How Patriarchy Gave Me an Eating Disorder, Part 2

My husband says I forgot to point out that not only did Ruth pursue Boaz, pretty much proposing marriage to him, but she also went and lay down next to Boaz at night. When he was sleeping. After he’d been drinking.

How’s that for some ‘Biblical’ Passion & Purity!?

{And yes. I totally love and adore my scholarly husband for pointing that out.}

Anyway, OK. Brief recap from part one–

Things I learned from evangelical culture:

Be Pure.

And so be afraid of your own desires.

Be Pretty.

And so be afraid of eating, excreting, and everything bodily.

Be Perfect.

And so walk the fine line between looking great, being ‘nice,’ and pretending that you don’t even care about ‘the physical.’

{Because you have a crush on the cute boy with nice hair who plays guitar for youth group talks piously about wanting to date only ‘spiritual’ girls. And ‘spiritual,’ in the theology of the evangelical youth group, means ‘not physical.’ That’s why the really ‘spiritual’ girls are always ‘dating Jesus.’ Which unfortunately translates, too often, treating the smitten guys around them, with whom they’re ‘just friends,’ like crap.}

My own understanding of growing up Christian, then, meant shutting down everything that was God-given, normal, and healthy.

I was terrified of ‘liking’ boys because that might lead “someplace” sinful. So I was choked up, found it hard to talk to boys unless it was to listen to how much they liked my friends.

I was terrified of getting a womanly body. Not just because women were dangerous temptresses, all curves and sensuousness and endangering to a young man’s ‘purity,’ though that was part of it.

Part of it, too, was that I was afraid to take up space. Because, after all, in the evangelical version of womanhood I’d pieced together for myself, a woman’s passive perfection entailed unobtrusiveness.

Let me tell you, I’m not really naturally unobtrusive. Oh, I might be a little shy when we first meet in person. And I’m told my personality is more ‘sweet’ than not. But I also can be a bit of a Scrappy Doo, or, if you prefer, a bit of an Anne of Green Gables kind of girl. One time I smacked a boy in my Sunday School class on the head with a hardback Bible. (Sorry about that, Tommy!) I rather enjoyed debates as a young’un. And none of that’s really conducive to the whole “gentle and quiet spirit” thing that I took to mean passivity.

Somehow, in my mind, cultivating a passive, pure, perfect Christian girl persona got tied in with remaining physically petite. Not being ‘weighty,’ not being a contender. Something to be pursued, not someone to be reckoned with.

And then, too, there was the food side of things. Oh, food. Until a certain point–I think about age 14 or 15–I enjoyed eating and didn’t give undue thought either to food or to my weight. Sure, I was aware of dieting, aware that ‘someday,’ when I was a woman, I’d hate my body just like most of the grown-up women I knew. But I liked food. Not that I was particularly adventurous, but I remember relishing the sweet and sour chicken my dad would cook for my every birthday at my request, the simple pleasure of perfectly steamed white rice, and the lemony explosion of a cold Granny Smith apple behind my teeth.

Somehow, though–and it’s all mixed in, I think, with the passivity and the perfection, the prettiness and the purity–I began to fear my appetite. Just when my appetite should’ve been growing–when I was growing, both in mind and body, more rapidly than I’d ever grown since babyhood–I recoiled from it in fear.

Gluttony was a sin, after all. The body’s desires were suspiciously sinful: “put a knife to your throat if you’re given to gluttony”?!

You combine that with a food culture like ours, where food is plentiful, cheap, and everywhere, and I began to harbor a secret, shameful fear: what if I eat everything? What if I just start eating and can’t stop? If I can never stop? How would I know how to stop?

Obviously, eating was too complicated and dangerous.

Not eating was easier. Of course, then the problem was my hunger would overtake me, eventually, and I’d break down and eat and eat, always, it seemed, too much–enough to trigger fear, panic, guilt; terror over letting my physical ‘desire’ get the better of me.

After all, where might that lead?

And so I was afraid: afraid of wanting to eat, of eating, of liking boys, of boys, of accepting my body, of my body, of going out and of being seen.

I would get dressed under my bath towel, hiding nakedness from myself.

And in all this time, all this was a shameful secret.

Because, after all, this wasn’t the behavior of someone pretty, perfect, pure, or passive.

But that–a tortured, circumscribed, turned-in-itself, endlessly abstemious life–is not the flourishing, fully human life God desires for God’s daughters.

You are God’s. God made you, you are beautiful, and God loves to feed you and to see you flourish–you, as God made you–not you, pressed down and rolled out and cut to fit some other shape.

You, as God made you, are beautiful.

