Saying “I Have A Boyfriend” Isn’t A Good Move…But We’re Wrong About Why.

It’s always scary to question something that people appear to be passionate about, but…if we didn’t, nothing would ever get done. Nothing would ever get better. I would never learn if I’m dead wrong, and neither would you.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I want to talk about THIS:

boyfriend1 boyfriend2

There is a very well-written article that explains this thinking, and on some level, I get where it comes from. I see the arguments, and I don’t even disagree that lying to people so they leave us alone is something we should change. But look at that tweet. Look at how over-simplified that is.

“Yep, it’s the patriarchy. That’s it. That’s all.”

Really? No mention of peoples’ feelings, or egos. Of our cultural norms. Of, say, the fact that the word “boyfriend” is actually a relatively new term.

Yeah, that. Let’s talk about that.

The very concept of being able to have a boyfriend comes out of the feminist era. When you say you have a “boyfriend,” you are not referring to some ancient tradition of men-owning-women. You are referring to a relatively new tradition of people-being-committed-to-people.

This chart shows when the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” entered our vocabulary (based on the contents of Google’s digitized books).

ngram

This may sound strange, but in some ways, it’s actually progress that people accept the “boyfriend” excuse. Today, we generally respect peoples’ commitments to one another, whether they’re gay/straight/young/old/married/dating. We are past the days where an unmarried woman was considered fair game. Now having a boyfriend or a different sexual orientation are very legitimate reasons to reject someone.

Of course, “I’m not interested” or “nope” should also be considered legitimate reasons to reject someone. And I think they usually are. But I get that it isn’t always perfect. I just think we’re wrong about why.

“I have a boyfriend” is more likely to get a guy to back off than “no,” because they respect relationship structures more than individual opinion/attraction. Not because you’re a woman. Not because your so-called “boyfriend” is a man. But because you claim to have a commitment that can’t be moved. Because people respect monogamous relationships a lot, and they respect peoples’ personal judgment less. Simply, it’s a lot more likely for someone to change their mind or their level of attraction as the night goes on than for them to change their relationship status. Attraction is considered nuanced; relationship status is clear-cut.  That’s why it works.

(Not to mention that this rejection is not personal, so no egos get caught in the conversation.)

I’m not saying it’s a good thing. People should back off if they are asked to, and you shouldn’t need to give them a reason to do so. But if we’re going to talk about a problem, we have to talk about the actual problem. I really don’t feel like the male-female dynamic is at the root of this one. I think “not respecting peoples’ jurisdiction over their own bodies/time” is more the issue.

And yes, I’m using the word “people.” I have also seen men use “I have a girlfriend” as an escape maneuver. Hell, I pretended to be a buddy’s girlfriend when a woman was coming on too strong once. It does happen on both sides.

I have always believed that feminism shouldn’t be about battle cries and blame games. It should be about questioning everything you see, looking at it from all angles, considering whether the patriarchy has seeped in, and responding to that.

Let’s be smart. Let’s think with a little more complexity here. Let’s dig deeper.

And then, then, let’s fix this shit.

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What Does it Mean to be a “Woman with Values,” Exactly?

“I’m looking for a woman with values.”

Whenever I hear these words, I cringe.

I thumb the crosses on my bracelet and clutch my beer.  I talk about charity, then I tell a dirty joke.  Do these things cancel each other out?

Those words are powerful. They transform me into a little, obedient, people-pleasing ladytype. It doesn’t matter whether I’m actually interested in the person who wants a “woman with values” (usually, I’m not).  It doesn’t matter how confident I am in what I stand for or what I do on any other day. There is a person in the room ready to judge if I am a good woman. If I would be a good mother. If I would be a good wife. And I don’t like that I respond to that by melting into conformity, but I do. I drip with semi-sweet small talk. I rarely seek approval, but the “woman with values” thing always hits me hard.  No, I don’t want to have your babies. Yes, I do want you to think I would be “worthy” of that.

So I sit up straight. I make jokes that are edgy, but not too edgy. I remain mysterious and unspecific with the topics of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. If my guitar comes out, I strum a G-rated country song. Save the vulgar rapping for another day; this person wants “values.”

Isn’t that disturbing?

Even if I don’t know a single thing about the person judging (let alone their personal “values”), I know exactly what they mean by “woman with values.”  And what they mean, frankly, has very little to do with what actually makes me a good or interesting person.  They don’t want to hear about my internship in DC, read my blog, or discuss my half-serious plans to buy a ukelele.  They couldn’t care less about what makes my eyes light up.

