Archive for February, 2013

Let’s Talk about Sex, Baby

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

And by “sex,” I mean anatomical design, so calm down, kiddies.

“A preacher of her sex was in those days a genuine curiosity….Her sex was an advertisement.”

As a test, I decided to type “women” and “girls” separately into Bing to see what would come up on the drop-down menu. Here’s what I found:

in combat
of faith
of the Bible

A feminists dream! No references to porn or anything! Just good, old fashioned women in powerful roles. Let’s see what happens when I type in “girls…”

Gone Wild

Okay, now that makes mores sense. With “girls” it’s either a sexual reference or the idea of a child. You should’ve seen what came up on the video drop-down menu–nay, I won’t even go there; I’ll let your imagination do the work.

The connotation of the term “women” is much different than that of the word “girl,” clearly. A girl is something sexual; a woman is someone powerful, or at least someone with goals and an identity. This may seem obvious, but I choose to focus on this strictly because of the title of our reading: “Out of the Mouths of Babes.” Truth be told before I read it, I thought it was a book about the effect of children and their words. To be, “babes” imply “baby,” but I guess to these religious groups at the time, having a female pastor was no different than having a three-year old lead service (which they did).

So then that got me thinking, seeing as I am an aspiring female pastor, I thought I ought to know my history. The term “babe” is often used as a term affection for women, along with the term “baby,” though the latter tends to be much more sexual in nature.

Which brings me to my next point: obviously women are no more than sexual birthing objects who can occasionally make meals for their husbands and sacrifice their lives for the good of their men (i.e. YMCA women, anyone?), so what better time to focus on them than in their youth, while their in their prime? While they’re…wait for it…BABES?

But seriously folks, the emphasis on youth isn’t all on women. In Take the Young Stranger by the Hand, boys–BOYS–are being reared in their prime. Muscular Christianity. Take a young stranger by the hand. C’mon guys.

What is with this emphasis on youth in Christianity? In all other contexts, I would say it was obvious, that the focus was on sex–creating sexually appealing people that others wanted to follow. But that couldn’t be the main goal…COULD IT?!

I realize there is a giant gap here, and a lot of variables that I’m not acknowledging, such as the fact that the young men of the YMCA were wanted, and the female preachers/pastors, well, weren’t. But the fact still remains: the emphasis is on youth, and raising up beautiful, youthful members (i.e. muscular Christianity) to attract new ones. The focus is on babes.

Okay, so I realize I digress from my original idea, but it makes sense, non? It’s as important to be youthful and attractive in Christianity as it is in the secular world. Flappers echoed the very essence of youth and weren’t that far from female evangelists. They were young offered new ideas, and new perspectives on society, and got sh!t done.

Anyway, as I close, i will leave you with the song I know you’re all anxiously waiting to hear, seeing as the title of my blog post probably got it stuck in your head.

A narrow sort of living

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

The beginning of the 20th century saw an unprecedented spike of urbanization and industrialization in America. It also saw the begginings of new sciences and philosiphys and in general a more “scientific” attitude towards things (which isn’t to say that they were really being scientific, as a lot of it sereved to justify and enforce the status quo). This, combined with changing social structures and sharply increased immigration contributed to an environment where it felt like American traditions were being attacked. Urbanization exacerbated and helped create these problems by putting different kinds of people together, so white Americans could no longer ignore the “others”.
These same social forces helped create the emerging middle class. Ironicly, however, middle class white Americans perceived themselves as traditional and saw the forces which created them as threatening and unnatural. They wanted to move back to what they perceived as a more moral, traditional America, which for them was embodied in white middle class domesticity. They wanted to “move back” to this order of things, but in reality they were actually creating this standard as they went along, whether they were aware of it or not.Since there way of life was still extremely tied to religion despite the increased secularism (both in America at large and their lives) they saw converting people to and making them follow their religion as a principle way to preserve what they perceived as the traditional order of things. However, because of the changes in society at large and within themselves, they did this in a much different (and more secular) way then previously.
Women evangelicals played a prominent role in this effort. This does tie in somewhat to the perception of women as in some way responsible for male sin/purity going back to the way people interpreted Eve and probably before that. However, in my admitedly uninformed opinion (and you gotta have an opinion in this class, apparently) it’s probably more connected with the perception of women channeling white middle class domesticity.
Of course,this sense and fear of the white middle class being overwhelmed by those perceived as outsiders is still around today.When it was reported that white births were now exceeded by minority births in the U.S,some people kinda lost their shit.While I know that this is a pretty extreme example,and that evangelicalism and conservative politics aren’t necessarily the same thing, but you do see a kind of general feeling from certain people that their way of life is under threat. Even the more optimistic and grounded looks at the population shift carried this association of whiteness with middle class Protestant America and the status quo.

