Sunday, March 16, 2014

Overt Sexism vs. Structural Sexism

Gender roles are a big source of arguments in the church today.  What women can do and how to deal with them (us) has caused deep hurt, acrimonious debates, and split churches.  As you might guess from this blog, I come down strictly on the side of full mutuality/egalitarianism.  As a woman, I have preached, taught, led a community, baptized people, served communion, and "celebrated" it, or done the initial explanation and prayer.  I have performed all these things in equal partnership with men, although I have been fairly isolated as a woman in this role because there weren't any, or only very few others.  Sometimes I feel like emailing the men I worked with in the more conservative and evangelical community and asking if anyone ever objected to me as a woman but I haven't yet and quite frankly, I don't know if they would even tell me.

It's that latter point that I'm going to explore here.  White males not telling females or non-white people that someone has objected to their role because of the lack of male-ness or white-ness is structural sexism or racism, not overt.  They think they are protecting the person.  They themselves never receive criticism because they do not fit into these socially constructed categories that have been determined to be appropriate for leadership, authority, and power.  These "protectors" are not overtly racist or sexist.  But in hiding criticism from those people who are, they are leaving their partners in work in ignorance, which increases their power over them.  They are structurally sexist or racist.  And they would never think of themselves in those terms.

A good example of structural sexism is going on in the tech world right now.  This story, if largely true as told (do note that GitHub has so far refused to comment), is not an example of much overt sexism.  But it is full of structural sexism.  What it more is, however, is the story of immature people in circumstances they can't deal with, and boundless egos.  Both of these things, by the way, are very common in "the startup culture."

My husband said I should blog about it because he didn't see any sexism at all in the story until I pointed it out to him.  So I am. And I'm putting it on this blog because a lot of the same structural sexism in the GitHub story is replicated in the church.

First let's point out the only overtly sexist action in the story: the rockstar programmer refusing to be romantically rejected and the company not calling him out on it.  His sexual ego has been hurt and he punishes the woman who hurt him, and the other men don't really see a problem with this.

This, by the way, is one of the key assumptions of "rape culture."  If you are attracted to someone, there is this expectation that this objectified person has some kind of obligation to attempt to reciprocate the attraction or allow you to gratify it.  They do not.  If attraction is not mutual, then it just isn't.  Rejection hurts, go have a beer with a good friend and cry on their shoulder (this advice is for both you men and women), talk it over with your therapist, and deal.  There is no obligation put on the object of your attraction, except maybe to be polite in rejection and acknowledge the pain they are causing.

Anyway.  First point of structural sexism:  wife of founder has a role in the company, but it is undefined and she is not formally employed by the company.  This ought to sound familiar to anyone who has ever run into "the pastor's wife."  This is sexism, pure and simple.  Because of her relationship and gender, she is excluded from a formal role in her husband's company, but is still expected to "support" him.  It's also the decision of a bad manager:  never, ever allow someone to have an undefined and unofficial role in your company.

Second point:  the unofficial wife (ok, that's not quite what I meant :) is sent to deal with the unhappy female employee over drinks.  Would the founder have sent his wife to deal with a male employee over drinks?  I'm going to guess there's a 95% chance that he wouldn't, not even if the male employee was gay (although he might have.  There's a reason discussion about women often overlaps with discussions about queer people).  But he sends a woman to deal with a woman.  This is structural sexism because it treats women differently from men based on assumptions about gender stereotypes. 

This is a big point in the story.  The female programmer is treated the way she is partly because the people involved obviously have no idea how to handle any kind of internal dispute, and partly because of her gender.  Assumptions about how to manager her are being dictated by gender, not by her or anyone else's role in the company.  When I pointed this out to my husband, he said now he could see the sexism.  He had not seen anything but bad management and a clash of egos until I pointed these aspects out to him.

But he's right, it's also a tale of egos.  This programmer thought she could "fix GitHub."  That has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with ego.  Her ego is identical to the men's egos in this story and they are clashing.  In a culture that rewards the biggest ego, the best self-seller, the loudest voice, situations like this are inevitable.  The sexism is in how this programmer specifically was dealt with.

