On equality and power: a post about a post

Thursday, 28 August 2014

This is a post about a post. It is unfortunate; as combative blogging is somewhat looked down upon by much of the Christian blogosphere these days. But if this post makes people disappointed, or saddened, so be it, because there are things that need to be said.

Alastair Roberts has been writing a lot about gender, power and equality recently. I respect Alastair and what he brings to the table, even though I don't agree with many of his conclusions on these particular subjects. He's absolutely right to point out that a narrow definition of feminism based on a shallow sort of 'equality' that favours the privileged - 'equality', for example, that cares a great deal about getting more women in boardrooms but little for women on the breadline. But in saying that "there is an implicit class opposition within equality feminism that is seldom adequately addressed", he is wrong. While it may be seldom addressed by the mainstream media, the examination of liberal feminism and what it offers (or doesn't offer) to the majority of women is a key topic of discussion within the movement and has been for years.

Movement women are very aware of the fact that the idea of "equality" has not so much advanced the lives of all women so much as the lives of a privileged few. At Greenbelt festival last weekend I spoke on feminist activism and made a point of talking about this very problem, highlighting it not as a reason for feminists to be discouraged and dismiss the idea that the movement could have something to offer all women, but as a reason to work for greater inclusion, giving space to the voices of the marginalised.

Yesterday, some of Alastair's comments on equality and power were reposted by Andrew Wilson at the Think Theology blog. The debate that ensued encouraged me to write this, because of how incredibly disappointing I found it that Alastair's words were posted with very little context in what looks very much like complementarian point-scoring to me. What can be taken from the post is a description of the feminist movement as focused on equality of outcome above all with value on the most the privileged, when society could do with more focus on, as described:

"...robust and accessible universal healthcare, better maternity leave and more provision and flexibility for part time workers, equitable wages, secure jobs for their husbands and partners, a strengthening of marriage culture, the deepening and enriching of local community life and its groups and institutions, a society that is more mother and child friendly, action and stigma against domestic abuse and such things as street harassment..."

I don't think that anyone could argue that society could benefit from increased focus on achieving these goals, which is why feminists have been working towards them for decades. And if these things could be more successfully achieved without the banner of feminism to hold them back, I'd be interested to know where the pushback, where the actual work on these issues is coming from outside the movement at present? Is the example being set by the complementarian gatekeepers? Walk the walk on gender issues if you believe it's important; without succumbing to benevolent sexism; without denying women the place to speak from their own experience.

I realise that might be difficult, if you're generally in agreement with statements such as:

"...the entrance of women into new spheres has often led to a weakening of the social power of those spheres, as women are often more vulnerable and easily exploited..." 


"In Scripture, this priestly role is often associated not merely with men, but with ‘alpha’ men. The Church is strengthened as a body when it is led by persons with steel backbones, principles, and nerves, persons that can withstand others in more confrontational situations." 

It helps no-one when men's reactions to the absolutely justified pushback against such statements is described as "emotive", "all the shouting", and "brouhaha". Egalitarian and feminist women and their allies as pawns while the gatekeepers believe they're above such displays of emotion and subjectivity. As I mentioned to someone on Twitter earlier today, I do not wish for the experiences of individuals to be paramount at all times and at all costs, but yesterday's post was a prime example of when the experiences and intepretations of individual women are important - women for whom this is not theoretical; women for whom this is their life, their calling, their gifting. While complementarian gatekeepers discuss their theories about what we're good for and what we're allowed to do in closed circles and echo chambers, women are representing more than half of the church, leading, pioneering, keeping on keeping on. And they're doing it regardless of whether these gatekeepers believe a church with women in leadership is an "increasingly impotent institution".

They're also well aware that the majority of Christian women don't aspire to be bishops. When I helped found the Christian Feminist Network, we agreed that one of our aims would be to take the conversation on Christianity and feminism beyond women in church leadership and women bishops, not because we believe it's not important but because we believe Christian feminism is for the mothers, the grandmothers, the CEOs and the entrepreneurs, the women on the breadline and the women who have been abused and the women who don't want to lead from the front but support from alongside. If people like Andrew Wilson were more willing to dialogue with us then they'd know that. But I'm not sure that the activities of grassroots women's groups figure much inside the echo chamber.

