On Christian Privilege

posted Jul 2, 2013, 8:49 PM by Ashley B.   [ updated Jul 2, 2013, 9:15 PM ]

    The last ten months or so have been pretty rough for me (hence my absence from blogging -- sorry, dears). I've been in the middle of a religious crisis, which led me to reject Jesus' messiahship and leave Christianity (the rest of that story is another post for another day). Since then I have come across something that I had never even thought about, not even after I became a feminist: Christian privilege.
    I'm not interested in debating whether or not Christian privilege exists (there's a very thought-provoking list of Christian privileges you might enjoy). I'm interested in sharing some of my thoughts on it.
    The last several months have made me realize how much I used to benefit from Christian privilege. I used to worry about the souls of the people I loved (my favorite game was “Is So-and-so a Christian?"). I always got to celebrate my religious holidays openly at school. Even when the school called it a “holiday party," it would still be a Christmas party, complete with tree-shaped cookies and Secret Santa gift exchanges. It took about five minutes to find a handful of Christian radio stations. In 7th grade we were supposed to learn about world religions, but in retrospect I learned everything from a very Christian perspective. I learned about Abraham and Moses in the context of Judaism, but I had no idea that there were 613 commandments in the Torah which are the basis for all of observant Jewish culture. I didn't know about Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah or Shabbat, all of which are super-important holidays in Jewish tradition. Within a few months I nearly exhausted my library's resources on Judaism, but it would take me years to put a dent in their Christian resources. When I went to the bookstore a few weeks ago Christianity occupied about ten bookcases, while all other world religions occupied about three bookcases together.
    I have a hard time telling people about my religious crisis not because I'm ashamed but because I'm afraid they're going to try to convert me back. It actually insults me when people try to “save my soul" or “bring me back to the Light/Jesus/salvation/God." To me it's like saying “Your faith isn't good enough" or “Your beliefs are totally invalid" or “I am right and I have always been right and you are totally and completely WRONG." It's actually quite insulting (I say that knowing and deeply regretting that I am guilty of evangelizing). Christian privilege allows Christians to evangelize and bring other people to their faith and everyone thinks this is totally normal. But I don't even want to know what would happen if a Muslim started telling someone how great Mohammed is.
    Something that has never really made sense to me is when Christians talk about being persecuted for their beliefs. At my sister's confirmation recently the bishop said something about how the confirmants would experience persecution and great challenges to their faith in the Big Bad World outside the Church. Unless you live in one of the 53 countries discussed below, I highly doubt that very many Christians in the United States (or Western culture in general) have faced persecution or oppression due to their religion. Have they been pulled aside at the airport because the TSA wants to know if they're a terrorist? Have their friends accused their religion of being “backwards" and “archaic"? Have they been fired because they can't work on sacred holidays? Do people make jokes that stereotype every single member of their faith?
    Another (slightly less grave) aspect of Christian privilege is a t-shirt that I see floating around the school hallways every now and then. It is always some variant of a black shirt with a red cross and text reading This shirt is illegal in 53 countries. A quick internet search does not verify or negate this claim, but its validity isn't my issue. My issue is that it focuses specifically on religious oppression of Christians -- which doesn't even happen in the United States. It's like saying Men are oppressed in matriarchal societies or It's hard to be white in South Sudan. Religious oppression is wrong -- period, end of story -- no matter who is being oppressed. I agree that the oppression of Christians in any given country is morally wrong and must change. But the oppression of Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and atheists and Wiccans and everyone who is not a Christian in the United States is also morally wrong and needs to change. This t-shirt flagrantly ignores the fact that there is religious oppression and discrimination right in your own backyard and focuses instead on saving every last Christian on the planet before even considering the Muslim who is accused of being a terrorist every week.
    So now that we've discussed how bad Christian privilege sucks, I would like to propose a solution.
    I don't think people should be barred from expressing their religion in public places -- or private ones, at that. I think people should be able to wear headscarves or cross necklaces or whatever in all contexts: work, school, shopping, etc. I think people should be able to talk openly about their religion if they so choose. That being said, I am very against evangelism. If someone is interested in your religion, you should obviously answer their questions as honestly and thoughtfully as you possibly can. But you should absolutely not try to convince them that your religion is the Way the Truth and the Light unless they specifically ask why you think so. It's human decency. It's respect for others and their beliefs.
    I also think that we should take Christmas off the National Holiday list, seeing as it would be entirely impossible to put every single religious holiday on said list. I think businesses should be required to give their employees enough vacation days that they don't have to work on their own sacred holidays. In the case of something like the Jewish Shabbat, which is essentially a day-and-a-half holiday every week, businesses should be required to have flexible schedules in order to include these individuals. Schools should allow students to miss class for sacred holidays and should give them more-than-adequate time to make up any material they missed. World religions courses should be required every few years or so (I recommend four) so that kids grow up with an understanding of other religions, and their understanding grows as they get older. Religions courses should be an objective, unbiased source of information that reviews the most important aspects of various religions. Most importantly, though, religions courses should review honestly and objectively the way religions have oppressed other religions historically and in today's world.
    My solutions won't eliminate religious prejudice -- or, for that matter, religious discrimination. But I do think they could be the beginning of a more religiously tolerant culture, one that at least attempts to level the playing field between Christians and Everyone Else. It's not a perfect plan (for example, what happens when 95% of the school doesn't show up on Christmas?), but it's the best I can come up with.
    If you have thoughts, questions, or a better plan to level the playing field, please let me know!

