Is Amy Coney Barrett a new feminist icon?

This is a really interesting piece at Politico. Here is a taste of Erika Bachiochi‘s “Amy Coney Barrett: A New Feminist Icon”:

Barrett embodies a new kind of feminism, a feminism that builds upon the praiseworthy antidiscrimination work of Ginsburg but then goes further. It insists not just on the equal rights of men and women, but also on their common responsibilities, particularly in the realm of family life. In this new feminism, sexual equality is found not in imitating men’s capacity to walk away from an unexpected pregnancy through abortion, but rather in asking men to meet women at a high standard of mutual responsibility, reciprocity and care.

At Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearing in 2017, Sen. Dianne Feinstein tellingly remarked, “You are controversial because many of us that have lived lives as women really recognize the value of finally being able to control our reproductive systems, and Roe entered into that, obviously.”

Barrett’s life story puzzles older feminists like Feinstein because bearing and raising a bevy of children has long implied retaining a traditional life script — like staying home with the children — that Barrett has obviously not heeded.

To be sure, few mothers of seven could become federal judges, never mind Supreme Court justices. Barrett – “generationally brilliant,” according to her Notre Dame colleague, O. Carter Snead — is likely alone in this set. It all seems so unlikely: She has risen to the pinnacle of her profession while at once being “radically hospitable” to children, as Snead has described her. An enigma to many, she doesn’t easily fit into any ideological box.

If we’re really intent as a country on seeing women flourish in their professions and serve in greater numbers of leadership positions too, it would be worthwhile to interrupt the abortion rights sloganeering for a beat and ask just how this mother of many has achieved so much.

Read the entire piece here.

Out of the Zoo: The Stoning of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Annie Thorn is a junior history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie reflects on the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and how some evangelical responded to news of her death. —JF

On Friday evening, my phone buzzed. I was in the middle of writing a book review of Speaking of Siva, but I was glad for a distraction. “Did you see about rbg??” My heart sank to the pit of my stomach. I searched “Ruth Bader Ginsburg” on my phone, even though I knew deep down what probably happened.  It didn’t take long for Google to confirm my worst suspicions. The infamous 2020 had taken another life.

I went upstairs and shared the news with my roommate Rachel, who had been reading Henry V for her Shakespeare class on one of four couches in our upstairs living room. When my housemates Emily and Chloe got back from a late night Walmart trip, we mourned the nation’s loss together. An hour later, the four of us cuddled up in blankets and watched On the Basis of Sex together in her honor. We had a discussion afterward about the barriers that we will never have to overcome because she knocked them down for us. We talked about the challenges women in our country still face.

Whenever the world loses a celebrity, the internet gets a rapid facelift. I still remember when Robin Williams died in 2014 and Facebook was plastered with sketches of a tearful Genie hugging a cartoon Robin with the caption reading “We ain’t never had a friend like you.” Just a few weeks ago, the world said goodbye to King T’challa and beautiful artwork depicting Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther dominated the web. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death proved no exception to this phenomenon. Yet between what seemed like hundreds of photographs, quotes, and condolences in her honor, I scrolled past a Facebook post that caught me off guard.

The status update, which had nearly 5,000 comments and twice as many shares, held nothing back in calling down God’s wrath on Ruth Bader Ginsburg (and the American Christians who supported her). Peppered with scripture, the post compared her to King Herod and Hitler. For her support of abortion, her rulings on homosexual marriage, and her apparent attack on religious liberties the post names her Jezebel, a woman who suffered “on a sickbed that GOD himself threw her on!” Towards the end of the post the author writes, “Ginsburg has now discovered that there is a court higher than the one called ‘Supreme’ and she does not sit in the seat of the judge, but as the defendant… The justice of God knows no delay, and the law of God knows no limits.”

I choose to believe that the man who wrote this post comes from a place of sincerity. He seems to disagree with many of the decisions that have defined Ginsburg’s career—and he has the right to.  He genuinely sees her as the personification of everything that is unrighteous and ungodly, a true and worthy enemy. In many ways I do agree with what he wrote. While I recognize the issue is incredibly complex, I am unashamedly pro-life. I affirm a traditional view of marriage. Like the author of this post I believe that God cares deeply about justice. I believe that we will all have to stand before the judgement seat of God someday. Without the saving grace of Jesus covering my sins, I know that the Judge would certainly not rule in my favor. Yet I will not pass judgement on Ruth Bader Ginsburg because it is not my place to do so.

