Friday, 25 January 2008

Catherine Booth!

Catherine Booth co-founded the Salvation Army with her husband William Booth. The SA was formed on a firm conviction that christians should be doing more than just going to church but should be actively going out of their way to both help the poor and change the way society works (the Booths were abolitionists, supporters of the temperance movment etc). In a time when the church was increasly lead by the rich and extremly self obssesssed (not unlike today!) the Booths and others like them, includiing Wilberforce and the other members of the Clapham Sect were nothing less than revolutionary!

In terms of gender equality, the newly formed salvation army was miles ahead of the rest of the church in its progressiveness, which I think we can probably thank Catherine for, male and female officers in the various branches were commpletely equal and Catherine both lead and spoke publicly in meetings, with a firm conviction that women were just as much able to do this as men. She wrote an amazing treatise for this which can be found here I haven't read it all properly but I intend to, it looks amazing.

A few of the best bits in the reference above include, "Now, if the word of God forbids female ministry, we would ask how it happens that so many of the most devoted handmaidens of the Lord have felt themselves constrained by the Holy Ghost to exercise it? Surely there must be some mistake somewhere, for the word and the Spirit cannot contradict each other. Either the word does not condemn women preaching, or these confessedly holy women have been deceived. Will any one venture to assert that such women as Mrs. Elizabeth Fry, Mrs. Fletcher of Madely, and Mrs. Smith have been deceived with respect to their call to deliver the gospel messages to their fellow-creatures? If not, then God does call and qualify women to preach, and His word, rightly understood, cannot forbid what His Spirit enjoins ... In short, "there is no end to the errors in faith and practice which have resulted from taking isolated passages, wrested from their proper connections, or the light thrown upon them by other Scriptures, and applying them to sustain a favourite theory." Judging from the blessed results which have almost invariably followed the ministrations of women in the cause of Christ, we fear it will be found, in the great day of account, that a mistaken and unjustifiable application of the passage, "Let your women keep silence in the Churches," has resulted in more loss to the Church, evil to the world, and dishonour to God, than any of the errors we have already referred to."

How amazing!!! This women is officially one of my heroes.

Catherine Booth was involved in a huge amount of work, including creating shops for poor people to buy cheap food and campaigning against the use of women's sweatshop labour in match factories, using highly toxic substances, and eventually through the SAs work, these practises changed. (

I'll try and put some more info about Catherine on here later, but for now I have to go get lunch!

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Don't fall for sexist advertising

It's a well known fact that sex and advertising tend to go hand in hand. Watching only an hour of TV will expose you to a whole host of adverts using semi naked bodies in order to make their products sell. Well, lets get specific, for the most part its not just any bodies; it's thin, young women's bodies. And yes, of course, there are adverts for underwear and perfume featuring semi-naked men, but for every one of those, there are at least twenty featuring semi naked, writhing, pouting women advertising products as diverse as cars and toothpaste. I'm well aware that as you read this you may be thinking how prudish I'm being, but I promise I'm not. It's not because I think sex is bad that I think this is important, it's because I think women are too important to be treated like this. Adverts like this objectify women, they take living human beings with brains and important things to say and make them no more important than the sum of their breasts, bums and legs. Many might argue that this is not a big deal, that we all objectify people, we are all sexual beings and this is merely our natural behaviour. But as I look around at society and see pornography, prostitution, trafficking, and sexual violence against women at epidemic levels I can't help but wonder if there is some connection between treating women as consumer objects, and going that one step further and believing that women can be bought and sold and used for pleasure regardless of their wishes, after all, we are just objects.

But back to the adverts. In all honestly, I didn't think that these adverts could get much worse short of showing an ugly man having violent sex with a playboy bunny with a big neon sign above them saying 'if you buy our product then you get to do this all the time!' (although to be fair, the Lynx adverts aren't far off this). But somehow a new advertising campaign has managed to up the levels of sexism and objectification of women in the media. I assume you have seen the posters and promotions for 'Pussy' around campus?

Yes, you did here me right, this is a juice called Pussy, and somehow I have a sneaky suspicion that they're not talking about little kittens, but rather, um, vaginas. Promoting themselves as the new cool energy drink their slogan is, 'why have wings when you can have pussy.' And I saw you laugh at that! And I know it's easy to find things like this funny, but it really, really isn't. For one thing, this marketing trick is extremely insulting to men's (I assume straight men are its main audience) intelligence. This assumes that when you see this, you will automatically relate it to vaginas, get all excited, and then have to buy the drink, hardly flattering to the New Man. But more than that, this marketing, particularly, the slogan, takes the actual human being out of the picture and focuses merely on her sexual organs. It's all about you, and what you can get, she doesn't matter, after all, she's just pussy isn't she? This is only one small step away from rape, because that's what happens when it becomes all about what you can get and nothing more. This is what happens when you treat women as though they are no more important than their body parts. It really is as big a deal as that.

