We Can Be Critical and Christian and Female All At The Same Time

I love reviewing books. I remember the first time I ever reviewed a book, and I was thrilled and happy beyond measure. Because when you review books, publishers send you review copies! And for someone like me, free books are almost always an unqualified GOOD.

I will allow as how it is sometimes fun to skewer a book, to make like the movie critics at the New Yorker magazine and just slam bad writing and sloppy thinking. That can definitely be a bit of guilty fun, but it’s like chewing bubblegum, whereas reading and reviewing really good books are like eating an excellent meal.

Sometimes, though, for various boring reasons, it ends up that you pretty much have to review a book that you didn’t think was great. And then here is how that goes:

ReviewStrip1At this point you sometimes don’t review the book. But if a book has been particularly important in a given segment of culture, or if you have already made an agreement that this book SHALL be reviewed, it has to happen:

reviewstrip2At this point you might feel awkward, but also hopeful because perhaps by filing your minority report about the book that’s already so popular and such a hot topic, you will spark a whole new conversation about a side of things no one has brought up before!

But then, this:

ReviewStrip3And this:

ReviewStrip4Well,  that last cell is a bit of hyperbole. I certainly have (and have had) many perfectly lovely and thoughtful conversations online. But for some reason, it’s exceptionally difficult to offer a critical perspective on books (or articles, or blog posts)–even in careful, guarded language–without being branded bitter, jealous, mean, angry, harsh, or, even worse, unChristian.

The less-than-sensational truth is that many people, me included, just like to think and write about books (and other things) and critique is just part of the deal. It certainly does not imply any sort of animus.

I suspect that it is harder for women than for men–we are accused of being ‘shrill,’ or called the word that should refer exclusively to female dogs, wolves, foxes, or otters (yes, foxes and otters too!), but, not being a man, I’m not certain on that it is in fact harder for us, though since I read about the fact that female movie critics hardly exist (sad, because splitting my time between reviewing books and movies would pretty much be my dream job) I’ve been wondering if it’s just harder for women to voice critique without getting slapped down with spiritual platitudes or accusations of bad motives.

What has your experience been like?

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With A Scholarly Ribbon In My Hair…

…or, why we’re hearing so much about “masculine” Christianity.

Billy Sunday, grandpappy of 'muscular' Christianity...

I have a post up at Christianity Today’s blog for women, her.meneutics, responding to John Piper’s comments of last week (or so) that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”

Here is some of what I said:

“…masculinity and femininity are not fixed and eternal sets of attributes, but are by and large culturally defined, and always changing. For example, blue was once more closely associated with “feminine” while pink was associated with “masculine.” In parts of Europe, it’s still not unusual for men to greet one another with kisses; in India, you might see two male friends walking arm in arm. And we have many examples of renaissance poetry—essentially love poetry—written by and for non-homosexual males who were close friends. By looking to other times and other places, we can see that masculinity is a way of behaving culturally that looks different in different times and places.”

And here are some things that other people have been saying:

  • “you seem uninformed”
  • “There’s a reason that throughout human history and in any cultural context patriarchy was THE norm–feminist thinking will go the way of the dodo. It’s only a matter of time.”
  • “CT tries to tie a scholarly ribbon in [her] hair” (that one’s from Douglas Wilson. BTW, Mr. Wilson, I don’t claim to be a scholar. I just claim the covenant covering of my husband’s Ph.D. We’re one flesh and he is my Head, after all.)
  • “Rachel is promoting is a damnable heresy that will bring many women (and men), including herself to everlasting perdition in hell! “
  • “put down your donuts and pick up a Bible.”

(I happened to mention that bit at the dinner table, and my 6 year old son said, “Anybody who says ‘put down your donuts and pick up a Bible’ is a bully.” Out of the mouths of babes.)

A commenter named Scott Allen also said:

  • “Women use church as a hammer to make men […] fit their norms. They substitute Precious Moments thoughts for actual Biblical teaching.”

