Thursday, June 21, 2012

Leaving On a Jet Plane!

Or actually, in a packed Hyundai Sonata.

Brett and I have left New Haven and are officially en route to our new home in the ATL!

Everything has been crazy the past few days with wrapping things up at work, saying goodbyes, final packing preparations, and a slight mishap with our moving truck, but we waved goodbye to New Haven this morning.

For the next few days, we'll be driving through Amish country, visiting Gettysburg, and driving down the Shenandoah Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway.

I'll be back on the internet by Monday when I arrive at my new address. Have a great week everyone!

Source: Blue Ridge


I am so excited that one of my favorite blogs, Religion in American History, had a nice little shout out for The Feminist Mystique yesterday! RiAH is a group blog that offers really amazing commentary about religion in America. If it isn't already one of your favorites, I highly recommend it!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Things My Father Taught Me

Happy Father's Day!

In honor of the holiday, I'm going to add to my "Things My Mother Was Right About" and share some things I learned from my daddy. My parents are pretty different people and divorced when I was young, so when I sat down to write this I thought these lists would be radically different. I was surprised to see that there are actually quite a few overlaps. Who knew?!

1. Go to the theater! Not only is it a wonderful way to spend an evening, but it can be incredibly political and thought provoking.

2. Related to number one, but so central to our relationship that it merits a separate number: Learn the words to every song from every musical. They're beautiful and catchy and fun to sing.

3. Horseback riding is the best sport ever. It will teach you patience, discipline, help you work out any trust issues, help you learn to work through yours fears, give your legs and abs a great workout, and give you beautiful posture.

4. Horses are beautiful creatures. Relish the smell of your tack and horse sweat. Cherish the feeling of jumping a new jump and galloping across a pasture. Spend as much time as you can at the barn.

5. Ballet and dance lessons are good for you. They are a fantastic creative outlet and a great way to get some exercise, they will teach you discipline, they will come in handy when you're older and want to go dancing, and they will (like horseback riding) give you good posture.

6. Work hard at your job.

7. Network.

8. Go to a college that is far away from home, a college that is so far away its impossible to do laundry at home or drop by your parents' house for dinner. 

9. Go to a small, liberal arts college where you will be in small classes and constantly challenged.Use your education to learn how to think, not what to think. Try and be well-rounded academically.

10. Go to Wellesley.

11. Travel often. Visit new places. Go on adventures. Try and vacation outside of the United States.

12. Get good grades. Work hard in school.

13. Enjoy where you are in life. Don't rush growing up.

14. Watch and read the news every day.

15. Never eat ground beef.

16. Take your kids on vacation often, even when they're young. Don't wait until they're older, but make it a central part of their childhood and upbringing.

17. Advocate for yourself. Don't wait for other people to do it for you.

18.  Enjoy good food. Indulge every once in awhile.

19. Set your own limits. But every once in awhile, face your fears.

20. Live your own life. Do what makes you happy.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

From Facebook

These photos have been quite popular, and even surprisingly controversial, on my facebook page. So I thought I'd share them here as well.

A Feminist Budget: Part 1

Lately, I've noticed a trend among my friends and many bloggers. We're all slightly obsessed with budgeting.

It started when my friend, Kim, posted a link to The Simple Mom about budgeting and getting out of debt. Then, some women from the fabulous Wellesley College held a workshop on budgeting and building wealth. Our alumnae network started a virtual group about finance, where I learned about some great blogs like Get Rich Slowly and Make Love, Not Debt. This was a whole new corner of the blogosphere for me, but everyone I knew seemed to be reading them or discovering them at the same time. My best friends and I would chat about Dave Ramsey and Roth IRAs while sipping coffee.

All of this new information and excitement about budgeting and managing money got me excited! It also helped me feel in control of my finances, even though I don't make very much money and have quite a large chunk of student debt.

