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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

" . . .babes in Christ."

It was just a small thing, really. A silly little poem tucked away on page 20 of an otherwise serious, conservative periodical. Just a few lines written down that raised more than a few eyebrows:
It's All In Her Genes

It's all in her genes
She likes to say
When avoirdupois
Won't go away.

Yes, look from behind
To see what she means
No doubt that you'll find
It's all in her JEANS.
- Anonymous Ancient Egyptian
Susan Russell, Senior Associate at All Saints Church, Pasadena, posted this wee ditty on her blog, having been first alerted by Mary Glasspool, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of LA. Someone named "John" identified the author as a "female octogenarian" in the comment section of Susan's blog.

Now, one might find this little poem vaguely amusing, considering the source. One might even be impressed by the somewhat clever interplay of "genes" and "jeans". One might be further impressed by the use of the word "avoirdupois" - unless, of course, one is a fan of Scrabble or the NY Times Crossword puzzle in particular or of wordsmithing in general.

One might expect such a poem to appear on the pages of the AARP or in a newsletter which features works by people of that generation.

One does not expect something like this to appear in a publication like The Anglican Digest which declares its mission as
"Our goal is to connect the Church by gathering articles that tell the vital story of our faith.

The material in each issue is for a varied audience and includes ministry ideas for clergy and laity, devotional and historical material, as well as humor and news briefs from around the Anglican Communion."
TAD, whose "pocket-size pages are made up of some things old, some things new, most things borrowed, everything true," has been around since 1958. It is published bimonthly by SPEAK, the Society for Promoting and Encouraging the Arts and Knowledge (of the Church) at Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

The Editor is the Rev'd Dr. Kendall Harmon, Canon Theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina and well known across the broad spectrum of the church as an outspoken "orthodox" critic of The Episcopal Church and her "progressive" leadership. We have Dr. Harmon to thank for coining the now ubiquitous if not odious and annoying and essentially inaccurate terms "reasserter" ("conservative" or "orthodox") and "revisionist" ("liberal" or "progressive").

Its web page states that the "market" of TAD is "the entire Church, clergy and lay, those highly theologically educated and 'babes in Christ'."

So, as a somewhat highly theologically educated babe. . . in Christ, of course, I took laptop in hand and wrote to Dr. Harmon.

After quoting the offensive poem, I wrote
I don't know what I find more objectionable and offensive - the obvious sexism of the "poem" or the fact that the author is hiding behind a pseudonym.

We have had our theological and political differences in the past, Kendall, but I've always experienced you as a gentleman.

I rely on that personal experience as I anticipate a full apology.

As National Convener of The Episcopal Women's Caucus, I insist on one.
I have not received an apology. I'm not holding my breath.

"Wait, what's the big deal?" someone is asking. "It's a little poem - perhaps in bad taste - but it's not like it's the end of the world."

Well, yes. Yes, in fact, it is. Some of us are trying to end of the world of the prominent social paradigm of patriarchy which is resisting its long-overdue but eventual death with every fiber of its still considerable muscle.

There's a word for this. It's called "micro-oppression."

Micro-oppression is subtle, not as obvious and therefore harder to point out or confront than oppression. Sexist micro-oppression occurs frequently and has a tendency to wear a person down over time. All micro-oppression tends to be “invisible” and we often experience the cumulative effect of it as tension between ourselves.

Micro-oppression is death by a thousand paper cuts.

This poem has a particular sting because the mis-education of a woman of a particular generation was published by an otherwise reputable Christian journal.

In December, 1987, in an essay entitled "Spirituality: An African View", Dr. Clarence Glover wrote:
"The greatest weapon that the oppressor has in his hand is the mind of the oppressed."
Media often reduces women to objects of sexual desire and not much else. Women are still seen as the bearer of children and the home maker. Little girls are socialized at a young age to look pretty for men so they can fulfill the life long dream of finding that husband, having that wedding and making those babies.