It is not my place to pass judgement on a woman God created. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is hardly my enemy, but there’s no denying that many Christians view her as such. However as I understand it, the Bible doesn’t say to damn your enemy, call her Jezebel, and rejoice when she draws her last breath. It says to let God, the king and author of the universe, be the judge. It reminds us to forgive, to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. There’s a story in the Bible—in John 8—about another woman a lot of religious people didn’t like very much. Except she wasn’t the second female justice on the Supreme Court–she was an adultress caught in the act. When defending this woman from the Pharisees who were about to stone her to death, Jesus himself said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Minutes later, every stone dropped to the floor.

The Author’s Corner with Jessica Marie Johnson

Wicked fleshJessica Marie Johnson is Assistant Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University. This interview is based on her new book, Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Wicked Flesh?

JMJ: In 1999, I took my first trip to New Orleans and my research on its history began not long after that as a Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis. I was immediately struck by the power of a city steeped in its own history and of a history wrapped in (seeming) contradictions. From its founding, New Orleans has been inundated with African diasporic social, cultural, and political life. New Orleans has also been an intensely racist, colonial city where deep social, cultural, and political rifts rooted in race, class, color, gender, and sexuality become fault lines residents of African descent must navigate with care and at the risk of their own lives. Hurricane Katrina made this aggressively clear; COVID-19 (New Orleans was the second most active hotspot next to New York City) demonstrated it again.

And yet cutting across these truths is also the presence of Black women at every level and in every texture of historical and contemporary life. Black woman professors holding space for students at Tulane, Dillard, and Xavier Universities; Black women laborers work at cafes, restaurants, and bars; Black nuns and Catholic culture suffuse the calendar with occasions for feasts and penitence; Black women guide systems of belief from Spiritual Churches to Santería to vodun; Black women change the narrative as artists and culture workers. Black women in New Orleans are unapologetic in their strategies for play and pleasure. As a historian, I wanted to know more about the roots of this fiercely independent, community-accountable, and geographically rooted practice of living freedom. I wanted to consider the challenges that these practices faced in a city and region that experienced three slaveholding empires (French, Spanish, United States) and grew into an urban space during the Age of Revolution, but became the homebase of plantation empire as the U.S. moved into the nineteenth century.

It became clear very quickly in my research and thanks to foundational work by Jennifer Spear, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Paul Lachance, Virginia Meacham Gould, Daniel Usner, Tom Ingersoll, and connective work by Ira Berlin and Michael Gomez, that African history is where the story of the city begins, that the Caribbean is where the story connects, and that Black women were central to everything we think we know about New Orleans and the Atlantic world. New Orleans is a site of overlapping Atlantics, where diasporic and archipelagic flows splash and crash into each other. These flows have ramifications for all involved, but especially for African women and women of African descent. And yet, historians have not centered Black women when they tell the story of the founding of the city or the African presence in the region. I wrote this book as a way to witness Black women’s foundational work as an archive, history, and legacy.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Wicked Flesh?

JMJ: Wicked Flesh is a Black feminist history of the founding of the Gulf Coast. In it, I argue that over the course of the eighteenth century, the intimate and kinship strategies of African women and women of African descent reshaped the meaning of freedom in the French Atlantic, laying the groundwork for Black resistance strategies and abolitionist practices of the nineteenth century.

JF: Why do we need to read Wicked Flesh?

JMJ: Black women, when mentioned, are often relegated to the footnotes of histories of the early modern, early American, and Atlantic worlds. However, race, sex and gender function as more than categories of analysis for historians interested in molding records and archaic stories. Race, sex, and gender were organizing principles of the early modern world, used by historical subjects in their fight over resources (politics), their relations with each other (society), and in the meaning they made of the world around them (culture). African women and women of African descent, or those who came to be seen as Black (in all of its iterations) and woman (in all of its complications) shaped the slaveholding empires of the eighteenth century. They did so through their presence and through the symbolic labor (to draw on Jennifer Morgan) they were forced to engage in when slaveowners, colonial officials, slave ship captains, husbands, white women, and more used their bodies, their Africanness, their blackness, their assumptions about their sexuality, and the practices they engaged in for their own safety and security as reasons to enslave (partus sequitur ventrem), commodify, exploit, violate, and deny them equivalent access to rights and privileges.

