The Violence of Orlando

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I haven’t really talked about Orlando yet.

My husband and I have had various conversations online about gun control and the role of religion. We’ve spoken to each other about the need for Love, and the dangers of bigotry and hatred. I’ve read so many posts and articles, watched so many videos, most expressing sorrow or outrage or defiant resilience. But I’ve not really added my voice.

I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t wanted to speak. For one, words seem inadequate, particularly when they are coming from a white, straight, blonde haired, blue eyed, middle class, Christian woman – a cross section of nearly every category of privilege available in our world. For another far more disturbing reason, the most recent news has barely registered as shocking to me at all. How terrible is it that I live in a world where I can hear about dozens of people being slaughtered and my initial emotional reaction just barely moves past apathy? Mass murders seem to have become such a common occurrence that when news of one breaks, I think “again”.

Again.

As if they are all just the same old routine. As if the lives of those involved are all just the same.

Except… the lives of those involved are all just the same. Not in a disrespectful, brush them off, nothing about their story matters way. That’s the way I have come to react to them, but that’s not what they are. I mean that each human involved is infinitely valuable, totally unique, terribly precious, equally as flawed and equally as deserving of life as every other individual involved. They all had names and stories, families, friends, jobs, dreams. And hurts.

In all the reactions I have witnessed in response to this tragedy – let there be no doubt, regardless of my initial emotional reaction I do believe with all of my heart that this is an horrific tragedy – there are two that seem most prevalent. The first has been an expression of sorrow and of solidarity. I have seen so many calls to stand with our fellow humans as brothers and sisters, regardless of race, creed or orientation. I have watched thousands of people stand together weeping at vigils, weeping as a community undivided by hate or fear. As the lives of so many have been torn apart, it seems that much of the world has responded by defiantly joining together, something that is particularly powerful in the midst of an American election that seems aimed at tearing people apart. It is the right response, and it is beautiful to be witness to.

There has been a second response as well, only ever so slightly smaller than the first. As news of the massacre spread, the flames of fear and rage have spread too. Of course there is the obvious example: the rhetoric of Trump renewing his cries for a ban on Muslim immigration, blaming the actions of this U.S. citizen on Obama (who apparently traveled back in time and let the shooter’s parent’s into the country). But there are plenty of seemingly less egregious expressions of fear and rage as well. It seems only natural in the face of such an evil act to define the killer by that evil, to identify them as “other”, not human, not us. We speak out against not just their actions but against them, each of us trying to push the perpetrator as far away from any connection to us as possible. “He was a Muslim, Islam is the problem” says the Christian. “He was religious, religion is the problem” says the atheist. “He was an extremist, extremism is the problem” says the Muslim. “He had access to guns, guns are the problem” says the person who believes in gun control. “He was mentally ill, mental illness is the problem” says the mentally sound. “He was closeted, bigotry is the problem” say those who are out.

I get it. In fact, I do it. In moments of fear and anger, it seems so natural to box the evil-doer in as the other, to protect ourselves from them and to distance them from ourselves. “I would never do that” we rationalize – even when on occasion we may find ourselves identifying with some part of their thinking or some experience from their life. “They did something so evil, they have to be a monster” we tell ourselves as we look for comfort in our differences from them. “I’m sane, I’m just, I know when to get help, I have appropriate outlets for my anger, I am right”, we say. “I would never commit such violence”.

I would never commit such violence, I say to myself. But it’s a lie.

One of my favourite Christian bloggers – Rachel Held Evans – posted a poignant response to the Orlando massacre. In it, she talked about the leaders in the Christian church responding with calls to love and support the LGBTQ community in this time of tragedy. While this is absolutely the right response, she noted that many in the LGBTQ find these calls to love ring hollow. Why? Because the same people who are now calling for love and support have spent years sowing seeds of hatred, contempt and disgust for the LGBTQ community. It is their words and ideas that have propagated so much of the violence against the LGBTQ community, by fueling societal attitudes of bigotry. Their forked tongues seem to preach love and support at the same time as they continue to relegate those in the LGBTQ community to second-class citizenship, to unworthy outsiders, making clear at all times that “they” are “other”.

This is an act of violence.

With each wedge we push between ourselves and our fellow man, we contribute to the violence. I would argue that even though lack of gun control and bigotry and extremism are all contributors to the massacres we see on an almost daily basis now, they are all rooted in something that is far more pervasive and to which we all contribute in some way or another on a daily basis: The violence of disconnection. It is disconnection that leads us to believe we need to protect ourselves from our neighbours with guns, in case the need arises for us to decide between killing or being killed. As if we aren’t all in this together. It is disconnection that allows us to convince ourselves that someone’s differences are more important and more profound than the things we share. It is disconnection that pushes outsiders to search for anything and anywhere to belong, and to hold on so tightly that they will give their lives for an ideology of hate because at least inside that hate they were finally offered a sense of belonging and connection. They were allowed to funnel all of their hurt and rejection back toward those who told them – and keep telling them – that they will never be allowed on the “inside”.

While it feels natural and right to distance ourselves from those who commit these atrocities, it is far more honest – and far more difficult – to acknowledge that those committing these acts are more “us” than they are “other”. When we spend our time putting more and more distance between ourselves, we contribute to the violence that spurred these evil acts in the first place. We become part of the violence we are denouncing. Our forked tongues shout solidarity and seclusion in the same breath. And we truly believe that in doing so we are right.

It is a painful thing to acknowledge that it is not just the victims we share so much in common with. These evil-doers often have families and children, friends, jobs. They grew up in communities just like ours. And as much as it is convenient to tell ourselves that their otherness is what made it possible for them to go to such lengths – an otherness we swear we do not share – I don’t believe that’s usually the reality.

