A New Direction for the Spring

Welcome back, my history loving companions!  Last fall, with the help of amazing textbooks and my wonderful professor, Bethany Johnson, I took you on a blast through women in American history.  It was awesome!  I had so much fun, as I hope you did!

This semester, guided by one Dr. Amy Davis Abdallah, I will be continuing to explore women in history with a class called Women in Christian Tradition.  Starting this week, I’ll be taking you back even further through time to explore how women have been involved in one of the largest religions in the world.

Posts are going to include overviews of time periods and highlights on some amazing women, plus I might try to make some connections to the modern day church or society.

Keep checking back for more!  Updates will start coming soon!

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Voting Image: Did we judge our candidates on their date-ability?

Last month, President Barack Obama was reelected to a second term in the White House.  Why?  Because more women vote than men, and a majority of women voted for Obama.  Why did women lean Democratic in this past election?  I don’t have all of those answers, as each vote is an individual act of preference, but in general, the Republican party this past election cycle has portrayed itself as particularly antagonistic toward women.  However, according to some evolutionary psychology nonsense, Mitt Romney should have won the women’s vote.

In a Yahoo! News article from Election Day, Liz Goodwin identifies three myths about women voters.  The third myth, “women vote like they date,” references the idea that women are going to vote for a president that would make a more attractive mate, thus Romney should be the logical choice.  He is the epitome of the white male provider, with five sons and wealth and a beautiful wife.  He has privilege, he has power, and he comes from the dominant racial group.  Women should be attracted to Romney and his image, therefore they should vote for him.

Mittens and his brood

Mittens and his brood

 

In light of my previous post about The Beauty Myth, this attitude shows the impact of Beauty Myth culture on men in the United States.  The myth goes that women vote like they date, and they date based on image.  The image that Romney presented — successful both financially and reproductively — should have been enough to sway women voters away from Obama.

Of course, women don’t actually vote based on how they would date, and how they would date doesn’t necessarily infer that they would choose Mitt Romney.  The women’s vote went to Obama.  But could image still be at play in this vote?  Here’s a photo of both of them:

mittensandbarack

Is one man more attractive than the other?  Can we make such a judgment?  Barack Obama is taller than Mitt Romney, but conversely, Mitt Romney has more hair.  Did Barack Obama’s image as a father of daughters supercede that of Romney as a father of sons?  Either way, I think this is open to interpretation.  Did Mitt Romney lose the 2012 election because of his image?  Did Barack Obama win because of his?  Are their images more appealing to one sex than to another?  These questions always makes me think about Fahrenheit 451, in which the characters discuss the candidates entirely based on their looks and appearance.  That book ends in war.

So what do you think about the images presented by these two men and the election?

 

Depressing and Riveting Emergencies

During the 1930s and 1940s, two different emergencies drastically altered women’s roles in the United States.  The first emergency, The Great Depression, urged women out of the workforce and into the home (despite the number of employed women rising).  The second emergency, World War II, spent four years pushing women into the workforce to fill the void left by male soldiers.

The Great Depression was an economic emergency that effectively ended the flapper culture of the 1920s (I missed a decade due to Sandy, sorry!).  Whereas in the ’20s, both men and women experienced a loosening of sexual mores and personal liberation, the stock market crash of 1929 sent the nation into a tight fiscal crisis.  People of both genders lost jobs.  And the message to women, in general, directed them to stay at home so that men could have a better chance at getting a job.  Men, as the breadwinners, needed their jobs to support their families, but women who worked for “pin money” ought to leave the salaries for men (of course, the “pin money” worker was a largely inaccurate stereotype).  The working woman was not respected by society at large because she was taking the labor that belonged to men.

Let my Daddy work!

 

Of course, women who worked during the Great Depression were not likely to be after economic independence and purchasing power.  They, like men who worked, were supporting their families, and women entered the work force at twice the rate of men.  Women did a wide variety of work throughout the Depression, including hosting boarders who could no longer afford to live on their own.  Women’s wages increased to 63% of men’s wages, even though the number of women in the workforce grew (usually the two were inversely related).  Due to the segregation of labor that had already existed, many women were able to stay in the workforce because men did not want to do “women’s work.”  So even though public opinion was against women workers, the Great Depression actually spurred more women into the workforce.

