Archive for the ‘Marriage & Relationships’ Category

We are not dead.  We are just moving across the country.  I’m so sorry we have sucked at blogging.  Here’s a blog post I wrote a few weeks ago for just this occasion—when I felt bad for not posting but didn’t have the time to write something new!

As I mentioned recently, engagement was a turning point for me as a feminist: I realized in a new way that I couldn’t escape sexism, and I had to consider what it meant for me to be a feminist and a bride, a feminist and a wife.  This experience, I must admit, left me a little paranoid about my future.  I hadn’t “felt” my gender in this way in a while, and I started to imagine that various frustrations I encountered as an engaged woman were only the beginning of a much more traumatizing period of life.  If being a bride was tough on me as a feminist, wouldn’t all of the annoying assumptions that come with “mommyhood” culture be even worse?

Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself by Amy RichardsAs a preemptive strike against what troubles may come, I was excited to get my hands on a copy of a feminist book about having a baby called Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself.  It was recommended to me by a fellow Fuller graduate who served as the All-Seminary Council VP for Women & Gender the year before I did, and I really thoroughly enjoyed the book.  I don’t care to simply summarize it, and I’m not really in the mood to analyze it either.  (Though perhaps I will dedicate some future posts to some of the issues it raises.)  I did, however, want to post one of the sections that meant the most to me:

With motherhood, it’s easy to lose your perspective and confidence, and to believe there is one lived experience for every “good” mother.  My big post-pregnancy fear was that I would no longer feel or be considered sexual.  I had been convinced that women don’t have time for sex after children, and even if they do, men don’t find them attractive after they’ve watched a baby come out of them.  I also assumed that I would lose all connection with the outside world.  A month before I was due to give birth the first time, I stocked up on household supplies—toothpaste, contact lens solution, ink cartidges—convinced that I would hunker down for a long and lonely few months.  I was shocked that, after being home from the hospital for only a day, I was out for a walk, out for a beer, able to read the newspaper.  I had overprepared, but more than that, I had overidentified with other women’s experiences.  This is what other women had told me, and I assumed that one woman’s experience was every woman’s experience.  I extrapolated from friends’ post-pregnancy lives and applied it to my own without considering elements that already made my situation uniquely mine: for instance, I work from home and have a partner who works fewer and more flexible hours than I do.

The common retort “Just wait until you are a mother” explains some of how I came to this perception.  Parents offer opinions based on their lived experience, which is invaluable, but what they may also be expressing is the belief that no one can do or experience what they didn’t.  If parents put certain things in the realm of impossibility—combining work and family, traveling, taking your kids to restaurants—then their choices may narrow yours.  Sharing your own experience can be helpful, but it can also be alienating.  (p. 222-223)

I appreciated these words immensely because several of her fears echo mine: kids supposedly demolish your sex life (women’s more than men’s somehow?  not even sure how that works…), isolate you from the “real world,” and transform your relationship into something from the 1950s.  Now, I’m pretty certain that my life doesn’t have to be like that, since the people saying many of these things aren’t necessarily even anything like me.  Some of these women didn’t care much for sex before babies, don’t work, and don’t have husbands committed to taking an equal share of childcare and housework—is it any wonder that they aren’t having any sex now, are stuck at home (where many of them are generally happy despite occasional feelings of isolation, I should note), or doing more baby-related things than their husbands?

Still, I struggle to not let their experiences color my imagination about the future.  Like Richards, I think I have a tendency to hear other women’s stories and think that they will inevitably be my own, which of course rather freaks me out, since I don’t want my life to go that way.  Of course, I have no way of knowing specifically how things will turn out for me—there is always a lot of unknown when you enter into a totally new experience of this sort—but it is comforting to know that Richards had very similar fears to mine and yet experienced things quite differently from many women she knows.  And it’s also always good to have some sense talked into you about why you’re letting someone else’s story determine your own to begin with.  The fact is everyone is different.  I know myself better than some of the people who might want to tell me what my life will be like, so while they may have had certain experiences I have not yet had, there is no telling whether I will experience these same things in a similar manner.

If anyone wants further ponder about feminism, pregnancy, motherhood, and how to feel comfortable making one’s own decisions in such realms, I highly recommend Opting In!  And if you’d like to think about feminism, engagement, and weddings, go back and read my on-going post series on that topic, as well as I Do, But I Don’t, which inspired it.


