My Ten Cents of Rant

Because the voices in my head told me to say it.


Having read Bread and Pomegranates‘ discussion of the recently trending twitter tag #thingsonlychristianwomenhear, I started to respond to her, and discovered I had a rant on my hands.  Fortunately, here’s a blog-site I prepared earlier!

I grew up in Baptist and Open Brethren churches, and I guess I hadn’t really realised how much of a difference there was between them, until I had been leading a young people’s bible study in the Open Brethren church for a while, and one of the elders came to visit it. The next thing I heard was that our bible study had been closed down, and there was to be no more available for the 18-25+ group. And I still don’t know why. (Possibly the fact I was leading a guided meditation with candles. That smacks of Popishness. Goodness, even then I was heading to hell with the Anglicans!)

After “serving” at that church for a while – and as you say, young, unmarried women are expected to do a lot, because they don’t have other commitments (and possibly to keep them out of trouble) – I got married and dropped church. It wasn’t quite that deliberate and causal, but there wasn’t a church in our area which we liked, and weekends were precious. But I still had this idea that married => kids. I had no real idea that I could do anything interesting in my own life, but the more time I spent away from church, the more I discovered I could do my own thing, and be my own person. I didn’t have to keep saying the right things (and at the back of my mind, all the time, I knew I was “saying” the right things, performing correctly, more than deeply believing) or filling out my life the way it was expected of me.

My husband, when we got married, was doing his masters, and having so much fun that, once he finished, I did mine. Then we went and taught in China for a year, and that was the final nail in the coffin of wanting kids – the pollution was so scary, I’m worried that the next generation, or the one after that, won’t have a recognisable world to live in. (And that’s a topic for another post.) But still, the most common question I get, on people learning I’m married, is “When will you start a family?”. (And that’s another topic for another post – 17 years and no kids, folks.  You might want to think before you ask!). When I went to my niece’s first birthday party, and the adults there could only discuss the sermon from the week before, and ask me that question about kids, and have no other outside interests, I realised I was in a better place, even without a church.

Part of realising I was my own person was the realisation I could, and wanted to, start a PhD, and maybe even finish it! And that took another 5+ years of my life, but during the course of it, I started to come around to the idea of church again. I was studying female saints’ lives, and discovering how much women had been an active part of the church in the past, and I wanted something like that. Also, medieval studies was largely run by older women who had been at the forefront of early feminism, and at the same time, the older version of Christianity made me want to be part of a church which was connected to the past. We seriously considered becoming Catholic for a while, until the lack of female roles meant we couldn’t, in good conscience, sign up to that. (Also, the Pope was a sticking issue.)

After looking at various churches and faith groups, and what they said about women and their role in the church (and remembering my distant childhood when I went to an Anglican church), one year we went to the Anglican cathedral at the beginning of the year, and that was that. Women were up the front.  Not long after we started, a new Dean was appointed for the cathedral, and she was a woman.  There was a young woman, newly-frocked, who was a keen and active member of the cathedral ministry team.  Here was a church actively using women in its hierarchy, even though it had a very strict hierarchy. There was a great sense of freedom and relief (and even toying with the idea of becoming a priest) because there were opportunities at all levels. Okay, maybe not Archbishop of Canterbury, yet.  But this belief that women were equal, or were worth fighting for, gave me a reason to become part of a church again. I had never stopped believing in a God of love, but I had lost my faith in structured religion for a long time.

Things aren’t perfect in the Anglican Communion, yet.  We’re still working on inclusivity – on allowing same-sex-attracted people to marry with the church’s blessing, or to become priests – but there is movement on that front, and that’s one of the things which makes me want to remain active in the community, because there are people to fight for.

Equality means equality for all, regardless of sex, gender, colour, race, or who you love.


Guest Post: Advertising Disability

Using disabled people in advertising is not a mortal sin.  While I appreciate Charlie Swinbourne’s disturbance at the notion of being reified as merely an icon of achievement rather than as a whole person, the complaint and some of its implications I find more disturbing yet.