Famous migrant mother photo by Dorothea Lange

The only way to really break the Great Depression was to get involved in a World War.  And women, Uncle Sam needed you to fill the positions left vacant by young soldiers.  Check out this propaganda video scripted by Eleanor Roosevelt and narrated by Katharine Hepburn:

The natural skills of the homemaker, like sewing, can translate easily to industrial work, and since the lives of men depend on it, women are necessary for the war effort.  I particularly enjoyed the part about parachute production about five minutes into the video above; of course women are better at making a silk parachute!  They have those nimble lady-fingers, after all!

Sarcasm aside, the campaign to get women working during WWII used fierce amounts of propaganda.  If you weren’t working, as a woman, then you were not doing your patriotic duty. The labor of women became essential in making sure that the men overseas were well-equipped and protected.  This new breed of working women was championed by Rosie the Riveter.

Traditional Rosie poster

Another Rosie design

For a few short years, being a working woman was at the top of public opinion.  However, as soon as the war ended, women were expected to pack up and go home.  Those jobs that women had adopted naturally belonged to men.  Propaganda ads began telling women to quit their jobs and return home, when just a few years before, they had been urging women into the workforce.  Women were fired by droves in order to make way for male workers.  Rosie the Riveter and her sisters at work were pushed into memory.

Both of these two emergencies show one consistent theme.  When men leave the workplace, either through economic downturn or wartime soldiering, women quickly fill the gap.  But when men return to the work force, women are once again pushed out.

“Can women have it all?” And other bull**** questions: My trip to the Connecticut Forum

Earlier this month, I had the amazing opportunity to travel with my professor Bethany Johnson to Hartford, Connecticut, to attend The Connecticut Forum’s panel discussion titled The State of Women 2012.  Wow.  What a trip.  Here’s a couple of clips to get you started:

Clip #1 features Connie Schultz and Gloria Steinem talking about the question “Can women have it all?”

Clip #2 features Ashley Judd and Michelle Bernard discussing why it is important to talk about women.

Clip #3 features Gloria Steinem and Connie Schultz talking about team sports and women’s bodies.

As you can see, the four panelists at the Connecticut Forum (Michelle Bernard, Ashley Judd, Connie Schultz and Gloria Steinem) have a lot of brilliant things to say about women.  There are a couple more clips from the conference on Youtube — check them out.

Getting to this conference was an experience itself.  Prof. Johnson found out about it in mid September, and I had to decide within the next few days if I could go.  Three questions: how much did it cost, how would I get there, how would I get home?  Thankfully, Prof. Johnson arranged for the cost of my ticket to be covered, and I managed to find a ride with a friend halfway there, where I met up with Prof. Johnson and she drove the rest of the way.    I spent the rest of the weekend relaxing at my friend’s house in Woodbridge.  The whole weekend was fantastic.

But this trip to the CT Forum was the decided highlight of the weekend.  I’m (un)lucky enough to have no experience with Gloria Steinem’s work, and I made the choice to do no googling before the event.  I knew her name and not much more.  I wanted to be surprised/impressed/untainted.  I wanted some first hand experience before reading the Wikipedia article about her.  I still haven’t read the Wikipedia page, but I do know what I am reading over summer this year, and it will include a lot of Gloria Steinem.  (By the way, I think it is heinous that women in my generation don’t know who Gloria Steinem is, myself included.)

So, still knowing minimal about Steinem, I am seriously and thoroughly impressed/awed by her at the CT Forum.  How to describe her?  Words that came to mind during the event included grace, beautiful, wisdom, magical.  I have met very few people as astute or as knowledgeable as Gloria Steinem on the stage.  She was more impressive than Bill Clinton when I saw him four years ago speaking in support of Obama at Penn State, and President Clinton has a reputation for being a fantastic speech-maker (which he is).  Gloria Steinem ruled the night.

