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CALL YOUR MOTHER: A Very Special Tiger Beatdown Mothers’ Day Event!

So, the second-wave feminists and the third-wave feminists: Always beefing! Am I right? Truly, the older feminist ladies and the younger feminist ladies are set against each other, in deadly Mortal Kombat from which only one party can emerge victorious, and, potentially, un-stung by the other party’s deadly scorpion tail or whatever. Because one party is like, “we care about women and don’t want them all effed over,” and the other party is like, “we ALSO care about women, and don’t want them all effed over, BUT HAVE SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT IDEAS ABOUT THAT,” and so clearly we cannot ever possibly have a conversation. Katha Pollitt even wrote about it, as so:

Can we please stop talking about feminism as if it is mothers and daughters fighting about clothes? Second wave: you’re going out in that? Third wave: just drink your herbal tea and leave me alone! Media commentators love to reduce everything about women to catfights about sex, so it’s not surprising that this belittling and historically inaccurate way of looking at the women’s movement–angry prudes versus drunken sluts–has recently taken on new life, including among feminists… As Naomi Wolf wrote in the Washington Post, “The stereotype of feminists as asexual, hirsute Amazons in Birkenstocks that has reigned on campus for the past two decades has been replaced by a breezy vision of hip, smart young women who will take a date to the right-on, woman-friendly sex shop Babeland.” Pick your caricature.

What’s wrong with parsing feminism along a mother/daughter divide? Everything.

Fair enough! I mean: It would be pretty silly to think there is no difference between the two waves — or that our many and various Beefs are not grounded on some pretty clear disagreements. But it is also pretty silly to think that we do not have more in common with each other than we do with, say, people who hate the crap out of feminists! And so, as part of our ongoing work to Heal The Divide and End The Madness, I ask you, the reader: Would you, perchance, be interested in a conversation with a feminist who has worked as a journalist, is a disability activist, was involved in anti-racist work, and is of the second wave? If the other person in the conversation was a feminist who has worked as a journalist, works to be as involved as possible in issues of disability, anti-racism, and basically every other form of marginalization to the extent that she can be, and is of the third wave?

Okay, but what about if it was a conversation with my mom, though?

Yes! It is true! I called her, and I was like, “Happy Mother’s Day GET ON GCHAT PLEASE,” and she agreed to it! So BEHOLD as we discuss Stevie Nicks, the dark secrets of science teachers, that time my Mom was put on a death list by the Klan, Jesus, and The Feminism. For your personal entertainment! While managing not to fight!

Sittow_Assumption-1ILLUSTRATION: I attribute the success of this chat to the fact that nobody brought up this lady. When Our Blessed Mother enters the convo, ALL BETS ARE OFF!!

SADY: I think we should probably start by telling people the reason we are doing this, which is: You are my mother. My first question is, how is that working out for you?

KAREN: I’ve always loved being your mother, with the possible exception of when you were in anal-retentive Mr. W.’s science class.

SADY: He was terrible! We had to log each of our individual grades on a spreadsheet! FOR EVERYTHING! So he didn’t have to grade us himself, basically, at the end of the term. Didn’t he also have severe personal issues that we learned about later?

KAREN: He also made the other teachers use a log for the Xerox machine.

SADY: And had a separate drawer for his right and left socks, right? Or did he sort them by color? This is very important Teacher In The Middle Of Nowhere Gossip that I want to make available for the public.

KAREN: He had “a place for his black socks and a place for his brown socks.” He said he didn’t understand anyone who wasn’t like that. And that was certainly true. He didn’t understand you at all.

SADY: He didn’t understand A LOT OF THINGS. But let us go back to the you-being-my-mother question, for a moment. Because I can remember, when I was little, that you said on more than one occasion, “I hope someday you have a daughter EXACTLY LIKE YOUUUUUUU, so that you can KNOW WHAT THIS IS LIKE.” As if it were a terrible curse you were laying on me with your magic powers. Let’s revisit that moment! (There will be better and more serious questions later, I promise!)

KAREN: That was probably the day when my boss denied me a raise because the middle school had called me 37 times in one two-month period. Although a lot of that was Mr. W. complaining about your empty science log.

SADY: Oh, I’m sure there were other problems! I also had a lot of “fevers” that required me to “go home immediately” during that period of my life, as I recall. I was walking toward science class, and the terrible Grade Log appeared as a phantom before my eyes, and I was like, “do I feel ill today? I bet I do!” But I was also a terrible child because I was sure I was right all the time, even in interactions with adults, and I would NOT BACK DOWN on any given issue. And now I’m a feminist blogger, so: That worked out. But I owe a lot of that conviction to you, I think! Because I can recall you as also always being someone who did not back down if you were sure of something.

KAREN: Yes, I did have to leave work to pick you up a lot (as my boss also pointed out during that review.) We once thought about putting a courier slip on a barrette and putting it in your hair so you could be delivered between the middle school and my office. But I didn’t back down with the middle school, so that’s true.

SADY: Well, that’s sort of what I wanted to ask you about, which is: When I think about how I “became a feminist,” I can’t honestly find a point in my life when I “became” one. I was always one. So when people ask, or when I ask myself, I say that it’s because of my mom and how she raised me. But what were your interactions with feminism, growing up? You were obviously around when it was just starting to blow up. What was your experience of that?

KAREN: My mother raised me to be able to take care of myself. She wanted us all to have an education, basically so that we could get out of bad marriages if we wanted to. So I was always encouraged to have skills and have a career. At the same time, I always thought my life would be raising kids, ironing and watching “As the World Turns,” unless my husband turned out to be awful.

SADY: But it didn’t turn out that way! You’ve had a pretty long and successful career.

