That time I got jealous of the “other” women’s ministry

I haven’t written a blog post for a long time. It’s partly because I had a lot going on. I started up a ministry, and so much of my written output was dedicated to it. I also began a non-profit, and once again, writing and editing and blog writing time was prioritized to that space. I finished my degree and have now started a PhD, the beginning of which made me feel so dense and ignorant of the world; and made me doubt my writing ability to such a degree that I simply no longer wanted to write. In fact, today’s blog topic is something that has been circling my head for a while but I just didn’t feel like I could express myself adequately. Additionally, It is something I am still currently coming to terms with, and wondered if it would not have been better for me to write about it after coming out of the fire, so to speak.

But I’m going to be honest: I’ve been suffering from spiritual jealousy for a few months. Usually, when Christians are jealous or envious of another Christian it’s normally because of a testimony: as in, church folk love to sensationalise life stories, and so people who weren’t gang leaders, bank robbers, queen of the prostitutes or world-wide drug smugglers still on the FBI Most Wanted List feel that their ordinary-joe, born-and-raised-in-the-church stories are not needed as sharing material. However, the jealousy I’ve been suffering from is more subtle, and also more harmful, because at its core is selfishness.

As I said in the opening, I started a ministry: Esther Magazine, in September 2014. It was actually a desire of mine to combine my passion for women’s rights/feminism and writing, since 2011, but chronic procrastination, team restructures, personal discouragement and mild suspicion from other church people delayed the process. We launched humbly, went viral in March 2015, and have since  enjoyed a supportive WordPress and social media following. It’s the support–or lack thereof–from church members that has blighted this success. I’ll stress again the selfishness of my position, because it is important for me to bear this in mind as I explain: the attitude we’ve received from church folk has been subtly negative: I have received no poison pen letters or Facebook private messages denouncing the magazine, on the contrary; I have had messages from people saying that they are encouraged by what I am doing for God. However, there is a pattern I’ve noticed via social media that has made me realise that we are mainly supported in private, but people in general are not wholly accepting of our method.

The Adventist Church has understandably been socialised by a spirit of suspicion. In the aftermath of Waco, anyone who decides to establish a self-supporting ministry are interrogated: “why don’t you want to do a ministry within your church?” “why do you have to be independent?” “why not get clearing from the church board first and let everyone get involved?” This is testament of a people who have had their lives ripped apart by fringe groups and independents, but also speaks volumes of the administrative and bureaucratic  nature of church these days: people no longer believe you can do anything for God without first going through official church protocol, which is sad and puts God in a box. Coupled with our “feminist” slant, it’s unsurprising if people don’t trust us. I can only draw conclusions to how I feel when I compare Esther’s social media response to other women’s ministries, of which there are many. They all serve different purposes and are geared towards different needs, however.

A few months before Esther went live, another women’s ministry also set up by young women was launched. It’s a great one, and they use Wordpress too. Often, I have seen church men—my friends both on and off Facebook—re-post the articles from this ministry and comment enthusiastically. We at Esther re-post our own things constantly, but the same men appear not to notice. When I see that one of the articles on Esther has been re-posted, I know that one of my personal friends have done so. Esther was launched to raise awareness of women’s rights issues and begin a dialogue with men and women in our churches to engage with issues that are often side-lined but reinforced within church culture. So far, this engagement has been minimal at best and non-existent at worst. Particular people who I have hoped would read the material don’t, or they don’t show it publicly if they do.  One of these men, who I know holds some extremely problematic views of women, has told me that he read an article and was touched by it, but he never shared it. The people who don’t engage with the Esther articles will share the material from the other ministry. I feel as though people agree with some of our output, but they are apprehensive to be seen showing support. You see what I mean when I said my feelings were entirely selfish? I really am displaying the worst symptoms of social media illnesses: basing my worth and my talents off of shares and likes

Obviously, some mention of what makes a respectable woman is necessary here. There is a social script that a woman is supposed to perform in church, and banging on about women’s rights goes against it. The only thing, though, is that the jealousy I have felt has made me direct my negative energies towards the other ministry in question. They produce great articles and do great things, but for a while I told myself I would no longer look at their site. I did not want to read their articles. I didn’t even want to like their Page. Suddenly, I had made our ministries into rivals, battling it out for male support. How silly  is that? Not wanting to make men into the enemy, but a lot of the time women are made to feel validated, their actions justified, by the male support and favour they receive. The angry churn I get in the pit of stomach is never directed towards the women on my Facebook ; it only makes itself known whenever I see a church brother share the articles from the other ministry; when I see the words of support the other ministry appears to be over-ladled with. I read a blog written by a friend in which she quoted Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s  comments on women and competition. I think it’s relevant to this, so I’ll quote it too:

We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.

