Where Logic Meets Love

Blog Comment Carnival: March 2013

Sunday, March 31, 2013

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Blog Comment Carnival: March 2013 | Faith Permeating Life

At the end of every month, I share my favorite comments from that month's posts, and you're invited to do the same and link up below!

The end of this month snuck up on me, so this is going up a little later than usual. Happy Easter!

This month's posts talked about Lent, unemployment, romantic persistence, discrimination, and heteronormativity, among other things, and you were right there with me with some long and thoughtful comments about the issues at hand. Some comments here are excerpts of longer ones so I have room to share more of my favorite comments.

On my post about Mindfulness and Meat, Mollie commented:
I don't eat a ton of meat, and it's not a big deal for me to not have it (though it's always funny to me how all kinds of meat comes out of the woodwork when you're trying not to eat it). So, on Fridays I probably take it a little far, but I abstain from meat, fish, and sweets. Sweets are the most difficult for me to give up, and I do my best to remember the other two. I don't think any of this necessarily brings me closer to God.

For me, this sacrifice is a reminder of how fortunate I am that I can eat whatever I want whenever I want. It's a reminder of all the folks around the world (including in my own city) who do not have that luxury. It doesn't fix anything, but it's something to get me outside of myself and that, to me, is the bigger spiritual practice. I mumble and groan to myself on Fridays or Ash Wednesday, but ultimately, it's one day, and I get to go back to eating whatever I want the following day. I need that reminder that other people live very different lives than mine. Maybe it's a tiny bit of solidarity. A tiny bit.

In Our Love Story Revisited (Or, My Husband Is Not a Stalker), I talked about why I need to be careful about saying Mike "pursued" me when I didn't want to date.

Sarah had an unpleasant experience with a persistent guy:
When I was in college, I dealt with a "persistent" friend who I would've probably considered a stalker had we not been friends first. It took four separate conversations over a year and a half where, each time, I said "I do not want to date you" for him to finally understand that when I said "I do not want to date you," that's what I meant.

In one situation that's become known as the "Disciple to Date" conversation, he told me that I a) wasn't allowing God to run my love life by not giving him a chance b) was giving him all the "signals" that I wanted to "turn the page" in our relationship so I obviously must want that and if I didn't I was horrible and misleading him and c) he was a good Christian guy and I was a good Christian girl and I might never get another offer from a good Christian guy, so I might as well take him up on it. ((facepalm))

Rachel liked knowing the details of our story:
I'm glad you posted this. Even though I didn't need the clarification of your story, per se, I'm glad the story of how respectful Mike was when pursuing you is out there on the web! It's a great example of something that's very much counter to our culture. I especially loved this endorsement from you: "Rather than stepping over my boundaries, he took them as law." What a wonderful basis this laid for your relationship. I hope your encouragements will help your readers hold out for partnerships that are just as much based on mutual respect and communication.

And Lozzz123 has a similar story to mine:
Hmmm, interesting. This has made me reconsider the way I tell my story about how I ended up with my husband, since it was a sort-of similar situation. What I usually say is that I wasn't sure I was interested at first but he wore me down. Of course it's a very abbreviated version of events and I say it in a joking way, but it could certainly be taken the wrong way! In reality he definitely wasn't pushy and took the time to show me that he honestly cared about me, and similarly to you by the time he actually asked me out I had been a bit impatient for him to do so for a while!

I explained why Protection by Discrimination Is Not a Solution for Bullies and got a few long comments.

perfectnumber628 said, in part:
Wow, this is a really good post. It reminds me of some blog post I read once about how girls shouldn't ever be allowed to play sports with boys, for their "protection." (And also because we have to teach boys not to hit a girl and they'll never be able to understand that the way you should act in sports is different than normal interactions... wut?)

And it made me SO ANGRY! Like, "we're protecting women by not letting them do things they want to do." If that's your "protection" then NO THANKS! I think the individual girl (or her parents, if she's really little) should decide if she can handle it or not, based on HER OWN INDIVIDUAL SITUATION.

And Becca shared her own experience:
As a shy child, I sometimes experienced discrimination from teachers, Girl Scout leaders, camp counselors, etc. who would assign me a non-speaking role in a play, tell me to sit out an activity, move me to the back of the group before something exciting happened, or otherwise "protect" me from being visible or exposed to stimulation. There were a few times I appreciated this, but typically they were misunderstanding my needs: I'm much braver when I have a role to play than if I'm speaking ad lib to an audience. I wasn't skittish of everything--I would have liked to meet a horse up close instead of being held back. Sometimes I need to try things to see that I can, too, do them and nobody will laugh at me.

Finally, I appreciated Q's thoughts on Is Heteronormativity Always Bad?:
What I find interesting is how the prominence of heteronormativity (or any other type of privilege) can change with a shift in the culture of a time/place. For example, here in New York, where the LGBT community is much more visible and mainstream, you are more likely to find those speed-dating events tailored to different orientations, or dance classes divided into groups of leaders and followers rather than men/women.

Nevertheless, there's still a long way to go, even in NYC. One example in particular springs to mind: musical theatre. You're generally more likely to find a gay man than a straight one in this field, but most roles, especially the "leading-man" type of classic musical theatre, are of straight characters.

I love having these conversations with you each month, and look forward to more in April!

Response to the Prop 8 Oral Arguments

Friday, March 29, 2013

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Response to the Prop 8 Oral Arguments | Faith Permeating Life

This week the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the cases involving California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), both of which restrict marriage rights to male-female couples.

On Tuesday I read through the transcript of the Prop 8 arguments, and I have a few thoughts I want to share.

First, I thought it was great that the proponents' attorney, Charles Cooper, attempted to make the "marriage is for procreation" argument and was almost immediately laughed at by trying to suggest, to a bunch of Justices whose ages range from 52 to 80, that it's actually rare for couples over the age of 55 to be unable to procreate, followed up by a joke from Justice Scalia about whether couples applying for marriage licenses should have to take a fertility test.

There was some discussion between Cooper and Justice Kennedy about whether the issue at hand is one of gender or sexual orientation, and Cooper said it was an issue of sexual orientation rather than gender; that is, the couples being excluded from the institution of marriage in this case are excluded as a result of their sexual orientations rather than their genders. The opponents' attorney, Ted Olson, picked up this same thread and argued that Proposition 8 excludes "gays and lesbians" from the institution of marriage.

I disagree. A woman who is bisexual is allowed to marry in California if her partner is male, and not allowed to marry if her partner is female, and her sexual orientation does not change. For that matter, a woman who is gay is legally allowed to marry if she's marrying a man. The government doesn't ask about individuals' sexual orientations when they are applying for a marriage license; they ask about the legal gender of each. The question the Court has to answer is not "Should we allow gay people to marry?" or "Should we allow bisexual people to marry?" The question is "Should two men, or two women, be allowed to have their relationship legally recognized as a civil marriage?"