Here are three of the biggest things I learned:

1. While you have debt, you are living in the past.
Debt is not good. This might be obvious to many of you, but we live in a culture where it is deemed ok, even encouraged, to rack up thousands in student loans, thousands in credit card debt, thousands in car loans, etc. There's this very deeply embedded idea that you should consume, regardless of whether or not you can actually afford it. Now, there are many who are completely opposed to debt or even to credit cards. I'm not one of them. I have credit cards and use them responsibly. I have student loans from graduate school, but to me they were worth it and I wouldn't trade my experience at grad school for anything. In my opinion, certain things might be worth debt, but that is up to the individual and everyone should think long and hard before accruing it. Because while you have debt, you are living in the past. A large portion of your income will be spent paying off something you've already done. I'm all grown up now (or at least pretend to be), but a huge portion of my income goes to student debt. I'd rather pay off my debt quickly and live in the present, where all of my money can be spent on things that I want to do right now or in the future. I don't want to have kids and not be able to go on vacation because I'm still paying for grad school or for a couch that I bought when we first moved in to our apartment in Atlanta. So I'm going to try and avoid accruing any new debt and pay more than the minimum payments required on my car and student loans in an attempt to pay them off as fast as possible (more on this to come).

2. Budgeting is fun! It doesn't restrict spending, it just means you think carefully about where you choose to spend it.
I think I used to hate the idea of a budget because I thought it meant that I couldn't buy anything, that I couldn't have any fun, and that I would never get to buy new clothes or eat out again. But that isn't true. The bottom line is that I only have so much money coming in every month, and it is up to me to think carefully about how I want to spend it. Do I want to pay off debt? Do I want to go shopping? Do I want to go on vacation? Making a budget just means you thought about this and are putting your money where you want it to be going (e.g. to a vacation fund, not Starbucks). Since I can be somewhat of a control freak, I find it lots of fun to sit down at the beginning of the month and plan out where I want my money going.

3. Sometimes you have to go without. 
This also might seem like I'm stating the obvious. But part of managing your money and budgeting is realizing that in order to have more money for the things you need or want to spend it on you might have to give something up. This means thinking carefully about what you're spending your money on and not just uncritically "buying into" the idea that you need certain things (I couldn't help myself!). Do you really need cable? Do you need to eat out? Do you need to go out for drinks instead of staying in? There are often lots of things in a budget that you might feel like you "need" but actually don't. By cutting those out, you free up money for other things.

                                                                    Source: via Marci on Pinterest

I'll be back soon to share a few more thoughts on budgeting, such as why I think budgeting is all the rage these day (especially among women).

P.S. If you're not already using to budget and track your spending, you should be!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

[Ginny] The Last Name Project

In this new series co-hosted by from two to one and The Feminist Mystique,we will be profiling an array of individuals and couples about their last name decisions upon marriage or what they expect to choose if they marry. The goal is to explore how individuals make decisions about their last name, and to highlight the many possibilities. We will be posting profiles periodically and encourage you to stay connected via Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  If you would like to participate in this series, email Danielle at danielle [at] fromtwotoone [dot] com or Shannon at hill [dot] shannonp [at] gmail [dot] com.   

The following post is from Ginny, a novelist and educator currently working on a master's of education in human sexuality. She, her husband, and several others blog about relationships, sexuality, atheism, and skepticism at

My last name is Brown, and my husband's is McGonigal. I grew up assuming that I would take my husband's name when I married, and not minding the idea much... although I like the overall sound of my name, Brown is so common as to be boring. However, I also grew up assuming I'd always adhere to the mildly patriarchal values I was taught, and that I'd be married in my early 20s rather than my early 30s.

My husband and I are unconventional and egalitarian in a number of ways. It's likely that he will be the one to stay home with any children we have. We are also polyamorous, which means that we are open to developing loving relationships with other people, always with full disclosure, lots of discussion, and attention to each others' needs before anything else. Largely because of this, because there's the possibility that we may want to add other adults to our family someday, and because we're both in our 30s and very used to our own names, we decided to keep our names unchanged. We considered adding each others' names as second middle names, and we may someday do that if motivated, but at this time the paperwork doesn't seem worth it.

Following the example of some friends of ours, we have a portmanteau name that we use in informal social contexts. So we're still able to say "the McBrownigals wish you a merry Christmas," even though it's not anyone's legal name. It's a solution we're quite happy with... we considered actually changing our name to McBrownigal, but I felt it sounded a bit silly for publishing papers under.

Our plan for any children we have is to give them both our names, one as the last name and one as a second middle name. Which order we use will depend on how each name sounds with the first names we like, and (if we have a son) how much we want to avoid upsetting my father-in-law, who feels strongly about passing down his name.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday Motivation

                                                                             Source: Uploaded by user via Shannon on Pinterest

Friday, June 8, 2012

Theology of the Body: Contraception, Complementarianism, and Misogyny

The following post is part of Rachel Held Evan's series on mutuality. It explores the relationship between Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, the (re)birth of gender complementarianism and "New Catholic Feminism," contraception, and the Catholic denunciation of feminism and gender equality.