Yesterday's post, with its out-of-context remarks on caring more about the marginalised, "alpha male" leadership and the reasons why women are supposedly unsuited for certain roles was published at an inappropriate time, with the scandal of child abuse in Rotherham making headlines. The scandal of child abuse - an appalling misuse of power carried out on vulnerable young people and ignored by powerful men. An inappropriate time, too, as the saga of noted alpha male Mark Driscoll continues and the sagas of abuse of power by patriarchal church leaders - Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips, pastors involved with Sovereign Grace Ministries - continue to make headlines in the USA. Those who want to uphold the dignity and equality of women without the banner of feminism would do well to walk the walk regarding these incidents. And yet, so often, what we see instead are calls for "grace", or indeed, complete silence, as the echo chamber of privileged and powerful men with little personal interest in those they so enjoy theorising about  - remains immutable.

Talk to us. Listen to us. It's a year now since I made the decision to stop justifying myself to anyone in the name of egalitarianism and feminism, so if that's what you want, look elsewhere. But don't attempt to portray a political movement as irredeemably blinkered to suit your own ends, then act surprised when people aren't happy.

Read more:

#FaithFeminisms - Where we've come from vs where we must go

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Reading so many stories of women coming to find their feminism alongside, or as part of, their faith this week made me realise the details of how it happened for me had become slightly hazy. I've told people the tale so often now: I went to university as a lifelong Anglican who'd never been taught a single thing about gender and religion, but also as one who had also started identifying as evangelical. In the following years, I slowly began to learn that some people didn't believe women could be church leaders, and that they also believed in rigid gender roles. I struggled to feel as if I fit in at church, feeling as if people wanted to cram my personality into a box marked 'Biblical femininity' and do away with all the bits that made me who I was. I'd started to pick up the messages from leafing through books and from coming across blogs aimed at Christian women. Even though I'd grown up far removed from the US evangelical culture of the time, it was starting to affect my life. When I got engaged, more than one person told my husband-to-be that they didn't think I was right for him and advised him to reconsider. I was the young woman who was Too Much, with the wrong sort of upbringing and the wrong sort of ambitions.

What I'd forgotten over the years is how much this hurt. These days I tend to consider myself quite privileged to have come to faith and grown up outside the sort of Christian culture that has caused so much pain to so many. Looking back at my Livejournal (yes, my Livejournal) from the time it's filled with accounts of news stories I found that worried me intensely: The Silver Ring Thing trying to raise its profile in the UK; people I knew starting to talk approvingly about Mark Driscoll; conservative blogs on 'Biblical womanhood' that named as 'selfish', among other things, working outside the home, eating disorders, and 'giving in to PMT'. I worried about what would be expected of me as a married woman, and I didn't know what to do. I knew something wasn't right, but I worried that the problem was me. In 2007 I was writing about asking God to show me where the problem lay. Was I displeasing Him? Was I, as ever, Not Good Enough?

Enter my discovery of egalitarianism, and I know many of you know where that led me. Reading back into my story today has reminded me not to forget the place I came from. Yesterday, I told someone how strongly I feel that as a community of women, as Christians and feminists we must tell our stories, but also move past the incessant going over of those 'moment of realisation' posts, the posts about how yes, indeed, faith and feminism are compatible. They give us warm fuzzy feelings but do they move us forwards? I remember today the women who will be reading through the #FaithFeminisms posts this week with a growing sense of excitement and a sense of sisterhood, the feeling that they're not alone and the problem isn't theirs to 'get over'. I was there once, and then everything changed.

For the rest of us though, when we've been here a while we can be tempted to get tired of it all. At a time when discussions about the feminist movement often seem to be centred on its 'toxic nature', an incessant cycle of call-outs, fall-outs, and the drawing of lines in the sand, it's easy to hold up our hands and step back. Are these our people after all? Aren't they, well, a bit angry? But if we disengage and seek solace in the safety of our own privileges, of evangelical subculture and its respectability, I don't believe we'll be the women we're called to be. It's easy to take the 'I'm all right' route, stay content in our progressive crowd and forget about all those for whom things are very much not all right. Even as more progressive voices make themselves heard, there's still an emphasis on watching our tone, being careful not to be 'divisive' and being careful not to upset conservatives or men. Often, it seems as if the message is: you'll never win them over unless you play it safe and play nice and make sure that men get to take centre stage too. 

