gender-roles

I grew up in a household where my Dad is about as feminist as a conservative Christian man can be.

On women’s ordination: “Your Mum would probably make a better pastor than a lot of men I know”.

On stay at home parents : “If someone needs to stay at home, whoever earns the least should stay at home, and if that’s the man, tough luck for him“.

On earning more than a man: ” Never be dependent on someone”.

This was, however, inevitably interrupted with the proclamation “I AM THE HEAD OF THIS HOUSEHOLD!” at various critical moments in my childhood.

Despite that, the overwhelming ideology I grew up with was the idea that although men and women were different and that my faith called for different roles within the family, outside of the home I was destined to be a super-duper CEO/Prime minister/consultant neurosurgeon, large and in charge and no one, certainly no man, could tell me anything.

I still passionately believe that having women at the top of their profession is not only positive, but necessary, and I get more than a little bit excited when I see women, especially black women, running companies, heading businesses and being exceptional in their field.

In a relationship though, I like the man to be in charge.

And it’s not a reluctant acquiescence or a part of my faith that I struggle with. People that suggest that every woman SHOULD stay at home and look after children and that their primary function in life is to incubate and birth offspring? Yes, I find that insulting (especially to women who will never get married) and frankly, silly..But the man being the ‘leader’ in the relationship? Nope, it actually comes as a massive relief.

Being the type of women who is relatively successful in most people’s eyes, and has had the privilege of a good education and hopefully a developing career, I actually welcome having someone make decisions on my behalf sometimes. Of course I want a partnership where there is mutual respect and admiration, but I choose to be in partnerships where the man takes on a leadership role. That’s just me. I simply cannot abide passive men who let me drag them through the whole relationship by the scruff of their skinny fit jeans. Simply put, I need Tyrone to get a spinal cord and some vertebrae to go with it. A spinal cord that I cannot easily crush with my manicured hands.

Now, I’m sure some feminists will see this as a level of Stockholm syndrome. Perhaps I’ve been so indoctrinated into viewing women’s role as being naturally in subjection to men, that I’ve not only accepted it, but begun to like it….and I don’t really care.

In fact, my brief internet browse on this topic didn’t yield much apart from a lot of articles where feminists were in a quandary about whether the fact that they liked men to dominate them in the bedroom made them somewhat un-feminist. Most of them (inevitably) concluded that as long as they had decided that they liked it, it was fine. Obviously I’m biased, but I’m inclined to think that part of the reason some women feel drawn to these sexual behaviours is because we’ve managed to erode so much of what I believe are natural roles within male-female relationships. Men and women are different – yes, biologically different. Their brains are structurally different. We’ve had a tendency to exaggerate these differences and use them to state that women are incapable of certain things, but the solution to this is not to deny that differences exist, the solution is to redress the imbalance.

We’re scared that if we adopt traditional gender roles at home, we won’t be able to switch it off at work, and we won’t be able to fight the continuing battle against unequal pay, sexual harassment in the workplace, and the massive glass ceiling that exists for women.

I’ve become very comfortable in my own gender ethics. I’m perfectly happy being a super-boss in the workplace and having a traditional home life. I don’t find it contradictory or confusing – the office is not my living room.

The problem is that the majority of women want to be romanced, have men open doors, buy them dinner on the first date and all the other things that 13 year old day dreams are made of. If we are striving towards a form of egalitarianism proposed by some branches of feminism that eradicates gender norms, then of all that has to go with it. At the very least those practices can’t be gender specific.

I don’t feel bad about demanding equal pay for equal work while wanting someone to pay for the first or second (Or all?) dates and eventually coming home to scrub his shirt collars. It’s my belief system, it’s my choice.

There’s no need for all this wrist-wringing – just relax and release. You can lean in at work and then come home and lean over the hob if you want to. With no apology.

Ladies, what’s the deal? do you like men being in charge? What do you believe? Men, do you like being the ‘leader’? Or do you  think it’s unfair to burden you with that responsibility?

parent sucks

A while back I started a series on the Ten Commandments. I got to number four, probably the easiest one for me to write about, and probably the most inoffensive to most non-believers – after all, what’s not to like about what superficially appears to be a command to have a day off?  I kind of forgot about that series amidst all my other random blog posts, and then last week I remembered that perhaps I had a good reason for being stuck. Commandment number five. That’s where I got stuck.

Number five is the one about honouring your father and mother.

And I could have written a very lovely, likely nauseating blog post as an ode to my (truthfully) very wonderful parents, but as soon as  I thought about it what came to mind was…but what if your parents suck?