Many Catholics were still upset about Humanae Vitae, the encyclical written by Pope Paul VI that reaffirmed the Church's teachings against contraception, when Pope John Paul II became pope in 1978. There were whispers, however, that the new pope was more progressive and would adopt a different position on contraception than his predecessor. Pope John Paul II quickly made it clear that he would do no such thing. Instead, he devoted his pontificate to the theme of human sexuality and the condemnation of what he called the “culture of death.” This culture of death was portrayed as a modern phenomenon where people committed grave sins against humanity, including contraception, abortion, and euthanasia.[1] In an attempt to transform the culture of death and the modern view of human sexuality (they were often seen as intrinsically linked), Pope John Paul II devoted almost all of his Wednesday general audiences from 1979-1984 to lectures on the subject of human love and sexuality, which today are known as his Theology of the Body.
The thematic goal of Theology of the Body is to transform the current culture of death into a culture of life through marital spirituality and sexuality. The pope devotes a great deal of attention to marital sex and propagates a theology that is, in its essence, the very antithesis of Saint Augustine’s. This theology is grounded in a belief that marital sex is not only licit, but also holy and sacramental. Pope John Paul II uses elaborate metaphors to convey his argument, repeatedly comparing sexual intercourse to Catholic rituals and theological concepts. He states that marriage “signifies the relationship between Christ and His Church” and that the conjugal act, “the giving of each other freely” mirrors the redemptive act of Christ’s crucifixion.[2] He also contends that marriage reflects the Trinity, “an inscrutable communion of [three] Persons” that is fully realized in their sexual union. In this way, marriage constitutes a "primordial sacrament," a sign that communicates the mystery of God's Trinitarian life through husband and wife.[3]          
            After firmly establishing his lyrical approbation of marital sex, Pope John Paul II devoted his last fifteen lectures to explaining and promoting the values propagated in Humanae Vitae and the Church’s position on contraception. Continuing with his metaphor of sex as a sacrament, he proclaims:

As ministers of a sacrament which is constituted by consent and perfected by conjugal union, man and woman are called to express that mysterious language of their bodies in all the truth which is proper to it…According to the criterion of this truth, which should be expressed in the language of the body, the conjugal act signifies not only love, but also potential fecundity. Therefore it cannot be deprived of its full and adequate significance by artificial means. In the conjugal act it is not licit to separate the unitive aspect from the procreative aspect, because both the one and the other pertain to the intimate truth of the conjugal act. The one is activated together with the other and in a certain sense the one by means of the other. This is what the Encyclical teaches (cf. HV 12). Therefore, in such a case the conjugal act, deprived of its interior truth because it is artificially deprived of its procreative capacity, ceases also to be an act of love.[4]

Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is thus obviously derived from and dependent on Humanae Vitae’s rejection of contraception. However, while Theology of the Body is often criticized for being simply another reiteration of Humanae Vitae, Pope John Paul II’s rhetoric is decidedly unique. His theology focuses, more than ever before in Catholic history, on the positive aspects of marital sexuality. He builds a new Catholic sexual ethic, one that does not simply forbid contraception on theological grounds, but links rejection of contraception to spiritual and marital fulfillment.
            This connection, and the sexual ethic espoused in Theology of the Body, has had a profound effect on how Catholics think about contraception. The book has achieved an almost cult-like status in contemporary Catholic culture, and its popularity has only blossomed over the past ten years. Countless interpretations have been preached in sermons, printed in books, broadcast on Catholic television, and discussed in church groups. Its effect is, therefore, far reaching and has dramatically changed the Catholic culture of contraception from dissent at the time of Humanae Vitae to acceptance of the doctrine as an infallible truth; agreeing with the Church’s position on contraception has become a central aspect of Catholic identity.
Feminist Backlash
            The construction of gender found in Humanae Vitae and elaborately propagated in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body relies heavily on the ideas of gender complementarity. This idea, that the spiritual and physical fulfillment of men and women is derived from their complementary interaction, forms the very basis for the Catholic sexual ethic that has developed since Vatican II and Pope John Paul II’s pontificate.
John Paul II’s first few lectures in his Theology of the Body seem to have been greatly influenced by feminist dialogue on the distinction between gender and biological sex. He departs, however, from feminist thought with his “discourse on difference,” the idea that God did not just create male and female, but man and woman; two distinctly separate genders with unique and divinely proscribed attributes.[5] He writes, for example, in a 1995 letter addressed specifically to Catholic women:

