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Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of

A little less than 4 weeks ago, I had my second child, a daughter. I am over the moon to have her, of course (although all the comments about how wonderful a “pigeon pair” is or how I “can stop now” got old fast and made me extremely defensive of the imaginary little boy she might have been) and yes, I confess I have already been shopping for dresses and added butterflies to her bedroom wall. But she’s less than a month old, not expressing preferences for what to wear or play with or do, and frankly until nappy change time she’s no different to a newborn boy. I want to keep it somewhat gender-neutral and treat her the same as our son, but at the same time, I’m afraid of the new set of challenges that I feel like she’ll face that he won’t. Somehow we now live in a world where right from birth, raising a child means picking a side in any number of gender debates, navigating a whole politics of parenting, and trying to get the adults around you to be a part of that.

It starts with names. Now, I could write a separate blog post about names, because I’m one of those people who has a whole rule list about naming children and really wouldn’t object if it was enforced on others somehow. But rather than get in to the whole list, I’ll stick to talking girls and boys: I like gendered names. I like my girl’s names on girls and I like my boy’s names to stay on boys. I don’t object to androgynous names per se, I wouldn’t see them banned or anything.  I object to how they never started out androgynous and they very rarely stay androgynous. In 1915, a baby called Quinn was 99.9% likely to be a boy; in 2010 it was 51% girls – pretty much the definition of a unisex name. But just two years later in 2012 86% of little Quinns were female (I think Glee had a part to play in all of this). That’s an extremely quick evolution, but this list shows just how many names that were considered “unisex” at some point are now firmly in the girl’s camp (when was the last time you met a male Allison?). And it’s pretty rare for it to go the other way, although boy-unisex-boy again does happen occasionally. So, what bothers me about people who call their daughters Ryan or Maxwell is that they’re rarely calling their sons Abigail or Lucy. They want a “strong” name for their little girl, they want her resume to make it to the interview pile, and they know that giving their son a “girly” name is likely to have him embarrassed or beaten up a lot at school. And now the boy’s list is getting shorter and consequently a lot of classic boys names seem boring and overused. So I stuck to a feminine name for my little girl, one that historically began as a girl’s name and stayed that way. The plus side about this issue in the “to gender or not to gender” question is that there’s only two people who have to agree. Announce the name at birth and 99% of people will go ahead and call the kid your chosen name.

So then the baby is born and named, and now the issue is clothes. Because let’s face it, all a newborn does is eat, sleep and poop, so there’s nothing much to do except feed them, dress them (frequently, if they’re a spewer or a poonami baby) and then look at them or show them off to your friends. In the early days, a lot of time is spent focusing on what the kid looks like and everybody who likes shopping loves shopping for tiny baby clothes. I was never much of a “girly” girl, and so I always thought I would get stuck if I had a daughter who was. I don’t know what I’m going to do when she’s a preschooler and wants to paint her nails, because I don’t own a single bottle of nail varnish. When she’s old enough to tell me what she wants to wear, it might be tutus and sparkly tops, dresses and frills, in which case I guess that’s what we’ll buy. But I always wanted to avoid that stuff in the early years. Then I noticed the pink invasion. Pink would be fine if it was treated the same as blue is for boys – if it was one, albeit gendered, option. We were given blue clothes when our son was born. We were also given clothes in green, red, brown, black, white. We were given obvious “boy’s clothes”, collared shirts or outfits with trucks on them, things proclaiming how great Dad is and all that. They weren’t all blue. In fact, looking at his wardrobe now, less than a third of it is blue, and I never made a conscious effort to avoid it. Pink is a different story. My dislike for pink grew from pink toys (we’ll get to that) and was a little like going out for dinner with single friends on Valentine’s Day – a protest to something much more than a genuine desire to spend a fortune on restaurant food. I don’t actually hate the colour pink and I think some pink clothes can be delicate and beautiful, but I wanted the same variety that my son got and I was indignant that the shops would not offer it to me. I objected passionately to this one facet of gendering (pink), while going along with others (dresses etc) and I appeared completely irrational as a result. I found myself declaring that if we ever had a daughter, our house would be a pink-free zone. Ha. Well, I’m yet to personally purchase anything pink for her, sure. I’ve gone out of my way to find blue and white and red dresses, picked up a few Minnie Mouse bargains or navy clothes with hearts on them, and of course utilised the wardrobe full of clothes we still had from our first baby. But if you have people who love you and want to celebrate with you, and those people buy gifts, and you’re not a horrible person who throws out the generous gestures of people you care about, your house will not be a pink-free zone. 100% of people who gave us a present bought something pink. Marketing won this round.