But let’s not cut the other panelists short; they were all fantastic.  Michelle Bernard, the sometimes-conservative and the only panelist of an ethnic minority, was loud and boisterous, thoroughly engaging.  She was hilarious, as was Connie Schultz.  Schultz dominated the personal anecdote, telling stories about teasing Rush Limbaugh, naming cabbage patch dolls “Gloria Steinem” and getting phone calls from reporters asking how she knew her husband.  Ashley Judd added a beautiful layer of poise and dignity, referring to “the candidate of my choice” and “the god of my understanding,” instead of openly endorsing a politician or religion (this level and type of tact impressed me).

Even if the topic of the panel had been something completely different, something that I am only marginally interested in (like the zombie apocalypse panel I attended last November at Philcon), I would have had a good time at the Connecticut Forum.  Luckily for me, the topic was the state of women, which is something that (as a woman) I am highly interested in.  But being at the panel felt like a breath of fresh air to me.  Don’t get me wrong — I love attending a Christian college.  The socio-political atmosphere and student religious culture, however, make it ridiculously difficult for me to express myself as a woman and as a feminist.  NOTE:  This isn’t on the college.  This is on the student culture.  For the most part, I think that Nyack College is fairly decent in its acceptance and support of female professionals and women in academia (for the most part).  I’ve talked about it with some professors and the Dean of Students.  Nyack is a great place to work (it even won an award for it or something).  But student culture is pretty darn oppressive.  This is a “ring-by-spring,” MRS degree institution, and although Liberty University is over ten times the size of Nyack College, Nyack’s student culture is very similar to that depicted by Kevin Roose in The Unlikely Disciple.  So you can imagine that being an outspoken liberal feminist is difficult on this campus.  Being at the Connecticut Forum was like a validating breath of fresh air.  There are people in the world who think like me?  There are people in the world who see the ways that women are being mistreated in our society?  I’m not alone?

One of the things that I remember the panelists talking about is the attitude that feminism isn’t needed anymore when it most definitely is.  Women’s rights, I have been (accurately) told, are really human rights.  And that’s the attitude that I’m coming up against pretty regularly.  It makes me think of the 1920s.  Suffrage finally happens, but the women’s movement shrinks.  When NAWSA becomes the League of Women Voters after the 19th amendment, is membership goes down to 10% of what it had been.  The next generation of women stopped caring or something.  Feminism lulled.  It lulled again in the 1980s.  It’s lulling again now.  It’s uncool to be a feminist.

More than anything, The State of Women 2012 panel felt like an inauguration.  I felt like I was taking on the mantle of great women who have come before me, like I was becoming a part of something bigger and greater than myself.  I felt like I was being inducted into the proud ranks of a beautiful and ancient society structured on the principle that all people deserve fair treatment as people, regardless of sex, race, sexuality, economic class, et. al.  The whole event had the flavor of a ceremony or rite of passage.  It was wonderful, and I am so glad to have gone.

Dear Women, Please Vote This Year

Last night, I attended a panel discussion on campus featuring four prominent professors and moderated by the provost on a few of the important issues in this year’s election (healthcare, the economy, morality in leadership).  The discussion itself was fun, and it was interesting to see gender and race divides so clearly (the two white male professors in almost constant opposition to the two minority female professors), but the overwhelming consensus between them was the importance of a voting decision.  Dr. Carol Awasu from Nyack College’s social work program encouraged audience members to vote.  If you are a woman, if you are a minority, if you don’t own property, she reminded the audience, you did not always have the right to vote, and so you should vote.  Vote, because people have died to secure the right for you.

Especially in this election, which is the most gender-divided election in recent history, everyone who is able to vote should be voting.  We owe it to our predecessors — to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to Susan B. Anthony, to Alice Paul — to vote.  I almost don’t care who you vote for, so long as you vote (of course, I want people to vote my way, but I’d rather a fair exercise of free will than a bunch of people voting against conscience).

