Being Sure of Your Salvation

I was thinking about how we keep skirting around (ha ha, nice pun) the issue of Christianity and feminism.  La Luba has been talking about Puritanism and Belledame has been mulling all over the internet about this attempt to suffer today for rewards tomorrow.

But I haven’t really sat down and tried to get at what’s going on in depth.  And yet, I left the church in part for feminist reasons–part one was how the church treated my family, me included, but part two was wanting desperately to believe that there was nothing wrong with me, needing to believe that for my own sanity, and not getting that from the Church.

And yet, I know that women make perfectly fulfilling lives in the Church and that the Church has been responsible for a lot of social justice that directly benefits women.

So, I want to talk about the effects of Christianity on feminism, but I want to do it with a hundred caveats up front, about how Christianity doesn’t have to inherently fuck up women, how many women are great Christians and great feminists, etc.

But most importantly, I think that Christianity is a living, breathing movement, which changes and adapts to the needs of contemporary Christians (even if they think it doesn’t, but that’s a post for another day or perhaps another blogger).  I genuinely don’t think the problem is Christianity itself.

I believe the problem comes when one attempts to take the skeleton of Christianity and drape one’s own movement over the bones, and bring that to life–that’s bound to be some Frankenstein’s monster kind of trouble.

So, I just want to be clear that I’m trying to make some distinction between Christianity as it’s practiced and Christianity as it’s commonly understood (even though, clearly, many folks conflate those two all the time, even me).

Because I do think that we feminists tend to practice feminism on a Christian framework.  Just as the common understanding of Christianity is that everyone’s a sinner and that redemption is possible only through the outside intervention of some miraculous force, that no one deserves to be saved, no one can be sure for sure if they are saved, that one must put Christianity first in every facet of his life, and that one should, even if one can’t know if he’s saved (since no one is worthy of salvation), act like one deserves to be saved, we practice feminism the same way.  Everyone is irredeemably tainted by the patriarchy.  You might not feel like a sinner, excuse me, a person tainted by the Patriarchy, but, if we examine you closely enough, we will find instances of you falling short of what you should be doing, thus indicating your overall fallen nature.  We should accept misery now, because all earthly pleasure is tainted with the possibility of enticing one to sin or enticing one to accept some patriarchal standard that hurts other women.

Because, oh yes, just like the common understanding of Christianity makes us each responsible for the salvation of the souls of our neighbors, we seem to believe that we feminists are each responsible for the feminism of our fellow women.  Like a good exorcist, we must put the girl in the bed and stand around her and see if how she looks or what she does reveals some hidden evil lurking deep inside her.

Here’s the thing I have to say, which will probably result in me getting kicked out of feminism for good, but I’m going to say it anyway.  Feminism does not need martyrs.  We do not need a bunch of women who sacrifice their own happiness for the good of us all.

We, of course, need women, we need us to be willing to demand justice, to work for it, even if we might not live to see it implemented.

But that’s not the same thing as martyrdom.  Working for justice is different than sacrificing one’s own happiness.  The sooner we learn that, the better.

Because here’s the other thing–you can stop looking for the taint of the patriarchy on every little thing.  Everything is tainted by the patriarchy.  It is always already tainted by the patriarchy, long before any feminists get there to point it out.  All the good shit is already tainted, but folks, even the stuff that sucks is tainted.

Pain, suffering, and self-sacrifice is not indicative of purity.  THAT is a myth that results from us using the framework of Christianity for our movement.  And that’s a myth that greatly benefits the current power structure.

It doesn’t make you a better person because you’re willing to suffer and give up all the shit you used to enjoy back before you became enlightened by feminism.  Because it’s not just the stuff you enjoyed that’s tainted.  Even the stuff you hate, that you do because it sucks and makes you feel righteous, is tainted.

Rather than continuing to rely on a framework that rewards suffering and conformity, and continuing to deny ourselves stuff that feels good, because it’s not good for us, we’ve really got to find a new framework.

A new way to engage with the world and engage with each other.  One that can reclaim the things that give us pleasure, instead of clinging to the things that make us miserable.


“How I Learned to Drive”

Just as an aside, the weekend o’ bloogers continued last night as Mr. Roboto and his charming date sat in our row, on the other side of the aisle.

I have a lot of thoughts on “How I Learned to Drive,” which was the play I took the Butcher to last night.  It’s the story, told in flashbacks, of how this woman, called “Li’l bit” is taught to drive and molested by her Uncle Peck from the time she’s eleven until she’s seventeen.

