The brand new Hot Pink Apron and why the feminist in me loves the internet

Those of you who have been following the blog will hopefully have seen that the all-singing all-dancing rebrand of the Hot Pink Apron website is all up and running, and the first few articles of this month’s issue are already online. It’s something I’m really proud to be part of and has already been amazing fun just in getting the first issue live. I’ve read all about Dana’s efforts in the kitchen and the trials and tribulations of being a mum of two small kids for the last couple of years with a certain envy – everything she cooks looks so damn tasty. If anyone knows how to make child-induced sleep deprivation look good, then it is definitely Dana.

That’s not the only reason I’m proud to be taking part in this project. As a kid, my mum was always keen for me and my siblings to learn to bake cake. If you can’t train your children to make and feed you delicious baked goodies as your own little kitchen slaves from an early age, then you are definitely doing it wrong. Whether out of some notions of gender equality or a three-cakes-are-better-than-two mentality, my little brother soon learned to be a baking pro alongside me and his twin sister. Whenever he had a yen for cake, my little bro always produced the lightest, fluffiest sponges, with far more patience than either of his sisters, and a natural talent for baking. Where my brother was a pro at victoria sponge, I excelled at muffins, and my sister surpassed us both with her skill at cookies and cake decorating. Needless to say, mum and dad were kept well stocked in cake through our childhood.

Presenting our baked goods to our parents one day, not for the first time dad praised little bro’s exceptionally light hand at cake and proudly told him, ‘All the best chefs are men’. Naturally argumentative and pedantic, and with the beginnings of feminism in mind, I objected to this. Granted, male athletes will usually run faster, jump higher and swim faster than their female counterparts. This is biological inevitability. But baking? I incredulously pointed out to dad that when asked what their favourite food is, most people will reply ‘so-and-so-meal, just how mum/nan does it’. Both my parents carefully explained that home cooking was good and all, but there really weren’t that many famous/celebrated female chefs. When things got competitive, men were just better at it. Ever impressionable, I swallowed this perceived truth (almost) whole, and for years believed it to be true that all the best chefs were men and my brother probably just had some natural advantage at sponge cake. Who knew?

As I got older I started to recognise something of a self-fulfilling prophecy about these statements.  The ‘fact’ that all the best chefs are men is not driven by a meritocracy, where the women just fail to cut the mustard – we often just aren’t expected to try. If a woman does try to make her way in a “man’s” field, she can expect to be met with a whole lot more resistance. It’s worth pointing out that my parents are pretty liberal minded and told their daughters and sons alike that we could do anything we worked hard enough to achieve. Some gender stereotyping is so ingrained it doesn’t even feel like prejudice – just fact.

While rebranding Hot Pink Apron, a huge amount of time was piled into how to market ourselves as writers, and as a magazine as a whole. We are keen to use the magazine to connect together foodies from every walk of life, irrespective of gender. But nonetheless I’m very proud of the voice Hot Pink Apron gives us as ladies. We represent everything feminism wanted for its daughters – some of us are stay at home mums on a career break to raise kids, some are doing both. Some of us have full time jobs and no intention to have kids. We are marketing specialists, academics, musicians and mothers, and from behind a computer can tell the world that being women doesn’t stop us doing any of these things. We are all talented with food and nobody is shouting us down with cries of ‘don’t you ladies know the best chefs are men?!’.hot pink apron

The world of feminism has been revolutionised by the internet, where anyone (for better or worse) can carve a niche for themselves, and it is hard to censor them out. We are free to define ourselves the way we want ourselves to be seen, and we are free not to give a hoot whether we are doing what women are ‘supposed’ to be good at. My great-grandmother could never have imagined a great-granddaughter who went to university, got a job AND got married, and wrote for an online magazine, yet I am conspicuously doing all those things and so far, no one is showing any signs of stopping me. Feminism and the internet make an awesome, Hot Pink combination.

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The other side of suicide – An inquest

I missed the call a few weeks ago while I was running an event at work, and found an answerphone message that went something along the lines of ‘it’s the coroner’s office, call us back’. When I called back, no one knew who I was or why I had been called. I had an anxious wait while they asked around the office, and by the time I got through to someone, I was just relieved to know that the cause of the phone call was to ask me to give evidence for an inquest for someone I already knew was dead. My friend had committed suicide almost a year before and I had given a statement at the time, and now I was being asked to be interviewed in the coroner’s court and give further evidence.

Prior to the inquest, it would have been nice to deal with someone with some sense of tact, or with adequate training, who could provide useful information. This didn’t happen. Instead, I dealt with someone who told me the wrong date for the inquest (‘oh that’s funny, I gave you the wrong date!’ Hilarious.) who was unable to email me details of the date, time and location of the inquest. To top it all off, he called to tell me that my friend’s father had informed him he would be travelling to the inquest alone, and did I not think he should be travelling with someone? As it was, I didn’t. I was pretty upset and stressed about the whole thing, and in regular contact with my friend’s dad. If he needed someone to go with him, that was his own decision. I wasn’t even travelling from the same part of the country but this apparently passed the coroner’s office by. I’m sure the man at the coroner’s office thought he was being caring and helpful, but in reality, the emotional blackmail was inappropriate and stressful. We had no idea where to get food or if anything would be provided, or how long it would take. Apparently asking for an events co-ordinator capable of using a calendar, providing useful information, and speaking to the bereaved with tact was out of the question.