KAREN: Yes. I was a journalist for about 10 years, mostly covering civil rights in Mississippi. And then, when my husband did turn out to be awful, I got into marketing and public relations. I went to work in the early 70s when women often were not paid equally. And I wasn’t paid equally. That made no sense to me. I was also told by a boss in the 80s to gain 20 pounds, wear ugly suits and not keep any pictures of my children on my desk so no one would know I was a) attractive or b)a working mother.

SADY: So, you were Peggy Olsen, in that scenario. In order to have a job, which was of course a Man Thing, you had to downplay any aspects of yourself that made you seem like a woman. Did you ever take that up with people? Like, were there issues that you crusaded for? Because you were covering the civil rights beat, so obviously you were pretty keyed in to issues of social inequality.

KAREN: What I crusaded for was the right to work AND the right to do a good job as a mother. I was probably among the first to fight hard for flextime and working at home .. actually so I could spend the mornings with you when you were a baby. Day care was pretty scary then for infants. So I wanted you to only have an afternoon’s worth a day.

SADY: Yeah. I mean, you’re very good at your job, but I’ve always gotten the sense, from how very involved you were with me and Joey, and how carefully you took charge of both our educations and everything, that your private life and your family life were top priorities. Were you met with much resistance, on that front?

KAREN: It went two ways. First, many people in the 70s assumed that you couldn’t work and have children. They assumed once you were pregnant, that you wouldn’t do a good job anymore. I tried very hard to keep up when I was pregnant to stop them from sidelining me. On the other hand, the working mother of my time had to lie a lot. When our children were sick, we said we were sick, because you wouldn’t get raises or promotions if they thought you had kids that got sick a lot. You were automatically placed on “the mommy track,” which went nowhere.

SADY: Well, and women still talk about that, the “mommy track.” But you were, as you said, in the first wave of women for whom that became an issue. How have things changed, if they have changed?

KAREN: First, people like me are now the bosses. I do everything I can to help the young mothers who report to me to have flexibility to do what they need to do as mothers and still get the job done. Some of the successful women of my age and those who are slightly older chose not to have children so they could be more successful. Those women, now in their late 50s and 60s, are still a barrier, and I have to fight with them a lot on behalf of young mothers and others who want a balanced life. They can’t see being a successful woman any way other than being a 100 percent workaholic. Which is sad really.

SADY: That really is sad. Because men can get people pregnant any time they want to! It’s kind of assumed that’s not going to affect their awesome careers AT ALL. Because, of course, they won’t be the ones doing ANY OF THE WORK, what with the aftermath of the impregnation (read: A Baby and/or A Child). Or, they MIGHT do the work, but it’s not assumed that they WILL do it.

KAREN: That’s true. One of the good things I do see is that the young fathers are also demanding things like flexible time, time off to be with a sick child, etc. To me, feminism is just allowing people to be complete human beings… men and women.

SADY: Yeah, absolutely. So, I want to ask you about two more things! And then you can actually have a nice Mothers’ Day! But, OK: Can you tell me some awesome Journalism Stories, please? Because I always tell people that you home-schooled me as a teen (WHICH YOU DID) and now you are home-J-schooling me as an adult. But mostly I just like the stories! So let us revisit a time in the swinging ’70s, when the smooth sounds of folk-rock were everywhere, and you were listening to a LOT OF STEVIE NICKS and also a journalist. Go!

KAREN: Mississippi was still a mess. And every day felt important when you were a liberal white journalist in rural Mississippi. The Klan began a small resurgence about the time that Mississippi began to reinstitute compulsory education. (When the federal government ordered the schools integrated, Mississippi revoked all mandatory education laws so the white kids wouldn’t “have” to go to school with black children. This was getting fixed when I was there.) The Klan members wanted to be interviewed with their hoods on, and I refused to do so. They supposedly put me on a “death list,” but they did take off their hoods. It turned out they were all just factory workers that no one knew. And then the Klan treasurer stole all their money, and the Klan dissolved.

SADY: I mean, a “death list.” Jesus. Were you scared? Of course you were scared. How did you handle it? What came of it?

KAREN: I was really only scared one day, and I had to go to cover a trial in Okolona, Mississippi. But really I just visualized that God was with me, and I felt at peace after that.

SADY: Yeah. That’s another thing I wanted to ask you about, which is: I know your spirituality is really important to you. And it’s definitely also a part of the work you do now, with other people in your community. Would you want to talk about that work, the work you’re doing now, at all?

KAREN: I am a radical Christian with a special interest in peace and justice issues. Right now much of my volunteer work is around helping people with severe mental illness and their caregivers. A century from now, people will be appalled at how people with schizophrenia – a brain disease –  were treated. So I help people, especially mothers, who are struggling because they see their children’s personalities disintegrating and they can’t get any help. It’s hard for them. I have always felt very close to God, and I have a personal practice of contemplative prayer that has helped me a lot.

SADY: I mean, that’s the thing. I tell people, sometimes, that my mother is very religious, very Christian. And the immediate thing that pops into their mind is Fred Phelps, or someone like that. Because there are a lot of people who have claimed the church as a means to defend bigotry, and that’s a lot of people’s immediate association with the word “Christian.” But even people who are automatically shy of Christians for that reason — which I don’t even necessarily think is a BAD reason, it’s just a pity that those folks have made people think they stand for the entirety of the Christian religion — tend to get, once they’ve interacted with you, that you really do walk the walk, with the practice of compassion and the obligation to care for your community.

KAREN: Yes, I actually get prejudice about being a Christian all the time.

SADY: It’s really unfortunate. And, you know, I honestly think it’s kind of the fault of Fred Phelps, or the Promise Keepers, or whoever, for appropriating God as the mascot for their personal defense of these inequalities and these forms of hatred. But there are also people like you in the world, and they see their faith as a reason for them to be activists as well. So, you know, I wanted to ask: Why is your activism so based in your faith? Rather than being, as mine is, based in a more secular conviction about how people deserve to be treated, or whatever? Like: How does your faith support you and inform your work on these fronts?

