Shaney Irene

On Faith, Life, and Being the Church


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Links for Learning, October 20

Christianity Today‘s list of the Top 50 Women Shaping Evangelical Culture is finally available online.

[Trigger Warning: Rape, Sexual Assault] Dianna Anderson talks about rape culture and how sadly commonplace it is. Rape Culture: The Monster You Can’t See

Emily Maynard talks about street harassment, what it is, and how to respond in His Words Burned Into My Skin

Preston Yancey speaks up about carelessly interpreting the Bible in Stop Saying Stupid S— About Scripture

Rachel Held Evans explains why differing interpretations of the Bible should cause us to come closer, not drive us apart, in When Our Interpretations Differ. 

The most popular post on my blog this week:

Because “I’m Not Pretty” Came Too Easily

Which links did you find most helpful? What links would you add to this list?

 

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Links for Learning, October 13th

One of my goals for this blog is to be a place where people, including me, can learn. Because of this blog, I am pushing myself to read books and articles, to learn more about issues affecting the church and the world. So once a week, I’m going to post links to blog articles that I’ve found thought-provoking, and I think my readers might as well.

A few disclaimers:
  • Just because I post a link doesn’t mean I agree with the article 100%. Just that I think it’s good food for thought.
  • I read a lot of good posts in any given week. There’s a lot of stuff that I find edifying or helpful that I don’t post here. This post is specifically for thought-provoking and educational links about issues I care about or I think my readers would be interested in.
  • In the future, I’ll limit myself to posts from the past week. Since today is my first go at this, I’m being a little looser with that.
  • Not really a disclaimer: Feel free to recommend links in the comments. 🙂

And now for the links!

And to wrap up, the most popular post on my blog this past week:

Which of these links to you find most helpful or thought-provoking?

What links would you recommend? 


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Pinterest, and What Every Girl Should Know About Body Image and Health

Dear Pinterest: It scares the crap out of me that I keep seeing motivational pins that use a “gap” between the thighs as a measure of being fit/skinny. Whether or not you have one has little to do with how fat or skinny you are, and is mostly determined by your particular body shape. And let’s not even start on the “flat stomach” and “hipbones” pins. Eating disorders are prevalent enough without your incredibly uneducated, unrealistic goals being all over people’s “fitness” boards. Sincerely, Shaney.

This is a rant I posted on Facebook yesterday after seeing this pin. Now, I have no problem with the overall sentiment of the pin. My concern is more with the subtle message: This is what your body is supposed to look like if you avoid junk food and take care of yourselves: a flat stomach, prominent hipbones and collarbone, and a gap between the thighs. 

If you look around women’s boards on Pinterest, it doesn’t take long to see that pins that assume a certain type of body are the norm, and not the exception. Now, I have no problem with pins that use a woman who does happen to have that particular type of body shape, but has a very positive overall message (this picture, for example). However, I worry about promoting body types that are out of reach for most women, whether it’s super-skinny, or “fit”, which is the new fad.

I worry about pins like this:

Six Pack Pinterest Pin

And this:

Skinny Pin on Pinterest

Scarily enough, when I clicked on this pin, it took me awhile before I realized that it had finished loading. I thought that it was still had some expanding to do width-wise.

 

Now, I don’t have an issue with Pinterest itself. In fact, I think the owners of Pinterest are doing a really good job in trying to combat unhealthy attitudes toward weight and eating disorders. For example, if you search “thinspiration” on Pinterest, you will receive this message:

Pinterest Search Results for "Thinspiration"What I am concerned with is this:

1. The prevalence of these pictures on Pinterest shows that unrealistic expectations for girls’ and women’s bodies is still a huge issues in our society, and

2. That, even with good intentions, the ideal of “fit” that women pin is replacing one unrealistic expectation with another. While “fit” or “strong” is being promoted as what’s ideal, there are still unrealistic expectations as to what a “fit” or “strong” body looks like or is capable of for the majority of the female population.

There are many unhealthy behaviors that can result from these unrealistic expectations. While anorexia nervosa and bulimia are the main ones often talked about, other unhealthy behaviors are also problems, including anorexia athletica (also known as exercise addiction), unhealthy dieting (including restricting, or even cutting out entire food groups), and depression as a result of body image issues.

The best way to combat these unrealistic expectations and their results, including eating and exercise disorders, is through education.