The reality is that we are all broken people in our own way. We are all violent people in our own way. We search for opportunities to tell ourselves we are better, stronger, kinder… different. And while my impact may not seem great on its own, when you combine the billions of tiny fractures we humans make in the fabric of our society each day, you start to comprehend the culmination of our violence, and the damage it does.

We are part of the problem. When we react to violence with violence, we are part of the problem. When we convince ourselves they were “other” we are part of the problem. When we contribute to the disconnection of humanity by polarizing one group against another, by separating “us” from “them” we are part of the problem.

Violence isn’t just guns in crowded bathroom stalls, or bombs in public spaces. Violence is the words and actions we use every day towards each other. And the evil we see is the culmination of that violence and that disconnection.

Until we are willing to acknowledge our part in the violence of our world, we cannot become part of the solution. As long as we are intent on putting each other into boxes, we will continue to propagate the very evil we swear we would never participate in.

But when we see it, when we call it what it is and understand that no matter how small it may seem, a billion tiny words spoken together become a deafening roar, then we can speak different words. We can speak words of connection, and love and healing.  As our voices leave, the roar of hatred and violence will grow ever weaker, and the call of us, of humanity, of one, will inevitably drown it out.

You are one small voice. Speak for peace. Speak for unity. Speak for humanity.

Speak for us all.

Choose to connect.

We are all human.

We are all in this together.

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There’s Something I Need to Say

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There’s something I need to say.

For those of you who know me, you’ll know this isn’t something new. I’m not exactly a wallflower. I’m certainly not afraid to hold and voice strong opinions. And a good discussion is one of my most favourite things in the world (just ask my poor husband). And yet, there is something I haven’t said openly before. Something I’ve believed strongly for a very long time, but have only really discussed with those closest to me, in the safety of those relationships I know can hold the weight of such strong words. I’m working hard as of late to refine my listening skills, to learn greater restraint and increase my awareness and understanding, which often means less talking and more hearing.

I said I’m working at it – not that I’m succeeding.

But seriously, while I am happy to voice strong opinions when I have had time to form them carefully, I still hesitate on certain issues. I want to walk that line between voicing an opinion strongly held and preaching at others that they are wrong. And I want to be careful that my judgment of a position doesn’t cross the line into judgment of the person who holds it. It’s not easy.

So I find myself here, needing to say something with strong words, a position carefully formed, and yet not wanting to come off as self righteous or judgmental. So I include myself in the audience for these words.

You cannot be a Christian if you refuse to speak up for the marginalized.

It’s not that you can’t claim the title – there are plenty of very visible and vocal people walking around claiming the label as their own but living completely contradictory values. And it’s not that you can’t have a variety of different opinions about how help is best given, or even about what you may personally think is right or wrong. You can be hypocritical in any number of ways (we all are when we look closely enough), you can be wrong about any number of things, you can be as broken as broken can be.

But you cannot be a Christian if you refuse to speak up for the marginalized.

How dare I make such a statement. I mean, if one thing is central to the Christian faith it is that there is nothing humanity can do to EARN the grace that is necessary (and freely given) to restore our relationships. And that is 100% true. But that is not what I am talking about. I’m not saying “in order to be a Christian, you must do ‘A'”. What I’m saying is “If you are truly a believer and follower of Christ, you cannot help but do ‘A’ – ‘A’ is inevitable”. So if you aren’t doing ‘A’, then you are not truly following.

The very essence of Christ is Love. But by far the greatest expression of that Love is shown towards those who DO NOT DESERVE IT. I mean, no one deserves it, but if you are reading the stories of Jesus’ life, you are seeing that most of his time is spent engaging with and speaking out on behalf of the lowest of the low. It is absolutely essential to his way of life to identify with those who are wrong, and bad, and dirty, and hurt, and weak, and alone. If you cannot see that, you aren’t reading the same Bible.

Prosperity gospel is a popular thing these days, and I see it often in varying degrees. Spoiler: if someone is telling you that God will reward you for faith with STUFF, or HAPPINESS (as defined by us), they are lying to you. The biggest problem for me is the middle class Christians who like to walk around declaring that all you need to do is “give it to God” and “have faith” and everything will work out. Spoiler alert 2: if someone tells you that believing in God means you will no longer suffer (or that all your suffering will lead to some great human pay off) they are lying to you. The reality of millions of Christians worldwide is that while their faith is real, it is hard, and their lives are hard, and will continue to be hard. And sometimes it won’t get better. Not here. And if you are a Christian, it is IMPOSSIBLE for you to ignore this reality. Because God is most certainly not blind to this reality. His whole gospel is centered on this reality. And if you are centered on him, your reality will be centered on it too.

A gospel that ignores those among us who are cast out is not the gospel at all. It’s nothing more than some pretty words and nice ideas meant to make you feel safe and comfortable and happy in the human kingdom you have built for yourself. It’s the gospel of you, not the gospel of Christ. And you, my friend, are not meant to be at the center of your world. Everyone else is. If you find yourself ignoring the hard stuff for the sake of your comfort, you’re going the wrong way. If you are comfortable in your life and think the extent of Christ’s message is to help other people feel comfortable too, you’re missing the point. If you find yourself never talking, thinking or engaging with those groups the vocal minority of people identifying as Christians take the most joy in pissing on, you need to reacquaint yourself with your Christ. Christ was never silent – in word or action – when it came to those on the fringes.

Now some people (including myself) will read this and think “Yes! That’s right! We need to be showing up for those groups that are cast out by society – the poor and homeless, the LGBTQ community, the ethnic minorities” and you are right: we really really do. Our whole ethos should be one of showing these communities radical Love. But we so often forget that it wasn’t just the poor and outcast Jesus hung out with. Nope.