But if that isn’t enough of a reason to read Wicked Flesh, there is more. Part of what I argue in this book is Black women did more than survive these attempts at control and coercion. They reshaped the nature of freedom through each challenge and affront to their survival. At each step in Wicked Flesh, year by year as the slaving process proceeded, crystallized, and evolved, African women and women of African descent refused to abide by the boundaries officials placed on or around them. Their refusal, sometimes physical, sometimes legalistic, sometimes more fugitive and maroon, changed the terms of what freedom (and slavery) meant. In other words, enslavement was a process and as a process has a history that we need to understand deeply and intricately. African women and women of African descent were key players in that history and in contesting enslavement.

None of this means Black women were always successful (and, in fact, this book queries what “success” even means in a world of slaves). In Wicked Flesh, we see how success and failure as a binary of freed (success) or enslaved (failure) are false binaries for understanding African women who were part of New Orleans’ Atlantic World–a geography that in this book stretches from coastal Senegal to the Caribbean to the shores of the Gulf Coast. Instead, exploring Black women’s lives and history offers a different vision of freedom. It offers a fuller history of Black womanhood, Black humanity, and African diasporic early modern life, but it also reshapes how we historicize empire, violence, pleasure, property, aesthetics, refusal and contestation.

JF: Tell us a little bit about the source material you used in the writing and researching of Wicked Flesh?

JMJ: The eighteenth century generated astronomical amounts of material on Africans and people of African descent as slaves, but not always as human beings. So I also drew on contemporary Black feminist theory, Black queer/trans theory, Black women’s literature and poetry to inform my reading of the archive and the documents. Where and when I could, I centered the cultural production of Black women of New Orleans or who claim New Orleans as an ancestral site like Rae Paris, Brenda Marie Osbey, Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar Nelson, Jeri Hilt and others, letting their cultural work inform my reading of the sources.

JF: What is your next project?

JMJ: Dark Codex: Blackness, History and the Digital explores the way images and texts created out of slavery’s archive resonate across digital and social media. In Dark Codex, I explore research, teaching, and theories that position Atlantic African diaspora history and histories of slavery as the unforeseen and oft-ignored heart of the digital humanities. As a digital humanities scholar, I’ve had the opportunity to explore questions of history, slavery and the digital as the as the curator of sites like African Diaspora, Ph.D. ( and Diaspora Hypertext, the Blog ( Dark Codex continues this work by exploring the history of the study of slavery (from U.B. Phillips to the Slave Voyages Database) alongside the historical and digital practices of everyday black women and women of color.

I’m excited to be able to spend the Spring 2021 semester working on this project as a fellow at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Studies at Harvard University.

JF: Thanks, Jessica!

Pro-Life Women for Beto O’Rourke


Earlier this month, New York Times religion reporter Elizabeth Dias did a story on evangelical women who are supporting Beto O’Rourke over Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate race.  One of the women quoted in that piece said “I care as much about babies at the border as I do about babies in the womb.”

Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa is a pro-life feminist and founder of an organization called New Wave Feminists.  In an op-ed in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News she explains why she just voted for Beto, a pro-choice candidate.  Here is a taste of her piece:

I run a large pro-life feminist group, not just a pro-life group. We were the ones removed as sponsors from the Women’s March back in 2017 because of our stance against abortion rights. And that was a real shame because while I am 100 percent pro-life, I’m also 100 percent feminist, and I saw the way Trump treated women as an absolute deal-breaker. Sadly, we were one of the few pro-life groups that took this position. 

However, during that election I started to see, as an independent, just how deep the GOP had its hooks in the pro-life movement. I saw the way these politicians used unborn children’s lives to get out the vote but then oftentimes forgot about those lives soon after. I saw the way pro-lifers compromised so many of their own upstanding ethics and morals to elect a man thrice married, who bragged about his infidelities and predatory behavior. And why? So they could get their Supreme Court seats.

And then I watched as they got two of those seats, and how they boasted that all of their compromise had been worth it because we now have a “pro-life” advantage on the Supreme Court and could possibly overturn Roe vs. Wade. All the while, Sen. Susan Collins was explaining that she voted yes to Kavanaugh only because he assured her Roe was “settled law.”

This was the last straw for me. That’s when the blinders came all the way off. This idea of eliminating abortion by simply making it illegal is far too low of a bar to set. Abortion must become unthinkable and unnecessary if we want to eradicate it from our culture. And the only way that will happen is by creating a post-Roe culture while Roe still stands.