It's wrong to say this is a story about sexism only.  But it's equally wrong to say she was not treated in a sexist manner simply because there is barely any overt sexism.  Structural discrimination is just as damaging as overt discrimination, and it's made even worse because it's invisible to the people it benefits even when they disagree and would never condone overt discrimination.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


well.  i got the final phd rejection email this morning.

technically, there is hope, i guess... i've been accepted to one master's program, and waitlisted for one phd program.  but i can't afford another master's, and i consider the waitlisting incredibly tenuous and effectively another shut door.

well, it is lent.  time to learn how to die, i guess.

part of my... despair?  that might be too strong.  part of my intense disappointment and also bewilderment is that for most of my life, i didn't have much of a direction.  my parents always said, "when you go away to college..." and i went to college full of ideals about higher education and got myself a real, traditional education.  i walked out reading french, latin, and greek, with a head full of over 2000 years of literature, art, and philosophy.

but i had no network, no connections, and honestly no real professional ambitions.  i knew i hated secretarial and administrative work.

eventually i did go work for my church, and i felt a call to teaching, so i went back to get more education.  i graduated from seminary last spring.  but in the meantime, we had moved, and my church had collapsed and i had been deeply, deeply hurt in the process.  once again i had no network, no connections, and still not much professional ambition.

but i did feel i had ideas, and i had spent 3 of the 4 years in seminary teaching both in the church and in a classroom, so i spent the summer and fall researching and applying for phd programs.  it was always a possibility after my first degree, but i had been immature and unprepared (and, quite frankly, not realizing that i was dealing with the onset of clinical depression) at the time and my grades kind of sucked.

the sucking grades might be part of what crippled me this time around, although i also got some unintentional feedback that implied my statement of purpose essay was mis-focused.  my seminary grades were much better and i had hoped they might balance out, especially being so much more recent.

i thought i had a direction the last several months.  obviously, i was wrong.

i'd like to have a direction.  i've spent most of my adult life just walking through the first door that opened because i thought i needed "something to do," "a job," whatever, without really thinking about the future or a direction or anything like that.  the hard part now is going to be not doing that again, not grasping at the first straw that looks like it will pay the bills.

i just wish i did know what to do.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

ASGW Sleepy Hollow (ep 10 & 11)

So yeah, I pretty much stopped blogging over the winter holidays.  I was stressed, sick, and overwhelmed.

But last night was the Sleepy Hollow finale, so I thought maybe I should catch up on the blogging.

Episodes 10 & 11, way back in early December and then last week moved the plot forward mostly in this world, so there wasn't a lot of history to poke around at.  However, there are still problems with how this series is handling Christianity and now Judaism, which came out in these episodes, so let's dig in!

First problem:  There are more kinds of Christian than Roman Catholics.  And most of them were here in the colonies during the Revolution.  It's like the writers/directors/producers of the show think Americans won't know what a church is unless it has candles, and altar, a crucifix, and stained glass windows.  Also, there are more clergy than Roman Catholic priests.  Although I will suppose there aren't many Protestants that retain the old Medieval trappings of things like exorcisms.

Second problem:  they obviously have no idea who Quakers are.  Katrina tells Ichabod she comes to the memory of a the church and lights a candle in memoriam and prays for their son's soul.  Quakers don't pray for the souls of the dead (or even the souls of the presumed dead - there was a big reveal about their son in the finale last night, but it was pretty obvious in ep 10 that he maybe wasn't dead).  Quakers don't really pray at all.  They more meditate.  Also, they don't light candles in memoriam.  Quaker belief is marked by a lack of ritual and accoutrement.  They have very simple practises that, well, mostly consist of meditation and waiting in silence.  At this point, I'm just ready to give up on the whole Katrina-is-a-Quaker-nurse thing.

