Saturday, 31 May 2008

Token White Woman

As the title suggests, I have quite a bit of experience of being the only white person in the room. A lot of my uni friends are Malaysian (mostly Chinese), so I've been to many birthdays/christmas parties/Chinese New Years where everyone else has been an ethnic minority. This has resulted in a good bit of banter about white people being the minority for once, especially when I visiting a friend in her town in Malysia and I really was the only white person for miles. (I've never felt so fat in my life, it was awful!)

However the more time I spend with my amazing friends, the more I'm reminded that I'm not really experiencing what it is to be a minority at all, in fact its more like the opposite. My privilege doesn't decrease when I'm with them, in reality it increases. There has often been a somewhat akward vibe (mostly from people that I don't know well) of gratitude that I, as a white British person would actually take the time to be friends with foreigners. Almost as though I've been willing to take them on as a project (far from the truth, I sometimes get fed amazing Chinese food, always makes me wish I ate meat). I'm not treated as wierd or different in the group dynamic, I'm treated as special, with thanks. I'm increasingly concerned that my desire to be in charge and patronise people is increased with my asian friends, reminding me that I'm not immune from the racist attitudes I've inherited from wider society.

Its the same when I've been in places where white people (especially fair people like me) are very rarely seen. Yes, I've been stared at (like a black person might be in very middle class areas), but no-one is ever looking down on me, or being scared I'm going to steal from them, or that I might be a terrorist, I've never been yelled at by strangers because of my ethnicity . In Thailand strangers came up to me and said I was beautiful because I was so fair. In reality I'm not that attractive; I'm just white. (I was also subject to comment about my weight, I really have to stop going to Asia.)

This post is my repentance for ever having thought that I had in any way experienced knowing what being an ethnic minority is like. Its not about skin colour, its about status, steriotypes, your level of privilige. Even when I'm the only white person for miles my privilige is clear.

P.S. My quiet confession is that I'm always scared of talking about issues around ethnicity and racism in case I'm accidentally racist (I'm aware that I'm an idiot...), please tell me if I am!

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Corporate Repentance

So, after being at the amazing Big Dress in Sheffield a few weeks ago ( I've been left with lots of inspiration and lots of things to think about. Most of the thoughts are about concepts of repentance and community after going to a seminar with Mike Love (

Repentance (as far as I know) means to turn around and go the other way. In the church at the moment repentance is viewed as a very individual act, where individuals apologise to God or other people for things that they have done wrong and make the promise to change (to turn around and do things differently). However, when we look at the Old Testemant, there are many more examples of whole communities repenting than individuals. Israel as a nation repents again and again for its sin, Ninevah repents, etc. Clearly this concept of communual repentance is important, but somehow we have lost it. Perhaps we have lost it along with our sense of community.

However, we do see occasional examples of attempts at corporate repentance, the Australian leaders recent public apology for its treatment of the Aboriginal people is one. Yet I'm not convinced that the leaders of the community apologising is enough. While important, this is really just another why to pass the buck. EVERYONE in a community (be it a country or a paticulare ethnicity of faith group, a political group or whatever) is responsible for what goes on in the community. If Australia is to really change, the leaders of the country repenting is a start, but it will require all white Australians to recognise their racist heritage and to actively repent and work for change. Its got to be bigger than just one person. It may even mean repenting for something that you don't feel that you as an individual are guilty of, because being part of a community means becoming more than just one person.

So what does this mean for the Church? How can we repent for our sexist sins? How can we repent for limiting women and in some cases even condoning or encouraging domestic violence? How do we repent for reducing the impact of the gospels by refusing to allow women to play a full role in the church? How do we repent of our homophobia? (And no, before people either get excited or shocked, I still haven't reached my own conclusions, but that doesn't mean that prejudice and bigotry are ever acceptable.) How do we repent for objectifying women by suggesting that they should 'cover up' to 'protect men'? How do we repent for the damage this causes?

The church has so much to repent for in the way it has treated women (can you think of any other examples?), but honestly I don't know where to start. What can we do?

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Radical Niceness

Niceness isn't usually seen as very radical. At school we are told that its a word that we shouldn't use as its not discriptive enough, nice doesn't get things done, it doesn't get your way, it doesn't change anything.

However, I am increasingly wondering if we (western society) are in need of a radical new niceness. The kind of 'niceness' that makes us stop and say thank you to the bus driver/cleaner/shop-assisant, or the kind of niceness that apologies when we bump into people and smile at strangers in the street (in a non-creepy way). Personally, I think that this kind of niceness makes the world a happier, sunnier place. In fact, I think this kind of niceness spreads, and makes us all better people, and therefore makes the world a better place.

I'm increasingly thinking about the importance of niceness in our activism. As in, niceness to those who think differently to us, or those are standing in the way of good change. I really believe that niceness and generally friendlyness (is that a word? It definatly isn't spelled right) will increase our effictiveness as we try to impliment real change in the world. Sometimes, the aggressive of left wing or feminist activists (I say sometimes and not all the time) can allienate those who may have been on our side, or who may have just had some sympathy with our cause. Courtisy, offers of friendship, and a willingness to explain or perspective can go a long way.

Niceness is necessary with those who we fundamentally disagree with, who probably will never 'come around'. Sometimes we will have to accept that we disagree about something big and important, and just carry on being nice to each other. People are suprised by niceness.

What do you think? Can we change the world just by being nice?