Letter to a friend

posted Apr 25, 2013, 2:46 PM by Ashley B.

Dear friend,

    Stop. Please. Just, STOP. You're driving me crazy. I can't take it anymore. That's why I have to write you this.
    You're so insecure about yourself. It comes out in the little things you say, the quiet comments about your body or your clothes. It breaks my heart that you hate your body so much.
    I've been trying to tell you, but I don't think you've been listening. You're measuring your body against an impossible standard. You've been taught since the moment you were born that you're not good enough until you can turn around and disappear. You've been brainwashed to believe that fat=bad and thin=good.
    What kind of standard is that, anyway? When did fat become a bad word? Why is calling you skinny more of a compliment than saying you have gorgeous eyes?
    I want you to know that it's all a lie. These standards were made up by people who want to minimize you, people who want to make you as small as possible. The whole point of this impossible standard, being as thin as possible, is to make you disappear. The point is to literally make you take up less space, to be as small as possible, to make you feel small and insignificant, to make your voice disappear. 
    Everything you think you're supposed to be was invented by someone else. It was invented to make you hate yourself. It was invented to make you as powerless as possible. Don't buy the bullsh*t that people are naturally attracted to skinny people. It's a lie. People are attracted to personalities and confidence and laughter.
    I dare you to forget everything you think you're supposed to be. I dare you to look in the mirror and value yourself for who you are. I dare you to stop believing that “fat" is a dirty word. Fat is beautiful! Muffin tops and big stomachs and jiggly arms are beautiful! I dare you to believe it. I dare you to look around the room and truly appreciate how awesomely gorgeous everyone is. I dare you to love your body no matter how many cookies you had today. I dare you to love yourself.
    But I don't write this just for you. I write this for me, too. Because when you compare yourself to other girls and insist that you can't wear tight clothes, it hurts MY self-esteem. It hurts MY body image. It makes ME feel like less of myself.
    I want you to know that I'm actually very insecure about my body. I look in the mirror and want to never eat again. I feel ashamed after a single scoop of ice cream. When I say things like 
When my jeans are tight, I just buy new jeans," or I don't even care what I weigh," it's all a lie. But every day I go to school and pretend to adore myself for YOU. Because I want you to have an example. I want you to see that it's possible to love yourself for who you are, inside and out. I want you to believe that you don't have to change your body to love your body.
    Because, my dear, you don't. It's a battle - believe me - but it's well worth the fight. And in the end, when we make it, when we can finally love ourselves for who we are, when we give our bodies the respect they deserve, we will be free. And we will be happy. And there will be smiles and laughter and pure, incandescent joy.
You're gorgeous, my dear, in THIS MOMENT RIGHT NOW. Yes, YOU. But it's up to you to believe it.