Third problem: what the hell kind of professor was Ichabod anyway?  He says he's more or less a history professor, but in ep 10, he references golems in the Talmud, and in ep 11, he says the demon is speaking ancient Aramaic.  I am 90-95% sure no Oxford professor before maybe the end of the 19th century even saw a Talmud, much less could read it.  Christians spent more time forbidding Jews from reading it than reading it themselves. Even by the Enlightenment, the anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe was fairly strong.  I guess if he can read the Talmud, he can recognize ancient Aramaic, because that's what the Talmud's written in, mostly, but it seriously defies belief that he would recognize it spoken.  I know a little Aramaic anyway, and whatever the demon was speaking, it wasn't Aramaic.  The word for negation (no/not) wasn't there.   But hey.

And one final note.  What the hell was up with the creepy doll???

Monday, December 9, 2013

ASGW Sleepy Hollow (ep 9)

Sleepy Hollow episode 10 airs tonight.  Only 3 more left!  I wonder if I'll manage to watch season 2.  This is the first season of TV since... I dunno, TNG that I have managed to watch a show every week.  I think it has something to do with the fact that the episodes are online, so I can watch them even when I'm away or forgetful.

Episode 9 was mostly about developing the various charactes' backstories.  For one, I so called it: Ichabod and Katrina had a baby.  A son, specifically, which will probably be important later on.  There was also some slight development in Abbie's story too, but not a whole lot.  Surprisingly, the captain got his fair share as well; we met his ex-wife and daughter for the first time, and his daughter was given some significant screen time.

This, if I may digress a bit, is why Sleepy Hollow rocks and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D doesn't.  Sleepy Hollow takes the time to put a kid on screen and give her her own monologue to establish her voice and backstory.  And she's just a supporting character, with no promise she'll ever even come back. Agents is so caught up in explaining the McGuffin of the week that we still don't know who the 6 top-billed characters are, and since we don't know, we don't care.  The only episode of Agents that really did any character-building was the one where Simmons got the alien flu.  Even Coulson explaining how Melinda May got the nickname "the cavalry" doesn't give us any insight into her character.  She's still a cipher, like everyone else on the show.

Anyway, nothing really objectionable in ep 9 for Sleepy Hollow except for the main antagonist.  Why does an Ancient Near Eastern god whose main characteristic is worship involving child sacrifice have a servant made of tree roots from deciduous North America?  I'm waiting to see if there is ever a connection between Molech's worship and Ichabod's and Katrina's child, but I'm not holding my breath.  There was no indication of it in the episode.

Ok, maybe, maybe you could draw something from Abbie's line, "As soon as your son was born, the creature attacked," but that sounds more like the baby is some kind of mystic key (hey, he's the child of a witch, right?), not that Molech needs more child sacrifice.

Speaking of Katrina, one nitpicky bit:  Why is the letter Ichabod wrote to her in case he was killed on the battlefield folded up and hidden in a book when she was right there when he died to cast the spell that kept him alive? preserved? in some kind of magical stasis? for 200+ years?

Also, after the first episode where Ichabod met her, Katrina has looked and dressed nothing like an 18th century Quaker.  I think I already addressed that as Katrina Van Tassel, a Dutch woman in rural New York, she shouldn't be a Quaker at all.  Oh I didn't?  Well, she shouldn't. Quakers were British and largely centered around Philadelphia.  They could have made her Mennonite, which would have fit better, actually.  Mennonites were/are pacifists, like the Quakers, and the Plain Mennonites grew out of the German immigrants, not the Dutch.  So it wouldn't have been out of place for her to wear those fancy dresses and jewelry.  Also, Quakers were disowned if they married non-Quakers, and Abraham was obviously not a Quaker. 

See?  I should be hired as a TV/movie research assistant.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

ASGW Sleepy Hollow (episodes 7 & 8)


So yeah, I took a break from blogging Sleepy Hollow for 2 reasons:  1) I was trying to finish my Ph.D. applications (done!) and 2) Thanksgiving in Arizona.

And in retrospect 3) these two episodes are basically a two-parter, with ep 8 picking right up on the cliffhanger ending of ep 7 and finishing out the story.

These episodes were great.  I got the feeling that they were setting up for what would have been the ending if the show hadn't been renewed for a second season, but it was, so they ended up just being a really tightly written adventure.