On the other hand, by classing this as a case of excluding a select group ("homosexuals") from an institution, this allowed Justice Sotomayor to grill Cooper about whether there was justification for excluding this group from anything else:
Outside of the marriage context, can you think of any other rational basis, reason, for a state using sexual orientation as a factor in denying homosexuals benefits or imposing burdens on them? Is there any other rational decision-making that the government could make? Denying them a job, not granting them benefits of some sort, any other decision?
To which Cooper had to say no.

There was some scuffling between Justice Scalia and Olson about when it became unconstitutional to prohibit "homosexual couples" from getting married. Justice Scalia insisted that he could not answer the question before the Court without knowing the exact date at which this prohibition went from being constitutional to being unconstitutional. Olson tried to respond in several ways, first with a comparison to interracial marriages (Scalia said that was easy -- it became unconstitutional to prohibit interracial marriage after the Equal Protection Clause was adopted), then by attempting to say it became unconstitutional once we as a culture recognized sexual orientation as a fixed characteristic of individuals, which of course he couldn't pinpoint to a specific date, and therefore did not satisfy Justice Scalia.

This, to me, is similar to discussions about supposed mentions of homosexuality in Scripture, those verses which focus on particular sexual behaviors. No one writing those verses had a conception of someone having a fixed sexual orientation toward people of another gender or multiple genders. There are no references in Scripture to the morality of a loving married relationship between two people of the same gender because such a thing was unknown to the writers of Scripture, and only through a fairly recent accumulation of research and the ability of people to be open and honest about their experiences of attraction have cultures began to shift their thinking on this.

So Olson is right that until we as an American culture began to grasp that there is a diversity of fixed sexual orientations, there could be no widespread conception of bestowing marriage rights on same-sex couples. Only then did the withholding of such rights become apparent and could be seen as discriminatory. However, Justice Scalia is looking for something legal, rather than moral or conceptual, to focus on, which is a problem: How can we define the previous constitutionality of something that the writers of the Constitution, and interpreters (Justices) of past generations, had not even conceptualized, let alone ruled on?

Finally, Justice Roberts asked a question to General Donald Verrilli, who spoke after the two attorneys as an amicus curiae ("friend of the court"), which I want to address because I don't think Verrilli did so completely (which I don't blame him for -- I would not want to be thinking on my feet while the Justices shot rapid-fire questions at me and constantly interrupted me):
It seems to me that your position that you are supporting is some internally inconsistent. We see the argument made that there is no problem with extending marriage to same-sex couples because children raised by same-sex couples are doing just fine and there is no evidence that they are being harmed. And the other argument is Proposition 8 harms children by not allowing same-sex couples to marriage. Which is it?
Justice Roberts sets up a false dichotomy here. He sets up two possible scenarios, one in which children are harmed by having married same-sex parents and one in which they are harmed by not having married same-sex parents. But there are two main problems with this.

The first is that same-sex couples have children already, whether or not they have the legal protections of marriage or the legal right to both be called parents of their child(ren). Whether or not same-sex couples can have legal marriage rights, and whether or not same-sex couples can have children, are two completely separate questions, but Justice Roberts treats them as one and the same. This has been an ongoing issue in debates around same-sex marriage, in particular opponents of same-sex marriage speaking bizarrely as if the gender of a given child's parents is somehow determined by the legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

The second problem is blurring the issue of "harm" to children. Roberts references the evidence that there is no harm done to the children of same-sex couples, which is a matter of comparing children of opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples and looking for differences. And what this research finds is that the gender of their parents (in two-parent households) has no significant difference on the well-being of these children. On the other hand, the lack of legal protections and rights for their parents' relationship has the possibility of negatively affecting the children, and the fact that their parents are treated as second-class by the government validates any social stigma that might affect their family from their surrounding community.

In other words, the only disadvantages children have being raised by same-sex couples come from the government itself and the societal norms that stem from it, and thus protecting their families would have a net positive result for the children of same-sex couples since their parents themselves do not cause harm or disadvantage to them solely by being a same-sex couple. Trying to "protect" children from discrimination and bullying by discriminating against their parents' relationship hurts rather than helps the situation!

I think it's a shame that so much was left out in Tuesday's discussion; e.g., differentiating between sexual orientation and the gender of one's partner, exploring what these laws mean for people who don't fit the gender binary. But I also understand that a collection of Justices in their 50s through 80s who don't even understand why the term "homosexuals" is a problem might not have been able to deal with a discussion about "what gender actually means" in the very few minutes allotted to each attorney.

I have no idea what the Court's eventual decision will be on this, and I haven't had a chance to read the transcript from the DOMA oral arguments yet. I wanted to share these clarifications not because I think they will somehow affect the Justices' understanding of the cases before them, but because the discussions that happened in court mirrored a lot of debates around same-sex marriage that I've heard played out over the past decade. As with anything, I think it's extremely important to be clear about terms, keep facts straight, and avoid logical fallacies when discussing such important issues that deeply affect real people's lives.

What reaction did you have to this week's oral arguments? What do you think will happen?

Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

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Were You There When They Crucified My Lord? | Faith Permeating Life

In the Catholic Church, on the Sunday before Easter we read the entire "Passion" story, or the part of one of the Gospels from the Last Supper all the way up to Jesus' death and the immediate aftereffects. This year the reading was Luke 22:14-23:56, which you can read in full here.

What struck me about the reading this year was what a testament it is to our humanness.

We think we know exactly how we will act, think, or feel in the future or in a hypothetical situation because we imagine ourselves, exactly as we currently are, being transplanted in a different place or time. We think we understand people who are completely different from us because we think of them as having all the same knowledge, experiences, and privileges we have. We take the best possible view of our future self's motivation and actions ("I will get up at 5am every day and run!") because we project our current intentions, motivations, and energy level onto that future self.

Jesus tells Simon Peter that he will deny knowing Him -- three times, even! That very night! And Peter, despite all that he has seen and all the reasons he has to trust Jesus, absolutely insists that he would go to prison or die before denying his association with Jesus.

It's beyond the capabilities of Peter's human mind to mentally put himself in a situation in which he would want to dissociate himself from Jesus. He is around a table with Jesus and all of his closest friends, the men he's been traveling with for years. He's just had food and wine and is relaxing, feeling comfortable, feeling safe, feeling loved. The most he can imagine is leaving the building they're in and having someone say, "Hey, do you know Jesus?" and imagine himself saying, "Of course! We just had the Passover meal together."

He cannot conceptualize the heart-wrenching fear and isolation that he will be experiencing before morning, so deep as to make him lie out of fear for his life.

Likewise, I imagine if you had asked the disciples in Gethsemane, "Will you stay alert and pray as Jesus has asked you to do?" they would have said, "Of course! We will do anything our Lord asks of us." But their best intentions could not keep them awake, and they fell asleep. Even having the motivation to do what Jesus asked, they probably wouldn't have accounted for possible drowsiness due to the meal and the wine, nor thought through their tendency to rationalize ("I'll just close my eyes while I'm praying..." "I can take a quick nap before Jesus gets back..."), and so wouldn't have made preparations to ensure they followed through with what Jesus had asked them to do.

