Tag Archives: mansplaining

Where is God when our labour is invisible?

In case you need something less “over it” I will drop a link to what I wrote last time it was this gospel story…

Let’s talk about invisible labour. Let’s talk about pink collar jobs. Let’s talk about gaslighting, because it kind of feels like Martha gets gaslighted by Jesus in the gospel of the week and the lectionary does not help by it’s treatment of Sarah. We’ll start with Sarah, since that reading is the first.

So…three men visit Abraham. Because, you know our tradition is incapable of showing even the multiplicity and trinitarian nature of Godde without the masculine gender (rolls eyes). This is how we know that important things are happening in the public sphere

  1. It gets written down (logocentrism)
  2. The participants are men
  3. Women have to support this in ways that are trivialised or outright made invisible (eg preparing food, childcare)

“Let some water be brought” orders Abraham, claiming credit for the work of an ungendered, invisible servant. Class and gender privilege…there really is nothing like it! Abraham is happy to exploit the people of his household to gain blessings for himself (which will trickle-down to them supposedly too).

“Let me bring you a little food” says Abraham. “Me”, first person singular. The three men agree and he runs to Sarah and orders her to start baking.

We tend not to spot that in the reading, partly because we have grown up with a reluctance to really interrogate “holy” things, but also because this is such a common-place story that we forget to be angry or sad about it. Men achieve their self-interested networking by ordering women and lower-status men to do the shit-work for them. Whoever bakes the bread, only the male hands of the ordained priest is allowed to performatively break it.

Guess I am losing my faith again (don’t worry it’s behind the sofa or something, gathering lint).

So Abraham brings out the labour of Sarah’s hands, and finally this three-fold God (or is it just a bunch of men?) speaks.

“Where is your wife?” a liberative moment? A challenge to be reflexive? A call to examine the patriarchal/kyriarchal conscience?

Nah. Tucking my awkward feminist hopes back in where they won’t embarrass me…

The men are there to talk about Sarah not to her. They comment on her reproductive capacity and leave. The lectionary cuts it there so we won’t hear her give a little feminist snigger at their mansplaining (I am sure she knows about her own ovaries better than they do). Sarah laughs, but the patriarchal church is not keen to even give her that much voice. We will move on to see who else can be exploited, trivialised or dismissed…

The psalm extols the virtues of “he who does no wrong to his fellow man”. Bad translation? Maybe…we feminist certainly put in a lot of unpaid and underappreciated time trying to translate it better, dust it off, reclaim it and still love it unconditionally but today I am going to move right along…

The second reading is one of those sections that would make more sense with some context. I could probably labour to try to bring something liberative out of it but it’s not exactly jumping out is it? I probably get more useful theology from a feminist poem or a sunset. This by itself, is not going to keep me in the church.

So now the gospel. It has women in it, few gospel pericopes have that so I sort of feel excited…until I look closer. Do you know what? I will tell you how the gospel would look if it was not so gaslighty about women’s work.

Jesus and his disciples went and stayed at the house of Martha and Mary. Martha and Mary already had a very busy life, but were always happy to see their good friend Jesus and had asked him to take that liberty, nevertheless he was always conscious of the need to be a good guest, especially when bringing in 12 more mouths to feed.

Jesus was lounging around with his mates talking to Mary who was one of the smartest people he knew and always asked the right questions without making him feel dumb. Martha called from the kitchen, “Jesus can you get Mary to give me a hand?”

Jesus realised that Martha was not really even complaining about how hard she was working, she took pride in making the best food and in her wonderfully clean home but she felt like she was being taken for granted and was missing out on time with guests. He walked into the kitchen “what can I give you a hand with?” he asked.

Mary came in too as did a couple of the disciples. This way the meal still got made, but Martha was able to be part of the conversation as well!

This would actually be gospel, this would actually be good news. Instead of what we have here and the way the church has chosen to present it.

This is more than just whinging because I don’t like housework (although I REALLY don’t). This is about the fact that while women are unacknowledgedly and underpaidly (I don’t care autocorrect I will invent new adverbs if I want) doing all the caring and healing and feeding work and not getting fairly represented in the “public sphere” men are making an Icarus out of the human race. You think I am exaggerating? For the sake of macho things like GDP and military might we are all flying too close to the sun and conveniently forgetting that our wings are held together by wax. Already the wax is softened, even dripping and the buggers are refusing to turn back.

We will all die as a species if men are allowed to keep leading unchallenged and if only women who emulate them are allowed into the conversational spaces!

Please note, I am not claiming that all men are bad or that all women are innocent. This is far from being truth. But patriarchal ways of being and how casually we accept them are definitely part of the problem! If faith is at the centre of our lives, then how we perform faith will affect how we live. Many of my feminist friends are atheist (not all) but for me that is not the answer because I know a lot of CEOs and world-leaders are either atheists or have a “lip-service” faith that does not touch their eyes or their deeds.