Susan B. Anthony

I think that’s what those wonderful suffragists would want to see: a fair exercise of free will.  That’s what they were after in pursuing equal suffrage.  As for how they would vote if they were alive today — I feel like my fair guess would be for Obama, and here’s why:

1) Party Allegiance would be inverted, and thus they would vote on principles as opposed to party.  After the Civil War, women’s suffrage split into two different camps, one aligning itself with the liberal Republicans and the other working to garner support from the more conservative Democrats.  Lucy Stone stuck with the Republican party, and those who followed suit worked to tie female suffrage with freedman (those who had until recently been slaves) suffrage, but when that move proved to be unsuccessful, they willingly took a back-burner position to freedman suffrage.  Now that women have the vote, a Republican suffragist from the mid-nineteenth century would likely choose to vote for Obama because of his egalitarian appeal and his insistence that female policymakers are necessary for appropriate lawmaking.  Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, frustrated by the sexism in the Republican party, broke off from their abolitionist roots and pursued a women’s rights platform through the Democratic party.  The Democrats, for the most part, were uninterested, but Stanton and Anthony persisted in their hunt for political equality in more than just the vote.  Fair pay, property ownership and child custody were also a part of their branch of the suffrage movement.  Stanton and Anthony would be drawn to Obama because of the Democratic Platform’s position on women.  All of these women would also be horrified by comments about rape that have come out of the Republican party during this election cycle (I’m looking at you, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock).  Don’t worry, women; Obama doesn’t understand their comments, either.

Lucy Stone

2) The restriction of voting rights that this election cycle has seen are abhorrent and being repudiated by the Democratic party.  In case you’ve missed it, several state governments have either successfully or unsuccessfully been implementing new voter registration laws that require voters to have excessive and unnecessary amounts of identification in order to vote.  My home state of Pennsylvania is also guilty in this; I chose to register here in New York instead.  If Alice Paul were alive today, you can bet that she would be vocally opposing this from all sides, and as such, she would align herself with today’s Democratic party.  Voting rights are an important part of the Democratic position, and the legislators who are creating the new voter id laws have largely been Republican.  Think I’m inflating things?  Check out this surprisingly astute Sarah Silverman video on voter id laws (my apologies for the profanity, if you find profanity an issue):

3) Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; Republicans voted almost unanimously against it.  Look at the vote results from the Senate on the 2009 act.  Of the 61 senators that voted in favor of Lily Ledbetter, only two of them were Republicans; however, of the 36 senators that voted against it, all of them were Republicans.  On top of that, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney did not support the Lily Ledbetter Act in 2009 and he would not have signed it.  Would Romney overturn it if he reaches office?  He says not, but early suffragists Anthony and Stanton would still be casting their vote with Obama because of this law.  Though Anthony’s faction of suffrage did grow toward favoring the white middle class, she made a few concerted efforts to mobilize working class women to demand suffrage and fair pay.  Toward the beginning of the film Iron Jawed Angels, the characters of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns advertise for suffrage amongst working class women, recruiting Ruza Wenclawska.  Wenclawska, a Polish immigrant who changed her name to Rose Winslow, began working as a mill girl at age eleven.  She would be voting for Obama.

Ruza Wenclawska, aka Rose Winslow

Ultimately, I think these women would encourage anyone on the fence about voting for either candidate to vote, no matter what.  But they would probably be voting for Barack Obama.

Iron Jawed Angels’ Missing Details

WARNING:  Here be spoilers and a reference list at the end!

HBO’s 2004 TV movie Iron Jawed Angels follows the life of Alice Paul in the last eight years of the American campaign for women’s suffrage.  Although the sequence of events in Iron Jawed Angels is largely accurate thanks to the aid of Vanderbilt University’s Marjorie Spruill, it still contains some glaring gaps and inaccuracies (Owens 2004).  In the film, for example, Woodrow Wilson is portrayed as antipathetic but indifferent.  However, Wilson was far from indifferent on the topic of suffrage; he was staunchly against it and only caved to political pressure from the American Women’s Party.  Alice Paul, portrayed by Hilary Swank, is charged with a level of sex appeal that seems to come from Hollywood rather than history.  And the film’s treatment of race is almost nonexistent.