They also had no way of understanding what was about to happen -- how could they? And so while Jesus, understanding full well what was going to happen, prayed so fervently that he was sweating, the disciples didn't really get the importance of praying that they wouldn't fall into temptation. If they'd had a preview of the following hours and seen firsthand how they would get scared and run away, then I can imagine them, wide awake, praying just as desperately that what they'd seen wouldn't come to pass, that they wouldn't desert Jesus that way. But not truly understanding the importance of what Jesus was telling them, they let their sleepiness take precedence.

And finally we have "the people." As the priest on Sunday said, likely many of the same people who waved palm branches, laid down their cloaks, and shouted "Hosanna!" when Jesus entered Jerusalem were there on Good Friday morning shouting "Crucify him!" Yet how many, at the moment they were welcoming and praising Jesus, would have said they would like to see Him crucified, or would have believed that they could ever want such a thing?

When Pilate attempted to get an explanation for why Jesus should be put to death, everyone was so swept up in the mob that they only continued shouting what they'd been enticed to say: "Crucify him!" and "Release Barabbas!" The body of research on conformity has two consistent messages: that the majority of people believe they will not conform to a group, and that the majority of people do conform. It's not a conscious choice we make; it's something that we do out of deep human need for belonging and acceptance. The people shouting for Jesus' death were caught up in the moment, even if they would otherwise wish no ill-will on Jesus and would, on any other day, tell you that they would definitely never take part in a group of people screaming for a man's death.

Which brings this back to us. To me. To you.

It is tempting sometimes to see the characters in the Bible as fundamentally different from ourselves. We laugh at the disciples when they misunderstand Jesus' parables, ask Him where they can possibly get enough food for a large crowd, or get scared when a storm rocks their boat. We laugh at Nicodemus asking how a grown man can get back inside his mother's womb. We, who have the benefit of two centuries' worth of Biblical analysis, are already familiar with the phrase "born again" in a spiritual sense, and we know how the story of the loaves and fishes ends.

And we secretly think that, unlike Peter, we would not have denied Jesus. Unlike the disciples, we would not have fallen asleep. Unlike the crowd of people, we would not have shouted for Jesus' death.

Because we are human, and we cannot mentally put ourselves in any of those situations enough to make them real.

I believe it's important that we rein in this way of thinking. If we don't, the Passion story becomes the story of Other People, people who were too stupid to understand what was going on, people who were too lazy to stay awake, people who were too easily influenced into becoming a mob. Jesus' death becomes a result of what some Other People did or didn't do, and it seems to have nothing really to do with us.

Instead, let's acknowledge how much we have in common with all these people. How little we comprehend the future, how our best intentions fall flat, how we give in to peer pressure or care too much about what the people around us think. How easily we would have fit into any of the scenes in the Passion.

And how, despite all of that, we are loved by God. We are forgiven by Jesus on the cross. We are able to be instruments of God's will rather than obstacles to it.

We are part of a story bigger than us. Bigger than our weaknesses, our mistakes, and our utter humanness.

Praise God.

Choose Your Own Adventure: Real Life Edition

Friday, March 22, 2013

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Choose Your Own Adventure: Real Life Edition | Faith Permeating Life

Did you ever read those Choose Your Own Adventure books? They were big when I was growing up, and I read quite a few of them. For those unfamiliar, the basic premise is that the book's protagonist was "you," and you'd read to a certain point at which you'd have to make a choice about which action to take next, and then flip to the corresponding page, at which point you'd read a bit and then have to make another decision.

I'm guessing that the intention was for readers to start at the beginning, make decisions until they reached a "The End" page (which usually meant "you" had died in some bizarre and unexpected way), and then pick up the book another time and start from the beginning to read a new story.

This was way too haphazard an approach for a methodical child such as myself. I wanted to make sure that I had read every page of the book before I put it away. So every time I was asked to make a choice, I'd stick a finger in the decision place, turn to the page I wanted, and repeat until I hit an End, at which point I'd flip back to the most recent decision spot and go the other route. When I'd explored all branches of a particular path, I'd take that finger out of the book, flip back to the choice before that, and keep going.

Recently it occurred to me (where all my best ideas come to me -- in church) that this is an excellent framework for approaching my life at the moment.

I mentioned that I have way too many options right now for what to do with my life. Coming up with a list of rules has been helpful for getting my anxiety under control, but the Choose Your Own Adventure metaphor (at least the way I read the books) is a valuable way to think about Rule #5: "Even if you don't know where you want to end up, start somewhere. Pick something."

Here are five lessons I'm taking from the Choose Your Own Adventure series:

1. You can really only do one thing at a time. It's not possible to read all paths at once; you have to pick which one you're going to read next and leave the other option or two for a later time.

I have a problem, when I have many things on my plate, of feeling the pressure of the other things I "should" be doing while working on one thing. I have to remind myself that I cannot write a blog post, edit a book, complete a job application, and unload the dishwasher all at the same time, so as long as I'm doing one of those things, I am being as productive as I can be, and the other things just need to wait.

2. Follow a path through to the end. It would be very confusing, at every decision branch in the book, to flip forward and read both options' next pages, then read each of those pages' options (four or five), and so on. Better to make a series of decisions, follow them through to the end, and then if it doesn't work out, come back and try something else.

At the moment I've dedicated myself to editing my great-grandfather's war memoir and trying to get it published, and I've felt a lot better about things since putting everything else on the back burner and throwing myself into this project. People ask me if I've applied to any jobs lately, and I say, "Can't -- editing." Certainly, if something interesting shows up in my job post RSS feeds, I'll star it for later. But dedicating myself to this path right now means doing everything I can to make it a success -- getting other primary source documents from the library, finding friends to read the finished manuscript, asking my published author friends to help connect me with an agent. Better to do one thing wholeheartedly than seven things minimally.

3. A dead end is not the end. When you "die" in a Choose Your Own Adventure book, which happens often, nothing says you have to put the book down and walk away. You've explored a path to its end, and now you can take your finger out of the spot you were holding and try another path.

I found out Monday night that the provost at the school where we live couldn't find the budget to create a position for me like he'd hoped. I was a bit disappointed, but since I'd done everything I possibly could to try to make it happen (e.g., drew up a draft description for the position, set up a follow-up meeting with the provost), it felt more like taking my finger out of that place in the book -- OK, I've followed that path to its end, time to try something new.

4. Options aren't always what they seem. Since reaching "The End" often meant you'd died somehow, I'd try to pick whichever option seemed safest. But really, you never knew. Going in the basement of the scary house in the woods after midnight might mean finding a mound of treasure, while turning around and going home might mean getting chased and eaten by a bear.

The uncertainty of the future is a bit frightening, but it can also be comforting, and it's a way to combat all the people who think they know what I "should" be doing with my life right now. I took a full-time position that sounded like my dream job and turned out to be a disaster, so who knows? Maybe some unconventional path will ultimately lead to great happiness and wealth for me. Better to follow what I enjoy than what I think I'm supposed to be doing.

5. There are almost always more options. After reading an entire branch of a story, there was always that moment when I'd get to flip back to one of the early decisions I'd made and know that a whole new array of possible stories still awaited. And then, after I'd read everything, I'd flip through the book and invariably find a page or even an entire story branch I'd somehow accidentally skipped. And then, after that, there were more books to explore.

