Love Joy Feminism

Birth Control: The Movie

Billing itself as “the definitive film on the subject of birth control and it’s [sic] impact on the Church, marriage, and family”, I strongly suspect this film will be definitive of nothing except the conservative evangelical mania for aping the dogma of the Republican Party instead of actually reading the Bible. This is from the film website:

We live in a culture where there is no fundamental difference on the issue of child prevention between the church of Jesus Christ and unbelievers. The fruit of our contraceptive culture is rancid and many voices are calling for a restoration of the church. In order to effectively communicate the truth about birth control and it’s [sic] impact on the church, marriage, and family, we have to ask two questions: How Did We Get Here, and Is It Up to Us?

My Further Questions:

  1. Why does there need to be a difference between the Church and the rest of the culture on the issue of preventing pregnancy?
  2. Did you think we wouldn’t spot your attempt to conflate contraception and hating children (“child prevention”)?
  3. What does it mean to have a “contraceptive culture”?
  4. How does restoration of the Church have anything to do with contraception?
  5. Is it possible that you’re just throwing around buzzwords and scare terms to trick us into believing contraception is a threat to our beliefs?
  6. Should people who aren’t even capable of distinguishing between possessives and contractions really be allowed to make movies?

All right, I got a little cheap, but so did they.

Via Libby Anne.

Why Boys Need Feminism Too

Libby Anne gives us a great primer on how patriarchy hurts both sexes.

If I took time off of my career to focus on my children, that wouldn’t be seen as odd. If my husband did the same, he would face questions. Women are encouraged to express their emotions, but men are expected to be strong. It is seen as natural for a woman to cry in a stressful situation, but men who cry are seen as weak.

♀ Is My Epidermis Making You Uncomfortable?

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I used to have a roommate who was kind of a slob—the sort of person who has a shoulder-high pile of junk/garbage by his door that you can tell would be higher if he didn’t have to open the door to leave his room. One day, while my parents were visiting me for a week, this person came down to the kitchen wearing what he assured me were shorts but appeared to the uninitiated to be a pair of boxers.[1] This made my mom, who was within sight of the kitchen, feel a little uncomfortable, although not—as you might suppose—because of the raw sex appeal of his man-legs.

A week ago, Emily Maynard published a piece at ChurchLeaders.com about modesty, a re-publishing of a post originally written for Prodigal Magazine called “Modesty, Lust, and My Responsibility”. The comments section of the post heated up, leading to several other posts on the subject, many of which are very worth reading. I particularly recommend “How the Modesty Doctrine Fuels Rape Culture” by Libby Anne, “On Modesty and Male Privilege” by Luke Harms, and “Women, Bodies, & Temples of the Holy Spirit” by Danielle Vermeer.

Maynard’s original post recounts the damage the modesty culture wrought on her body image and argues that women must not be held responsible for provoking lust in men:

Nothing you do or do not do can influence lust in someone else. Only Jesus can lovingly confront and heal a lustful heart through the working of the Holy Spirit. You can’t change anyone, control anyone, make someone sin or not sin, and you’re only responsible for taking your own heart to Jesus.

I agree. In the Bible story most frequently cited when discussing this issue, Jesus says nothing about how women dress. He warns people against lust. This puts the burden on the “lust-er”, not the “lust-ee”, which means that men are responsible for their sexual integrity even when a woman is showing cleavage, when she’s wearing a short skirt, when she has on high heels, or even if she walks straight into their living room wearing nothing but a thong and pasties.

But, because I am a contrarian, I always like to find the under-represented side of the conversation. Since I agree so wholeheartedly with all the above-linked articles, this is a little difficult, but don’t worry—I figured out how.[2]

Modesty, you see—and I am here talking about the definition of “modesty” that revolves around how one dresses, not the one about being a gracious winner and so forth—has two components. The first, covered more than competently by Emily Maynard et al, concerns whether others may sexualize or objectify someone because of his or her clothing choices. The second component, nearly never addressed by anyone except C.S. Lewis (bless his heart), is politeness—being considerate of other people and refraining from making them uncomfortable.

Politeness is all about context. So, with regard to standards of dress, San people living in the Bush who wear nothing but thongs are not being rude; their clothing is appropriate for their context. A man who takes off his shirt at the beach is not being rude; this choice is also appropriate for the context.

A guy who takes off his shirt in your kitchen—that guy is being rude. The context is not appropriate for shirtlessness; his choice of attire is probably going to make people feel uncomfortable.