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This post continues a series about feminism, engagement, and wedding planning.  If you’re curious why I’m blogging on this, you can start at the first post in the series.  Or backtrack your way through the series by jumping to the previous post.

engagement ringAs happy as I was to be engaged, I dreaded what I knew was coming next: “Let me see the ring!”  It became rather tiring to explain over and over why I didn’t have an engagement ring, and I hated all the attention to begin with.  Even if I did have a ring, why did all these people think I would want to show it off for them to evaluate?

Jeremiah wasn’t crazy about the fact that I had rejected the engagement ring tradition, but his reasoning made me even more glad I had.  He knew others would judge him by the sort of ring he picked out, so not buying me a ring made him look cheap and rude.  But that was part of the problem, I thought.  I don’t even care for jewelry, so receiving a diamond ring would be nothing but an acquiescence to the pressures of our culture—pressures for men to prove themselves as providers and pressures for women to measure others’ value by the quality of the man on their arms, as demonstrated by the size of the rings on their fingers.

Wicoff, who did have an engagement ring, talks about this problem in her book.  Having a rather conspicuously large ring, she often felt embarrassed by the attention she received from other women and what it implied about her relationship, her fiancé, and her own identity.  She wanted to just accept it as something given out of love, something her fiancé picked out with her in mind, something which she herself thought was beautiful and enjoyed wearing, but the baggage that came along with the ring made it difficult to enjoy as thoroughly as she had hoped.

I know other women feel differently.  They love their rings and would reject the idea that engagement rings treat women as prizes to be won and men as sugar daddies and whatnot.  Many think rings are essential to making an engagement official, even though the diamond ring tradition didn’t become popular until the 20th century.  I know many women—including feminists—want a ring, and that is their decision.

But I didn’t.  Accepting the attention associated with an engagement ring would have made me feel like I was agreeing with the idea that I had been waiting my whole life to be the magical, mythical creature known as a bride.  That my value was tied to landing a man and the sparkly things he could give me.  That Jeremiah’s value was caught up in trying to make those sparkly things happen.  That, for some reason, as a woman I needed to wear my relationship status on my hand while my fiancé didn’t.  And I don’t even particularly like diamonds, and I’ve never been a ring person.  Giving in and wearing a ring would have been a win for jewelry companies, the larger wedding industry, advertising, capitalism itself!   An inexcusable waste of money on something I didn’t even want. Perhaps if we both were to wear engagement rings, I would have felt differently, but even that is doubtful.

I’m pretty sure at the time everyone thought I was overly political and generally crazy.  Some probably judged Jeremiah for no fault of his own, and many people probably thought even I would come around eventually and wish I had a rock.  But two years later, I still have no regrets.  Early on in our relationship, I had told Jeremiah that I had never wanted an engagement ring and would refuse any marriage proposal that included one.  I am glad I followed through with my convictions and preferences, and despite tiring of having to explain that choice to others, I have always been glad for the reason I could give.

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This post continues a series about feminism, engagement, and wedding planning.  Specifically, this post continues Pt. 2a on proposals.  For background, also see the first post in the series.

In terms of our own relationship, we kept the appearance of tradition in some ways because Jeremiah had been excited about proposing.  So yes, he did ask, and we did not call ourselves officially engaged until he did.  However, we were already planning our wedding by the time this occurred.  We had been talking about getting married more and more seriously over a few months’ time (really, it started after we’d only been dating a month; we got engaged four months from the beginning of our relationship and got married about six months after that).  Finally when we were flying home from the second of two summer trips to meet each others’ families, we picked a date for our wedding.

Some of our best friends and family members knew we were almost engaged already, and we told some of them about the date.  We also started investigating reception sites and rings and other such things.  But we were not publicly engaged for another couple weeks.  Of course, I knew it was going to happen after no more than two weeks, which actually made things more fun.  We talked openly about the coming proposal, and Jeremiah enjoyed stringing me along wondering which day he would pick and how he would do it.