KAREN: I’m ashamed of a lot of people who say they are Christians. But Martin Luther King Jr. was a Christian, too. Jesus made it pretty clear that he cares a lot about the poor, the disadvantaged, the aged, the lonely. Of those to whom much is given, much will be expected. But he expects and empowers his followers to behave in a loving, kind way. So all of that flows. If you see a Christian who is hateful, you aren’t looking at a Christian.

SADY: Yeah, absolutely. And you find it pretty easy to operate as a Christian activist who is also a woman? (And, I mean, we should be honest about the fact that I don’t identify with any one church, but the statement “of those to whom much is given, much will be expected” basically defines my attitude toward privilege, both my own and those of others. YOU HAVE SHAPED ME, MOTHER! YOU HAVE INFORMED MY ETHICS AS A GROWN LADY!)

KAREN: Yes, my church wants every woman who feels called to any ministry to listen to that call. You were raised to have integrity, and I’m pleased with that. And, to get back to the aforementioned Stevie Nicks, “You’re the poet in my heart. Never change. Never stop.”

SADY: I am actually listening to Stevie Nicks lately! I downloaded “Bella Donna,” because I heard a snippet of one of the songs somewhere and it sounded really good, and with one exception I actually really like every song on it. I still don’t like “Leather and Lace,” on which I think the lyrics are grody. But it’s a really good album! Which was a fun surprise for me! I was like, “wow, Mom was on to something all this time, who knew?” So, final question: Which Stevie Nicks album do I download next?

KAREN: See if you can get “Buckingham Nicks,” her original album with Lindsay Buckingham.


  1. Rachel wrote:

    This was awesome! Sady, I would read a lot more of your mom. Klan members! Jeez!

    Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Permalink
  2. Michelle wrote:

    I really liked this interview – very fitting for Mother’s day 😀

    Butttt, I hate to be “that person”, and I hope this isn’t against TB commenting policy…

    I think a statement like “Yes, I actually get prejudice about being a Christian all the time.” is kind of problematic. Christians experience a *lot* of privilege, at least in America – yes, some people in progressive circles mock religion as a whole and Christianity in specific, but I don’t think a Christian generally has to worry about, say, being harassed verbally or physically simply for wearing a symbol of their faith. Or fired for it. Etc. etc.

    There’s a bit more about Christian privilege here and here:

    if you wanna read.

    This has been a sore spot for me ever since there was a post on Feministing on sort of the same topic (IIRC, the poster said she’d gone to a church service and was surprised at how egalitarian it was) and the comment thread was filled with Christians who had been ooohhh sooooo persecuted by other progressives and refused to acknowledge any kind of xtian privilege – one of them actually said that being a Christian in progressive circles was akin to being a transgender person in society as a whole. All kinds of privilege on display there. So maybe I am out of line but I felt I had to say SOMETHING. I hope you don’t hate me now, Sady, ‘cuz I really enjoy Tiger Beatdown!

    Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Permalink
  3. Sady wrote:

    @Michelle: Yeah, it’s totally true that Christianity is privileged, and so are Christians. Over and above every other religious faith, here in America. But I think we were speaking more about that douchey thing left-wingers and young activists do, where they roll their eyes at the very mention of the word, or make fun of it, or assume that “Christian” means “socially conservative” and “bigoted” and “stupid.” It actually is hard to be Christian, in some senses, in young or left-wing or activist contexts, because of that attitude and that hollow atheist self-righteousness. And I say that as a functional atheist, just as someone who has seen it happen. There’s a pretty long tradition of specifically Christian social justice activism — particularly within, say, Latino & Latina or black communities — and it’s troublesome to see that dismissed by a bunch of eighteen-year-olds who had their minds blown by Bill Maher and just figured out that they don’t have to go to church if they don’t want to.

    Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 8:19 pm | Permalink
  4. Katherine Farmar wrote:

    Wow, your mother is an awesome lady! Great to hear from her. As a trying-to-be-Christian feminist myself, it’s inspiring to see her example.

    Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 7:44 pm | Permalink
  5. Tasha Fierce wrote:

    I think it’s great that your mom is a Christian who walks the walk. I’m not religious at all, but my family is, and they also trend towards the actual philosophy espoused by Jesus rather than the twisted teachings of right-wing fundamentalists who seek to use Jesus’ name to lend legitimacy to their bigotry. Because of my family I have a more nuanced view of contemporary Christianity that many. ANYWAY! Suffice to say, you’ve got an awesome mom. Great Mother’s Day post.

    Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Permalink
  6. Katherine wrote:

    So, I started reading this and being ready to comment that some of us third wavers weren’t just raised by feminists, but are now feminist mothers ourselves. And this is still true, of course, but I was pleasantly surprised that that kind of came up! It was something I was talking about with my own (feminist) mother today, that all the feminist sites I look at said, “Wish your mom a happy mother’s day,” but none of them seemed to acknowledge that, hey, some of us ARE mothers, as well as daughters. And let me tell you, there’s some pretty heavy lifting involved in being a feminist mother in today’s society. (I need a synonym for feminist – that was way too many repetitions for the same word.)