Woman complements man, just as man complements woman: Men and women are complementary. Womanhood expresses the “human” as much as manhood does, but in a different and complementary way…Womanhood and manhood are complementary not only from the physical and psychological points of view, but also from the ontological. It is only through the duality of the “masculine” and the “feminine” that the “human” finds full realization.”[6]

Thus, just as Humanae Vitae contends that sexual pleasure and procreation are intrinsically linked in conjugal sex, John Paul II propagates that neither gender can be defined or exist independently from the other.[7]
Proponents of this construction of male and female believe that gender is determined exclusively on the basis of biological sexual characteristics and physical sexual capacities.[8] Womanhood and women’s bodies are viewed as intrinsically linked to motherhood, the purpose for which God created woman. Pope John Paul II elaborates that:

The woman’s body, in its typical expression of femininity and creative love, becomes, like the Garden of Eden, the place of the conception of new man. In her womb, the conceived man assumes his specific human aspect before being born.  In giving birth, therefore, woman is fully aware of the mystery of creation, which is renewed in human generation.[9]

While this metaphor of childbearing women as God-like creators has potentially positive implications for an increased social appreciation of women’s roles as mothers, it also has potentially dangerous implications when motherhood is not simply one element of being a woman, and is rather ascribed as its essential defining feature.[10]
Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, with its explicit connection between motherhood and womanhood, thus reinforces traditional gender roles. Its latent suggestion is that Catholic women should embrace their roles as mothers, and devote their time and energy to their family. As a result, the question of contraception and its high use among Catholics is frequently blamed on feminism. Rhetoric against contraception in Catholic circles tends to be accompanied by a denouncement of a culture where women have joined the workforce and lost or compromised their roles as wife and mother. It manifests its misogynist undertones by frequently blaming contraceptive use on women’s “selfish” ambitions to leave the home and have a career in the public sphere. A woman featured on a Catholic website exemplifies this type of discourse when she describes the beginning of the destruction of marital sexuality:

The sexual revolution screamed for women to get a job, to take control of their bodies, to have control over their sexual reproduction. When a woman responded to the sexual revolution with an attitude that her body was specifically hers to give or keep, all else became secondary. Most specifically, this attitude ended up in the marriage bed where a woman was now "expected" to withhold herself even if it was just to make a statement. It was all about "her" and not about "them." Women would refuse sex consistently because they were “too tired” from work. They were now "in charge" of everything and men were on their way to paying the price for whatever role they may or may not have had in the repression of women. Emasculation began in full.[11]

The association between emasculation and female independence, including a woman’s entry into the workforce, reveals the belief that women need to remain home as mothers and subservient to men to maintain God’s intended gender balance. Furthermore, the connection between emasculation and women’s physical control of their bodies and sexual reproduction affirms the assumption that contraception gives women too much power, autonomy, and authority within their marriage. 
            The misogyny conveyed in much of the anti-contraceptive literature only increases when there is a distinction between the different forms of contraception. Unlike the 1960s, when condoms and coitus interruptus were usually thought to be more sinful than the Pill, the contemporary Catholic Church increasingly views use of the Pill as a far graver sin. The Pill is even portrayed as the physical and spiritual equivalent of an abortion. Due to the fact that the Pill, by its medical nature, is a feminized phenomenon, this rhetoric tends to focus on a demonization of women. The supposition that women are somehow more responsible and more sinful because of contraception is averred in a sermon which, after citing that most Catholics, both male and female, have used some form of contraception, bemoans the fact that:

The parish problem can be summed up with the realization that any one of those fertile-years women distributors [of Holy Communion] may be saying "The Body of Christ" at the same time that her Pill is destroying the life of a new human being within her uterus. I think that's obscene, but that's the way it is in the Church in America today.[12]

This priest’s statement thus equates the Pill with abortion and makes no reference to the male Eucharistic ministers who have potentially used contraception. Moreover, this priest clearly wishes to restrict women’s already very limited access to participation in the Church’s liturgy on the grounds that they could possibly be using contraception, an argument that could and has also been used in recent discussions on women’s ordination. The so-called feminist backlash occurring in the Church today, therefore, where women are increasingly portrayed as excessively sinful and selfish, being denied access to the hierarchy, and encouraged to return home as mothers is clearly linked to the issue of contraception and the gender roles portrayed and valued in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. 