I believe what we're called to do instead is bring the very best aspects of our faith to the feminist table. Foster understanding, demonstrate love, and stand against injustice. Demonstrate true sisterhood. Don't be tempted by performative social justice activism that prioritises call-outs, ideological purity, and ejecting people from the fold over recognising people's humanity and discussing problematic behaviour in a productive way. We feel saddened by the performative gatekeeping of Christianity, with its 'farewells' and smackdowns. Let our feminism not fall prey to the same problems. This week I've seen people better known by the mainstream movement and from outside the movement altogether exclaim how open and welcoming they've found #FaithFeminisms. I've always found this to be the case and I hope they're values we hold on to.

I've met some of the very best people I know thanks to being a young woman with an internet connection and a lot of thoughts and feelings about faith and feminism. At the beginning, it seemed that patriarchal Christianity had the monopoly on the popular books and the websites I was seeing and the messages I was getting. Today, women I am proud to call my friends have published books on egalitarianism and feminism. I've been involved in networks of women working together and supporting each other as we navigate what it means to practice faith and feminism. I'm a founder member of one of them. I'm involved in a group that's trying to get another one off the ground. Once we felt silenced, now there is a definite voice that has the power to speak to the church and to the secular feminist movement. And we can build on this by coming alongside each other and doing what, as Christians, we're supposed to work at doing best: creating real and productive community - those that support, those that organise, those that lead - no longer voices in the wilderness but a movement for change.

This post is part of #FaithFeminisms week. Do read the amazing posts that have been written by other women.

Kirstie Allsopp, classism, and a distinct lack of choice

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

It was obvious what was going to happen yesterday when the media started putting its own spin on Kirstie Allsopp's comments made in an interview with Bryony Gordon for the Telegraph, coming up with headlines such as "Kirstie Allsopp tells young women: ditch university and have a baby at 27". As everyone who bothered to read the original article knows, that's not the extent of what she said - but why let that get in the way of calling her stupid, accusing her of wanting to take women back to the 1950s, and telling her where to stick her overprivileged expectations about home ownership and marriage?

According to the law of how women talk about lifestyle choices and how it's played out in the media, Allsopp has, of course, been positioned as some sort of spokesperson for womankind, judging everyone who doesn't want to live their life the way she thinks they should. And in their reactions to her comments, many of those who don't agree with her have fallen into the trap that's so obviously laid for us all, every single time some vaguely high-profile woman has something to say about women's lives. Yesterday's 'debate' became a defence of education and careers (and why not? No-one's going to deny that they're important things to defend), against the spectre of smug, twee, wealthy motherhood and financial dependency on men.

No-one likes to feel patronised, especially by someone they perceive to be out of touch with what most women think and want. I don't think it's correct to say that women are unaware of fertility issues, or that they are never talked about. There's enough discussion of it about for us to know roughly at what point conceiving a child does begin to become much more of a struggle - if, indeed, we were all that fertile to begin with. But the fact is, even as most women know what they'd do about becoming a mother, in an ideal world, and even as they laugh at scaremongering headlines about 'career women leaving it too late', the years pass by quickly - years of trying to find a suitable partner, trying to save money, trying to get a job, or a better job, or a job you actually like.

What Allsopp did touch on - which I believe is important here - is the pressure on middle-class women to have the various aspects of their lives sorted out and adhering to an ideal before children get factored in. The degree, the wedding, the 'life experiences', the career, the foot on the property ladder. It was noticeable yesterday just how many people I witnessed saying "But NO-ONE can afford to buy a house/have a baby in their 20s!" And it's certainly true that for many people, saving up for a house deposit is a terrifying thought. Wondering how to pay the bills while on maternity leave or afford to pay childcare is a terrifying thought. But it's also true that many, many people become parents in their 20s (and earlier). Many, many people who aren't privileged and whose parents haven't bought them a flat somehow manage to become parents and just get on with it. Yesterday's 'debate' had a particularly narrowly-focused and classist side to it - one that needs to look beyond non-debates over the 'right time' to have children or go to university or get married and question instead the way UK society places expectation on women about the 'right' way to live their lives in a country that makes it so difficult for them to do so, sneering at both those who choose not to go along with it and those who are happy about having achieved it.