{of course this isn’t the end. there’s more to my story. and to yours. looking forward to sharing and hearing more…}

Harnessing the ‘New Domesticity’ Without Diminishing Women

from my most recent post at the Christianity Today women’s blog

“In a recent opinion piece for the Washington Post, Emily Matchar, who writes regularly on the phenomenon frequently called the ‘new domesticity,’ wonders whether the resurgence of interest in canning, knitting, and generally DIY-spirited homekeeping is not, in fact, regressive–a ‘step back’ for women. Homekeeping, and all the domestic arts, are a minefield in our culture, often thought of–and treated as–degrading and menial work. The more creative domestic arts–sewing clothes, preserving food–are enjoying renewed popularity, and while Matchar concedes the pleasure to be found in making for yourself that which you’d otherwise purchase, she’s suspicious: after all, domestic work is unpaid work, and in a culture where women still earn, on average, less than their male counterparts, celebrating the domestic arts as creative, liberating fun is, for her, potentially dangerous:

If history is any lesson, my just-for-fun jar of jam could turn into my daughter’s chore, and eventually into my granddaughter’s “liberating” lobster strudel.”

For many within evangelicalism, the issue is further complicated by the ongoing debate on gender roles.

{…}

But if God keeps house, then housekeeping is both worthwhile and loosened from gendered stereotypes.”

(although one of the commenters doesn’t think so–“I maintain that Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 show pretty clearly that domesticity is the primary domain of a wife, not a man.”

Read it all here!

And leave a comment or question, if you so desire.

In Case You Missed It.

So, I’m not feeling so great.

My eyes are burning, my throat is sore and tight, but hey! At least my children are fine. Because there’s nothing sadder than sick kids. Except sick kids with broken bones. Make that sick kids with broken bones in foreign countries.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite posts…here it is, an oldy but a goody. If you missed it this time, don’t miss it now:

(Mis) Adventures in France.

One of the major perks of the whole overseas Ph.D. thing was increased travel opportunities. There was even the opportunity for us to tag along with Tim to study French in Paris for a month with the bill largely footed by a grant! Sounds perfect, right?

Perfect, it most certainly was not.

In August of 2009, we Stones availed ourselves of this opportunity and booked what seemed like a reasonably decent apartment in the 2nd arrondissement. To tell the truth, I had a weird feeling about the apartment and the character that we were doing business with, a feeling that was confirmed when, upon being dumped by our shuttle taxi, we proceeded to sit with our two tiny kids and four huge suitcases on the grimy sidewalk for two hours before a man in a down vest and wool pork-pie hat (ahem. IN AUGUST.) finally arrived to let us into the apartment.

{This is for the search engines: Gilles Bourgogne Paris apartment rental scam warning. Consider yourself warned.}

It wasn’t that there was no apartment. It was that the apartment in question was completely filthy dirty to an extreme degree. As in, only dirty sheets. As in, rotting food in the fridge and garbage cans. As in, piles of junk everywhere. As in, no toilet paper or towels. And the person we were dealing with was really obviously untrustworthy. As in, lied to us. Obviously. And a lot.

So we did not stay there. Well, we did. For the night. Because we had no other choice. We slept there.

On sheets whose cleanliness status was decidedly indeterminate. Having all manner of bizarre nightmares including nightmares of bugs crawling on me.

{Not exactly Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. Bonjour, Pah-reee!}

The unfortunate housing disaster turned into a happy event because I got to meet the legendary Nora, who resides near Paris, and stay with her for the month, during which time my dear husband demolished her deck and built a new one, my son slipped on a wet floor in Franprix and broke his leg, an old man exposed himself to me while I was walking with my (mercifully oblivious) children, the Franprix denied any liability for the unmarked wet floor because we didn’t “report” the accident at the moment it happened (because, obviously we needed to report a 4 year old shrieking in pain as uniformed employees gaped at us?) My other son got heatstroke, and, THANK GOD, my mom visited for a week.

take it from my son. never let a broken leg stop you from taking the opportunity to sit on larger-than-life bear statues.

Because we were headed to Germany next, we sent our luggage on with a baggage service, Sernam, that somehow managed to “lose” the one bag with lots of adorable petite ladies’ clothing from my sister-in-law’s cooler than cool store.

{I do not think that was an accident. Sernam, I won’t go all Mattie Ross on you because when it comes to revenge I’m much more Les Miserables than Comte de Monte Cristo, but stealing that bias-cut polka dot dress with the red sash that made me feel, however improbably, like a 1950s film star? That? That was cold.}

Oh, and then, on the taxi ride from our beautiful guardian angel Nora’s to the train station, Graeme vomited all over himself and me. And then, when we arrived in Goettingen, Tim got stuck on the train, leaving me with several small bags and two small boys, one of whom had a thigh-high cast. (The other was a mere 16 months old.)