[1] For more on the “Culture of Death,” see Charles E. Curran, The Moral Theology of Pope John Paul II (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2005).
[2] Pope John Paul II, Theology of the Body, “Marital Love Reflects God’s Love for His People” and  “Marriage Sacrament an Effective Sign of God’s Saving Power,” July 28 1982 and December 1, 1982, Eternal Word Television Network, (accessed March 26, 2009).
[3]Pope John Paul II, Theology of the Body, November 14, 1979 quoted in an article by Christopher West, Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, Catholic Education Resource Center, (accessed March 23, 2009).
[4] Pope John Paul II, Theology of the Body, “Church’s Position on the Transmission of Life,” August 22, 1984, Eternal Word Television Network, (accessed March 23, 2009).
[5] Michele Dillon, Catholic Identity: Balancing Reason, Faith, and Power (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 74-76. Although Dillon did not necessarily coin the term “discourse on difference,” her analysis greatly shaped my understanding of it.  
[6] Aline H. Kalbian, Sexing the Church: Gender, Power, and Ethics in Contemporary Catholicism (Bloomington, IN: Indian University Press, 2005), 100.
[7] Kalbian Sexing the Church, 96.
[8] Kalbian, Sexing the Church, 106 and 97.
[9] John Paul II, Theology of the Body, “Mystery of Woman Revealed in Motherhood,” March 12, 1980, Eternal Word Television Network, (accessed March 28, 2009).
[10] Kalbian, Sexing the Church, 107.
[11] Cheryl Dickow, “Sex and the Married Women,” Catholic Education Resource Center, (accessed March 20, 2009).
[12] John F. Kippley, “Casti Connubbii: 60 Years Later, More Relevant than Ever,”Eternal Word Television Network, (accessed March 20, 2009).

One in Christ: A Week of Mutuality

Writer Rachel Held Evans is having a week-long series devoted to the idea of mutuality. The purpose of the series is to make a case for egalitarianism (vs. complementarianism) and show that egalitarianism is a tenable position for Christians, based on scripture, reason, tradition, etc.

The idea of gender complementarianism forms the basis of the "New Catholic Feminism" movement, and many argue that complementarianism is not only feminist, but values and honors women more than traditional feminism. Throughout my academic career, I've done quite a bit of research on gender complementarianism and New Catholic Feminism, and I firmly believe that complementarianism is no more than classic patriarchy.

Here's how Rachel describes it:

Complementarianism (also known as “soft patriarchy”): Christians who identify as complementarians believe that the Bible requires Christian women to submit to male leadership in the home, church (and, according to some*), society.

[*JI Packer, for example, wrote in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that “a situation in which a female boss has a male secretary puts a strain on the humanity of both...” Not all complementarians would agree the hierarchy between men and women extends beyond the home and church.] 

According to the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, complementarianism “affirms that men and women are equal in the image of God, but maintain complementary differences in role and function. In the home, men lovingly are to lead their wives and family as women intelligently are to submit to the leadership of their husbands. In the church, while men and women share equally in the blessings of salvation, some governing and teaching roles are restricted to men.” (See also: “The Danvers Statement.”)
In the Christian community, complementarianism stands in contrast to the idea of mutuality/egalitarianism/feminism:

Egalitarianism (also known as “mutuality”): Christians who identify as egalitarian usually believe that Christian women enjoy equal status and responsibility with men in the home, church, and society, and that teaching and leading God’s people should be based on giftedness rather than gender. 
According to Christians for Biblical Equality, egalitarianism holds that “all believers—without regard to gender, ethnicity or class—must exercise their God-given gifts with equal authority and equal responsibility in church, home and world.”**

[**Note: While I identify myself as egalitarian, I do not necessarily agree with every position/theological rationale of the folks at CBE. And they would probably want me to say that my views are not necessarily reflective of theirs.]

There have been many great posts in the series, which you can read by searching Twitter using #mutuality2012 or by checking out Rachel's blog.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Germans For the Win!

I spotted this chart over at The Economist and laughed out loud. I thought my Grandpa was the only one who thought Germans were the hardest working people on the planet, but it looks like all of Europe does too!