I’ll admit, there is a part of me that is very sympathetic to the pro-choice movement. There are one or two women who make you think”Why didn’t you just have an abortion?”. That might appear exceptionally judgemental, callous or even evil to some of you, but hear me out:

Seeing a baby whose mother is addicted to heroin and has passed that on to them, or seeing women who know that they are entirely economically, emotionally or mentally unsuitable to parent or seeing women who physically or sexually abuse their children persuade me at times sometimes, it is crueller to give birth to life than to terminate it.  Of course, their children could, and I hope will, go on to make wonderful things out of their lives, but the odds are hugely stacked against them.

I get angry after I see these women. And I undulate between pity (because I understand that people do not generally behave in these ways simply because they are ‘bad people’ – there a multiple factors at play) and anger for the soon-to-be baby that has to live through the consequences of their behaviour.

Poor single mothers are an easy target for bad parenting though. There are multiple men and women who have stable jobs and appear to be functioning on the surface, but have hidden addictions, abusive personalities and a myriad of issues that make them just as ill equipped to parent, but they unfortunately fall under the radar of public services.

Some parents suck.

Some people should never be parents in their current state. Some parents are your abusers. Some parents are the person who caused you the deepest hurt. Some parents are invisible. Some parents left you before you could remember their face. Some parents crushed your dreams and didn’t give you enough peaceful nights to rebuild them. Some parents are selfish. Some parents told you they hated you.

All parents are imperfect.

How do you honour them? Do they deserve honour? What does it look like to honour a parent who sucks at parenting?

I always say we can’t make arguments from definitions, but sometimes definitions are useful. The Greek word for honour used in the New testament is timao, which means ‘to set the value of’. I think this is a useful way of understanding the context of the word honour. The heart of this commandment is the value we should place on the relationship (or non-relationship) we have with our parents. Whether good or bad, these relationships will likely have lasting impact on the course of our lives. We should approach these relationships with that knowledge and treat them accordingly.Not only that, but good parents are an invaluable resource and we should use the wisdom they inevitably will have.

I’m cautious about being too certain in my opinions on this, but there are a few thing I am certain of:

1) Jesus took abuse, especially of children, seriously.

He said that it was better to tie a massive rock around your neck and drown yourself at the bottom of the ocean than harm a child.

2) You’re obligated to forgive, you’re not obligated to remain in relationship with abusers.

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” Galatians 5:14. If you wouldn’t want someone you love to stay in that situation or relationship, don’t stay in it yourself.

3) Where it’s possible to reconcile, you should.

This is good advice whatever your faith … “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”. Romans 12:18. That means if the you’ve fallen out, but reconciling will not put you in a position where you are open to abuse/abusive behaviour then try to reconcile.

4) It’s loving to tell people when they’ve messed up and it gives them opportunities to change.

“Better is open criticism than hidden love”.  Proverbs 27:5

5) You’re entitled to be an adult and form your own opinions.

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13:11

It’s childish to accept your parents opinions and beliefs without questioning them – they can’t answer for you anymore.

5) They might not be bad parents, you might be screwing up.

Just a reminder – just because you’re angry with them, as long as they are not abusive,  your anger doesn’t necessarily mean they’re in the wrong.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts. Especially interested in those who have a different belief system – do you feel like you should forgive? Do you feel any obligation to respect your parents?

modesty

Dear Christian men,

It’s summer time and once again, you’re engaged in a battle for your mind. It’s everywhere – the short skirts, the crop tops, the see through leggings, the cleavage, the too short shorts. And guess what?

This isn’t a blog post suggesting that any of the above items of clothing are things that I or any other Christian woman should  be wearing. This isn’t a blog post by someone who isn’t sympathetic to the fact that modern society means that there is an onslaught of images that make it difficult for the modern Christian (because contrary to what you’ve been taught, many women are just as visually orientated as men)  to adhere to the standards we have in regards to sexuality. This isn’t even a blog post by a woman who feels that men and woman have zero mutual responsibility to each other when it comes to sexual behaviour.

However.

However,

I’m sick of Christian/Muslim/random men who despite my attempts to dress modestly still feel like it’s appropriate to rest all the blame for their lust….on me. In fact, I’m sick of the church in general portraying men as helpless puppies, who sit in front of Jezebel women, panting and jumping up and down at the behest of their scantily clad owners.

This isn’t about what women wear or don’t wear, it’s about a historical legacy of sexism in the church that harms men AND women because it disempowers you and shames us. It tell you that your locus of control is entirely outside yourself. That sexual sin is something that ‘happens’ to you, thrust in your face by seductive women who are out to devour you.

