The Surprisingly Feminist Story of Jesus

In 2014, in America, Christianity is often associated with the oppression of women. That’s pretty embarrassing, and it’s one of those things that makes it hard to call one’s self a Christian in the public square. I will note that some of this association is probably falsely construed, or at least, exaggerated or misunderstood. But some of it isn’t. It pains me to acknowledge that things like oppressive gender roles, unequal compensation, unfair/absurd expectations, and rape culture have been advanced in the name of Christ.

The great irony here is that the story of Christ could be read as one of the first feminist manifestos. Continue reading →

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On Belonging in the Kitchen

Someone recently told me that I belong in the kitchen.

This saying – “you belong in the kitchen” – is now used in one of two ways:

1. Seriously: Women are lesser than men, and thus they “belong in the kitchen.”
2. Jokingly: LOL. Women and men are obviously equal, so neither “belong in the kitchen” but it’s kind of funny to mock misogyny.

(I was jokingly told that I “belong in the kitchen”).

Even when women come out on top/equal, this saying doesn’t regard kitchens very highly. So now I’m wondering why it is demeaning to tell someone that they “belong in the kitchen.” What’s so bad about kitchens?

For the vast majority of human history, people have been extremely occupied with their food, spending hours gathering, preserving, and preparing it. Cultures (a term derived from “agriculture”) began to develop only after humans figured out how to plant and irrigate food, and societies were built around rich soil. We measure history by looking at old dishware and mark human achievements around food-related technologies. But at some point very recently, it became really easy to procure, store, and prepare food. I guess when that happened, our society started to think of the activities related to food as simple and even demeaning. It was work given to people who couldn’t be responsible for stuff outside of the home and kitchen (minorities, mostly, but that’s another issue altogether). That’s probably when “belonging in the kitchen” became a derogatory concept.

But before there was Wall Street or the White House, there were kitchens. And in order for there to be a Wall Street or a White House, people need to eat.

In his massive text A Pattern Language, architect Christopher Alexander calls for a more dignified view of cooking and the kitchen, and suggests an architectural model that reflects this. He says that

The isolated kitchen, separate from the family and considered as an efficient but unpleasant factory for food is a hangover from the days of servants; and from the more recent days when women willingly took over the servants’ role…(but historically) even when cooking was entirely in the hands of women, the work of cooking was still thought of as a primal, communal function; and the “hearth,” the place where food was made and eaten, was the heart of family life. (662)

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Christopher Alexander’s blueprint for the ideal kitchen, which includes “a comfortable old chair in the corner where someone could sleep.”

He goes on to suggest that architects use not the contemporary open-floor plan, which opens the kitchen to the living space, but the old-school farmhouse floor plan, where the kitchen is the living space. (He even includes a little hand drawn diagram of what this looks like).

The point of this design and the mentality behind it is to acknowledge that cooking is as exceptionally human as eating, and as such it should be incorporated into the rhythm of daily life. Even if we can’t redesign our kitchens, we can change our attitudes toward them, first and foremost by banishing all use of the degrading or jokingly degrading phrase “you belong in the kitchen.”

Our society is starting to think more about our food – where it comes from and what it’s made of. This is a really good thing because hopefully it means that we’ll start having fewer heart attacks. It’s also good because even though it’s still really easy to obtain food, we’re becoming more conscious of the process that leads up to it entering our bellies. At some point, I suspect that we’ll subconsciously begin to see the kitchen not as a chamber for the least of these, but as the essential part of the household and society that it always has been. Someday, I hope an old person jokingly tells my future child that she belongs in the kitchen, and I hope that she’s extremely confused by the saying.

And by the way, I do belong in the kitchen. Two or three times a day. I am a woman and a productive member of society, and in order for me to be both of these things (or anything else), I need to eat.

Reading Writing for Men

I recently enjoyed a long, relaxing weekend down the shore. At some point over the course of that weekend, I exhausted my supply of reading materials, and turned to our household’s collection of magazines. After reading through all of the People Real Simples, I found myself perusing a stack of Men’s Journals. I swear, I was reading them just for the articles – most of which weren’t particularly relevant to me. However, I did enjoy the recipes and a riveting and helpful article about riptides.

What I found most interesting during this trip into a subculture of which I am not a part was the style of writing. In general, it was very macho, even brutal (barbaric?). The articles largely had to do with body image and other ways to live up to a certain kind of masculinity. At times, I was left a little stunned and offended.

What a guy.

What a guy. (The July 2014 issue is available on newsstands!)

For the most part, the media that I consume, even if it is geared toward a particular gender demographic, is not so blunt. The articles, blogs, magazines, and TV shows that I enjoy hardly ever talk about what it means to be a “real man” or “real woman.” To the contrary, it seems that most media created by and for millennials seeks to ignore or even undermine traditional gender roles. So it was a little jarring for me to encounter something that claimed to be for “men,” but was clearly meant for those who had a very specific set of interests (mainly meat, dark liquor, and working out – all of which are fine pastimes for all who wish to enjoy them, male or female).

And to open up a can of gender-worms (ew, what?), it was helpful for me to think about the modern conception of masculinity. Our society talks a lot about gender roles as they apply to women, in an effort to empower us, I think. We think and talk about what women can and can’t do, where women do and do not belong, what true beauty looks like, etc. That’s all fine and good, and I largely appreciate it. But as much as we talk about femininity, what about masculinity? Reading through that Men’s Journal, I thought about the guys I know and how most of them probably wouldn’t find most those articles very interesting. That doesn’t make them less masculine or more feminine or whatever, it just means that their interests lie beyond meat, dark liquor, and working out.

What does it mean to be a man in this day and age? What does it mean to be a woman? I don’t know, and I don’t think there is, or should be, a clear answer here. I think our culture is realizing that it’s much more interesting and important to think about what it means to be a (good) person, and that’s encouraging.

It’s totally fine for media agencies to produce content for specific demographics (obviously). But maybe we could take those really general terms out of the titles. Rename it Meat Journal, perhaps.