However, since this blog series is all about the problems with the show, let's get to criticizing!

UV lights can substitute for the sun in magic.  What?  It's magic.  There's something special about the sun, daylight, and good and evil.  While it was awesome to see the headless horseman start to smoke from the lights, replacing magic with science and technology is always uncertain ground to walk on, and I wasn't convinced that GE can project anti-evil.

Also, those are totally not Egyptian Hieroglyphs.

One thing they got very right, although I don't know if it was on purpose, was Captain Irving's emphasis on the word "scientifically" when explaining to Ichabod that DNA evidence had established that there are descendants of Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson.  An educated man from the 18th century Enlightenment would definitely respect anything backed up by "science."  But then, our own culture is so heavily influenced by the Enlightenment, it's hard to know if the writers had to even take Ichabod's cultural moment into consideration.

On the other hand, it was so awesome seeing Abbie teach Ichabod about what a fist-bump means :)

And watching Ichabod try not to be seduced by an internet porn popup is characteristic of why I love this show!  To say nothing of his voicemail to Abbie.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

staying connected.

i graduated in may, ended my internship at a church, and i haven't been back to a church, any church building or local community, since.

This is not really a good thing.  i do realize this.

Not precisely as defense, but as explanation, the church i was a member, employee, and leader of before i left to go to seminary full-time and work at my internship was somewhat abusive.  Because of the senior pastor's insecurities and ambition, the community i had been a part of was dissolved by the leadership.  This happened 2 weeks after i had gone to a new church to intern.

Part of the problem is also that i went from being a leader in a community to being a seminarian-intern, another leadership position.  i've been teaching in churches for the last 4 years, and i've been a resource for church leaders for even longer than that.

The prospect of finding a new community to worship with is exhausting.

Also the problem is that i have some strong theological and ecclesiological commitments these days, and part of what i would be looking for in a church is either closely shared ideological stances, or openness to them.  i'm really not willing to compromise on women being in ministry, the church adopting missional ecclesiology, following and supporting social justice, or a belief in the inspiration of the Scriptures and the supernatural.  This puts me in a very awkward position, half liberal, half evangelical.  both sides have things that irritate me.

i want a church that believes in the resurrection, that believes that Jesus' followers are empowered by the Spirit sent by the Father, that believes that "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world" (James 1:27 NRSV).

And i've been hurt.  A few weeks ago, we were staying with my parents, and i couldn't go to church with them.  the prospect of stepping inside that building stressed me out and upset me so much.

But see, this is where things like the lectionary come in.  For the last couple years, i've been buying these devotionals that follow the lectionary with ancient christian commentary.  Paleo-orthodoxy has its own problems, but i'm a historian, and reading what my brothers and sisters left behind as relics from their spiritual journeys makes me feel connected to them.  Also, reading with the lectionary allows me to follow the church year and the same scripture readings along with the huge numbers of other christians who do the same.  So i just bought myself the volume for the "A" year, as well as the Episcopal Church's book "Holy Men, Holy Women," which is something like a calendar of saints, but a little more contemporary, yes, liberal, and Protestantized.

It's not real community, but it's the best i can do for now.  Sort of my Advent longing.

Monday, November 11, 2013

ASGW Sleepy Hollow (episode 6)

wah. so i was out of town last week and didn't get to post onthe last episode of Sleepy Hollow.  Am doing it now quickly before tonight's!

Ok, so continuing biblical problems: which horseman are they running from?  Seriously, people.  Just go back and read Revelation 6 again and decide what the hell you're doing.  Because the Headless Horseman is death, but he's the last horseman to emerge in chapter 6, not the first.  *sigh*

However, their definition of sin got really weird.  First thing you notice from the Sin Eater's sanctifying scene is that you define what's sin for you.  So if another redcoat had gone out and shot Arthur Bernard but didn't feel guilty about it, it wouldn't be sin?

