One Man’s Feminine Discomfort

How my Readings In Feminist Theory are Challenging me

The scenario: At some point in the last year I decided that I would fill a gaping hole in my education by spending this summer studying feminist theory and women’s spirituality. This is a full-blown independent study, not a grad student’s typical “oh-yeah-I-think-I’ll-do-that”-and-then-not-really-do-it passing summer fancy (of which I have had my share).

My reasons: My dissertation research will require me to use tools that I do not yet have (assessing the leader of a women’s movement as a woman and, potentially, as a feminist, after having defined “what is a feminist?” and “on what basis can I make that assertion?”). To boot, I was becoming increasingly convinced that, as a responsible theologian hoping to dialog with the broader culture and the discipline of religious studies, I simply needed to know this stuff. Bonus: it looks good on my resumé.

External results: strange looks from my classmates, including one member of a women’s religious order; stranger looks from right-leaning Bible study members; and heated debates raging on my FaceBook status comments sparked between my most left- and right-leaning acquaintances responding to a simple status update: “I feel like I’m eavesdropping as I continue to catch up on feminist theory.”

Internal results: I really do feel like I’m listening in on someone else’s conversation. I am an outsider. I do not belong. For a man who essentially reads for a living, this is an unaccustomed feeling when behind a book. My concepts, my language, my faith in every form of its expression — all are subject to question and to suspicion. Any why not? A deep hurt runs through the world. In all likelihood, I am both part of the problem and part of the solution. I cannot take the status quo for granted as a manifest good. There is a big f-ing difference between Biblical gender ideals and 1950s roles.

Conclusion: Feminism challenges me, if not in my masculinity, in how I see the world. A lot of people have been hurt by men wielding their power and authority as men. We who are men should listen, whether we understand ourselves to be directly culpable or not.

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And your fantasy is… football?

Reflections on the phenomenon of fantasy football.

It’s that time of year again.  A crisp breeze is in the air after even the balmiest of days.  It’s almost football season, time for the people of America (but especially the men) to celebrate the act of brutal, strategic team ass-kicking.

I appreciate football, but I do not enjoy football.  There are many reasons for this.  Much of it has to do with the fact that, in my rootless youth,  I never had a home team to cheer for and now I am a man without NFL loyalties.  But the bottom line is I’m a man, I’m not afraid of the dark, I eat red meat, and I’m one of the most athletic people I know.  While I have a multitude of ways I’d rather spend my time than watching other people being athletic, I certainly understand those who appreciate a good game, especially in such Olympic times as these.

What I do not understand are the men, many of them my friends, who devote countless hours to the crafting of imaginary teams.  Real players.  Fake teams.  You’re the owner/coach.  This is your opportunity to play God… and this is how you’re going to spend it?  Really???

Raisins vs. Midwest Floods

My priorities are clear.  I know what they ought to be.  But I also see very clearly in my actions what is actually going on.  A sizable chunk of this and neighboring states are underwater.  Few lives have been lost, but many have been ruined.  And I want raisins.

Human suffering matters.  I care.  God cares.  People care.  But I do not care as much as I ought to.  At the end of the day, the only human suffering that really matters to me is my own.  My blood sugar is getting low and we are almost out of raisins.  This is a problem.

But there are two bigger problems.  1) Iowa is covered by waves of mud, not amber waves of grain right now.  And 2) I don’t really care.  Maybe it’s the distance, or the overstimulation of my senses, or the fact that my news source is CNN without audio while I’m at the gym.  I don’t know.  But the bottom line is that right now raisins are vying with the suffering of my neighbors for first-place in my consciousness… and the raisins are winning.  God, help me.

The Epic Shenanigans of Adulthood

Part I: What

My long hiatus from blogging has brought with it much writing material. It’s not just an excuse. The “interruptions” in life can be a source of great blessing.

I am engaged and the wedding is in two months. I am nearly finished with my first year of Ph.D. studies. I am in the process of maybe selling a house, which has been complicated by ant number of issues. Unbeknownst to myself, I was without homeowner’s insurance during the earthquake, for example. But I digress.

My question is this: in what ways is adulthood qualitatively different from childhood?

I ask this because I am convinced that far too many adults have not abandoned their childhood selves and that, unless I am careful in the big decisions I face in my present, I will become one of them.

For the purposes of this essay, I will disregard such nuanced stages as “teenager” and “young adult.” I assume that if you are somewhere between 12 and 40, my discussion applies to you, as well as to many people outside that age range, which is simply my best guess at classifying those who are trying to figure out what it means to be grown up.

