Friday, June 24, 2011

the F word on Christian campuses

I think I've blogged about this before. I like the F word. I wear it on a t-shirt. I say it a lot. Freely. Gratuitously. Egregiously. With feeling. In appropriate and inappropriate contexts. Like this:

Feminist, feminist, feminist, FEMINIST!

So, I'm musing about this again because of a comment at a session I attended at the CSC last week. It was the first response to a question about what we can do on Christian higher ed campuses to support and promote scholarship among aspiring female academics, both students and faculty. And this responder made the case that we need to hear from women who don't identify as feminists if we want to make progress on this.

It was an odd and unexpected sentiment to hear--at least from my perspective--after the full-throated fem roar of the presentation itself, which did not shy away from the abysmal stats regarding female presence in the academy and the even worse data on female presence in Christian higher ed. Simply to state these things is a feminist act--so why is it that the solution is somehow to hide our feminism? How would you even do this? Are we supposed to privately encourage our female students, but not do anything to rock the boat because that would be "counterproductive?" Covert support like that is not exactly real supportive: it simply encourages more women to throw themselves into a hostile environment, without challenging the expressions of hostility. Here ladies, gird up your loins for battle--you're strong and smart, you'll survuve it. And hey, here are my battle-scars--pretty soon you'll have some great ones yourself. Come back in a few years and we'll compare. Good luck!

Okay, I'm being unfair. No doubt this was not the intended message. Though I'm pretty sure that, regardless of intent, this is what shying away from feminism gets us.

More than likely, the intended message was more something along these lines: "find something you want to do, and go be great at it." Ditch the feminist whining and just do your thing. Feminist whining will hold you back, distract you, brand you as troublemaker, make you depressed and angry... So don't bother with being "feminist," just go be what you want.

And "go be what you want" is a great message--one which I try every day to hand to my precocious 5-year-old (baby Z is a little young for indoctrination, though I do my best not to gender-code her onesies. It's the least I can do). But it misses something important. And that is, it's f-word hard to "do what you do" when what you do is something that, wittingly and unwittingly, you keep getting stopped from doing because you're a girl. Whether you're in that male-dominated math-and-science world, or getting an MDiv within a tradition that doesn't ordain women, this is what you face: a culture which has for so long assumed that a girl can't, shouldn't, and really deep down doesn't want to, do these things means that simply trying to "do what you do" makes you a walking-around in-your-face F-word. You can try to mitigate that by not labeling yourself with that offensive word...but I don't see how that helps you navigate reality. Instead, you've taken on the additional burden of resolutely not naming the problem you navigate. And if you can't name it, the boys can't either. And it will persist.

So I use the F word. Lots. And I think you should too. Until we get over that ridiculous Rush-Limbaugh-femi-Nazi caricature we've been indoctrinated with, and realize that feminism is, simply, about supporting women who are trying to "do what they do." We absolutely don't need women who don't identify as feminists. We need men and women who do.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

CSC 2011: Faith, Science, Babies

Before it all sinks down into that inaccessible fog of forgottenness that swamps everything prior to, say, a week or so ago, I'd like to try to say something about the Christian Scholars Conference.

This is a conference I don't skip and always look forward to, and I'd been looking forward to this one for a solid year or more--ever since learning that the theme was "Science, Theology and the Academy." And, since I was lucky enough to be informally included in some of the brainstorming and planning, I got invested in it early. And though I had exhausted myself in 2010 with multiple sessions and vowed not to ever do that again (mainly, because it means that you're always missing out on sessions you really, really want to attend but can't), I couldn't just sit on the sidelines for this one. In fact, I was so excited about it all that I made all sorts of plans, sessions I wanted to convene and papers I wanted to write and present--and it was months before a basic fact of life clicked: a baby due in April = babe-in-arms in June. Yikes! So then I had to revise expectations a bit, and figure out how I was going to make that work.

But, I'm very happy to say, it did seem to work, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Teresa Pecinovsky a.k.a. TKP, who volunteered to be my child-care-support (especially since it turned out that Plan A, a.k.a. "Nana," my mom, Pat Thweatt, could not attend as originally planned!). I'm sure that there were some sessions and networking and whatnot that TKP missed out on, and walking a howling desperately hungry babe around is no fun (Baby Z is quite unaccustomed to being made to wait 10 minutes for meals. She thought the world was ending.) However awesome my baby Z is--and she IS--it was still a sacrifice and one without which I could not have done the introducing/presenting I needed to do.

And, although one effect of having babe-in-arms at the CSC was a definite sense of being only half-there, perpetually late and a little unfocused and in general, just a little less than my professional best--I am super glad that I did it (with help). First, because I simply could not miss this conference. And second, because it just shouldn't be impossible for a woman to be a scholar and a mother, and simply walking around with a baby in a sling at an academic shindig makes that statement better than grousing about it on a blog.