Guys, this is where it gets hard. Jesus also hung out with tax collectors. He spent a significant amount of time engaging with the pharisees. He made time for heads of state and leaders of armies. This pacifist, Loving, Jew didn’t just deal with the lowly, he dealt with the unpopular. Even the really rich, prestigious unpopular crowd. We are good at calling for attention to the “hurt, weak and alone” but we can be pretty bad at showing love to the “wrong, bad and dirty” crowd. I know I can.

But you cannot be a Christian if you refuse to Love the undeserving.

The thing is, in their own way, the wrong, bad and dirty crowd is just as bad off as the hurt, weak and alone. They are totally broken, in totally different ways.

Some people hold more power in our world, and we need to recognize that difference. Some people have smaller voices, and they need our voices more than others so that they can be heard. And we need to give our voices to them.

But no matter how powerful or weak our society may have made someone, the thing is, they all need the same Love. The great thing about Love is it is extremely versatile. It can show up as compassionate giving, and it can show up as humble correction. Sometimes Love is shouting for justice. Sometimes Love is pleading for reason. Sometimes Love is silent tears shed in solidarity.

All the time, Love is our calling.

You cannot be a Christian if you refuse to speak up for the marginalized.

You cannot be a Christian if you refuse to Love the undeserving.

You can be a Christian if you are willing to try.

 

 

Survivors and Due Process

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I’ve been looking for an article somewhere that articulates how I feel about the Ghomeshi verdict. I’ve posted many articles commenting on the judge’s ruling, and on the limits and purpose of our legal system. I’ve had lengthy discussions, and engaged in many a debate about various characterizations of what exactly went down. And yet, in all of the blog posts and facebook discussions and news articles, I have still not found what it is I am looking for. So I guess I will just have to create it myself.

There are many competing voices on the Ghomeshi case; on what happened and how we characterize what happened, and about who and what is at fault and who and what is not. Most of my time thus far has been spent defending what I see as a mischaracterization both of the judge’s ruling and of how the legal system worked. Some people believe this has been my focus because I do not care about victims of sexual assault. That I think our system is perfect, and worked perfectly, and nothing needs to change. People are very good at imputing intention when anger and hurt are involved. But the reality – my reality – is very different.

I decided to go into law later than many people do. It wasn’t something I had dreamed of, or even really considered as a possibility. I did so because of personal experience and frustration with the current legal system, and a desire to change the parts of it that seem to be failing people. But I also did it with a deep respect for the system itself, and a desire to fully understand exactly what the system is and what its main objectives are before trying to claim I knew all of its problems and could solve them. I recognized that in order to validly critique something and make it better, I needed to ensure I truly knew what it was I was attempting to change. I need to ensure I truly know what it is I am attempting to change.

And so, in the aftermath of the verdict of not guilty, I have seen two main stances. On the one hand, I have seen people jumping to the defense of the legal system – laying out why the judge was right in his legal analysis, why the system worked and why people need to stop claiming these things didn’t happen and that the judge is a dirty misogynist who is perpetuating stereotypes and that the system didn’t work the way it was supposed to. At least in my posts, this has been largely my focus. And I do believe these things are true.

On the other hand, I have witnessed countless numbers speaking out with rage and hurt at the injustice of it all. Visceral reactions from survivors and allies, angry at a system in which so few assaults are even reported, and where of the few that are, only a handful result in convictions. They are angry at the ways in which being forced to publicly testify puts complainants at the centre of a deeply vulnerable and painful process, and at how in far too many ways it seems it is the women and not their evidence whose credibility is challenged through rigorous cross-examination. And I do believe these things are true as well.

You see, while perhaps I have not done a very good job of portraying this outside of the more nuanced discussions I’ve been involved in, I don’t think we need to choose sides. I think it is not only possible, but is in fact extremely important, that in our reactions to Ghomeshi we support both of these viewpoints. And I also think it is necessary that we correct the misinformation being spread by both sides in this social commentary.

The justice system worked the way it was built to work, and the judge overall exercised sound legal judgment in applying the law. The justice system, however, was not built to deal with sexual assault, and the criminal standard of proof – while necessary and important in protecting people from wrongful conviction – is not well suited to supporting victims through the process of conviction or in holding people accountable where the only evidence available is conflicting testimony.

The judge was not immune from being bothered by stereotypes that continue to be perpetuated – and while he made clear they were not the reason for his verdict, we cannot ignore their prevalence and the harm they continue to do. Nor can we ignore the ways in which this verdict will be used by people to continue to perpetuate myths about sexual assault and the women who come forward. The women in this case absolutely hold responsibility for how they contributed to the downfall of this case. But that should in no way impute on them the idea that they made it all up, or that most women make it all up. And yet it will be used that way, and that is hugely damaging, hurtful and problematic.

The process of cross examination is difficult in any case. For survivors of sexual assault, the process can be (and often is) even more traumatizing than the assault itself. Being forced to publicly relive the assault in front of your abuser in open court, and then having every possible piece of evidence that may show your testimony is not credible picked apart for the world to see is nothing if not traumatic. Add to it the fact that far too often it is the complainant and not their testimony that seems to be at issue, and that much of the time the complainant has not received appropriate counseling or support, and you have a recipe for disaster. Survivors who are already carrying around unbearable shame burrow even deeper into it, and often end up questioning if they really are the cause of the abuse, and if they really even deserve to be in a courtroom telling their story. This is wrong and sad and hard – not because the system is broken but because the system was never built for them in the first place. And that is a truth we all need to understand.