Also, for anyone else having a rough midterm week, this is pretty much the best study song ever:

For real, though…

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

I’m sorry to be that complaining student, but it is a grey, grey Tuesday, and it is time to be blunt: does anyone feel like this book could DEFINITELY be more interesting?

I just feel like walloping Ms. Joiner upside the head and hollering, “Hey! You’re talking about class warfare and politics when you could be focusing more on the plights of individual prostitutes/converts! What about minstrelsy? What about carnivale-esque clashes? I need some ACTION!”

I thought things started getting pretty interesting with the gospel wagons, but they were only a brief snippet of what could have (in my opinion) made a really intriguing chapter or two regarding the convergence of religious and secular society. Sigh…

Thanks, Pinterest

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Go Get ‘Em Tiger: Women Still on the Sidelines

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Until I was 18, I went to Catholic school.  I was surrounded by religion, but more importantly, priests were a huge presence.  They taught religion classes, waved to us in the hallways, and presided over school Masses.  They were people we were taught to look up to, role models who were the epitome of kindness and gentleness.  They were the ones closest to Jesus, as far as I knew.  Besides that, everyone seemed to like them.  I still remember Fr. Merkel riding his bicycle down the school hallways talking like Donald Duck.  When I was younger, I was very much influenced by my faith and by church members and officials.  So, of course, when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, first-grade me said, “A priest.”

That dream died hard and fast.  I was told that I could not be a priest because I was not a boy. To a 7-year old, this was a harsh reality check.  Girls couldn’t even be altar servers.  The most I could do at church was sing (which I can’t do) or say the readings at school Mass (which got old).  I wanted a more active role in the church, which was such a big part of my life growing up.  So when freshman year of high school rolled around and my church announced that they would start training girls to be altar servers, I was pretty excited.  I was one of the first female servers at my church, and I thought I did a pretty good job.

That is, until grade-school sexism made an appearance.

Here I was, 13 years old, a high schooler, getting ready to serve Mass when this 10-year old boy altar server comes up to me and tells me I should just go sit down with my family and let him serve alone.  He then proceeded to preach that on the Catholic food chain, priests were above deacons, who were above boy altar servers, who were above girl altar servers.  My reaction can be summed up as:



I had been hit not once, but twice by this idea that girls couldn’t do everything boys could do.  Back in first grade, I guess I could see why girls couldn’t be priests.  The Catholic church was founded on the idea that we had a male Messiah, who was followed by twelve guys for a few years, then left his ministry in the care of his right-hand man, Peter.  From there we get only male Popes, cardinals, and priests.  We come from a long tradition of patriarchal leadership, and Catholicism isn’t the first to place these kinds of restrictions on women.

According to Thekla Ellen Joiner’s book Sin in the City, Protestant evangelicalism during the 1880s through the 1920s tended to gender men and women and place them into separate spheres.  Men dominated the public sphere, working to make a living and having leadership roles in the community, while women played happy homemakers and took care of the house and children.  These roles don’t come as much of a surprise even in 2013.  The idea of a stay-at-home dad may be wishful thinking for some women, but advertisements still insist on following this formula: stupid dad/husband doing something ridiculous until the mom/wife shows up with a smile and a solution:

Oh those kooky dads.  This dad is even pushing his media-based gender role on his son.