From this we can see that the amount of skin people choose to show has no objective moral component; context determines appropriateness of attire. In this sense, then, women might be able to “sin” by displaying too much cleavage—if cleavage is out of place for their particular context (and if your definition of “sin” is very broad indeed). But it is probably more helpful to think not of “sinning” but of being polite.

I believe politeness is a virtue; Christians ought to be polite to others when possible. Many other, greater virtues may trump the virture of politeness, but all other things being equal, we should strive to make people feel comfortable by our behavior. How we do this changes with cultural shifts. For example, we no longer belch loudly when eating to reassure the person who cooked our food that we are enjoying it. This behavior, once considered polite, would now make other people uncomfortable.

So it is with clothing, particularly for women. Whereas displaying a liberal amount of leg used to be a great way for women to communicate to others that they were in the company of a prostitute, now most people do not find the sight of a woman’s calf discomfiting at all. To give a more recent example: I’m from the Midwest, but I lived for two years in Los Angeles, and the ladies at the church we attended took advantage of the nearly-perpetual summer to wear sundresses to the service. I had never seen so much cleavage at church before, but that was just the culture there. No one felt uncomfortable because of it (as far as I know). Let a woman throw on such a dress to attend church in Northern Indiana, though, and she would certainly receive a non-trivial number of stares.

Some of those stares would be indignant, because conservative Christian culture trains men to think that if they see too much lady-skin—especially if they receive any pleasure at all from seeing it—they must be sinning. Unfortunately for such men, human biology dictates that women, however conservatively dressed, draw the male eye. Even more disconcertingly, the little hormone rush we get when we see a sexually-appealing woman’s body parts means we’re going to like it, whether we want to or not. As Maynard assures us, this does not mean we are falling prey to lust:

God created you to desire another person for affection, intimacy, and relationship! Being physically attracted to someone is not lust. Wanting to kiss someone is not lust. Enjoying kissing someone is not lust. Those desires can be a catalyst for lust, but in themselves, they are morally-neutral, God-created, biological and chemical reactions. Your body recognizing sexual compatibility with another person is not inherently evil.

It’s hard to believe that this biological reaction is the thing Jesus was warning about in Matthew 5. Maynard is probably correct in suggesting a better definition for lust:

It is the ritual taking, obsessing, and using someone else for your own benefit rather than valuing that person as an equal image-bearer of God. Lust is forming people in your own image, for your own purposes, whether for sexual pleasure, emotional security, or moral superiority.

Unfortunately, I think many men in conservative churches conflate “lust” and the uncomfortableness of seeing a woman dressed more revealingly than what they perceive as normal. Since conservative Christians tend to be a little behind on many aspects of culture, it has become all too easy for a woman to show an amount of skin that passes the threshold of “normal” for these men. Unusual sights draw the eye; we tend to have a hard time looking away from things that are out of the ordinary for us, and this is all the more true when those things register in our brains as sexually appealing. Men may find themselves momentarily staring at a woman’s breasts because they are available to be stared at, then feeling guilty about “lust”.

But an inability to stop staring at a woman’s body does not necessarily equal lust. It is quite definitely rude, and it will probably make that woman feel uncomfortable. It may also provoke jealously or hurt feelings in the wives or girlfriends of the men in question. Of course, it may even actually be lust—if the staring turns into sexualizing or objectifying. In any case, though, no one is forcing a man to stare at a woman; we can all learn to exercise self-control, even that most pitiable slave to his hormones and biological imperatives, the human male.[3]

More importantly, when men see a woman dressed more revealingly than is usual in their particular subculture, the feeling they are most likely experiencing is discomfort, not lust. And because it is nice to make people feel comfortable whenever possible, women (and men) may want to consider how to dress appropriately for a given context. If you’re going to the beach, wear a bikini! If you’re going to a party, wear a cocktail dress! If you’re going to a conservative evangelical church… consider a long skirt and a turtleneck sweater.

Of course, you may have excellent reasons for disregarding the comfort of others in deciding what to wear. Maybe the memory of past abuse gives you a sick feeling whenever you imagine dressing to accommodate someone else’s morals. Maybe another person in your life is always trying to control your appearance, and you need to assert your independence. Maybe you’ve decided that your conservative church needs a push with regard to “modesty”, so you throw on your best push-up bra in the name of feminism and Jesus. Or maybe you’re just feeling down and really need to look fantastic today. I don’t know; I’m not your conscience.

The important thing is to think about it. If you can dress to fit in with the culture of your context, do so with joy. If you don’t feel like you can, it’s on that culture to treat you like a human anyway.

I’ll spot you the polite choice for one particular context: if you’re going to be around my mom, throw on a pair of pants.