The next battle that I’m gearing up to fight is the one that started the anti-pink sentiment in the first place, and the one that leaves me most confused, anxious and envious of all-boy mums. Toys. Now, I’ve always been against the idea of limiting what children can or “should” play with based on what’s between their legs. I’m a fan of this info graphic:

 boys girls toys

So I’ll preface this by saying that I’m not talking about withholding dolls from my daughter or anything like that (my son has two, so that’d be hard to do anyway). I always thought the idea of “girl” toys and “boy” toys was a bit silly, because I have plenty of memories of my brother’s teddy bears sitting alongside my cabbage patch kid while we played mums and dads or schools or whatever. And I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with a girl who picks the fairy wings over the fireman’s hat in her dress-up box. No, what bothers me is this:

 

Toys that were never traditionally considered “boy” toys in the first place are now being made in a “girl” version. Sure, chuck some pink and purple blocks in the mixed box of Lego, add some variety and appeal to the kids for whom pink is a favourite colour, great idea – oh wait, if I want the pink ones I need to buy a whole different set? This is marketing ordinary, creative toys, often toys designed for preschoolers and toddlers, in such a way as to exclude boys and simultaneously imply that girls shouldn’t play with the non-pink version.  When I was a kid, it’s not like all us girls were running around going “oh, I’d love to play with that if only there was a girl version”. This stuff wasn’t created to meet a need in the market, it was created to make a need, so that parents like me who already have a red cozy coupe for our son might feel the need to buy another for our daughter. And it makes me oh so angry, that businesses want my child to feel different, to be limited, to turn “pretty” and “feminine” into words that decide whether something is acceptable for her or not, so that they can make more money from her.

So I’m hurtling along, flying toward the anti-gendering, feminist angry non-consumer and then I hit… This piece about a new “average proportion” barbie-style doll. Oh Barbie. How you have become the focus of all our body image problems.  I’m thinking “oh yes, I’ll be avoiding Barbies at all costs. Even worse are those Bratz dolls. Not a role model I want for my child.” But I don’t really know anyone who aspired to look like Barbie in the first place. Have her wardrobe, perhaps. Barbie is a fashion doll, her figure was designed so that all the clothes she wore would have shape to them despite folds or seams or elastic waists, not so that she’d look realistic naked. But should we be encouraging fashion dolls in the first place, if they start making young girls obsess about clothing and slim figures? But really, dressing and undressing gets boring after a while, what games do kids play with Barbie anyhow? I know women who have fond memories of Car Crash Barbie, Earthquake Barbie, Ghost Hunter Barbie, Serial Killer Ken, and of course, Lesbian Sex Barbie. But can’t they do that with a different doll, what do they need Barbies for? And on it goes. You can overthink it all until you go crazy. Don’t get me started on Disney. There’s the Big Corporation taking advantage of little girls, the Pink and Sparkly obsession, the 1950s gender roles; they are perhaps the biggest offender of my Girl Toy problems. And then there’s my own absolute love of Disney movies. Am I a sell-out if Bambi pyjamas are ok but pink Lego isn’t?

What ever happened to toys just being toys?

So that’s it. My 4 week insight into what it’s like to have a daughter: exhausting. But she’s asleep beside me as I’m typing this and I realise that the reason I care about all of this, the reason I’ll keep overthinking it and not just give in to whatever is easiest, is that she’s perfect. She’s worth being exhausted for.

The Great Gun Debate and why Aussies are not Yanks

Recently The Daily Show in America aired a 3-part segment comparing Australia’s gun laws under John Howard to the situation in the US, where it is difficult to pass any kind of strict firearm legislation. The argument was that it worked for us – no mass shootings in the 17 years since the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) – so why were so many Americans saying that gun control doesn’t work? It’s not an uncommon argument, and certainly in Australia it’s pulled out every time we hear news of another mass shooting in the US.

