Tuesday, September 10, 2013Tweet
I've had this blog for almost four and a half years now, and it's changed a lot over that time. It was originally launched as a way to track my goals the summer I finished my master's degree and was looking for a job, looking for an apartment, trying to solve a health problem, and planning my wedding, all in the span of about two months.
After all those pieces were in place, I started blogging about marriage, life as an adult, and, of course, how my faith fit into all that.
In 2011, I did a happiness project and used this blog to track my monthly goals, and starting reflecting more about my life purpose. I also committed to a regular blogging schedule, which has changed over time but has meant blogging 2-3 times a week for more than two and a half years.
In August 2011, I attended the 20SB Summit and got more serious about blogging. I bought a domain name, hired a web designer, and set up a Facebook page.
I starting writing more regularly about LGBTQ issues and their intersections with Christianity. I branched out my reading of other blogs from reading about the lives of other 20-somethings and other married couples to learn more about privilege, feminism, and other big topics. I had more conversations with people about these topics, which changed what I wrote about.
I developed the Three Books on Thursday and Blog Comment Carnival linkups, neither of which ever really got off the ground. I started tracking my stats two years ago and watched them go slowly up and then plateau. I guest blogged. My stats went up a little, then down, then plateau, plateau, plateau.
This blog has always been a place for conversations and learning, and I've continued to have wonderful, loyal readers and commenters. But I've wanted -- and tried -- to start conversations I just don't have the audience for. I've struggled with how to build the audience while continuing to have quality posts that will sustain them until we can have those bigger conversations. I've wondered who, exactly, I even want to have those conversations with. And what it means when people continue to say they love my writing but then never share it with anyone.
And then I've gotten fed up with watching bloggers I respect oversimplify and mock each other's arguments, and I've wondered if this is even the realm I want to fight for a place in. And I've gotten frustrated with commenters who misunderstand and attack me. And I've been hurt when out of 400 Christian blogs not one person thought to nominate this one. Or when I put questions out on Twitter and, only occasionally, one person out of 188 followers responds. Who am I talking to? Who am I writing for, after four and a half years?
So I'm taking a break. I need to take some time, where I don't feel pressured to put out content, to figure out what I want this blog to be. What do I what to write about and who am I writing for? What, exactly, am I trying to accomplish here? Or is it maybe time to put this project to rest once and for all, and focus on the many others on my plate? Make an impact in some different ways?
I don't know what this break will look like -- I may pop back in and write something when I have something I want to say, or thoughts I need to work out. I just know that right now I need to take off the pressure to write that is paired with ambiguity about why and for whom I'm writing.
Thanks to those of you who have taken the time to join in the conversations I've started here. I've learned so much from those conversations, and that more than anything is why I hope I don't end up putting this blog to bed permanently. But then maybe it's time to learn only by listening for a while, and not by talking first. Even if I don't come back to it, I'm proud of what's here.
Friday, September 6, 2013Tweet
Content Note: Sexual assault, victim-blaming, gender binary
Our school recently announced that a local martial arts place is going to offer free self-defense classes on campus. I think this is a great idea. I took a self-defense class in high school and I think another one through Girl Scouts. Just knowing that I have at least some tools at my disposal in the event that someone should ever try to attack me or take me somewhere against my will makes me feel more confident, which tends to be a big selling point for these types of classes.
Here's the problem: The classes are only offered to female students, faculty, and staff.
There are actually a number of problems with this, and I want to go through them just to put my thoughts out there. You may disagree with some of these, but I hope that overall you'll see that maybe this isn't the greatest idea.
1) This contributes to a culture of victim-blaming, particularly female victim-blaming.
When a self-defense class is offered to all genders (or to men), the tone tends to be, "Here are some skills so you'll know what to do if you're ever attacked." When a self-defense class is offered to women, the tone often is, "If we teach women self-defense, they won't get raped so much." The female self-defense classes I've attended before often include the standard "safety tips" like "Don't walk alone at night" that equate limiting women's freedom with keeping them safe. This is based on the problematic assumption that rape (or other violence against women) happens not because people choose to rape, but because women just don't know how to act. It's based on an assumption that if women just did something differently or learned more (putting the burden on the supposed potential-victims), there would be fewer assaults.
To be fair, our school has taken a proactive approach against sexual assault with a campaign that focuses on the responsibility of the entire community to prevent sexual assault. But I can't help but feel that whoever arranged for these female-only self-defense classes thought, "Maybe the number of incidents of sexual assault will go down if we can teach all the women on campus self-defense!"
2) This presumes that either men don't get attacked or that they can protect themselves if they do.