Thankfully, on the day they took slightly better care of us. The coroner herself was very kind and approachable and tried to put everyone at their ease. The inquest is never used to apportion blame – the only purpose is to establish who the person was, how they died, when they died and where they died. We heard evidence from the pathologist who conducted the autopsy, the cognitive behavioural therapist, the hospital psychiatrist, the police officer who conducted the investigation, the housemate who found the body, and me, as a character witness.

Leading up to his death, my friend frequently told me that the health’care’ he was receiving was insufficient. That he was routinely dismissed, downgraded from urgent care, talked down to and passed from one doctor to another. That he found the therapy sessions to be distressing and draining and that he would go from one person to another, asked uncomfortable and personal questions about his mental distress and suicidal urges, only to be told he just needed to try harder to engage with the therapies and not to kill himself. He would go back home, try harder, give up, try to kill himself, give himself over to therapy again, get told to try harder, get sent home. Wash, rinse, repeat. There are only so many times that a vulnerable and sick person can go through this process before they begin to believe it isn’t worth trying any more, and stop asking for ‘help’.

I was expecting (hoping) to find some poor psychiatrist that knew he was in need of urgent care, maybe even inpatient care, who just didn’t have the resources to treat him. Other mental health professionals I know have this problem all the time – that someone is sick and clearly needs more care, but that there just aren’t the resources to give it. To some extent we saw this with his therapist, who identified that he was far too complex a case for the level of care she was trained and able to offer, and when he came to her saying that he had planned a method and date to kill himself, and just needed to get hold of the pills, she rang all the alarm bells at the hospital she could to try and get him more appropriate help.

What I did not expect was that this was an utterly pointless dead end. The hospital had three levels of care:

Routine: regular three-month checkups

Urgent: a worsening in condition that merited being seen in the next ten working days

Critical: the patient needs to be seen in the next four hours. The patient will do harm to themselves, or someone else without intervention.

Despite outlining suicide plans to a therapist and trying other methods in between (it presumably took a while to get hold of the pills he needed to die) my friend was never considered critical. We were given no answers as to what he would have had to do to be taken that seriously, to have someone believe that he meant himself serious and immediate harm. The psychiatrist simply stated that he had seemed articulate, intelligent and ‘with it’ and was therefore not a high risk patient. My friend was a well-spoken, intelligent, English graduate. Even on the day he died, none of his closest friends guessed at his intentions. Because those who are mentally ill and unstable are not all raving, gibbering maniacs incapable of stringing a sentence together. I know this – the psychiatrist on the other hand seemed flabbergasted.

All I heard all day was ‘we followed protocol’, or ‘it’s ‘XXXX’s responsibility really’ or ‘it didn’t seem like he was going to do it right away’, even when he told his therapist he expected to be dead within the month. My friend told his therapist he wouldn’t give her all the details of his plans as then someone would try to stop him. So when after a hospital appointment where the psychiatrist sent him home after another ‘try harder at your therapy’ consultation with nothing more constructive than a self help book, my friend discharged himself from care, and they simply wrote up the discharge letter the next day. No one saw the appalling lack of support as an issue. No one saw him telling the therapist that he ‘wouldn’t need anyone’s help anymore’ as a sign for concern. And then a few days later, he was dead.

But apparently, this is fine, because protocol was followed. Apparently this is fine, because he wasn’t a ‘critical’ case. Apparently, unless you are a raving lunatic, frothing at the mouth, you never will be. And nothing more will come of this injustice and that practitioner will just go back to following routine. I have never been more angry. I left the room, and called the man a bastard, a shite, a fuckwit, an uncaring cunt, a shit-for-brains and briefly felt better until I realised that I didn’t have the words to express my contempt for this man or the system he represented.

I don’t think that even with proper care my friend could necessarily be saved. He wanted to die. But I do think he deserved better – a better chance at getting well, more compassion, more dignity. And this inquest, distressing as it was, will do nothing to change the system that failed him so badly. And so I ask for three things from you today.

1.) Take mental health seriously. Attention-seeking isn’t a cause for contempt, it is a crude acknowledgement that help is needed. It is not a cause for shame or blame any more than cancer, diabetes, flu, or any other illness is.

2.) Mental healthcare isn’t always up to standard. If your friend tells you they aren’t getting help, take them seriously. Believe that some therapists are unhelpful and condescending or that care isn’t always available. Help them build a network of support so that they don’t have to rely on whatever the doctor offers.

3.) Talk about it. Change it. Don’t keep this issue hidden. Donate to Mind. Fundraise. Raise awareness. Don’t suffer in silence.

Taking fun where you find it

This is a post about being happy, because sometimes being an adult is no fun at all. It’s a bit circuitous, but stick with it.

I left work last night (late) and phoned my husband to say I was going to be late. It was bloody cold outside and I had a four mile cycle ahead of me in temperatures appreciably below zero, and where I had left so late, it was completely dark.

As I left work I got a message from my sister saying she was sending me something that had to be signed for the next day so I called her to find out whether it *actually* had to be signed for, or if it just wouldn’t fit in the letterbox. My sister is sending me something because she is a nice sister, and had just heard that I have been asked to give evidence at my friend’s inquest. For those of you who haven’t read this blog much, my friend killed himself last May, so now there has to be an inquest to establish cause of death. You can read about my friend and my resulting charity exploits here and here. It’s a sad business.