We need more from church than the routine dismissing of women and everything women’s lives are burdened with, than the abuse and silencing of children, than ignoring the most underprivileged or lukewarm “thoughts and prayers” at best. We need to confront the climate catastrophe. Sarah, Martha and all the other silenced women are capable of so much. When will we actually take their concerns and their work more seriously. The “better part” is not sitting at the feet of a man, when there are children (or disciples) to be fed.

We know from experience that being kind and patient and just laughing quietly behind the lectionary won’t transform the church or politics. It might be time to be louder, less conventient, less compliant and call out patriarchy...even when inconveniently God seems complicit in it (but who got to present Godde to us?).

 

 

 

My useless flesh rejects your mansplaining

Wow do this week’s first and second readings want to get any more patriarchal? Everyone was forced to listen to the important leader man saying “blah, blah, blah” and mansplaining at God for ages with false humility meanwhile no one else gets to speak especially not women and the all male clergy probably slap each other on the back about a job well done, meanwhile the average housewife is bored as hell (especially when I look more closely and realize this really long-winded reading is heavily abridged!!) and wishes she could spend any time away from her housework doing something more interesting than standing on her weary feet trying to stop the kids hitting each other while Solomon/Joshua goes on and on and on.

Then the people of god were relieved the mansplaining was finally over and shouted “hurrah, amen, we agree” to avoid provoking a longer speech.

If we see “righteous” as meaning “oriented toward justice” then I like this psalm for all that it is Utopian and not grounded in real experience (I like the uncut version infinitely better). But that’s the psalms for you, they are sort of bipolar channels for your extreme emotions, passions and grandiose ideas. Which would be why I have always liked them. So on to the second reading which still makes me giggle as I remember my Dungeons and Dragons playing days.

Put on your belt of truth (armor class 7) and your breastplate of righteousness (+3 to defence against media magnates). Yes I am sure the militaristic language was more appropriate and relatable in its time to the implied (male) listener. But I think that I am already too inclined to think of the negative things that happen in the world in these terms, so that people become my enemies and I feel some sort of a desire to “fight”. And resistance is something very complex and subtle, it’s not a matter of flaming swords and winged sandals.

So ok, from my woman’s place (caught between my childcare job and my going home to be a mother) I am not getting a lot out of the first couple of readings. Let’s hope the gospel has something for me.

The gospel is rich enough so that I could ignore the bits that trouble me and just take some sort of spiritually correct orientation toward Christ out of it. But the troubling bits are there. The complete discounting of the flesh as “useless”. Yes, so your words are spirit and life- but I get to live in a world of food and food allergies and sleep and sleep deprivation and belly dancing, and bubble baths and sex and rolling downhill and swimming in the ocean and the salted-caramel dairy free icecream I can share with my son and busting for the toilet and having to pay bills, and heavy layers of clothing because I am cold and coughing into my elbow so I don’t spread germs and the ectasy not just of the beautiful words but having to turn the page to get to them. And no “Lord”, my flesh is not useless. I have hated it, and wished to escape it and it sometimes weighs me down but it is beautiful, it is human, it is earth.

And I can only be a Christian in a material sense- just as I wish to give the refugees the material good of homes and food and schools and playing football at the park not just words of comfort.

My second stumbling block is this gatekeeping “Father-figure”. If Jesus was to ask me “Do you wish to go away?” I don’t think I can speak with Simon-Peter. I don’t think these words are life for me. I think I will be more like “Leave me alone, I have a headache. I am sick to death of you and your mates expecting me to be an audience for your mansplaining and your pompous speeches and your extremes and binaries while my experience is so completely invisible”. Because this teaching is not just “difficult”, it’s downright insulting in places.

So then maybe I will call up my good friend Wisdom from last week and take her up on the offer of wine and maturity. She won’t brag about ascending or ask me to unquestioningly believe things, or screen me through her “father”. She has her own place and understands that bellydancing and cuddles and purring cats are far from “useless” even for beings with a spirit.

After writing this rant I woke in the middle of the night with a hymn distractingly running through my brain

Yes Lord I believe

That you are the Christ

The son of god, the son of man

Who has come into the world” (note the less than feminist wording)

 

The hymn is “I am the bread of life” and like many things from childhood it has embedded itself in my brain. I was trying to get some sleep before a 7:30 start at work but this hymn kept waking me up. When the third time I work up sweating and clenching my teeth with those words invasively banging around in my head I told God I would write in a footnote that I do realise that Jesus and Wisdom are the same people. I am not rejecting Jesus I am just having some fairly significant creative differences over “his” association with patriarchy.

 

I don’t (as I explained to God) repent of what I said, or of my anger. I do now feel I should be clear that my criticism comes from a position of overall faith (however imperfect), conflict is part of any relationship. Maybe my overactive conscience is a delusional part of myself, but once I had made that commitment I fell asleep and slept until 4 minutes before the alarm went off, just as I wanted to.

 

Surely if there was no love there I could easily dismiss the whole baggage of church and faith and God as irrelevant. Anger means that in myself I know that what I am being excluded from, or kept on the margins of is in some way significant.