The burden of proof is high for a reason. A conviction doesn’t only mean jail time or probation. It also means a life time of public stigma. It means a loss of career, livelihood, family, friends. It is an enormous punishment, and therefore it is necessary to make sure only the guilty are convicted. Cries that the burden of proof should be lowered here, that a personal intuition or public consensus should be enough to overturn evidentiary rules, throw out due process and convict are uninformed and dangerous. In the common law system, verdicts set precedent, and precedent is powerful. Rules require a lot of thought and careful discussion before changing because the ramifications are always far bigger than whatever reality we may be presently considering. We talk about justice as if it is entirely confined to the case in front of us, or to one particular kind of crime. But justice also must be served through the system as a whole. And the thing about the system is that every part of it is intricately connected to every other part. The ripples of change get very big, very quickly.

Every person who comes forward with a sexual assault complaint has been hurt. How they have been hurt and who has hurt them are not always determinable. Sometimes the answer is complex and cannot be easily broken down. But that they have been hurt, that they feel hurt, is a truth we need to acknowledge. A presumption that a complainant is lying is not necessary in maintaining the presumption of innocence. And a requirement that we believe the complainant and therefore that we also impute guilt on the accused is also not necessary. A complainant may very well be telling their truth, but their truth is not the only truth or only experience, and neither person’s story needs to be thrown out at the expense of the other. The courts are there to figure out what can be proven as true, not what is or is not true.

None of these realities are inconsistent. All of these realities contribute to a deeper and fuller understanding of what the issues really are, and only when we can acknowledge the full picture can we be informed in a way that will help us produce effective solutions.

Solutions like building a new system that is built specifically for these kinds of crimes.

Solutions like examining the assumptions and inferences we make in sexual assault trials and about sexual assault survivors, and changing the law in ways that keep these assumptions and inferences out of our courtrooms.

Solutions like finding different systems that already exist and may be better suited to dealing with sexual assault and sexual assault victims.

Solutions like putting better supports in place for complainants, supports that will guide them not only through the legal process, but through the emotional process as well.

Solutions like focusing not just on our legal systems, but on the broader social systems that continue to perpetuate and constantly reinforce a culture where abusers feel they can get away with assault, and survivors feel shame and responsibility for having been assaulted.

Solutions that focus less on punishing crimes that may never be proven, and more on validating the hurt suffered by those involved and on helping survivors and even abusers move through their hurt and into hope.

That is the truth we should all be talking about. That is the truth we should all be listening for. That is the hurt we should all be working together to heal.

 

 

 

A feminist critique of hyper-feminism

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Feminism

noun fem·i·nism \ˈfe-mə-ˌni-zəm\

: the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities

– Merriam Webster Dictionary

 

I have been contemplating this post for a long time now. Many months and many conversations have gone into forming the thoughts I’m about to share. I spent a long time coming up with reasons not to post this, reasons often voiced by those in conversation with and around me: I don’t want to stir the pot on this hot topic, I don’t want to keep spreading the myth that feminism is about hating men, enough people are trying to cut feminism down – the least I can do is speak to its merits as opposed to getting caught in the seemingly endless assault on its perceived flaws. For a long time these reasons were enough to keep me from speaking up.

But something happened recently, something I’ve often witnessed at an arms length but never previously experienced so close up. Someone out there in the ether, someone with an education and a platform, someone held up by many as the ideal feminist warrior – this someone and a few of her biggest supporters launched a vicious, personal and ongoing cyber attack against my husband after he made a sarcastic joke in an effort to show his solidarity with her on a particular issue. Now, people take offense often and I have no problem with someone taking offense to Tory’s particular sense of humour. It’s remarkable it doesn’t happen more often! But this wasn’t someone taking offense. This was an explosive and vitriolic reaction to a simple attempt to communicate, followed by shaming, berating and full on cyber-bullying of the worst kind, spewing hatred not just at him for daring to be a man, but at me for daring to voice disagreement with their accounts and at our children for daring to be born.

The nice thing about such an intensely unpleasant experience is that it removed any inhibitions I had about raising my voice. I stopped being worried about how some of our friends might react and started to be far more concerned with the damage people like these are doing not just to the reputation of feminism but to real individuals who are being publicly flogged for the sin of holding a different view of the world.

In this post, I will be referring to something I have decided to call “hyper-feminism”. It should be noted that when I speak to this particular brand of “feminism”, I am not referring to what was described in the definition provided at the top of this post. I am not referring to the millions of people engaged in meaningful discussions and meaningful work focused on gender equality and on allowing women to have the same access to opportunity as men. I am not denying that the world we currently live in is an uneven playing field, and that because of that women have more ground to cover in order for equal opportunity to be realized. I am not denying the reality that to this day there are undertones in our society that work against women and for men, and that these undertones still have a huge impact on how we choose to live our lives. I do not believe feminism is unnecessary, I do not believe it is outdated and I do not believe there is a simple fix to the huge array of issues that feminism works so hard to unearth and address.

“So then why call it feminism at all?” I will still use feminism to label this worldview (at least in part) because 1. There is a large – though not majority – faction of people who loudly proclaim themselves to be part of the feminist movement who hold this worldview and 2. Because we don’t get anywhere by trying to minimize real issues. Pretending this isn’t a hijacked and twisted version of feminism but simply some other entity altogether diminishes the dangerous crossover this movement shares with feminism in its true form, and the reality that this movement is rooted in and uses to its advantage the basic premises of feminism before perverting them so completely to serve their own purposes. Evil perpetuated in the name of a worldview needs to be called out for what it is so that it can be extracted from the worldview it purports to support. If we as feminists refuse to acknowledge what is being done in our name, it will continue to infect the entirety of the movement.