  1. Personally, I find it less disturbing to believe he came downstairs in his boxers than to consider why he owned a pair of outerwear shorts people might easily mistake for boxers.  ↩

  2. You have no idea how hard I work for you guys.  ↩

  3. (This is totally sarcasm.)  ↩

"Selling Out on Contraception"

Libby Anne is pleased to discover that at least one element of the pro-life movement is pushing contraception as a means to decrease abortion:

What matters more, lowering the abortion rate even if that means encouraging contraceptive use among those who aren’t married, or ensuring that sex has consequences and is tied to procreation even if that in practice leads to a higher abortion rate? The pro-life movement establishment, partly because of Catholic influence, has long eschewed the former position and embraced the later. But as more people take seriously the rhetoric about “saving babies,” there may be a shift as more groups and individuals move toward the former position and reject the latter.

I’ve long agreed with the position Libby Anne ascribes to her husband Sean: that the pro-life movement is no longer really about controlling women’s bodies but about saving “people”. When this is unclear, I think it is for two reasons:

  1. As Sean contends, the movement simply hasn’t shaken off its old practices and rhetoric, so it frequently does and says patriarchal things out of habit.
  2. As I’ve said when discussing a different issue, people are not always completely logical, and logical people tend to forget this when they examine the beliefs and practices of others. The actions of the pro-life movement, partly for the above reason, don’t always jibe with their stated goals.

So when Libby Anne says:

If the pro-life movement’s goal is to reduce the abortion rate they should be focusing on things like contraception and a social safety net that makes raising children more affordable. When they instead focus only on overturning Roe and banning abortion—the goal of all of the major pro-life organizations—one begins to wonder if the goal really is to save “unborn babies” from being “murdered” as is claimed.

I think she is giving the movement too much credit for logical consistency.

Undeniably, though, the pro-life movement desperately needs to move past caring whether unmarried people have sex and care instead about the best proven method for decreasing the abortion rate: contraception.

If you consider yourself pro-life you really should be reading all of Libby Anne’s posts on the subject, if only to keep yourself intellectually honest.

How Many Zygotes Are You Killing?

Libby Anne crunches and re-crunches some numbers:

A few weeks ago I came upon a blog post by Sarah of Who I Am Without You comparing the number of zygotes—i.e. fertilized eggs—flushed out of a woman’s body when she is on the pill with the number flushed out when she is not on the pill. Sarah’s numbers were as follows:

Without Birth Control:

  • Out of 100 fertile women without birth control, 100 of them will ovulate in any given month.
  • Out of those 100 released eggs, 33 will become fertilized.
  • Out of those 33, 18% will be rejected by the uterus.
  • In a group of 100 women not on birth control: 6 zygotes will “die”

With Birth Control:

  • Out of 100 fertile women on birth control, around 6 of them will ovulate in any given month.
  • Out of those 6 released eggs, only 2 will become fertilized.
  • Out of those 2, 100% will be rejected by the uterus.
  • In a group of 100 women on birth control: 2 zygotes will “die”

I wondered about the numbers Sarah used, so I went looking for verification. I decided to use pro-life websites as I did this, not because I think they necessarily have the numbers correct but rather because if I use their own numbers in my analysis I can’t be accused of using biased liberal numbers.

Great data.

Richard Mourdock on Rape and God’s Plan

Everyone is angry today at Indiana Senate hopeful Richard Mourdock for saying in a debate last night that he opposes rape exceptions to abortion because:

“Life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

This is a terrible intrusion of religious belief into political theory; Mourdock’s theology should have absolutely no bearing on our public policy. It also, understandably, offended many people, registering as cavalier and unsympathetic to rape victims, especially those who wound up pregnant as a result of their trauma.

It does not, however, indicate that Mourdock is a terrible human being who wants women to suffer. As Libby Anne says:

It’s quite difficult to on the one hand say that “God is in control” and “everything happens according to God’s plan” and on the other hand say God is not at all at fault when bad things happen. After all, if God is all powerful and in control and everything happens according to his plan, then, well, he lets rapes happen and those rapes that happen are according to his plan. This is what I was taught and I remember believing it. What we saw last night was that Mourdock hasn’t figured out how to mash God’s omnipotence and man’s free will together in a way that makes actual sense and not come across as, well, extremely offensive.

This is the only coverage of the event I’ve read that showed any understanding of Mourdock’s actual viewpoint: that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, and that everything that happens—everything ever—happens because, on one level, God causes it to happen. This includes rape, murder, and genocide, and it also includes love, beauty, music, and art. This point of dogma—shorthanded as “sovereignty”—is nearly universal to orthodox Christians.