So, with that in mind, I’d like to propose what I think is important for girl and women to know about their bodies and their health. Feel free to share this post with anyone you think would find it helpful. If there’s anything you think I forgot, leave a comment!

1. Health is not determined by body shape.

While there is an incredibly wide range of body shapes, “fitness” pins tend to promote the same things over and over again: flat, defined stomachs, prominent hipbones, a gap between the thighs, defined muscles in the arms and legs. Here’s the truth: Some girls can have flat stomachs. Other girls have a little bit of flab on their stomach that never really goes away, even with exercise (it’s not unhealthy, it’s there to protect a baby!). Some girls have butts that are round, others have flatter butts. Some girls can be healthy with a gap in between their thighs. Most girls’ bodies are not built to have one. Most girls will never have six-pack abs. I could go on with more and more examples, but I hope the point is clear: Your body shape is not what determines whether you are healthy or not.

2. Health is not determined by a number.

And I’m not just talking about the number on the scale. No number–not the size on your clothes, not BMI, not weight, not number of inches around your waist–can determine health. Some girls are very healthy at size 12. If I were a size 12, I’d have to re-think how I was taking care of myself. Some athletes have had BMIs that are technically in the “obese” range. No number can ever determine if you’re healthy or not. If you are not sure if you’re healthy or not, talk to your doctor or another health professional.

3. You don’t have to be an olympic athlete to be fit.

One of my main concern with “fitness” pins is that they consistently showcase people who have the bodies and capabilities of professional athletes. For those of us who are not professional athletes, though, many of those ideals are out of reach. Many of us will never be able to support our entire bodies using just our arms (like in this pin). You may never complete a triathlon, or “be stronger than all the boys,” but if you sleep well at night, have energy to complete your daily tasks, and can do moderate physical exercise without feeling like you’re going to puke or die, you’re very likely fit.

4. Your value is not dependent upon your body.

Your body will change throughout your life. Puberty, marriage, pregnancy, stress, aging, and a whole host of other factors will likely have an effect on your body. Pregnancy may widen your hips, stress may cause some weight gain or loss, aging will likely reduce your physical capabilities. But your worth as a person is never determined by what you look like or what your body can do. Having a healthy body image, one that recognizes true health and accepts your unique body as God made you, starts by having a healthy view of yourself. If you are unhappy with yourself, it is likely that you will have trouble being accepting of your body as well. Know that you are fearfully and wonderfully made by God, but also that His acceptance of you has nothing to do with what your body looks like or how it performs.

5. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, obsessive exercise, depression, or other body image issues, please get help.

Tell a trusted adult, whether it’s your parent, a teacher, a mentor, or a family member. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help from a doctor or counselor, especially if an adult recommends it. Visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org or www.findingbalance.com (Finding Balance is specifically faith-based) to learn more. Surround yourself with friends and family who can provide support as you work through your struggles. Most importantly, do not feel ashamed. Many women and girls struggle with body image issues. You are not alone.

What else would you tell a girl about body image? Whether it’s on Pinterest or elsewhere, in what ways could we accidentally be promoting unrealistic goals, and how can we avoid it? What can we do to promote healthy body image? 

 


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Why A Woman Is Never “Asking for It”

[Trigger warning: Rape, sexual assault]

I drive down I-35 quite frequently. On the right side of the highway as I’m driving through downtown Austin, there is a huge sign on the side of a building reminding people to lock their cars, stating that if they don’t and their car gets stolen, they were “asking” for it. The sign drives me up the wall. While it is true that locking your car is a smart thing to do, no one ever asks for any crime to be committed against them. The language of “asking” for it puts blame on the victim, where no blame belongs.

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), someone is sexually assaulted in the United States every 2.5 minutes. 1 out of every 6 women have been the victim or attempted or completed sexual assault.

What do locking cars and sexual assault have to do with each other?

As Christians, it is our duty to stand up for victims of sexual assault. But we can’t do that if we’re not informed.

The first step is education.

Today, I want to talk about why any language putting responsibility for sexual assault on a victim is offensive, entirely inaccurate, and should be completely dropped from our vocabulary.

A prominent Christian leader recently wrote that a woman who makes poor choices and gets raped is asking for it “in the broadest sense of the term.” He compares a woman who gets drunk and takes her shirt off, later getting raped, to a man who flashes money in a bar, only to be robbed later.