And then, wait, what is Ichabod feeling all guilty about?  That he couldn't save the man from getting shot by a demon?  But it was totally ok for him to torture the guy?  No regret at all about torturing a man for days, but he fails at saving him from a demon and this is what connects him with "sin incarnate"?  I don't know if this is just callousness at torture's current position in American society or if the dialogue was handled/cut/edited badly, but it seems really weird to me that Ichabod would be totally ok with torturing a guy but then would flagellate himself over failing to save him in the woods, at night, from a demon.

On the other side,  I totally loved that Katrina can contact Abbie as well.  And was there a hint that Katrina and Ichabod had a baby?  In her vision, Abbie sees this baby carriage (and also note the toy in the bed) and hears a baby crying.  But of course it all turns creepy.  More to come, hopefully...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

ASGW Sleepy Hollow (episode 5 - now with screenshots!)

so i was really looking forward to watching sleepy hollow last night and letting my brain turn to mush after a second PhD open house in less than a week.  but it was a rerun of the pilot, bah.

on the other hand, this gives me the chance to catch the blog up since i missed episode 5 last week.

there wasn't really any theology in ep 5, but there was a ton of awful history.  so here we go!

well, ok, first up: the horseman of pestilence.  also conquest because that actually follows the text of Revelation 6.  but why is he dressed as a samurai?
sleepy hollow pestilence as samurai

But, the major problem in this episode was historical:  a kid from the colony of Roanoke speaks Middle English. 

um.  no.

as wikipedia helpfully points out, Roanoke was a colony in North Carolina, founded in 1585 and disappeared sometime after the first recorded birth in the colony in 1587.

Middle English started to fade away in 1470.  it was replaced (again, wikipedia) by a dialect from London.  so the colony of Roanoke was founded slightly over 100 years after Middle English started to die out.  Also, let's please note that most of the colonists came from London or the south of England and so were closer to the linguistic shift and even less likely to still speak Middle English.  not only that, but the 1580s were well into the Great Vowel Shift, especially in the south, making Middle English even less likely.

further, Ichabod Crane is an Oxford history professor in this telling (in the original, he's just a schoolmaster).  the chances of a history professor being fluent in Middle English by the late 18th century are slim to none.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

a seminary grad watches "sleepy hollow" (ep 1 & 4)

i am watching and loving the new tv show "sleepy hollow," but they are getting just about everything wrong about christianity and a lot wrong about history too.  so since fact-checking is all the rage, i think it's going to be fun to blog through the season (already renewed for a second, woo!) noting all the silliness.  potential spoilers, be warned.

unfortunately, i don't know a whole lot about native american religion, so i'm just assuming they got the Iroquois sandman-dream demon in episode 3 as wrong as they got everything else :)

i posted my initial reaction to the pilot already, but let's flesh it out a bit more. 

the apparently Roman Catholic priest who gets beheaded in the pilot is dressed as a cardinal.  what?

Ichabod reads Rev 6:1 and 6:7 as both referring to the headless horseman, who is identified as "death" (the other 3 are war, pestilence, and famine).  problem #1: 6:1 is talking about war, and 6:7 is talking about death.  problem #2: the series has death as the first horseman, but in Revelation, death is the last (hence 6:7).**

then he appears to keep reading and refers to 2 witnesses.  in Rev 6, there is a multitude, not 2.  so what the heck is going on?

that answer comes out a bit better in ep 4.  Jenny and Abbie were conveniently dragged to bible study as kids and forced to memorize scripture passages.  helpfully, they both memorized Revelation, apparently.  the two witnesses come from Rev 11:3, although the show leaves out the "in sackcloth" part of the quote.

more problems in episode 4:  the final demon summoning takes place in what apparently is a Dutch Reformed church, except the first shot of the church's interior shows a statue of a female saint or the virgin Mary.  not only is the Dutch Reformed tradition exceedingly Protestant so there would definitely be no statue of a saint or Mary, but it's also part of the Prot tradition that removed all art from churches, so there shouldn't be any statue at all (the same goes for the stained glass windows).  another problem is that as far as i could tell, they put the book on what appears to be not a lectern, but a portable baptismal font.  which is fine, except that the demons also come out of a font in the  middle of the room.  what church would have 2 fonts?

