♀ Moving On

A little over seven months ago, I asked my wife to proofread the first post on this site, then I pressed “Save & Publish” with a growing sense of anticipation. I had spent almost four months reading books and articles, collecting news links, pre-writing a few posts, and making lists of topics I planned to cover. By the time I actually launched Jesus & Venus, I was bursting with ideas I simply had to put in writing and share with the world.

This is no longer true.

Some of the topics I wanted to write about turned out, as I learned more feminist theory, to be irrelevant or misguided. Most, though, found their homes either in one of the columns I published every Thursday or as reactions to linked news items. I even picked up new ideas from my interactions with other feminist friends online and the diverse array of news sources I spent hours reading every week, and I wrote about many of these as well. But for some weeks now, I’ve felt I had nothing much to say.

This isn’t a knock against feminism; I doubt there is any one topic I would want to write about indefinitely. I don’t have the kind of brain that thrives on constantly obsessing over a single subject, and I’ve always done better when working on projects that have definite completion points (like screenplays). Since I have several such projects currently begging for my attention, I plan henceforward to devote the bulk of my writing time to them.

Because I feel so deeply invested in gender equality, I will, of course, keep reading news and op-ed writing about the world of women and feminism, so I will continue to post links to the site on a fairly sporadic, limited basis. But this Saturday will be the last day of regular publishing at Jesus & Venus, and I am discontinuing the Venus Weekly newsletter.

I have very much enjoyed my interactions with readers, and I hope you derived even a fraction of the benefit from reading the site that I did from writing it. Please feel free to seek me out on Twitter or through the contact page if you want to stay in touch.

It has been my privilege to bring you the news. Thank you.

Duke Offers Feminist Blogger Workshop

The Duke Women’s Center has launched Write(H)ers, a semester-long “initiative to create a community of feminist-oriented writers”. Its 23 initial members will attend four dinners with visiting feminist journalists and must contribute three blog posts during the semester to one of two Duke blogs.

Senior Sarah Van Name, a member of Write(H)ers and a contributor to Duke’s feminist blog Develle Dish, said the program serves to train young women and better equip them to be activists when they need to be.

“This program was a dream come true for me because I read a lot of feminist blogs and several of the women who write these blogs now have the opportunity to come to Duke and explain to this new community how to follow in their footsteps,” Van Name said.

I’m a little skeptical about this, for two reasons. Firstly, learning to write well and learning good feminist ideology are two different things, and I can’t tell which of those things this program is trying to accomplish. Maybe the program assumes good ideology? If so, that seems like a recipe for confusion.

Secondly, even most of the amateur feminist bloggers I know write three posts every week, not every semester. Some of them aren’t terribly good writers, but they will be soon, if they keep up that level of output. On that I feel like I can speak authoritatively; if Duke wants to develop strong feminist writers, they need to make those little feminists crank out a massive volume of content.

Still, it’s good that the university is pushing feminist activism as a valuable endeavor.

Romantic Comedies Aren't What They Used to Be. Good.

Responding to this lament on the state of the romantic comedy, Alyssa Rosenberg of XX Factor attributes the genre’s recent lackluster quality to a failure to mine the depth of human romance:

The genuinely strong romantic comedies of the last decade or so have ventured inward for obstacles, rather than inventing ludicrous external ones. In romantic comedies as in third-wave feminism, the proliferation of choices has forced protagonists to figure out what they really want, leaving indecision, self-doubt, and even arrested development as rich fodder.

She goes on to cite Bridesmaids, which is not technically a romantic comedy (although it has a love interest for its main character), and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, a rom-com hybrid. I’d venture to include other hybrids, such as bromances like Baby Mama or I Love You, Man or romantic dramedies like Friends With Kids as examples of funny, successful movies built on realistic, relatable characters instead of outrageous or kooky premises.

Leia Is Not Enough

Laura Hudson at Wired explains the problem with the dearth of major, three-dimensional female characters in film, particularly sci-fi/fantasy film:

Criticisms about representations of gender (or race and other diversity) are often countered in fandom by sociological or scientific analyses attempting to explain why the inequality happens according to the internal logic of the fictional world. As though there is any real reason that anything happens in a story except that someone chose to write it that way.

Fiction is not Darwinian: It contains no impartial process of evolution that dispassionately produces the events of a fictional universe. Fiction is miraculously, fundamentally Creationist. When we make worlds, we become gods. And gods are responsible for the things they create, particularly when they create them in their own image.

As Tracy Jordan would say, “Tell it to me in Star Wars”.

Radical Woman of the Day: Donna J. Stone

On this day in 1933 was born Donna J. Stone, poet, philanthropist, and advocate for the rights of mentally-challenged children. While bed-ridden due to rheumatic fever as a child, she became interested in writing, although she did not gain much recognition until later in life.