Read the entire piece here.

Jake Tapper: Evangelical Support for Donald Trump is Similar to Feminist Support for Bill Clinton


Here is a taste of Peter Rothpletz’s interview with the CNN anchor at The Yale Politic:

I think Trump and Trumpism is a manifestation of many different parts of American popular cultural and societal evolution including the increasing importance of celebrity, the lack of faith in experts, the populist distrust of intellectualism, the moral compromises made by supporters of Bill Clinton. I think today you see Evangelicals making compromises about President Trump similar to how in the 90s we saw feminists making compromises about Bill Clinton. He and his personal behavior were reprehensible to everything that they stood for in terms of feminism but by the same token he was taking many feminist, progressive, capital D Democratic actions… The same can be said when it comes to President Trump with conservative Evangelical Christians.

Read the entire interview here.

Pro-Life Feminists

Pro Life Feminists

Over at Religion and Politics, Ellen Duffer asks “Where Do Pro-Life Feminists Belong?” It’s a great piece.  It reminds me a lot of Emma Green’s article at The Atlantic written a few days before the Women’s March on Washington.

I must admit I felt a little uneasy about the title of Duffer’s piece.  (I realize that she may not be responsible for the title).  It seems to imply that pro-life feminists need to be defined by a political affiliation or by a particular side in the culture wars. (Are they Democrats or Republicans?  Liberals or Conservatives?).  Most pro-life feminists I know do not like labels because they see little separation between their feminism and their defense of a culture of life. (And Duffer makes this clear in her piece).  In other words, they do not necessary fit into a category.

Perhaps some of the pro-life feminists who read this blog can help me with this one.  I am guessing that the word “belong” in the title could also have something to do with the loneliness pro-life feminists might feel.  As Duffer points out, they have been marginalized by the larger feminist community.  At the same time, many of them who are part of conservative religious communities have also felt or been isolated.  This certainly seems to be the case with Karen Swallow Prior (see the excerpt below).

Here is a taste of Duffer’s piece:

These younger Christian feminists—including those coming from communities that have been intricately linked to the pro-life movement for decades—are eager to have a conversation about abortion (which 57 percent of Americans believe should be legal in most cases), especially if it means becoming closer to the feminist movement overall.

Historically, feminist voices have often been religious, according to Kristin Kobes Du Mez, chair of the history department at Calvin College, and author of A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism. She credits religious women with pushing through the suffrage movement and assisting in the creation of the National Organization for Women. Christian feminism “helped transform” the suffrage movement to a mainstream movement, she said. Cochran agrees, having written at length about the theology of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Both sides of the abortion debate have, in the past, tried to have an open dialogue. Karen Swallow Prior, a writer and English professor at Liberty University in Virginia once worked with the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue, and she served as president of Feminists for Life. She was also involved with the Common Ground Network for Life and Choice, which tried to bridge the gap between the pro-life and pro-choice movements in the 1990s. The group held formal conversations between pro-choice advocates and ardent pro-lifers until each side came to some sort of understanding. Finding “common ground” was and continues to be a big part of Swallow Prior’s perspective on abortion. “Most pro-life people and most pro-choice people care about women and children,” she said, and focusing on what benefits woman and children and families provides the foundation for a conversation.

In practical terms, this emphasis has often meant supporting welfare programs meant to reduce the economic burden of child-rearing for women, increasing access to childcare, and, most controversially for some Christians, advocating for sex education and an array of contraception options. But Swallow Prior is uncertain about how attaining policies that appease both sides would go over now. “The political climate today is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” she said. “It is so fractured and filled with animosity and division.” She added, “Vigorous debate and vigorous disagreement is based on at least an acknowledgement of the other. I don’t even think we have that in common anymore, in culture in general.”

Within the Christian feminist movement, these contentious debates are often made more fraught, since many of the women involved are having to relearn decades of religious and social teachings. Micah, who wrote her master’s thesis on women in leadership roles in the Christian Church, now believes, “The Bible has to be read in proper context.” She said, “We see Jesus do some pretty radical things to empower women in a culture that was extremely patriarchal.”

Read the entire piece here.

Christian Feminism

Thousands Attend Women's March On Washington

Kristin Kobes Du Mez of Calvin College writes about what it is and what it is not.  It’s a very helpful piece.

