Thursday, May 5, 2016


I'm so flattered when people notice that I haven't blogged in a while. You guys are great.
I haven't been writing because my classes are getting more intense and I've been buried in reading. I also had/am having a pretty rough patch as a mom (maybe I'll write about it eventually, who knows...) and I've been venting to my sister on the phone when she calls, so I get it out of my system. But it's only a matter of time before I get riled up enough about something that I can't focus on my homework AT ALL and I have to write it out. You know, cause the internet really deserves for me to put it in its place.

I draw a lot of what I write about from actual conversations I have with people (as opposed to, say, lizards ;)). You never know what you might say that gets gears whirring in my head, and within the next few days, I'll have spun it together with a few other comments and timely articles I read and voila, I go into what I call "videogame power mode". You know, that look where the character pauses, raises their head and hands, opens their mouth and eyes wide, and fire comes out and stuff? Jonas tells me this is called a "powerup", and it's actually from a show. Whatever. I think ya'll know what I'm talking about:

So here goes... I got powered up about feminism.
DON'T GO AWAY. I don't even know quite where I'm going with this yet or what all I might have to say about it, so I hope that means it won't sound canned.

I'm pulling from several posts by Rachel Held Evans in addition to my own thoughts, and trust me, the parts that I quote of hers are going to be the strongest. Sometimes I'm blinded by the fire coming out of my eyes when I PowerUp and I need help articulating why I feel so strongly. The articles I'll cite are parts A and D in a series she wrote where she breaks down specific questions that come up about women in the church (women teaching, women breadwinning, etc.). I love it when I stumble upon a community or movement that I identify with but previously did not know existed, and I'm drawing so much confidence from Evan's counter points to stricter, [culturally] traditional Christianity.

I don't really have time to brush up on when and why feminism became a bad word in society. Some feminists make that label their defining characteristic, and it is a little tiresome to hear anyone constantly bring up that one issue of theirs that they just have to weave into every conversation, telling you how hard their life is because of this or that. I get that that's annoying. For me, that thing is probably parenting. Parenting is ridiculously hard, and so far, it doesn't really get easier, so yeah, I think and talk about it a lot.

I don't feel particularly oppressed as a woman. I do think that being a woman makes some parts of life more difficult, but there are some things that are probably harder by virtue of being a man, too. The church should be the torchbearer of women's equality, but instead, it seems to focus on all the things that make women and men different, and many times, how women can be properly subordinate to men.

Feminism in the church, tends to a) NEVER gets talked about or b) be thought of as an unholy menace. This has much more to do with our cultural norms, religious and secular, than it has to do with the Bible. Not surprisingly, most (all?) men I know don't seem super worried about women's rights. I don't say this in a condescending way, but I know that I don't understand some parts of life that go along with being a man, and the guys in my life just don't have the same view on my life as a woman as I do. Duh. What I find much more surprising is that many women I know don't seem to be interested in women's rights. It really makes me wonder if I'm a mega complainer for pointing out (and being angry about) some aspects of my life that I view as being negatively affected due to my gender.

As a side note, I have this weird thing about the word "rights". I don't believe in rights, only privileges. I don't like the idea that anyone is entitled to anything, only that we fight for what we think is right and good. Perhaps that is naive, but since it is important to me, I just wanted to point out that when I talk about women's "rights", I don't think that men or women deserve anything in particular, only that men generally have more parts of society working in their favor and I'd like to see women have equal opportunities.

I'm not anti-men. I'm not even anti-respect for men. In fact, I'm not even of the mind that men and woman can do all the same things exactly the same way, or that they should. Google defines feminism as "the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men". That's really not all that provocative anymore. And yet, alarmingly difficult to achieve

More than people (including women in the church) being blatantly anti-women or unconcerned with fair opportunities and treatment for women in all realms of life, I think we become accustomed to norms such that we don't even realize when women are getting the short end of the stick.  

I know this is duplicitous, but at the same time as wanting to be empowered and bold and regal as a women, I don't like being defined by the fact that I am a women. Perhaps my idea of successful feminism is that I'm just seen and treated as a person of worth, not simply as a woman, for good or bad. Put more eloquently, Evans quoted, "Femininity does not define me; as a woman created in the image of God, I define it, in community with my sisters." The church - as I see it - does not grasp this nuance particularly well, at least in terms of its rhetoric.

I have many wonderful women in my life, spanning many ages and skill sets and lifestyles. I really enjoy talking and hanging out with other women, but does that mean that we're doing "women things"? I don't think so. It means we're doing things, JUST THINGS, together, and we happen to be women. Why do we have to compartmentalize things further than that? I don't want to go to Women's Bible Studies and Women's Retreats and read Women's Books. I just want good fellowship and good books.