Magic IQ Gift Box from ThinkGeekWhen the proposal did come, it was simple and private.  Jeremiah had ordered a wooden puzzle box from ThinkGeek, got me excited about it, but acted like he didn’t want me working on it.  Of course, that made me want to solve it before he did.  I think he intended to pique my interest but then for me to work on it in his presence.  Unfortunately for him, I solved it really fast while he was using the bathroom or his back was turned or something,though he was back in time for me to discover the note he had written and tucked inside earlier (when, unbeknownst to me, he had solved the box himself).  And we said some things.  I don’t remember what was said, but it was fairly casual—though heartfelt—without any sentimentality or show.  For goodness sakes, we were sitting in regular clothes after a regular day on my regular couch in my regular one-bedroom apartment.  Like any good 20-somethings, we then changed our Facebook relationship statuses to engaged, and that was that.

In many ways I did not have a “feminist” proposal.  I did not propose, as I had long imagined (and secretly hoped) I might someday.  We didn’t do Wicoff’s proposal month (as we hadn’t heard of it).  And ultimately, yes, Jeremiah didn’t get the experience of being asked, and I didn’t get the experience of asking.  However, I have never been particularly distressed by our proposal because it was really only a formality.

The proposal allowed me to have a fun surprise which Jeremiah enjoyed planning, but the actual decision to marry was one we made together before the proposal after a series of discussions we approached as equals.  And I think this is what mattered to me most as a feminist: as much as I might like to change our culture’s traditions relating to proposals, for me it was most important for the proposal’s significance to change rather than the gender of the asker.

This series is continued in Pt. 3.

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This post continues a series about feminism, engagement, and wedding planning.  For background, see the first post in the series.

Generally speaking, women seem to look forward to being proposed to.  I however, was not one of them.  It’s not that I dreaded a proposal or anything; getting married just seemed like a practical decision, not an occasion for elaborately arranged declarations of love.  In particular, I hated seeing those very public proposals at ballparks and nice restaurants.  If someone were asking me to marry them, I certainly had no interest in involving thousands—or even a handful—of other people, be they strangers or friends.  I didn’t understand why men arranged for their friends to snap photos of their “surprised” (really?) girlfriends’ faces when they got down on one knee, and quite frankly, kneeling itself felt too dramatic for my tastes.  I wanted simplicity.  Hey, so are we going to get married or what?  Yes, ok, well let’s do it then.

I don’t remember if I ever thought about proposals before my late teens, but the only stance I ever remember having towards them was one of complete apathy towards maintaining traditional gender roles.  In fact, I always thought it would be cool to be the one to initiate the getting-married conversation—after all, I had usually been the one to pursue guys growing up.  One day two-year-old me came home from preschool, gushing about how “Robbie kissed Ashleigh.”  As I went on, it became apparent that I had also started some kissing myself, and when my mom asked which happened first, I replied, “Ashleigh kissed Robbie.”  And that’s just how it’s been.  I don’t think I realized this was out of the ordinary for many, many years, long after I’d asked boys to hang out with me or told them I liked them.  It didn’t always work out, but I wasn’t about to like someone forever and not try to make something happen, and I thought that process should involve honest, direct communication.

I never thought much about how often the proposal itself pushes women into a place of hoping, waiting, and indirect communication—or even outright manipulation—until I read Wicoff’s book.  She talked about how frustrated she felt having to wait for her boyfriend to propose, how it felt like he had all the power to choose who and when he wanted to marry, while as a woman she only had the option of saying yes or no.  While they went about things the traditional way, she decided she also wanted a chance to propose and let her fiancé answer, which she did several months later—an experience she found beneficial in some ways but not everything she hoped, since after all, he hadn’t been waiting his whole life to be proposed to, and she didn’t put nearly as much time imagining the “perfect” proposal as he had.

This experience led Wicoff to suggest a “proposal month” in her book.  Basically, the idea is that a couple chats about the possibility of marrying, they pick a month or week or other span of time together during which they will both propose, and then they each go about planning their proposals.  The engagement is, to some extent, real from the time they decide to have a proposal month, but it is not quite official until both people have gotten to ask and be asked.

I thought this was a creative idea that would give each party the chance to both express and receive love—not not just say “yes” or “I love you, too,” but to independently declare their feelings and intentions.  While many couples do discuss their decision to marry ahead of time, it is not always definite or given a time frame until the proposal.  Wicoff’s proposal month suggestion gives women more say in whether and when marriage happens.  Additionally, it offers women the joy (and the pressure) of thinking of an exciting way to propose, and it allows men the chance to experience being the cherished and beloved.  To me, it seems like a win-win-win for women, men, and relationships.