Over at The Anxious Bench, Du Mez lists “ten things Christians get wrong about feminism.”  They are:

  1. “Christian feminism” is an oxymoron
  2.  Feminism is only about abortion
  3.  Feminism provokes violence against women
  4.  Feminists hate men
  5.  Feminists want to make women just like men
  6.  Feminists are anti-motherhood
  7.  Feminists have no sense of humor
  8.  Feminists are ugly
  9.  Feminists are crass
  10.  Feminism is a “diverse and varied” movement.

Read how Du Mez unpacks these points here.

The Author’s Corner with Kristin Kobes Du Mez

A New Gospel for WomenKristin Kobes Du Mez is Associate Professor of History at Calvin College.  This interview is based on her book, A New Gospel for Women: Katherine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism (Oxford University Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write A New Gospel for Women?

KKD: I have to go back many years to answer this one. Back when I was searching for a dissertation topic I was frustrated with the fact that so little had been written about the history of women in American Christianity. There were a few good denominational studies, a couple of well-researched histories of women and fundamentalism, of Puritan women, and of African American women, but I wanted to get a better sense of the lives of Christian women behind (or beyond) those well-worn narratives. And so I began an extremely unscientific search of archives and footnotes, casting a wide net for Christian women doing interesting things. That search led me to a study of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Methodist women. I inadvertently became a historian of Methodist women simply because they were doing such amazing things. Katharine Bushnell was one of these women.

When I first encountered Bushnell’s writings, I was stunned. Here was a woman I’d never heard of who had written a sophisticated feminist theology, as radical as anything I’d ever read. Her work turned much of Christian tradition on its head as far as what the Bible had to say about women and men. Most remarkably, she achieved her revisions through retranslation, while remaining staunchly committed to the authority of the Scriptures. For this reason her work speaks compellingly to Christians today who hold a high view of scriptural authority. 

When I set out to write this book, I knew that Bushnell needed her own biography. Still, from time to time I was plagued with doubt. She had been an internationally-known figure in the late nineteenth-century, yet because she had been largely (but not entirely) forgotten by subsequent generations, I felt the pressure that many historians of women feel—to demonstrate the significance of my topic in light of a long history of neglect.

Thankfully, Oxford recognized her significance, and when people read the book, the most common response I hear is: “How could I have not heard of her before?”  I’ve had “secular feminists” share that they might not have abandoned their faith had they come across Bushnell earlier in their lives; I’ve had elderly conservative Christian women ask me to write a version of the book accessible to high school girls, so their granddaughters can learn a different theology than they did. Bushnell’s theology, and her story, really can be life-changing, and it’s really been a privilege to give Bushnell’s teachings a second life.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of A New Gospel for Women?

KKD: To understand Christianity and feminism we need to look to the past (long before the 1970s), but we need to do so without depicting either Christianity or feminism as static constructs, or with the simplistic purpose of addressing a contemporary agenda (i.e. trying to prove that Christianity and feminism are—or are not—compatible). A New Gospel for Women doesn’t simply tell the story of a remarkably influential and wrongly forgotten Christian woman, but it also examines the factors that contributed to her historical neglect—and both of these aspects are essential to gaining a better understanding of Christianity and feminism today.

JF: Why do we need to read A New Gospel for Women?  

KKD: Bushnell became a theologian in response to her activism. She was a social purity reformer, or in modern parlance, a Christian anti-trafficking activist. She was compelled by her faith not only to “rescue” and “reform” prostitutes, but also to advocate for laws and practices that protected the rights of “fallen women” (a term she rejected, by the way, unlike the majority of her Victorian counterparts). She first worked in the lumber camps of northern Wisconsin and Michigan, and then she turned her attention to the British empire. There she worked on behalf of Indian women who suffered egregious abuses in British military brothels (and later on behalf of women trafficked in Hong Kong, Singapore, and on the West Coast of America). Over the course of her career, however, she was increasingly disturbed to find Christian men opposing her at every turn. This happened so frequently that she concluded that something within Christian theology itself must be to blame. It wasn’t simply that a few men were being bad Christians, but rather that Christian theology itself engendered the abuse of women.

It was this conviction that turned her to the study of theology. With meticulous attention to detail, she demonstrated how male bias had distorted centuries of biblical translation and interpretation. It was male bias, then, and not the word of God, that had declared women the weaker sex, instituted patriarchal marriage, and commanded women to be silent and to submit to men. Indeed, she translated the Scriptures in such a way that such teachings represented man’s rebellion against God; redemption, then, was linked to women’s liberation, in this world and the next. I spend 2½ chapters in A New Gospel for Women providing an overview of her revolutionary theology, and this is really my favorite part of the book.