    But, obviously I agree that this mother/daughter divide is silly. I talk to my mom about feminism all the time! 🙂

    Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 9:07 pm | Permalink
  7. Michelle wrote:

    @Sady – I see what she & you mean. I have just seen a lot of progressive Christians play the “I’m super oppressed” card while ignoring the privilege their religion gives them elsewhere in life, and I find that REALLY annoying. I grew up in rural Missouri and have experienced/seen pretty much everything from “do you need the devil beat outta ya?” to “you know you’re just worshipping demons and false idols, right?” on a daily basis (not any more, yay Austin!) and it SUCKS, to say the least. So to hear someone (not your mom) say they’re oppressed because of some disdain in progressive circles is frustrating. Incidentally, I kind of feel like I (& others in similar positions) get the short end of the stick both ways, ‘cuz the really sciencey/kinda asinine progressives think my views (I’m a pagan, a heathen more specifically) are just as stupid as Christianity, and most Christians think I’m going to hell and/or my viewpoint is just so far from their’s there’s not a whole lotta room for discussion. SO.

    Like I said, it’s a bit of a sore spot for me. And now that I have made everything all! about! me! I will end this comment saying, thank you Sady’s mom, for being a badass lady of the years of yore!

    Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Permalink
  8. smadin wrote:

    Sady, your mom is pretty awesome.

    Michelle, I totally get where you’re coming from, but maybe it’s useful to identify a difference between “prejudice” and “oppression”? I mean, obviously when the prejudice aligns extant power structures, it tends (to put it mildly) to coincide with oppression, but while prejudice against a privileged group more or less by definition can’t be oppression*, its still prejudice. If that makes sense.

    *(though that’s a simplistic formulation that ignores intersectionality)

    Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 9:55 pm | Permalink
  9. smadin wrote:

    Aligns with extant power structures. With.

    Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 10:03 pm | Permalink
  10. Erin wrote:

    I wouldn’t use the word oppressed, but many liberals and feminists are very disrespectful to Christians. I’ve definitely been attacked before (verbally (or whatever you’d call it online)) for defending the possibility of being feminist and Christian, and I now avoid certain feminists spaces because I feel they are unfriendly and unsafe spaces for anyone who dares to have any kind of spirituality.

    And I think it is unfair that some people dismiss other people’s complaints that they are being harassed for being Christian just because some other Christians were horrible and mean to those people at some other time.

    Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 10:07 pm | Permalink
  11. Bethany wrote:

    Your mom sounds awesome, and you really need to hear “Silver Springs” if you haven’t already. Or just watch this:

    Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 11:35 pm | Permalink
  12. Kjerstin wrote:

    Powerful stuff, Sady! I think it’s great you interviewed your mom. It makes me think of all the woman and/or moms out there who I don’t think of as Feminists with a capital F but who have all these feminist things going on and of course have lived these incredible lives far before their children knew what the eff “patriarchy” was and how important it was to smash it. What I’m saying is, this was a great idea and I need to interview my mom and grandma more often about EVERYTHING.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 12:11 am | Permalink
  13. emjaybee wrote:

    Your mom is awesome.

    My mom was a feminist who didn’t know she was one; had a career, was killer smart, glommed on to computers and the Internet right away, took very little shit from anyone. But associated “feminist” with all the stupid cliches about hating men and eating babies and so on. She made me a feminist because I saw how badly she was treated despite her skills and drive, and if she couldn’t fight for herself, I wanted to. Because my mom was awesome, and she deserved better. All women do.

    Thanks for this post!

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 12:18 am | Permalink
  14. Amanda wrote:

    @ Michelle,

    Sure, there’s Christian privilege. But you really don’t think Christians have to worry about being harassed for wearing a symbol of their faith? Because it happens. From very liberal people who normally wouldn’t mock other things. And who then tell you that you aren’t a Christian because obviously they, a non-Christian, understand Christianity better than you, a Christian do.

    Being fired for it though? Well, no that’s unlikely. But I do wonder what sort of affect being Christian will have on things like, say, applying to work with reproductive rights organization– if I wear a cross to the interview, am I likely to be judged for it? Possibly!

    Also, from the first link? 6,7,9 and 12A are inaccurate, and 21 may be– it generally seems depicted as having a neutral role, with elements of good and bad at different time periods. Christian privilege exists, sure, but the level of privilege it conveys varies a LOT based on who you interact with and where you live.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 12:27 am | Permalink
  15. Michelle wrote:

    @Erin Have you ever had anyone follow you down the street asking if you worship satan and yelling at you that you’re going to hell? Have you ever worried you’d get fired if your employer found out what you believed? Or worried about your high school teachers harassing you in front of the rest of the class? Or had someone tell you that you need the devil beat out of you? (That was not just an example. It happened.) I do not quite think you get where I’m coming from. Maybe I’m reading your comment wrong, but I’m pretty sure that you wouldn’t say that last sentence if the words “straight” or “white” replaced “Christians”. Which is NOT to say that systematic religious intolerance is as bad as systematic racism or homophobia, but seriously, think about what you’re saying.

    Go look up the Patrick McCollum vs. California case. Look up what’s been happening to the Maetreum of Cybele in NY. (who, by the way, when they contacted the NYCLU were dismissed as “that witch group”) Look up the vandalism at the air force academy’s earth centered religions worship area. Or the fight that a freakin’ veteran’s widow had to go through to get her husband’s religious symbol on his grave, because it wasn’t one of the “accepted” ones.

    Yes, some individuals are prejudiced against Christians. But you know what? Maybe those people were harassed on a DAILY BASIS by Christians at one point or another, and maybe they were expecting not to later hear people from the same group complaining about how nobody accepts them. People who, I remind you, make up the majority in this country and don’t have to worry about a number of things that people of minority religions do on a daily basis (again I reference the Christian privilege links).

    Again, maybe I’m misreading the intent of your comment, but it seems very dismissive of *my* experiences as a person of a very minority religion.

    @Smadin Oh yeah, I can see what you’re saying. There are some people who are prejudiced against Christians. Like I said, it’s just a sore spot with me because of previous experiences.