Now, being a wife and a mother is a noble calling, to be sure, but one person's nobility can be another person's shackles.

When you have been brought up with shame and guilt because you are "the weaker sex," - when you are barraged daily by subtle and not-so-subtle messages and images about the shape and form of a "perfect" woman's body - even "innocent little poems" like this make it easy to give in to the despair and the daunting odds of reversing your negative civil rights and social situation.

Thomas Jefferson said, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance".

It's the small, unexpected appearances of sexism which require vigilance - and persistence.

Yes, it's tedious, thankless work. Yes, it is work that is often misunderstood and criticized or minimized and dismissed as insignificant. It is especially painful when other women - knowingly or unknowingly - are the vehicles of micro-oppression.

The price of liberty is worth it. To quote that national hair care product for women: "Because you're worth it." And, so are our children - male and female - who are also being shaped and formed by a culture which is still deeply imbued with the sometimes indelible stains of oppression and micro-oppression.

We may be "babes in Christ" but our baptismal vows charge us to "grow into the full stature of Christ," and to "respect the dignity of every human being."

That journey can lead us, in the words of Martin Smith, to the "crucifyingly obscure boundaries of our faith."

So, put on your 'jeans' and allow the 'genes' of your faith to carry you forward into that journey - no matter the shape 'avoirdupois' lends to that which is behind you.


Susan Armer said...

Amen, Elizabeth.

Elaine C. said...

thank you!

Andy said...

I've always found one interesting aspect of pathological progressivism is the marked atropy of the humor centers of the cerebral cortex.
Its a light-hearted bit of wordplay +Elizabeth, I think you're reading way too much into it.

Malcolm+ said...

Sort of off topic, but . . .

I'm a little surprised by your disdain for the labels Kendall has offered for (broadly speaking) the two main camps in recent controversies. Personally, for all their weaknesses, I think they are better than any of the other commonly used descriptors on offer.

"Liberal / Conservative" loads the debate with a cartful of baggage that is really irrelevant, and the rest of the usual labels immediately presume and deliniate the speakers view on who is right and who is wrong.

By comparison, it seems to me, "reasserter / reappraiser" accurately describes the two positions (those who would reassert previous interpretations of scripture and tradition as opposed to those who would reappraise the interpretation of scripture and tradition in the light of new knowledge and insight) without explicitly saying that one is right / orthodox / faithful / scriptural and the other is not.

But I am still a bit gobsmacked by the inappropriateness of the little poem.

Daniel Weir said...

Pathological progressivism?

Perhaps the atrophy of good manners is a symptom of sclerotic conservatism.

About labels: I tend to honor the labels people give themselves unless, as in the case of orthodox or tea party, they are the appropriation of labels that properly belong to others. I decided some years ago to accept the revisionist label as I was convinced of the rightness of the revision of many of the Episcopal Church's previous positions.

Bex said...

Hey, Malcolm+ it's "revisionist", which has a whole other connotation. Andy, since your sex (I'm assuming you're a male) isn't the "butt" of the joke, it just doesn't register on your radar that the poem is offensive. It's time for corrective measures to aid empathy loss.

Malcolm+ said...

@Bex - I went back and looked at Elizabeth's text and yes, she did say revisionist, which I agree is pejorative.

More commonly, I've seen "reasserter" paired with "reappraiser," and in that pairing, I find neither of the terms pejorative or presuming that one has value over the other. And frankly, as a Canadian social democrat, I'd rather be hit upside the head with a brick than be called a liberal.

JCF said...

I've already ranted on this on Susan's blog, so changing the subject to say:

Prayers for you, Elizabeth (there in Lower, Slower, Delaware), as Earl approaches...

Mary-Cauliflower said...

The poem is Reader's Flippin' Digest, circa 1963. It's a poor cousin to Ogden Nash's "You look divine as you advance/Have you seen yourself retreating?" (Which surely wasn't his best work either.) What does it add to anything? Why waste precious space?