Being British my sister and I complained about the weather – being in York, she has had a lot of snow. I complained how long it took to shift when we had it here, and commented that although it was quite cold enough to snow in Cambridge, we thankfully hadn’t had any. Snow makes it so hard to get to work. Snow is cold. Snow makes cycling a real mission.

As I spoke, of course it started snowing. Just what I need, I thought. I got off the phone to my sister and stopped. I love snow. I even went to Canada in the middle of winter for honeymoon because I love snow so much. Since when did my life become so defined by getting to and from my 9 to 5 that I didn’t have the time to enjoy snow?

I cycled as fast as I could down Adams road (pretty speedy considering it’s downhill) with my tongue hanging out like a dog, catching snowflakes. I looked like a cretin. But a happy cretin. Because doing stupid shit like this is what being happy is all about. I laughed out loud at how ridiculous I must have looked.

I think about my friend who died fairly frequently, and not just because in a few weeks’ time I will stand up in a courtroom and try to explain to a stranger why I think he killed himself. I think of him at moments like this to remind myself how grateful I am to enjoy catching snowflakes with my tongue. How much I love the view from Garrett Hostel bridge on my way into work (pictures at the top). How chirpy it makes me to cycle into work on a sunny morning. Because the last time I spoke to Burgess at length before he died, he told me that he went for a walk in Weston Park on a warm sunny spring day, listening to cricket on the radio (he was a massive cricket fan) but didn’t feel anything. He knew that the warm sun on his face, the ice cream, the children playing and the cricket should all make him happy, but he just didn’t feel it. The depression he suffered told him that these things weren’t enough to sustain lasting happiness, and refused to allow the connection in his brain to be made between enjoyable spring days in the park, and the resulting feeling of contentedness.

I try to remember this when I feel too much like a beleaguered grown-up and stop enjoying the little things. The logic is flawed: my enjoyment at these simple pleasures was never transferrable – I couldn’t make Burgess happy at the things that made me happy. And I certainly can’t do anything for him now. But I can take from this sad experience a sense of gratitude at what it feels like to be alive, and not feel as though that is an inestimable burden even when being alive feels like being cold, tired, and sad. Because even when we can’t see it – for whatever reason, stress, fatigue, depression, illness – there is so much to be happy about if you are willing to start small.

Bristol Christian Union – or what I like to call ‘doing it wrong’

So I was hoping not to have to get on my feminist Christian high horse again in such short order following the Church of England rant. However, after reading an article on the Bristol University Christian union’s policy to bar women from teaching or speaking at their events, the rage got so great that I have felt compelled to take to my keyboard in anger.

I will first of all outline the news story as I saw it unfold. First off, a friend sent me this HuffPo article on how Bristol University Christian Union (BUCU) had banned women from speaking at Christian meetings. I cannot account for the veracity of the internal email communication they obtained, so rather than paraphrase I will quote what I read from the article directly:

The Huffington Post UK has seen the email sent out by president Matt Oliver to all BUCU members which said: “It is ok for women to teach in any CU setting… However we understand that this is a difficult issue for some and so decided that women would not teach on their own at our weekly CU meetings, as the main speaker on our Bristol CU weekend away, or as our main speaker for mission weeks.

“But a husband and wife can teach together in these.”

It seems as though this is actually the communication that was sent, but I’d hate for you to think I had been the one paraphrasing and potentially misrepresenting what had been said. This is all I have to go on.

HuffPo quickly revised their initial article, stating that this ban was not new, but in fact a long standing policy. Revised article here. I’m not sure that this actually constitutes a defence of the BUCU policy, but it does (to an extent) exonerate the individual who sent the email. He was just following orders, not making them (if you think that’s much better).

Since that shitstorm was unleashed, several things have happened. The first is that BUCU have released a statement (which you can read here) ‘[deploring] the recent exaggerations and misrepresentations in some parts of the media of its position on women’s ministry in the church’. I have some sympathy with them here, because what the news media have failed to do is make a distinction between a church and a christian union, and it certainly makes them come off a lot worse than they would have anticipated. This view is backed by the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (read here). I will explain why although I still think BUCU give me rage, this distinction is very important.

A church is an organised body which by its nature has a commitment to being theologically ‘right’ (whatever their interpretation of that may be) and serving the needs of people who align themselves with that theological outlook. They have to make distinctions about things like women bishops, because a church is pretty much required to take a theological standpoint, which will in turn, directly affect how it operates. The CofE have fucked this up beyond all recognition, but we get what they were trying to do.

A Christian Union is not the same thing. It’s a glorified social club. It’s a place where people who share something like approximately the same faith, or at least would describe themselves as as Christian, can meet, discuss ideas, worship, and feel part of a community without actually being a church. It is first and foremost, a service. This means that it has to be as neutral as possible in its official policies because it caters to a diverse group of people. It is reasonable for it not to have policies on anything which is considered secondary to the key tenets of the faith, because once you do that, you start dividing and excluding people.

As I have promised to propose the defence for BUCU, I will also state that joining is not compulsory, and there is always the option if you don’t agree with its operations, not to join.