Beyond the objectification of women and the insult to men, this new product associate's alcohol with this 'pussy' as this (all natural!) energy drink is intended to be a mixer like red bull. An Amnesty International Survey shows that 30% of people interviewed thought that a woman was partially responsible for being raped if she was drunk, which is horrific, only one person is responsible for rape: the rapist. However, this drink, both in its name and advertising begins to not only justify this attitude but also acts to encourage men to drink and then go out and 'get pussy'.

So, I have a challenge for you all, and it's fairly simple. Don't buy it. Let's send a message to the people that make this that objectifying and dehumanising women doesn't sell round here. At this university we believe that everyone deserves dignity and respect, and products like this rip that dignity and respect away from fifty percent of the population. And if you're up for it, go one step further than not buying it, start to challenge it. Challenge the promoters around George Square on their sexist advertising, take down their posters, or even better, stick post-its to them reminding people that objectification of women leads to violence against women. It wouldn't be a revolution if we all did this, but it might just be the beginning of some change.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008


So, some very wise people I was talking to earlier said that you can a lot more from someone by listening to the questions they ask than from hearing the answers they give. And questions are very reflective of my life at the moment, as usual I have far more questions about things than I do answers. So, when I think about christianity and feminism and the link between the two I have some really key questions that I honestly have absolutely no answers to:

- The first question is about the sex/gender of God. I think its pretty clear that God, who created humans, exists beyond the binary notions we have of the sexes, and thus is neither male nor female. But thats not the end the question. Is God as much a mother as God is a father? What do I call God if I don't say he? What does a God that isn't 'masculine' as I understand it, mean for my faith? And how does the fact that Jesus was a man affect his ability to understand the temptations and problems I go through the way the bible says he does?

- and of course, what about sex? What is sexual morality? What is marriage? Does God really think homosexuality is wrong, and if so why? (I just don't see it.) What did Paul mean when he said wives were to submit to their husbands? Was Paul just a bit sexist? Was Paul even the one that wrote that or was it added later? (And is that heresy? How does that affect my view of the divine inspiration of the bible?)

- Should the church be political? And what do I mean when I say the 'church' the institution or the living mass of people that follow Jesus? And what should our politics be? Is there really a 'christian' political perspective? And if there is, why do people who follow Jesus disagree so much? And how can the church be a community when we exist in a hierarchy?

- and what about abortion? What is life and when does it start? Does it matter? Why do I have to choose between life and choice? What if the only option is a compromise? What does that mean?

Questions are important. Being willing to ask questions is important, and its important not to assume that you'll find answers, some things are just confusing. For now we see through a glass dimly (plagarised from Paul) but eventually, I hope, it will all become clear.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Five young women died in Ipswitch

Now that someone has been accused of the death of these five women, and a trial is beginning, its very much back in the news. And the Daily Mail, true to form has produced this column: (for a better analysis of this article go to

I think its fair to say that this evil man is one of those enemies that I struggle so much to love! This article is almost unbearable to read. Firstly, like most of the news coverage it has defined these women by what they do, in fact, most of the coverage I saw when they died refered to 'five prostitutes murdered' and never 'five young women' murdered. And in the eyes of most people reading it, this actually changes something. Prostitutes aren't real women, not like your mother or your sister, they are disposible and there death doesn't mean much. As Littlejohn says, "in the scheme of things, the deaths of these five women was no great loss." I find it so hard to believe that he can understand so little. Yes, the lives of these women was a HUGE loss. It was a loss to their families, to their children, and it was loss to all of us who have missed out on all that they could have done with their lives. Death is always sad, in this case even sadder than usual as life had been so horribly unfair to these women.

Littlejohn's other classic (and I do hate this man, however much I try not to), is this: "We do not share in the responsibility for either their grubby little existences or their murders. Society isn't to blame." Yes, Richard, you do share the responsibility, everyone who can even suggest that women like this are worthless shares the blame. It is the fault of you, and people like you that the man who killed these women thought it was an ok thing to do. After all, they were just prostitutes, what did they add to society? Its not like they were doing anythings useful! And yes, it is the fault of society. Totally completly and utterly, and I include both myself and dear Richard in that. It is the fault of a society where some people (like me) are born with all the chances in the world and others are born with none. A society where womens value is so completly placed on their bodies that their body is seen as a valid thing for them to sell (after all, isn't it the most useful thing we have?). It is our fault that there is so little help available for women who are addicted to drugs, our fault that prostitution is so hard to leave, and our fault that lives our ruined and in this case are ended because we fail to do anything about it! And maybe things will actually begin to change when people like us not only realise our responsibility but begin to actually do something about it.

And I can't help but compare the views expressed in the Daily Mail, that good old right wing paper, filled with good, 'Christian' members of society, with the life of Jesus. Because one thing I am sure of is that Jesus did not think that the lives of prostitutes were worthless. He spent time with them, cared for them and loved them, because He was able to see all the good in them, was able to see past their "grubby little existances" and know that God loves them. Perhaps its time the mail took more of a lesson from the radical who began the religion that they claim our country is based on. I pray that they do, and I pray that it completly, utterly and totally changes them and gives them the grace and compassion to see beyond peoples awful circumstances and love them for the people they are.