I don’t like guns, I have no desire to own a gun, and the prevalence of guns is one of the reasons I would not want to live in America. However, I do find the politics of it all very interesting, and I think there are a few important facts that tend to be conveniently left out:

  1. It is illegal to own, use and possess a handgun in Australia without a licence to do so and has been the case long before John Howard and his National Firearms Agreement of 1996.
  2. The perpetrator of the Port Arthur massacre (the catalyst for the NFA) bought his firearms without holding the relevant licence, making his purchase illegal even without the new laws.
  3. New Zealand, which did not enact similar gun laws, has also had no mass shootings since 1997 and had prior shootings at a similar rate to Australia.
  4. In Australia, gun laws usually gain the support of both major parties before they are passed. This was certainly true of the NFA, which was passed by a conservative government.
  5. Wikipedia tells me that up to 85% of the Australian public supported the proposed legislation before it passed. The remaining 15% certainly had a loud voice and represented a reasonably large portion of the Liberal Party voters (our conservative party, just to confuse any international readers), but support for gun control was far more unified than The Daily Show would have us believe.

Why am I writing this, when I’m anti-gun myself? Because Australians need to stop being so smug about our gun laws whenever there’s a tragedy across the ocean. Because if Americans are going to point to us to further their political agenda, they need to be fully informed about us. And because there are more important differences between our two countries that we should be thinking about in this debate.

Here is the real difference between Australia and America:

  • I don’t have many memories before Port Arthur, but as far as I can recall I had never seen a gun anywhere other than on TV or holstered in a police officer’s belt. In speaking to other Aussies who think our gun control is too strict, the complaints come from farmers, hunters and target shooters. The idea of guns in suburbia for self-defence is foreign to us.
  • I’ll amend that. The idea of gun ownership for self-defence is foreign to us, regardless of whether you live in an urban or rural environment.
  • About 5 years after Captain Cook set foot on Australian soil, America was in a civil war. The Bill of Rights was ratified the same year as our Third Fleet of convicts was pulling in. There is more than a century of history and cultural change between America’s 2nd Amendment and Australia becoming a Federation, meaning the American idea of a “right” to guns was firmly embedded over there before we’d had much of a chance to think of national politics at all.
  • After almost another century of cultural change, Australians voted on whether to become a republic or not. This was done silently and peacefully with every Australian adult (regardless of race, gender, physical strength or ability to aim) having equal say. The British monarchy and their representatives had already indicated that they would allow it if that’s what we wanted. At no point during the process did we need to reach for guns to throw off our oppressors, crying “death or freedom”.
  • We voted no.
  • Presidential vs parliamentary systems of democracy. I tried to get in to a little research to summarise what I’m trying to say here, but there is a very complex web of information and opinion about the two systems that would take weeks to explain. Needless to say, they’re not the same, and they have a significant impact on how people view a) the potential for government breakdown, b) individualism and c) politics as a whole.
  • The vast majority of Australians, regardless of their political leanings, do not object to mandatory breath tests when pulled over by police. We actually have random breath tests for no reason other than you happened to be driving along that particular stretch of road. We don’t really complain about this. There is, amongst sections of the American population, a sense that personal freedoms are the be all and end all, that independence includes being independent of the needs (although not the rights) of others. Aussies mistake this as selfishness, but it’s not that cruel or simple. In addition to their own civil war history, a large proportion of America’s population migrated  to “the land of opportunity” from other places of oppression. The emphasis on personal freedom (including the freedom to own whatever guns you want) is, in my opinion, more like a kind of overcorrection or even an excessive form of patriotism.

To put it simply: the difference between Australia and America is not gun laws, but gun culture. At times, legal change influences cultural change (e.g. workplace safety standards). At other times, cultural change influences legal change (e.g. gay marriage). I don’t pretend to know what the best way forward is for Americans, but as an Australian I do think we need to stop smugly touting our gun laws as the answer to all of America’s problems. They did not drastically change our culture. They changed because of our culture.

A mini-musing about apologetics and faith

“It would be easier if You were just a thought in my head, simply something that I once read, a belief needing my defence.” – Tenth Avenue North

 

I love apologetics. I love expanding my knowledge and challenging my beliefs, finding answers and reassuring myself that I do not have “blind faith” (aka wilful ignorance), but faith that faces questioning head on. I love delving in to science, history and philosophy to find both the challenges and the answers. The trouble is, for every former-atheist who has had come to Christ through apologetics, there’s a former-Christian who has fallen away through doubt. If Richard Dawkins were to sit in a room with Josh McDowell for 3 days straight, I doubt either of them would have changed their mind at the end of it. Because faith is not an abstract concept. It’s not merely the absence of doubt. Faith is not an historical phenomenon, a social construct or an outdated scientific method of explaining things. Faith is not a series of answers to life’s big questions.