However, as the main focal point for Christian students to meet and socialise and have discussions about their faith, there may not be many alternatives that provide a similar service, so many women who feel left out by this policy may still attend an institution for its other perceived benefits – as I am sure many still do at the CofE. Shouting them down by saying ‘if you don’t like it why don’t you leave’ is not productive. Because frankly if women deferentially left everywhere they were treated as inferior we’d have to leave planet fucking earth, and it is the bosses who stay behind to change things who make the world an awesome place. Sure, pick your battles – not every perceived injustice is worth your precious time and energy – but telling people to leave doesn’t improve anything.

And this is what I think is the essential problem. BUCU have had this policy for a long time in the name of not causing offence, or upsetting those misguided individuals who really believe God made women in his own image only to be second class – an afterthought. They haven’t tried to produce an effective solution or improve the agreement that have that fundamentally doesn’t work – they’ve just placed a blanket ban on women speaking for themselves. Allowing them to talk only with their husband is not a compromise – it’s an insult. It cements the idea (whether they meant it or not) that women require the permission and authority of a man for their words to be acceptable and worthwhile. In trying to produce a policy to cause least offence, BUCU has hamfistedly catered to the needs of the few and sacrificed the rights of the many.

Imagine you are a woman whose religious beliefs are that you are an equal in Christ as it SAYS IN THE BIBLE (Galatians 3:28). Have your beliefs been catered to? No. You have been met with the same kind of opposition you will find to a lesser or greater extent everywhere else in your life. You’re good enough to help out, maybe be treasurer or something – but not good enough to lead. If women were allowed to speak – as they are by the overarching Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, then those who didn’t like it can either provide some sound theological reasoning that makes it a discussion not a dictatorship, or choose to attend meetings where men speak. Excluding women is not, and never was the answer. In fact, to state that they have an attitude of tolerance to ANY Christian background rightfully should involve allowing women to speak, and equally tolerate that some Christian groups may not wish to attend.

So BUCU have now released a statement saying that women will be permitted to speak on all occasions (they haven’t said if this will be with or without their husbands – let’s hope there are no lesbians in BUCU) but the fact that it took being reported on international news sites for them to decide that what they were doing was wrong doesn’t suggest a healthy change – they’ve just been forced.

I am not afraid of any misogynist ‘Christian’ who thinks he is better than me. In fact, I am not afraid of any arsehole who thinks that possession of a penis represents a god-given right to superiority. I just don’t understand why Christian organisations have this fear of offending these inherently offensive people. The only way forward is to stop acting like the submissive little wifeys these people seem to want us to be and start raising hell. Whatever its intentions BUCU has been actively promoting the idea that women don’t get a say, don’t get to speak for themselves, are nothing without a man, and are second place in the eyes of God. And they can fuck right off with their excuses about ‘inclusivity’ and start getting on with being an institution that doesn’t need to justify its poor behaviour.

*MINI UPDATE*

Having had my suggestion of raising hell quoted on facebook by a fellow blogger I thought it was worth qualifying quite what I meant about raising hell.

1.) Start thinking. And start thinking for yourself. Things aren’t always the way they are because that is the best way – sometimes it is just the status quo, and sometimes that needs changing. The church’s attitude to leadership is one of those things that needed review. Attitudes to gay marriage and equality is another.

2.) Get educated. READ! Pretty much the sum knowledge of the human race is at your fingertips. I know this because you’re reading my blog, which is on the internet. Read the opinions of others, read the facts of the case, and start applying point 1. You could do worse than to start here for a bit of casual feminism: http://www.agirlsguidetotakingovertheworld.co.uk/

3.) Decide on what you want from life. Decide on what you think constitutes an argument worth having

4.) Fight your corner. Know your principles. Listen to the opinions of others and review them where you are persuaded that’s necessary. Be brave, but not rude.

5.) Take action. Write a blog. Start pointing other people in the right directions. Sign petitions. Talk to people. Discuss ideas. Stand up for yourself.

At all times be a good human being. There’s quite a bit to be said for that.

The Church of England – doing it wrong

This is a long post. Don’t read if you are not interested in seeing scripture quoted and discussed at length. Onwards.

I will preface this post by saying I am not a theologian. Nor have I ever (probably like most Christians) read the entirety of the Bible. I have read lots of it, and will read any sections that I see as central to a debate in which I wish to take part; as such I write this post from the position of someone who is reasonably well-informed, but perhaps not as ‘qualified’ as others to comment upon the Church of England’s decision today to exclude women from leadership in their Church. I will also state from the outset that I am a Christian. I was brought up understanding that I had been Christened in, and was therefore part of the Church of England, and that those were the values by which my mother (by and large) understood Christianity.

To add in a little more background – I didn’t regularly attend Church as a child, largely due to the Church’s phenomenal ability to frighten and exclude people. My mother had joined a baptist church, attended their classes and Sunday schools and become part of the church there. What had begun as religion began to take on the persona of indoctrination at the point that she was told that her parents were going to hell unless she managed to convince them to join and attend the church. Even if you sincerely believe that this attitude is rescuing lost souls from damnation (a type of discourse which I desperately hope is gradually leaving modern teaching), this is not the way to do it. My mum quite sensibly decided that if hell was where her family was going, that was where she also wanted to be, and there ended the period of her life where she was a regular church attender. I  began attending a non-denominational (for non-denominational you can probably quite safely read happy-clappy) church as a teenager. On arriving at university, I attended a Church of England church, having found it to be lively, innovative and welcoming without the usual feeling of being identified as ‘fresh meat’ and dragged into every church activity in the calendar in order to ensure my salvation. Or something like that.