Let's leave aside, for a moment, the fact that becoming a mother at a young age so often gets you labelled as a 'scrounger', a 'waste of potential', or a statistic for the right to sneer at, and the fact that being a relatively young middle-class stay at home mother gets you labelled as 'smug' and 'irritating', and being a childfree woman in your 30s gets you labelled as 'sad' or 'selfish' - because these things are important, but they're not the most difficult things.

Not when a particular 'route' of university followed by the career ladder followed by 'settling down' when you're financially secure and have 'really lived your life' is the 'desired' one. Not when the cost of attending university has skyrocketed and the housing market in London and the south-east is ridiculous and there's so much competition for jobs that people despair of ever getting the job they want or feeling financially secure at all. Not when maternity discrimination is rife, maternity leave difficult to imagine for those in difficult financial circumstances, and childcare here is the second most expensive in Europe. Not when the burden of care and everything child-related is still seen as a woman's domain. Not when the voices of women who have had children at a young age, and working class women who have never had the luxury of expecting to get all their ducks in a row before making big decisions about their lives go unheard, as feminists who are quick to sneer at the idea of having children in their 20s without thinking how that looks to their sisters who already have children and are doing just fine. For all the cries of "Shut up Kirstie, can't you see it's all about choice?!" it's evident that most of the time, it's really, emphatically, not.

Yesterday wasn't the first time in the last couple of years that I've been reminded of this piece on women in Iceland that appeared in the Guardian in 2011. I remember being struck at the time by the idea that being a young mum at university could be seen as totally normal, rather than a 'challenge' or something worthy of a newspaper feature as it might be in the UK. Writes Kira Cochrane:

"Parents here talk strongly of community support, of collective care for children, and there is no sense that motherhood precludes work or study, which effectively changes the whole structure of women's lives."

One woman, who we're told had her first child at the age of 19, is quoted saying: "You are not forced to organise your life in the 'college-work-maybe children later' way". Another woman explains how couples in Iceland don't tend to think of parenthood in 'How many children can we afford?' terms. And with full-time childcare, at the time of publication, costing single mothers £70 and couples £118 a month (as opposed to an average cost of more than £700 a month for full-time working couples in the UK - much higher in London), you can see why. Feminists do enough shouting about the perceived egalitarian joys of Scandinavia and I'm aware that no country is perfect. The fact remains that women in the UK find themselves supposedly liberated yet also restricted by what we've constructed as the 'right' way to do things, the 'right' way to live the capitalist dream and the 'right' way to experience life. For many, it's a bind and an enormous source of anxiety. For many more, it's unattainable and unrealistic, and by doing things their way they end up being derided and devalued by Kirstie Allsopp's cheerleaders and detractors alike.

Rereading the second wave - Susan Brownmiller

Thursday, 22 May 2014

“I can attest that in New York City during the late sixties and early seventies, nothing was more exciting, or more intellectually stimulating, than to sit in a room with a bunch of women who were working to uncover their collective truths.”

My contribution to the New Statesman's series on rereading second wave feminism in the light of the so-called 'fourth wave' was published last week. It's now a couple of months since I read Susan Brownmiller's In Our Time - her memoir of the women's liberation movement, spanning the late 1960s to the middle of the 1980s - and felt that it has much to offer today's activists on the subject of conflict and infighting - particularly those who have, in the last couple of years, felt alienated from the movement and 'put off' by the very fact that feminists don't seem to agree on a lot of things and spend a fair amount of time getting angry about it. 

The number of pieces written and time spent talking about 'call-out culture', 'toxic feminism', or whatever we're currently calling 'feminists publicly disagreeing about stuff' means that it can become the sole focus for many people. It's sometimes cited as the main problem with today's feminist movement, a 21st century phenomenon. But while the internet has added a new dimension to activist infighting, In Our Time reminds us that the struggles - who has power, who should speak for the movement, what it means when women achieve a public profile and platform, and which issues should be our main focus - have existed for decades, and that our aim should be to work through them rather than letting them define us, becoming the obstacle that cannot be overcome and the sticking point that stops women participating. In Our Time is a fantastic memoir of the achievements of the second wave of feminism and the way its activists brought issues into the public consciousness for the very first time. Times may have changed, but there is much to inspire us and much we can learn from.

