Try mentioning a “post-ism” at church on Sunday and be met with blank, disdainful stares… like the kind your dog gives you when she doesn’t know what you mean by the word kennel and why you’d ever try to force the concept on her.
Post-isms are meant to suggest the departure from one (laughably backward) era to another (arguably more enlightened) one. And while theory has shifted over the past thirty years from claiming big ‘T’ truths to spreading a million tiny truths – contextual, fluid, multi-vocal musings – our culture has remained ostensibly rooted to its binaries. And in the church, there is perhaps no more sacred binary than that of man and woman. Never mind the complication of intersexuals, hermaphrodites, and eunuchs.
Last week, I attended the annual Religion Newswriters’ Conference here in Durham. When pressed to explain my current thesis on gender as a performance and humor as a way to subvert its fixed categories, I realized how unmarketable such an idea would be in the church, let alone the media where simple ideas and big platforms are the queen bees. I found myself trailing off into a high-pitched whisper and reverting to the use of “blah, blah, blah” (complete with chomping hand gestures) at the end of my sentences.
I’d been mulling over the utility of my theory since meeting the previous week with one of my professors at Duke Divinity School. She stared at me plainly as I waxed on about why Christians and feminists were so serious and what must that mean for the doubly-doomed Christian feminist. I wondered about the theological significance of humor and how it might be a tool for us dullards in preaching gender transformation in the church. I might have referenced Tina Fey.
When she finally entered into my muddled monologue, she pulled my thoughts back to the ground as if they were balloons carelessly (if not romantically) let afloat in the polluted sky. The church and the Divinity School are decades away from these theoretical developments, she insisted. A woman professor is still applauded for her womanly authority. A female student seeks out only female mentors. A class that broaches homosexuality is still on the cutting-edge.
We’re still stuck in the 70’s/80’s mindset where a man is a man and a woman is a woman and golly-gee-Bobby aren’t we progressive if we insist on valuing both equally. Except we all know that equitable valuation is rarely practiced. There are only one two woman professors among eighteen listed under Duke’s faculty of Theological Studies. At my church, there are commendably two woman associate pastors on staff but never has one been the senior pastor. On a national scale, progress toward pay equality is actually slowing. According to a new fact sheet from The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “During the last decade the wage gap narrowed by less than one percentage point. In the previous decade…it closed by almost four, and in the decade prior to that…by over ten percentage points.”
I’m convinced that the reason why we’re still stuck is because for roughly twenty years now, the discourse that feminism’s work is done has been effectively spread and swallowed. Wasn’t the point to increase women’s access to opportunities? Shouldn’t we be happy to be leaders in the academy, church, and politics at all? What more could we demanding broads possibly want?
Well, pardon me for being unladylike but I want more -and not just for womankind but humankind. I want the freedom promised me in the Gospel. I want the transformation coming to me in the new creation. I want to live as “neither male and female” but an entirely fragmented, wholly neurotic, impossible complex, person who along with the other geeks and freaks of the Christian body is one in Christ.
Surely, that’s not too much to ask (eyelashes batting) of a new millennium. Surely, that’s not too much to ask (knees bending) of an everlasting God.