So the morality of these women during the revivalist period in Chicago was based on their “willingness to sacrifice herself for her husband and children,” which “assured her moral commitment to both her family and her country.”  Do it for America, ladies!  This “sacrificial femininity” should be nothing new to us.  Take the Young Stranger by the Hand also emphasized this idea of wives sacrificing their husbands for a greater good.  These are the women who stood by their men, who hung out at the YMCA all day, every day.  These women gave up time with their husbands because these men were considered moral authorities in a public sphere, whereas the women were left to decorate or cook in the private sphere.  Their moral role was to educate their children to become moral citizens.  You know who these women are?

“I’ll just wait here while you save the world.”

Mary Jane Watson is a sacrificial woman.  Yeah, they still exist.

According to Out of the Mouths of Babes, women preachers were accepted by the 1920s.  Then came the flappers, who were the embodiment of youth and radicalism.  Then came World War I, and women had to become more independent to take care of their families while their husbands were away.  But then the men came home and women are still trying to create an even playing field.  We can haggle over equal pay and rights for women, and in many ways things have improved. But those pesky gender roles are still firmly in place.  From Mary Jane to Lois Lane to Hilary Clinton, America has seen history march on with men still planted in leadership roles while their women watch from the sidelines, begging for a chance to break out of their gender roles.

Here’s hoping the winds of change will blow.




Flappers & Evangelists: What’s the Difference?

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Thekla Ellen Joiner’s Sin in the City and Robinson and Ruff’s Out of the Mouths of Babes: Girl Evangelists in the Flapper Era both pointed out the sort of hypocritical notion of a girl evangelist. In Out of the Mouths of Babes, there is mention of how being a girl evangelist was just another way of being employed (though through more of the church taking care of you than an actual salary). Sin in the City was particularly interesting because it highlighted conflicting church notions and goals that echoed Take the Young Stranger by the Hand.

For one, the church was attempting to condemn sin and materialism, while at the same time playing into the rise in capitalism and consumerism. As mentioned in the section of the fair, the church needed that publicity and econmic stimuli, while at the same time attempted to balance econimic growth with religious piety.

Another contradiction cropped up in the idea of feminism. While women were beginning to be allowed to go out and preach and become these great evangelists, they were to do so within the sphere of domesticity. Even though they were finally having a presence within the public arena of society, they were required to be completely subservient to their male evengelist counterparts. Overall, it does not seem like true feminism. However, this is in large part due to the fact that the notion of identity was not yet developed or emphasized. Women were taking on these new social roles within the confinement of still being a domestic symbol of purity.

This contradiction further plays out in the fact that the church was trying to rescue women who were involved in prostitution. Even though some girl evangelists were portraying these women prostitutes as victims of the economy and of men, they missed the whole idea that the church was a part of this corruption they so ademently tried to correct. They were the ones re-inforcing marriage and separate sex spheres, and therefore supporting lower wages for women, which in turn led to prostitution.

I’m putting in a link to some statistics about women’s wages (from 1999) that I think are interesting to note given the number of years that passed by between the flapper girl generation and these numbers. http://

I also found a really interesting video on male prostitution, since we’ve only dealt with female prostitution. Note how towards the end of the video, one man remarks about how he is not a hooker, which he considers more demeaning, but an “escort.” Sexism apparently exists even within the world of today’s prostitution.


Travel Hazards and the LGBT Community

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Just another post concerning gay issues, this time about travel from our State Department.

For giggles:

Everybody needs somebody


Thursday, February 21st, 2013

In class on Tuesday I found it particularly interesting when we were talking about how the men in the YMCA music video were dressed as hyper-masculine gay stereotypes, mostly because society can’t put the two together. Obviously this song was written after homosexual acts were recognized at the YMCA, but it is still interesting how they stereotype gay men while also emphasizing masculinity.