This post is continued in Pt. 2b.

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When my friends Liz and Kris got engaged this spring, I was quickly sent back to my own memories of engagement, wedding planning, and such.  Liz and I are not ideological twins or anything, but a lot of the assumptions about women and weddings that irked me so much during my engagement were beginning to irk her after only a few weeks, a fact which I found both unfortunate (for her) and reassuring (for me).  This led me to do some Amazon-based research on books approaching weddings from a feminist perspective, or at least an anti-wedding-industry perspective, of which I found a few and bought one (for now).

I Do, But I Don't: Walking Down the Aisle Without Losing Your Mind by Kamy WicoffEarlier this summer I really enjoyed reading the book I chose, I Do, But I Don’t: Walking Down the Aisle Without Losing Your Mind, which mixed memoir with cultural critique.  The author, Kamy Wicoff (pronounced like “Amy” with a K), was funny, easy to relate to, and as passionate a feminist as I am.  I particularly appreciated the fact that she questioned nearly everything about weddings… and yet, she wussed out of actually going against the grain all the time when it came to hers.  Even though there were points where I thought she didn’t go far enough to live our her beliefs, I related to the tension she felt and was comforted that I was not alone in “compromising” in certain ways.  I think many readers who identify less strongly as feminists would appreciate that Wicoff didn’t simply discard all traditions and that she can relate to herself and others as women walking a confusing path—not as simply being sell-outs.

I wanted to take some time to note a few things she brought up in the book, as well as to describe my own experience as Jeremiah’s feminist fiancée, in the blog series, which will be forthcoming.  I’ve been interested in blogging about this for a while, but I think the distance of a year and a half from our own wedding, plus reading Wicoff’s book, has finally motivated me to organize my thoughts for the blogosphere. As a preview, though, let me say this:

Once someone asked me, “Don’t you just love being engaged?”  I tried to stay calm, but part of me wanted to scream.  NO!  I hated being engaged.  On so many levels.  I am not a very patient person, so I hated waiting to be married, generally.  I hated the fact that I felt so married and yet wouldn’t be so recognized by others until I had a ceremony—which has its value, but is not as important as our relationship itself, for goodness sakes, so why did people see me as 86% not-married until that day, rather than the 93% married I felt?  But most of all, I really hated all the assumptions about gender roles in the wedding planning process, everyone’s supposing my glee about being a bride, and the pressure to have a certain sort of wedding.

Jeremiah always thought it was easy enough to do things our own way and move on, but for me, it always felt there was this monstrous sociological force pressuring me to be a certain kind of woman and looking at me with bewildered pity every time I deviated from the norm.  Obviously I, like Wicoff, have some insecurities in this realm, but I don’t think those should discount our experiences.  It was disconcerting to see myself becoming more concerned about how others saw me and “fitting in” than I’d been since middle school, but I guess that’s what happens when you feel like some sort of alien of a woman.  Getting married pushed me to confront our culture’s expectations about gender in a way I had never anticipated, and while it’s made me a more aware feminist, I still look on it as a rather stressful—and in many ways, lonely—experience.

Some of the topics I plan to cover over the next few days/weeks (not sure yet!) include getting engaged, rings, the dress, the planning process, bachelor- and bachlorette-type things, and details of the ceremony and celebration.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your own experiences or reflections relating to gender and weddings!

This series is continued in Pt. 2a.

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This quarter I took a class on gender and sexuality from Fuller’s Marriage & Family department, and while I enjoyed the class, I have to admit I was a little bummed by its shortcomings.  It surprised me that a program in a field which prides itself on a relational focus—rather than the more individualistic approach of traditional psychology—spent so much time on physiology and sexual dysfunction.  Yes, we did talk about the important emotional and relational aspects of various sexual disorders (which might be either causes or effects).  But there was little discussion of the dynamics of sexual relationships beyond pathology—a glaring omission in my mind.

Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships by David SchnarchThis gap in my coursework, together with my general ambivalence towards most Christian books on sex (which incidentally, also seem to focus on mechanics and sexual dysfunctions more than anything) put David Schnarch’s Passionate Marriage on my summer reading list, and 80 pages in, I am really enjoying his thoughts so far.  I don’t know much about Schnarch, except that he draws a great deal from Bowenian thought on differentiation, and he is known as a pioneer in the fusion (bad pun for those of you who know Bowen theory…) of sex therapy and marital therapy.