Woodrow Wilson in the film is much more sympathetic than the real Wilson was.  In the early stages of the picket, Wilson did tip his hat to the picketers as portrayed in the film.  He even once invited the picketers into the White House on a cold day.  However, either he or his administration played a much larger role in containing the women’s movement.  Wilson and his administration have been linked to several different abuses of power, including the false arrests depicted in the film, political censorship of the press and using the Secret Service to maintain surveillance on suffragist sympathizers (Graham 1983).

The real suffragists

Woodrow Wilson said that.

The Wilson administration worked to keep news of the mob riots against picketers out of print.  The riots, which were consistently on the front page of national newspapers, created huge amounts of negative press for the presidency and the Democratic party.  The president’s administration and possibly the president himself contacted newspapers and news organizations including the Associated Press, encouraging the press to leave the riots uncovered.  Realizing that the sudden disappearance of picket news would cause more harm than good, papers were instructed to keep coverage as sparse as possible and no further front than the fourth page.  Iron Jawed Angels shows the difficulty that Paul had securing space in newspapers for editorials, but the attempts at censorship by the Wilson administration are never mentioned (Graham 1983).

The surveillance of Dudley Field Malone, Collector of the Port of New York and Wilson supporter, was one of the Wilson administration’s largest abuses of executive power.  Malone began to show support for the suffrage movement, and he was placed under surveillance for over a month.  This same Malone resigned from his position and charged to the president that the first wave of arrests were the result of careful planning on the part of the DC District Commissioner.  Within twenty-four hours of Malone’s meeting with the president, Wilson pardoned the prisoners (Graham 1983).  This first wave of arrests and the work of Dudley Malone is skipped in Iron Jawed Angels.

Alice Paul. In a hat.

Along with Wilson’s surreptitious actions, racial tensions are nearly ignored throughout Iron Jawed Angels.  At the start of the film, Alice Paul organizes a parade in DC for women’s suffrage.  During the organizational stage of the parade, we see an African American woman come to Paul’s headquarters and challenge Paul’s decision to segregate the parade based on race.  Paul explains that the decision was a concession to the Southern states, who would only march if the parade was segregated.  The woman informs Paul that she will march with her peers or not at all.  At the parade, the woman joins from the audience toward the front of the parade, causing Paul to smile.  In this exchange, the issue of race is glossed over and the African American woman is never named.  However, the character is Ida B. Wells—a famous suffragist and human rights activist (Roberson 2004).  The altercation between Wells and Paul happened, but the treatment of it in the film lacks the weight and merit it deserves because Wells is not named, nor is her work referenced.  In this moment, Iron Jawed Angels fails to illuminate the race dynamic present in the suffrage movement.

Hilary Swank as Alice Paul. In a hat.

Iron Jawed Angels does a brilliant job of connecting the suffragists with modern women.  However, the penalty for this is a character development flaw in Alice Paul.  Alice Paul was a Hicksite Quaker (Alice Paul Biography 2012).  Paul, as portrayed by Swank, constantly goes against Quaker traditions, though the film twice brings up Paul’s Quaker religion.  Paul’s outfits in the film contradict acceptable Quaker attire.  In one scene of intercut footage, Paul learns to dance and masturbates in a bath tub.  Though Hicksite Quakers were more liberal than Orthodox Quakers, it is unlikely that Alice Paul would have done either of these things out of religious convictions.  The Hicksite Quaker lifestyle is well-portrayed in Paul’s stay at home after the death of Inez Milholland, but for the majority of the film, Paul’s character does not stay consistent with her Quaker convictions.

Despite these larger inaccuracies and some minor flaws, Iron Jawed Angels is a strong film that sticks close to history.  Iron Jawed Angels has the opportunity to expose more people to the often ignored fight for universal suffrage in the United States, and thus can be a great tool for the advancement of women’s history.  The film must be taken with a grain of salt, but overall this portrayal of Alice Paul’s work is worthwhile and powerful.