And yet? I still think fondly of our time in Paris. Why?

Well, our friend there. What a gift to have met her. We clicked immediately and laughed ourselves silly over everything and nothing and ate and drank and enjoyed life together. When I think of her hospitality in contrast to the series of unfortunate events we experienced in France, I am as profoundly grateful as I was on that August Sunday when her adorable convertible pulled in front of that crazy apartment in the 2nd arrondissement. More so, actually.

And, yes, you knew it was coming: the food. It’s not that every meal in Paris is haute cuisine. It’s just that the food there, to a much greater degree, is raised and prepared and served with so much care, so much attention to detail, so much love. So much joy. I’m not sure what magic they’re working with food there, but they even have a whole store of frozen food that’s quite delicious, Picard.

{David Sedaris mentions his love for Picard in his hilarious contribution to the Americans in Paris episode of This American Life. You can listen online for free here.}

Yes, good French baguettes really are that amazing. And the breakfasts we shared each day–nothing fancier than coffee with cream and baguettes with sweet butter and various delicious preserves–were some of the best breakfasts of my life. And then, of course, there was the pain au chocolat. And the beautiful, fresh summer salads. And the filet of beef Nora made, barely cooked. And the gratin d’endives au jambon, made by the same lovely person.

Not fancy food. Not “healthy” food, to our American notions of health. Just simple food, prepared well, and enjoyed in good company.

Oh yeah. You knew it was coming. French goats!

Sure, we visited the Louvre, Notre Dame, Versailles, and so on. It’s not that the food was better than those things, or even in the same category, really. But when I think of our time in France, in the cost-benefit analysis, what balances all the crappy things is not having seen the Mona Lisa, or the Louis XIV’s palace, though that was cool (but the Musee d’Orsay was cooler). It’s having made a friend, and, for a time, having lived as a family with that friend, and the means of that grace was then–and is now, when I make Nora’s potatoes to remember–food.

Food, a means of grace and remembrance?

(Sound familiar?)

Two New Books on Marriage

So yesterday I told you about the 1965 book on marriage by Father Capon that I think is just lovely, and promised that the rest of the week we’d be talking about some other marriage books. Today I want to talk about two new books–the unbearably hyped Real Marriage by Mark & Grace Driscoll and the somewhat less arrogantly titled The Meaning of Marriage.


So first, Real Marriage. The title makes me cringe, as does any title that seems to introduce itself as giving the truth about anything. Books deserving of authoritative status gain it whether their title suggests it or not–though I would suspect that the likelihood of a book’s gaining authoritative status decreases proportionate to the amount of authoritativeness (that’s actually a word?) suggested by the title. But I digress.

There are so many things I could say about this book and about Driscoll, whose famous name and reputation is the only reason this book is creating much of a buzz at all: it is pretty standard ‘complementarian’ fare, but with characteristic Driscoll flair: barely suppressed misogyny and homophobia throughout, the assumption that anyone not attended a “Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, conservative Christian church” (including Catholics and mainline Protestants) are not “real” Christians, and (of course) frank discussions of sexuality that would almost (not quite) embarrass Dan Savage. There isn’t much I want to say that wasn’t said eloquently by Susan Wise Bauer at Books & Culture and by Rachel Held Evans, so I’ll just say a few things:

1. Too many statistics!

Supposedly evangelicals have sex lives that are better than those of Catholics and mainline Protestants, supposedly women are happier when their husband earns at least 68% of the household income, but really, so what? I’m so tired of seeing statistics like these held up as evidence of something (in this case, that people would be happier and have better sex if they would just listen to Driscoll) without any nuance. It’s irresponsible and misleading to use statistics like that. Besides, 73% of statistics are generated at random simply to prove the point that the writer wants to prove. (See!?)

2. Too many assumptions!

The Driscolls seem to think that it’s possible to read the Bible and prove things from the Bible without interpreting it, or they wouldn’t simply place Bible references as “proof” of certain of their claims. I was particularly troubled by these two points, held up to prove that patriarchy is God’s Will for All Time:

  • “God called the race “man” (Gen. 1:26) and “mankind” (Gen. 5:2)” —um, no. God called them “dirt beings” because they were taken out of dirt. Adam sounds a lot like the Hebrew for “dirt.”
  • “By naming Eve, Adam was exercising authority over her as God commanded.”–While this assumption–that naming implies authority over someone/something–is popular, no lesser scholars than Phyllis Trible and Richard Bauckham have said that there’s simply no good reason to believe that.