Except, of course, for poor Greece, who actually does work the longest hours in Europe.*

*Greece's productivity is still low. Working longer doesn't mean you work smarter!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Why I Support Bloomberg's Ban on Sugary Drinks

I was going to write a post about why I agree with Mayor Bloomberg's decision to ban the sale of extra-large sugary drinks in some places, but Jill from Feministe already wrote most of it for me! She writes:
But the truth is that soda isn’t just mildly unhealthy — it’s really incredibly bad for you, and it’s addictive, and it has no nutritional value whatsoever. And Americans are consuming more of it than at any other point in human history, with disastrous results for our health....
Accusations of nanny-statism abound, but the state regulates food and substances all the time. And it should. Personal choice is important, but in New York we regulate the “personal choice” to buy alcohol before noon on Sundays; to drink in bars after 4am; to buy cigarettes if you’re under 18. 
I don't think that banning extra-large sugary drinks violates personal freedom. Smaller-sized sugary drinks are still legal, and you can buy as many smaller sodas as you want. Additionally, extra-large sugary drinks are still legal in places like grocery stores, so you can still buy a huge thing of soda for your family, for a party, or to guzzle down on your own at home if you so choose. I think the main impetus of the new regulation is to remind people that buying a super sized jumbo coke at the movie theater is simply terrible for you; and to remind companies that they are not supposed to sell products that are toxic. I'm not upset that restaurants in NYC aren't allowed to put rat poison in my beverage. And I'm not upset that they can't sell me a giant soda either.

Furthermore, while some think Bloomberg's ban smacks of classism, I think the ban sends a powerful message to corporations that they are not going to be allowed to exploit people and sell them things that are harmful to their health. When giant cokes are cheaper than healthier alternatives, they offer "more bang for your buck." Latina and black children see 50-80 percent more soda ads than white children. It is very targeted marketing. It exploits people, and children in particular. It makes them sick. And that shouldn't be ok.

That being said, this ban is only a step in the right direction and fails to address any of the more serious issues or root causes, like problematic subsidies, the prevalence of high fructose corn syrup, food deserts that leave thousands of people without access to healthy food, and predatory advertising. But if I have no problem with the state getting involved in regulating, for example, high fructose corn syrup (or the sale of cigarettes to minors), I have no problem with the state regulating the sale of extra-large sugary drinks in some establishments.

As one commenter on the Feministe article said:
I’m not actually opposed to [the ban]. I do enjoy watching certain kinds of people wig out as if it’s the greatest looming threat to our personal liberties in years, because hello the fact that soda and HFCS is cheap and ubiquitous is actually a threat to your liberties.

P.S. For a truly alarming lecture on the harmful effects of sugar, watch this video.

[T.S.] The Last Name Project

In this new series co-hosted by from two to one and The Feminist Mystique,we will be profiling an array of individuals and couples about their last name decisions upon marriage or what they expect to choose if they marry. The goal is to explore how individuals make decisions about their last name, and to highlight the many possibilities. We will be posting profiles periodically and encourage you to stay connected via Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  If you would like to participate in this series, email Danielle at danielle [at] fromtwotoone [dot] com or Shannon at hill [dot] shannonp [at] gmail [dot] com.   

The following post is from T. S., who lives in India and blogs over at Lazy Scribbles.

I didn't change my surname after marriage. I have always viewed my name as an intrinsic part of my identity. It didn't seem fair to me that I got my fathers surname. If I could go back in time, I would have preferred to take my mothers surname, or even better, no surname at all. However, the point was that I'd carried around my surname for more than a decade, before I started thinking about it in my teens. By then it was a part of me, it was who I was, who I identified as, in a million places, in my school, my bank, my mails, my whole being as a person, as a citizen. I didn't want to change it or drop it, even to match my own feminist world view. So, the whole idea of changing it upon marriage, had always seemed incomprehensible to me. I was brought up in a fairly nonconformist household, and the importance of following tradition, for the its own sake, was always very low in the general scheme of things at home. A lot of things which are explained only on the basis of tradition, or justifications of ancient social systems, likewise seemed quite incomprehensible to me. I felt that a lot of these questions I was grappling with, perhaps made sense in a patriarchal agrarian society. The idea of being 'given away' in marriage, becoming part of a different, pre-existing family unit/dynasty , changing the surname to fit with it, and further it. In my world as a city dweller in nuclear family units, with frequently changing jobs in the service industry, it didn't make any sense at all. While we were dating, my partner thought I'd perhaps get over my 'extremist' stand eventually. He didn't really share my feminist views. When I didn't get over them even after many years, he didn't seem to happy about it, but came around to living with it. Subsequently, not too many people bothered to worry me about why I hadn't changed my surname. Maybe they knew by then from my various choices, how little I really bothered with customs, and how much I identified as a feminist. Maybe most people are really a lot less bothered about us than we think. Some people do ask questions about how such decisions would work for the next generation. In theory, I'd prefer that they take the primary caregiver's surname. In practice, to each their own!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Guest Post: What Does the Bible Say About Menstruation?