So I stopped going to church for a number of reasons. I find going out and meeting new people stressful, and the increasing number of ‘suggestions’ that I come along to home groups, prayer groups and other such events started to get to me. I don’t volunteer for these things because I struggle to deal with people and no means no. I questioned ideas of leadership both in non-denominational church and in CofE church. I don’t understand why you need to be qualified to break bread when Jesus says we should just do it together, and the new testament is full of people meeting in Jesus’ name and breaking bread. End of. I didn’t understand why church leadership is often tailored towards excluding rather than including people – who is and isn’t allowed to take part.

Mostly – I felt that Church of any kind didn’t represent me while I was still treated as a second class citizen. In every other aspect of day to day life, I demand respect and credit equal to that of my male peers, but in church…no. Having got married, ‘officially’ (in scare quotes because I WHOLEHEARTEDLY disagree) I should be submitting to my husband. And in church leadership, women are also second best. Outside of the CofE, husband and wife partnerships running churches often put women in the cuddly pastoral role while the husband will take charge of the running of the church. I find this attitude not only insulting in the extreme, but also a dreadful assumption to make about our leaders. We should not be pigeonholing them based on gender assumptions. I need not even get my feminist hat on to say that this is not an effective way to get the most out of our leaders. The CofE came off even worse than non-denominational church in as far as I never saw a woman teach. When I realised that, I left. I have issues with people who believe in God being made to feel like Church isn’t the place for them. This latest travesty from the Church of England gives me rage, because it just perpetuates the idea that church isn’t for everyone.

It is my strong belief that women bishops can be supported by scripture.  The following are some of the most common objections, and my responses.

1 Patriarchy is established well before the fall, and is intrinsic to how we were created (Genesis 2). Woman is described as a ‘helper’ to man, and Adam is even invited to name her – itself an act of authority. God designed us from the outset to be led by men.

So this is actually the most convincing argument in the anti-women bishops armoury so we’ll knock this one on the head first. Let’s take Genesis 2 at the point man and woman are created:

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

I see nothing here which ultimately suggests man is ‘more in charge’. If anything, God actually appears a little sheepish. Replace ‘man’ with ‘woman’ and you still have a lonely individual needful of a companion. As regards making a helper ‘suitable for him’ – I see suitable as an indication of compatibility. These people are meant to be lifelong partners and God is keen on neat solutions – there is no way he would go off and make a woman that couldn’t get on with Adam. This as far as I can see has very little to do with hierarchy, and everything to do with the fact that up until they start creating little people themselves – Adam and Eve have only each other.

Onwards!

19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam[f] no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs[g] and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib[h] he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23 The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

 So Genesis 2 has none of this ‘man made in God’s image business’ so we’ll skip over that for the minute and talk about the meat of this passage since it’s in the much simpler Genesis 1. Hang in there, I’m getting on to it. So first off – God’s bringing of things for Adam to name is quite different to Adam naming Eve. It sounds like Adam is looking for a friend amongst the animals and doesn’t find one rather than God is suggesting that’s where Adam should be looking. Once the grand naming exercise is over, God whips out the celestial chloroform and begins work on Eve. Exhibiting learning from experience, Adam names Eve woman – but crucially what he is doing is not laying possession to her, but recognising her as someone like himself. More importantly still (especially to all those women submit to their husbands arguments) the concession made in marriage according to Genesis 2:24 is all made by the man. He leaves his father and mother to be united with his wife. In spite of everything God says later in Genesis 3 (hang in there, it’s in point 2) Genesis 2 clearly states that man submits to his wife as a current state of affairs – not just something that happens pre-fall. I don’t take this as evidence for female supremacy – I take it as evidence for mutual submission and equal agreement.

Eve is named after the fall – called ‘living’ because Adam recognises that she is the future of mankind. So yes, Adam names her, and all of us were taught in feminist lit classes that naming is owning. Interestingly, Adam never lays claim to Eve – from the outset they co-exist and questions of superiority or hierarchy never enter the equation. They are made equal. Surely if God thought it important to make distinctions about who was in charge he would have mentioned it at the outset rather than leaving it open to interpretation many thousands of years later. This is not the important lesson to be learned from Genesis. The important lesson is that Adam and Eve GET THE FUCK ON WITH IT WITHOUT QUIBBLING OVER WHO GOD THINKS IS MORE IMPORTANT OR WHO MADE WHO FIRST.

Before we get onto Genesis 3 and the fall, as promised, we’ll head back over to God’s creation of people in Genesis 1.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Man and woman, both created in God’s image, created at once. This is God’s first word on the matter in the book we use as our handbook to life as a Christian. ‘Nuff said.

2 Woman is responsible for the fall, after which God says ‘Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’

This is the next biggest one because that looks reasonably conclusive, but I don’t think that means it isn’t up for grabs for a bit more discussion. I’m a literature student so of course I would say that. Let’s get all literary analysis on Genesis 3.