    To reiterate, I don’t have an issue with a Christian saying “I’ve encountered some prejudice in progressive circles”, because that can be true. (I am trying to think of a way to word that that doesn’t sound like I’m doubting their experiences, but I am tired and can’t.) I think “harassed” is probably kind of a strong word, from what I’ve seen, but that’s coming from my experiences of being harassed for my religion. I *do* have a problem with Christians who refuse to accept that privilege comes with being a member of that religion and act like the occasional snide remark (which, maybe I just hang out in the nice feminist/progressive circles online, but that’s all I’ve seen) is just as bad as what I and other people experience(d) on a daily basis.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 12:28 am | Permalink
  16. Sady wrote:

    @Michelle: Did my mother personally follow you down the street and threaten to beat you up? I kind of find it unlikely. I want to make room for your experiences, but this is becoming a full-fledged derail. Which you said you didn’t want to cause, so I’m letting you know that there’s a possibility of it. I’ve had shit experiences with Christians, too — I’m actually related to a conservative Christian minister who’s called me a Commie more than once, apparently told my grandmother I was in the power of Satan (which she called me about, to express concern), and baits me about feminism all the time, and who draws his convictions as much from his religion as from anything else — but I don’t personally go into threads about progressive or radical Christianity and make sure everyone knows about my sore spots all the time. You’ve said what you have to say, and I think you need to make room for other people and other perspectives in this conversation.

    [ETA: I think experiences of, for example, homophobia and misogyny within Christian contexts or perpetrated by Christians definitely deserve to be talked about. We mentioned them in the chat, and we’re making room for them in this thread. Let’s just not turn it into a referendum on “Christianity” or “Christians” or “religion,” which is intellectually lazy and doesn’t acknowledge the diversity of religions or religious expressions that actually exist. It’s an old, tired left-winger trick that results from taking right-wing Christian groups at their word, and giving them far too much credit.]

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 10:08 am | Permalink
  17. JfC wrote:

    Once I commented on a Tim Wise video on youtube and I got a bunch of replies/messages from White Power dudes, and I was terrified. I find them intrinsically so scary, even as just words on the internets. You mother is amazing.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 1:11 am | Permalink
  18. jessilikewhoa wrote:

    Sady, your mom reminds me of my own mom in a lot of ways, but especially the way she experiences her Christian faith. My mom has said pretty much exactly this “If you see a Christian who is hateful, you aren’t looking at a Christian.” to me before. Of course my mom combines her Christian faith with Buddhism, and new agey weirdness, so it’s a bit different, but my mom gets SO incredibly angry at the far right hateful type of people who cloak their evil in the veil of Christianity, when she talks about people like that she gets practically apoplectic.

    You’re lucky to have such a smart cool mom. You can really tell just how much you adore her from this post.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 2:14 am | Permalink
  19. magenta wrote:

    I don’t think that reconciling feminism and Christianity is that simple. As with the other Abrahamic religions, the patriarchal structure of society is defined (“The man is the head of the household” etc.) in the holy texts. Even though many Christians blithely ignore other rules set down in the Bible (i.e. no contact with menstruating women) the texts that made patriarchy sacred have been used to oppress women for two thousand years.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 3:42 am | Permalink
  20. Sady wrote:

    @magenta: Well, I think it’s fair to say that — as you noted — the relevance of certain passages within scripture sort of changes depending on when & where you are. Right now, a ton of Christian people are pulling out the bits that are anti-gay and anti-woman, but they’re ignoring the passages about menstruation, or about boiling a kid in its mother’s milk — or, for that matter, about rich people being especially obliged to give up their belongings in order to serve others, and God. Whereas both the passage about the kid (which informs kosher rules about meat & milk) and the passages about menstruation are really relevant, as I understand it, within certain Jewish communities. (And I took a class on women and religion that challenged the idea that this was bad, spoke about how some women defined it as a set-aside “women’s space” that was really important to them, but I don’t remember much and have no direct experience of it, so I’m not qualified to speak about it at all and should stop.) The point is, religion is complicated, and there’s no way you can point specifically to the group of texts that Christians call “the Bible” — which contains a ton of texts, written by a ton of people, at a ton of different points in time, which contains texts that are central to Judaism and which have a whole tradition of close reading and interpretation within Judaism that often point to very different readings than the ones assigned to them by Christians, and which the vast majority of Christians know only in translation — and say, “this says X, and X is bad, so Christianity is bad, full stop!” I mean, are we talking Protestantism, Catholicism, Episcopalian, Southern Baptist, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox? The text really only gains meaning insofar as it is interpreted by the members of a religious community. And the passages they choose to focus on have a lot to do with what they value.

    When I was young, I left the church specifically BECAUSE I believed it was inherently patriarchal and there was no changing it. My family was part of a much more traditional, Catholic church at that time. But my mother left the Catholic church later, because of disillusionment with how women were treated, and because of the sexual abuse scandals and how the Church handled them, and now she’s where she is. But, for example, here’s one of the passages of Scripture that I find most deeply objectionable, one of the key reasons for my leaving the church, 1 Timothy 2:12:

    I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

    That’s the New International Version, which is actually a translation of a translation of a translation of etc, but it’s what I learned from (the King James version was thought to be too unwieldy for laypeople). So, within the Catholic Church, and a lot of other Protestant churches, this is used as the key text to deny women the right to ordination. (But, in the Catholic church, there’s a long history of nuns — women — being responsible for the religious education, and general education, of young people. That is to say, they teach. And women often are also responsible for Sunday schools, etc. Which is a far from literal interpretation of this passage, and in some sense a direct violation of it.) In socially conservative Christian contexts, it’s also used (along with several other passages) to argue that women should be “submissive” to men and not have authority in ANY area of life. And in progressive churches, such as my mother’s, it’s… ignored. Just straight-up regarded as an irrelevance, and a relic of a different time, rather than a holy edict. So, people like my Mom are allowed and encourage to study for ministries. (She very nearly became a minister, which is something not mentioned here; she was taking the classes, but I think stopped short of ordination, and focuses more on community work now.)

