Semester’s End, Reflections and Anticipations

Well, my Women’s History compatriots, this semester is at an end.  I read through my entire blog this morning, from start to finish, and I’m wondering where the semester has gone.  It’s probably camping out with Virginia Dare.  In all seriousness, I was struck by how much I’ve learned this semester and how much history I have explored.  This will be my 23rd post of the semester.  That’s a lot of posting for 14 weeks.

Briefly, briefly, briefly, I would like to take a quick trip through five of my favorite posts of the semester (in publication order).  See if you catch a theme!

#1. A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812: I loved this book!  Reading Martha’s story and learning about midwifery has continued to crop up in the strangest places ever since I wrote this post.  I met a nurse who’s husband was a history buff, so I recommended the book as something they could read together.  I was in my church one Sunday talking about natural remedies that I learned from this book (onions, what?!).  I was in Short Story class comparing things that Martha did medically to some things that characters did in the stories.  Martha Ballard gave me a lot of knowledge that I have continued to use.  Also, Martha Ballard, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and my class discussion about this book all made me start questioning modern childbirth practices.  My mom has a couple of hospital horror stories from her pregnancies that I don’t want to have.  I don’t know if I’ll have kids yet or not, but if I do, I’m seriously considering the midwife route as opposed to the hospital environment.  How you have your children is a huge decision, and without Martha Ballard, I never would have considered the options.

#2. Dear Women, Please Vote This Year: I like this post because it’s funny!  Obviously, it would be impossible for Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone to have voted in the 2012 election; they have been dead for a century.  But the thought game involved in writing this post — ah, that was fun.  I also hope it was entertaining.  Plus, writing this post gave me a chance to really dig into Obama’s 2012 platform and compare it to my knowledge of suffrage as a movement.  For what specific reasons would the suffragists choose Obama?  Those kinds of questions helped me to probe into Obama’s plans for the next four years.  I’ve been an Obama supporter since 2007, but I was admittedly a little complacent this year in my politics-watching.  By really digging into the platforms to write this post, I reaffirmed my connection to the Democratic party and was able to make an informed voting decision this year.  I voted with the suffragists.

#3. “Can women have it all?” And other bull**** questions: My trip to the Connecticut Forum: Wow.  What a trip.  I think about what all of the panelists at the State of Women 2012 panel said frequently.  It mulls around in the back of my brain, Gloria Steinem pursuing emotional freedom for men and women, Michelle Bernard shouting about transvaginal probes, Connie Schultz laughing at Rush Limbaugh, Ashley Judd and the god of her understanding.  I said at the bottom of my event review that this trip to the Connecticut Forum felt like an inauguration.  Without any question, it was.  After the CT Forum, I began questioning and challenging everything in conversations with my friends and with others.  The day I met my boyfriend’s father, we delved into a massive conversation about women’s liberation and high heels.  He raised a valid question:  Why do women in positions of authority wear high heels if they are painful and detrimental to your feet?  In this conversation, I mentally tried to emulate Gloria Steinem and Ashley Judd at the Connecticut Forum.  I wanted to possess a shred of Steinem’s wisdom and Judd’s ambassadorial tone.  Finally, I thought, ah finally, I am a feminist.

#4. Sarah Hale, I Love You: I cannot possibly begin to describe how much I love Sarah Hale.  She’s wonderful.  She’s hilarious.  And I can’t use the word female at all without thinking of Sarah.  I specifically reword things to take female and male out of my conversations.  Isn’t that crazy?  I got so involved in the story of her campaign with Vassar that I saw all of the logic of her arguments and started to agree with her.  Sarah Hale has made me phenomenally more conscious of the language that I use, both in formal writing and in everyday speech.  That consciousness is important to develop, because if we continue to use inaccurate language to describe our problems, then we will never arrive at accurate solutions.  Also, even by fighting to equalize terminology, Sarah Hale was laying the groundwork for feminist literary criticism. Without Sarah Hale, there is no Luce Irigaray.  And since I love Irigaray, I love Hale.

#5. Full of Quivers After Reading Quiverfull: Quiverfull was a fascinating read.  It was wonderful and horrifying and brilliant all at the same time.  It felt like the capstone to my first semester pounding into women’s studies.  Mostly, Quiverfull made me feel indignant that such obvious harm is being done to women right now.  And in the Church.  Having grown up in the evangelical Protestant world, I would like to believe that the safest place for people to be people is within the arms of the Christian church.  But all too often, someone who runs to the church’s embrace soon finds themselves suffocating from its death squeeze grip of hierarchical terror.  Say it with me now, what?  In no way does that make sense to me, and yet for so many people, it is the reality.  The churches presented in this book do harmful things to humanity, and it makes me angry.  Reading Quiverfull was at times like a call to action.  I live, function and operate within this world that so desperately needs feminism, and now I know, it is my duty and obligation to future generations to fight to make my world a safer place for humanity.  That’s my quiverfull.

