Thursday, May 28, 2009

feministing the bible, or, Bibling feminisms

When we read the phrase "feministing," we may immediately think of the blog (and the feminist bloggers of) So when you hear the phrase "Bible-ing," what (and whom) do you think of?

(I thought I'd throw that question in here - even though I'm mostly intending to write this post about feministing. Lately one of my blogger friends has been wondering about my being a feminist and about my being a bible blogger and about my ostensibly drawing a sharp binary distinction between the two. The labels are considerably difficult, and this certain accusation of his is as essentially just as troubling. If you've stayed with me this far, let me announce here and now that my title for this post is likely going to seem misleading. In reality, I'm probably going to say more about my boss and about her feministing than I am about the bible or anyone's Bibling. Nonetheless, we can always talk more later about those other things, or any of us can make the applications back to them in our thinking, in our feelings, in our relating with others, in our living of life. Do know that I'm writing with an intended degree of anonymity. But I want us to be as personal as possible, lest we find ourselves powering up on the high-horse of abstractions and pontifications.)

My boss does not call herself a feminist. She is a scientist, a professor, and now a high-level administrator in the university. However, when I've asked her about books on her shelves by feminist authors, she's said to me how concerned she is that women do not get the salaries that men do. I know she has daughters, but I've heard that she also mentors other women to negotiate more when offered less. Some of us figured that's what she herself was doing when it took an extra long time for her finally to accept the position she now holds. It's no accident, I think, that the director of the Women's Studies Program and the director of the Institute on Women and Gender Research both report to my boss. And now you know I direct another unit on campus, not those, and also report to her. When we have director's meetings, she gets us talking about our respective concerns, and she keeps us talking about issues of fairness, diversity, and even gender. Let me say one more thing about my boss in her private life off campus, and then I'll come back to her feministing. Do remember, please, that I'm trying to maintain a sure degree of anonymity.

My boss has never mentioned to me reading the Bible. To be fair, I've never asked her about all the books on her shelves. However, one of my employees has mentioned how active she is in the mainstream denominational local church of which he also is a member. What I know of my boss' politics, in as much as she's made them public, they are part and parcel of her feministing, which is decidedly biblical. Indeed, her bibling is feminist. She is as at home reading the Bible, I imagine, as she is if reading The Women's Bible, or Ms. magazine issues from any of the past four decades, or Manifesta.

In the most recent director's meeting that she called, my boss did not mention feministing or Bibling. Rather, she got us talking about being bosses. She had us reconsider the binary "management or leadership." She took us through a bit by Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal (in their Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, 2003) in which they review the literature. "Bennis and Nanus (1985)," they note, for example, "offer the distinction that 'managers do things right, and leaders do the right thing' (p. 21)." She discussed with us perceived differences between "Transactional leadership" and "Transformational leadership" - in which the former has the focus on "give and take within structures" and the latter the focus on "vision and motivation."

Then my boss started feministing. That is, she started asking us whether we thought we had to force such a choice.


It immediately took me back. We will come back to my boss' feministing. But it immediately took me back to Jesus - as Mark translates him, renders his Greek parables. And it took me back to Helen the whore - as Gorgias feels he has to praise her, to defend her. And to George Steiner the Jew, the literary critic. And to Robert E. Quinn, the white male non-feminist corporation guru, the deep-change and change-the-world professor. And to Patricia Bizzell, feminist (but "not a Catholic, not even a Christian" though working and teaching at Holy Cross while engaged as a student herself in the links between religion and rhetoric, especially Jewish rhetoric, at Hebrew College.)

What? you're asking. And I'm talking about real people, some somebodies. All of them are outlining choices, and not just a binary set of two from which each of us must choose the one. They may, in fact, be personal positions.

For example, Mark's Joshua (aka Jesus) tells a parable that seems to be the key (position) for all the parables: a sower sows seed which falls on different places and yields crops differently because of it. Likewise, Gorgias' Helen decides to leave the men of Greece: for various possible reasons some of which are more praiseworthy. Steiner comes across difficulties in poetry reading, some which are more profound than others. Quinn reviews the business management literature to discover that bosses typically choose one of several strategies for change. (Quinn also writes to disparage the views of a [not named] "woman at a professional conference who was on the cutting edge of feminist theory." But that's for another conversation.) And Bizzell reviews methods of writing the history rhetoric, suggesting that "masculinism" for feminist rhetoric purposes is not the only one. (Lots of rhetoricians, come to think of it, do what Bizzell does whether "feminists" or labeled otherwise, and I'm thinking here of Cheryl Glenn, Wayne Boothe, and Krista Ratcliffe in particular. Bizzell herself really likes Jacqueline Jones Royster, and come to think of it, so do I.)

The point of my reviewing all of this so quickly and so sloppily is this: these real human beings have reviewed choices in sets of 4. And the four line up remarkably. For example, Quinn even looks to Jesus (and to Martin Luther King, Jr. and to Ghandi) as the exemplar(s) of what he considers the best "change strategy." But to line this up further, we may just take the men mentioned above to see the parallels in "choices":

Steiner / Quinn / Jesus / Gorgias
poetry difficulty / change strategy / regula fidei / Helen's motivation:

1. epiphenomenal difficulty / telling strategy / the wayside / she was convinced by a man's speech;

2. tactical difficulty / forcing strategy / rocky soil hot sun / she was seized, raped, by men;

3. modal difficulty / negotiating strategy / weedy soil / she was commanded by the gods;

4. ontological difficulty / transformative strategy / good soil / she chose her love.

I think there's an argument to be made for viewing these choices epistemologically too: 1. Aristotle's logic; 2. Alexander the Great's conquest; 3. Plato's idealism; 4. Socrates' dialectic (which he learned from Aspasia, a prostitute, a non-Greek). I'm only mentioning this argument because so much of the Bible is in Greek. And when people are bibling these days, all too often they resort to one and only one epistemology. It's often either Aristotle's logic or something else. If it's Aristotle's logic, then, of course, everything else must be not logic, must be illogical. You can use a fancy Latin phrase like "regula fidei" to bound what must be meant and what canNot go into that Roman category either. (Romans always tended to take the Greek stuff to the Nth degree, didn't they?) The huge issues with aristotelianism, whoever is appropriating it, is that it tends to ignore what's really going on in a person (i.e., motivations of resentments, fear, shame, or guilt); more than that, Aristotle's method of "knowing" tends first to categorize in real artificial ways but it also then tends to put down "the other" in the automatic hierarchy. Anyone and anything Not close to one's own uppity categories is lower than one's own categories. I could go on. But I may be digressing a bit.


When my boss is feministing, she's not being bossy at all. She's not limiting herself or any of the rest of us to any one choice or to one pair of choices either. She's saying, "Consider which choices give you the best results in working with people. Transformation of yourself and with them is probably the best if you can do that some of the time. But work well and personally otherwise."

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