If I could ask Richard Dawkins just one question, it wouldn’t be about science. It wouldn’t even be about God. It would be this: “if you could convince just one person in the world, just one, to believe what you do, who would it be?” I want to know what his approach is to relationships, to community and to society. I want to know which kinds of people motivate him to try to change their views: is it someone he loves most, someone with the most influence, someone who hurt him (or others) badly in the name of religion? I don’t want to know about his theories or his evidence, I want to know about him.

You can say all you like about which parts of my husband’s brain fire up when he’s kissing me, what hormones are released into his bloodstream, the etymology of the phrase “I love you” and the social context that leads to marriages. Understanding the nitty gritty of a relationship doesn’t make it less beautiful – but nor does it somehow ‘prove’ the existence of that relationship to someone who isn’t living it. If anything, it might make them more cynical towards love and relationships as a whole.

Now this is not to diminish the importance of the field of apologetics. For me, I needed to tackle the doubts I had about God before I would be open to the story of Jesus. A few well-chosen books of apologetics helped me to get through those barriers and sent me on my way. But they weren’t what changed me or what made me “Christian”. I needed to understand what marriage was before I could enter in to the contract, but that understanding wasn’t what made me “married”.  My husband did that.

I appreciate knowing more about how the world works, how it came to exist as it does now, what influenced Hebrew laws and what psychological and chemical factors contribute to a person’s desire to be part of a religion. But those things don’t prove or disprove God.  Because faith is not a theory; it’s an experience. Faith is lived.

Is “pro-life feminist” an oxymoron?

I know this article is over a year old now, but the issue is still current and I wasn’t blogging when it was written. Anne Summers writes that it is not possible to be a pro-life feminist.

Now, I should preface all of this by saying that technically, I’m pro-choice. That is, from a political standpoint I believe that it is important that abortions be legally accessible, safe and affordable. Yet I am also about as pro-life sympathetic as a pro-choicer can get.  For me the compelling factor is that there are certain circumstances where I think a termination is warranted – if pregnancy and childbirth threatens the life of the mother or baby, for example, or if she is taking medication that cannot be taken while pregnant. So then we have to start adding caveats and loopholes. Doctors have differing opinions. We get into questions of rape. Of whether threatening the life of the mother includes a mother with severe ante-natal depression contemplating suicide. Whether threatening the life of the baby depends on its ability to survive without medical treatment, or its ability to survive with decades of intervention. Questions of which non-pregnancy-friendly medications are necessary and which aren’t. As someone who has never experienced those situations, who has not cried out to God for guidance about how to proceed and agonised about it night after night, I don’t believe that I am the right person to start making hard and fast rules about all of those possible circumstances. I don’t believe that a politician is the right person either. So I think that we have to trust women, and while morally I don’t necessarily agree with every circumstance in which a termination occurs, I do think that it needs to be the woman’s right to make her own moral decisions. She is, after all, the one who will be living with the consequences of her decision.

So, I’m pro-choice. However. I do believe that a foetus is a person. I do have sympathy for others who have reached different conclusions through different reasoning. I count myself a feminist, and even as a feminist I don’t have a significant issue with those who feel strongly about giving the unborn a chance to be born. What I do have a problem with is the pro-life movement.

The pro-life movement grows out of a very politically conservative, strongly religious branch of society. In America they’re known as the “Christian right” but believe me, they exist in other countries too. This is the same branch that wants to cut welfare programs, teach abstinence-only in schools, limit the freedoms of religions beside Christianity and reinforce “traditional gender roles”. Often, they’re also against contraceptives such as the birth control pill. These are the kinds of people who reduce the issue of abortion to “Most of them are killed simply because their birth causes someone inconvenience”* as if a shattering lifelong change to your future can be described as an “inconvenience”.  The result of this, of course, is that the pro-life movement is associated with things loosely termed “slut shaming”, whereby unwanted pregnancies are generally seen as the woman’s fault for being promiscuous. Hence, the enormous personal cost and social stigma of single parenthood is just a consequence of having sex outside of marriage.

I have seen many a pro-lifer struggle to disassociate themselves from that movement. There are plenty of more moderate Christians out there with a strong moral opposition to abortion, which they recognise as a complex issue. There are plenty of people of different religions, or no religion at all, who take a pro-life position without wanting to punish women.