The Fall

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

[…punishes serpent…]

16 To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

20 Adam[c] named his wife Eve,[d] because she would become the mother of all the living.

So yes, God does say that Adam is going to rule over Eve – but not that this is now the benchmark for successful human relationships from now on. There’s lots of times when God appears to be ‘cursing’ people when actually I think he’s making an observation on the effects their actions are about to produce. Eve is going to be ruled over by her husband – but let’s talk a little bit about what God says to Adam before we decide what that means.

Adam is now going to be responsible for Eve’s welfare, and the welfare of any children they have. He is going to have to use his strength to toil the land for food. All the animals that he just named and laid claim to? Some of those are predators now and he has to protect Eve against unforeseen dangers. Eve is going to have to rely on Adam in a world which has suddenly become dangerous and frightening. It is a natural consequence that Adam is going to take a leadership role in this relationship based on his and Eve’s new circumstances. Does God ever suggest in this passage that this is a model on which the rest of us should define our relationships? Not that I can see.

In fact, look at Adam and Eve’s ‘confessions’. Eve at least explains she has been hoodwinked – Adam blames both God and Eve. “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”  He claims no accountability whatsoever. Hardly a model of good leadership. Hardly a recommendation for how to live our lives. And more to the point – Adam and Eve are punished together, and equally.

I do not accept Genesis as a logic for male supremacy. If anything, Genesis 1’s egalitarian message is re-iterated in Genesis  5; ‘When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind”[a] when they were created.’

3. Jesus worked within the social restraints of his time, but was willing to challenge customs that he actively disliked, such as talking to the Samaritan woman in John 4 even though other Jews disapproved. Still, Jesus did not appoint women apostles.

This is one of those ones I consider something of a free-for-all. You can argue cultural differences until the cows come home and I am not a scholar of Roman culture. What I do know: teachers were always men. Jesus has a message to teach to as wide an audience as possible. Jesus knows he is leaving soon and will need people to continue to teach his message after he is gone. So he appoints teachers, and they are men. They will have freedom to travel, they will not have children to deal with, and they will have the most credibility in a world which is frankly, as yet rather dismissive of this new cult. Remember what I said about God and neat solutions? This is one.

Nonetheless, God’s neat solutions aren’t intended to unjustly leave people out. So Jesus has a large collection of followers. Many of them, and many of those he loves and respects most, are women. The hospitality which made it possible for Jesus to travel and teach? Largely provided by women.

Finally – who was it who found Jesus resurrected, the cornerstone of our faith? A woman. And as the letter the clergy wrote to the independent before the vote stated, a woman’s opinion was as yet inadmissible in a court of law, but it was a good enough witness to our Lord’s resurrection. One of the aspects of Christianity which allowed it to flourish was best expressed in Galatians 3:28:

‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’

Just because Jesus didn’t appoint women apostles doesn’t mean we can’t have them as bishops. Jesus never states that it would be wrong to, but there are a lot of reasons why in a culture where women can expect equality, they should be able to expect equality with their male peers.

4. Paul’s teaching was not a temporary cultural restraint we can now disregard – it was an important theological decision. Although in Jesus there is no ‘male nor female’, God calls men to lead. Cultural differences to Rome are overplayed and the scripture remains fundamental to how we operate as a church today.

Ok so here’s the bit that everyone cites. It’s from 1 Timothy, 11-15.

11 A woman[a] should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[b] she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

So after a quick phone call to my friend who studies theology, the authorship of 1 Timothy is not clear cut. It is at odds with a lot of what Paul teaches, so to cite this as Paul’s refusal of women’s authority is a problematic footing on which to base an argument.

Bear in mind that woman also translates as ‘wife’ and remember that this is a domestic situation and a letter to a specific time, and a specific place. I fully believe in all the scripture wherever it comes from but this does not mean we should swallow it whole at face value. The letters of the new Testament in particular are very ground in the time they were written and who they were written for. Crucially – they are letters, excerpts of a larger conversation and we only get the rest of the conversation by inference. These letters are selected because they contain some nugget of advice which the early church thought was worth keeping.

In this case bear in mind men were educated, women weren’t. The questions they had to ask would be at a very different level to their more educated male peers, and effective teaching cannot be a free-for-all of questions all the time. Structure is necessary so the more educated men are the teachers in this church. Just as Adam leads Eve when their situation demands someone qualified to take charge. As regards 13-14, the suggestion here is that Eve is newer, younger, more easily deceived. She receives her information second hand and she makes mistakes. I think this is asking us to compare a situation where things go wrong because of inexperience – not so much using Genesis as a good justification for the subjugation of women. The next point will also clarify this somewhat.

4 Although there are some female teachers in the early church, they were not accepted by the mainstream church.

This one is true. Women took an active part in early church, but probably were never granted quite the same acceptance as their male peers. This statement DOES NOT justify exclusion of women in leadership though. Look at how Paul describes his female colleagues:

Romans 16:7 ‘Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among[a] the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.’

 – Junia is a woman. Outstanding among the apostles, and Christians even before Paul got there. A man and a woman, acknowledged equally as Christians, both imprisoned for their faith.

Romans 16:1-4 ‘I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon[a][b] of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. Greet Priscilla[c] and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

 – Two people of note here – a deacon, Phoebe, who is leading her church and merits all the assistance she asks for because of her intrinsic abilities as a leader.