Maybe you think I’m being a little dramatic. Maybe you think this isn’t a real issue, this is just first world problems. Who cares about what a stranger on the internet says. My response is this: First world problems often have a trickle down effect on the rest of the world, and in order for feminism to continue to be the incredibly positive and powerful force it is in EVERY world, the ever-louder voices destroying it from the inside out need to be answered and called out for what they really are. Hatred can destroy even the strongest of things. And I care about strangers on the internet when so much of our world today is lived out in social media, and social media happens to offer just the right amount of distance to allow people to say the most horrible thing under the illusion of immunity, words that don’t just hurt feelings but can cost lives and destroy decades of good work.

Hyper-feminism has been growing ever louder over the past half a decade or so, at least that I’ve noticed. It’s gone from being a small faction barely recognized by those either inside or outside of feminism, to finding a voice in the development of feminist literature and theory, and most of all within the media. In the last few years I’ve not taken a single course that involved feminist theory that didn’t in some small way touch on some of the ideas held by hyper-feminism. The media has exploded with the content of the hyper-feminist movement – essays abound on the subjects near and dear to their hearts and newspapers and magazines seem afraid to speak out too loudly against these opinions, probably because they know they will immediately be branded as misogynistic and morally backwards. The only voices that loudly oppose hyper-feminism are those on the right – but unfortunately they are so far right they provide nothing constructive to counteract the arguments, instead reinforcing patriarchal norms. So the world sees two sides to choose from and while being bashed by the right for your views just reinforces for moderates and liberals that they are on the right track, because of the speed and severity of the condemnation of the hyper-feminists, speaking out against them runs the risk of political and social suicide. So, cowering in the fear of the potential consequences, the majority decide to keep their heads low while the hyper-feminists grow ever louder.

“What is it that you think ‘hyper-feminism’ is and why do you disagree so strongly with their views”? Hyper-feminism has taken the fight for women’s rights, and turned it into “only women have rights” – while also saying that women should have no responsibility. Hyper-feminism has decided that because men have had and continue to have more power and advantage in the world, male experiences are not valid. Hyper-feminism has twisted the acknowledgment that women deserve equality into the proclamation that men don’t have a place in the world other than to worship and agree with anything a woman says. Except if that woman doesn’t agree with hyper-feminism in which case that women is a whore who has sold herself to patriarchy and is too ugly and stupid to have valid thoughts either. Hyper-feminism has stripped the world of intelligent, compassionate dialogue and replaced it with screaming so loud and unending that there is no room for another voice to interject. And any society that only allows one voice to speak is doomed.

The thing that bothers me most about hyper-feminism is the utter hypocrisy demonstrated each and every day by those I see yelling most loudly in support of the movement. They often claim to support the tenets of feminism, but their actions betray their true beliefs. You can see it easily of you know what to look for – a woman “stands up for herself” by cutting down a man who disagrees with her, calling him horrible and degrading names, attacking his looks, his intelligence and his value as a human being (‘neckbeards anyone?). She is heralded as a goddess by her fellow hyper-feminists and lauded for putting him in his place. But, if a man does any of these things he is the worst kind of misogynist. If a man dares to mention a woman’s career when expressing surprise that she didn’t know how to communicate better then clearly he’s a misogynist neckbeard whose children are not children but “spawn” because he and his offspring don’t even qualify as human. But wait – isn’t that what you are mad at men for? For reducing you to less than human, for attacking your fuckability as if your only worth lies in your looks, for assuming because you have an opinion that’s different from theirs you don’t have the ability to form an intelligent opinion at all?

Men are not right for doing these things. Neither are you.

Or what about this – women are encouraged to “be strong” and “be powerful” – women who kick butt and take control are immortalized in comic books and turned into children’s stories about girl power that can be read to our daughters. But if a man so much as dares to open a car door, hyper-feminists say he is undercutting and infantilizing them, and should be beaten in the streets for this unfathomable crime. If a man appears to live up to the traditional stereotypes of being macho and manly, of being strong and taking charge – then he is perpetuating patriarchy and is called a pig.

Hyper-feminisim is presumptuous, condescending, arrogant and abusive. Hyper-feminists assume their opinion is so far superior that anyone who disagrees with them is not even worthy of breathing the same air as them. Hyper-feminists assume they are mind readers, and believe they not only know every persons thoughts but also all of their underlying motivations. Hyper-feminists assume it is their God-given right by virtue of their superiority to be judge and jury for the entire world. Hyper-feminism assumes all men are misogynists and predators – only those who have submitted completely and claim no right to have an opinion are allowed to exist without condemnation. It assumes that because of their maleness all men’s motivations are pre-determined, and those motivations are to gain power and dominate women.

Hyper-feminism argues that because women suffer more greatly from inequality, nothing a man suffers ever matters. It’s like arguing that because a child in Africa is starving and lost his parents to AIDS, I don’t get to be sad when my own father dies because I’m not starving and he didn’t have AIDS. That women face more hardships doesn’t mean that the hardships of men are any less real, and acknowledging the greater position men hold in our society doesn’t mean they aren’t still subject to discrimination or hatred too. Using the logic of the hyper-feminists, when a woman in North America experiences catcalling it may never be empathized with because there are women in other parts of the world who live in countries where rape is still legal. So because a woman here doesn’t have to face that much greater trial, any trials she does face aren’t valid.

And it’s not just men that hyper-feminists are so willing to attack. Remember the speech Emma Watson gave about inviting men to the table of feminism to be part of the discussion? Do you want to know where the worst attacks on her came from? They came from within feminism – from hyper-feminists who could not believe her gall at acknowledging the value of the male voice. They destroyed her. They ripped her apart. She didn’t share their views so therefore she was a traitor, and not worth treating as a human. Hyper-feminism is so quick to dispose of the humanity of anyone they disagree with – almost as speedily as they raise as goddesses those who yell along with them the loudest.