With love,

image found at http://y0u-are-perfection.tumblr.com/post/48559409425

Dear Connecticut,

posted Dec 14, 2012, 5:58 PM by Ashley B.

As important as it is to support women, to close the pay gap, to end sexism, et cetera, the shooting in Connecticut today put things in perspective. What kind of society creates these people? As we mourn the innocent children that were lost today, let us take this opportunity to reflect on the choices we make and how they affect others. The violence MUST end. We MUST NOT stop fighting until such inhumanity is a thing of the past. This kind of a horrific event reminds us that the war is far from over. We are just little people, but with our loud voices we can end the violence.

“Love soothes wounds, while hatred and violence deepen them."
-Willie Stargell

Beware the sexist Christmas music

posted Nov 23, 2012, 8:46 AM by Ashley B.   [ updated Nov 23, 2012, 8:47 AM ]

Thanksgiving is over, and the Christmas season is in full swing. You're about to be relentlessly bombarded with holiday music. Be aware of what you're listening to:

Personally, I recommend Tchaikovsky.

Have a very happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

posted Nov 22, 2012, 11:11 AM by Ashley B.

Happy Thanksgiving, little people! I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday full of family, friends, and good food. Before you dig in, I have a few requests:
1. Read Beauty Redefined's Holiday Survival Guide
2. If you talk about politics, do so politely
3. Please don't shout at your relatives. “Loud Voices" is figurative, my friends!
4.. Smile. Enjoy yourself.

And if you're wondering how to make a political statement today, tell people how thankful you are for
-Condoleezza Rice
-Gloria Steinem
-Susan B. Anthony
-Margaret Cavendish
-Sonia Sotomayor
-Tammy Baldwin
-Mary Wollstonecraft
-Christine de Pizan
-Amelia Earheart
-Amy Poehler
-Elizabeth Blackwell
-Rosa Parks
...and many others!

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. I'm thankful for all of you.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life."
~Melody Beattie

My history textbook is sexist

posted Nov 21, 2012, 8:37 AM by Ashley B.   [ updated Nov 24, 2012, 10:06 AM ]

For my history class, AP European History, the teacher gives us a list of figures, ideas, and objects that we’re supposed to take notes on. This week, Margaret Cavendish was on the list. This is the most substantive information on Margaret Cavendish from my textbook:

    “One of the most prominent female scientists of the seventeenth century, Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673), came from an aristocratic background. Cavendish was not a popularizer of science for women but a participant in the crucial scientific debates of her time. Despite her achievements, however, she was excluded from membership in the Royal Society…although she was once allowed to attend a meeting. She wrote a number of works on scientific matters, including Observations upon Experimental Philosophy and Grounds of Natural Philosophy. In these works, she did not hesitate to attack what she considered the defects of the rationalist and empiricist approaches to scientific knowledge and was especially critical of the growing belief that through science, humans would be masters of nature.”

    Let me articulate the many problems within this excerpt: 
    · It introduces her as “one of the most prominent female scientists.” Instead of saying “a prominent and notable scientist” or even just “a scientist of the seventeenth century,” Cavendish is qualified by her gender. It’s the history-book equivalent of saying “You’re smart – for a girl.”
    · It fails to mention that she was excluded from the Royal Society because she was a smart woman living in a sexist, patriarchal society. By excluding this crucial information, it implies that her work wasn’t important enough, and takes away from anything said afterwards.
    · I still have no idea what she did. It lists the books she wrote and says that she attacked empiricism, but it doesn’t say what ideas she had. It doesn’t tell me what she offered to society.
    I have a wonderful book on women’s history, and I found that Margaret Cavendish wrote the first science fiction novel, The Blazing World, was the first woman in England to write primarily for publishing, and was the first woman to visit the Royal Society. In short, Cavendish was an awesome woman, but she’s given precisely two paragraphs that don’t even discuss all her accomplishments.
    Throughout the textbook, women are given little importance, framed as exceptions to the man-dominated culture rather than remarkable people who made significant contributions. The men did not simply wake up one morning and say “Oh, perhaps we should give the women their rights now.” Women have been fighting for equality since the development of the patriarchy, and it is ignorant and sexist to assume that our contributions are limited to recent history or given by the grace of men. Women have made countless contributions throughout history, and the majority of history textbooks provide blatant misrepresentations of women’s accomplishments. 
    Reading my wonderful women’s history book, you would never know that men did anything of significance. So reading a men’s history book (excuse me – that would be a normal history book), you would never know that women accomplished anything at all.
    If you’re reading this, and you happen to be a history student, I have a request: ask about the women. Tell the teacher about the sexism in your textbook. Research important women and ask why they aren’t included. Object to any discussion of a woman’s sex life. Most of all, ask the hard questions. Talk about the sexism. Use those loud voices to change the world, one textbook at a time.