This whole YMCA “producing gay men” thing has become sort of a joke, but at the same time it’s problematic in many ways. It was an institution that had a faulty base and, like many institutions, failed the original goals set, or failed to comply with what the institution sought to be “pure” or produce “good Christian men,” especially the leaders.

Another thing, I think we focused a lot on “how did they not see this coming,” but in the same way the Puritans weren’t expecting bestiality, and any religion doesn’t expect certain “faults” in their practice, why should they have seen it coming? There are plenty of issues attached to the early YMCA’s standards for religion, especially shunning male love and excluding women, which also comply with society’s standards of how people should be and act.

The idea to create a perfect man in mind, body, and spirit definitely wasn’t a good idea from the beginning, and being critics now we can see how what they weren’t expecting to happen they obviously should have expected. However, it’s also easy to get caught up in what you’re trying to sell, because if they had expected that the perfect men they were trying to create would actually be homosexual and not entirely Christian, then I doubt they would have formed this group in the first place.


Meeting young men’s needs in mind, body, and spirit

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Take the Young Stranger by the Hand deals not only with the homosexual dalliances and undertones in the YMCA, but also the changing definitions and perceptions of sexuality, relationships, and social norms. Not only did people become more aware of homosexual elements and undertones in relationships previously perceived as homosocial, they also changed what was accepted as sexual and non sexual in a relationship. These changing sexual attitudes and norms are seen by the author and historians in general as at least partially caused by the rapidly changing social environment of the time. As things became more secular (in some ways) and “progressive” there was also an attempt to move back to what people perceived as a more “traditional” society.This could be seen as people trying to cling onto the old ways while still embracing new freedoms and sciences. Though science was becoming an increasingly accepted force, people would use it to justify their old beliefs. This can be seen in the creation of the term “homosexual”, using science (specifically medical) to enforce and define an old stigma which ultimately has roots in religion.

YMCWhat? It’s all New to Me

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Growing up in a small, rural Virginia community, my exposure to the YMCA prior to Gustav-Wranthall’s Take The Young Stranger by the Hand was minimal.  I only ever associated the Y with community, family gymnasiums.  I participated in a missions trip several years ago and the church we were staying at didn’t have showers.  At the end of every day, before we returned to the church, we showered at the local YMCA.  It was, suffice it to say, an interesting experience.  I’ve always maintained closer emotional than physical relationships with men so let’s just say that the experience was new to me.

That said, it seems to me that the Y is now very far removed from its roots.  It was fascinating to learn the history of an organization which at one point provided living space, albeit temporarily, to over 20 million men.  In the new, urban, and industrialized city environment of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the YMCA provided a unique service to young men (and, apparently, the secretaries and volunteer staff who administered and ran the facilities daily).  Everyone wants to belong somewhere and so it seems very natural that young men of similar class and religious backgrounds would come together in community.  If many men were already concerned about the perceived femininity of the prevailing Protestant worship, theology, et al. then it would have been an easy fit for these young men to find each other and bond.

The extent of this bonding varied.  Close emotional connection coupled with minimal interaction with the opposite sex created an environment in which homosexual experimentation seems to come as the sum in a simple equation.  It is fascinating to me how men in different sexual roles or positions viewed themselves.  This issue of penetration is fascinating.  How a man could penetrate another without viewing himself as gay or more feminine is a unique perspective.  He could experiment, release a little steam– as it were- and maintain his masculinity and thereby operate normally within his social framework (wife, kids, business).  That this only really became a problem for many after the creation of an exclusively heterosexual identity speaks volumes about the how our perspectives and definitions and ideas really do work to shape the world around us as well as our interactions with others.

Of interest might be this BBC article (nothing to do with the YMCA but concerning gay rights in Afghanistan- there are none- and one mans journey).