This is what I think a pro-life feminist could look like:  She (or he) campaigns for free antenatal and postnatal care, including mental health care. She wants better support for single mothers, so that it doesn’t look like their life will be over. She wants more childcare places for women who want to finish study or need to work. She wants more accountability for fathers in terms of both financial concerns and custody – she thinks every other weekend doesn’t cut it when he was 50% responsible for the conception. She wants adoption to be a more viable option, including free or affordable counselling for all involved. She wants good, affordable, reliable and easily available contraceptives that are well-promoted and no stigma to use, to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. She wants sex education in schools. She wants children to grow up knowing that all kinds of family structures are valid and “normal”. In short, she wants abortion to be as unnecessary as it possibly can be.

These things are often associated with those who are pro-choice, because they are politically left-wing. But that doesn’t mean that such policies are in themselves pro-choice. The same policies can grow out of two different motivations (dissuading a woman from making a certain choice vs supporting them after the fact) and be held by people with two different ultimatums (if all this fails, termination is still an option vs this serves to soften the blow of making abortion illegal).

But according to Anne Summers, such a woman would not be a real feminist. She defines feminism in this way:

“Feminism might be blandly defined as the support for women’s political, economic and social equality, and a feminist as someone who advocates such equality, but these general principles need practical elaboration and application. What does economic equality actually mean? How can women in practice achieve social equality? As far as I am concerned, feminism boils down to one fundamental principle and that is women’s ability to be independent.

There are two fundamental preconditions to such independence: ability to support oneself financially and the right to control one’s fertility. To achieve the first, women need the education and training to be able to undertake work that pays well. To guarantee the second, women need safe and effective contraception and the back-up of safe and affordable abortion.”

I disagree with this definition. First, how did we get from equality to independence? Are all men always independent (or, as she goes on to say, always given the choice to be independent or dependent)? Are they independent of the needs of others, the rights of others, or the law? Someone who is pro-life takes the view that a woman is no more independent of her baby’s rights than a man is of his wife’s rights when he beats her. Equality and independence are not the same thing. Equality is about fairness, justice, each person being treated as just as valuable as the next. Where pro-lifers and pro-choicers differ is whether an unborn, not-completely-developed foetus unable to express coherent thought should be given equality too.

Secondly, if we accept “the right to control one’s fertility [through contraception and abortion]” as a precursor for independence, we walk on shaky ground when it comes to men’s fertility. A man has equal right to contraception, but he does not have equal right to the “back-up”. He can’t force an abortion on his partner, nor should he ever be able to. He loses the final measure to control his fertility when it impedes on another person’s right to bodily autonomy. Hence, according to Summers, he does not have the ability to be independent. Obviously, I have a lot more sympathy for the pregnant woman losing her independence to the government, than I do for the man losing his independence to the woman who will carry and birth the child and be equally (or considerably more) responsible for its upbringing. Nonetheless, if abortion is necessary for independence then it’s not only women who are failing to achieve independence.

Finally, I reject the notion that the ability to support oneself financially and the ability to control one’s fertility are the essence of feminism which had been prior defined as “support for women’s political, economic and social equality”. Political equality, for example, includes the right to vote, yet suffrage does not affect my ability to support myself financially or control my fertility (unless too many people vote coalition and Abbott becomes our PM…).

If someone is passionate about equal pay, having the right to apply for certain kinds of jobs or fight in combat positions, resisting sexual harassment, removing the victim-blaming crap that comes with rape culture etc, then they might identify with feminism, despite having a different perspective on the pro-life/pro-choice debate. I kind of see it like being a Labor party member while simultaneously opposing the Carbon tax. You haven’t taken the party line on that issue, but does that mean you can no longer identify yourself with a party that holds to many, many of your other political beliefs?

I think it is possible to be a pro-life feminist. It just so happens that I’m not one of them.

*Quoted from a comment made by Admin on the “policies” webpage of the Rise Up Australia Party.

Things I Should Have Said

I’m gutless. There, I put it out there. I’m a people-pleaser and I bite my tongue more than I should. Even now, I’m hiding behind a keyboard to say this way too late. But I’m telling you this because I don’t want to be gutless anymore, and I don’t want you to be gutless either. The world was never changed by people too afraid to try to change it.