Also, if you know of any good books on women’s history, let me know!

Feminism is in da House . . . and the Senate . . . and the Oval Office

posted Nov 9, 2012, 5:06 PM by Ashley B.   [ updated Nov 10, 2012, 8:23 AM ]

Now, I don’t want to get into any heated political discussions here. We’ve had enough of those. I just want to celebrate the leaps and bounds that the United States has made this year, moving toward a society of true equality.
    Both Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock lost, thankfully. On the list of Things This Country Doesn’t Need, these people are right after terrorist attacks and plague epidemics. You’ve probably heard about their insensitive rape comments, but a quick Google search will renew your fury. Rape is real, people. We don’t have time to fight over what is and isn’t a “legitimate rape.”
    We elected 20 women to the Senate this year, a record! Women constitute 51% of the population, but about 17% of the government, so it’s crucial that we hand over the power. If we truly have a government of the people, by the people, for the people, then we need to represent all of the people.
    We have our first-ever openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin! Again, our government has to represent our people. We’ve been letting old, straight, white men have all the fun for far too long. It is high time to represent everybody, and an openly gay senator is the first step towards giving the LGBTQQIAetc community a voice in national politics.
    Marriage equality laws were passed in three states! Maine, Maryland, and Washington all passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage – thanks to the voters in these states, one in five same-sex couples lives in a state where they can get married! On top of that, Minnesota voters shot down a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, indicative of a growing acceptance of our LGBTQQIAetc friends. Marriage is a basic human right (the UN said so), so go high-five someone! This country is a better place every day.
    And while I hesitate to mention everybody’s favorite race, Obama’s win was a positive step for women’s rights. The President believes in marriage equality, women’s right to choose, the use of contraception, the concept of rape (ahem, Todd Akin), and was even nice enough to pass the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. I’m not trying to get into emotional conversations about politics, but if you would like to talk back to me, please do! I always encourage people to talk back to the media – but please keep it polite and intellectual.
    This election was a huge step forward for this country, but it’s important to remember that we’re not there yet. Four out of five same-sex couples still cannot get married. Women still make about 77 cents to the man’s dollar. Transgender people are still 28% more likely to experience physical violence than cisgender people. Minorities still make less than 75 cents to the white person’s dollar. Women, the non-straight community, the young, and ethnic minorities are still disproportionately underrepresented in government. The fight is far from over.
    The world has never changed overnight. Change is just a series of little actions that add up, and the election this year was just another little action in a much bigger movement. In the grand scheme of things, this election may be entirely insignificant, but it’s important to celebrate every single accomplishment. Knowingly or not, the United States of America united behind feminism this year, and we as a nation took yet another step forward to a future of real equality. I have never been prouder to be an American, but not because of who we are today. I’m proud because of who we are becoming.

Just another way to categorize people

posted Nov 7, 2012, 5:46 AM by Ashley B.