It doesn’t really matter what I wear – if I was  in the most Amish friendly skirt, maybe my perfume would be to blame for the fact that you’re turned on. If I wore eau de tap water,  it might be that the way I walk is a little bit too sensual. If my walk was stiffer than a German police officer in a Zumba class, it might just be the way I flip my braids. Once your thoughts and behaviour become primarily women’s responsibility and not your own, we are ALWAYS to blame.

You see, you’re right that Christian women should have regard for you as your sisters. And you should have regard for us too. Thing is though, there are a lot of women out there who aren’t Christian – they walk the streets in summer too and they’re very much entitled to make their own choices about what they wear on their bodies. At some point you’re going to have to go outside. And and some point you’re going to have to learn to cope with the fact that some women just don’t care about what you think. They’re not dressing for you today or tomorrow –  they’re never going to dress with you in mind. Your belief system doesn’t occur to them when they slip into their crop tops. So what are you gonna do?

Make comments about their body? Walk up to them and say ‘Hey you!Cover up!’? Ogle their breasts? Blame them for the fact that you can’t control yourself?

I hope not.

Because your sexual behaviour is ultimately YOUR sexual behaviour. So when I turn up on Sabbath morning with my past knee length skirt and non cleavage revealing top, and you still feel a little hot under the collar, please don’t make me feel ashamed and act awkwardly around me. Cos I like my Sabbath morning hugs.

And when another young lady turns up with her cleavage out and flashing a lot of thigh, I would hope that despite her inappropriate attire (I’m really not here for outraged feminists who believe that modesty is de facto oppressive), you can still recognise that your response to her is entirely in your control, not hers, and that she deserves to be treated with the same level of respect as anyone else.

Actually, there’s no reason for you to feel guilty that you find me, or any other woman sexy. Sexy simply means ‘sexually attractive or exciting’. I’d be pretty worried if you as a heterosexual man were surrounded by attractive women and felt no sexual attraction  to them whatsoever. And I’d be pretty bummed to marry a man who at no point up until my wedding day found me either sexually attractive or exciting.

In fact, here’s a thought..maybe part of the reason you find it so difficult is that you’ve absorbed so much shame around your sexuality that you’re beating yourself up for things that aren’t even wrong. Maybe you’ve begun to sexualise parts of women’s bodies that aren’t even primarily sexual because you’re so hyper aware. Maybe we all need to sit down and take a good look at what the Bible ACTUALLY says about sex and sexuality instead of blindly accepting this hodgepodge mixture of Victorian ethics and modern day sex-obsession.

And maybe we need to stop being so scared of being sexy.

caitlyn jenner

I have deliberated for a while as to whether I should write a blog post about Caitlyn Jenner. My initial instinct was to completely ignore the whole debacle. I deliberated whether writing a blog about it is giving more air and publicity to something that I’m not sure should be garnering so much attention. It is. I deliberated whether writing about it would alienate some of the good people who follow my blog. Probably. I deliberated whether there are things happening in the world that might be more important. Very likely.

But I’m writing about it anyway.

Primarily because Caitlyn Jenner is much more than Caitlyn Jenner. The varying responses to her coming out as a trans gender woman speak volumes to a world that is changing rapidly and to the perhaps deepening divide between traditional beliefs and a younger, seemingly more progressive generation. The last 10 years have raised big questions about sexual ethics, morality and its relativity.

According to Caitlyn Jenner, she struggled with gender dysphoria for many years, through 3 marriages, through children, through a stunning athletic career. I will start by saying that I will not ever understand the struggle of feeling like I am stuck inside a body that does not feel home. As such, I think it’s important to be mindful of that when I write.

With that said, I don’t believe that I cannot speak on the issues surrounding Caitlyn’s transgender identity simply because I don’t experience life as a transwoman. I have three main quibbles.

Firstly, specifically in relation to Caitlyn Jenner, there is blatant hypocrisy in the praise and adulation given to her as opposed to others. Caitlyn was someone who left a marriage and children, due to a truth that she discovered about herself that meant she could no longer sustain a marriage in honesty. She reports that she knew about her transgender identity for some time but did not feel able to come out as transgender. Undeniably, it’s no small thing to reveal yourself as transgender.