After her first marriage, to playwright John Pascal, ended in divorce, Stone dedicated herself to advocacy on behalf of children, particularly the mentally challenged. An early supporter of The Arc of the United States (known at the time as the Association for Retarded Children), she also moved beyond ordinary advocacy when she posed as a social worker to infiltrate New York’s Willowbrook State School, a home for disabled children reputed to be rife with abuse and neglect. The revelation of her findings to the press led to further media coverage and the ultimate closure of the institution.

After her second marriage to L.E. Stone and the couple’s subsequent move to Dallas with their son, Stone began to write poetry, and her poem “Mother at 75” was picked up for national syndication after its initial publication in her local paper. She later published Wielder of Words: A Collection of Poems, which the American Poetry Society selected as their book of the year in 1991. Stone gave away many copies of the book to various institutions and did not keep any of the profits from its sales.

Objectify a Male Tech Writer Day Has Been Canceled

As creator Leigh Alexander explains on The New Statesman, the whole thing “runs the risk of catching fire with people who miss the point.” Though Alexander wanted certain male tech writers to understand the sexism in the tech writing world by having people tweet out comments about male tech writers’ appearances when sharing their articles, some might reduce the movement to a joke or use it as a way to say hurtful things to men and women alike, she explains.

This bums me out a little, because it could have been a fun, light-hearted way to draw attention to a serious problem, but she’s probably right—it’s too easy to imagine ways the whole thing could backfire.

The Bechdel Test

With regard to any given film, the test, named for cartoonist Alison Bechdel, asks the following three questions:

  1. Does the movie have at least two female characters?
  2. Do they talk to each other?
  3. Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

Failing any one question fails the test.

Quite a few of my own screenplays fail this test. Of course, I mostly write romantic comedies.

♀ The State of the Weblog


This is my last long post of the year. Next Thursday is January 3, 2013, so next time you hear from me (probably talking about Chapter 6 of The Feminine Mystique), we’ll be starting a new year.

I’ve been writing Jesus & Venus for over four months, which doesn’t seem like a very significant marker, but it’s the end of the year, so I feel like doing a wrap-up/state of the union post.

I’m burned out.

I know that sounds like a dumb thing to say after only four months of activity, but I read so much terrible news on a near-daily basis that it really gets me down sometimes. Even worse, such a staggering amount of blind drivel or outright misogyny comes through my RSS reader every day in the form of anti-feminist op-ed pieces, rape culture apologia, and even friendly fire, that I’ve found myself more and more frequently getting so angry that sitting down to process the news for all of you has taken every bit of determination and stamina I can muster. Good news or unadulterated awesomeness shows up far less regularly, and the victories are often small.

Anyway, as whiny as this may sound, here are by far the four greatest contributers to my burnout.

Ease of Burnout

I burn out quickly on nearly anything that isn’t going perfectly, and frequently even on the things that work out well. I’m a generalist; I have a wide array of interests, and this is only one of them. It’s all too easy for me to abandon things that don’t charge my batteries at the moment and move on to another project I’m more excited about. I also get easily bored with ongoing projects once I’ve gotten into a regular rhythm, particularly if they don’t have a foreseeable end date. 10 years post-college, I’ve come to terms with this character flaw, and I think it’s healthy to acknowledge it from time to time.

Abuse of the Bible

Many or most of my Christian friends are not feminists or egalitarians, and I read several Christian websites that are indifferent, or passively or actively hostile, toward the goals of feminism. I try to be open-minded, so I recognize that some parts of the Bible could, fairly legitimately, be interpreted in opposition to egalitarian views. 1 Timothy 2:9–15 comes to mind first, of course, and the dearth of women holding positions of spiritual or political authority—exceptions notwithstanding—could easily trouble me absent my views on progressive revelation.

But people rarely employ the strongest arguments when opposing feminism from a biblical platform, and when they do, they almost never seem interested in an actual dialogue on the subject. Instead, they tend to stick with the same three tactics: Interpreting The Curse as prescriptive for women (but not for men), universalizing and canonizing the mythologized version of the 1950s sold to them through film and television of the day, and selectively applying Old Testament law. When I (or others) disagree with these practices or try to engage them on a hermeneutical level, they nearly always respond by questioning our commitment to the authority of the Bible, conveniently ignoring the many components of the Christian feminist platform actually based on the Christian scriptures. When other theological disputes can be politely handled without these sorts of accusations, I begin to wonder just how scared of sexual equality these people must be to behave so reactively.[1]

Rape. Rape, rape, rape, rape, rape, rape, rape.

I quite literally cannot read a single day’s worth of news without seeing a horrific account of a rape or a story about miscarriage of justice in a rape case or perpetuation of rape culture through legislation. Women everywhere are having their sexual autonomy taken away from them, and hardly anyone seems to actually care; the most common responses seem to be some form of victim-blaming or decrying human nature, or both. The occasional meting out of justice or positive institutional or political change brings hope for a future culture of consent, but our present reality bears little resemblance to the ideal.