Scott Allen, this one is for you–

But there are other comments, too, like this one, which has given me the very best kind of encouragement a writer could hope for (thanks, Natalie!)–

“It’s articles like this that shed light on something I’ve begun to notice on my own: there is an emphasis on masculinity in the Reformed tradition that alienates women (and disabled men like my husband who has progressive MS). For the first time in months, I was encouraged by what you wrote in your post on this matter. Thank you so much for giving me a beacon of light in the foggy world of my strange circumstances.”

Bet you can’t wait to read it! The whole thing is here.

White Collar’s Woman Problem

[Or, Tiffani Thiessen is not fat.]

{Today I’m delighted to welcome my co-blogger from the CT women’s blog, Gina Dalfonzo, with a guest post that grew out of a Facebook discussion we had on actresses and weight. Thanks so much for joining me at Eat With Joy, Gina!}

The last thing I want to do is bash any actress because of her weight. There’s more than enough of that going on already, and even the super-skinny ones get more than their share of it. All I want to do is reflect a little on a dynamic I’ve been noticing on one of my favorite shows. The way it’s been shoved in our faces, I could hardly help noticing it.

I’m talking about the detective series White Collar, on the USA Network. It’s an excellent series that has managed to take an old formula—con man helps FBI agent catch criminals—and make it fresh and entertaining. That is, when it comes to the two main male characters, Neal the con man (Matt Bomer) and Peter the FBI agent (Tim DeKay).

But lately, when it comes to the female characters, things are feeling a little clichéd.  

With one or two rare exceptions, the women of White Collar are either (1) involved with Neal the con man, and scary skinny, or (2) married to Peter the FBI agent, and allowed to have a few curves. Other fans of the show seem to be noticing this trend too, from what I hear.

Neal’s main love interest this season, Sara Ellis (Hilarie Burton), looked as if she could easily be broken in pieces. No sooner did Neal and Sara end things than along came a gorgeous female Egyptologist (is there any other kind of female Egyptologist?), played by Eliza Dushku, with long thin legs that the camera lovingly traveled up and down at every opportunity. And before this season, there was skinny Kate, and skinny Alex, and . . . you get the idea.

All these women were made to play super-smart, super-sexy, super-skinny superwomen, to an unbelievable degree. Literally unbelievable. Here’s a tip for future reference: If a show’s creator keeps earnestly assuring interviewers that his female characters are strong, smart, independent women, it’s a good sign that they’re not coming across that way on the screen. In the case of Sara and of Raquel the Egyptologist this season, what we’ve seen on the show is lots of attention to their looks, with a little token lip service paid to their supposed smarts. Sara, in particular, seemed to lose her brain every time Neal looked at her—and even though Matt Bomer is handsome enough to make any girl go a little tongue-tied (this version of New York is populated almost completely by beautiful people), it got annoying in short order.

In many ways, Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen), Peter’s wife, is a welcome corrective to all this. She’s attractive in a healthy-looking way, and she actually has a personality, not to mention one of the best marriages in a TV landscape largely devoid of good marriages right now. I give the show’s creators credit for coming up with a woman who’s a normal human being instead of a sex kitten, putting her in a great relationship, and casting an actress who doesn’t vanish when she turns sideways.

So it’s truly disheartening that Thiessen catches flak sometimes for her weight. The other day, researching this article, I was Googling “Tiffani Thiessen White Collar.” I’ll leave you to guess the first “f” word that the autofill function gave me. It wasn’t flattering. And it wasn’t fair. Thiessen is a normal, healthy weight, especially for a woman who recently had a baby in real life. (Hilarie Burton also recently had a baby in real life, but as Erma Bombeck used to say, she must have carried it in a shopping bag.) But any normal, healthy woman would suffer by comparison with the parade of skeletons that’s been marched past Thiessen on the show.

{Rachel's reaction: "wait, this is the one people are calling fat?!"}

The long and the short of it is that White Collar is showing an unhealthy obsession with the current Hollywood ideal of the skin-and-bones woman. And it’s especially saddening because White Collar is so strong a show in other ways—my friend Kim Moreland writes here about how well it handles themes like justice, order, and goodness —that slick Hollywood trappings, such as anorexic-looking women, stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

And in spite of the show’s best efforts, they’re not looking so good.

Continue reading White Collar’s Woman Problem