Children dream of becoming adults. Most of them do, anyway. Their games reflect this. But they do no want to become just any adults. While stereotypical roles reflect this –firemen, soldiers, astronauts, movie stars, princesses, and mothers – I think that even non-stereotypical playtime reflects this trend. My earliest career aspiration was to live in New York and own a costume shop, helped by a giant rabbit. My favorite book, “Busy Day, Busy People,” had somehow given me an inkling of the Big Apple. But I think, too, of my recent summers spent mowing the campus at the seminary. I wore a broad-brimmed hat to protect me from the sun and a bandana over my mouth and nose to keep out the dust and pollen. I heard from several seminary parents that their sons enjoyed “playing cowboy,” i.e., mowing the lawn like me.

Why do children want to grow up? Adults have apparent freedom and endless possibility. They come and go as they please. They stay up as late as they want. They spend money on whatever they want. They have power, beauty, strength, and knowledge to a degree that is barely imaginable for a child. A boy who longs to be strong knows that he will be stronger when he is a man. A girl who longs to be beautiful knows that she will be more beautiful as a woman. All children who long for adventure know that they will have greater means to travel and explore when they are older.

Yet if the standard children’s attitude is “I can’t wait to be an adult,” the standard adult response: “bills! [gripe, gripe] duty! [gripe gripe] if you only knew!” Too fraught with duty to dream of childhood, gripey grown-ups nonetheless know that they are missing something. As to what and why, I will devote my next post.

In-Body Experience

I was feeling very incarnate the other day.  Not that there is any other way that I should feel, nor that that I should dare to feel divine.  No.  On this particular day, I simply felt very much myself, more human, more whole, more grounded.  I was me being me, not trying to be anyone else, and not trying to do much in particular, other than my job.  I did not know what to say, other than “Thanks!”

Facebookworm

I said I never would, but here I am, fixated by facebook.  One more e-habit to kick.  It sucks you in, offering flimsy connections to solid friends (and solid connections to flimsy friends?).  What will they think of next?  And how long will it take before I cave in?

TMV: Too Much Vacation?

I did not think that it was possible, but I think that I have officially achieved a state of “too much vacation.”  Now, after five full weeks of relative aimlessness and life without routine, I am very ready to return to business as usual.  Or start business as usual.

 Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve been mildly productive.  And each day I find new ways to better myself and humanity (educational podcasts!).  But Sabbath was meant to be once a week.  If you’re not really working, then you’re never really resting, either, because you have nothing to rest from.

And they wonder why some people freak out in retirement.

“Hung-over” with Hilarity… in a Jaded Sort of Way

My Arrested Development binge has coincided with my Scrosese binge.  I’m half-way through AR season two, and I’ve watched Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and The Departed.  If I were a drinking man — which I can’t be, because of my bipolar meds — I’d say it was something like mixing strawberry daquiris with tequila shots.

(Incidentally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with other people drinking, just with being drunk.)

This could be more disorienting than the Christmas when I read nothing but Flannery O’Connor short stories and stopped trusting anything that strangers said for the next month.  Even the dude at the airport who claimed to be the kid from Problem Child.

Life is funny right now.  I can’t take myself too seriously.  Not with Ron Howard’s 3rd person narration running through my head, describing my every move.  And I’m somehow expecting everyone to get screwed in the end.  But that’s Scorsese, not me, and not God talking.  I’ve got to be careful who I listen to.

Lonely Matinee

On Going to the Movies Alone

The theater was as dark as the day was bright, and as eerie, empty, and old.  The walls inside and out were the color of old toothpaste but smooth as marble, as if the paint had been chosen thirty years ago and purchased in bulk, a fresh coat for every year for a century.  A handful of high schoolers, retirees, and I settled down for our blockbuster of choice.  The momentary embarassment and awkwardness were a small price to pay, as was the $6.50.

“Service” = Sales = Suck

We live in a “service-based economy,” they say.  This sounds like a great idea, but the sad reality is that service equals sales.  Health insurance companies are not a services, they are businesses.  Their goal is to turn a profit, not to help you.

And so it was that I wasted half an hour yesterday at a cell phone store, trying to buy an accessory that they have in stock, but walked away empty-handed because I was not allowed to buy anything unless being directly helped by a sales representative, and the one sales rep spent 30 minutes serving two people.   

But it isn’t as if they didn’t have enough of a staff budget.  Just inside the door was Ad Girl.  I asked her to help me, but she said she couldn’t do anything but show me how I could watch T.V. on my phone, an utterly amazing, utterly useless feat.

I’m a strange shopper, I suppose.  I decide what I want before I walk in the door, I go in, buy it, and get out.  But require me to work through your sales staff, who will attempt to suggestively sell me things I don’t need, and I’m liable to take my business somewhere else.  Thanks for wasting my time.

Can you hear me now?