The provost can't hire me full time, but he wants me to do some consulting work for the university, which is a chance for me to show my skills and earn some money. Then there's the other campus office that wants to interview me next month. If that doesn't pan out, I'm going to focus my energy on my job search couching business for a while. Then it'll be back to networking and applying to online postings.

Before, I was looking at all the options before me as a series of doors from which I had to try to pick the right one, go through, and never return. Now, I'm seeing my life more as a Choose Your Own Adventure -- pick a door, follow the path to its logical end, and if it doesn't pan out, double back and try the next one.

Thankfully, none of my paths are likely to lead to getting eaten by a bear.

Is Heteronormativity Always Bad?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

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Is Heteronormativity Always Bad? | Faith Permeating Life

Mike asked me an interesting question the other day: "Is heteronormativity always bad?"

Then he clarified, "I mean, if something is heteronormative, does that automatically make that thing bad?"

To address this, let's first define heteronormativity, and then use a few analogies about cultural gender messages to explain why these are actually two different questions.

Heteronormativity is, essentially, the assumption that all people are straight. It's a worldview -- or messages that communicate a worldview -- in which people of less common sexual orientations (lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, etc.) are non-existent. Heteronormative statements talk about all men as being attracted to women, all women as being attracted to men, and all couples as being male-female pairs.

There's a difference between homophobia and heteronormativity. Homophobia, unlike heteronormativity, acknowledges the existence of LGBQ individuals, but does so in a negative way. People speaking in a homophobic way are actively saying either hateful or blatantly false things about LGBQ people, whereas people speaking in a heteronormative way are not talking about LGBQ people at all -- they're talking as if such people did not exist.

Heteronormativity is a problem in the same way that using male words to refer to all genders is a problem. Yes, it's true that a gay man can mentally substitute "men" where a speaker talks about men being attracted to "women," just as a woman can mentally substitute "she" for the supposedly generic term "he" in a textbook. But this puts the burden on a less-privileged group to constantly adapt and reframe language created for a privileged group, when it is little burden on the speaker or writer to simply be inclusive: "women or men," "he or she."

Heteronormativity also creates confusion. When an event is advertised for couples, and all the text and pictures refer to opposite-sex couples, it's unclear whether same-sex couples would not be welcome, or if it simply didn't occur to the organizers to be more inclusive in their advertising. If a high school hosts a "girls ask the guys" dance, does that mean that girls aren't allowed to ask female dates, or that the school is just calling the dance what it's always been called without considering non-opposite-sex pairs?

Or think of another kind of event in which people are paired up, such as speed dating or ballroom dancing. A speed dating event is generally organized to have women rotate through a series of men or vice versa, yet without remembering that not everyone is straight, it might not even occur to the event organizers to either advertise the event as "for men seeking women and women seeking men" or else create a way for men seeking men or women seeking women to participate. For dance lessons, which tend to have traditional gender assignments built into the parts, I've seen instructors divide up the room into "men" and "women," but I've also had instructors direct "those who want to learn the men's part" and "those who want to learn the women's part" to opposite sides of the room.

But to go back to Mike's question: Does this mean an event or a person is bad because they are heteronormative?

Does it make that dance instructor a bad person because they divided the room into men and women, and it didn't occur to them to be inclusive of same-sex couples or, for that matter, those who don't fit the gender binary?

Let's look at another parallel to gender to answer this question.

There's something you may have heard of called the Bechdel test for fiction, most commonly applied to film. The test is an extremely simple one: A work of fiction "passes" the test if it 1) includes two female characters 2) who talk to each other 3) about something other than a man. Yet, if you take any individual movie, it is likely to fail the test.

There is probably a very good reason that the movie fails the test. And it doesn't mean that it's a bad movie by virtue of failing the test. Plenty of Oscar-winning movies fail the test, and nobody's arguing that they're bad movies. But the point of the Bechdel test is not to place a "good" or "bad" label on any particular movie.

Rather, by stepping back and looking at the larger pattern -- that a large number of movies fail what should be a very simple test -- we learn something about our cultural narratives about gender. We understand better what stories aren't being told, and we can begin to imagine the influence that might have on gender biases that are entrenched in our day-to-day interactions. We start to realize that even what we might consider "strong" female characters tend to interact primarily with men, perhaps being the token tough women on a team of police officers or superheroes. We ask what messages we might be communicating to the young girls in our culture about their relationships to men and to women.

The point of discussing heteronormativity not to slap "good" or "bad" labels on people, events, speeches, or anything else. It's to recognize that people who are not straight and couples who are not opposite-sex tend to be ignored, forgotten about, and excluded, whether purposely or not. This is most definitely a problem if we care at all about acknowledging the existence -- the personhood -- of people who may be different from us. (I say this to LGBTQ folks as well; I spend a lot of time in and around this community and sometimes it's not clear if allies are welcome at particular events, as sometimes they are and sometimes they're not. And when they are, such as when I found out I could attend the GCN conference, it's still possible to be made invisible when all allies are assumed to be parents or siblings of LGBTQ attendees.)

Most troubling is that structures of privilege are reinforced by using language that excludes or ignores an underprivileged group. Heterosexual people like myself are not only generally free from ridicule, rejection, and violence as a result of our sexual orientation, but we also live in a world in which being straight and being with an opposite-sex partner are the defaults. Thus it generally requires no adjustments, awkwardness, or misunderstandings to go about our daily business of dating, filling out forms, listening to people talk about attraction or marriage, or many other things I can't even think of because they're not obstacles for me. (For more on privilege, see the Privilege 101 page.)

As with the Bechdel test, there may be very good reasons for something to be heteronormative -- e.g., a speed dating event that would get too cumbersome accounting for a wide variety of sexual orientations -- but there also may not be. Privilege persists most often because it is unexamined, as those who have it don't need to be aware of it to go about their life. When we become aware of and understand heteronormativity, we can start questioning situations to see whether inclusiveness is possible. If you go back through my archives, you may notice that my language around relationships has become more inclusive as I've recognized that even what I say about my own marriage can be applied to more than other opposite-sex marriages. And it usually doesn't take more than a few extra words or substituting one word ("spouse") for another ("partner") to achieve that inclusiveness.

Is something "bad" by virtue of being heteronormative? Not necessarily. Is heteronormativity a problem that perpetuates privilege structures and marginalizes a group of people? Absolutely.

What's something you read, heard, or attended recently that was heteronormative? Could it have been made inclusive? How?

7 Quick Takes: Francis, Films, Feeds, and Phones

Friday, March 15, 2013

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7 Quick Takes: Francis, Films, Feeds, and Phones | Faith Permeating Life

— 1 —

It's been a while since I did a 7 Quick Takes post! There's a lot I want to talk about, so this seemed the best format to share it in. Thankfully, this has been a fairly restful week, as Mike and I took advantage of the school's spring break to head to a bed and breakfast for a few days. It's the second time we've done this (the first was while we were living in Chicago) and I think this may be our preferred form of vacation, with a combination of time spent walking outdoors and time spent relaxing with games and movies. Now we're back on campus and it's fairly quiet as most students went elsewhere for break, which is a nice change, but I am looking forward to having everyone back.