Instead, the concerns are simple, and in many ways stupid: Does this girl do one night stands, or make out with strangers, or watch porn? Does she drink or smoke? Does she “take care of herself”? Did she grow up in a nice home?

In other words, the universal definition of “woman with values” is almost entirely based on what a Lady consumes, or lets into herself, rather than what she creates. 

How weird is that? After all, women are born with epically creative bodies (see also: having babies).  Women’s brains are typically wired for articulation, so we certainly have a lot of great things to say.  It seems peculiar that to prove my worthiness to create (read: to be a good mother-and-wife), I need to prove the worthiness of what I consume.

The definition of a “man with values” is far less universal, as far as I can tell.  It’s also quite different.  Usually, when I seek a “man with values,” I am looking for the opposite–not what he consumes, but what he produces. What he offers to the world and its people, and how he offers it. How actively he loves and cares about things.

Now, I can totally understand wanting a partner who has a similar worldview and value system as you. If drug consumption or diet or sexuality enter your personal value system, I think you’re allowed to consider it with partner-choosing (though, pretty please, don’t use sexstuff to judge a person’s human value outside of that).  You’re allowed to prefer partners with lots of experience, or prefer partners who have chosen to wait for marriage.  You are also allowed to have a thing for blondes or Catholics or tattooed arms or, you know, “people I have things in common with.”  I don’t see having preferences in partners, even silly ones, as overly oppressive.

I do, however, see the cross-your-legs-and-smile definition of “women with values” as oppressive.  I don’t like that I immediately know “woman with values” means purity, or consumption control, rather than what I have to offer the world.   I don’t like how it makes me act: Smile nicely. Share more about what you don’t do than what you do do.  Sip slowly.  Mention that you go to church, but don’t actually get into theology or make a smart historical reference.

“Girls with values” can read the Bible and teach Sunday school, but they shouldn’t be thinking too hard about it.

Of course, some people I know would have the opposite response to a person “looking for a woman with values.” They would not people-please.  They would make it clear that they don’t fit into this box, loudly joking about their liquored up love affairs. They would swear. They would proudly pronounce their feminism because, well, fuck the system.

But that’s messed up, too. It’s messed up that they could be categorized as “women without values” for that.  These friends do have values–values that are perhaps stronger mine, since I apparently hardcore crumble under the pressure of judgement. They’re women of valour. They answer the phone when someone calls, they care about their fellow human beings–whether or not they end up in bed with them. They respect relationships, their families, and themselves (though, like all of us, they fall down occasionally).  They vote, pay taxes, recycle and help people. Most of all, they try not to judge others, which is a HUGE deal.

I think it’s time to redefine the term “woman with values.”  Let’s try this out, shall we?

I am a woman with values not because I am chaste, but because I respect peoples’ bodies and emotions, regardless of the relationship we have.

I am a woman with values not because I am quiet or docile, but because I speak up when I see injustice.

I am a woman with values not because I go to church, but because I use the brain God gave me to consider the big questions in life.

I am a woman with values not because I “know what I stand for,” but because I recognize gray areas and am compassionate.

I am a woman with values not because I don’t drink or smoke, but because I respect peoples’ autonomy over their own bodies.  Because I act in moderation, and pray for those suffering from addiction.

I am a woman with values not because I eat well or work out, but because I don’t make anyone else responsible for my happiness and I care about my physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

I am a woman with values not because I “don’t swear,” but because I speak honestly and with respect to those around me.

Yes, that is what a “woman with values” should be. Occasional f-bomb and all.

Rape, Outrage, and the Language of Solutions

Feminists Women People have a lot to be pissed off about today.

Like the Steubenville rape.

Like yet another church abuse cover-up coming to light. (Thaaanks, Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Ugh. Luke 8:17, anyone?)

Like the fact that just talking about rape brings up awful, confusing, violating memories for about a third of the women I know.  The fact that “trigger warning” is no formality.  The fact that, whether you’ve been told or not, You know a rape victim. You probably know a whole bunch of them.

Unsettling, right?

Yes, there are things to be pissed off about. Raging, raging mad.  And while some people are getting mad for the first time, feminists and rape survivors have been getting mad for years.

This marks a critical moment for feminism.  People are with them on this one.  People are listening to what they have to say about rape culture.  We can’t hide from it anymore.  Even to some of the larger skeptics, feminist ideas and stats and language don’t seem so crazy anymore.