the book, referred to as "the lesser key of Solomon" was supposedly written by king Solomon and found during the crusades by the Knights Templar.  problem here:  they say "twelve centuries later" except that Solomon lived closer to 900 BCE, so it should be twenty two centuries later.  and there were no such things a books in 900 BCE; it should be a scroll.  assuming it's the actual parchment that Solomon wrote on, which since it's a book of black magic, i'm willing to suspend disbelief on that one :)  (Solomon gets the tradition of being a magician and sorcerer eventually, so i'm not going to criticize them for picking up on that).  fun thought: if this is the "lesser key of Solomon" is there a greater key out there somewhere?

i just laughed when Ichabod referred to Milton's "Paradise Lost" as a "theological text."  if you want to know who Moloch/Molech is, go read Leviticus, and I and II Kings.  and i'm pretty sure the last shot of the illustration in the book is William Blake (who is my most favourite crazy poet ever).

**in keeping with the series context, i'm giving all links to Bible passages in KJV.

Monday, September 16, 2013


i have been thinking about this whole Syria thing, and wondering what a good Christian, Christ-like,  response is.  i do believe that God calls God's people to intervene and offer relief to the suffering innocent, and that relief is real, physical, this-world relief, not just a promise of some kind of vague spiritual paradise.  but i also believe that Jesus taught a non-violent way.  and quite honestly, we've seen the results of violent intervention all over the middle east, and there's no reason to believe that Syria would be any different.

so this is the conundrum.  how do you intervene in the suffering of the innocent but without violence?

and it kind of hit me, well, isn't that what the cross is?  in becoming a victim of violence, Jesus conquered violence.  in receiving the ultimate judicial punishment that humans can devise, the cross stands as a rebuke against violence and death.  but even more so, by God becoming human and dying, God conquers death.  the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, is to offer oneself to suffer with the innocent and to gain power precisely in the abdication of violent, judicial power.

so i think the Christian response to what's going on in Syria ought to be to line up like the Freedom Riders and the lunch counter protesters of the civil rights movement and take the violence on us.  take the bombs and the gas and bullets and stand there in defiance of that violence.

it won't happen, of course.  for one, i can already think of hundreds of logistical objections, and Christians really aren't used to working in partnership globally.  we're more used to fighting each other.  and it's incredibly rare to hear Christian preaching that says, hey, give up your life.  no, really.  give it up like Jesus did.  we hear more about how to steward our finances and improve our relationships and do good, practical things to work for social justice (and these sermons, btw, have nothing to do with liberal or conservative).

Christianity has become so wedded to political, judicial power that we don't really take the "give up everything" call of Jesus seriously.  this is true both in western state and culture as well as in the middle east.  we can't answer that call anymore because we don't know how.  we are too used to having that kind of power that we've forgotten to look for solutions that don't use it.  but we've seen the results of intervening in a society nonviolently too, with the civil rights movement here, and India's independence movement, and the path that took Christianity from an illegal, persecuted sect to precisely that political power that it is today.

and as strongly as i feel this conviction, i know i won't go myself because this kind of widespread, systemic violence is precisely why we have the body of Christ.  i could go over there, and die, and maybe my husband or parents would publicize the story, but it wouldn't cause mass change in the Church Universal.  so i'm blogging instead, and learning a lesson and looking for somewhere here in my local life to intervene nonviolently.

but also, i believe that the local, Syrian Christians have a responsibility to their neighbours, and i'm not saying they're not hearing God or whatever and they're terrible Christians.  they show us in the west everything that is wrong about Christian power wedded to state power.  they are our mirror, not our scapegoat.  it's our fault too.  but Christians are in a place and a location and a culture, and the success stories are largely the stories of Christians acting from within their own culture, not from outsiders.

but imagine if Christians globally flooded Syria and stood between the innocent Muslim children and the violence of soldiers on both sides.  imagine what could be the result of that.  that, i propose, would be a picture of God's throne in heaven.