The following is a guest post from Brett Maiden, a PhD student in the Graduate Division of Religion at Emory University. He studies the Hebrew Bible and religions of the ancient Near East, and his current research explores the role of evolved cognitive architecture in shaping impurity laws and representations of divine agents.

In a hilariously provocative essay, Gloria Steinem ran an interesting thought experiment based on the hypothetical question “what would happen if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?” She surmised the following:
Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, worthy, masculine event. Men would brag about how long and how much…Generals, right-wing politicians, and religious fundamentalists would cite menstruation ("men-struation") as proof that only men could serve God and country in combat ("You have to give blood to take blood"), occupy high political office ("Can women be properly fierce without a monthly cycle governed by the planet Mars?"), be priests, ministers, God Himself ("He gave this blood for our sins"), or rabbis ("Without a monthly purge of impurities, women are unclean").
Despite Ms. Steinem’s gift for raising public consciousness through satire, this scenario clearly does not reflect the reality of our situation. Far from it. Even among highly industrialized western societies, menstruation and menstrual blood are topics quickly swept under the proverbial rug. For example, a substantial majority of U.S. adults and adolescents believe that it is socially unacceptable to discuss menstruation, even within the family. When it is mentioned, it is usually spoken of in familiar euphemisms (“on the rag” and “the curse”). This silence has led to feelings of horror and confusion and has perpetuated a general ignorance about menstrual bleeding. The feminist Simon de Beauvoir, in recalling the experience of her first period, wondered what “shameful malady I was suffering from.” Overall, therefore, there exists the unfortunate view among some—of both sexes—that menstruating women are impure and repulsive. The menstrual taboo has a long historical legacy and the Bible itself is not shy about tackling the “problem” of menstruation. Given the prominent position that this collection of books is accorded in our society as well as the number of people who claim to live by its literal interpretation, it is critical to examine what the Bible actually says about menstruation.

We begin our brief survey with the most complete discussion of menstrual impurity in the Bible, found in chapter 15 of the Book of Leviticus. This book is, from an academic perspective, one of the most interesting texts in the Bible, while at the same time one of the most troubling from the perspective of modern ethical sensibilities.

According to Leviticus 15:19-33, a menstruating woman is considered impure for seven days and contaminates anything upon which she sits or lies during that time. Anyone who touches her becomes impure. Anyone who touches anything she has contaminated becomes impure and they must wash their clothes, bathe in water, and remain impure until the evening. Moreover, intercourse with a menstruating woman causes a man to be impure for seven days, and anything he touches thereafter likewise becomes impure. Menstrual blood was thus considered exceedingly potent, to say the least. Lastly, it is worth noting that when a woman gives birth she is also “impure as at the time of her menstruation” (Lev 12:12-5). If she bears a male baby, she remains impure for 33 days. If she bears a female baby, the time is double.

Leviticus 20:18 (written by a different group of priestly authors than chapters 1-16) is more explicit and less lenient, “If a man lies with a woman having her sickness and uncovers her nakedness, he has uncovered her flow and she has uncovered her own flow of blood; both of them shall be cut off from their people.” The Hebrew word translated here as “sickness” is dawah, which also notably appears in Isaiah to denote filthy menstrual rags. Its use in Leviticus indicates that menstruation was viewed negatively as a repulsive illness. 

Similarly, the borderline psychotic prophet Ezekiel appeals to his audience’s disgust of menstrual blood in order to shift their emotional indignation to the problem of pagan idolatry: “Mortal, when the house of Israel lived on their own soil, they defiled it with their ways and their deeds; their conduct win my sight was like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual period (Ezek 36:17). The menstruant is commonly used throughout the Hebrew Bible as a metaphor for extreme pollution and utter revulsion (see Lamentations 1:17; Ezra 9:11).