— 2 —

I have (tentatively) good news on the job front. An office on campus that I'd applied to literally all the way back in January -- several weeks before I quit my job and before the provost said he was interested in creating a position for me -- said they'll be interviewing in April and want to interview me for the position. I'm fairly certain I would enjoy the job very much, but this also gives me the leverage to push for a decision on the new assessment position I want created. The provost said he'd know if there would be the budget for it in 30 days, which is Monday, so I'll be able to follow up about that, share the draft position description I've created, and let him know I have another opportunity on campus that I'm interested in. With two opportunities in the works, it's looking more possible that I could land a job on campus, which would be fantastic.

— 3 —

Mike and I are poised to start the adoption process in the next few months, which I'm very excited about, but we're holding off on taking any concrete steps until the dust settles on my job search and I have a new position I feel confident in. Whether I get a job on campus or end up doing something else will affect what our childcare plans look like, and we'll also need to provide an agency information on both of our jobs, our annual household salary, and related things that are contingent on where I end up. Although both of us are confident that we'll figure out a schedule and a budget that works well for our whole family, we can't just tell an agency what we keep telling each other, which is, "We'll make it work... I'm sure we'll be fine."

— 4 —

In news outside of my personal family, the Catholic Church has a new pope as of yesterday. I have mixed feelings about this pope based on what I've learned so far, knowing full well that what I think of the pope doesn't have much bearing on anything. I think it's great that we have the first Jesuit pope; having ties to multiple schools founded by religious orders, I have somewhat of a bias for those priests over diocesan priests. I was excited to finally have a pope from somewhere other than Europe (in this case, Argentina), but since his ancestry is fully Italian, it's hard not to feel like it was a token gesture on the part of the cardinals to pick a "foreign" pope who's not actually that foreign. I'm not thrilled that he has alleged ties to the 1976 kidnappings of two priests (a more detailed story here), though it's possible that this experience will push him to be more transparent and less likely to cover up scandal than the papacy has been previously. He's anti-gay marriage and anti-gay adoption, though that's not terribly surprising. He's being primarily touted as a humble, quiet man, so we'll see what that means for his role as pope.

(via Catholic Memes)

— 5 —

The other thing blowing up my Twitter feed yesterday besides the new pope was the impending retirement of Google Reader. I am really unhappy about this. It is not an exaggeration to say that my life was improved when I started using Google Reader. Most recently, it's been a vital part of my job search because I can use Page2RSS to create RSS feeds for the job pages on organizations I'm interested in, plus RSS feeds from my Indeed searches and elsewhere to mean that I don't have to spend any time chasing postings because anything relevant pops up in my Reader. I have over 120 subscriptions organized by topic, and I regularly use the search function to find old posts I remember reading about particular topics.

The Internet consensus seems to be that there's no product that matches the functionality and ease of use of Google Reader. And before you say, "You can't complain about losing something you got for free anyway" -- I would gladly pay to keep using Google Reader. That's how integral it is to my daily workflow. As of my writing this, there are over 88,000 signatures on this Change.org petition to keep Google Reader going, and I'm hoping it might just make a difference.

— 6 —

I have a long list of blog post ideas that I've never gotten to, and two of these are posts I wanted to do about movies, Bruce Almighty and Courageous. Although neither of these are exactly timely, it occurred to me that I could do something more encompassing, like a weeklong series or weekly series about films dealing with faith. I'm not a seasoned film critic, and I'm not that interested in delving into the theology explored in each movie, but I would like to talk about how well I think each movie does at communicating messages about faith to the general public (e.g., I think Bruce Almighty does a nice job handling the question, "Why doesn't God answer all our prayers?" whereas Courageous shoots itself in the foot trying to stick in bonus messages about purity rings and gender roles).

So my questions to you are 1) Does this sound interesting to you? 2) What other movies would you like to see analyzed in this way? 3) Should I open this up as a guest post series?

— 7 —

One nice way to end my week will (knock on wood) be getting a replacement phone activated today. I have an old-style flip phone that's over four years old, and the screen went completely blank a few weeks ago, meaning I can send and receive calls but can't view texts or see who's calling me. I took it to the only non-iPhone phone repair place in town, who ordered a new screen for it, which took a week to come in, and then that didn't fix the problem. I don't want to switch to a smartphone for a variety of reasons, but the flip phones are no longer being subsidized so they're much more expensive, plus I'm hesitant about buying a new phone unless absolutely necessary after learning about the ethical issues surrounding coltan mining (h/t to Cathi for that guilt-inducing information). Mike called his parents and found out that his dad had switched providers and still had his old Verizon-compatible flip phone, which he was happy to mail me. As I mentioned, we've been out of town this week, but I should be able to pick up my new/old phone today and take it to get activated. I am looking forward to being to text Mike again!

Those are my 7 Quick Takes for the week! To join the linkup or see other links, visit Conversion Diary.

Protection by Discrimination: Not a Solution for Bullying

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

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Protection by Discrimination: Not a Solution for Bullying | Faith Permeating Life

The other night at dinner, Mike mentioned that the NFL is investigating whether some prospects were asked by scouts about their sexual orientation. This is against the rules, and we wondered why anyone would care enough to try to get this information out of someone.

"Maybe they're worried that if they put a gay player on the team, they'll get picked on," Mike suggested.

I sighed and buried my face in my hands.

This is not a new argument. This kind of logic has backed everything from Don't Ask Don't Tell to trying to keep students from coming out of the closet. A similar logic was involved in keeping women off submarines and out of combat until recently -- as a way of "protecting" them.

The argument boils down to this: "I need to discriminate against you so you won't be bullied."

Let's look at a few of the problems with this argument.

Hypothetical Consequences

In many cases, these arguments are made not on actual evidence but on hypotheses stemming from fear. Plenty of people predicted dire consequences for the military when Don't Ask Don't Tell was lifted. Soldiers would be "distracted" from their duties by issues of sexual orientation; gay soldiers would face discrimination from their peers (which apparently is worse than systemic discrimination from the government). Once the policy was finally repealed, however, the negative consequences failed to materialize, and if anything the repeat has been a net positive for the military. Ditto with lifting the ban on women in submarines.

There are already plenty of students who choose to stay in the closet while in school because of either real or hypothetical negative consequences of being an openly gay student. When a student makes the decision to come out, however, then they are making a choice to express their true and whole identity regardless of the consequences. It is not the school administration's responsibility to "protect" the student by trying to put them back in the closet -- forbidding them from talking about their sexual orientation or from bringing a same-sex date to a school dance -- regardless of what supposed consequences the administrators think might occur. And as our culture becomes more and more accepting, particularly younger generations, the consequences that those of an older generation envision happening are less and less likely to match reality.

Who's the Bully Here?