Equally undeniably in my opinion, it is selfish to enter not one, but three marriages and have children while knowing that you are transgender and not being open with your partners about this. I understand that there is incredible pressure to live a normal life, but I don’t understand why coming out as transgender and leaving your marriage because of it, is bravery, whereas leaving your marriage because you are in love with someone else, or polyamorous, or just not the ‘marrying type’ is cowardice.  I find it hard to believe that if someone declared that they had known they were polyamorous for a long time, and could no longer live the lie of a monogamous marriage, that they would be congratulated for this. In contrast, anyone who reveals themselves to be transgender and leaves a marriage (I’m assuming at least partly because of this) is lauded as brave.

Secondly, the idea that sex is a social construct is frankly, manifest nonsense of the highest order. Sex and gender are seen to be two different things – gender is generally accepted to be socially constructed and I agree that it is at least partially constructed. Recently though, I’ve been hearing more and more that sex is also socially constructed. That sex is what doctors ‘assign’ at birth – evidence of this being intersex individuals. Someone will be born with both reproductive organs and the doctors and parents will decide that it looks more male/female..and that’s how sex is determined. So therefore sex is also socially constructed.

The majority of the people making these claims (on the internet at least) have no scientific or medical background. Try telling a urologist that they’re performing a radical prostatectomy on a ‘social construct’ and they will just look at you like you’re a purple egg. More obviously, intersex is generally the result of some sort of congenital abnormality. There’s a reason why they’re termed ‘disorders of sex development’ – because if things develop as they should, intersex is not the result. The sex definitions of male and female are seen throughout the animal kingdom with a few exceptions. Scientists across the world categorise creatures into male and female precisely because it is scientifically obvious that they are completely different. The liberal agenda to change what is blatantly obvious to any thinking individual is complete insanity.

I should briefly state why I don’t believe that gender is wholly socially constructed. I believe that gender norms are a result of social construction, but that these are actually rooted in very obvious biological differences. We’ve tended to exaggerate the extent of the biological differences, or namely the extent to which these biological differences affect abilities to perform day to day tasks . We’ve also tended to play down the distribution curve within genders that means that the biological differences we observe have less effect than we might think. This doesn’t mean though, that gender has no biological basis whatsoever. And if in fact, gender is wholly socially constructed, why is a change of biological features a necessity in changing gender?

Thirdly, the majority of people who insist that Caitlyn Jenner is a woman and should be treated as such are completely disingenuous to the point of it being laughable. They are quick to correct everyone on Twitter who uses the wrong pronoun  to describe anyone who is transgender …“It’s SHE not HE!!”.. they exclaim loudly. And I agree with them  that deliberately calling a transgender person by a different pronoun to which they prefer in order to prove a point is unnecessarily alienating and passive aggressive. It’s quite obvious though, that these same people who insist that Caitlyn is a woman don’t ACTUALLY believe that she is. Why would I say that?  Because ask most of these men whether they’d be willing to date or marry a transwoman (not necessarily Caitlyn specifically), regardless of how pretty she was, the answer would be no. An uncomfortable, standing in the light of their own hypocrisy, no.

I absolutely believe that gender dysphoria exists. I absolutely believe that those who experience it almost all experience tremendous  distress as they grapple with it, and are deserving of compassion.

I’m not sure how much of it is a genetic abnormality or rooted in any biochemical or structural change or simply a result of nurture. We don’t have strong evidence of that at present.

I am however, utterly unconvinced that the solution to this is to actively encourage firstly, the idea that gender and sex are identities that we can choose as and when we like,  and secondly, that the solution to this cognitive dissonance is to undergo radical surgery and hormone treatment.  

“The review of more than 100 international medical studies of post-operative transsexuals by the University of Birmingham’s aggressive research intelligence facility (Arif) found no robust scientific evidence that gender reassignment surgery is clinically effective.”  http://www.theguardian.com/society/2004/jul/30/health.mentalhealth

Many are moving for gender dysphoria to be removed from the psychiatric handbook (the DSM) as a disorder. I think in doing this we actually do a great disservice to people who need professional help. Caitlyn Jenner  is very wealthy, white and privileged, unlike the majority of transgendered people. The media notoriety may last for quite sometime and she exists in a Hollywood community where her identity is accepted, even congratulated. When the public becomes bored though, when the novelty of her newfound identity wears off, all the research points to the fact that despite the unfounded support she has received, she may still be as unhappy as she was pre sex change.

Ultimately, stifling important questions about the ethics surrounding transgender identity and how we frame it, will do very little to help Caitlyn and others like her.

Copyright creative commons

Copyright creative commons

I posted this last night on Facebook...”Let me get deep for a minute…someone on my Instagram said something similar: People sometimes take ages posing for the perfect selfie…It’s not an accurate depiction of how they look from every angle. Likewise, what you see of someone else’s life is only one angle.

