing I found really disturbing was how men and women were portrayed in the movie.  Mati was delightful.  I liked her, I wanted to be more like her and have her around, but I could not relate to her.  She wasn’t flawed enough to be human.  If women were really like her, I could understand when many men say they can’t get women since I couldn’t get her.   But, women are not either angels or demons.  We’re all a mix of everything.   The only woman who seemed realistic was a prostitute, but I don’t think she was supposed to be seen as the most human.

The men were all portrayed as monsters – every single one, except for the 9? year old neighbour whom I still found disturbing.  I think the filmmaker could only justify women leaving male partners if the men were absolutely despicable.   Mati’s friend’s husband was always abusive and never once showed himself capable of caring for his children or even trying a honeymoon stage to get his wife back. Mati’s father was a stereotypical Muslim patriarch who took held tight to his male privilege in exchange for common sense and compassion.  The crooked cop was so revolting that he watched a gang of older men attempt to rape Mati’s 7? year old daughter when the daughter came to inform Naago that Mati was giving birth to his child.

The neighbour boy, who rescues the daughter from the attempted rape, is the one male who isn’t shown as brutal and dishonest.  He claims he loves the daughter and it doesn’t matter if the daughter loves him back.  He will spend his life taking care of her anyways.  This frightened me.  That a 9 year old might think that he can pick a girl to devote his life to whether she wants it or not isn’t so big a concern.  That a film director would think this is the solution for battered women shows that he does not understand domestic violence at all.  A man who refuses to listen to a woman and does not care if she wants his attention or affection has already began the steps down into domestic violence.

I would have stopped watching the film if they didn’t have a musical group that showed up singing about partridges for most scene changes.  They were fantastic and did contain men who didn’t hurt anyone so I take back my previous comment.

And the murderer wasn’t a big surprise although the ending was.  It shouldn’t have been, since the song about the partridges actually did have something to do with the movie after all.

See, girls ARE different

The first time I met the woman who babysits my kids our conversation went like this:

She: Girls and boys are ssoooo different.

Me: What do you mean?

She: Well, boys say “abracadabra” and girls say “bibbity boppity boo”

Me: ?

The only explanation I could think of for this particular ‘gender’ difference was the the mother of allowed her older boys to watch action and magic movies, while her baby girl spent hours watching Cinderella.

At first I didn’t think much of this, but every conversation seemed to have some comment of how boys and girls or men and women were sooo different.  Was I just too sensitive?  Or was she doing this on purpose?

Most times I didn’t actually say anything.   I often get annoyed when people have 2 children and attribute every single difference between the two to gender.  One grandmother told me that all boys just liked to read, while girls were good at sports.  Her children were that way, and her grandchildren were that way, therefore everyone was like that.  At least she wasn’t saying anything too harmful that her kids would carry with them forever.

However, when I hear statements that put down nearly half of the human population, I often feel compelled to speak up.

The babysitter has made a few comments on how men are not good at certain things.  Well, maybe her husband and sons aren’t good at _____, but my husband often is.  In many cases, he is better at them than I.  Or one of my brothers is.  If you haven’t had the pleasure of eating my baby brother’s gourmet meals, you really have missed out.

Sometimes the babysitter will make a comment about girls that I don’t relate to at all.  I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve painted my toenails.   I don’t wake up early to put on make-up.  I don’t usually wear make-up.  I hate shopping, decorating, and housecleaning.  I can’t multi-task.  I don’t think I’m any less of a woman.

I still wasn’t sure if these comments were on purpose to try and teach me something, or if that was just how she talked.  Now I suspect the former.

We were outside with my kids, her kids and her nephew.  She told me that her preschool attending nephew was only 6 weeks younger than my kindergartener Lil’T.

I looked at the two of them.  My Lil’T was a good 6 inches taller than this little boy, and she is not particularly tall.

Me: Really, only 6 weeks?  (comparing their heights in my head)

She: See, girls really are different from boys (a look of triumph over her face)

As we were running to catch a bus, I did not mention that what surprised me most was the height difference.  I assume she was talking about the difference in school placement.  However, her little girl is a year older than mine and they are in the same class, so that doesn’t even make sense.

I’ve never said that there is no difference between male and female.  I have gotten upset when differences were manufactured or caricatured to make someone look bad.

I’m not sure what bugs me more, that she thinks we have such huge differences that we can’t even share a silly magic word, or that I think she thinks she won this last ‘debate’.

Next time I hear another “well, you know how men are…” or “girls are sooo much different” I am tempted to respond with:

You know, it really bothers me when you constantly bring up differences between boys and girls.  I am not saying that there are not differences, but often it is in a context where I feel like one or the other is being put down or too rigidly defined.  It especially bothers me because our children are listening and learning how to relate to each other from us.  I think we can be more respectful and open.

I’ll never do it.

 

Redeeming Pink

I do not like pink.  Ever since my pink overalls that I would pretend to be one of the three little pigs in grew too small, I’ve hated wearing the colour.

I have deep prejudices against it.

Soft pastel pinks mean: weakness, don’t take seriously, stupidity, wishy-washy, and vacancy

Hot pinks (I am a child of the 80s) scream: vanity, shallowness, egoism, using people

Really, it is just a colour, but my associations are strong.  I saw pink as a colour which would restrict me and take away people’s ability to see me as a capable person.  I didn’t want to be patted on the head and not listened to.

Lil’T doesn’t see pink as a restriction, but as a privilege.  Partly this is due to clever advertising and selling two sets of everything to the same parents. 

Partly it is a reflection on changing values of society.  In most cultures, people are sad if they have a girl instead of a boy.  It is embedded in their language as the  Chinese ‘great happiness’ is code for a boy versus the ‘small happiness’ of a girl child. 

However, in our country, most mothers disappointed over the sex of their child wanted a girl. 

It is now ok to celebrate pink without shame. 

Lil’T loves pink because she thinks it is pretty.  She is pretty, so she should wear pretty colours and look even more fabulous. 

I never had that joy in being a girly girl.  I never thought I was a fairy princess, fabulous and just waiting for my wings. 

Part of me is so glad that my girls are able to have that.  Part of me is jealous, and part of me is disgusted, probably because of my learned prejudices.   Mostly I’m glad.

Lil’T loves pink, but she is now willing to share it.  She has conceded that boys are allowed to wear nice colours too and is ok with having the same favourite colour as her youngest uncles.

Pink.  Maybe some day I won’t shudder at it and see it as just beautiful.  Maybe some day, Lil’T will be able to other colours as equally beautiful.