    Religion changes over time. Fundamentalists will insist that there’s only one clear way to live, and it’s their way, and it’s all based on direct edicts from Scripture, but they ignore that “fundamentalism” itself, as we know it, is very much a 20th-century (or, if we’re being generous, a 19th-century) invention; people didn’t live their religion in this way until very, very recently. I think it’s silly to take the fundamentalists at their word, and say that they own these complicated and contradictory texts, and the religion itself as a result. Progressive and radical churches do exist, and they often focus on removing the patriarchal power imbalance.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 9:54 am | Permalink
  21. Sady wrote:

    @Everybody: Okay, I guess I knew that talking about Christianity would mean that everyone in the comment section would talk about Christianity. Rather than, say, motherhood as a feminist issue, which was also a heavy focus of the chat. But let’s lay down some ground rules.

    1) THAT TIME SOME CHRISTIANS WERE SHITTY TO YOU: Yep! As we discussed in the chat itself, there are a lot of shitty, shitty Christians. We are not unaware of the shitty Christians! Everybody believes you, when you say you encountered the shitty Christians! So there is no need to leave a gazillion comments about them. One comment about shitty Christians per person, please!

    2) I DO NOT PERSONALLY AGREE WITH OR APPROVE EVERYTHING MY MOTHER EVER SAID: It’s true. I also wasn’t going to yell at her for, for example, using the term “prejudice” instead of “hostility” or “fear” or “misapprehension” (though “prejudice” is actually, technically correct — she is saying that she is pre-judged often — it carries a rhetorical association with oppression that I don’t believe Christians actually experience). It was Mother’s Day, Jesus. If you want to see us fight about religion, come over on Thanksgiving.


    Okay! Ground rules in place! Let’s move it on forward.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 10:01 am | Permalink
  22. Maud wrote:

    What a great Mother’s Day post! Echoing the “your mom is awesome” sentiment.

    I do disagree with a couple of things you wrote (your mom is right about everything!)

    I actually don’t blame Fred Phelps and his ilk for the impression many progressives have of Christians. The bizarreness of his and his followers conduct of course gets them media attention, but most people don’t know anyone of quite that stripe and recognize that they are in a minority.

    I am just old enough to remember the civil rights movement. So I remember the incredible courage of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of the clergy, MLK among them, who always lead off marches, out front where they were the first to face the armed thugs (often in the form of “peace officers”), the dogs and the fire hoses. And many of the tiny minority of white people who joined in that struggle were also committed Christians – nuns, priests and other clergy among them. As a teenager, I came across the writings of the Berrigan brothers about their antiwar activism, which had a lot to do with shaping my view of one’s responsibility in the world.

    But for those who don’t remember that era, the vast majority of Christians they see are, I fear, the garden-variety sort, who go to church on (some) Sundays, and will say that their faith is of some importance to them, and will be happy to use it to back up whatever values and biases they hold anyway, but who, unlike your mother, don’t allow their faith to demand much of them. Those are the people I blame for the prejudice (as opposed to discrimination, which they by no means suffer from in this country) toward Christians which is common among progressives. Because that combination – a majority for whom Christianity is simply my-teamism, among whom the stronger the commitment the worse someone’s treatment of others is, is what creates such a negative impression of Christians in many people’s minds.

    Those committed Christians like your mother are still among us, as they have always been, along with observant Jews and wiccans and members of every faith in this country, who take seriously the teachings of each faith about the individual’s responsibility as part of the community. But members of any religion – or no religion, for that matter – who take on the responsibility of acting ethically and lovingly in the world will always be a minority; that’s not the fault of a religion or any religion. But when one religion so dominates a culture, and people see that it does not seem to improve the character of many of its followers, and further see a very prominent if small minority preaching and acting on an evil, hate-filled belief system and the savvier among them gaining wealth and power thereby, that’s going to represent that faith in the eyes of others. It’s no good saying they’re not really Christians – they are. They’re just really, really bad at it.

    Of course, if the media were as ready to show us the activists toward the other end of the spectrum – those who live their faith lovingly in service to others, we might get a different idea of Christianity. But it’s an idea I don’t think the corporate media wants us to get.

    I must also take exception to this: “So let us revisit a time in the swinging ’70s, when the smooth sounds of folk-rock were everywhere, and you were listening to a LOT OF STEVIE NICKS . . .”

    I remember the ’70s, vaguely (which is how I remember everything I do remember) and wherever the smooth sounds of folk-rock were then, it wasn’t everywhere. The beginning of the ’70s, before music Went All To Hell, were dominated still by Soul. That was when life was fine, musically anyway. Then darkness fell, and somehow, it all turned to disco and whatever that was that made guys like Christopher Cross and Don Henly think it was okay for them to sing in public.

    I confess to having little grasp of genres – they’ve proliferated so in recent years – and probably folk-rock is not a deeply meaningful term, but it isn’t one I would associate with Fleetwood Mac or Stevie Nicks.

    But anyway, Happy Mother’s Day Sady’s mom. Just from reading Tiger Beatdown, I get the impression you did a fine, fine job.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 5:49 am | Permalink
  23. Silvana wrote:

    This post is oozing with awesome. And, as someone who is agnostic and hangs out with a lot of agnostic and/or atheist people, let me just say this: yeah it’s not quite accurate to say that there is a “prejudice” against Christianity, but there is a dismissiveness among young liberal atheists toward people who believe in God. I know, because I’ve felt it and articulated it myself, and it sucks. And my boyfriend started going to church recently, for the first time in a long time, and he is in fact a “radical Christian social justice activist” just like your Mom, Sady (hi, Karen! You are awesome!), and it has been hard for me to accept that. Because of said attitude. But I am getting over it.