I wonder if I have been a victim of this practice? Of course, how I feel is very self-centered, but church men will heap a lot of praise on the women they feel are adhering to the feminine role they are supposed to play. It seems as if a woman who talks too much is dangerous.

I don’t think I describe an isolated experience. There may be many people who have gone into ministries and wondered why they are never part of the popular number; or why people don’t seem as overjoyed by what they are doing in comparison to someone else. The important thing to remember is that we are all in the same boat; we’re playing for the same team. If we all fully understood that we have an individual task, which is to share the Good News, let people know that they have a Saviour who loves them and his coming again, there would be no time or need for rivalry. Church folk wouldn’t make celebrities out of singers and preachers; they wouldn’t engage in church politics with individuals because they “speak too much truth” or whatever else is annoying them for that season. They would concentrate on their relationships with Christ.

Through writing this, I feel I have begun a healing process, to see this other ministry as what it is: a ministry that is drawing others to Christ. Ministries are not there for support and approval, otherwise they would just be side-projects and businesses. Those of us in ministry should always bear in mind that we are doing spiritual work, to serve others and spread the gospel. I am so grateful for all God has done for me in my personal life and in Esther—even allowing me to engage with others from different denominations and religions. Last month we had a Back to Basics theme and it really improved my personal study, devotional and prayer life. I’ve never felt closer to God than when I began Esther.

It’s time to stop focusing on me, me, me and start looking at God’s children out there in the world that are hurting and need to hear a positive message. It’s time to stop seeing myself as others see me (unless it is for positive growth), and start being confident in the person God is making me to be.

Woman

There is a woman that upsets me.
She calls herself ‘rubies’
readily adorned with the praises of men
then looks at me in disdain
her counter-onyx friend
the blood in me bubbles at her
like the poison in a cauldron
congeals, crystallises, readily broken
an imitation of a precious stone.

I’m not like her
because I have a voice
I talk too much
I don’t know my place, not what it’s like
to obey, to bow my head
to shut up.

My tongue, she said, will be my downfall
one day it’ll unravel from my mouth
roll onto the floor, red and fleshy
wrap itself around my neck and choke me
because I dress like trash
talk like trash
look like trash, dark and bruised
I’m not a woman like her
I’ve been too many places
around estates and tower blocks
through parks and forests
forever haunted, like some animal
in want of blood
or something precious.

There is a woman that I hate.
She is like a dolly dog
always happy and willing to please
she gets carried around in a bag
by people who think they own her
made to wear frilly things
pink things
things to mark her femininity
and she loves it.

I would rather be the wolf
running naked through the fauna
digging deep under the ground
to my secret trove
of diamonds.

Wales and the Man-Hating Thing.

So, this time last week I was in beautiful Wales. It was raining rather heavily by Friday, but there was still a serene enough atmosphere for the day to be enjoyable. I was at Camp Meeting, a religious conference that happens every year. I was able to meet lots of new people and saw friends who I haven’t seen for months. We stayed in a deluxe caravan which meant that many wanderers passed through our dwellings to eat and relax in a comfortable place. I was with five other girls, two of which I hadn’t met before the trip but I’ve since become friends with them.

On the Saturday night I had a chat with someone who told me that I “have a dislike for men when it comes to relationships”. At the time I laughed it off, but last night and today I’ve really been thinking about what he said. This blog has always documented my loop-the-loop of feelings regarding men, misogyny in church and a dislike for a certain type of man. I used to dislike men because all the men in church I met seemed to not take these issues seriously, but I never thought I still emanated a vibe of “misandry”. I find this a little worrying, if I’m honest, only because I’m currently in a “it’s complicated” state with the person who said this to me, and I wonder if this is one of the things that is holding him back from me.