It’s easy to envy because you can’t see from the back or the side.

You’re single, they’re engaged – you don’t know their relationship issues. They have a great job, you can’t seem to get a foot up – you don’t know that they’re lonely and cry at night. They’re pretty, you might not be as conventionally good looking – they might be racked with poor self esteem.

Trust what God has for you. Trust the process. Trust that everything is not always as it seems. Don’t trust Facebook lives. Be happy for others, be content with what you have.”

I didn’t post it as a type of agony aunt to the masses type thing. Actually, it was more of a reminder to myself.

You see, I had spent a substantial part of the hour or so before I wrote that status wallowing in a rather large, depressing vat of my own self-pity. Inside the vat was a large glass of mango juice and a packet of salted peanuts to aid me in quest for pessimism and discontentment. There were also a few tears. And a couple of “it’s not fair and I’m not talking to you..” moans to God.

Life isn’t always a bed of roses. Sometimes, it can feel like a series of very unfortunate events, while everyone else’s life appears to be a series of extremely pleasant coincidences.

Fear, worry and anxiety are generally rooted in things that haven’t happened yet. It’s true, there are things that happen to us that are awful, that stretch and pull at us until we feel like we’ve reached our limitations and won’t ever be able to bounce back, but often a lot of our anxiety is rooted in what hasn’t happened yet. Either things that we want to happen but we’re scared won’t happen, or things that we don’t want to happen and are scared will happen. The truth is that a lot of the things we fear will happen probably won’t. A lot of the things that we fear won’t happen probably will. And even if things do or don’t happen, we often get through them a lot better than we thought we would.

It doesn’t help that a lot of our fears are informed by ideas about what we ‘should’ be doing, or what ‘should’ be happening to us, based on the people around us. One of the curses of social media is that we can easily access snapshots of peoples lives. Instead of seeing these snapshots as exactly what they are – snapshots, we often subconsciously choose to see them as live movie reel of someone’s life.

I’ll be honest – there are things I’m scared won’t happen. I’m scared I’ll never figure out an exact career path. People around me seem to be settled and convinced about what they want to do, and I still don’t know whether I want to be a GP, a surgeon or neither. I’m scared that I’m not using my skills enough, that I’ll look back in 10 years and not have achieved the things I want to. I’m scared I won’t ever get married and have a family but everyone around me seems to be getting married at the moment.  I’m scared that I won’t ever become the type of person I want to become – that all the character flaws I’m trying to overcome will just stick with me forever.

There are things I’m scared will happen. I’m scared that my loved ones will get ill. I’m scared that I’ll lose people that are important to me. I’m scared that I’ll make a wrong decision about something important and ruin my life. I’m scared that I’ll say something incredibly stupid at the wrong time to the wrong person and get myself in a whole heap of trouble I can’t get out of.

I’m sure you have your own set of fears, and I’m sure some of my fears might seem  a bit silly to you…I would probably agree with you, and there are a couple of simple solutions I use to try and let go of my fears and practice being content:

1) Truth

I sometimes have to remind myself of the truth, even speak it out loud to myself… No, so and so’s life is not perfect because no one’s life is, despite her Instagram page being perfect. Yes, you haven’t figured out your entire life yet, but you’re only 25, that’s an unrealistic expectation. No, you are not an unattractive person – you have enough friends and people that care about you to know that that’s not the case. Nope, God doesn’t only care about perfect people, so quit running away from Him. Truth challenges the false ideas we often have about our present situation.

2) Counting the good things.

Occasionally when I’m feeling absolutely rotten, I take out my hands and stick them in front of me just like we did when we were kids, and count things I’m grateful for. If it’s a really bad day, I start with the basic things – I’m alive, I have food, I have clothes. I always run out of fingers. I always realise that I have far more to be grateful for that I realise.

3)Faith.

Personally, I believe that no matter how many bad things happen in one day, and no matter how rubbish my life may appear, God can use these situations for my good. The good might be a stronger character. The good might be a lesson that can translate into a new career path. The good might be a better relationship than the one I left. The good might even be the ability to offer comfort to someone else going throughout same thing in the future.

So Facebook friends, Instagram buddies, and Twitter comrades – don’t look at my life and think it’s perfect, and don’t look at anyone else’s life and think it is either. And when you’re tempted to compare and be despondent, remember, count the good things, have some faith and add a big dollop of the truth.

What are some of your fears? What are some of the ways you try to stay content?