samedi, mai 13, 2006

Are women mean to one another?

I have a friend who writes for a local newspaper. He is on the fitness beat, which includes physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health. While he would not describe himself as a feminist in the traditional meaning of the term-in fact, he would probably evade labels of any kind-he is a man who self-avowedly loves and is fascinated by women. Now and then he'll write a column about a thin woman. Nothing wrong with that-the problem is that some of the women he writes about stay thin by working out six days a week, or eating sparely, or are often hungry. When he does so, he gets a flood of mail from women who are upset, or even angry, that he would hold up such a woman as a role model, when she may or may not have an eating disorder, an unhealthy fixation on body image, or might be a bad model for other women. Since this isn't his blog, I'm not going to quote his response, except to say that it is nuanced and complex. But my own reactions to his pieces have impelled me to ponder whether American women as a species are indeed prone to be catty, critical, or envious, of other women. When I consider this idea, please understand that I am not giving men a free pass. All of us are sinners, capable of really bad behavior. Men have some different ways of inflicting damage. But as a woman, particularly as a mother of a girl, I have been both a participant and observer of the ways in which women can hurt one another. Several years ago a young woman wrote a book called "Odd Girl Out." She studied teenage girls and the ways that they can include, exclude and back stab. My daughter attends a parochial school with strict standards of behavior. Yet Sian, who has a distinctive personality and style, has been excluded from parties and overnights. Most of my good friends are direct, open and honest. But even I have been the victim of gossip and character assasination by other women. Granted, they are a small fraction of all the women I have known. It is also true that generalizations are very dangerous. But if there is a small grain of truth in the idea that women can be mean to other women, it only helps to teach us that we need to raise our daughters to be proud of who they are in all of their individual beauty. Contrasting themselves with models and actresses, or with some cultural image of femininity impossible to attain, is going to leave them feeling inadequate and shallow. We also need to help them be direct. It is scary, sometimes, to speak the truth. But more frightening, and worse for your soul, when you can't be direct. If you can't say it to someone's face, don't say it. I have no idea whether the women in those essays have eating disorders or other problems. But if they do act in unhealthy ways, I hope that they have good sisterly friends who speak the truth in that they don't have to read it in the paper.

mercredi, mai 10, 2006

Unbounded wonder

It floated peacefully over the village church, its basket full of human voyagers, and, as it turned out, a dog. From where we sat in our sedan we could see the bright colored squares of the balloon and hear the hiss and roar of the fire heating the air which kept it aloft. Down the block from our general store (which seems to make a profit from pizza, sandwiches and movie rentals) an older woman stood in the street, as fascinated as we were to see the balloon glide above our heads in the gentle light of early evening. We followed it up the road, and lost it near our house. But then it appeared again above a neighbor's roof, and we could once more hear the puff and exhalation of air as the travelers waved to us. After it passed over our heads, my son hopped on his bike. I'm going to follow it, he told me as he took off towards his pal Victor's house. Although my daughter had homework, it couldn't compete with the thrill of the chase, and she took off, too. One cannot manufacture such moments.Perhaps I am too much of a practical woman. I decided that because it was going to rain tomorrow, I must finish mowing the front lawn. When the kids returned an hour later, they were abrim with tales of finding the balloon in a field, the Jules Verne travelers safely returned to solid ground. The pilot, if one may term him that, let them hop into the balloon and take a look at the machinery. They were thrilled. It crossed my mind that in a world which changes so fast, this scene would not have been out of place a hundred years ago. There was a fabulous timelessness about the event: a warm spring night, an old church, a young boy on a bike, and a moment of wonder he may remember long after he is old enough, like me, to chose to cut the grass instead of racing to see if he can watch the balloon land, and meet its earthbound travelers.

mardi, mai 09, 2006

A Lover's Quarrel?

As is my wont, in the virtual company of thousands of others, I frequently begin my day by reading one of my friend Barbara Crafton's email reflections. Her thoughts are remarkably free from rancor, and she applies a sensitive and lively palette to almost anything she touches. Her subject matter may be as small scale as a flower or a hummingbird, or as vast as the nature of the church throughout the centuries, but her writing often has the comforting texture of a chat with a candid and wise old friend over a kitchen table cup of tea. Although her style today was no different, she grappled with a problem I had been striving to forget: the prospect of a split within the Episcopal Church at our General Convention in June. Like her, I am sad at the prospect of a schism, what a journalist friend terms the coming "Episcopal crack-up." I too wonder what on earth we look like to people on the outside who see those who profess a supernatural brotherly and sisterly love acting like two year olds at a birthday party fighting over the last piece of cake. I find the whole spectacle excruciating, not to say a little pathetic. We are a tiny part of a much larger denomination, which is changing more rapidly than we can grasp. For years I have moved between the majority, liberal culture in the Episcopal Church and the smaller, evangelical/traditionalist subculture (which represents in some respects, but by no means wholly, the larger, dominant Anglican culture). I am both sympathetic to and maddened by both sides, with their inflated claims about righteousness, justice, authority and truth. A question for the liberal side: how far do you go in distancing yourself from the Scriptures before you have abandoned their core teachings, not to mention the basics of the Nicene Creed? And for the conservatives: who among you, with your large cars (my SUV fixation is nothing five years of therapy won't cure) and divorces, your equivocal opinions about the sanctity of all life from embryo to grave, has the right to cast the first stone? In other words, the issues are serious, and need to be the subject of debate between people of faith. How we raise them, however, may make the difference between whether outsiders see us as people of integrity or as hypocrites. While laboring on a special assignment at a local evangelical University, I have been interviewing graduates working with the poor and on public policy issues in various places, both nationally and internationally. Several of them have commented that they find non-Christians much easier to work with than Christians! We all get a little weary of our family quarrels. Yet, as one of the fellows I interviewed reminded me, when we are upset with our denomination or even with the Church (large C), we are having a "lover's quarrel." I very much hope that the battle for the future of the Episcopal Church will turn out to be a lover's quarrel. But I have already resigned myself to the possibility that this June will see us become not just a fractious but a fractured family, too proud to remember that God is observing not only how articulately we speak, but how well we listen.