As someone who personally knows someone who has been raped, I am incredibly concerned that this kind of attitude continues to be common in Christian circles. For some reason, it is generally considered okay to say that a woman who has made a bad decision (whether it’s getting drunk, dressing immodestly, or being in the Wal-Mart parking lot alone at 5am) bears some degree of responsibility for her rape (even if it’s acknowledged that her rapist is fully culpable for his crime.)

Let me make this clear:

Under no circumstances is a woman ever even partially responsible for being sexually assaulted. Never. Period. End of story.

The idea of “asking for it” has been taken too far in our culture. The example of unlocked cars I began this post with is an example. Let’s clarify what “asking for it” actually means. Someone who picks up a snake with their bare hands is asking to get bit. It is in a snake’s inherent nature to bite when they feel threatened. In that case, it is not the snake’s fault that he bit the hand. The snake didn’t know better. It is the person’s fault for picking up the snake.

In the case of crime, the idea just doesn’t apply. Humans are capable of making choices–choices to not commit crime. To claim that someone else bears partial responsibility for a crime committed against them makes the assumption that the aggressor, on some level, somehow didn’t know better, or couldn’t help himself.

The language of a woman “asking” to get raped is incredibly damaging is not just to women, but also to men. It implies that if a woman makes a certain choice, that men may not be able to help their reaction. This is obviously false. Men are responsible for maintaining self-control and are completely responsible for their own actions. The actions of the women around them does not somehow make it okay for men to commit sexual assault, or even reduce their responsibility on any level.

This means that a woman never, ever bears any responsibility for a crime of sexual assault that is committed against her. No matter what she’s wearing, or how she’s acting, or where she is.

Does that mean that woman should make bad choices? Of course not. Yes, women (and men!) sometimes make unwise choices. But unwise choices do not, under any circumstances, translate into responsibility for crimes committed against them.

Another reason why the language of women “asking” to be raped is so harmful is that is often spreads misinformed views of rape. Rape is often seen as a response to high amounts of lust, when in reality, rape is about power. It’s about an aggressor asserting his power and control over his victim. The fact that rates of sexual assault are higher in Middle Eastern countries, where women are much more covered, and that rapists are more likely to be serial criminals than serial rapists, are evidences of this. In trying to encourage women to protect themselves from rape by not engaging in certain types of behavior, or covering up more, the misinformed view that rape is about sex continues to perpetuate.

When people are misinformed about rape, they will not know how to protect themselves, will not know how to respond, and will not know how to help others who have been raped.

If Christians want to be able to truly advocate for victims of sexual assault, the first step is to know the truth about it and stop spreading misinformed views. The idea of a victim “asking” for it is offensive, misinformed, and has got to go.

For more information, please visit the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.


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On Having Platforms

(Warning: There are references to sex and rape in this post, though neither is the main point of this post. Please use discretion.)

First, I’d like to offer up a disclaimer: In this post, I’m going to make frequent references to one particular debate going on in the blogosphere. However, my intention is not to write a post full of commentary on the debate itself (though there will be a lot of that). Neither is it meant to make any arguments for the side I think is correct (though it will probably be pretty apparent who I agree with). I do not wish for this post to begin any arguments, or even discussions, regarding this particular internet debate (if you wish to discuss it, I’m willing, but please send me a private message). If you want to research this particular debate, feel free to do so, but since the debate itself is not the point of this note, I’m going to be eliminating a lot of details that I believe are unnecessary to what I’m trying to say. 

The Internet Has Changed the Game

The internet, and even more specifically, blogging, has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities. It used to be that if you wanted to write something for the masses to read, you had to spend a lot of time writing and editing, then finding someone to publish your book. Along the way you had many people, both editors and laypeople, read your book and provide feedback. If people misunderstood what you were trying to say in a certain passage, you went back and rewrote it. Writing was a long process, a hassle, so only those who felt the process was worth it wrote books.

Nowadays, with the rise of blogs, it is possible for anyone who wants to share their thoughts to do so and skip the whole process. No more long hours of writing full chapters, no more editors proofreading your work, no need for anyone but you to see the work before publishing the final product.

In many ways, this is good. In a lot of ways, this opens up the possibility for all sorts of bad things, including but not limited to poor writing, hurt feelings, slander, etc.

I have a lot of friends who aspire to write books, to go to seminary and become pastors, to blog on a regular basis, to speak in front of crowds, etc. I have some friends who are already doing these things. Many of you will build platforms for yourselves, and in today’s world, it’s highly likely to include a blog. While what I’m about to ask of you applies to all of your work, blogging is where this need for discernment seems to be the most lacking these days.