One story that has stuck with me is about a male high school student who wore a dress to prom. The principal attempted to prevent him from doing so and the school secretary forced him to change partway through the dance, all in the name of supposedly preventing discrimination against the student. Yet not a single person at the dance discriminated against the student -- except these administrators.

I know there is no clear agreement on what exactly constitutes "bullying," and I'm not interested in having the argument about whether using one's administrative power to prevent a student's gender expression or disclosure of sexual orientation technically constitutes bullying. But I do think there's something very wrong when someone in power attempts to single out a person or group in a minority and subject them to special (i.e., discriminatory) treatment, and especially to do it in the name of preventing hypothetical negative consequences. This robs the individual of control of their own life and places that control with the people in power.

Remember the Little Rock Nine, the black students who came to symbolize the racial integration of schools? They suffered terrible harassment as a result of attending a previously all-white school. Yet those who fought for desegregation of schools knew that it was better to have the choice to attend a better school, even if it meant facing one-on-one bullying, than to be given no choice at all and forced into a discriminatory system of separate and inferior schools. "Protection" in the form of discrimination is patronizing, oppressive, and no better than those who bully through taunting or violence.


In response to news of a sexual assault, our culture is quick to tell people -- particularly women -- what they should and should not do to avoid being sexually assaulted, and very, very slow to tell anyone not to sexually assault others. This is known as victim-blaming -- placing the responsibility for crime prevention on those being victimized rather than those committing the crime. We do this for some crimes more than others (as this robbery analogy makes clear).

In cases where someone is being harassed, whether a gay student, a female soldier, or someone else, immediately focusing on what we can do about those being harassed -- e.g., prevent students from talking about sexual orientation, keep women out of certain military positions -- is a form of victim-blaming. It is predicated on the assumption that bullying would go away if we just removed the bully's targets from the situation. This type of "solution" avoids dealing with more complex questions like, "Why do people bully others? What are the rewards and consequences in place for those who bully? How can we prevent people from bullying others?"

This approach also tends to focus on demographic categories like gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. It ignores the fact that people get bullied for all kinds of reasons and about all kinds of things -- for being overweight, for being disabled, for being overly enthusiastic about academics, or (in my case) for no apparent reason other than being assigned a lunch seat next to a person looking for someone nearby to mock and torment. When we acknowledge that there are not always straightforward attributes for which a person is bullied, it becomes clearer that people don't "cause" themselves to be bullied in some way that is easily addressed by a discriminatory policy. The problem lies with those who choose to bully, just as the blame for rape lies with those who rape and the blame for robbery lies with those who rob.

Perpetuating Discriminatory Narratives

Children are not born inherently racist, sexist, ableist, or homophobic. They learn from those around them about which attributes are "good" and which are "bad," about what behaviors are acceptable and which they'll be reprimanded for. For example, I was in a public bathroom line yesterday behind two women, one of whom was telling the other about how they'd recently painted her son's bedroom the same blue as the bathroom walls. She added that her son had wanted pink, so she'd said, "We'll let Mom make this decision," adding to her friend, "He just doesn't understand why that's not appropriate."

When we codify discrimination into policy and law, even as a means of "protecting" minority groups, we send a clear message about what falls within the bounds of "right" behavior. A boy in a dress might be unusual and, yes, some might tease him, but if he is confident in his decision and most people act as if it's not a big deal, then by and large it won't be one. But when those in positions of power declare that his attire is not allowed and must be changed, that reinforces, rather than silences, those who want to draw negative attention to the unusualness of his decision. When women are legally barred from certain positions, it reinforces cultural narratives about women being inferior or less capable than men. When students are shushed about their sexual orientation, it perpetuates the idea that sexual orientation can be shameful and should be secretive rather than a simple fact about a person's identity.

I believe that in many cases, the idea that a policy "is for X group's protection from harassment" is a politically correct excuse given by those who are simply uncomfortable by others' differences. As such, it should be soundly demolished as illogical and deeply problematic so as to no longer be a legitimate shield behind which to hide one's own discomfort and prejudice.

Those who are truly concerned about harassment need not to discriminate against those who are harassed but to take a strict stance on those who harass others. If someone is being bullied, the question to ask is not "What is it about them that is causing them to be bullied and how can we change/hide that about them?" The more pressing question is "How can we communicate that this bullying is unacceptable and ensure consequences for those who bully?"

Where else have you seen this faulty argument about protective discrimination made?

Jessica's Rules for Funemployment

Friday, March 8, 2013

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Jessica's Rules for Funemployment | Faith Permeating Life

I've temporarily replaced my vision board on my computer desktop. With what, you ask?

Well, after another good counseling session the other night, I did a lot of thinking about how to handle this particular time of life. Having too many options is freaking me out a bit. Not having an ultimate goal is making it hard for me to focus and get anything done.

But I know some things about myself. And one of those things is: I like having rules to follow.

I did well in school in part because I am very good at following directions. I crave direction. I like structure and predictability -- you do this, you get this. In college, I was in student organizations where we set goals for our organization and then achieved them. Even in the full-time jobs I've had (except this last one), figuring out what to do has been fairly straightforward -- I'm given assignments, I do them. In my personal life, I'm always working on projects that have a clear end result.

So having my life become one giant question mark -- What am I meant to do? Where do I start? Where do I want to end up? What would make me happiest? -- has thrown me a bit. And having so much unstructured time every day means that no matter what I'm doing, I always feel like I should be working on something else.

On reflection, I decided I needed to write myself some rules, and put them on my computer where I would see them every day.

Please note: These are not prescriptions for everyone who is unemployed. These are based on my own knowledge of myself and how I function best. Knowing, however, that they might be helpful to others, at least as a form of inspiration, I decided to share them here.

Jessica's Rules for Funemployment
  1. Volunteer. One-time for new things, longer-term commitments for things you know you care about. You'll feel less useless when your skills are being put to use, plus you'll meet more people, get a better grasp on what you want to do with your life, and have something to show for this time when you next interview.
  2. Set your standards low. You're not going to become Superwoman simply by virtue of having more time; if anything, you'll do less without having the usual time pressure.
  3. Follow your body clock. Get as much sleep as you need. When you're working, you'll have to fit your sleep schedule around your work schedule, but you don't have to conform to that now.
  4. Eat regular, healthy meals. Exercise when possible, but don't pressure yourself too much about it.
  5. Even if you don't know where you want to end up, start somewhere. Pick something. It's OK if it turns out to be the wrong thing. But give yourself a goal so you know which next steps to take.
  6. Remember the magic words "for now." You're working on editing a book for now. You're focusing on freelance work for now. You'd like to work on campus for now.
  7. Dabble. It doesn't make you unfocused; it makes you a scientist, trying to figure out where you're meant to be.
  8. Pay attention. What do you do that lights you up? What do you avoid doing?
  9. Schedule multiple things for the same day when possible. Otherwise you end up wasting time until it's time for the *one thing* you have to do that day. Balance scheduled days with days open for your own projects.
  10. Above all, be loving and serve others. Remember that your highest, universal calling is the most important one.
I intentionally chose the somewhat silly word "funemployment" as a way of reminding myself that I chose to quit my job because I was unhappy, and this period of time is automatically more fun than having my life sucked away by a job I hate that takes up most of my waking hours. I also want to remind myself that it's OK to enjoy this time off; it doesn't have to be all nose-to-the-grindstone working on trying to get another job and/or accomplishing all the things I wasn't able to do while working.