Yes, using disabled people in advertising does raise some potential ethical issues, especially when, as KaeLyn Rich comments, the disabled are represented as needing “repair” in order to be happy, and if it is just about “disabled people doing completely normal things”.  Such representations potentially represent people only in terms of deficiency.  On the other hand, turning things “into mere objects” is what all advertising (and much of human communication) does, all the time: sexualised images of people reduce them to sex objects, happy images of smiling people reduce them to nothing more than empty smiles, and even cute images of fluffy kittens reduce them to nothing more than adorable, fuzzy, cuddly, awww, the little paws! …  Okay, I’m back.  Representation, whether in writing, still image, or video, is far too shallow to begin to convey the enormous complexity of a person.

Nonetheless, there are certain, distinct failures in such advertising.  As Stella Young says, when an image of a disabled person doing something normal is coupled with a slogan such as “the only disability is a bad attitude”, the disabled person is being used as a mere prop in a message very obviously aimed at someone else (“If a disabled person can achieve this, your sights should be set higher”).  What it effectively says to the disabled is then twofold belittlement: “Your sights should be set lower”, and “You’re only disabled if you think that you are.”  Tell that to a person sitting in a wheelchair looking at high steps.

Not all usages are failures, however.  Elizabeth Heideman’s complaint against a Toyota advertisement featuring Paralympian Amy Purdy is another matter, because Purdy is an internationally-competitive athlete.  That alone is cause for her to be inspirational, since very few people could ever hope to compete with her, and her achievement is the result of a great deal of dedication; the fact that she does it on artificial legs is just a huge advertising bonus to a company which manufactures transportation equipment.  I should also point out that the speech laid over the footage of Purdy is Muhammad Ali vaunting his own greatness.  These two athletes, one able-bodied and one using prosthetics, are associated equally with one another in that advertisement, and are not people who do “completely normal things”.  Using disabled people in advertising is not always belittling, and complaining against it can become dangerously ghettoising (“Don’t use images of disabled people”).

There is a further difficulty in Heideman’s claim that people “born with a congenital condition, like muscular dystrophy, for example, […] aren’t truly disabled until they enter a world filled with stairs instead of elevators, or workplace discrimination”.  Steep hills are apparently not a natural feature of Heideman’s world, but then she is from New Orleans.  Swinbourne and Young, meanwhile, complain of the condescending amazement of others at their daily lives, and the former opines, “we wouldn’t have much to overcome if society treated us more equally.”  Such naïve condescension from others is galling, but is also very far from mean-spirited discrimination, and these complaints show a contradiction: the objections to “workplace discrimination” and to condescension are calls for equal treatment, for disabled people to be treated like everyone else; on the other hand, the objections to stairs and other physical barriers are calls for special treatment, for disabled people not to be treated like everyone else.  Identity of treatment ought not to be the point; equality of valuation is what it should all be about.

The dichotomy between equal valuation and identical treatment is also reflected in the fact that not all disabilities are rendered more problematic by other people’s action or inaction.  Very little that others do has any effect upon my depression, and very little that others could do to help me with my peculiar mobility issues is really practical.  Disability is not a single, simple, homogeneous block, but rather a vast and sprawling archipelago of heterogeneous situations whose only correlation is that they prevent people from doing some of the things which most people can do.  Representing my disability as just like someone else’s is no less reductive and reifying than using disabled people as motivational icons for able people is.

So here, in essence, is the thing: advertising using disabled people is not inherently wrong, nor inherently worse (or better) than advertising using able people.  We must just be considerate of others, of how we treat them, and of how we represent them (even if they are naïve).  What is bad, in any situation, is treating others as objects rather than recognising their inherent dignity as people.  (I wanted to add “or kittens”, but that did not work so well with “dignity”.)

Guest Post: Feminism and Equality

Feminism is not the same as Egalitarianism

Recently, I have seen quite a few people claim that “feminism” is about equal rights for everyone.  One American comedian even went so far as to say, “That’s what the word means.”

Well, no, that isn’t what the word means.  Feminism is a compound of femina, Latin for “woman”, and the Greek ισμ form, used especially for belief systems.  It has been in use since at least 1895, according to the OED, as a belief about women, in the same way that Buddhism is a belief about Buddha, and racism is a belief about race.  Such belief systems are value systems, systems which posit that a particular thing is very important: Buddha, or certain particular races, or women.  Feminism is not fundamentally about men, or about children, or about bricklayers.  It is fundamentally about women.  That does not make it bad, or good, just specific.