I should be clear on what I’m talking about. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m gradually becoming that little bit more vocal about my faith, or if it’s because I’m spending time with different people, but I’m finding myself erroneously viewed as someone who might agree with racist, sexist or homophobic comments. There seems to be a perception that Christian = bigot. Or maybe it’s just straight, white, privileged person in a traditional marriage = bigot. And this perception isn’t coming from those who look down on me for my faith or lifestyle choices, quite the opposite. It’s coming from other straight, white, privileged people who want me to nod along when they feel like being offensive.

A woman at church recently implored me to travel in to the nation’s capital to attend our National Day of Prayer. She said that it was a big event, busloads of people go – “and they’ve all got slanty eyes or accents, but there are very few representatives of us white Australians”.

Here’s what I should have said:

“I realise you probably weren’t intentionally being racist, but I find that offensive. I object to the notion that I should attend a prayer day, not because I am Christian, but because I am a white Christian. God hears the prayers of those with a different ethnic background just as loud and with the same heart. I would be honoured to pray along with them.”

But I didn’t.

When critiquing a parenting “expert” with a different woman at church, she told me that if I was struggling with decisions about discipline and the like, I could talk to her about it because “I’ve got 5 God-loving children and I never dumped them in childcare or anything like that, we raised them all full-time”.

Here’s what I should have said:

“Thank you for the offer, but I do just want to flag that comment about childcare. I’m a stay at home mum to my son because I want to be and because I was blessed to be able to afford to be, not because I think there is anything inherently wrong about childcare. I would be just as inclined to turn towards a working mum for advice about parenting.”

But I didn’t.

Worst of all, a member of my own extended family has over several separate occasions made comments including a similar remark about childcare, objecting to my son having a toy doll, the use of slurs such as “chink” and “poofter”, and telling me that I needed to have more children to do my bit to populate the country with more white Australians. The best response I could muster to any of this to express my outrage was “Stop. Do not say that in front of me, in my car.”

Here’s what I should have said:

“I do not believe that I, a ‘white’ immigrant, have any more right to this country than the dozens of 2nd generation Asian-Australian women I went to school with who are intelligent and hard-working contributors to society. I find that word offensive. If you want my son to grow up respecting you at all, I’d suggest you keep those sorts of opinions to yourself, because I will be teaching him that it is wrong to value someone differently due to their race or sexuality. Your words are hurtful. Not just to me, but to your Muslim brother in law, your Asian 2nd-cousin and the lesbian family friend we had Christmas lunch with a couple of years ago. They can’t hear you speak them, but they are still hurt by them, every time you perpetuate the myth that I should look down on them. I don’t want to listen to this any more, but more importantly, I don’t want anyone to have to listen to this any more.”

But I didn’t.

Because I’m gutless.

I need to stop being gutless. I need to tell people when they’re speaking words of hate and intolerance. I need to set a better example to my son, because I don’t want him to stand by and watch when someone is being bullied, or worse. I don’t want to be a secret feminist or a secret egalitarian any more than I want to be a secret Christian.

If you’re gutless too, I am not writing this to make you feel guilty. I am writing this so that you understand that you’re not alone and you’re not a horrible person. But there is an opportunity to change. Change with me. Let’s find some guts.

Christianity and Patriarchy

Earlier today a friend of mine told me about a Christian radio show she had been listening to this morning. The show was discussing colleges (American) and suggested that parents should have a say in what college you attend as they have guided you this far and should help you to set up your life*. It then went on to suggest there was little point in getting a uni debt if you’re going to be a wife and stay at home mother.

Proverbs 31:26 (from the” wife of noble character”) She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

Proverbs 4:7-8 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you.

Ecclesiastes 7:11-12 Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun. Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: Wisdom preserves those who have it.

1 Timothy 2:11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. Putting aside all the feminist remarks that can start an argument about that verse, I’ll point out what was shattering to the culture of the day: it says a woman should be able to learn.

I want my children to value education, and I want to model that value to them. Right now, I’m a stay at home mum and if I’m blessed with more children I probably won’t be in paid employment for many more years yet. But in each of my degrees; in my Bachelor’s, my Diploma, my Master’s and the Certificate in Theology I’m 2 subjects from finishing, I have learnt something new that I think will help me to be a better parent. There are several reasons we wouldn’t homeschool, but even if we did, I like to believe that my actually having a teaching qualification and some understanding of educational psychology would be beneficial and reason enough to get a uni debt despite intending to be “just” a stay at home mum.