Numbers 5 and 7 might seem at odds with each other, but they're not. I need a specific goal to work toward to keep from feeling completely lost, but I also need permission from myself to try a lot of different things and not feel like that's wasted time.

Finally, I'm still using this prioritization technique, which helps me figure out which order to do things in, once I have in my head a bunch of things I'd like to be doing. It's a good way to remind myself that I can't do everything at once, and that the things I want to do actually mean something for my larger life goals.

How do these fit with your own experience, if you've been unemployed? What other advice would you give yourself in the same situation?

3BoT Vol. 17: Three Books I'm Glad I Read as Audiobooks (And Three I Wish I Hadn't)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

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3BoT Vol. 17: Three Books I'm Glad I Read as Audiobooks (And Three I Wish I Hadn't) | Faith Permeating Life

The first Thursday of every month, I share three related book recommendations with you. You are invited to link up at the end of the post with three recommendations of your own! Click here for more info about Three Books on Thursday.

This week you get a special bonus three recommendations!

I like audiobooks a lot. They allow me to get through more books because I can "read" while doing other things, like going for a run. Also, I'm able to easily be in the middle of two books at once (an audiobook and a paperback) without getting confused, because the narrator's voice immediately brings back memories of the rest of the story I'd heard up to that point.

However, not all books work well as audiobooks. As I'll explain in my recommendations here, there are some books I think I enjoyed more as audiobooks than I would have reading them on paper, but there are others I wish I hadn't read as audiobooks. Let these be a guide not just for these particular books, but for some general guidelines about which kinds of books are best to listen to and for which you should stick to hard copy or e-reader.

Here are three books that worked well as audiobooks:

#1: The Help by Kathryn Stockett
This book is a work of fiction that shares what it was like to be a black maid in Mississippi in the early 1960s, and it has a great message about the power of stories and how we understand those different from us by listening to their experiences. The narration rotates between three main characters, and I loved having three different narrators on the audiobook to give a truly different voice to each of them. One of the criticisms of the book has been that the two black narrators were written in heavy dialect, while the Southern characters have "nary a dropped 'g'," as one critic pointed out. I was surprised to read these criticisms after listening to the book because in the audiobook, every character clearly has a Southern accent, and I didn't have to "decipher" the written accents of the black characters since they were spoken aloud.

#2: The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan
If the author is also a talented audiobook reader, then I enjoy having them read it, knowing that it will be read just as they envisioned when writing it. This book, like The Help, has multiple narrators, in this case a mother and daughter, and Amy Tan is one of the two audiobook readers. The story alternates between present-day Ruth, a Chinese-American woman struggling with her mother's failing memory and erratic behavior, and the mother, LuLing, telling the painful story of her early life in China. I'm not sure how it's written out, but hearing LuLing's story in a Chinese accent adds a layer of authenticity to the audiobook and also heightens the contrast between her and Ruth, a first-generation American who doesn't have much connection to or interest in her Chinese roots -- until she finally reads her mother's story.

#3: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
It's not just fiction books that I enjoy listening to; if a non-fiction book, or even a work of classic literature, seems too dry to tackle in print, I get through it better as an audiobook. This book is massive (it took me well over a month to finish the audiobook on my commutes) because it is an incredibly comprehensive look at cancer and cancer research through the ages. Even with the many fascinating stories that make up this ambitious book, I don't know if I would have gotten through the whole thing if someone hadn't been telling those stories to me with rich inflection and enthusiasm. I learned so much from this book, and I highly recommend it; if it looks too big to tackle, try it as an audiobook.

And here are three books I should have read in a format other than an audiobook:

#1: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
I genuinely love this book about a man who has a disorder that causes him to spontaneously time travel, and his wife who grows up knowing him but whom he doesn't meet until he's in his 20s. (Doctor Who fans, it's a little like River and the Doctor, but with only one of them time-traveling.) It's masterfully imagined and written, and the pieces all fit together beautifully. However, out of necessity the book skips around a lot, and trying to keep track of the order of events was frustrating when I couldn't easily flip back to earlier chapters to reference dates and people. I had to rewind chapters several times to make sure I understood where in time we were. It's a fantastic book, but I recommend reading it in a format that allows you to flip back to the beginning of a chapter or to earlier chapters as needed. I did enjoy having different narrators for Henry and Clare, but it didn't outweigh the frustration of being constantly confused.

#2: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Yes, I recommend a lot of John Green books, but it's because they're so great! This was Mike's favorite John Green book before his latest one came out. This is probably the most lighthearted of his books. (It doesn't deal with death, for one thing.) It's the story of Colin, whose claims to fame are being a former child prodigy and having been dumped by 18 different girls named Katherine. After the most recent dumping, he goes on a road trip with his friend Hassan and over the course of the book tries to avoid the fate of most child prodigies (fading into obscurity) by developing a mathematical formula to predict the success of a romantic relationship. It's a sweet and funny book, and I enjoyed it a lot, but I missed out on getting to see all of the formulas and graphs that make up a big part of the story because I listened to it as an audiobook. (I also don't recommend reading Dan Brown's Robert Langdon books on audio for a similar reason.)

#3: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Although I didn't think this book quite lived up to the hype and all the recommendations it received, it was an enjoyable story. And although Jim Dale is an extremely talented audiobook narrator, this book, like The Time Traveler's Wife, jumped around in time and required me to think hard to keep characters straight since I couldn't flip back to check references. It's not a terrible choice as an audiobook if you pay close attention, but if you don't have a great memory, this one's better read in another format. The basic plot is that there are two people locked in a magical competition stretching over many years, and the setting for their competition is a mystical circus that opens only at night and appears and disappears without warning. Without (I hope) giving too much away, I'll say that it's a good book if you don't mind a kind of deus-ex-machina tidy ending.

What books do you recommend listening to? Which do you regret reading as audiobooks?

Click here for other 3BoT posts!

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Our Love Story Revisited (Or, My Husband Is Not a Stalker)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

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Our Love Story Revisited (Or, My Husband Is Not a Stalker) | Faith Permeating Life

A while back I shared the story of how Mike and I got together. As part of this story, I included that Mike "decided to keep pursuing me" even after I told him I didn't want to date anyone.

I want to dig into this a little bit more today because I've shared our story a few times recently, and I realized that this aspect of the story could easily be misinterpreted and perpetuate some incredibly problematic cultural views about relationships.

This concept was first brought to my attention by the fantastic book The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, which I've mentioned in previous posts. Essentially, de Becker points out that movies and television shows tend to glorify "persistent" men -- those who, having been rejected by (almost always) a woman, go to great lengths to show their intense love for her. In these plot lines, the guy who is unwavering in his focus on a particular woman and committed to displaying his affection for her eventually ends up "winning over" the girl.

In real life, we call this stalking.