 

References

Alice Paul Institute. “Alice Paul Biography.” Accessed October 3, 2012. http://alicepaul.org/alicepaul.htm.

Graham, Sally H. “Woodrow Wilson, Alice Paul, and the Woman Suffrage Movement.” Political Science Quarterly 98, no. 4 (1983): 665-679.

Owens, Ann Marie D. “Vanderbilt women’s history professor consultant for HBO’s Iron Jawed Angels.” Vanderbilt News (2004).

Roberson, Amaya N. “Iron Jawed Angels.” Off Our Backs 34, no. 3/4 (2004): 62-63.

Don’t: A Manual of Mistakes & Improprieties

About a week and a half ago, I discovered something wonderful at the Nyack Public Library’s annual book sale: Don’t: A Manual of Mistakes & Improprieties more or less prevalent in Conduct and Speech (UNMUTILATED and with the Additional Matter. The Only Authorised & Complete Edition).

My copy is roughly four inches square, 96 pages long

Don’t is a marvelous book.  It’s a 1998 facsimile reproduction of an actual manners book first printed in the early 1880’s.  This being the British edition, it comes with the Englishman’s introduction, which concludes that “as a guide to the usages of polite society, the educated English reader will learn nothing from its pages, but, reading between the lines, he will be much amused and astonished.”  I can’t help but feel like the educated English reader must have felt, because this book describes a society so very different from my own.  Take, for example, these following “Don’ts”

  • Don’t reject bits of bone, or other substances, by spitting them back into the plate.  Quietly eject them upon your fork, holding it to your lips, and then place them on the plate.  Fruit-stones may be removed by the fingers. (p. 18-19, in “At Table”)
  • Don’t wear apparel with decided colors or pronounced patterns.  Don’t — we address here the male reader — wear anything that is pretty.  What have men to do with pretty things?  Select quiet colors and unobtrusive patterns, and adopt no style of cutting that belittles the figure.  It is right enough that men’s apparel should be becoming, that it should be graceful, and that it should lend dignity to the figure; but it should never be ornamental, capricious, or pretty. (p. 29, in “In Dress and Personal Habits” emphasis theirs)
  • Don’t expectorate.  Men in good health do not need to expectorate; with them continual expectoration is simply the result of habit.  Men with bronchial or lung diseases are compelled to expectorate, but no one should discharge matter of the kind in public places except into vessels provided to receive it.  Spitting upon the floor anywhere is inexcusable.  One should not even spit upon the sidewalk, but go to the gutter for the purpose.  One must not spit into the fire-place nor upon the carpet, and hence the English rule is for him to spit in his handkerchief — but this is not a pleasant alternative.  On some occasions no other may offer (p. 33, in “In Dress and Personal Habits”)
  • Don’t, if you are asked to play or sing, refuse unless you really intend not to perform.  To refuse, simply in order to lead your hostess on to repeated importunities, is an intolerable exhibition of vanity and caprice. (p. 42, in “In the Drawing Room”)
  • Don’t expectorate on the sidewalk.  Go to the curb-stone and discharge the saliva into the gutter.  Men who eject great streams of tobacco-juice on the sidewalk, or on the floors of public vehicles, ought to be driven out of civilized society. (p. 52, in “In Public”)
  • Don’t say female for woman.  A sow is a female; a mare is a female.  The female sex of the human kind is entitled to some distinctive term. (p. 66 in “In Speech” emphasis theirs)
  • Don’t use wrong adjectives.  There is perhaps no adjective so misused as elegant.  Don’t say “an elegant morning,” or an “elegant piece of beef,” or “an elegant scene,” or “an elegant picture.”  This word has been so vulgarized by misuse that it is better not to use it at all. (p. 67, in “In Speech” emphasis theirs)
  • Don’t conduct correspondence on postal-cards. A brief business message on a postal-card is not out of the way, but a private communication on an open card is almost insulting to your correspondent.  It is questionable whether a note on a postal-card is entitled to the courtesy of a response. (p. 80, in “In General”)
  • Don’t forget that no face can be lovely when exposed to the full glare of the sun.  A bonnet should be so constructed as to cast the features partially in shade, for the delicate half-shadows that play in the eyes and come and go on the cheek give to woman’s beauty one of its greatest charms.  When fashion thrusts the bonnet on the back of the head, defy it; when it orders the bonnet to be perched on the nose, refuse to be a victim of its tyranny. (p. 90 in “Affectionately Addressed to Womankind”)
  • Don’t wear diamonds in the morning, or to any extent except upon dress occasions.  Don’t wear too many trinkets of any kind. (p. 91, in “Affectionately Addressed to Womankind”)
  • Don’t doubt the compiler’s admiration for woman.  Very few, indeed, are the social shortcomings of women compared with those of men, but the few injunctions here set down may not be unprofitable, and are given with entire respect and good-will. (p. 96 in “Affectionately Addressed to Womankind”)