    It was like I reacted to the judgmental Christianity of my upbringing by being just as judgmental right back at them.

    Which, of course, is stupid.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 7:06 am | Permalink
  24. speedbudget wrote:

    It’s really a shame that Christianity has gotten bogged down in this conservative people-hating crap. I was having a talk with my dad, and we were discussing how radical Jesus was back in the day and how all these guys (I mean, it’s mostly guys giving it a bad name) today would be so DOWN ON JESUS, calling for his ouster, etc.

    Also, I do hate how immediately when someone is accused or convicted of a HUGE, HORRIBLE crime, the media is all, wow, that’s so weird, cause s/he was Christian! I mean, just being Christian doesn’t mean you are incapable of committing crimes.

    Okay. Got that off my chest. Sady, your mom is awesome. I wish mine were a little more like that. My mom once told me that the woman should never be smarter than the man >.<

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 8:01 am | Permalink
  25. maggie wrote:

    Your mom is pretty awesome!

    [However I do have to say the “THOSE people aren’t Christians” sort of thing always bothers me. And I’m an atheist! There are sucky people of all description…]

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 9:18 am | Permalink
  26. Michelle wrote:

    Figures that it got approved while I was leaving that comment!

    Anyways, Sady, I was not trying to be obnoxious with my comment towards Erin, it just annoyed me because I felt the wording was dismissive. To me, the way it reads is that it assumes that the only reason a person would dismiss a Christian’s claims of prejudice and/or harassment is that they had had Christians be “mean” to them before – “mean” seems like a really belittling word to me. And to me, that statement ignores that the reason the person might be bitter or annoyed or etc. is from years of marginalization of their religion and/or beliefs. That is what I was trying to say before.

    @Amanda Umm. Well.

    ” But you really don’t think Christians have to worry about being harassed for wearing a symbol of their faith? Because it happens. From very liberal people who normally wouldn’t mock other things.”

    No, I don’t. Not on the same level. Generally those very liberal people are not going to be the ones following you down the street shouting at you etc.

    “6,7,9 and 12A are inaccurate, and 21 may be– it generally seems depicted as having a neutral role, with elements of good and bad at different time periods. Christian privilege exists, sure, but the level of privilege it conveys varies a LOT based on who you interact with and where you live.”

    6: I don’t see how you can have an issue with “people understand that there are different denominations of Christianity” or “people don’t assume that Christians will automatically get along” (since Christianity is very much the default. I know the author and I believe what she was specifically referencing here is that people outside of paganism tend to assume that all pagans are the same, even when explained otherwise to them, when in reality paganism is a VERY broad umbrella term. I’ve experienced this multiple times; when discussing the McCollum case I had someone (who, for the record, wasn’t Christian AFAIK) tell me “Why don’t they just have the Native American chaplain do all the pagans too? They all sound like they believe the same!” (which is pretty racist as well!) and another person tell me that the theological differences between different denominations of Christianity were just as big as the differences between different branches of paganism, so she knew exactly how it felt for everyone to always assume I’m Wiccan when I say pagan, because she hates it when people assume that she agrees on things with her Methodist friend (example, I can’t remember what denomination she said).

    Wicca is generally regarded as duotheistic, all gods are one god, all goddesses are one goddess, has a lot of ceremonial magic influences, and was created in the ’50s by Gardner. I’m a hard polytheist animist who works with my deities from a specific cultural place and understanding – I think it is safe to say that the denominations of Christianity have more in common than a Wiccan and a heathen do. I mean, Protestants and Catholics have different chaplains, but all of those pagan religions are exactly the same so we should be grateful that even one person is being allowed to serve all of them. THAT is the attitude she was talking about.

    7: I do not think it is anywhere near the same thing as a young person interested in paganism. A young Christian might be told that occasionally (probably more so if they’re very very fervent about it) but Christianity is usually seen as an acceptable choice, whereas pagan religions are seen as phases that kids “go through”.

    9: Also a big UMM here. I don’t think a Christian has ever had to worry about someone reporting them to child services for raising their child(ren) Christian. And if so, I doubt a child has ever been taken away from a family for being raised Christian.

    12A: Generally, I wasn’t aware Christians had to “come out”, so to speak. Again, it’s the default in America. I’ve got in the habit of trying to mention that I’m heathen within the first 2-3 conversations with someone, because I’ve had people who were friends before start acting all weird or stop talking to me entirely after mentioning it in passing. Or, my favorite reaction: “You’re a WHAT?! Don’t you know that all acts of witchcraft are condemned by God and will send you straight to hell?!” Cue awkward silence!

    21: I’m going to concede this will vary on the area, but for example, I think Charlemagne is usually portrayed pretty positively in textbooks. Despite massacring pagans who wouldn’t convert en masse.

    Yeah, it is harder to be non-Christian in rural Missouri (or Alabama, or Louisiana, etc.) than in San Diego, but instances of Christian privilege still exist *no matter where you’re at*.

    Also! I just discovered that the comment box size can be changed! AMAZING. That makes things a lot easier.

    @Sady With all due respect, I didn’t say your mother did. She really sounds like a lovely person. (I clarified up above why I said what I did to Erin, just adding this because I refreshed and saw your comment)

    I’m sorry for derailing (which I say at the bottom of a long-ass comment because I had already typed it all by the time I saw your comment) and feel free not to approve this comment. I kind of wish I hadn’t left the first comment in the first place now, if that means anything. I really wasn’t trying to turn anything into a referendum of Christianity, I was just mentioning an instance of privilege that it doesn’t seem like a lot of people think about. And I am really honestly not saying all Christians are evil, or big meanies, or whatever pejorative term. One of the nicest people I ever met was Christian, even though he thought me being pagan meant I summoned demons or something. And one of my best friends now is Christian, and she doesn’t even think that I eat babies or anything 😉

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink
  27. Danielle LaBove wrote:

    This is such an amazing read! I love it!