Monday, 5 May 2008

Further musings on modesty

In the way other left wing/feminist people read the Daily Mail, even though it physically pains them to see that people think such garbage, I occassionally read Brio. Brio is a magazine geared at teenage christian girls, made by Focus on the Family (James Dobson et al, chief protectors of the sacred nucleur family). Today I came across this gem of an article and thought it was worthy of further thought:

The article starts out with an image of a girl wearing a tight top, she feels uncomfortable, but shes going to wear it anyway because she thinks it'll make a guy like her. Now, to clarify before I start, as a christian and a feminist, I don't think that anyone (especially any woman) should be pressured into wearing something they don't want to. If this hypothetical girl feels pressured (as teenage girls often do) into wearing something that makes her feel uncomfortable then that is AWFUL and shouldn't happen. The media in particular has a lot to answer for in pressurising young girls to sexualise themselves.

Now me and the author of this article would probably agree on this, its where she then takes her ideas that I begin to have a problem with. My first problem is this line:

"Ladies, the biggest thing guys struggle with is controlling where their eyes go. It’s just the way God wired them. While we respond to kind words and a gentle touch, guys respond to what they see."

Now, I don't expect a journalist to provide evidence or references the way an academice would, but this woman clearly feels no need to provide any evidence AT ALL for her statement. Does she have any evidence that men are more visually 'wired' than women? Untill I see any evidence I'm afraid I don't buy it. Yes, our society expects men to be visually stimulated and women to be more stimulated by 'romance', but that doesn't mean its in our biology. Has she considered the affect that our upbringing, the books we read, the films and TV shows we watch, our experience at school, our friends, our culture, our religions all have on what we consider normal? Is it our genes telling us that women like hearts and flowers and men like naked pictures or is it Hollywood?

What purpose would God have for making men more visually stimulated? I can't think of a single valid reason, anyone have any thoughts?

Lets look at another quote:
"Did you know that you can attract certain guys with the clothes you wear? It’s true! Look around your school or even your youth group. Usually, the girl whose modesty is lacking is surrounded by guys who treat her with disrespect. Ever wonder why? Well, whether we know it or not, we’re sending messages with the clothes we wear."

Well, lets start with where I agree. We do send messages with the clothes that we wear. This can be positive, expressing our cultural identty or inviduality. It can also be negative, for example, if I wear high heels I may be sending out an unwanted message that I'm willing to limit my physical abilities in order to be attractive. (Not sure thats what shes getting at though :-) ) However, the woman is taking all responsiblity away from the men in question here. She states that the boys at the youth group treat the girls who dress immodestly disrespectfully but she doesn't challenge this. This seems to be the behaviour in the article that needs to be challenged, not the clothes the girls wear. Why do the boys think they are ALLOWED to treat girls who show some cleavage with disrepect? Where are these messages coming from? I guarantee that its not coming from the gene pool!

"A low-cut shirt says, “Hey, look at my body!” and attracts a guy who does just that. But a modest outfit says, “I’m saving something special.” "

This is really odd actually. I assume the 'something special' here is virginity, but does the author realise that having a cleavage, and showing it, doesn't actually mean that you're having crazy wild sex? Is it possible that you just think your breats are quite nice and that lower cut tops are more flattering? Or is that just too out there!! Again, low cut tops can be a quest for attention, which is sad, no-one should have to wear a particular kind of clothes just to get people to be interested in them, but there are other reasons! And if it is a quest for attention then whose fault is that? The girl in the story or the fact that everything surrounding her is telling her that she defined by her face and her body?

Ultimatly, the author this article is suggesting that we do exactly what she is telling us not to - dress with boys in mind. Thats what this comes down to. If you dress sluttily (she doesn't say it but she might as well) you're doing it for boys attention, if you dress modestly, you're doing it to 'protect' them - again, its all about the boys. Do these people even stop to consider that perhaps it would be more healthy just to stop dressing for the boys? Her suggestion is that instead of showing skin to get guys to like us, we dress modestly to get guys to like us. Has the author considered that 'getting a guy' may not be the ultimate aim in life, that there are actually other things to focus on?

And, as always in modesty talk, this woman falls into the same logic that the rape myths come from. We as women control mens sexuality by what we wear. If men are affected by this, and choose to rape us, it is our fault, for not considering them when we got dressed. Its so dangerous, but so subtle that most of us don't see it.

The article ends when the girl realises that God thinks that she is beautiful. At first glance this seems nice. And I am absolutely behind the authors view that women (and men and children) should be defined through God and not through what other people think of them. However, has the author stopped to consider that perhaps its a problem that being beautiful is imperitive anyway? Its much more radical, and much more true, to say that, whatever our society may say, beauty doesn't really matter. 'Inner beauty' is an unnecessary concept, as the characteristics that make up this idea, such as intelligance, kindness, sense of humour, or whatever, are good on their own. They don't need to be described as beautiful to be good. Does this make sense?

The author is right, young women in particular are often looking for approval in how they dress, looking for people to tell them that they are beautiful. However, her solution is wrong. The answer is not to cover it and be beautiful 'in Christ'. They answer is much more counter-cultural than that. We need to realise that God did not creat us to 'BE beautiful' God created us to DO, to live, to be active, and in doing so to worship Her/Him. Lets be really radical, and realise that while we don't have to live up to the standards that Hollywood sets, we also don't have to live up to the standards that Brio sets.