"Brownmiller came to see these disagreements and denouncements as par for the course in the women’s movement. “You have to believe that the Sturm und Drang are worth it,” she writes - and it seems she did, very much so, until the last gasps of the second wave in the 1980s. Weakened by the ‘pornography wars’, the decade’s family values-obsessed mentality and economic necessity of getting a job and ‘settling down’, with the women’s bookshops, the feminist press and utopian dreams in decline, the movement’s militancy petered out. In Our Time’s challenge for feminists today is to encourage us to keep the balance – effecting change despite robust disagreement. The aim of feminism should not be the creation of a synthetic sisterhood focused on little more than affirmation and making women feel good about every choice they make. Neither should it be the constant assumption of bad faith on the part of women who are still learning, doing the best they can, and sometimes getting it wrong – the idea that trashing other women is progress."

Image: John Olson, from here

Book review - Women in Waiting: prejudice at the heart of the church

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Those of you following the progress of legislation concerning women bishops will know that these are exciting times. After a disappointing vote in 2012, many are feeling more optimistic about the situation - and there have been many opportunities to speak about hopes for the future this week as the church has celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first women priests being ordained.

Having finished Julia Ogilvy's Women in Waiting: Prejudice at the heart of the church last week, I'd set this evening aside to write my review. After reading the Tuesday's coverage of the 20th anniversary of women's ordination, and even having a bit of a moist-eyed moment at my desk after seeing Kate Bottley's tweet marking the day, I was made aware, over breakfast today, of an old interview with Wayne Grudem that people were once again talking about.

I'd never read the full interview before, although I've seen some of its content reproduced to illustrate Grudem's position on women teaching and writing books that interpret scripture (a man doing so is 'teaching with authority', a woman doing the same is 'giving her viewpoint'). What I hadn't previously been aware of was his intriguing explanation of the problems that arise in churches and denominations where women are ordained:

"... anyone who lives in a pattern of constant disobedience to the word of God--if a woman does this, she is opening herself up to the danger of the withdrawal of God’s hand of protection and blessing on her life."

He continues:

"Judy Brown is one example that I mention. [She] contributed a chapter to [the book] Discovering Biblical Equality. She was an Assemblies of God pastor or maybe Foursquare, I’m not sure. And she actually, sadly, is in prison in Virginia for attempted murder. It’s tragic."

The problem with Judy Brown, claims Grudem, was her commitment to promoting women's ordination. As a result of her departure from faithfulness to God, she's now in prison. I've never been keen on giving airtime to Grudem on gender, but on reading the interview with him I was struck by the contrast to the stories of the twelve women contained within Women in Waiting. Twelve women, all of them in favour of women's ordination, many of them ordained themselves and holding positions of varying seniority in the church. Theologians, writers, and advocates for women. Twelve women who felt called to vocations where they knew they would face opposition, who have seen enormous changes in attitudes since they started their careers and who know there is still much to be done.

This is not a challenging book; if you're looking for a hashing-out of the arguments for and against women in church leadership, you'll need to look elsewhere - but this is no bad thing. The book's purpose is to tell the stories of just some of the women who have helped pave the way for a greater acceptance of women in ministry and a greater awareness of the damage done by patriarchy. Almost all of them spoke to the author about hostile attitudes from colleagues, but Women in Waiting is by no means a book full of stories about feeling hard done by and miserable. It's actually an inspiring reminder - full of wisdom - of what God can do through those who are willing to serve Him. The women interviewed have worked incredibly hard, knowing that they are fulfilling their calling, and were full of positivity about their achievements and the church, despite some of the painful, lonely and frustrating situations they had been through. It was also encouraging to read, in the case of those who are married, how supportive and affirming their husbands have been.