In case no one’s noticed, women and girls are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
    In one corner: churches, teachers, and parents everywhere. We are supposed to be perfectly celibate until we get married, so we need to cover up in order to maintain our modesty and oh-so-precious virginity. Our purpose in life is to resist temptation.
    In the other corner: the Girls Gone Wild crew and the majority of pop music. We are supposed to be sexually appealing, so we need to wear as much revealing clothing as possible in order to maximize our appeal. Our purpose is to turn other people on.
    It’s called the virgin/whore dichotomy (it's also referred to as the Madonna/wore complex). On the one hand, you can be perfectly chaste, earning the title “virgin” from some people and “prude” from others. On the other hand, you’re labeled a slut if you don’t fit into this ideal of perfect chastity. If you do so much as wear revealing clothing, never mind actually sleep with somebody, you are officially a whore. There’s no middle ground! You are one or the other, never in-between.
    Does anyone else smell a double standard? People don’t care as much if guys have sex. In fact, they’re socially rewarded for it. Girls, on the other hand, are socially punished for it. Punishments range from disapproving glances to ostracism. It’s crazy.
    If we’re all unique, individual people, why are we put into two neat little categories? There’s no room for experimentation, for figuring out who you are, for dressing the way you want to. It’s a dangerous line that few walk successfully. The problem is, we all enforce it. We’re all guilty of looking at a girl and labeling her in our heads, without even knowing who she is. Maybe it’s the way she’s making out with someone that makes her a “whore.” Maybe it’s her turtleneck sweater that makes her a “prude.”
    Why are we so afraid of female sexuality? Why is there something scary about women knowing who they are? The virgin/whore dichotomy distracts us from what’s really important, like loving ourselves and helping others. Meanwhile, the men are running the show.
    We’re better than this! It is our responsibility, for ourselves and the generations after us, to stop the dichotomy in its tracks:
    Step 1: we have to stop calling each other “sluts” and “whores.” By using these words for each other, we’re putting ourselves in boxes and limiting our own power. We have to remember that if you describe a person in a single word, you dismiss them without even knowing them. That’s not fair to anyone.
    Step 2: we have to refuse to sit in these neat little boxes. We have to have the courage to dress how we want, even if we know that other people will label us. Humans are inherently sexual beings – when we experiment with our sexualities, we have to do so in whatever manner we want, even if we’re afraid of what other people will think. Essentially, we have to be ourselves.

    I don’t know where the dichotomy came from or how it began, but I know that it’s hurting all of us. We are stereotyping each other and ourselves. We are dismissing people before we even know them. We are limiting our own power. We owe it to ourselves and the women around us to defy the rules and destroy the virgin/whore boxes once and for all.

Fact: you're probably a feminist

posted Nov 4, 2012, 2:54 PM by Ashley B.   [ updated Nov 4, 2012, 2:59 PM ]

It has come to my attention that not everyone actually understands what a feminist is. It took me weeks of blog-reading to figure out what this is all about, so allow me to save you the trouble.
    Feminism (noun): the belief that all people are equal.
    That’s it.
    No, seriously, that’s it! If you believe in equality, you’re a feminist! Some people refer to themselves as humanists or equalitarians instead, but it’s all the same. We’re all rooting for the underdog: the non-white, non-straight, poor, old, transgender, genderqueer, and otherwise generally oppressed.
    Now, there are several myths surrounding feminism that I would like to dispel:
    “Feminists only care about equal rights for women.” Nope! We’d be awfully hypocritical if we demanded equality – but only for white, straight, cisgender, young, rich women. We’d cause more problems than we’d solve. It’s much simpler to advocate for all of the above, instead of picking and choosing.
    “Women and men are already equal.” Well, no, not at all. Women are 51% of the population of the United States, but only 17% of Congress. In the entire history of the US, we’ve had 34 female governors and over 2,000 male governors. Women make about 77 cents to the man’s dollar. 40% of businesses worldwide have no women in senior management. And don’t even get me started on the virgin/whore dichotomy, objectification in the media, the sexualization of young girls, eating disorders, or sexual assault. There’s inequality everywhere you look; you just have to know what it looks like.
    “Feminists see sexism where there is none. They read too much into stuff.” The average person sees hundreds of advertisements every day. Our culture consumes media on a constant basis. Because we’re so exposed, we’re influenced by what we see, even if we don’t realize it. Breaking down how these things are influencing us is called media literacy, and keeps us from being influenced by what we see. Try it – you’ll be surprised by what you see.
    “Feminists complain a lot.” Because we break down the media that we consume, we see the little ways that it’s influencing us and perpetuating sexist ideas. As advocates for equal rights, we’re obligated to speak out. If we sit back and let these things continue, nothing will ever change.
    “Only women can be feminists.” Don’t be ridiculous! As I said before, feminists believe that all people are equal. It has nothing to do with sex or gender. Some feminists prefer that men use the term “pro-feminist” so that us women get a word all to ourselves. Personally, I don’t care. Call yourself whatever you want.
    And, finally, my personal favorite: “Feminists hate men/never shave/burn bras.” Stop. Think about that concept. Now get real, people.