I take offense to the suggestions of that radio show. I take offense to the viewpoint that, as a Christian who has desired more strongly than anything else to be a godly mother and wife, those are the only dreams or goals I should have. More than that, I take offense to the deeper attitudes that these kinds of statements grow out of, and the particular social and political ideal they are promoting. There is a social structure here that has historical precedence, but not necessarily biblical precedence.

There is a difference between submitting to the authority of the husband, and being totally dependant on him.

There is a difference between believing that children are a blessing, and acting as though the care for this blessing is the only purpose of our lives.

There is a difference between valuing marriage, and ceasing to pursue our (non-sexual) passions or failing to utilise our God-given skills and gifts.

There is a difference between wanting to give your children a Christian education, and believing that it is not necessary or worthwhile to have more education yourself.

There is a difference between recognising different gender roles within the family, and thinking that there is never any overlap even in the pre-marital years.

There is a difference between being biblically conservative, and being politically conservative. You can be both, but please acknowledge that I am no less of a Christian for having different political views to you.

 

*By the way, I’m sure these people would be willing to make an exception to the “parents get a say” rule if they heard that my athiest parents would rather I studied philosophy than theology. And it’s not like my parents had done a bad job bringing me as far as university or helping me to set up my life with wisdom about money management and relationships.

How to not be a rapist

There’s been a lot of media and social-media talk lately about rape. There are the ridiculously offensive comments from men about “respectable” women, how women dress, who women are out with. These are usually followed by (warranted) intense outcry about victim-blaming and repeats of the should-be-obvious-by-now statement that nobody deserves to be raped. There are the reports of how to stay safe, how to prevent or fight off an attack, the importance of talking to the police. These are sometimes followed by the same victim-blaming outcries, but more commonly by nodding heads and “thanks for the advice”. There are the voices of reason talking about how most victims know their attacker and you should be more alert about the ‘nice’ men (and women) in your life than about taking your groceries to your car in broad daylight. This is an important voice to be heard, but again, everybody is talking to the potential victims. Even if it’s just to tell them that’s it’s not their fault, they’re still talking to the victims. Or they’re talking about punishing the perpetrators. Why aren’t we, the parents, teachers and citizens, talking about stopping people from becoming perpetrators in the first place?

On one of the online communities I’m a member of, another woman pointed out to me that:

Ask a man, ‘Would you rape a woman?’ and you don’t find many who’ll say yes. Ask him, “Would you have sex with a woman so drunk she could barely stand?” and you suddenly find what guys will admit to.

Which is why I have written this, the list of ten things I hope to teach my son when he is older, ten things that I hope will help him to respect women and to be a member of a society that works from every angle to prevent rape and sexual assault.

1. No means no.  It’s obvious, right? It’s the one we’ve all heard. Still, nothing wrong with getting back to basics. If they say no, that doesn’t mean “I’m playing hard to get” or “convince me”. That means no.

2. Give her** an opportunity to say yes. The absence of “no” does not equal “yes”. If a girl is too drunk to stand, she’s probably too drunk to clearly indicate to you that she doesn’t want you doing that. The night I lost my virginity, the words from my then-boyfriend’s mouth were “are you sure?” It’s a good line! Use it! Ask if she’s sure she wants to do it, because a) it gives her the chance to very clearly and definitively say yes or no and b) it shows her one more time that she’s making the choice to be with someone who respects her.

3. Hand stuff counts. It doesn’t matter if it’s a penis, a finger, a vagina or a mouth, there is no hierarchy of right and wrong here. It’s a violation of her body, it’s a sexual crime and it’s wrong. You want to do it, you need consent.

4. Refer to women by their names. If you don’t know their names, don’t talk about them. If you want to discuss my bum, my legs, my clothing or any other thing about me that happens to turn you on or off, you’d better know who I am first. Because I’m a person, and it will be a person telling you they don’t want to go any further, not a pair of breasts.

5. If you think you need help, ask for it. You hear it from the mouths of uncles convicted of raping their teenage nieces, of priests convicted of assaulting children, of serial rapists who attack strangers. “I’m sick. I needed help.” I hate to think about it and I really hope you’re not one of them, but some people in the world will be sick. They will need help. And nobody is going to give it to them, nobody is going to know that they need help unless they reach out and ask for it. Make an appointment and talk to a mental health professional. Admitting your thoughts out loud is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do, but it’s a lot less difficult than hurting somebody and later having everybody you know find out that you’ve done it.