My husband does not have a great deal of physical strength. We have friendly arguments over who is stronger (I think he is, he thinks I am). His build is fairly skinny. If an intruder were to come into our apartment and we for some reason needed to fend them off physically, we'd be evenly matched -- except for the fact that I know more self-defense than he does. And ironically, because men generally are not warned constantly throughout their entire life that they're going to get attacked if they walk home alone at night, they may actually be more likely to be in a situation to get "jumped" by someone (which tends to be the focus of the self-defense classes I've attended) and thus in need of knowing how to defend themselves.
3) These self-defense classes tend to have an unhelpful "stranger in the bushes" focus.
Again, this is only based on my past experience, but the self-defense instructors I've had tend to present the material in a way that's like, "Here's what you should do if someone comes out of the shadows and tries to pull you into their car" (or some such scenario). If, as I suspect, the purpose of offering these classes is to reduce the incidence of sexual assault and violence against women, then it would be helpful to have them presented more realistically, with information about domestic violence and date rape, and without all the "keep your eyes up and don't walk alone and don't carry a purse" context. And given that domestic violence and date rape (as well as the less common "stranger in the bushes" attacks) affect men as well, there's no reason they shouldn't have the opportunity to learn these things.
4) The defining factor for inclusion is gender (rather than on a factor like bodily strength) and potentially erases non-gender-conforming individuals.
If classes are limited to women because of the idea that "women are weaker and need more skills to defend themselves," this is a case of letting an average drive a rule. If the school wants to empower its weakest members, it could do that most effectively by letting people self-select whether they feel they need self-defense skills rather than by allowing participation based on gender. There's also no indication of what the definition of female is. If someone was assigned female at birth but identifies as genderqueer or male, they have the same "biological disadvantage" that ciswomen do, but can they not attend?
I could see someone rationalizing grouping self-defense classes by gender if there is going to be partner practice, since men do have more bodily strength on average and some women might be intimidated by being paired with men. However, I think this is somewhat of a weak excuse because people of the same gender can still have vast disparities in size and strength (I would be intimidated being paired with a strong, athletic woman), there are no comparable classes offered for men, and the problem of a simplistic binary category is not addressed.
Also, people within the same class could be taught together and then paired for practice based on a particular factor (gender, strength, etc.) -- this doesn't require limiting the entire class to women. Not to mention, if I only ever practice releasing from a woman's hold, then how do I know I'm able to do the same on a large, strong man?
I think offering free self-defense classes is a great thing to do. I think limiting participation in those classes to females is problematic.
What do you think?
Thursday, September 5, 2013Tweet
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.
I've read a number of good books lately, and the three I want to share with you today have something interesting in common. They take place in three different eras (mid-19th century, mid-20th century, present-day) and three different countries (China, Canada, and the United States), but they all tackle in a substantial way the experience of growing up female. All three have first-person female narrators whose gender not only is an important part of their emerging self-identity but also directly affects their opportunities and how they are perceived by others. The first two also delve into the complexities that undergird many female friendships.
Whether you're seeking a book to give voice to your experience growing up female, or you want to better understand what that's like, here are three books for you:
In rural China in the 1800s, it is not just gender but social class that rigorously dictates one's opportunities in life. Lily is given the opportunity to someday marry above her family's rank by careful foot-binding and being matched with a laotong, a best friend for life, at the age of seven. The novel explores the development of Lily and Snow Flower's friendship over their lifetime, but more than that, it gives a detailed picture of what it was like to be a woman in China in Lily's day -- how utterly powerless women were, except over each other, and how stories and sayings women passed down to their daughters reinforced acceptance of this low place. As horrifying as the descriptions of foot-binding are, you find it hard to blame Lily for doing the same to her own daughter. The writing and the plot development in this book are fantastic, and the glimpse of history is valuable.
This book has more passages highlighted than any Kindle book I've read so far. Central to the plot is young Elaine's experience being bullied by her friends under the guise of "improving" her, though naturally she can never measure up to their impossible standards. It is clear how even young girls quickly internalize the message that to be female is to be compliant and pleasing to others, and that this goal takes precedence over all others. Throughout the novel, we see glimpses of both the small and large disadvantages women face as the novel flashes between Elaine's experiences growing up and her present-day experience as a controversial painter in the 1980s. But it's never heavy-handed; it's simply true. From Elaine's childish observations as a young girl to her cynical ones as an adult, the descriptions of life as a woman ring painfully true over and over.