The play’s got an interesting structure because, even though most of the flashback goes back in time a little farther, you don’t start with the most traumatic thing and work your way back to how that happened.  It starts out fairly innocuous and leads you back to the most traumatic moment.

The play does two things nicely: it shows how fucked up being molested can make you and how at any snippet of time, if a person from the outside were to see the molester and his victim together, because of the groundwork the molester has laid, the victim looks very much like the instigator.  This illusion is further heightened by the fact that you’re seeing the child played by an adult woman, so how the audience perceives what’s going on is constantly being manipulated.  When you see a grown woman flirting with a man, you assign culpability to her.  When you stop and think that this is a fifteen year old girl, it’s a little harder.  When you learn at the end that he’s been molesting her since she was eleven, everything that you’ve seen before that takes on even ookier implications.

The second thing it does nicely, though, is show that the molester is not a monster.  That what he’s doing is more insidious than that, because he’s truly lonely and fucked up.  The play doesn’t let him off the hook by any stretch, but I think it does make it clear that he’s not at this place because he’s some boogeyman.

As for the acting, of course, I’m biased because I knew everyone on stage but Jennifer Lewis.  So, I’ll start with her.  She’s great.  She’s got a real spark that makes her fun to watch and that balances Rebekah Durham’s stage presence.  And Lewis does a great job of letting you see, very subtly, where each of her characters’ vulnerabilities are.

I think the world of Rebekah Durham and she’s the kind of person that, when she’s on stage, you just can’t take your eyes off her.  If she’s cast against actors who can’t carry their own weight, I think she tends to be an oasis for the audience.  But, in this case, when she’s cast with actors who equal her charisma, it’s amazing.  It’s like you can’t take your eyes off of the whole stage.

Tom Mason has an ability that I’ve only ever seen in one other actor, my darling Plimco.  We used to go over to Memphis to watch Plimco in whatever piddly ass part she was in because she could be playing a tree in the background of a bloodsoaked realistic version of MacBeth and you’d believe that that tree had a whole real life, that when it was off-stage, it was standing in a forest somewhere.  In “How I Learned to Drive,” the whole thing kind of has that dreamy, memory-like feel, so when the rest of the actors walk off stage or move into another character, it feels just like the shifting way memory works.  But Mason makes you believe somehow, that his character is going to sit in the living room when he leaves the kitchen.

Is that weird?  It just occurred to me that maybe no one else in the world gives a shit about that kind of stuff, but I appreciate it.  I don’t expect it.  But when I see an actor who can do it, who can so concretely gesture to the full life his character leads off-stage, it kind of blows me away.

Oh, wait, I lied.  I don’t know Matthew Carlton.  But he was amazing.  He does this whole scene where he’s teaching a young boy, a nephew, I think, to fish at the same time he’s both slowly seducing the boy and kind of explaining his philosophy of seduction.  The Butcher afterwards said that he’d go to see a whole play with Carlton acting against hanging tennis balls, because the boy’s not on stage.  It’s just Carlton out there alone, but damn, do you want to swoop in and carry off that boy who doesn’t really exist.

Vali Forrister is terrific, but she’s my friend so I kind of just want to say that she’s terrific and you believe me.  After all, this is a blog, not a real review and if you’re curious as to how the play is, you should go see it and not depend on me.

But, here, let me tell you about the moment in the play when I completely forgot that it was Vali up there.  There’s this moment, right before you see the initial molestation, where the stage is set up so that there are two chairs next to each other that are “the car.” and the uncle is in the driver’s seat and Lewis is behind the passenger’s seat providing the very young voice of Li’l Bit.  Vali gives her little introduction as the grown-up Li’ll Bit, steps into the scene, and the scene starts.  Uncle Peck offers to teach Li’l Bit to drive.  She’s eleven. 

Lewis voices Li’l Bit’s concerns that she can’t reach the pedals, and Uncle Peck says she can sit on his lap and he’ll work the pedals while she steers.  Vali, at this moment, and I can’t convey how, somehow lets you know that this is the grown woman’s memory of this event.  That this grown woman is reliving something that cannot be changed, even as you’re seeing it for the first time, and so there’s this second when the grown woman is sitting anguished on her uncle’s lap, her head so near his and her heart just broken, where you see that the grown woman wishes more than anything that this adult that she loved so dearly, who in some ways was her only refuge in an incredibly fucked up family, was not going to do what he’s going to do.

That moment just cracks open the whole play for me.

Anyway, it was incredible.  I’m glad we went.