Do feminists have a right to be mad? Yes.
Do they have a reason to be mad? Yes.
Should they shout it from the rooftops?  If they’re willing, yes, perhaps they should.

But I have to be honest: Jaded rooftop shouters scare me, especially when I can’t quite understand what they’re shouting about.

I tend to tune them out.  Even if they’re right.

“Rape culture” is a powerful term.  No one wants to be an active participant in such a culture (even if many of us are). In fact, to the untrained ear, the words “you are a part of a rape culture” can sound suspiciously like “you are predisposed, as a member of this society, to rape and/or be okay with rape. Especially if you’re a dude.”

Anyone who sees themselves as not okay with rape might just leave at that point.

I know that’s not the kind of unproductive thinking that feminists are trying to promote.  But I also know that it’s the message a lot of people are hearing, and naturally, what they are rejecting. And when they reject that, they reject a lot of other things. Really, really, important things.

Sometimes, fingers need to be pointed.  I get that. I agree with that.  But when the finger-pointing feels scattered, confusing , or overwhelming, the people on the other side sometimes respond with a resounding “Ungh, what did we do wrong this time?” followed by “I’m gonna go hang out over here with the people who don’t condemn my gender and my world and my jokes and my favourite tv show, thankyouverymuch.”

We are getting away from the main message entirely, aren’t we?  The constructive message of trying to create a safe and equal environment for women. The effort to address the prevalence of rape and gender violence in our world. Feminists are trying to empower and protect future generations of women.  Everyone should want to get on board with that.

This is a reasonable message. There are solid stories and data, being broadcast to mostly reasonable, if sometimes ignorant, people.  So where’s the disconnect?

Most reasonable people want a couple things when presented with a new and somewhat radical worldview (yes, feminism, that’s you!):

1)        They want to feel empowered to be part of the solution, not just part of the problem.

2)        They want to be able to ask questions in English—yep, good ol’ patriarchal English. And they want to get an answer that does something, anything, other than just attack their question.

3)        They want the freedom to play the devil’s advocate. Because that’s what people do when exploring a new idea.

There’s something dangerous about leading with anger (however justified), instead of stories.  Or with accusations instead of ideas. Don’t get me wrong, passionate people willing to call out society’s bs are AWESOME.  But they’re way more awesome when they come with a side order of compassion, a willingness to gently guide people to awareness.

And if you disagree with that, then you have probably never spoken to my father.

My father is honest, loving, stubborn and somewhat sheltered (I mean this in no negative way, dad, je t’aime).  He’s sheltered in the way many of us are–or would be, if it weren’t for the internet or certain parts of our education. Sheltered in a way that ends with questions and comments which are sometimes well-meant but poorly phrased.  I remember one such comment.  It was a genuine idea, a devil’s advocate stance, but it included the words “asking for it.”

“Dad, ugh. When you question feminism, you can’t do it in English. You have to do it in feminist.”

“But I don’t speak feminist…”

“Then you should learn. Or you shouldn’t talk about these issues…unless you want to be eaten alive.”

But that’s not fair, he says. Screw feminism, then. “What did we men do this time?”; “I can’t say anything right!”.

Should he be saying things like “asking for it”? Absolutely not.  And he doesn’t think I or any other woman would ever be “asking for it.”  During that particular conversation, he wanted to talk about safety, and understand consent, and help prevent rape.  He just couldn’t think of any other language to discuss complexities he saw. And when the word “Feminist” came into the conversation, he got really uptight.  His mind jumped to the most radical version of that ideology.  He got defensive.

When it comes to his actions and ideas and values, my dad is a feminist if I ever met one. Yet there I was, watching him walk away into the comforting arms of “can’t deal with these ‘feminists’ right now.”

You know what? Sometimes, I find myself walking into those arms, too. I just can’t be outraged about everything that feminism wants me to be outraged about. I can’t.

But I know for sure that I can be outraged about Steubenville, and everything that surrounds it. I know for a fact (just called home to confirm!) that my father is outraged, too. He wants to address this. A lot of us do.

Feminism is going to play a major role in the ensuing conversation, a conversation that a lot of  people are on board with.  And that’s good.  Especially if we go about the conversation the right way–if we lead with stories, ideas, examples, courage, and real talk.  After all, whether you identify as a feminist or not, there’s a problem here.

Consider this your official invitation to be part of the solution.

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I Hurt an Entire Culture, and All I Got Was This Stupid T-shirt
I Hurt an Entire Culture, and All I Got Was This Stupid T-shirt
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Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”
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Partying Hard and Loving Harder: How hanging out can help the community