3. Too much detail!

In their “Can We_____?” chapter, the Driscolls apply 3 questions to every question: Is the given sexual act: lawful? helpful? enslaving? But instead of giving us that (reasonably adequate) rubric and leaving the rest to the imagination, they go into occasionally-excruciating detail. I imagine Father Capon would say that it’s really too bad not to let married people figure things out for themselves on a dreary winter evening, but I won’t go that far. I’ll just say that I’m glad  Timothy and Kathy Keller mercifully didn’t over-explain sex in their book, The Meaning of Marriage…

In one sense, these books are similar: the Driscolls and the Kellers are both Reformed, complementarian, and conservative; in many ways, they could not be more different: absent from here is the barely disguised rage toward women; absent, too, is the undercurrent of sex-obsession one finds in Driscoll. I appreciated that the Kellers chose to write about sex much more discreetly–pointing out that sex can be awkward, confusing, problematic–but that working through problems in loving ways with much love is the best (only?) way. This book was based on Keller’s popular sermon series, an exposition of Ephesians 5, and while he’s much more clinical and less flamboyant a writer than, say, Father Capon, he writes with admirable clarity. In fact, he has something of his hero C.S. Lewis’ knack for clear-eyed, logical discussion in plain language. Two criticisms:

  • any discussion of woman-as-helper (Hebrew, ‘ezer) really ought to mention (as Driscoll does, in fact!) that GOD is called an ‘ezer, too–the Kellers seem to assume (or leave us to assume) that “helper” means “subordinate,” which it needn’t.
  • the Kellers nod to cultural contexts when it suits them and assume universality when it suits them: in one breath they point out how the Ancient Near Eastern culture in which the Bible came together would’ve read the Bible as revolutionary on marriage and in the next they say that what the Bible teaches on marriage (in terms of literal, on-the-page meaning) is universal, not bound to time or place. It’s hard to say both those things at once without casting doubt on one or the other. (I’m a big fan of William Webb’s writing on the subject.)

Tomorrow (Friday) I’ll tell you about a third new book on marriage that I really, really like. Despite all the hype about the Driscolls’ book, it’s this book–Are you Waiting for the One?not that one, that contributes something new to the discussion of Christian marriage.

{I hesitantly acknowledge that I received free review copies of each of the two books mentioned today…hesitantly because I hope the publishers won’t be scared of sending me more books to review. As my mom is sure to say, I can be a bit rough…}

Sometimes Old Books are the Best Books (and some thoughts on writing)

You know I can’t resist Robert Farrar Capon. His writing is so quirky (and so, by all reports, is/was he–can anyone confirm whether he’s still alive or not!?) that it defies comparison with any other; Andy Crouch noted in an email that Father Capon’s writing voice sounds like him and no one else.

(Very true. And yet. While I often year “develop a unique voice” as writing advice, I’m not quite sure that this is something that can be aimed at. George Orwell’s Six Rules are a good place to start, especially rule #1: “never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” Beyond scraping away crusty, dried-out turns of phrase, though, I suspect that a distinctive writing voice from having distinctive things to say than aiming at saying things in a distinctive way. Maybe. End of writing rant.)

Anyway. As with Babette’s Feast, which I wrote about yesterday, I feel reluctant to say much about the book, because a book by Father Capon is an experience in itself; to distill the ideas from the whole of the book is to distort them.

I’ll go out on a limb (sorry, Orwell) and say that this book is unlike any other on marriage I’ve ever read or heard of. It’s certainly the antithesis (antidote?) of a certain contemporary book on marriage that released yesterday. It’s deeply Christian and theological without being sectarian or Biblicist. As in much of Capon’s writing, he celebrates the potential of material particularities to call forth, to anticipate, to celebrate the transcendent–the City of God. The marriage “bed” and family “board” (table) are two of these particular, material places where we enact, however feebly, the glories of the Kingdom in the liturgies of the everyday:

“My bed and my board are the choice places of my healing and I go to them with a glad mind. God wills to build the city but while he makes it matter, he refuses to make it serious. The divine mirth lies behind all things and it is in his light that I begin to see the lightness of it all.”

Plus? The cover copy announces that the book

“snatches the subject of marriage away from the adjustment engineers, the sex technicians, and the whole army of statistical de-splendorizers.”

Statistical de-splendorizers, indeed! I’m stealing that turn of phrase.

Find yourself a copy of this book, or really, any by Father Capon. Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about two other recent marriage books–The Meaning of Marriage and Real Marriage by Timothy & Kathy Keller and Mark & Grace Driscoll, respectively. On Friday, we’ll look at another contemporary book on marriage–Are You Waiting for The One?–that far surpasses its contemporaries.