– Also Priscilla, or Prisca. A woman, named before her husband – not traditional, see Andronicus and Junia above. This suggests (as backed up by my theology student pal) she may have actually been the one running the show. They are both Paul’s co-workers in Christ Jesus, and they deserve everyone’s gratitude for their faith and bravery.

Acts 16:14-15 ‘14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.’

 – When they return to Lydia’s house later, it appears she is running a church there. ‘Nuff said.

True enough, these women in their patriarchal society probably lacked the authority that their male peers enjoyed, but they are recognised in their own right as leaders and equals in Christ. I do not accept that women were excluded from leadership in the early church because Acts is full of ’em.

These are my scriptural arguments, such as they are. Beyond this, I think the way that the CofE is running the show now is inevitably unsustainable. They have alienated 50% of their people by saying, ‘you are not good enough.’ The gross mismanagement of the legislation has led to a set of terms deemed unacceptable both by the conscientious objectors and by the pro-female bishops camps, leading to votes against the proposition from those who are actually in favour of the idea. This synod was out of touch with itself, let alone anyone else. It is simply not possible to sustain a leadership strategy which allows women access to some levels of leadership but not others – the ultimate glass ceiling. Similarly, the vote was only narrowly lost. The overwhelming feeling seems to be that this is scripturally a good thing to do, with few actual objections – a church cannot then go ahead with a ‘no’ vote for something it believes to be scripturally true. It fundamentally doesn’t work.

The Bible is full of ambitious, greedy and selfish men. It’s full of selfish, ambitious and greedy women. It also contains a number of great men who did great things for God, and funnily enough, plenty of great women who go as far as to defy convention by making it into the history books by doing great things for God. Are we excluding men from leadership? Are we questioning their judgement based on Adam’s blame-dodging and poor decision making? No, we are not.

So why in this time, in this place, are we still questioning women’s right to take part in church leadership based on flimsy theoretical theology?

A better question: why, when this theological argument has apparently been long-established by the church (i.e. in the 70s) are they still pandering to a minority? If the Church actually believes its decisions on ethical and theological issues to be worth standing by, then why is it dithering nigh-on 40 years to implement the change based on the misogynist beliefs of the few? Moreover, for those dissenting laity who feel as though their needs should be pandered to – where’s their fucking ‘submission to authority’ that they so readily demand of their inferiors?

 

Count me out.

A quick shout-out to my invaluable theology friend Dan Skuce. He has a blog. It’s very good. Go read it: http://therewasabox.wordpress.com/

On sexism, rape apologists and slut dropping

A couple of weeks ago I saw this article in the Independent. It’s received a certain amount of internet notoriety in the right circles – it describes the inherent sexism in behaviour during fresher’s week at UK universities – ranging from Tarts and Vicars themed fancy dress, to a practice they identified as ‘slut-dropping’. It is something of a truism that most shop-bought women’s fancy dress will be of a revealing or sexual nature. I don’t see this as a big deal in relation to other issues of institutionalised sexism – equal pay, employment and education opportunities are moe of a hot topic to me than what I see as ‘low-level’ sexism. I get more enraged by letters addressed to Mrs C. Brunton than I do by women who choose to wear tart-tastic fancy dress (although my husband’s name may be Chris, and I have opted to take his surname as a symbol of respect and mutual partnership, I do not accept that with marriage I relinquish my right to have a first name, and will almost always return such correspondence with ‘not known at this address’). Yes, slutty fancy dress is indicative of a culture that values women by physical appearance rather than intrinsic merit, but the wheels of change are slow. The better respected and more well-educated women are, the less I see slutty fancy dress as an issue – if you don’t want to dress as a tart, well, don’t. If you do want to indulge in some slutty fancy dress – well that’s your call. No one is forcing you to do so, and heck, you may even want to dress up as a tart.  No, the real issue here was that of ‘slut-dropping’.

Now I’ll preface this with my personal opinion, which is that this has all the hallmarks of an urban myth. The practice described involved some juvenile men driving into town to pick up clearly drunk girls. They ask for her address, offering to take her home. Once she accepts, they drive in the opposite direction, and dump the girl on the wrong side of town, videoing her as they leave. Although this one incident may have taken place, no other reports or evidence of this practice have surfaced. In fact in this case, the young man interviewed knew that it had taken the girl eight hours to get home, as ‘they were ‘friends’ on Facebook’. Nobody questions that this is poor behaviour, but even under some fairly close scrutiny, this hasn’t emerged as a trend elsewhere, and doesn’t appear to be as random behaviour as the Telegraph suggests, as the lads knew this girl – the Telegraph article makes it out to be endemic, where I think it is actually more a hyped up, exaggerated story told in fresher’s week about an isolated event. The extent to which I find it troubling that young men wish to crow about abusing vulnerable women, and the social reasoning behind this is something that I will not be discussing in this post, but suffice to say that I do not underestimate the damage of these attitudes.