Farewell to you all, all of my lovely followers!  Thank you for joining me in this four-month endeavor to learn some things about women in the U.S. throughout history.  If you are interested in something different, come back next semester for my second women’s history experiment:  Women in Christian History with Dr. Amy Davis Abdallah.  Until then, this has been Women in American History with Professor Bethany Johnson, as retold by Maggie Felisberto.  Hope you’ve enjoyed the ride!

Full of Quivers After Reading Quiverfull

Remember all those times I swore I had left the nineteenth century behind?  Well, if you look at a calendar, we’re sitting in the 21st century in Quiverfull, but most of the time it feels like the nineteenth (or maybe even the seventeenth).

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce is a gripping and horrendous outsider approach to the complementarian evangelical Protestant church — a world in which I sometimes occupy space.  Joyce approaches Christian patriarchy with an investigative eye, but she warns in the introduction that she’s interested in extremists and fundamentalists.  This book is by no means representative of the whole; rather, it is an exploration of a small subset within Christianity.  That being said, to my own personal chagrin, I was disturbed by how much seemingly neutral Christian culture that I grew up with made it into the book.  At one point, Joyce even mentions a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church.

quiverfull-inside-christian-patriarchy-movement-kathryn-joyce-hardcover-cover-art

Quiverfull, by Kathryn Joyce

Joyce herself is not a Christian, but she is fluent enough in “Christianese” to both communicate with her contacts and to convey their stories to people outside of evangelical Protestantism.  At times, she is too quick to boil everything down to five-point Calvinism, perhaps because John Piper and Wayne Grudem of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (and editors of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism) are themselves five-point Calvinists.  There are Calvinists who are egalitarian (like myself, hovering between three and four points of agreement usually) and there are Arminians who are complementarian.  Other than discussing the five basic tenants of Calvinism and the doctrines regarding men and women, Joyce avoids theology and never blames Christianity itself (or Jesus, for that matter) for the injustices of the complementarian church.

The book is divided up into three sections, WivesMothers and Daughters.  Joyce works through the flagship Bible verses defending complementarian hierarchy while simultaneously telling the stories of women within the confines of the patriarchy movement.  The wives either meet with each other for weekend retreats where their male pastor has to supervise their activities or they contribute food to potluck lunches or they keep quietly to themselves at home.  In some of the extreme churches that Joyce visits, women are discouraged from having any relationships with other women.  Female friendship leads to gossip, nagging, discontent — the women must be available for their husbands at all times, and the husbands alone are to provide for their wives’ emotional needs.  This kind of power monopoly, instead of leading to the healthy lives that the CBMW proposes, damages subjugated women psychologically.  Isolation, defined as controlling what you do, who you see and talk to, where you go, limiting your outside involvement; using jealousy to justify actions, and sabotaging new and old relationships, is considered a type of abuse.  In these patriarchal churches, men are admonished to treat their wives exactly like that.

With power comes the abuse of power, and Joyce gives several examples of places where psychological abuse becomes physical.  The church tells women that their duty as Christians is to be sexually chaste until marriage, but then suddenly sexually available whenever their husband desires sex (whether or not she wants it).  Wives in some of these patriarchal communities become the victims of spousal abuse, marital rape and murder plots.  Going to the church instead of to law enforcement, they are asked about whether or not they have been nagging their husbands, or if they were being as submissive as they could be.  In one of Grudem’s essays in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (because I own a copy of this book), he provides a list of things that submission shouldn’t be, and these abuses are considered wrong in theory.  But in practice, the submission preached by the extremist complementarians is dangerous.

This book is not really a response to anything.  The CBE's affiliated work came after.

This book is not really a response to anything. The Christians for Biblical Equality‘s affiliated work came after.