I always knew that amongst some of my friends I’m just a Feminist Ranter, but those are my friends. Now it seems that potential love interests will see me the same way. I’m not sure how I feel about that. A while ago I made a post that I’m stepping out of the relationship boardroom, mainly because I was fed up with all the requirements given to women about how they should behave if they want a man and also because the relationship topic is constantly being talked about these days to the point of tedium. Since then, this particular person has come along, even though I wasn’t looking for anyone, and even though we’re definitely just friends, this situation and his subsequent comments have made me view my personal romantic life in a different light. It’s one thing to be single by choice, but another to be single because people are weary of you…

But then again, if church men are weary of me because of my views (which believe it or not are no where near as extreme as they once were), then maybe it’s best that I seek the Kingdom first before trying to get involved with anyone. Maybe it’s a good thing that I am single. I wouldn’t want to change who I am or not care about women as much as I do because it somehow makes some men feel uncomfortable. I’m grateful that this man made no indication that I need to change who I am (I take that as a good sign of his character), but what he said has made me think. I’m starting to learn a bit more about how others see me. I just don’t know if this will have an impact on who I am.

The mind wanders…

 

The Value of a Female Virgin

I used to be really proud to be a virgin, and most of the time I’m happy that I’m yet to succumb to external pressures, whether it be kissing, touching or other sexual things. I never really questioned why I felt proud, or why I, as a woman, was made to feel as though it was something I should wear like a badge of honour.

I still think it’s a good thing to save yourself for someone special and to make the commitment to only ever be with that person; to be in a courtship and exercise the art of self-control; to keep promises. But the double standard in our churches in regards to male/female virginity has really started to grate on me. Always, a woman’s virginity is valued more than a man’s. Society in general has an issue with female sexuality, hence the slut-shaming that women face when they admit to liking sex, and the appraisal men receive upon acting in the same way. But the church has this thing of thinking women are “precious” and “sacred” and it’s more damaging than men will understand.

If we were to look at countries where war rape is rife, we would see that it’s not just the rapists that are at fault, but the men in the victimised communities as well. These communities place such a value on women’s sexuality, branding them as “their women”, that when the rape takes place it not only shatters their morale but bruises their manhood: another man has tampered with their goods. And in this battle of the egos, the woman becomes collateral damage. In this same way, by owning the sex lives women in church, the church brothers leave them open to attack from people from outside; profane men who are craving the appeal of a virgin, and would like nothing more than to “show her a few things”.

This is also detrimental to our young men. When sexual purity is taught in church, if it’s implied that a woman’s virginity is more important, we’re going to implant a warped view of sex to the men.

I’ve been thinking about these things a lot lately, mainly because I’m starting to see women my age feel doubly guilty when they do “impure” things. This battle to be the Ultimate Proverbs 31 Woman, to be strong even when we ourselves are struggling with our own lusts and sexual sins. The thought hit me this  week because there has been a bit of talk recently about the church men going through hell during summer when most women begin to dress in less clothing than they usually would. I’ve been talking to a few female friends about this issue and none of them can actually understand what the big deal is; women have always had to repress their sexual feelings because they’ve always had to be more chaste than men. So we either struggle in secret or don’t struggle at all. It makes me wonder whether these viewpoints further establish the notion that a woman’s body is a bad thing. A weapon that has been the downfall of men and it needs to be kept in check. This may be one of the reasons why people are more concerned when a woman loses her virginity; she used her sinful body to lure a man into a trap.

Who knows? I’m sure there are many reasons why this viewpoint exists. But I’m weary of letting people know I haven’t done anything before. It may attract the wrong crowd.

Naked

One day, I wanted to feel strong
so I stood by the mirror
in the nude
and thought about Eve.

As I basked in my reflection
I forgot that
a naked woman is sin:
a salacious role play
between Him and Her
becomes too clear in the mind
of the one who beholds.

I need to remember
that my body is a weapon
made to mortally wound the minds of men
and force them to lose control.
So the sensitivities of my brothers-in-Christ
must be at the forefront of my mind
whenever I get ready for church.

A woman should remember
that her nakedness will only be valued
when she is lying beneath the man she vowed
to be her wedded owner.

Something Slightly Annoying…

Feminism. I’ve been struggling with this for quite a while. When I say to Christians that I’m a Feminist, they seem to have a problem with it. I’ve always wondered, is it un-Christian to believe that the sex you were born into should NEVER determine how much freedom and respect you’re allowed to have? I understand that there’s a lot of ignorance surrounding the subject: before I did my Sociology A Level I assumed that Feminists were just angry man-haters. Then I discovered just how unfair this world is to women—through unequal pay and glass ceilings to more extreme cases: Female Genital Mutilation; prostitution, female trafficking and the atrocious hold the Taliban have over women in the Middle East. I saw a documentary a few years ago where the women in Afghanistan were so distressed by their mistreatment and abuse that they were killing themselves by self-immolation.