And I'm not really sure what I can do to change a world that is so cruel to women, but I'm going to start by mourning Gemma Adams age 25, Tania Nicol age 19, Emily Alderton age 24, Paula Clenell age 24 and Annette Nichols age 29. May you rest in peace, and I pray that justice will be given to those that you leave behind.

Saturday, 12 January 2008


The history of how women transform and shape the world is often hidden in our sexist world, and the church is no different. Ok, lets be fair, the Church is probably a bit worse. And when I think about women in church history who have done amazing things, my starting point is often Rahab.

Rahab was around before the Church began, and long before Jesus came. While the Israelites were wandering pointlessly in the desert, Rahab was working as a prostitute in Jericho. We don't know how she got into that situation, but given that women in that time and place were powerless without a man to support them it seems likely to me that her husband had died and left her no other option. Whatever reason it was, on the social hierarchy she was about as low as they come, not only a woman but a fallen one at that.

And we know very little about Rahabs life, she appears only a few times in the bible. Israel are on the search for the land that God has promised them, and their leader Joshua sends spies out into Jericho to see what the situation there is. Fairly typical prewar actions, because war was certainly what was coming. The spies went to Jericho and while they were there they stayed at Rahabs house (by the by, it was my sister at aged ten who first suggested to my Dad that they were doing something other than sleeping there). When the king got wind that these spies were in Israel he sent messangers to Rahab to tell her to turn them in, but instead of doing this, she hid them and then made up a cover story for them. This was ridiculously brave, if she was found out she would probably have been killed and if she had turned them in she could have been rewarded. All she asked the men to do was to spare her and her family WHEN the Israelies defeated the city. Much as I hate the idea of the war that was coming, there is something to this that suggests to me that she already knew this God that her people feared so much. God always chooses the forgotten and the oppressed to do God's will and this was no exception.

And when disaster struck Jericho and so many innocent people died, Rahab and her family were not among them because they were saved by these men. And centuries later, when Jesus had lived, died and risen again, Rahab was the only women listed as one of heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. And I like to think that when Jesus had dinner with prostitutes that He remembered Rahab, and her bravery, and that there is a special place in the heart of God for this group of women, some of the most oppressed in the world.

God chooses to use and to honor people that the world utterly rejects. Rahab is just one example of these. While there is much I still don't understand about her story I want to remember her and to honor her. "Heros" tends to conjure up images of big men with swords, but God has always done things in ways we don't understand, and Rahab is one of God's heroes. The world doesn't tend to honor women like Rahab, but we have been called to do things differently. So next time you see a prostitute, don't despise her, don't just feel sorry for her, but honor her. She is in a sad, desperate place, but she is capable of being a hero.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Hatred and Anger

This probably isn't the best place to start documented my journey with christianity and feminism, but its what I've been thinking about a lot lately. Feminists are probably among the most steriotyped people out there, and one of the these is that we are a very angry bunch. Of course, theres a lot of truth to this, when rape conviction rates in Scotland are still 3.9%, and when women are still being objectified, abused, beaten and killed just because of their sex, then there is a lot to be angry about. And anger can be righteous: God is angry at sin, Jesus was angry enough with the corruption going on in the temple to do a fair bit of vandalism. So, its not the anger as such that concerns me, I think its the hatred.

And I'm not getting at the feminist movement here so much as I am getting at myself. I honestly have no love for people who abuse their partners, or people who produce porn or traffic women and do all these horrible things, and of course, this is quite understandable. And its when I realise that its these people who are my enemies that I realise just how great the challenge to love your enemies really is. I am slowly learning to remember that Jesus was not just friends with prostitutes (the opressed) but he was friends with tax collectors (if not directly the oppressors then certainly people working for them). And it was in expressing his love for these tax collectors that they became different. We tend to think of Zaccheus, for example, as being fairly cuddly really, or at least I do. But in actual fact he was a corrupt cheat who worked for a system that was opressing the Jewish people and deliberatly cheated the poor out of the little money they had in order to increase his own profits. And yet when Jesus met him, he didn't yell at him, He was nice to him, became his friend, and in doing so, Zaccheus changed.

Ultimatly, hatred gets us nowhere, all it does is polarise us. So if I, and the feminist movement, really want to change society, and bring down patriarchy then our rightous anger has to be fueled by love not hatred. Love for women who are abused. Love for women who will never reach their full potential because the world is not geared towards them. Love for men who are not free to be themselves becuase they are constrained by false concepts of what it means to be a man. But most difficult and most important of all, love for the men (and a few women) who perpetuate an evil system, love fueled by a belief that men who abuse women, who promote sexism, who buy and sell porn, are capable of changing and being better. Love that can see the potential for good that God can see.

And I genuinly believe that if we really begin to love like this, then we will see change and the revolution of the Kingdom of God will come.