6. Compliment her smile, her sense of humour, her intelligence. I’ve heard a lot of talk about how provocatively women dress and how it makes it difficult for men to control themselves. And you know what, I agree. Teen girls do have a nasty habit of wearing what I refer to as “denim underwear”. That still isn’t going to make it their fault, but I can appreciate that it’s not much fun for the guys who have to keep looking away and pushing down a hard-on. Here’s the thing: they’re dressing that way because they want to attract your attention (or, in this country, because it’s too stinking hot). That is not the same thing as wanting you to have sex with them. They might find you attractive. They might want to feel attractive. They might want to be your girlfriend. They might just want to know that someone else wants to be their boyfriend. The solution, for society as a whole, is to stop using sex as our commonest measuring stick of what makes a person attractive. This isn’t a task that falls solely on the guys, of course, but this list is about what you can do. So, my challenge to you is to show her that you think her worth is in more than her boobs or bum. Because I know you do and she needs to know it too.

7. Talk about the non-sexual stuff with your mates. As above, this isn’t a short-term “in the moment of temptation” thing, it’s a long-term attitude developing thing. We need to get rid of this societal idea that relationships are just about sex. Every time you sit there with your friends talking about the girl you like and how big her breasts are, you’re reinforcing this idea to yourself, to your friends and to the girl. Why is it any less masculine to talk about her shared interests (some of which you presumably share with your friends as well)? I’m not saying you have to go really sensitive and start telling all the stories of times she stood up for you or how she makes you feel gooey inside or whatever. But let’s say you’re both into horror movies. Talk about how cool it is that you’ve found a girl who can appreciate your favourite film. Or a joke that she told you. Something your friends can appreciate that doesn’t make it seem like all you do is make out and fondle each other.

8. Be realistic about yourself and your limits. It’s hard for a young guy (or girl) to have a lot of self-control when they get going. Don’t rely on your impeccable knowledge of when to stop, when a shove is playful and when it’s serious. Don’t rely on your date being ready to bring out a full-on scream for help to indicate that she meant it when she said “I think we should go” earlier. This might sound counter-intuivite, but privacy is not always your friend. I’m not saying go around having big public displays of affection in front of your friends or get them in to watch. I’m saying give yourselves an easy out. Plan your dates for somewhere others might walk past or hear you. If you’re both willing to take it further, you’ll both be able to move somewhere more appropriate.

9.  Expect sex to be good. Expect it to be with someone who is getting involved in foreplay, who is kissing you back, who might whisper your name. Expect it to be with someone who undressed herself, or helped undress you and smiled at you or kissed you while she did it. Expect it to be with someone else who wants to have sex. It will never be exactly as you imagined or the movies show it, but don’t settle for sex with someone who isn’t engaging with it.

10. See sex as a gift. A few weeks ago, the pastor at my church said this of sex: “You can either see it as God, see it as gross, or see it as a gift.” Don’t worship sex like God. Don’t see it as something you deserve – no one ever owes you sex, not for buying them dinner, for helping them out of an awkward situation, for telling them that you love them, even for being married to them. Don’t treat it as a victory, an achievement, the meaning of life or the path to your self-worth. But don’t treat it as something gross, something taboo, something to never talk about. That’s plain unrealistic and you’re setting yourself up to fail. Treat sex as a gift. I believe it’s a gift from God to be had in certain circumstances (marriage) only, but even if you don’t share that view, at the very least believe it is a gift from your partner. It’s something they don’t have to give you, something they are using to display how they feel about you. Giving a gift to someone should feel good. Accept a gift that’s given to you with dignity and politeness. You can tear the paper off if that’s ok with them, but wait until it’s been given to you, don’t just snatch it from underneath the Christmas tree. Treat sex as a gift – one you both give and receive.

Parents, talk to your kids. By all means, teach them to travel safely, to watch what they’re drinking, to dress modestly. But make sure you also teach them to respect people, to know when things are getting out of hand, to see themselves and each other as deserving of better.

**For flow of writing style and because it’s a list “for my son” I’m just referring to the potential perpetrator as “he” and the potential victim as “her”. I’m aware that sometimes women rape men or other women and sometimes men rape men.

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