So, with those rules now clearly explained, I can begin my life in high society, so long as it is neither elegant nor bedecked in diamonds before noon.

At the halfway point in the semester, and still in the borderland decades of the turn of the century, finding Don’t made me stop and consider everything I’ve learned up to this point in Women in American History.  And importantly, how it effects my life today.  Most noticeably, some of my friends would point out my inability to keep from yelling while reading some of my textbooks (“Whaaat??? No way was that happening.  No way.  You have to read this).  Because I’m a Christian (yay for evangelical protestantism!) living in contemporary New York state (and sometimes PA), I’m seeing questions of women in the church through the roles established in the Jacksonian period as opposed to the early church.  In fact, I’m taking a class this semester called Male and Female in Biblical Perspective, and it is a wonderful class, but because I am learning women’s history, I can see the fallacy of so many of the writers that we read for the theology course.  I can see that the theological debate has become using Biblical text to either defend or debunk Jacksonian/Victorian gender role assignments — not Biblical manhood and womanhood.  I’m also seeing a lot more in how advertising is exploitative (and not just of women!).  Advertising uses sexual gratification to enforce traditional gender roles and to enforce racial hierarchy.

One thing that I didn’t expect to happen as I learned about women’s history was the social backlash on this conservative campus.  I have considered myself a feminist for years, but now that I am actively pursuing an education in women’s studies (a program which does not exist at Nyack College, yet I am minoring in it unofficially) and have learned some tools to help me understand women in our current society, I’ve been getting a little bit heckled.  It’s calmed down in the past couple of weeks, but I’ve been accused of being a man-hater, labeled a “raging feminist” (a term that I, personally, hate), and had my sexual orientation questioned.  My question for Nyack College:  Women’s studies and gender studies programs are nothing new.  They have existed for decades.  Why, then, is pursuing this education deemed socially and sexually deviant in our allegedly Christian culture?  In my opinion, as both a Christian and a feminist, the church should be at the forefront of women’s equality.  Aren’t our souls supposed to burn out against injustice?  Why, then, do we sit around complaining about women speaking in church when there is forced child prostitution in the world?  Women’s rights are human rights, and that’s what Jesus was all about when he was hanging out in Galilee.

As absurd as some of the rules in Don’t may seem 130 years later, our society’s vision of gender role divisions hasn’t changed much, especially within the Protestant church.  My question for you, readers (and for myself), is how do we re-invision the church to build a more humane and just society that empowers both women and men to reach their full potential and complete human beings?  How can we use the message of the Bible (which, when all is considered through cultural lenses and translations faults and the Law of Consistent Witness, is highly empowering toward women and, dare I say it? feminist in nature) to break down the long-reaching grasp of the Victorian Cult of True Womanhood on American (and even global) society?

I’d like to modernize the Don’t book for 2012/2013.  But among such “don’ts” as Don’t write private messages on someone’s public Facebook wall, or Don’t stick chewing gum on the underside of tables and desks, I’d like my final admonition to be something like: Don’t doubt the sincere importance for valuing one another’s humanity, regardless of societal divides like race and gender.  Those are social constructs, not law, and we ought to be better than that (you silly people).