Of course, that’s still a stupid basis for decision-making, because another nearly-universal Christian belief is that we should at least act like humans have free will. If we didn’t believe in free will, we would be powerless to fight injustice or even proselytize. Believing in free will, though, enables us to condemn people for exercising it unjustly: for example, we can heartily condemn rapists and acknowledge that God does not at all want rape to happen… even though we may also claim that he caused it to happen.

If that sounds paradoxical, it is. Welcome to the world of theology.

Contrary to what many feminist writers claim, it is actually possible to oppose legal abortion and not hate women. Richard Mourdock may be misogynist, but he didn’t show it last night; he only demonstrated an inability to properly and non-offensively articulate his theology and a fairly common Republican belief that that theology has relevance to his political platform.

Who Owns the Bible?

Libby Anne, everyone’s favorite former-fundamentalist feminist atheist, comes to the defense of Christians who don’t claim to interpret the Bible “literally”:

Evangelicals and fundamentalists claim over and over and over again that all they are doing is taking the Bible “at face value.” According to evangelicals and fundamentalists, they are the ones who are actually following the Bible and liberal Christians are not. Liberal Christians, they say, have rejected the Bible and simply do and believe whatever they think best. Because evangelicals and fundamentalists trumpet this message so loudly, it can be easy to end up taking them at their word.

I disagree with much Libby Anne has to say in her post, particularly her classification of people like me as “liberal” Christians, excluding us from the category of evangelicals, with whom I still identify. She totally nails the mentality of some biblical literalists, though—the false sense of holding the hermeneutical high ground because they rationalize away different parts of the Bible than “liberal” Christians do.

“When You Do the Thing That Makes Babies…”

Libby Anne responds to a common argument against abortion: that pregnancy is just one of the risks of unprotected (and some times even protected) sexual intercourse. She uses the analogy of safety features in cars: traffic lights and driver’s education are like contraception—safety features designed to prevent accidents from happening. Seat belts and airbags are like abortion—emergency measures to prevent harm if an accident happens anyway.

Saying that we should do away with plan B or abortion because they enable people to engage in risky sex without having to face the natural consequences (i.e. pregnancy) is like saying that we should embed knife-like spikes into cars’ steering wheels in order to cut down on risky driving behavior (because a driver being slammed forward would be automatically impaled).** After all, things like seat belts and air bags decrease the risk of injury when getting in a wreck and thus lead to more risky driving. Even so, things like plan B and abortion (which, let me point out, are not identical) decrease the potential harm suffered by an accidental pregnancy and thus, it could be argued, lead to more risky sex.

That’s nonsense. It would be an apt analogy if anyone thought that automobile safety features had a moral component to them—that putting on a seat belt is harming another person, for example. But no one does. Plenty of people, though, believe that abortion causes harm to another person, which is why we are even having this discussion in the first place.

There certainly are people who are concerned that abortion enables risky sex, but that’s a flawed argument as well. The best argument against abortion is that it may be the killing of a human being. I couldn’t care less whether people engage in risky sex, but if they do it and a woman conceives, telling her that she knew the risks and is now obliged to carry the pregnancy to term is nothing at all like embedding stabbing devices onto steering wheels.

Sex, Women, and “Giving”

Libby Anne performs a smart analysis of a conservative Christian infographic titled “Why Wives Need to Give Their Husbands More Sex”. The whole concept stinks of the now-disproven-but-still-won’t-die denialism of the female sex drive and the only slightly less sexist belief that men are somehow helpless to control their own libido.

One little bit I think Libby Anne missed: the bar graph labeled “A Neglected Sex Life Spells Trouble” tries to create an impression of correlation between sex-deprivation and other kinds of marital trouble by simply putting them next to each other on a chart. Sadly, I know there are people who fall for that sort of thing.

The Merger

Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism gives us a short history of the evangelical takeover of the Republican Party (and vice versa):

It was during the Cold War that evangelicalism became welded to the free market, capitalism, and private enterprise… Many Southern evangelicals had supported the New Deal and had even at times been socialists, but… during the 1950s all this changed and evangelicalism and capitalism became forged in a way they never had been before.

Libby Anne’s memories of growing up both evangelical and politically conservative mirror my own to a very slightly more extreme degree:

Of course we were Republicans! What true Christian could be otherwise? The Republican party stood for good Christian values and Biblical policies while the Democrats stood for everything anti-Christian, from socialism to gay marriage to abortion.

Worth considering to anyone concerned more about the Kingdom than about politics.