Why should we read it today? First, it’s a great story. More importantly, Christians continue to struggle with many of the issues Bushnell was addressing a century ago: inequitable and unrealistic expectations of female purity; connections between Christianity and patriarchy, and patriarchy and the sexual abuse of women; the authority of women to preach and to lead. Because her analysis of these issues is rooted in a deep study of and respect for the Christian Scriptures, the answers she provides are compelling even today.

For Christians who are troubled by the prevalence of domestic abuse in Christian circles, for Christians wondering how sexual abuse could be condoned (or ignored) at Christian colleges, for Christians who cannot reconcile patriarchy with the spirit of the Gospel, Bushnell provides a resource for reform from within. Hers is not an attack on Christianity; rather, she offers a compelling and even revolutionary reinterpretation of the Christian Gospel, for women and for men.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

KKD: I always loved languages and visiting other countries. However, growing up in a small town in Iowa, the world wasn’t exactly at my fingertips. And so in high school I became an exchange student to Germany with the Congress-Bundestag program. I attended a German Gymnasium (high school), and I later worked in Germany, and also in Ukraine. All of these experiences helped shift my understanding of American culture. At a certain point I stopped comparing other cultures against an American standard, and instead became more and more curious about the aberration my own country seemed to be. And that led me to American history.

JF: What is your next project?

KKD: Right now I’m working on another religious biography of a progressive Methodist woman—Hillary Clinton.

 What sets this apart from other writings on Hillary’s faith is that it’s a religious history—it situates her firmly within the context of American religious history, and I employ traditional historical methods. (Lately I’ve been rummaging in rusty file cabinets in church basements and sifting through dusty boxes in church closets.)

At the same time, I can pick up the phone and conduct an interview at the drop of a hat. With Bushnell, every piece of information I was able to recover was a valuable source. With the Clinton project, it’s dizzying simply trying to keep up with the daily news cycle, let alone familiarizing myself with everything that’s already been written about her (over 70 books at last count). So I try to discipline myself to spend much of my time digging into the records of the past—that’s really where the fresh insights come from. And what I’ve been finding thus far is fascinating—clues that help us understand Clinton herself, and also stories that bring to light the often neglected story of progressive Christianity in recent American history.

JF: Thanks, Kristin

A Feminist at Moody Bible Institute

Rosalie de Rosset

Carol Howard Merritt tells the story of Rosalie de Rosset, an Episcopalian with a Ph.D in literature from the University of Chicago who taught women to preach at Moody Bible Institute.  Here is a taste of Merritt’s essay at The Christian Century:

“I have one rule for this class,” de Rosset continued without smiling, “If you use the word ‘share,’ I will fail you. On the spot. I don’t want to hear one woman stand up here telling us that you ‘wanna share a bit of your heart.’ If you do, you will get an ‘F’ in my class.” I looked around and saw many women, smiling broadly, shaking their heads. “I want you to preach. You’re not schoolgirls sharing your dolls. You have a voice. You have something to say. And I want you to proclaim it.”
De Rosset frequently lifted up the need for a sense of longing. “Longing is something that is not appreciated in our culture. We’re a nation of easy credit and quick satisfaction. Yet all good literature has that yearning at its core. When you write sermons, identify the longing in your context. Name it, explore it, and create your sermon around that vacuum. You may not answer the longing, but you need to lift it up.”
I sat up in my chair and moved to the edge of my seat. She’s Rosie the Riveting, I thought, realizing that this was the first college class that I had taken where I felt like the teacher actually demanded something from me, as a woman. De Rosset continued, name-dropping great proto-feminist writing like Jane Eyre and constantly quoting Emily Dickinson. Her lectures were sprinkled with women writers that I read and loved, and then she introduced us to women I didn’t know, like Charlotte Perkins Gillman and her “Yellow Wallpaper,” while weaving the literary/preaching thread from Gillman to her relatives Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher.
She left breadcrumbs out there, for interested students. I suppose that most of the women didn’t even see them. But after each class, I went to the library with the names and titles that I scribbled along the margins and followed the crumbs, looking up the history and books they represented.
Mostly the path would lead me to the rich history of early feminist writing. Other times it would lead me to more recent authors. And woven along with this literary education, de Rosset introduced us to preachers who were brilliant at weaving narratives into their sermons.

