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One of the most significant phenomena within Western Christianity over the last generation has been the emergence of feminism and feminist theology. They are sparked by such issues as inclusive language, understandings of God, ordination of women, patriarchal patterns reflected in Christian ...
One of the most significant phenomena within Western Christianity over the last generation has been the emergence of feminism and feminist theology. They are sparked by such issues as inclusive language, understandings of God, ordination of women, patriarchal patterns reflected in Christian traditions, and the role of women's experience in religion. Yet, in confronting all these concerns, feminist reflections return inexorably to the debate over the meaning and significant of gender, gender difference, and the social construction of gender.
Increasing sophistication in theology and ministry on gender questions requires disciplined attention to how gender itself has been analyzed in anthropology, biology, psychoanalysis, and philosophy. Graham's bright and clear work is a detailed and critical inquiry into these disciplines and their profound import for our understanding of human culture and identity, as well as for theology, church policy, and Christian practice.
From the Introduction (pre-publication version):
It was the Sunday after Christmas, and I was substitute teaching the junior high's Sunday school class. Expectations were low. When I arrived two boys were sprawled out on the couches, eyes closed, catching a few more moments of sleep before class. As I pulled some chairs into the circle next to the couches, two girls wandered in. The regular group was diminished by about half. The girls lit the gathering candle, and I joined them in saying the opening prayer.
The lesson was Jesus' great commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. The challenge: Jesus seems to be taking for granted that we love ourselves. How do we know that we love ourselves?
One of the boys offered: "I know I love myself when our football team wins a game, and I feel really good." The second boy: "I know I love myself when my grades go up instead of down." The girls shifted uneasily in their chairs. The first, an honor student and soccer player, looked at the floor. "I know I love myself, because after I had a fight with my mother, and she left me alone, I didn't kill myself." The second girl, her best friend, agreed: "Yeah, I had a fight with my parents last week, and I didn't even hurt myself."
This incident captures broader truths about girls' religious lives-truths about relationships, self-image, and their spiritualities. These girls understand the connections between self-love and survival, between disrupted relationships and the threat of self-destruction and annihilation. For them, self-love is not about achievement or public recognition; it is essentially bound up in the ways they are able to stay in relationship with those they love. They recognize their own self-love in Jesus' command to love by their own willingness to stay alive even when important relationships are threatened. These girls' seemingly offhand comments, spoken quietly during a drowsy Sunday school hour, illustrate the necessity of listening carefully to girls, learning about their lives and their visions of themselves and the ways in which their spiritualities function as they mature into young adults. In truth, their spiritualities have been developing since early infancy.
A baby, who knows nothing of God cognitively, nevertheless has experiences of the divine. The way she is cared for by her parents; the ways she is received into her larger family of siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins; the ways the family's faith community introduces her to the traditions and culture of the group-all of these contribute to her developing relationship with God. The years of infancy are, in fact, the foundation of religious experience. This is the time when a child will come to know whether the universe is a good and trustworthy place, whether she is welcome in the world, and whether she will be cared for and protected by "her" people.
As a girl grows into childhood, she experiences God in her family's continuing care, in her beginning prayers and religious lessons, in her connections with nature, in her relationships with friends and community members, and in the wonder and excitement of religious celebrations. Stories of God's love and goodness become important and are both comforting and challenging.
A girl realizes she is becoming a woman-ready or not-when her body and her relationships begin to change. She may begin to see (with horror or relief) that her breasts are noticeable when she wears certain shirts or blouses. She begins her monthly "periods." Adults admire her in new ways, and she starts to be called a "young lady." Boys begin to treat her differently and to expect her to act differently in response to them. Her father may stop hugging her so tightly, and may even look away when she wears her bathing suit.
The main psychological developmental task of an adolescent girl is to solidify a sense of who she is, now that she is no longer a child. In adolescence many girls begin to test themselves as individuals and as emerging adults-in relationships, in social activities, and in new ways of thinking. Relationships above all tell a girl who she is and what her life is about.
If a girl has been fortunate, most of her important relationships remained healthy and stable throughout childhood. Her parents loved each other and remain together. Grandparents stayed healthy and emotionally close and supportive. Cherished pets survived. Friendships matured as she did. Her community of faith welcomed her and felt to her like another kind of safe larger family. In addition, she and her family lived a satisfying life in their larger society, with enough economic resources and possibilities to live comfortably and safely. In the best circumstances, her family and friends are excited about the woman she is becoming. Religion has been a stable, loving, and protective force in her life, and she has established a warm relationship with God.
Healthy spirituality, for an adolescent girl, involves relationships that affirm who she is becoming. A girl's spirituality emanates from her relationship with God-the one she hopes will listen to her, value her, guide her, encourage her, and protect her. In addition, her spirituality reflects all the other important relationships in her life. Each girl's spirituality is complex and unique. It can draw her to truth and freedom, and it can help her to resist evil and oppression.
However, in North American culture girls are often at risk. Very few girls grow up in ideal emotional situations. Much very good research has been conducted on the social location of girls in this culture, showing the oppression inherent in girls' lives in terms of opportunities withheld, harassment condoned, voices silenced, and self-esteem undermined. Girls are at risk for sexual and physical abuse. They are at risk for developing eating disorders; they are at risk for depression and suicide; they are at risk for deadly sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy; they are at risk for alcohol and drug abuse; and, perhaps most importantly, they are at risk for losing a sense of their own power, value, and importance in the universe.4