What actually surprised me more was the diversity of opinion about the behaviour exhibited by the young woman in this story amongst other women that I discussed it with. I would like to clarify that none of us were so crass as to suggest that the girl concerned ‘had it coming to her’ for choosing to be drunk, provocatively dressed, or perhaps overly trusting – but our ideas about acceptable risk, responsibility, and in fact the very idea of trusting men were remarkably different. A short discussion also quickly leads (whether you meant it or not) into a discussion about victim-blaming, and to what extent the victim can/should be responsible for what has happened to them. It’s an understandably prickly issue with a great deal of potential for offence to be caused – but they are questions worth asking, which substantially inform the way society both teaches (and then later expects) people to treat one another.

Let me start by saying that we all felt the same way about the article’s description of slut-dropping – it appears to have been an unpleasant, but ultimately quite isolated incident. Due to the manner in which the story was told, even this recounting of the incident is likely to be exaggerated, and potentially quite removed from the reality of what took place. What we discussed more closely was whether or not it was acceptable to:

– dress provocatively

– be drunk and separated from a group

– get into a car with strangers, or at least a group of young men who you are unlikely to have known for long (as this took place in Fresher’s week)

– any combination of the above

I re-iterate that questioning these things may feel like something of a backwards step toward victim blaming when awesome feminist groups like this one on Facebook regularly (and quite rightly) vocally defend women’s right to dress and act as they please without expecting to be abused because of their gender. Too right. However, we do not live in a perfect world, and just because we realise that being in possession of breasts does not give men the god given right to abuse, doesn’t mean that everyone else thinks that way. In fact, women are regularly abused simply by virtue of being women, in a multitude of ways. To what extent is it a woman’s ‘responsibility’ to safeguard against this?

In some respects, the most extreme response I heard was the most ‘feminist’ if you will. It came from a young woman in her twenties who simply put it that she didn’t choose to live her life expecting everyone to be abusive, or a danger. She had hitch-hiked before, and may have got into that car if offered a lift home late at night. Although she may not personally choose to, there is no reason for a woman not to dress provocatively or be drunk. When we countered that these behaviours came with strong associated risks, if not of rape then certainly of sexual harassment, also potentially of mugging, she responded that actually in most rape cases the rapist is known, and known well to the victim. They are a relative, or a current (or previous) sexual partner rather than an opportunist stranger. They exist, but aren’t perhaps as common as we have been made to think. That aside, she pointed out that none of the behaviours we discussed were a crime. Nor do any of them directly incite another individual to commit a crime towards you – so why in heaven’s name should you live like you expect someone to rape or abuse you? The victim has done nothing which is by any standard ‘wrong’. They have worn the clothes they wanted to wear, and they have been trusting of another human being offering help – how would they be in any way to blame if those young men abused her in any way?

My view is actually the one that could most easily be viewed as rape apologism. Although I will defend any woman’s right to wear what she pleases and go where she pleases, I don’t necessarily believe that these will always represent sensible, or well-reasoned decisions. Just as I wouldn’t recommend a young man to drunkenly walk home and get the attention of other young men worse the wear for drink, I don’t recommend it to a woman either. The young man risks a fight or a mugging. He probably stands a better (even if not a good) chance of defending himself, but nonetheless, I would still say he had put himself into a vulnerable position. A young woman who gets into a car with a near-stranger similarly risks mugging, but is also at a higher risk of sexual assault. She is more likely to be harassed, and even if she avoids the worst of risks, is more likely to have a rough night, feeling scared and vulnerable. The victim never deserves blame – but the victim could possibly have been better educated about risk assessment. They could have been better served by a system which is about fear-mongering rather than teaching girls and women how to take care of themselves in a situation which may be dangerous.
So no, I don’t think it is a good idea to accept a lift home. I personally keep an emergency five pound note for a cab home, and book a cab rather than get into a random one if possible. I check the cab driver’s (now compulsory) licence is displayed correctly which is the best assurance I can have that the car I am getting into is safe. And if I’m really worried, I text a friend to say I’m coming home by cab. Nonetheless I am the other product of an education system which teaches fear rather than rationale – rather than believing it will never happen to me, I believe I am always at risk.

I don’t blame the victim but I do believe that the first step towards minimising crimes against women is realistic teaching of risk and how to handle threatening situations. If we want to stop a culture which blames women for being abused or raped, and we want to stop these crimes happening, we have to teach that rape isn’t always from an opportunistic attacker. We need to teach sensible life choices and sensible day to day precautions. We need to teach young men respect and we need to teach them when their jackass behaviour is going to put someone vulnerable at risk, be it a man or a woman. And above all, we need to keep on making sure that men like this and this continue to be a laughing stock and stay out of power.

It’s Movember!

Or the month formerly known as November. If you’ve never heard of Movember before, get educated. Movember is about ‘changing the face of men’s health’ and raising awareness for difficult issues like prostate and testicular cancer.

It’s about raising awareness and education – getting health checks. Talking about embarassing issues. It’s also about using the month of November to grow as hilarious a tache as possible and raise money doing it. The rules state that all Mo Bros must be clean shaven at the beginning of the month, and then work their hardest to get the best moustache at the end of it.

Chris’ branch of Natwest in Cambridge are taking part, and have their own team page even if currently only Chris is registered on it. Nonetheless, go into NatWest on Fitzroy Street in the last week of Movember and you can fully expect to be met with some month old taches and the chance to donate to this great charity. ‘Male’ cancers just do not get enough publicity or charity relief – so mo bros and mo sistas – it’s time to get tache-tastic.