I wasn't familiar with all of the women profiled in the book and so it was wonderful to learn more about them. I was particularly moved by the interview with Lucy Winkett because it left me with such a strong sense of her wisdom and love for the church and its people. I was reminded, as I read Elaine Storkey's chapter, why I was so inspired by her the first time I saw her speak and why she continues to be ones of my heroes. I was very interested to read the differing perspectives of Katharine Jefferts Schori and Chilton Knudsen from the USA, and found myself nodding my head righteously as I read Helena Kennedy on the cases of abused women that she's been involved in.

Ever since I started attending events where the place of women in the church has been discussed, I've been struck by overheard snatches of conversation, but the confessions of young women getting up in front of a group and saying:

'I feel called but I need to know that it's what God wants for me as a woman. Am I allowed? Is it what scripture says?'

Women in Waiting would be an ideal read for any women mulling over this question, not because it will provide all the answers, but because I think it clearly shows that being a pioneer in the church is what God wants for many women, and that they've been gifted accordingly.

Further reading:

The problem with ideological purity

Thursday, 20 February 2014

If you've ever been part of one of those conversations where someone's having a bit of a moan about their church, you know you can always count on someone to chime in saying "There's no such thing as the perfect church!". Clichéd as that phrase has become, it's true, and it's a constant reminder that when we go looking for perfection in this life, we're not going to find it. There's no such thing as the perfect church, the perfect marriage, the perfect job. And there's certainly no such thing as the perfect person. Most people know this, and recently it's become a bit of a "thing" to be open about all our flaws, admitting to our brokenness and just how "messed up" we are as a way of showing vulnerability and assuring others that no-one ever has it all figured out (so much so, in fact, that it's already been identified as a problematic Christian trend by people with too much time on their hands).

You know how it goes. "Hi, I'm Hannah, a sinner like everyone else. I'm a champion procrastinator. I struggle with depression. When I'm tired I crave junk food. My relationship with church is none too good at the moment. I didn't start blogging to glorify God; I did it because I knew it could help get me a more interesting job. Sometimes when my toddler is being a pain in the backside I get angry with him. My 'lightbulb moment', when I realised I was a feminist (aged 19), didn't involve any intersectional analysis. None at all! But every day I'm learning; as time goes by I'm evolving as a person. SEE - I'M JUST LIKE YOU."

It seems, however, that it's pretty hard to be vulnerable and admit mistakes when it comes to activism. It's another progressive cliché, the idea that you 'just need to be constantly learning and growing and ready to admit you messed up', an idea that's become more about performance of learning and a pretence of listening when it often seems like not very much of either ever really happens. You can be vulnerable and imperfect - as long as you stress just how much it's shown you the error of your ways. For many in the social justice world, what's prized more than anything is ideological purity - described by some as 'purity leftism'. A so-called commitment to 'learning and growing' that actually struggles to deal with differences of opinion from within the same activist sphere, that struggles to support any cause or campaign because it will never be perfect and supported only by those who display completely "correct" ways of thinking and being. It's 'me, me, me' activism.

This obsession with ideological purity leads to two things. Firstly, there's silencing - a fear of being denounced, leading to people shutting up, stepping back, and quietly going about their business so as not to be noticed or accused of wrongdoing when they're just trying to muddle along and make a difference in the world. Secondly, it stops activism from involving any action whatsoever. Why run or join a campaign when people who don't see eye to eye with you on everything might get involved? Why go to an event if one of the speakers once tweeted something you didn't like? Why express support for someone who's going through a bad time when 20 years ago, they wrote something that you don't agree with (learning and growing, apparently, is only for the chosen few)? Why do anything except sneer at those in public office and mainstream media and positions of authority who are to all intents and purposes on your side because they're all 'part of the system'? Principles about things become more important than actually doing them.

When I think about the feminist and egalitarian women that I admire the most, some of whom I'm friends with, some of whom I've never met and probably never will, they have one thing in common. They know that attempting total ideological purity is ridiculous, and that waiting around for perfect situations is pointless. They know that what works is women living as best they can in this world, being the change they want to see and getting their hands dirty in the process, messing up and having to apologise, having uncomfortable realisations and having to love all and serve all as they do so. 