I grew up with a lot of Christian literature and voices saying, "you're a princess, we're the bride of Christ, you're a precious daughter", blah blah blah. Those things are actually true, but what's with all the girl language? Can I only be reached by the Word of God as girl in need of a self-worth boost at every possible opportunity? No. THAT image, of women as extra fragile, helpless, emotional jellyfish is a social construct that we buy into so much that we think the only thing that can help is these special messages "for women". It's a marketing ploy to make money off people who want to feel special because of their gender and it separates us from the true identity of a child of God - one where labels do not add or detract from our worth. Male or female, slave or free - these are labels that we use to define ourselves, not labels that God uses to parse out love or worth.

I don't think that the church should 100% mirror society or anything, and there's no denying that we're marketed to based on gender in many circumstances in the "real world", but Jesus didn't relate to people based on their gender alone. Jesus didn't write books for women and books for men. So why, then, do we find the need to approach men and women in the church separately?

I used to help decorate at my church and sometimes men in charge (both of whom I love and admire) would tell women who were doing most of the work that "it needed to be more masculine so that the church was inviting for men". I admit to being too easily riled up at times, but that infuriated me. I genuinely am sad that many men don't want to be part of the church, but let me tell you, that's a heart thing, not a decor thing. I hate it when church culture gets caught up in petty details like that. I want church to be inviting for people, but no amount of masculine or feminine or neutral decor contains the gospel message. Sorry to fling out stereotypes, but most men probably won't notice the decor anyway.

Church culture also gets very tied up in gender roles as they pertain to relationships in dating and marriage. An example from Evans that sounds all too familiar: "I remember countless conversations in the dorm rooms of my conservative Christian college about how to defer to a guy as the 'spiritual leader' in a relationship, an ideal that far too often resulted in women deliberately diminishing their own gifts, ideas, and dreams in an effort to better play second fiddle."

Most of you know that Jonas and I married very young - I was 20 and he was 21. I have always been a strong personality, bent on dictatorship, and Jonas is a much gentler, more thoughtful and introspective person. He does not sing in church because he prefers to take in the music as he worships (I used to be embarrassed that he wasn't "participating"), and he doesn't offer to pray out loud. We've been married long enough now that I respect that we have different approaches to many things, but when we first got married, I had this idea that Jonas was really going to need to "step up" and be a spiritual leader so that I didn't overpower him. My idea of him being a spiritual leader was him prompting me to have a morning Bible study with him every day, despite the fact that that is SO not either of our personalities. Jonas does lead in his own way, but it's not patriarchal. He is often the one who makes me step back and evaluate my runaway mouth or my un-Christlike behavior, and he's always the one who loves me unconditionally (I don't use that word lightly, as I am not a great unconditional lover), and this is pretty darn Christ-like.

As a wife, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about whether I'm respecting or submitting to Jonas. Sometimes I feel guilty about this, but mostly I don't think about it at all. We interact human to human, not man to woman. We interact as Karissa and Jonas, whose communication styles do not always mesh. Sometimes I do or say something disrespectful, and sometimes so does he. I tell him when I think he's wrong, and I don't always agree with him. If we argue and argue and can't come to a consensus, sometimes we just go our own ways with it. We also try and say sorry when we know we've been disrespectful to one another. This is a much more liberating and practical arrangement than worrying about whether I'm fulfilling a woman's proper role. Who decided on proper? In my experience, what church culture calls proper is usually not what Jesus actually said.

Evans: "I’ve sat through women’s Bible’s studies in which I was taught how to convince my husband that something is his idea, even if it isn’t, in order to keep the hierarchy intact while still getting my way. (I think manipulation is an unintended consequence of hierarchical marriages, which perhaps should be the subject of separate post.)"

I absolutely fall in to that trap (not unique to the church) where I say "let's" do this or that instead of "please do this for me" so as to "soften" my real meaning. I think diplomacy in speech is a good skill to have, but I hate that women collectively feel the need to (and are trained to) be non-confrontational. Most of the time when I suggest, "let's clean the car", I have no intention of being part of that chore (because I'm doing other chores, mind you), but I still say "let's" because I don't want to be a wife who orders her husband around. Contrary to popular belief, I do not like TELLING people what to do. In the words of Deadpool, "I'd learn to change the oil on our car with you, but I don't want to". Jonas doesn't dislike me for my candor or my "softened" requests, but I cut that "let's" BS out whenever I catch myself doing it, and as a result many people tell me "I'm so direct" [especially for a women]. Nuance and time-and-place considerations are good, but manipulation is not. {image}

Evans: "You see this sort of language a lot in complementarian literature: 'real men,' 'real women,' 'real marriage,' 'hardwired,' 'programmed,' 'blueprint'—as if masculinity and femininity are rigid, set-in-stone ideals to which we must ascribe, rather than fluid expressions of our unique selves."

