It ends with us: the toxicity of gender roles

DTS_Photography_Movie1

Whether you’re male or female, you received messages growing up about gender. Maybe they were spoken out loud, like being told that “women want love and men want respect”, or maybe they were more subtle, like the way you were supposed to dress or whether your boyfriend had to ask your dad permission to take you on a date. Messages about our manhood or womanhood deeply shape who we perceive ourselves to be and our confidence in our interactions with the opposite gender.

To write this article, I posted a Facebook status asking what messages people received about gender. Here are a few of their responses:

For women:

  • “Don’t be too successful or don’t share your opinions too freely or else you will scare men away.”
  • “I was warned against ever making the first move or pursuing a man; it’s the woman’s role to wait patiently and passively and the man’s to pursue. If you, a woman, go after a guy, you are a slut, and you don’t know how to wait on the Lord. (Also, men don’t like it and won’t date you.) I kissed him first. There were no objections.”
  • “Men want respect; women want affection.” . . . Being told that as a woman I didn’t want to be respected was actually very hurtful (and a little insulting).”
  • “Only guys have strong sexual drives and struggle with sexual sin.”

For men:

  • “You should have more friends who are boys, otherwise you’ll start acting like a girl.”
  • “‘If you like romcoms, you’re probably gay.’ Good romcoms are pretty amazing. Sue me.”
  • “Always beware of sexual sin, which amounted to, be afraid of the woman you love at all times. I have since chilled out after realizing that being afraid of my girlfriend wasn’t loving to her or to me and was no way to live.”
  • “The idea that young men and women can’t be friends seems to have led at least a few young men in my life to be completely unable to have a female friend without either developing romantic feelings for her, or developing delusions about said friend having romantic feelings for him.”

You or I may not have experienced all of these messages, but they all have one thing in common: the restrictive boxes that exist around gender in our Christian community hurt more people than they help. When we tighten our grip on definitions of manhood and womanhood, we make people who deserve to belong in society—a 30-something single, a full-time working mom, a guy who doesn’t like sports—feel like untouchables instead of equally valuable members of our church community.

The only party that benefits from suffocating gender roles is the fear inside of all of us; fear that society will change if we relinquish the rules we’ve clung to for hundreds of years.

And these messages are passed down from generation, to generation, to generation. Do you know how they’re being spread? By the generation that came before them. You’d think we would learn, having been wounded by the same messages, but somehow we keep repeating them instead of nipping them at the bud.

It needs to end with us. Let’s make this the last generation that ever has to deal with that crap, because it really doesn’t do anything to positively benefit society. Why inflict the same pain on your future kid that you experienced now? I am convinced that in order for the next generation to be better off than we are, we must intentionally work to rewrite the narratives that we receive—if we don’t, we will unintentionally pass them on. Because apathy is not a neutral attitude; it positively benefits the structures that already exist in society.

And maybe, one day, we will wake up in a world that has taken another step toward loving others better.

When our opinions no longer matter: LGBT and loving others well

556cbb02378caf0d670e5f10_caitlyn-jenner-july-2015-vf-02

The internet has pretty much been in an uproar for the last few days over the news about Caitlyn Jenner, previously known as the famous Olympian Bruce Jenner, and her transformation and introduction into the public eye as a woman. I have seen opinions ranging from “YOU GO GIRL! Werk it!” to “Bruce will never be a woman. He is sick and needs serious psychological attention” and everything in between.

We sure like our opinions, don’t we? And more than that, we like to voice our opinions loud and clear for the rest of the world to hear them.

I used to have opinions about people who identified as LGBT. It was actually a topic I felt pretty strongly about. But then I had a friend come out to me for the first time. And I read the story of a young man who was raised an Evangelical Christian and was thrown out of his home when he came out to his parents as gay. And I read from my friend Ben Moberg about what it’s like to be a gay Christian. I learned that 1 out of every 4 kids who identify as transgender will attempt suicide at some point during their lifetime. Although LGBT youth make up only 10% of minors in the U.S., they represent 20% of homeless youth.

LGB youth are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide if they come from highly rejecting families.

And when I put faces to those numbers, my sweet friends being thrown out into the streets when they needed love and loyalty the most, changed me.

Those statistics are not okay.

The fact that we choose our opinions over saving livesis not okay.

What are we doing? What the hell are we thinking, that being right matters more than being kind. We are majorly missing the point, friends. If we haven’t figured it out by now, it doesn’t actually matter whether we think it’s right or wrong, because kids are coming out anyway and gender changes are still happening and they’re still going to, regardless of our personal convictions.

Because, while the Bible is gray about sexuality, the Bible has never been gray about love.

Love is not a gray area. There are no exceptions. No one off-limits. And we don’t have to agree with the life choices of someone in order to be their friend. (If you are only friends with people who agree with you, you are missing out on a much richer life.)

I don’t know what you believe, friend. But I hope you can set them aside sometimes to recognize that the world is much bigger than the lens you see it through.

Your opinions will not save you. Only God can do that.

Caitlyn Jenner is brave because she, of all people—a previous Olympian—knows that we don’t know how to accept people who operate outside of the norm. She knew there would be hate and there would be judgment, even from her own family. She chose to make a space for herself anyway. And I deeply respect that.

It’s time to stop the witch hunt, and it’s time to stop whining that we’re so persecuted that we’re actually expected to treat everyone fairly. It’s time to acknowledge that we have not loved others well. It’s time to acknowledge that we are beginners, not experts on this topic, and to start from ground zero and go up from there.

It’s time to listen, and it’s time to humanize those we don’t agree with. Otherwise we are no better.