They're in the media and in politics and the church, working tirelessly to mentor younger women and get more women a space on the platform and a seat at the table, even when the table isn't perfect, because they believe in effecting change from within. They're from different backgrounds with varying amounts of privilege. They're helping survivors, fighting injustice, writing, calling meetings and putting their heads above parapets, all the time using words of encouragement and building up and celebrating success - and doing what they have to do to provide for themselves and their families. They'll offer critique when it's constructive and point out the problematic when they've got a solution. And they know that vulnerability, honesty, and love will always achieve more than attempting ideological purity at the expense of anything resembling real change.

If we want to 'be' any sort of change, we need to be willing to get stuck in - whatever that means for us personally. Creating change is hard, and I'm thankful for everyone who gives so much of themselves to make it happen. We need to be willing to do more than criticise and snipe from on high, congratulating ourselves for not doing anything because that would mean compromising impossibly high standards and associating with people who don't share all of our opinions. If we don't, we risk becoming like religious fundamentalists - concerned only with our self-righteousness and superiority compared to others who are part of the very same belief system, our brothers and sisters.

What you should have read recently

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

"Everyone wanted to know how a girl from a family of nine siblings in a town of barely a 1,000 people could have carried a baby to term without anyone finding out, if indeed her pregnancy was the secret the community claimed it to be.

Questions were asked about what kind of society made a bright girl feel unable to ask for help or undeserving of support at what must have been the most frightening time of her life."

The politics of black hair - Emma Dabiri  

"It can feel pretty frustrating that white supremacy has bequeathed a legacy in which, for many black women, simply wearing our hair in its own natural state can become a complex and politicised act. At the same time - despite the connection between said supremacy and the relationship that many black women have to our hair - most white people demonstrate absolutely no idea about the everyday maintenance of Afro hair, let alone its politics."

"There’s an air of superiority from those who busily seek to ruin and silence other feminists: “We’re doing it right; she’s doing it wrong.” By pointing our fingers elsewhere we keep ourselves safe from attack. It seems pretty clear, though, which white feminists are using valuable ideas like intersectionality to advance their own careers and gain popularity, without an ounce of interest in movements towards ending oppression and with little understanding of structural inequality."

"In a recent study of Black women’s leadership Ngunjiri, Gramby-Sobukwe, and Williams-Gegner note that “early preaching Black women were radical in their commitment to consistent egalitarianism and social justice within the Black church and community as well as society at large” and refer to them as “tempered radicals”... "

What is subversivism? - Julia Serano

"Subversivism is the practice of extolling certain gender and sexual expressions and identities simply because they are unconventional or nonconforming. In the parlance of subversivism, these atypical genders and sexualities are “good” because they “transgress” or “subvert” oppressive binary gender norms. The justification for the practice of subversivism has evolved out of a particular reading (although some would call it a misreading) of the work of various influential queer theorists over the last decade and a half."

"I also needed to read Introverts in the Church and Quiet as a way of explaining my discomfort in church. So much of my church experience had been shaped by the expectations and standards set by extroverts. We were always doing more stuff, meeting more people, attending more events, speaking in front of more people. The introvert in me just couldn’t keep up. Church felt like hard work, sucking the life out of me rather than renewing, strengthening, and, the favorite word of extrovert church leaders, “equipping” me."

Are you being TOO sex-positive? - Be Young & Shut Up

"Sex positivity is well-meaning, and a lot of its practices have helped to make people more comfortable with their sexuality. But its execution is flawed. Many are excluded or harmed by the community’s practices of the philosophy, and even the pure philosophy itself. Its monolithic identity means that if you take issue with sex positivity, you’re the stuffy patriarch enemy. The problems are such that sex-negative feminism has become a legitimate movement that, while it has its own serious problems, is just about as respectful of people’s sexual choices as sex positivity is."

"Since going back to work I’ve learnt that sometimes I have to let go. I’ve learnt that sometimes it’s enough just to do my best. I’ve learnt that tending to my happiness and sanity is important. And I’ve learnt that immersing myself in the world that exists beyond the periphery of my motherhood experience, is key to my family’s happiness. I’m grateful that most of the time work keeps me sane."

"However, after watching that amazing conversation between bell hooks and Melissa Harris Perry, I realised I desperately needed to find a feminism that reflected my specific experiences of being a black woman in Britain and navigating through issues of ‘black identity’, ‘black womanhood’, dual cultural identity among other issues. Black British Feminism."

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