Of course, feminism can be “about women” in a variety of different ways, on a whole spectrum which I am going to callously reduce to three general types, just for the sake of convenience.

First, there is what we could call “egalitarian feminism”, which values women exactly the same way as it values men.  This is the type of feminism which asserts that 50% of our professionals, managers, and politicians should be women, because it holds that the two sexes are equal.  However, by self-identifying as feminism and not as egalitarianism, it does predispose itself towards women, away from equality as a pure and abstract ideal.  This principle, by the way, is the reason why we have been trying to move away from sexist language like “actress” and “policeman”: words do affect how people think.

There is also “restorative feminism”, which values women slightly more than men, saying that, since women have been treated worse than men in other times and places (including some quite nearby), “positive discrimination” is necessary here and now to redress the balance.  This is the type of feminism which might assert that, in a male-dominated field, you should hire a woman who meets 6 of the position’s 10 criteria rather than a man who meets 7 of those 10, because society as a whole needs more women in that job.  As true as this last claim may be, if you hire her, you have just refused to hire that man for no other reason than his sex, and so you are valuing him less.

Farther along the spectrum, there is “exclusivist feminism”, which values women more than men under all conditions.  While some people claim that such feminism only existed in the past, Robin Morgan’s “ ‘man-hating’ is an honourable and viable political act” was only about 20 years ago, Catherine Comins’ “Men who are unjustly accused of rape can sometimes gain from the experience” was fewer than 15, and such ideas have not spontaneously vanished from our society, as is attested by some of the comments about self-identifying feminists in these women’s reactions against feminism.

There are also, of course, more-complex positions, such as Suzanne Moore’s celebrating of Dworkin and Firestone’s passion but not their logic.

“Real” Feminism(s)

Just as with many other ideologies, and here I am thinking of religions most particularly, adherents of different positions on the feminist spectrum may describe adherents of other positions as “not real feminists” (cf. most Muslims versus Muslim terrorists, and most Christians versus Westboro Baptist).  The claim is essentially that, if you do not do it my way, you are doing it wrong.  Unfortunately, no-one holds the copyright upon any of those labels, and so no-one has the authority to exclude anyone else from the group as a whole: Christians, Muslims, or feminists who hold radically different views of the same ideology are all still Christians, Muslims, or feminists.  The most that we can really say about such “deviants” is “the Christianity/Islam/feminism/whatever with which I self-identify is not the Christianity/Islam/feminism/whatever with which s/he self-identifies.”

Thus, when people say, “feminism means equality”, what they are actually expressing is that they identify with an egalitarian feminism.  Of course, what we express about our own beliefs is not always perfectly accurate, and it might be useful for people who self-identify as genuinely egalitarian feminists to ask themselves, first, whether there truly are no situations in which they would favour women over men (job opportunities, especially in jobs historically dominated by either sex; child custody cases; who gets into the lifeboat first; whether you would use a term like “mansplaining”), and, if there are no such situations, whether the addition of “feminist” to “egalitarian” is really necessary.

On frustrations of job applications

Dear HR,

Because of you, I hide my greatest achievement on the third page of my CV. Because of your snivelling little insecurities, I have to pretend that my PhD – product of 5 years of blood, sweat and tears – is insignificant, and in no way a threat to your job position. And because of your inability to understand connections and transferable skills, I can’t then show how that same research, project planning and management experience, along with all the other things I learnt along the way, has fed so many of my skills and abilities, in order to produce a person who is totally the answer to your job requirement.

Instead, you say I don’t have that piece of paper which says I spent $3,000 on a month-long course to gain a certificate which says I can do what I can already do, and have been doing for years. I have a similar certificate, in a closely related field, but my CV is thrown aside because it is not the precise piece of paper you are asking for (this time. Next week it will be a different, but totally identical certificate, issued under a different system, which you are demanding).