The yoga pants witch hunt: missing pieces of the modesty conversation

 

DeathtoStock_NotStock5

It’s getting to be that time of year again. You know, the one with all the articles about women’s modesty and how we should be dressing to prevent men from sinning, and are bikinis really okay?

I have waited several years to write about modesty, because I know it’s a hot topic and people tend to feel very strongly that their way is the right way. And you know what? You’re entitled to your opinion. Whether you rock a floor-length denim skirt or short-shorts, rock on my friend.

But there’s 3 things I keep missing in our conversations, on both sides, that I’d like to talk about.

 

1) Modesty culture has no boundaries.

Reading and listening to conversations about how someone else’s sin is my fault gives me anxiety like you wouldn’t believe. Why? Because there is no male responsibility in modesty culture. There is very little accountability for the way a man chooses to look at a woman, because the woman is responsible for the outcome.

What else does that sound like?

“You made me beat you.” “You made me get angry.” “You made me break up with you.” A classic sign of irresponsibility is putting the responsibility of our emotional well-being on someone else.

(For clarification: it is also our responsibility to make sure we are not a threat to the safety of others. A woman should not have to dress a certain way to protect herself. If you think you may be teetering on the edge of making some bad decisions, it is your job to take the necessary precautions.)

The argument with this is “why cause your friend to stumble?”, and I think that’s a great thing. Yes, let’s do what we can to help out those we love. But when that attempt at prevention causes you personal anxiety, fear and stress, therefore causing you to stumble, it’s only making things worse. If this is about community supporting one another, let’s all do our part by taking responsibility of what’s ours to be responsible for, and not put unnecessary pressure on each other to take care of us.

Once you become an adult, your well being is your responsibility. Male or female.

 

2) Pressure. Pressure. Pressure.

This whole modesty thing puts an insane amount of pressure on women. There’s no biblical standard for what is considered modest – in fact, the Bible only refers to modesty as wearing inexpensive clothing, not hiding your sexuality.

What’s unacceptable in New York is acceptable in Los Angeles, what’s acceptable in Chicago is unacceptable in rural Indiana. Women are harassed when they’re not wearing enough, and ostracized if they’re wearing too much. Whether we like it or not, there is not a one-size-fits-all (pun intended) rule for what women can and cannot wear. So keeping up with the latest “acceptable” and “unacceptable” when all we want is to just be comfortable is completely exhausting.

Believe it or not, most women I know don’t put on yoga pants to flaunt anything or taunt anyone – they’re widely sold, not too expensive, flattering (confidence boost!) and seriously the most freaking comfortable things I have ever worn. Not to mention they stretch. God bless ’em.

 

3) Modesty culture shows a routine disrespect for men.

I could write an entire blog post about just this point (hey who knows, maybe I will one day), but for the sake of your attention span I’ll keep it brief.

When women are taught they must manage the emotions and desires of men for them, it really says men will never have the capacity to be your equal emotionally. Men will never learn how to listen instead of fix (which, by the way, is not a male thing but rather a coping mechanism for someone who doesn’t know how to sit in emotional discomfort). Men will never learn to remain interested in your thoughts and emotions while you’re sharing your heart with them – that’s just too much to ask. And if they can’t do those things, they definitely can’t control their lustful thoughts when they see a girl in a bikini at the beach.

Dear reader and friend: are you sure you want to encourage this belief? Are you sure you want the message you send to your daughter, niece, or friend be that they will never find a partner who can actually do life as an emotional equal? That they must always manage the emotions of their husband?

My entire life my brother went above and beyond most boys his age in emotional maturity, and as a result many of his friends growing up were girls. And you know what? I spent years trying to convince my brother that bikinis were sexually tempting, and he was the one who talked me out of it. He offered women respect when I only gave them judgment.

It’s time to let go of the yoga pants witch hunt, and instead offer people respect. Kindness. The benefit of the doubt. Regardless of what they’re wearing.

From apathy to empathy: why we must press on

61343f6898b8aea23f9f4f47aea793ad

There is so much to be discouraged by in our world right now. Can I get an amen? Child brides, terrible education systems around the world, racial and sexual oppression, the economy, the Church…we have every reason to feel disheartened.

The Church has not been good to us. And we find ourselves in these same circular conversations, over and over. We are not reaching each other, we are not understood, and so we give up and turn inward. The world has been sitting heavy on our shoulders lately, beckoning us into despair. We are tired. It makes sense to throw in the towel.

It’s hard to keep loving and investing in the people who are making the decisions that hurt us so deeply. But we can. not. stop.

In a culture of apathy, it is our job to care. In a world that has numbed itself to the pain of others and ourselves, we must shoulder the burden of feeling. We must claim ownership of the world and do what we can to make it beautiful. We are designed to bring beauty, and so we will bring it with everything we have until there is no more beauty left to deliver.

We are the deliverers of God’s message of love to all the Peoples of every nation, and we must go on fulfilling our call until we are no longer able. We must speak for the voiceless, give to those who have nothing, love the unloved, speak truth in the faces of liars, and we must never give up. This is what we’re made for. We were designed to be disturbed and hurt by injustice. Our hearts were made to break with the dying, we were meant to feel the hunger of the starving, we were created to share in the pain of the wounded as a motivator towards change. If we bury our compassion, we bury what makes us humans and not monsters.

Oh, it hurts, to care. It hurts when people think you’re too passionate, but what other appropriate response is there when you read about a woman selling her body to feed her family? When you see the faces of thousands of starving children?

There is no appropriate response other than the ache. And so we must lean in and bleed together, because discomfort is always at the root of change.

We must never stop trying to be understood and to understand. We cannot afford to let the conversations die.

 

photo cred: Bill Phan