The mothers and daughters in this patriarchal world fare no better than wives, and most women are expected to fulfill all three roles at the same time.  Daughters must remain faithful to their fathers until they marry, usually at an early age after a courting period instead of dating.  New wives must be sexually available to their husbands, and birth control is considered evil.  Thus, wives become mothers quickly and over and over again.  This constant pregnancy has become a part of the complementarian system.  Good Christian families must have many children, a full quiver of them, as prolonged spiritual warfare.  Because naturally, if you are a part of the elect chosen ones of God, then your offspring, and their offspring, and their offspring, will all be valiant Christian soldiers as well (because salvation by faith is not, you know, an individual choice or anything, right?  I guess not, if you’re a hyper-Calvinist).

So why did I bring up the nineteenth century at the beginning of this post?  Because extreme complementarianism, as it is being practiced in the United States, is like a photoshopped version of the nineteenth century.  Men and women are in separate spheres.  Men lead public lives, women lead private ones.  Nuclear family is the key building block of society.  Young men and women seek parental approval to court one another (and of course are not having sex until marriage).  In some of the communities, strong and intimate female friendships exist and are reinforced by women’s retreats and same-sex Bible studies.  They believe that men should be paid a “family wage” to support their whole family, while women should be paid much less, because her income does not contribute to the family.  A real woman should not work at all.  Some of the male leaders of the extreme complementarian churches Joyce researches in Quiverfull actively pursue recreation of the past, including the Jamestown settlement, as a part of God’s mandate to take dominion over the earth.  These same men wish that the technological advances of the forties and the fifties, like laundry machines and dishwashers, had never been invented.  The fanciful obsession with nineteenth century life, in this airbrushed form, becomes an oppressive way of life defended as biblical (despite some glaring misinterpretations and a rejection of large portions of Old Testament scripture.  Deborah, anyone?).

Quiverfull is a fantastic book.  I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the theological debate over manhood and womanhood, and to anyone — especially Christians — who is interested in the way our society works.

Where Did They Get the Sugar?

About four years ago, I learned about modern-day slavery.  I couldn’t believe it; weren’t there international laws preventing slavery or something?  I’ve looked it up; there are.  But of course that doesn’t matter to people who want to enslave other people.  Human rights — who cares?

I cared, so at the beginning of my senior year of high school, under the tutelage of my older sister, I converted to fair trade only for coffee and chocolate (yes, I gave up eating chocolate).  I learned what constituted slavery (force, fraud and coercion) and what fair trade really meant.  I learned about the sex trade, something that weighs on my heart and gives me the itch of anger.  I got posters with facts about the cocoa trade and Fairtrade International (one of the two main fair trade labeling organizations).  I became a minor connoisseur of fair trade chocolate brands.  My favorite is Divine Chocolate, which is endorsed by Freema Agymen from Doctor Who/Law & Order UK!  Another good brand is Endangered Species Chocolate — not only is their chocolate fairly traded, but they donate part of the proceeds of each product to relief efforts for endangered species around the world.  Each bar that you buy has a picture of an endangered animal on the outside of the wrapper, and on the inside there is a brief overview of the animal, how it became endangered, and what it means for the chocolate to be fair trade.

My sister Kaleigh has always been a huge inspiration for me in my fair trade endeavors.  Probably because she is much more awesome than I am (who has bought fairly traded clothing?).  I remember the joint excitement the last time we were in Portugal together when we stumbled across this sign:

Gelado, anyone?

So fair trade is a big deal for me, and it’s a big deal for the world.  Due to the nature of international trade, we don’t always know where our products are coming from.  When we remain ignorant as to origins, we don’t have to deal with the truth of production (production which often includes slave labor).  A great video series to watch that talks about workforce exploitation is The Story of Stuff.

But the concept of fair trade is not new, not new at all.

Last week, I read The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina by Gerda Lerner.  Sarah and Angelina Grimké were famous abolitionists and women’s rights advocates in the first half of the nineteenth century.  And they went fair trade.  Of course, the language that they use for the same concept is different; they call it “free.”  But the label makes sense for their context — slavery was a legal institution, so “free” products were those produced without slave labor.  Today, something “free trade” would be a part of the free market (and generally the free market incites people to exploit other people).

Sarah and Angelina Grimké

So Sarah and Angelina, as well as Angelina’s beau and eventual spouse Theodore Weld all converted to free-grown products.  Even when the initiative proved to be difficult and most of the other abolitionists abandoned it, the Grimké sisters and Theodore stuck to it.  At Theo and Nina’s wedding (because they are close, personal friends and I can call them Theo and Nina), everything that they wore and ate was free-grown.  Where they got the sugar for the cake, I don’t know.

The end of institutionalized slavery in the United States was a major accomplishment for human rights, but only the beginning of a struggle that in its various shades and nuances have come to define the modern world.