And let’s not forget that 400, 000 women are raped a year in the Congo. Ah, and in our wonderful, forward-thinking country, the conviction rate for rape cases is 6%. Result!

When I think about these things, I get so angry and I just can’t understand why everyone isn’t a Feminist. Christians should be getting involved with it, letting the world know that these things just aren’t on.

But what do you do when you’re part of one of the world’s oldest misogynistic institutions?

God is for women, obviously. God loves women. But in the Dark Ages and other times when Christianity was the main religion in this country, you would have thought the opposite. It was well known back then that women were sinful by nature; seductive little creatures whose only purpose in life was to lead men astray. You can even look for examples in the Bible where women were abused due to the religious nature of the time: the woman who was caught in adultery and thrown in front of Jesus to be stoned couldn’t have committed adultery by herself, yet there she was, surrounded and humiliated by men who should have known better. This is the problem with religion: it’s a man-made concept, so you get people who’ll twist God’s word to their own ends. Sadly, women have always had the short end of the stick because of it.

What I don’t like is when people in church outwardly deny that these things happen. It’s almost stupidity.

One of my biggest gripes in church these days is the whole ‘women you can’t wear this because the men can’t handle  it’ thing. I’m not being unreasonable–I understand that men are wired differently; that they’re Visual Creatures™ and get more easily aroused than women, but it’s really frustrating that when I’m picking out an outfit I have to think about all the men that might be aroused by it. Surely the onus is on the man to control himself? Some guys just get lazy, they don’t take responsibility for themselves and blame the woman for every lustful thought that goes on their heads. I thought men were supposed to be the Leaders, the Heads of the family? What kind of leader blames the woman for all his wrongdoings? It’s especially annoying when you’re curvy and certain clothes would just automatically look more sensual, even if you don’t mean it to. Yes I know there are some women who dress for male attention—actually, I think we all do, at least sometimes. It’s nice to get male attention (and I mean from a gentleman. Most of time some intimidating man just comes up to me and starts pestering me for a number, and once I was followed halfway home before he left me alone. But when a gentleman does it, it’s nice: a guy just held my hand once and told me I was beautiful. It was sweet…)

I’m gonna be completely honest and say that I like things that show a little bit of cleavage—if I’ve got the boobs for it, why not?

I had a long chat yesterday about this topic. I suppose my problem is that I keep refusing to see it from the Man’s Perspective. My friend said that if I really thought about God in all these gender politics, then I would automatically think about the guys I might make things difficult for and I wouldn’t mind if I had to cover up a bit. I honestly hadn’t thought about it in this way before. It’s just that, when I hear people say “you’re going to cause your church brother to sin”, all that goes through my head are those misogynists who believe that the woman is to blame if she gets raped. Surely if she just wore a long skirt then the poor man wouldn’t be forced to do that to her? ‘Cause men are different from women, aren’t they? And, like, you know—women in burqas have NEVER been raped, right??

*Sigh* I’m rambling. Mutual understanding, Baker, mutual understanding. I would never want to make a guy feel uncomfortable–honestly I wouldn’t. I’m just tired of women always bearing extra burdens. And I’m becoming a bit of a broken record nowadays. I’ve discussed this with people time and time again and it’s always me against five or so others and I end up feeling inadequate. It’s got to the stage where someone might say something slightly inflammatory about dress, or women, and people just stare at me, waiting for an entertaining rant. I don’t want to become a predictable joke, so I’ll just leave it for now. I was worse before, believe me. In fact I think at one point I was guilty of misandry (although I still don’t see what’s so bad about wanting men and women to be equal and I don’t think my thoughts are extreme).

Ah, and one more thing:

WOMEN LIKE SEX TOO. Remember that it’s always been seen as un-ladylike for a woman to talk about sex, to be openly sexual. Men have always had sexual freedom–why do you think when a guy sleeps with ten women he’s a hero and a woman is a slut if she does the same? Look at it Biblically as well: how many women did Solomon have at his yard again? Hundeds, right? Don’t let tradition turn into quasi-scientific facts. Men, just because you’re allowed to be open about sex, doesn’t mean us women don’t think about it or that we don’t get turned on; doesn’t mean women aren’t visual creatures either.

So next time it’s SEC Sports Day, and y’all start strutting around the park, six pack and all, think about how many of your church sisters you’re causing to sin.

Mutual Understanding, yeah?