And, next time I present something at a conference (coming up in November, where I present something on Haraway cyborg & theology in front of Haraway her very own self), if I get nervous, I can now say to myself, "Self, you got up in front of folks with about six episodes of spit-up evident on your shirt and pee on your foot. You can get through this."

My favorite question from the conference (apart from: "how old is she?"): "you're listed as 'Independent Scholar'--what exactly does that mean?" Um...polite euphemism for unemployed, and thank you for asking. Do you know of anyone with a need for some professional God-talk? I'm available. (Got a tip the other day from a friend about hawking my God-talk services--apparently someone is having some success with this! Who knew?)

Re the academicking side of things, I am very pleased to report that the session I organized on "Theology, Science and the Hermenautics of Interdisciplinary Reason," starring my superstar colleague Ken Reynhout, my ACU prof & advisor Fred Aquino, and fellow ACU alum/SMU PhD candidate David Mahfood, was a huge success (IMO). I was not anticipating a huge turnout, but the room, with 50 seats, was about 3/4 full, and the Q&A time had less awkward downtime than any AAR session I've ever been to. Apparently people are way hungrier for epistemological musing than I bargained for! So--while I have a mental list of self-critical "do this better next time" notes, I think the session itself was brilliant and I am very proud to have brought such a marvelous bunch of guys together.

My other session was also brilliant, though only a handful of folks know that firsthand. :( And again, it's Ken who really shined there--I was pretty fatigued by Friday afternoon, plus I had pee on my foot, so I was less than awesome. But despite my less than awesomeness, the topic of our session--the Science for Ministry Institute that Ken & Wentzel direct at PTS--is such a great program and model for interdisciplinary science and religion dialogue that the session rocked anyway. Just wish more folks had found their way to our little room to hear about it!

There were, of course, lots of sessions I wish I could have attended and couldn't--not just those that conflicted with mine, but sitting through a session with a babe means, really, not sitting at all, and hoping that coming in & out multiple times is less annoying to everyone than baby noises. Chris Dowdy's panel session, "After Apology: A Conversation with Royce Money on Apology, Race and Christian Higher Education," was the first session I half-attended (an incredibly important dialogue, and I have the impression that it went extremely well.) There were also several sessions on gender in the CofC, most of which I couldn't go to, but which add an important dimension to the ongoing dialogue about this within our tradition in their contribution of empirical research into attitudes and practices about gendered roles in (and out of) church. One session I did attend addressed specifically the overlap between academia and theology on gender issues: Christian institutions of higher education and the specific challenges faced by female scholars and administrators within them. Academia in general is not, ahem, very "woman friendly"--if you doubt this, cruise on over to the blog What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?--and in a Christian context, this atmosphere is often additionally entrenched with theological justifications. To hear this said out loud, bluntly, to a roomful of interested women and men who then proceeded to ask the constructive question--how do we change this? what practices need to be changed and what new practices invented? what structures need to be torn down and what new ones built? who are the key players in the institutions for doing these things and how do we teach them what needs to be done?--while I sat there, an un(der)employed academic with a baby at my breast, while the topic at hand was the how-to promotion of women scholars--I can't even really put into words what that sort of affirmation felt like.

One regret that won't go away: I missed my chance to meet John Polkinghorne. Baby Z got a little hungry for second breakfast right before the Saturday morning session, and so I was late making my way to the room. Session was already underway when I got there--and I had to catch my plane. That chance won't be coming back, and I'm a little heartsick about it.

However, I did get to meet J.J.M. Roberts, finally! Since we just missed each other at PTS, it took years and a trip to Malibu to make that happen.

But, there's next year in Nashville to look forward to, for lots of reasons. The theme is "reconciliation," I'm honored to now be a part of the science & religion planning committee, and middle TN is Home. See y'all there.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Clare and I often engage in a little verbal competition to see who can create the most hyperbolic I love you's. Tonight's contest spawned a bit of theological reflection for my almost 5-year-old.

Clare: "I love you bigger than...bigger than God!"

me: "but baby, God is love. So when you love, you just make God even bigger."

Clare: "so God is the biggest thing there is?"

me: "sure. God is everything, so nothing is bigger than God."

Clare: "and if you hate someone you make God smaller."

me: "yes, you could think of it like that. and when you love, it makes God bigger, and brings God right where you are, where the love is."

"so he's everywhere? even right here in the bed?"


"I want to call God a girl." [this just as I was about to ask why lately she's been exclusively using the masculine pronoun in her Godtalk.]

"That's totally okay. God is a big girl too. God is everything, so you can call God a he or a she."

"I want to call God 'Universe.'" then, flinging her arms out and embracing the air, "I love you Universe!"