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink
  28. Siobhan wrote:

    What I found interesting about this piece is that I have been in a conversation lately (with several emails on the subject yesterday) where I been less nice then I might be wrt women who are still “holding on” to second wave feminism. So to open TBD this morning and see an opening paragraph on the subject was a timely reminder to me.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  29. Megan wrote:

    I lurved this interview. Especially the part about your science teacher. Sounds like one I had, who made me cry, three times during sophomore year! Blerf.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Permalink
  30. gatecrewgirl wrote:

    Sady’s Mom Karen: I just want to say thank you. Thank you for being an inspiration by actually practicing what you preach. Thank you for sticking up for young mothers in a workplace which sadly STILL does not think they deserve to work at a job of their choosing while also choosing to have babies. You sound like you are a great supervisor. Ever thought of entering the field of engineering? You also sound like you’re a great mom. Your manner of expressing yourself reminds me a lot of MY mother (who is also awesome). Happy Mother’s Day!

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  31. gatecrewgirl wrote:

    Also! @Sady RE: Stevie Nicks Albums To Download (having nothing to do whatsoever with the current discussion)

    I recommend Rock a Little. Your mom might disagree. She gets a little into the synths and drum machines, but it was the 80s and Stevie Nicks is sometimes all about the synths.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Permalink
  32. Katherine wrote:

    I would REALLY love to hear more about motherhood as a feminist issue, since you mentioned it. 🙂

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Permalink
  33. Erin wrote:

    It was not my intention to be dismissive when I used the word ‘mean’. I regret using it and I apologize.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Permalink
  34. Gayle Force wrote:

    Dear Karen,

    I am always really defensive around Christians, because many of the people who identify as such generally don’t support my right to choose, or my ability to get married, or other such basic rights. I am totally aware of my defensive reaction, and always try to fight it, but as mentioned, there are some shitty Christians, and some of them have been veeeery shitty to me.

    However, thank you for reminding me that I should continue to work against slipping into the all Christians = bad thinking.


    ps – this post also made me have a conversation with my mother about feminism, because she is part of why I am one. She said she felt like she got screwed by feminism, because there she was, going out and getting a job and could do all those things, and THEN had to come home to her second job, which was raising a kid and taking care of a house and feeding a family. She said she hoped the next wave feminists were working on actual equality in the house, too, because she felt like the movement made things harder, in some ways, for women.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 6:08 pm | Permalink
  35. Feminema wrote:

    You know, there’s an amazing book of history on the subject of women, motherhood, and feminism — the ending is so profound. It’s Rebecca Plant’s _Mom: The Transformation of Motherhood in Modern America_. I’m telling you, it’ll change how you feel about Mother’s Day.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Permalink
  36. Christen wrote:

    So I come into a lot of contact with young men who are basically not very familiar with feminism, and while being basically decent enough guys to understand the basics already, the nuances may be lost on them. So I take it upon myself to educate them. Usually while drunk. And um I swear to God, not two nights ago there was a party at my house where I met a dude in his early-to-mid-20s who had not heard that feminism had entered a third wave! And so another (male, doing grad work in, in part, gender studies) friend and I took it upon ourselves to educate him on the differences between The Waves. And we presented, basically, the exact caricatures presented at the beginning of this post! Except one of us (I won’t say which) might have summarized the third wave with the query, “WHICH kind of buttsex is the MOST empowering?”

    I just shared that because I thought it was about time someone derailed the conversation in a way that didn’t have to do with Jesus. Ahem.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010 at 1:46 am | Permalink
  37. Sady wrote:

    @Christen: I laughed when I read that bit because the second “caricature” is, uh… me. Well, I am not hip! But I will take you to Babeland. It will be prefaced with, “want to see where I used to work?” It will be a test to see if you freak out easy. And you had better hope you pass.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010 at 11:56 am | Permalink
  38. Erin B. wrote:

    Sady! Your mother is rad! Your respect for the complexity of THE CHRISTIAN ISSUE, as it were, is also rad and appreciated!

    More importantly: what a fucking awesome Mother’s Day post. I particularly loved the bit about your mother first fighting for flextime for herself, then fighting to ensure that flexibility is available to the women (and menz!) who are in the workforce today. Parenting: it takes a villiage. That village includes bosses.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Permalink
  39. Christen wrote:

    @Sady: Oh yeah, that “caricature” is also me. I dated a guy for years who lived just a few blocks away from the Seattle Babeland, and we went there quite often. I’ve never taken a FIRST date to a sex shop, however. Totally stealing this idea.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010 at 8:15 pm | Permalink
  40. brent wrote:

    Favorite thing: “She wanted us all to have an education, basically so that we could get out of bad marriages if we wanted to.”

    AWESOME. Thanks.

    Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 5:39 am | Permalink
  41. Oh dear now I’m much too late to this party, but this post was so good it make me stop lurking.

    LOVE your Mom, love love love love. Thank you for this conversation.

    Also, I don’t want to be one of the icky derailers so maybe we could have a post sometime about religious life informing activist life? Because it would be really good to talk about people like me who are both Christians and who are oppressed BY Christians (I’m a queer femme Episcopal priest in a mostly conservative area). And about how capitalism is essentially atheistic (nothing has intrinsic value: the world exists to be bought and sold). And about genocides and mass murders being committed by atheists and atheist systems (Stalin, Pol Pot, etc.). And about how trying to erase people’s religious experience from the conversation is often a way to try to shut up people of color in supposedly radical spaces. I would especially love it if your mom wanted to talk about this in her own life.

    Sunday, May 16, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Permalink