Or, in a less extreme case in which the two people are already friends when the declaration of love is made, this can manifest itself in what's sometimes called the "Nice Guy" syndrome (though there are definitely "Nice Girls" as well). This is the guy who, having invested a lot of time into being a good friend to the woman he's interested in, feels that she now owes it to him to date him regardless of her actual feelings for him, and may try to argue her into doing so if she tries to turn him down.

These are scary situations for a person to be in, since the other person has made it clear that they are unwilling to hear "no" and are willing to cross the boundaries of the person they're interested in to get what they want. And when persistence is not rewarded with reciprocal love the way the movies have promised, infatuation can turn to violence frighteningly quickly.

For these reasons, I worry about someone hearing my and Mike's story and getting from it reinforcement of the media message, "Persistence gets the girl." I want to break down why I feel like our story is different from those that are glorified in on-screen plot lines and dangerous and problematic in real life.

For one thing, when I told Mike I didn't want to date anyone, it wasn't in response to anything he'd specifically said to me. We had become friends and I started to have a vague notion that he might be interested in me, though he was attentive and kind to all the girls on my dorm floor, so I wasn't really sure. When I "casually" mentioned in an IM conversation that I didn't want to date ever again, it was intended more to head off any feelings he might develop for me than to actively refute an explicit interest in dating me. (Though I know now that he was already very interested in me at this point.)

When I told him this, he didn't try to argue with me about it, and he didn't make any sort of declaration of love and try to tell me to give him a chance because he wasn't like other guys. He asked me some questions about my decision, and then he left it at that.

In fact, he waited so long to say anything to me about his feelings that not only had I developed feelings of my own for him, but I was getting a bit impatient for him to make a move.

The main reason I didn't go ahead and "make the first move" myself was the same reason I had decided to stay single in the first place: I had spent most of high school pursuing, and getting rejected by, different guys, and I didn't want to go through that ever again. Even though Mike and I were, at that point, practically dating -- spending a lot of time one-on-one with each other, having late-night conversations every night, doing favors and making gifts for one another -- I still was not convinced that someone could genuinely be interested in me enough to want to date me.

When he finally did share his feelings for me, it was in the most low-pressure way imaginable. Far from being the Nice Guy who feels entitled to reciprocation, he was very adamant that he didn't want to pressure me into anything and that if we were going to be "more than friends" we could take it really slowly.

When I responded that I enjoyed spending time with him and would like to continue and see where things went, he did the exact opposite of what de Becker says overly persistent guys do. Those guys seize on the smallest hesitation to say no and interpret it as a "yes"; Mike took my hesitant "yes" and backed off, even signing my birthday card a couple weeks later "Your friend, Michael" as a way of showing that he wasn't trying to lay claim to a bigger role in my life than I was willing to grant him. (I then had to clarify that I did now think of him as more than a friend.)

Rather than stepping over my boundaries, he took them as law. I didn't want to kiss until my wedding day -- done. I didn't want to use the terms "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" because of past issues about the assumed entitlements that come with those terms -- done (until it became impractical not to use them).

I can see how some people could look at our story and say, "You said you didn't want to date anyone, and he ignored that and asked you to date him anyway." But it really wasn't like that, or at least it felt nothing like that. By the time he finally said something to me, it was less of a sudden declaration of love and more of a "defining the relationship" kind of conversation. And I believe that if I'd reiterated what I'd said before -- "I genuinely don't want to date anyone or get married, ever" -- he would have accepted that and either continued our friendship or, if it was too hard to get over me because of the close relationship we had, requested that we spend less time together.

Clearly, I'm happy things turned out the way they did, and that he didn't bail on our friendship the first time I said I didn't ever want to date again but instead stuck it out to develop into a beautiful and fulfilling relationship. But I want to make it clear that the "moral of the story" here is not that you should hang around and be friends with people you like in hopes they'll eventually date you.

Here are some better lessons to take away from this post:
  • Don't pressure people into dating you.
  • Respect people's boundaries and listen when they say "no."
  • Friendships can turn into relationships, but you shouldn't expect them to.
  • Defining the relationship is good when you're unsure what's going on. If your definition doesn't match the other person's, be cool about it.
  • If another person is hesitant about something, it's better to assume they don't want to and be corrected than the other way around.

Please share your own thoughts, stories, lessons, etc. in comments!

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On Mindfulness and Meat

Friday, March 1, 2013

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On Mindfulness and Meat | Faith Permeating Life

During the season of Lent, Roman Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays. I'm not going to go into all the specifications of what is and isn't allowed and why (or how this compares to other denominations), but I do want to talk about my own experiences with this particular practice and how it's changed since I became a pescetarian.

I think that criticisms around not eating meat on Fridays, particularly things like complaining that fish is allowed because of historical/economic precedent or that it's not a real sacrifice when there are so many good meatless options in America, miss the point of this Lenten practice.

I mean, if you feel like not eating meat or fish on Fridays brings you closer to God, then certainly do what you need to. But the point of all this is not that you are made holier by what exactly does or does not go in your mouth. Jesus already shot that idea down in Matthew 15:11.

Think about it this way: When Catholics do eat meat on Fridays during Lent, what is usually the reason?

In my experience, it's not because they're going, "Screw you, God, I eat what I want!" just before shoving a bacon cheeseburger in their mouth. (If that were the case, I'd say there's a bigger issue there than precisely what they're eating.)

It's because they forget.

They forget it's Friday. Or they forget it's a Friday during Lent, and forget that they're not supposed to be eating meat.

Which means that when people do keep the practice and intentionally abstain from eating meat on these days, they do it out of mindfulness. It is an intentional action, a concrete display of faith, and it is connected to a reminder about one's religion, one's identity, and about Jesus's Good Friday sacrifice.

For those who regularly eat meat, intentionally abstaining from it requires that moment of reflection in which you think, "I am a Catholic, and I choose to follow this practice of my religion, so I will choose to eat something without meat."

Which brings me to being a pescetarian.

Although it was a slow process, I'm now in the habit of never eating meat. I don't have to think about it anymore. I don't forget and buy or order something with meat. I'm used to scanning menus for seafood and vegetable options.

Does the fact that I never slip up and eat meat on Fridays make me a better Catholic? I don't think so.

If anything, I'm missing out on this Lenten practice. It's not a sacrifice for me. Choosing what to eat doesn't require reflection on my faith identity. Aside from how much to eat (fasting is a separate issue), Lenten Fridays may as well be any other day for me.

I mentioned this to a friend last week, and she suggested I choose something else to abstain from eating on Fridays during Lent, which I think is a good idea. I'm not sure if it's equivalent to abstain from eating seafood, since I don't have it that often to begin with, but that's what I'm going with for the moment. Since we're on a Catholic campus, the dining hall offers more seafood and fewer meat options than usual on Fridays, so it may actually require more consideration for me than for some others to choose a meal.

My hope is that it will bring back some element of mindfulness to the food choices I make on those days. Because that, I believe, is what the practice of not eating meat is really about.

Do you abstain from eating meat or other foods during Lent and/or on Fridays? What does that mean to you?
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