Many people argue with me that because men have the greater power, we shouldn’t be spending time talking about their voices or concerns or needs. I disagree. Why? Because if we forget about their voices then we lose the balance that true feminism is really after in our world. True feminism is about creating a space where men and women come together as equals, with equal access to all the opportunities life has to offer. Hyper-feminism is not concerned with this equality, but with silencing men altogether. Female empowerment is important – it NEEDS to happen. But hyper-feminism seeks to simply build a mirror image of the world we’ve been fighting so hard to change.

This is not a post about men’s rights. Men DO still have more power, and they don’t need the same amount of support that women do in order to get our world to equality. But the whole point of feminism is not to build women up and cut men down, the point is to find a balance – where no one has too much or too little power in the world. And the whole point of hyper-feminism is to teach the world to hate everything they have decided men encapsulate. Men aren’t people, at least not ones that deserve equal voices. And if a woman believes in the value men offer, she’s just as worthless as men are.

Hyper-feminists, you are not goddesses – you are humans. Fallible, imperfect humans. You cannot imply intention. You cannot know without discussing. You are teaching the world to hate. Feminism gave you the platform you stand on today and I, for one, will not just stand by and let you ruin the good name of feminism.

 

 

The problem with how we talk about Caitlyn and Josh

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This post will not be popular – of that I’m certain. But I’ve very recently gotten past the point of caring about being popular. It’s too much work anyway, trying to live up to the expectations of the entire world.

Two big stories have dominated the media these past two weeks: first, the story of Caitlyn Jenner and second, the story of Josh Duggar. Both have been polarizing, both have caused extreme lashing out both by Christians and at Christians. I’ve watched outrage fly and hatred spew on all sides. So many have taken an “us vs. them” stance, screaming “You are either for us or you’re against us!”. Both individuals have been reduced to extremely oversimplified caricatures, filled out by the projections of millions of people based on their own personal experiences. People who identify with either of these individuals claim to know their every thought and intention by virtue of their assumed kinship, or by virtue of their kinship with those who oppose them.

A trend has emerged. People choose their side and hold up these individuals either as saints or devils, representative of all the good they can dream up or all the evil the world possesses. But then something happens – the caricature begins to fracture. Someone points out an inconsistency in the position that’s been taken, or the sainted individual makes a choice that contradicts the perfection they are meant to encapsulate. Caitlyn, it’s revealed, is making millions off of this whole “coming out”, and suddenly her motives run the risk of not being completely altruistic. Two of Josh Duggars victims speak out in his defence with messages of forgiveness, and those who have been claiming to be the victims voices in all this find themselves having to come up with ways to undermine those whose side they purport to have chosen. 14 year old Josh Duggar self reported his crimes before his victims were even aware of them, and it’s harder to argue that he fits the profile of a pedophile.

By this point of course the opinions have been broadcast so loudly, and lines so clearly drawn that there is no room for doubt, for backing down or changing your mind or softening your position. All that’s left is to double down and redirect the argument through whatever means necessary so that the conclusion can be supported. The conclusion is the guiding force, and the facts will be molded to fit it. The caricatures become even more extreme, and any glimpse of the real humans behind these names are lost completely to the public’s consciousness.

And that’s the real problem. The problem is that in the moment these stories emerged, instead of searching to find these individual’s humanity, people sought to dispense of it in an effort to support the narrative they wanted to develop. This is equally true of those both on the left and on the right. These individuals are not spoken about in most circles as fully fleshed out humans – fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, sisters, daughters, wives, mothers. They are idols or they are scum. They are not allowed to be humans.

Why are we so afraid of their humanity? Perhaps because if we allowed ourselves to see their humanity, we would see in them the imperfect pieces of ourselves – of our husbands and mothers and children. We would relate to them not as things to be judged but as people to be loved, and love is far too complicated to support any simple narrative. Love requires empathy, compassion and forgiveness just as much as it requires boundaries and responsibility and consequence. Love requires an acknowledgement that these individuals who may hold beliefs that we oppose with every fibre of our being also share in the common experiences of human life – bedtime stories with their children, loneliness in the breakdown of their relationships, awe at the splendour of a perfect sunset. It requires the acknowledgement that those things we hate about who they are and what they stand for are merely one part of their person, that their perceived flaws are no more numerous than our own and that nothing they say or do can erase the fact that they are still more like us in their humanity than they are different from us in their failings.

So if you want to discuss the Jenners and the Duggars, discuss what they do with humility and caution, knowing your life is full of choices someone else in the world opposes with the same vehemence you are feeling. Don’t assume you know who the person is or what their motives are, unless you actually have a close relationship with them – and even then realize you cannot read another’s mind. But most importantly of all, root every conversation you have in the reality of a love that requires you to put their humanity centre stage. Whatever your position is on Caitlyn Jenner and Josh Duggar, whatever your feelings about the lives they are leading and the choices they are making, you must always remember to look at them first and foremost as imperfect people, as brothers and sisters, and as precious and loved children of God.

The Art of Listening

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This summer I have the incredible opportunity to spend almost 3 months on Vancouver Island with my (almost) husband and our 1 year old, as well as having our 5 and 8 year olds come out for 4 weeks in July and August. While most of my peers are busy working, I’m learning how to love cooking again, how to be present for the little things and how to reconnect both with my partner and – even more than that – with myself.

This past year and a bit have been a blur. Scratch that – the past 3 and a half years have been a blur. From the time Tory entered my life, my world has been in a constant state of stress and upheaval. Every aspect of my life has changed in huge ways, as has nearly every aspect of my self. I look back 3 years and see a broken child, searching for meaning and belonging and purpose and Love. Between dealing with a move across the country, a divorce that dragged out 3 full years and ensuing custody battle royale, becoming a step mom and in essence a wife, a career beginning and end, LSATs, first year of law school, pregnancy, childbirth (it was 76 hours, it counts as its own significant endeavor), becoming a mother and more, every facet of my being was reshaped, every belief about myself and the world challenged, every limit tested. But I’m here.