Frankie Landau-Banks, 15 years old, is brilliant and ambitious. But that means nothing when it comes to joining her private school's secret society, because she doesn't meet the one requirement for entrance: being male. She finds a way to secretly work the strings in the background so the guys in the society start pulling off spectacular, clever pranks under her written orders, all while they (including her boyfriend) continue to treat her like she's harmless and adorable. Lockhart beautifully illustrates the dilemmas faced by being an intelligent woman, trying to avoid being seen as overly aggressive, meek, sexual, or anything else that might box her in. It's also clear from the descriptions of Frankie's father just how much all-male secret societies and other "old boys" clubs perpetuate male advantage in small and informal ways, and how much harder Frankie has to work to achieve her ambitious goals. Plus it's just a very fun book.
What are your favorite books about the experience of growing up female?
Click here for other 3BoT posts, or check out my Goodreads account for more in-depth reviews and recommendations.
Please note that this post contains Amazon Affiliate links. If you click on a book cover and make any purchase at Amazon (including but not limited to the books suggested here), your purchase will be supporting Faith Permeating Life. Thanks!
Tuesday, September 3, 2013Tweet
The year is two-thirds of the way over, so it seems an appropriate time to check in again on my One Word goal for the year. (Here's the first update.)
My word for the year is "peace." I was seeking this back in January because I was at a job I hated that made me feel both worthless and unsettled. When I checked in last time, in May, I felt I was getting closer to peace -- not all the time, but more of the time than previously. But I still felt a lot of anxiety about my life path, and having tons of unstructured time made it hard to go to bed at the end of each day feeling at peace with what I'd accomplished that day.
Finally landing a job has made a larger impact on my overall feeling of peace with my life than I could have anticipated. I think there are a few reasons for this, but the biggest one, surprisingly, is how busy the job is keeping me. I have a great desire to work hard and steadily, something no prior job has been able to offer. I have a feeling I will be less busy further into the semester, but right now I love that the day flies by. And because I'm an hourly worker, I refuse to stay late, take work home, or check my e-mail at night. It's an amazing feeling to work hard all day and then be able to put it behind me for the night.
Working on campus has also made a big difference for me. The simple combination of getting more sleep, feeling less rushed, and working among people I know has had a calming effect overall on my life. And of course, having an income again (plus my small meal plan) has made our financial goals once again seem attainable, which is hugely important for me. Not to mention that just knowing what my days will look like day in and day out into the foreseeable future makes planning the future seem like a realistic thing to do again.
I went back to the notes I took after reading 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam, and it was gratifying to see the pieces fall into place. I had answered the questions about how I wanted to spend my time with a kind of amorphous blob of "work" in my mental picture, unsure whether I would actually be able to fit in the things I wanted to do with my time. But now that I know my real schedule, I know that fitting in exercise, choir, and reading on a regular basis is entirely reasonable.
I don't want to say, "OK! Mission complete! Check 'peace' off my to-do list for the year!" It's not that simple. I've still run up against some anxiety spirals. I still wonder and worry about the future as things will change, like as we start looking forward to having kids. I still have to deal with frustrating people. (Don't get me started on the horrendous conversation I had with TIAA-CREF customer service the other day.) But I do feel that overall, I have succeeded in moving my life toward a more peaceful state of being.
Gretchen Rubin talks about four components to a happier life: Thinking about feeling bad, feeling good, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. It seems that, unintentionally, I've been systematically tackling these four aspects of my life in my attempt to cultivate more peace. First, I eliminated what was making me feel bad: My job. Then, I started from scratch and added in the things that make me feel good: Reading, choir, spending time with Mike, spending time with friends, exercising, prayer. I decided what deserved to have priority over my limited time. Then I landed a job that makes me feel right: Working hard continuously during the day and fitting together the other elements of my life in the rest of my time.
My focus for the rest of the year, then, is on growth. To me, this means using the foundation of peace in my own life to look outward toward serving others. I believe that self-care is vital, but it's only a first step. The Gospel challenge I come back to again and again is living out love and serving others.
In my job, for example, I spent the first week or so just learning the basics so I didn't have to put every person on hold to answer their question. I'm at the point now where I can answer maybe 85-90% of the questions I get on my own, so I can confidently say, "Oh, you need to talk to X office or fill out Y form to do that." Now, I'm starting to think about what extra steps I can take -- calling over to an office to get an answer so a student doesn't have to walk across campus, or setting up my iPad so the dozen people who come in asking to change their meal plan can do it right there.
The end goal of seeking peace in my life should not be for my own gratification, but so that I am able to radiate peace and love and kindness to others.
What changes were you hoping to make this year, and how are they going? And perhaps most importantly, what do you see as the ultimate goal of making those changes?