The Book of Mormon Girl on "The Daily Show": The Inside Scoop

Perhaps some of you saw Joanna Brooks, “The Book of Mormon Girl,” on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last Thursday night.  (Actually, Brooks is a prolific blogger, author, and professor of English and comparative literature at San Diego State University).

If you liked the interview, then you will love reading Brooks’s description of her experience on the show.  Here is a taste:

Then, it was my turn.  The producer materialized at the door, smiling.  The make-up lady put one more dash of powder on my face and we started down the long and winding hallways through the Daily Show offices and sets.  Halfway to the stage, we encountered a dog—the Daily Show is the dog-friendliest workplace in the world, they say, with lots of staffers bringing their dogs to work.  Here was this darling black terrier-border collie mix, just standing there in the hallway, and being a dog person, I gave it a big pet and tried to absorb that canine calm.  We continued on down the hallway, and as we rounded the corner I saw the red and blue lights of the set, and heard and felt the energy of the crowd.  He had a big rocking Nickleback (I think) song pumping, and the energy was intense and masculine.  It was nice to have a crowd there.  I lecture to 200-person halls all the time on my day job, and I enjoy the give and take of the energy.  It’s so much better being able to feel and read that energy than being in an oddly quiet studio with a host and a camera, and cameramen counting down, and invisible television beams shooting out across the miles.  Too quiet!  I like human crowds better.

And so BAM! He’s back from break, and he’s reading my short bio!  And all of the sudden, I’m walking across the stage with a big smile and taking my seat at his desk. There are about 215 people in the audience, including a posse of Mormon friends, and as I walk out I am trying to look out at the audience for my friends.  The energy is so positive and enthusiastic, I want to wave and make goofy peace signs and say, “What is up, everyone!  CAN YOU BELIEVE A REGULAR MORMON GIRL IS DOING HER THING ON THE DAILY SHOW! This is just CRAZY!”  But instead I concentrated on making it to the chair. I did not trip!  I did not hurl!  Hallejullah!

Michelle Bachmann’s Evangelical Feminism

In today’s Washington Post, Michael Lindsay, prominent sociologist of religion and president-elect of Gordon College, discusses why Michelle Bachmann just may have a chance to win the Iowa caucuses in 2012.  It all has to do with her appeal to evangelical women.  Lindsay writes:

…there is one significant difference between Bachmann and many other evangelical political contenders that have come before her—her gender. Evangelicals tend to follow traditional gender roles at home, so it is unusual that Bachmann, a woman of conservative Christian faith, is not only running for the White House but also receiving considerable evangelical support for it. Observers unfamiliar with evangelicalism may wonder then how Bachmann, who couldn’t even serve in formal leadership roles in many evangelical churches, can receive evangelicals’ blessing for something much grander: the nation’s highest office.

The reality is that evangelicals today have crafted a notion of what feminist scholar Marie Griffith calls “practical Christian womanhood,” whereby adherents hold seemingly contradictory notions regarding authority and gender ideals.

Even in her bid for the Oval Office, Bachmann—who has five children of her own and has cared for twenty-three foster children—describes herself as “first and foremost a mother.” This, actually, is political genius. It humanizes her and differentiates her from the rest of the Republican field. Bachmann invokes the mothering motif all the time; she mentioned it three different times in last week’s debate alone. In fact, motherhood is what Bachmann says brought her into politics. She first sought elected office out of a desire to shape Minnesota’s education policy to be more in line with her concerns as a mother. And she often speaks of her political career as a “calling,” which provides additional justification to evangelical voters that her political ambitions merit their support.

Fair enough. But is Bachmann’s so-called “evangelical feminism” really that new to Republican politics?  I seem to remember a vice-presidential candidate named Sarah Palin who was playing the evangelical feminism card well before Bachmann.

Historiann on Blogging

Historiann discusses “the pleasures and perils” of academic feminist blogging.  Her post is based on a recent talk she gave at the University of Texas in Austin’s Symposium on Gender, History, and Sexuality.

Her talk/post focuses on four questions:

1.  Is blogging a waste of time or dangerous to one’s career?

2.  Why did Historiann call dead historian Lawrence Stone a “complete tool?”

3.  Can blogs be spaces for airing out the “dirty laundry?”

4.  Why does her feminist blog include pictures of sexy cowgirls?

Check out her answers to these questions here.