The Jewish rabbis inherited this tradition of biblical regulations and engaged in extensive debates regarding the legal minutiae of menstrual impurity (niddah). The Babylonian Talmud (b. Ketubot 61a) declared that a menstruant may attend to all the needs of her household…that is, with the exception of filling her husband’s cup of wine, making his bed, and washing him (charitable concessions to the woman, indeed!). However, not all the sages were quite so generous. The Mishnah includes an entire tractate devoted to issues of female impurity. In this document, menstruating women were quarantined in a special chamber known as the “House for Impure Women” (m. Nid. 7:4; b. Nid. 56b). Rabbi Akiba referred to menstruants as galmudah, “segregated,” while others held that it was forbidden to eat with them (t. Ċ abbat 1:14). Another text states that “if a menstruant woman passes between two men, if it is at the beginning of her menses, she will slay one of them, and it if is at the end of her menses, she will cause strife between them” (b. Pesah. 111a). Finally, the Jewish sage Nahmanides (aka Ramban) states that the breath of a menstruating woman is harmful and her gaze detrimental.

I, myself, cannot help but think that this whole discussion represents an unfortunate example of misspent human energy.  

We can also get a glimpse of what life was like for women in ancient Israel from non-biblical sources. For example, one text found among the Dead Sea Scrolls known as the Temple Scroll envisions the construction of a utopian Jewish temple accompanied by maximum standards of purity. In this idyllic world it is decreed: “And in every city you shall allot places…for women during their menstrual impurity and after giving birth, so that they may not defile in their midst with their menstrual impurity” (11Q Temple 48:14-17). The Jewish historian Josephus also testifies that menstruants were quarantined for seven days (Antiquities 3.261).

Of course, such superstitious attitudes toward menstruating women and blood were not confined to ancient Israel. In Mesopotamia, a menstruating woman is referred to by the term musukkatu, and it is said: “If a man touches a musukkatu woman who is passing by, for six days he will not be pure.” In ancient Egypt, menstruating women are included among the most severe religious prohibitions (bwt), the violation of which constituted an act of cosmic and lethal personal consequences. In Islam, the Qur’an declares: “They question thee (O Muhammad) concerning menstruation. Say it is an illness so let women alone at such times and go not into them until they are cleansed” (2:222). (Incidentally, you need look only a few verses later to uncover this paragon of gender equity: “Women are like fields for you, so seed them as you intend”). Lastly, the Roman Pliny embodies the revulsion which we have been discussing as he writes:
Contact with the monthly flux of women turns new wine sour, makes crops wither, kills grafts, dries seeds in gardens, causes the fruit of trees to fall off, dims the bright surface of mirrors, dulls the edge of steel and the gleam of ivory, kills bees, rusts iron and bronze, and causes a horrible smell to fill the air. Dogs who taste the blood become mad, and their bite becomes poisonous as in rabies. (Natural History 7.64)
One wonders about the rigorous scientific methods by which Pliny ever collected such data.

So here we stand now in the twenty-first century, in an age of unparalleled scientific and medical advancement. And yet the menstrual taboo remains one of the most pernicious and persistent cultural phenomena to this day. My intention is that this survey of cultural and religious attitudes, while far from being comprehensive, provides a clear picture of precisely where a modern fear of menstrual blood originated. We may no longer believe that menstruating women are capable of withering crops or necessitate quarantining, but society continues to view menstruation in a generally negative light. Would it not promote a healthier society if, as writer Karen Houppert proposes, we were to regard menstruation more like sneezing or having a cold? Or better yet, why not conceptualize menstruation as something positive, powerful, and life-giving? We currently bear the cultural and psychological burden of ancient religious laws, and we should be eager to pay off this onerous debt.

Sarah Maple. Menstruate with Pride. 2012.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Is It Really the First Time White Births Have Been Outnumbered By Non-White Births?

A week or two ago, census data revealed that white births are now being outnumbered by non-white births. While covering the topic, many people (including feminist bloggers) used the phrase "For the first time in US History....." or "For the first time in America...."

This cartoon reminds us that this is not, in fact, the first time in America's history that white births have been outnumbered by non-white births. It disrupts the idea of the United States as a historically white and homogenous country and offers a reminder that, unless you are Native American, all of your ancestors were colonizers and/or immigrants.