    If you’ve made it to this paragraph without rolling your eyes or getting mad at me, you’re probably a feminist. Congratulations! So what now?
    Now it is your responsibility to act. Notice the sexism, racism, ageism, and other Isms all around you. Talk to your friends and family about it. Send strongly worded letters to media corporations that enforce the Isms. I highly recommend getting involved in a feminist community (like this one!). You can find some others on the Resources page.

Go now, feminist, and change the world!

Our screwed-up perception of beauty and how to change it

posted Nov 3, 2012, 11:35 AM by Ashley B.

If I ask my friends what they think is beautiful, I get a wide variety of answers. “Brave and courageous.” “Healthy skin and body.” “Smiles are really pretty.” “Looking presentable in a way that you feel confident.” Almost everyone included themselves in their perceptions of beauty. But if I ask them if they’d change anything about their looks, they all say yes. People wanted thinner thighs, less acne, and different hair.
    Isn’t that strange? Everyone has their own idea of what’s beautiful in other people, but we measure ourselves based on a different standard. We’re all guilty of the double standard. So whose standard are we using for ourselves, if not our own?
    Western society values tall, thin women with clear, white skin. That’s a very narrow ideal of beauty, and it excludes millions of women all over the world. Three out of four girls feel depressed, guilty, and shameful after spending three minutes flipping through a fashion magazine. The average American woman is 5’4” and weighs 140lbs, while the average model is 5’9” and weighs 120lbs. Besides the fact that these women represent a very small percent of the human population, most of them don’t even exist. Almost every image of a woman you see is photoshopped in some way. (Here are some examples of how advertisers use photoshop to change the way women look.) The film industry even stretches the tape to make women look taller and thinner.
    So we’re comparing ourselves to ideals of beauty that don’t even exist. How horrible! No wonder 8 million Americans suffer from eating disorders. This is ridiculous, people. We need to cut it out.
    Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world where we could all be beautiful? Wouldn’t it be better to appreciate all sorts of bodies, skin colors, and heights? Wouldn’t it be more productive to value people because of their awesome personalities instead of their low body fat percentage? It would! Our perception of beauty has to change.
    “But how?” you say. “How can I, one little person, confront a multi-billion dollar industry that profits off of making me feel horrible?” 
    Here’s the good news: you don’t have to battle the world to win the war. Change is often a series of little actions that add up to a mass movement. Here are some little ways to change this terrible ideal of beauty:
· Appreciate yourself. Learn how to look in the mirror and say “Good GOSH that woman is beautiful!” Accept your body for the way it is. If you want to improve your health, focus on eating well and exercising, not losing weight. Repeat after me: my value is not in my appearance.
· Stop comparing yourself. Nope, you’re not as skinny as Ester is, and you never will be. But you’re thinner than Rebecca. Cut it out! Notice when you’re comparing yourself to other people, and remember that everyone has different genes and different lifestyles. We’re all beautiful here.
· Appreciate everyone else. Start noticing when you’re thinking about how Sally has a little muffin top today, or how Jane gained some weight this summer. Whenever you catch yourself doing this, stop. Repeat after me: her value is not in her appearance. Then proceed to tell her how gorgeous she is.
· Stop buying it. I know it’s hard. Fashion magazines are so addictive and Victoria’s Secret is so wonderful! Baby steps, here. Maybe skip next month’s issue of Vogue until you can bring yourself to cancel your subscription. Surround yourself with media that lifts you up for how incredibly awesome you are. (For some great places to do all that, see my Resources page.)

    It’s not an overnight thing. You will not wake up tomorrow loving your body unconditionally. You will not stop thinking about your jean size when you order dessert. You will not magically start loving all body types and skin colors. It’s a long process of teaching yourself to value people because of their personalities. It might seem impossible, but YOU CAN DO IT. I have faith in you!
    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go eat some Halloween candy and not feel an ounce of guilt about it.

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