And I’m not just here, I’m… different. More. More aware, more humble, more forgiving, more trusting, more Loving. More human.

This is the first time since my new life began that I’ve been able to just sit and consider what my life is and who I am in it. With no pressing deadlines and no looming court dates or bills we can’t pay, I truly have the freedom to just BE. I think the greatest freedom I am currently feeling is from the pressure to have to provide financially for the family. Tory’s working and I am not responsible for this summers income, and I feel like I can breathe and relax into my life, into the chance to do nothing more than Love those around me for a time.

I catch myself feeling guilty for the nothingness – for the sitting and watching, for the quiet. And yet I know it is necessary. The quiet I have been given these few short months is not just for me to recharge after a grueling few years. I believe more than anything else, God has given me this quiet so that I have the time and space to hear His voice in the silence, and to listen to His whispers as they float in off the summer breeze. My day to day life is normally so filled to the brim with all my competing responsibilities, my attention drawn even in my dreams to all the things I must do and prepare to do and be careful not to do that I have no space in my life for any sort of quiet. For any sort of listening. It’s hard to hear the stillness of God above the cacophony of life.

Because that is what God is. Stillness. In a world that is ever changing and always moving, He is a fixed mark, strong and stable and sure. He is steadfast in his pursuit of us, active in his Love of us, but I can always recognize His voice if I am willing to listen for it, because it never changes. He whispers Love into every corner of my life, asking only that I trust Him enough to let him lead me to fullness.

I am so easily led astray.

In September I will head back into the throng of students competing to find success. For many that success looks like money and prestige. For some it looks like finding meaning and making a difference. For a few it looks like compassion. For me…

For me I pray for the courage to hear and to listen to what I am being called to. For me I pray I do not become seduced by the endless pursuit of MORE, of bigger and better and richer.

For me I pray I will speak Love into the lives of thousands over the decades to come. That I will reflect compassion, embody humility and inspire courage. I pray that I will spare children the hate of their parents, and parents their crippling hate of each other and of themselves. I pray that God makes my life matter.

This summer, I hope I master the art of listening. I want to hear in no uncertain terms who I am called to be in this world so that when the time comes for me to live it out, it is impossible for me to forget, impossible for me to run from. I want to know myself – the version of me that I am called to be – so deeply, so wholly, that I cannot deny who I am. That if I choose not to be her it will torture me every day until I stop running away from myself.

I want to know me, so that out of that knowing, I can truly live.

God, help me listen.

I am 30

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I was 13 the first time I tried to lose weight.

I remember that I attempted to make it through a whole day at school with only an apple to eat. I remember I was famished by the time I finally got home, and gorged on whatever I could find. I remember it only lasted a week or so before I gave up.

It was the first time I ever felt hunger brought on by my own choice. The first time I ever thought of food as the enemy as opposed to the thing that I eat when I need it – the thing that gives me life and energy. It was the first time I ever felt out of control when eating. It was the first time I ever thought of my body as anything other than useful, strong and capable.

I was 13.

I had learned to be ashamed.

Shame was not something I had known. I was active as a girl, raised in the country on a hobby farm, next door to dairy farmers. I was outside most of the time, or upstairs escaping monsters and searching for hidden passageways in my parent’s closet, or playing in our library building massive forts, or in the chair near the fireplace reading our endless number of books. I was preoccupied with my brothers and fascinated with the world of my imagination. Apart from choosing glasses frames, I spent almost no time so much as thinking about how I looked. I was concerned only with what I could do.

But that all changed, and far too quickly.

I was 13. I had started to put on a little weight as many teen girls do. My body was growing up. I didn’t notice it myself however until it was pointed out to me. A training bra was recommended along with well intentioned words saying I would have to start paying attention to how I ate and what I did. In those few words I heard for the first time that my body was changing, but that it was my responsibility to make sure that it changed appropriately, and only in ways that were acceptable. It was my job to fit myself into whatever was deemed an appropriate amount of weight gain, to reign in my hips and my breasts and be sure they didn’t get out of hand. I had never thought of my body before but suddenly it had the potential to speak poorly of me if I didn’t control it.

My body was something to be controlled.

I spent my early teenage years trying to hide my developing body. I wore baggy clothes and wanted nothing to do with make up or high heels or anything else “girly”. In grade 9 I went in the opposite direction and wore mostly skirts for a year. I still felt out of place in my own skin. I was not huge, but I was heavier than many of the other girls in my class, and I felt ashamed of it.

As I grew older I became more and more self conscious. I put on more weight, and couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to dress. I didn’t know how to control my body, but I knew I wanted to. I remember one day in grade 11, I was walking out to the car after school when my brother looked up at me approaching and said “Brynn, you have boobs!”. Even coming from my brother I knew this was something that bestowed me with a new and different kind of power. I started to understand that my body was once again useful, though now in an entirely different way.

In grade 12 I met a man who was 10 years older than me. I was awkward and uncomfortable and had no idea who I wanted to be, but he paid attention to me, and at the time that was enough. We began dating. He drove a sporty car, and I started to wear tighter clothes because I felt it made me more attractive.

Then he cheated on me. I was devastated. I had no idea what to do. All I knew was that his cheating meant I was not good enough in some way so he went to someone else to get what I couldn’t give him. I asked him if he’d like me better if I was thinner. He admitted he would. I discovered it was incredibly hard to control what I ate, but I could easily control what I got rid of.

I was 18. I was bulimic.

That relationship ran its course eventually, but it left me deeply wounded. When I finally left him, I believed that I was not good enough for anyone. I believed my only worth came from my body, and my body was only as good as it was thin. I purged more and more.