When blogging goes horribly wrong

A couple days ago, a popular Christian blog hosted a post in which one of the contributors posted an excerpt from a book that another author wrote in order to provide some commentary on the “50 Shades of Gray” book series. In the excerpt, the author used words like “conquers,” “colonizes,” and “plants,” to describe the man’s role during sex, and words like “receives,” “surrenders,” and “accepts,” to describe the woman’s role during sex.

Quite understandably, many people became upset, commenting that this view of the sexual relationship between a man and a woman promotes a view of sex that is closer to the mindset of rapists than to the kind of sexual relationship Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 7. As someone who has friends who have been raped, I share in this concern. Reaction was strong. Many people called for the post to be taken down. Another popular (female) blogger wrote a very strong rebuke to the blog post. Both the author of the blog post, and the author of the excerpt, wrote posts defending the original blog post that many felt were condescending towards those that disagreed, and certainly were not apologies in any way, shape, or form. Instead, both authors claim that all the hoopla is a result of people’s lack of reading comprehension, with one of them even saying that people need to go back to ESL class. Despite people posting the very plain dictionary definitions of the words that were used, the authors continue to argue, based on a sloppy exegesis of the Song of Solomon, that those words do indeed describe the proper sexual relationship between a man and a woman, and that everyone who disagrees needs to quit ascribing “their interpretation,” but rather understand that the correct interpretation is always what the author meant, and if they don’t understand what the author meant, it’s their fault for their lack of comprehension skills.

I find this incredibly frustrating, because to me the correct thing to do seems so obvious: Acknowledge that the choice of words was not working, apologize, and remove the post. Instead, the authors seem intent on degrading everyone that disagrees with them and insisting that because they meant X, it doesn’t matter that the literal interpretation of the words used means Y.

So to my friends who either have platforms or will have platforms, I ask for you to use them wisely and responsibly. Specifically, I’d like to ask that you keep the following things in mind:

1. You are not an expert on everything (so listen to other people’s critiques) 

The fact that the author who used these words originally even thought that using them was okay shows a lack of understanding of how to relate to rape victims. The blog author finally put up a disclaimer at the beginning of his post that basically said, “I can’t see why this disclaimer is necessary, but apparently it is.” This is an incredibly arrogant attitude that has no place in Christian writing. It shows a lack of respect for those who actually have expertise in handling rape and relating to rape victims.

If someone tells you your writing is upsetting to rape victims, your reaction should be to say, “I’m so sorry! How can I be more sensitive?” Any other reaction is arrogant.

This is especially important when dealing with difficult subjects like rape, but it applies to any subject. If someone tells you that your writing is insensitive to a certain group, or contains errors regarding a certain subject matter, or even that it’s just poor writing, your reaction should not be defensive. Rather, your job is to listen and grow. Likely, you are not an expert on the subject matter. If you aren’t a counselor to victims of sexual abuse, you are not an expert on rape. If you are not a linguist, you are not an expert on words. If you are  not a theologian, you are not an expert on theology (and even if you are, you likely have your areas where you don’t know as much and should respect those who have studied that area more than you have.)

2. Conversation is a two-way street 

It is true that just because someone interpreted what you wrote to mean X, doesn’t mean it actually means X. But if you actually meant Y and many people are interpreting it to mean X, you probably need to work on the way you are communicating what you are trying to say. Contrary to what the original blog post author believes, “authorial intent” is not the final authority on what a piece of writing means. As an author, it is possible for you to choose the wrong words, use words in the wrong order, use poor analogies, etc. If you are finding yourself saying, “But I meant Y!” as your main defense, you probably need to work on how you say Y.

3. Above all, be humble, and be willing to learn and grow 

Probably the most disappointing thing I’m seeing in this blog debate is a lack of humility from the authors. Instead of being characterized by words like grace, humility, gentleness, and understanding, their rhetoric can be characterized by words like arrogant, stubborn, and condescending. Frankly, no one cares if you’re right if you can’t be kind and sensitive.

I know that a lot of you have brilliant minds and can use words really well. After all, many of you were former competitors of mine in speech and debate. 🙂 However, as you go into the world and use these talents, I ask that you remember that having a platform is a privilege that needs to be used with grace and humility. Please be willing to acknowledge when you aren’t an expert, have communicated poorly, and be willing to show lots of humility and grace.