The term "complementarian" is new to me, and I'm always secretly proud when I didn't realize that something had a name, because it means that I haven't spent gross amounts of time fighting over churchy technicalities. When people start throwing out terms like "complementarian" in daily conversation when they're upset, you know they've been in the church a long damn time. Get thee to a bar or something, seriously.

But since it came up, the definition of Complementarianism is: "a theological view held by some in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, that men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere". I agree with this on the surface, because as I said before, I do think that there are general differences between men and women. But if I dig a little deeper, that premise mucks up so much of what I love about marriage, in particular. My favorite moments of being married are not when I'm cooking dinner and Jonas is walking in the door from work. I actually love cooking and I'm thankful that he works hard to provide for us, but those roles are circumstantial in our family, not identifiers. The moments where I feel most alive and most "together" as a couple involve sharing an experience or a conversation that we find equally enjoyable, stimulating, exciting, or mind-bending (get your mind out of the gutter right meow). 

We do compliment each other, but I don't see gender as the primary factor in that. I have many personality traits that are more masculine and Jonas has many that are stereotypically feminine. We still manage to compliment each other (and bug the heck out of each other) because we're different people, but that complimenting is not solely (or even primarily) gender based. We are probably better suited to non-traditional family roles, but for the time being, we happen to fulfill fairly classic gender roles in our family. It's still very difficult for me to be confident about a non-traditional approach to gender roles in our lives, but it hardly takes any thought at all (on my part, at least), to realize that classic complementarianism is not the best - or even a Godly - approach for us. 

I know I've been harping on church culture a lot lately. It's hurt me a lot, and ingrained some serious character flaws in me that have and will continue to take me years to uproot. I'm resentful about that. But, I think that my church (and many churches) have many wonderful, Biblical, helpful things to say and teach as well. I want to be ever more like Jesus, not evermore like human's interpretations of Jesus, and that's why I get so angry when I believe something false that I learn from church culture. I don't think that very many people in the church set out to twist the gospel, but it's really easy to do. I'm positive that I've done it myself. Nothing makes me more upset than realizing that I'm going along with something that I consider to be "good" and Christian, only to realize that it's a lie. That's the main reason why I'm so critical of what I garner from Christian circles and so noisy about the things that I think it gets wrong. 

Now, let us return to feminism. Like I said before, I think what people find offputting about feminists is that they always seem to have an ax to grind. But why are you (hypothetical person) annoyed or silent when I point out how a situation is degrading or unequal for women? I'm sorry (#notsorry) that it makes you uncomfortable or that you didn't think that through before speaking. I'm not trying to shame people most of the time when I bring up how a situation pertains to women's rights - I'm simply trying to bring awareness to the fact that there is actually a problem that we often fail to see because no one [at church] talks about it!

There's been some recent backlash against being "politically correct" (thank you, Donald Trump...). I don't really get it. I understand that it's a little bit harder to think about everything you say so that you don't offend people, but that's actually kind of a good thing. It's a good thing for you just to keep your mouth shut sometimes or to go out of your way not to belittle or demean someone else. I'm not sorry it annoys you when I point out your offensive comments or actions. It's difficult to decipher what's a joke and what's actually demeaning sometimes (they're often one and the same), and I make some non-PC jokes, but I also really care about being respectful of everyone I can think of. I feel bad when I blunder, and I try and take it into account the next time I hear or see someone being mistreated. "Why can't I just be me in private?" Because "me" needs to cut the racist crap, that's why. Why is not being a bully all of a sudden uncool?

I kind of hate this quote because it makes me think about all the world's problems that I genuinely can't give my energy to, but seeing that gender roles affect all of us, every single day, I think I can use it here effectively and say, "if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor". I do have a bit of an ax to grind when it comes to how "the system" handicaps women in the workplace and essentially punishes parents, but I will give you a real world example of how men and women can learn to recognize and combat unfair treatment of women in society. Granted, this is kind of a first world problem example, but I think it's subtle and probably quite common.