Here is one of the jewels of the book so far, which I wish to goodness I could frame for the office walls of all the Christian therapists who have written their sex books with such a stereotypical “his needs,” “her needs” focus (Schnarch, 2009, p. 80):

Men trade love for sex and women trade sex for love.”  This common belief reflects the fact that girls are socialized to associate sex with love and intimacy, while boys focus on genital sensations.  This folk wisdom enshrines an infantile view of ourselves, confusing sexual immaturity with gender differences.  The reality is that as women mature, they become more comfortable with their own genitals—they enjoy sex for their own pleasure.  Meanwhile, men become more interested in intimacy and emotional connection.  Actually, as men and women reach their respective sexual potentials, they become more similar sexually and more “sexually compatible.”

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I think one of the most frustrating things about my experience with the aforementioned half-sexist egalitarian the other day was that this hasn’t been an isolated experience.  For example:

  • When I applied to Fuller’s School of Psychology, I had to clarify that, yes, I actually wanted to do this additional degree—that we were staying in Pasadena for me specifically (which was leading my husband to apply to a ThM here),  not because he was applying to a ThM here already (and I had just nothing to do with my time).
  • Upon meeting people here, I very (very) often have had to clarify that, “Yes, I’m a student, too,” since at Fuller most married students are male and most female students are single.
  • It was recently suggested to me that if a certain job possibility in Durham didn’t work out, I could just work at Barnes and Noble for a year or two.  Somehow I’m guessing a 25-year-old married man’s desire to provide for his family (not to mention build a career) would be taken a bit more seriously.
  • It’s a little discouraging to see egalitarians willing to sign explicitly complementarian doctrinal statements in order to expand their career options.
  • In a class this past quarter, a male Fuller student made jokes about cleaning being women’s work and how a wife’s wearing sexy lingerie—and logically, the sexual acts that followed—was an act of service (in Chapman’s silly “Five Love Languages” paradigm), rather than fitting into the more logical categories of physical touch or quality time.  And nothing happened besides some awkward laughter.

I could go on.  The point is, among egalitarian and egalitarian-leaning folks, there is still much to be addressed.  Here at Fuller, in particular, I find that gender often goes undiscussed because it’s assumed that we’re “all on the same page.”  Well, we’re not, for starters, but even if we all were, what does that even mean?  Mere assent to gender equality is not enough for women or men.  It is not enough for the church.  It is only the beginning of a larger project to improve relationships and eliminate injustices, a project I’m afraid Fuller doesn’t actually encourage many students to consider if they aren’t already spear-heading it.

But this post isn’t really about Fuller, so I’ll leave that point there for now.  The real issue is that a lot of people think gender equality is more or less achieved in our so-called post-feminist world.  That just simply isn’t true—in the church or out of it.  Let me tell you, even in my own heart, I still have sexism.

I remember the first time I really realized this.  It was my sophomore year of college, and I had mentally assumed the author of an article I was reading was male until I went to get the citation information and was surprised to see a woman’s name.  A friend had a similar moment when she and her husband tallied up their chore lists and realized she was doing more work that he was—even though neither of them wanted it that way.  I often wish that the academic world would have its own wake-up and realize that merely admitting women to PhD programs isn’t enough—that until both women and men can have more reasonable and flexible schedules, they are, in effect, requiring all students to either be single or to be men in traditional marriages.

Lest this post seem I’m being too hard on anyone, I want to make it clear that I do have complementarian friends and I know that all egalitarians are imperfect.  But so often, I think people think being egalitarian or post-feminist or just not an obvious chauvinist is enough.  But it’s not.  There is more to this problem than our explicit beliefs about women in the church, home, and society.  We need to examine ourselves for residual attitudes and assumptions that clash with out egalitarian views, and we need to take action to change the world for our daughters and sons.  We need to change how we think, speak, and live in areas like work, family, scholarship, sex, works of compassion, and corporate worship.  We need more than just a nod towards equality.  We need the sort of intentionality that acknowledges just how bad things are in certain realms—and just how far forward we hope we can move them with God’s help.

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