For example, I have _more than fourteen years_ experience in teaching a HUGE range of things, from beginners’ English (“pen, pen” *gestures to pen, beckoning motion to elicit the same noise from the students*) to university writing courses, to creative crafts, to Old English, to discussions on the state of the world, and different cultures’ reactions to everything from buying food, to marriage, to same-sex relations (it’s amazing what comes up in a language class!).  But that doesn’t count in my application for adult education.  And I don’t understand why.  I’ve been teaching adults since I was 19!  Or it doesn’t count in my application for a museum educator’s position, because I haven’t had at least 2 years teaching in school.  I’ve only taught kids from pre-school to high-school to uni…

I’m either over-qualified, or qualified in the wrong area (and apparently totally unable to make transitions between skills).  There’s no winning!

So, while I could be actualising the potential of this exciting position in a rapidly-rising industry, and contributing to the fast-paced world of X, I am instead sitting here, writing this email, actualising my skills all over you.  Or something.

I don’t object to re-writing my CV each time I apply, to highlight how I fulfil your requirements.  I don’t object to being interviewed, and then told that someone else was a better fit.  I DO object to having my CV rejected out of hand, and with no feedback after I requested it, when I would have been a perfect fit.  This screams of HR not having a clue about real life, or people skills, or the actual job in question.  So why do I have to go through you?

Now, please don’t take this as me saying that I know everything because I have a PhD.  I don’t.  I may be a world expert in something, but it’s such a small something that most people don’t even want to know about it.  In fact, doing the degree merely expanded my field of ignorance!  However, it does mean that I can learn.  I want to learn.  If I don’t learn, I might as well be dead.  So give me the opportunity to learn something new, to learn from people with different life experiences, different world views.  Just give me a job!

No love,

An Angry Applicant.

(To add insult to injury, while trying to work out how to get hired, I’ve applied for a Post-Graduate Diploma in Secondary Teaching at my Alma Mater.  Not surprisingly, I was accepted, and given a month to take up my place.  Over the past three days, I have received this email three times:

On  you were made a conditional offer of place in the  for  subject to the conditional requirements being met. 

This conditional offer will expire on .

 Yup.  Really informative.  Who was sending these things?  Monkeys?  Why do I want to pay them yet more of my money?  Is this pride that I am feeling?)

Here Endeth the Rant

(N.B. To all (or any) actual people in HR, I’m sorry.  But this is how it looks to those of us on the outside, desperately trying to utilise our skills in the field.)

Lessons from a Day’s Body-Boarding


Lesson 1: Some things are worth the Black Sand Sprint.

Sometimes, you have to put up with the short and painful, in order to access the wonderful.

Lesson 2: Bring sunscreen.

Be prepared for the conditions you will find, and others which may crop up.  Water, blueberries, sunglasses, and sunscreen never go amiss at a beach.

Lesson 3: Go out just a bit deeper.

In order to play in the surf, you have to go deep enough so as to be buffeted by the waves, and to be pushed hither and thither by the power of the water.  This may be slightly dangerous, and should be out of your comfort zone (but not your safety zone).

Lesson 4: Swim between the flags.

You can have a fulfilled experience, while still being safe.  In fact, knowing you are safe – that someone is watching over you – allows you to take slightly bigger risks.

Lesson 5: No-one is ever sad when they’re riding a wave.

Go out to the beaches, watch the faces of the surfers.  They are either profoundly concentrated, or extremely happy.  You are at the mercy of the water, you are travelling very fast, you may not be able to avoid the swimmers, and the fun is infectious.  Looking at their faces, you will be bound to smile back!  (This is also “risk conquered”.)

Lesson 6: Yelling makes it more fun.

Making noise is a good thing.  Yelling “Yeeeee Haaaaaa!!!!” as you barrel across the surface of the water is good for your soul and clears the mind. It also gives others a bit of a warning that you are coming!

Lesson 7: Know when to come out.

No matter how much fun you’re having out in the water, it is important to be aware of your own physical condition. Fighting the waves, keeping pace with the flags, requires a lot of physical exertion.  You’ll have more fun if you take concern for yourself, and be able to come back next week (or next hour).

Lesson 8: Take time to listen to the waves.


Take time to listen to nature, and let the sounds and sensations wash over you.  This turns  “a trip to the beach” into a mini-break, involving a total disconnect from the day-to-day mundanity of life.  You will go back to work with a spring in your step.


Read more…

Testing, testing

There will be an update, or rather, a first post, soon.  But not today, because today is not that day.  Let me know if you stopped by!

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