I worked for a previous employer for about 5 years, up until I had Ira. I did not like my job, but I was good at it and I was respectful and a very low-maintenance employee. There was a man who joined the department I worked for toward the end of my time there, and he was not good at his job and he was disrespectful to his coworkers and immediate boss as well. He did, however, have an [unrelated] college degree (so I assume he made much more than I did) and he was full-time compared to my part-time. At the time, I was asking for additional and more complicated projects. Mind you, I had 5 years of this job under my belt and I had long since mastered the tasks that I already did. Instead of giving the new project to me (even when I offered to take work home or work remotely so that my schedule could accommodate the project), they gave it to him. I wasn't happy about it, but I didn't throw a fit, either.

Then, I mentioned it to my dad, who said that they probably chose him because he wasn't pregnant. That's what really set me off about the whole thing. From an employer's standpoint, I understand that maybe my life was less predictable than his, but considering that I had come back to work after my first child (before my maternity leave was even up, in fact) and the other reasons I already mentioned that I would have done the job better than my co-worker, I was furious at the thought that my womanhood had gotten in the way of my life. Actually, I wasn't furious about my womanhood, I was furious that I wasn't given an equal opportunity in light of it. That situation was a big part of my decision to quit that job, and that guy even got fired later for not being good at his job. It would mean a great deal (and not cost you much) to say something if you see women discriminated against on the basis of their gender in your workplace.

Also, don't freaking tell me I can't do something because I'm a girl. Even (especially?) if it's a role in the church. Evans has some excellent points in her blog posts about how women led in the church and society in both the new and old testament, and men didn't say, "we can't listen to them because they don't have any authority." Short of it having to do with higher levels of testosterone, it's probably not true that a girl can't do something. And hello, people can take testosterone if they're that worried about not being as buff, or whatever. Like I said before, I do think that men and women are different and there are some basic *general* characteristics that go along with a person's gender (there is something extra about having carried your child in your own body), but since the heck when is "is your husband coming" a good question about how qualified I (ME, not him!) am to complete a task. Are you kitten me right meow? Das rude.

I'm not just angry-writing here. I write posts over several days or weeks, so it's *somewhat* meditated upon. But it's okay to be angry about injustice. Jesus was publicly angry at times.  One more time, I want to reiterate that for me, being a Christian feminist doesn't mean that I'm angry at men. Maybe a few specific men at times, but I also get angry at specific women at times. Anyone who thinks feminism doesn't concern them is in danger of being an "oppressor by virtue of being neutral in situations of injustice". So go on, get mad. Pay attention to injustice, and don't stand aside and let it happen in front of you. Rip off your shirt (okay, not really), clench your fists, and get all anime on un-Biblical attitudes toward women in the church.

And now, I'm going to PowerDown....


  1. You are a brilliant writer. As a former magazine editor and writer, I really appreciate deep thoughtful respectful writing, and that is what I find in your blog. I might not agree with everything you write, but I wouldn't expect to find that with anyone...including myself!

    I do find myself 'sad' for the pain you experienced with your church history, but it does make me mindful and hopefully sensitive to those who get hurt by the church. I have no idea how I managed to avoid 'religious' churches damaging me, but I guess as a missionary I've moved around so much so I've been exposed to wide varieties, and thus no one place was allowed to penetrate false interpretations deep enough. Don't get me wrong, I've been in some real 'doozies' and had to wash myself clean of some gunk, but for the most part, been enriched by the churches I've been able to attend around the world. Maybe it's some of my 'independent thinking' that protects me from embracing falsehoods that masquerade as deep doctrine, but probably I've just been 'lucky' that so many churches I've attended are predominantly healthy.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts. I'm pretty busy when I do get to visit S. CA once or twice a year, but if I am ever up in your area, I'd love to take you out to coffee/smoothie and just hear more of your heart about anything you wanted to talk about, for I know I would be enriched by the encounter, even though I am twice your age.

    Below is a link to a 20 year old song by a friend of mine in Nashville that I think you might like. It's not about feminism, but it still seems relevant to the conversation.

  2. Melinda, thank you so much for this comment! I'm sorry I'm just now seeing it. I tried to find a way to contact you via your blog, but I don't see any contact info. I would love to get to know you more if you're ever in the area, please do look me up!

    I am still trying to figure out how I ended up so hurt by the Church, because I too traveled frequently as a missionary kid and as far as I know, all the churches or groups I grew up in were Christ-centered! I guess I find that most human interpretation of the Bible (including my own) can't help but weave in some false and human aspects at times, and then it's very frustrating to realize that later on and try and untangle oneself.

    Praying that you are full of blessings today, wherever you may be in the world. Thank you again for your kind and encouraging words. I hope we can connect again sometime. :)


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