Evangelicals—my people—are among the worst. We struggle to not conflate behavior we consider “sinful” with behavior that mitigates the injustice of rape; the former is and will probably always be up for debate, but the latter is a flying unicorn, and we need to stop believing in those. As much as we may not like it when young people get drunk and rub up against each other, a woman who does this is in no way at fault if she gets raped—the end, full stop.

But Evangelicals—and nearly everyone else—think that we can keep talking this way about women and still effect change. We can’t. We can’t perpetuate modesty culture without contributing to the perpetuation of rape culture. We can’t keep teaching our youth that sex is shameful and dirty without putting girls (and boys) at risk for un-reported sexual abuse. We can’t train women in rape-avoidance techniques without subtly communicating that rape, when it happens, is a little bit their fault.[2]

Believe me when I tell you that I struggle with empathy. I’m a cold-blooded, callous bastard when it come to anyone but my own kith and kin, but this issue still makes me—again, quite literally—scream out loud at my desk on some days.

Ideological Snobbery Among Feminists

This one is probably going to anger people, but I’m putting it in anyway. While many feminists I read and interact with online are lovely people, most are mean-spirited, flippant, or dismissive at best when encountering ideas that conflict with feminist dogma.[3] While I understand that nearly everyone tires of saying the same things over and over, as a relative newcomer I have repeatedly observed that feminists are largely preaching to the choir because the congregation is tired of being harangued.

Now, some websites or individual bloggers have no interest in reaching non-feminists. Some do not even intend to persuade. I think of Sarah Moon, who has made it quite clear that her blog is an emotional outlet, not a news source or platform for debate. I also continue to derive a semi-guilty pleasure from the steady stream of snark flowing out of the Jezebel writers, who fall loosely into the category of “pundit”. On the more journalistic end of the scale, Feministing and The Feminist Majority Foundation Blog, while newsy, seem to be aimed entirely at existing converts.

I’ll cite a specific event as an example: The Good Men Project’s recent series of posts on rape culture, which many (rightly, I believe) categorized as rape apologism. You’ll notice that the link above leads not the Good Men Project website but to an article for The Guardian by Jill Filipovic, and that is because Filipovic was the only feminist writer I heard of who responded to the event with a reasoned, balanced commentary befitting a journalist.

The near-universal reaction from the rest of the femisphere boiled down to: “Screw GMP. No one should ever read them again; they’re terrible people.” An entirely legitimate reaction for writers who just want to blog about personal experience or vent their emotions, this is not at all tenable for anyone who wants to consider themselves a journalist or news source. Ignoring the opposition, even when they write something so wrong that you have to spend half an hour cooling down before you can respond, is not an option for a journalist. If, as they say, most of the feminists I follow really no longer read The Good Men Project, they are abdicating any claim to the title.

And that is fine, but where are the feminist journalists? Where are the serious, well-reasoned op-ed pieces defending our positions? Seriously: where are they? I feel like they must exist; I just haven’t found them yet. Someone point me in the right direction. Drop me a line in the comments, using the contact page, or on Twitter. For now, though, the feminist corner of the internet seems very closed off to dialogue. This alienates people who are open to feminist ideas but put off by our unbending dogmatism.[4] I know, because I have conversations with these people. As a perpetual evangelist, this troubles me.

Why I’m Not Giving Up

Firstly, I don’t want to be a quitter. I’ve quit a lot of things in my life; I don’t want this website to be another one. In any case, it has more inherent value than most other things I’ve attempted.

Secondly, people. As much as I may occasionally (or frequently) disagree with some of them, I’ve met several wonderful people since I started collecting the feminist news. Despite never meeting any of them in person, I feel like some of my new friends could turn into lifelong friends. Their various individual brands of feminism—and Christianity—make me feel happy, and more importantly, they expand my thinking and push me to be a better feminist and a better Christian.

Finally, the goal. The Goal. Slightly expanded from the About page, The Goal of Jesus & Venus is, through a steady stream of news carefully peppered with opinion, to persuade Christians who aren’t quite sure they are feminists or egalitarians that they really are, or should be. No one else that I know about is doing what I’m trying to do, and I feel like I’m doing it well. I could do it even better, and if my readership continues to expand, I think I can achieve that goal.

I’m going to push through this period of burnout. Four months is a very short time, considered with proper perspective. 2013 is going to bring plenty of raw material, and I’ll be here to digest it into a form you can consume in just a few minutes a day. This may sound kind of hollow after all of the above complaining, but I’ll say it anyway: Thanks for reading.

  1. I should clarify that many of my complementarian friends are wonderful people who do not engage in any of these tactics.  ↩

  2. At least, not using the type of language and logic we’ve been employing up until now.  ↩

  3. I use “dogma” here in the non-judgmental sense of “doctrine considered central to the movement”, not in the pejorative sense of “beliefs held irrationally in despite of evidence to the contrary”.  ↩

  4. This time, I am being pejorative.  ↩