I was 19. 

I started to date another older man, a coworker who made me feel attractive. It was a toxic relationship in every way. I started to smoke, and realized it made me less hungry. I started to run and realized I was getting even thinner. My boyfriend liked it. He had told me once that if he ever got married and his wife got fat, he’d divorce her. I ran harder. I smoked more. I ate less. by the age of 20 I was working 2 jobs, 80 hours a week, smoking a pack and a half a day, running 2.5 hours 5 days a week and eating about 800 calories (if that). My boyfriend told me he hoped I wasn’t planning on losing too much more weight. I felt so good – I knew I was succeeding.

I was 21.

I returned from a solo trip to Australia and I was the thinnest I had ever been. I had gone there with plans to go on a road trip with an Australian friend I had met while he was living in Canada. When I got there and he found out I had a boyfriend, he cancelled the trip and I had to figure out what to do on my own for a month. He wanted sex and when he realized I wasn’t going to give it, he dropped me. Why wouldn’t he – it was the only thing of worth I possessed. My boyfriend dumped me soon after I returned.

I was lost.

I spent the next year with a series of boyfriends, searching for someone who would Love me, knowing my body was all I brought to the table. I drank too much, smoked too much, and worked too many hours trying to escape myself. At 22, I realized that if I ever wanted to heal I needed to get away. So I packed my station wagon and drove to Nashville. And I started over.

I was 22.

I met a good man within the first month and immediately started dating him. He was kind and generous and broken in his own ways, but he was the first man I had ever known who was genuinely interested in something other than my body, and he made me feel safe. I healed a little. I changed a little. But I still secretly threw up in the bathroom of his bachelor apartment.

I was 23.

We moved to North Carolina, a mutual decision and his attempt to gain some traction in his musical career. It lasted about 3 months before we both gained the perspective we needed to know what we needed to do. He moved back to Nashville 6 months later, and I returned to my parent’s home in Ontario to finish my undergrad. I missed him, but we both knew it would never work. I wanted a family and he wanted his music and our lives just weren’t meant to be together. We officially broke up in the fall. My heart broke too and I once again felt alone. I ate less, I purged more.

I was 24.

I desperately tried to find a replacement. I dated guys in quick succession, lost in a blur of recreational drug use and desperate attempts to give each man whatever it was I thought he specifically was looking for. I was rejected, time and time again, solidifying my belief that I was not enough, that I had nothing to offer other than a good rack. I was set up with someone who I knew was wrong from the first second that I met him, but I was so desperate to be Loved I went so far as to fly across the country for a week long kayaking trip off of Vancouver Island with people I had never met. In close, wet, cold quarters. An introverts nightmare. I just wanted someone to think I was worth it. It failed, of course.

I was lost.

I was 26, had just finished school, had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, or who I wanted to be and was working as a waitress. I made good money. I knew how to read people and give them what they wanted. And who doesn’t like a pretty girl. I smoked a lot.

Then one day, a tall, dark, handsome stranger sat down at table 42 in my section. And a voice in the back of my mind told me that someday I would marry him. It was weird, and impossible and I tried to forget it, but every time I saw him something happened to me. So I talked to him. And he invited me to see his show. And I went, and we went out for a drink after, and we talked and laughed and talked and 4 hours later I dropped him off at the house he was staying at. This happened every night for the next week. The more I got to know him, the more pulled I was, and the more conflicted. I found out he was married with 2 kids, and that the facade of his broken marriage had been kept together “for the kids”. I called him out on that, I said your kids deserve to see what Love really looks like. He didn’t run away. He cared about who I was. He cared about what I said. He wanted to know my mind, and didn’t care about my body. He was the first man I had ever met who I could talk to the way I talked to him. And he still technically belonged to someone else.

The more I got to know him, the more I saw his brokenness. He felt trapped and whatever was happening in his life, I could see it was destroying him. This talented, smart, kind man was dying in front of me, and I could see it so clearly. I didn’t know what to do. So I did the only logical thing and moved across the country to a city where I knew no one to help this man who I had met 3 months before find himself again.

I was 27.

I fought him, hard, day in and day out. I fought for him when he didn’t know how to fight for himself. I stopped thinking about me and started thinking about him and I finally got to the point where I told him I don’t care if you ever want anything to do with me but you have to end this sham of a life you have been pretending to live because you are dying in front of me and I can’t bear to stand by and watch it. And he did.

I was valuable to him, and not for my body but for everything else that I was. I thought I had it figured out at last. I thought I had found my worth.

I was 28.

I spent all of my energy fighting for him, and for his kids. I had found a way to be useful and I was on fire. I could think and Love and heal and protect. I could be all the good that they would ever need. Perfect partner, perfect stepmom. I wasn’t just more I was everything. I was so important.

I was 29.

And then I wasn’t. I couldn’t keep it up. I had tried to carry everything for too long, and I started to fall apart. I had a baby, and I didn’t sleep enough. I didn’t have the energy to cook healthy delicious meals every night. I couldn’t keep the house clean. I got angry and impatient. When I was hurt, I couldn’t hold it in. I took a lot of things out on him. I was sure he would leave now that my body was ruined from stress and pregnancy and all the perfect alternatives I brought weren’t so perfect after all. I was certain that once again I was not enough.

And the truth is? I’m not. I’m not enough. He’s not enough. Our kids aren’t enough. Our Love isn’t enough. But that’s the thing – we never were. And we never have to be. We aren’t called to be enough. We are called to do our best, and Love each other and give each other all that we can. Then give the rest over, and humbly live in gratitude.

I am 30.

My body is powerful, strong and capable. My arms are filled with little hands, two strong arms wrapped around me. My heart is humble and full.

My life is just beginning.