And I'll challenge anyone--progressive, regressive, flat tax, term, or whole life insurance--to a session of limericks, puns, ditties, jokes and funny stories. This shouldn't be one of them, though.

it's margaret said...

"otherwise reputable Christian journal" ...really? We had subscribed for decades, and canceled it about eight years ago --for all the reasons you just illustrated, except double it with regards to open Christian dialogue and contemporary theological discourse. They approach those things in very much the same way they presented this fine little ditty. --just sayin'.

Andy, perhaps we could create a wonderful little light-hearted ditty bit of wordplay that could mock and make poor jest of a man's anatomy, and see if they print it....

Bateau Master said...

Okay Mary .... its on like Donkey Kong!

There was a young lady named Perkins,
Who simply doted on gherkins.
Despite all advice,
She ate so much spice,
that she pickled her internal work'ins

Well that's my limit to appropriate Irish verse.

Marie said...

Well, well said Elizabeth. Death by paper cuts indeed. And, as someone else said, prayers for you as Earl approaches (or not).

Rosemary said...

Keep it coming, Elizabeth. Your comments will always make people think, hard as it is for them to do so. Your pulpit is wherever you are, and I will always enjoy reading your comments.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

"Pathological progressivism" is another example of micro-oppression. "No sense of humor" - what a put down. How dismissive!

What Daniel said.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Malcolm - I reassert AND reappraise. I don't know how you can read scripture any other way. That's precisely what Jesus did.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, David, I'd love to match you, but the only limericks I know are a tad off color.

Here's my late-night go at it:

There once was a journal called TAD
That did something terribly bad
Printed a sexist ditty
That was such a pity
It made the heart awfully sad.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Rosemary. Thanks for your note. I can say things here that I could never say from the pulpit. Well, not every pulpit, anyway.

It helps to keep me sane. (Just imagine what I'd be like without it ;~). Never mind. Not a pretty thought.

Lindy said...

This is an excellent explanation -- for those who have ears to hear -- of why words, all words, matter. Thank you and a double, no make it a triple AMEN!

rick allen said...

" perhaps we could create a wonderful little light-hearted ditty bit of wordplay that could mock and make poor jest of a man's anatomy, and see if they print it...."

One of my personal favorites, as a lawyer with a penchant for the rapidly disappearing Latin maxim:

A hectoring fellow named Rex
Flashed his very small organ of sex.
But the judge let him go,
Letting everyone know:
De minimus non curat lex.


Well, WELL done!!!

JimB said...

In place and context it is simply wrong. I can conceive of other contexts where I might not object but this is wrong.


Frair John said...

Considering that Harmon+ has managed to ignore all the press announcements sent by the Carmel to his publication, I wouldn't hold my breath for an apology.
Unless you like passing out that is.

Jennie said...

A Lesson from the Book of the Surprisingly Conservtive for a Women's-College-Educated Former English Teacher:

Andy, Andy... if you're going to whine about labels and attempt to coin new ones of your own, then deploy them and symbols correctly. Last time I checked, Elizabeth+ had not been consecrated Bishop, which would make "+Elizabeth" correct. I suspect also that you mean "atropHy"...

Here endeth the lesson on Episcopal Labeling and English Spelling.

I'm too knackered to come up with a limerick that would be appropriate for "mixed company" (by "mixed," of course, I mean "me" and "people who might be offended by blatantly filthy language.")...

MarkBrunson said...

The only joke (not limerick) I know that is offensive to both sexes ends with:

"I didn't know I'd be playing in a cathedral."

Lapinbizarre said...

Late to this thread, but ..... "I've always found one interesting aspect of pathological progressivism is the marked atropy of the humor centers of the cerebral cortex."

Check Stand Firm much, Andy?

Lapinbizarre said...

Though "Pathologically Progressive" might look nice in your side-bar.