Monday, December 03, 2012

the benefit of the penis


Unlike some people, I've never had the burden of needing to blog or comment anonymously or semi-anonymously in the entire time I've had an "internet presence." Pretty much as soon as I started blogging, JTB became my online monicker, and has always been linked to a personal description full of both personal and professional identifiers. On Google, Blogger, Wordpress, you name it, I comment as JTB.

Until today.

I've been following with some interest, given my previous interaction with the blog on the limerick thing, the conversation on Theoblogy in response to Tony's question, "where are the women." My first reaction to this post was positive--despite what some criticized as a prejudicial phrasing of the question--because, after all, concern about the unintended homogeneity of our communities, particularly our Christian communities, is a commendable concern. Moreover, it seemed clear from the post that Tony felt the absence of women's voices on his blog commentary to be a lack and that he was asking for feedback to rectify what he considered a problem.

Very quickly, as the comment thread spun itself out, a couple of things became clear. The first was that many women did not feel like the comment threads were a space they could enter and be heard or respected; various reasons were offered for this. The second was that Tony was quick to defend his good intentions against these proffered possible reasons for the lack of women's voices in the blog comments.

Since I myself had dared to enter the fray on the limerick discussion, and had been hard put to defend my (and Julie's) critique of the limerick contest in conversation with Tony and others, including having to absorb without retaliation more than a few unconstructive and personal comments, I think the suggestion that the general atmosphere of the blog as hostile to women's voices is pretty accurate. That's not to suggest that this is anyone's intention; on the contrary--it's clearly unintentional. But it is something that can be intentionally addressed, which is what I took Tony's post "where are the women" to be a step toward.

Of course, to move toward intentionally addressing an unintentionally hostile atmosphere, you must, as my friend Jimmy has suggested, first stop and listen. Even if it's hard. Even, I dare to suggest, when it's angry.

Of course, no one really likes to listen to angry people. So maybe it's no surprise that the only female commenter to get a respectful "thanks, helpful as always" response was Rachel Held Evans, who very carefully modulated her comment in an exaggerated "feminine" tone, complete with parenthetical giggling:
"...Now I’m going to get all radically honest: I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why, but sometimes I still feel a little uncomfortable with the emerging church dudes. Maybe it’s the CONSTANT need to return, (giggling), to the vagina controversy (my goodness! i’m so over it, guys! can we please talk about something else? like, my BOOK maybe?), or maybe it’s the fact that at emergent events there’s always enough alcohol flowing to encourage at least one guy to say something mildly inappropriate, or maybe it’s because I still don’t know what the hell process theology is, or maybe it’s because theology is sometimes treated as a sport with winners and losers and points scored…I don’t know. It’s like, when I’m a woman in the conservative evangelical world I feel completely invisible; when I’m a woman in the progressive/emerging world I feel a bit exposed, like a spectacle. I hate offering that critique without any solution to it..and without even defining it properly… but it’s just what popped into my head. Maybe some other women can comment on it."
It's a conundrum that women constantly face in any dialogue, f2f or online: do we duke it out with the boys on their own terms? Or do we go with the non-threatening, sweet "feminine" persona? How can we best be heard? And when does playing this "feminine" game work in yielding strategic gains, and when does it stop working, as it clearly acquiesces to problematic assumptions regarding gender? And how do we make that determination? And is there any way to free ourselves from these two highly unsatisfactory options, and just, you know, speak our minds without so much angst?

I started this blog, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back when, as an exercise in using my voice, precisely because the hypermasculine and competitive culture of the doctoral seminar was giving me anxiety attacks. I needed a space where I could just say what I thought, without the second guessing and the queasy stomach and the trembling hands and the uncontrolled flushing on my neck. And it worked. I found a voice as JTB.

Anyhow: following up on a suggestion by someone else in one of the discussion threads in this set of posts, today I thought I would try an experiment.

So I commented under the name "James." And wrote exactly what I would have written as JTB. That is to say, I was myself. With a pretend penis.

And lo and behold! Not only was I respectfully engaged, I actually won agreement from someone who challenged my original comment.

As JTB, in response to my numerous comments on the limerick contest post, I was told my critique was ludicrous; that to  hold my opinion suggested I lacked even a modicum of common sense; that I labored under various mistaken assumptions; that I was a buzz kill; that I was vaginal retentive (as opposed to anal, that's for boys only?); I was even limericked about (a particularly sly dig, given the context); I was never acknowledged by name or as a colleague; and genuine follow-up questions went unanswered completely.

As James, I was addressed by name; asked genuinely critical questions; received an affirmation of the importance of my point; and when I defended my original point, received a concession from my respectful challenger.

In case you're doubtful that my writing style remained consistent, with only the apparent gender of the name as a variant, here are the stats from the "gender guesser":

Comments as "James" on "Benefit of the Doubt":

Genre: Informal
  Female = 196
  Male   = 1400
  Difference = 1204; 87.71%
  Verdict: MALE


Comments as "JTB" on "Feminist Theologians Don't Like Our Vagina Limericks":

Genre: Informal
  Female = 1583
  Male   = 3255
  Difference = 1672; 67.27%
  Verdict: MALE

Make what you will of this. But here's the takeaway as I see it, and if you don't mind, I'll let James have the last word--"he" seems to be more successful a communicator than JTB:
"I don’t mean to suggest that some are free of the responsibility of charitable interpretation, sympathetic imagination, or in Tony’s phrase, benefit of the doubt. Of course he, and you, [are] correct to suggest everyone must do this for successful dialogue. What I want to underscore however is that in many cases benefit [of] the doubt is synonymous with privilege, in that some of us are accustomed to taking for granted that our actions and statements will be received accordingly–and others, sadly, are not. Tony occupies a place of privilege in discourse here first because it is his blog, and in this case, the privilege of being white, male, straight and theologically educated is also not irrelevant given the topic. Tony’s suggestion is right on; but I think it is misdirected if we think it should be directed at commenters first and foremost."
Tony, your female and feminist commenters deserve the benefit of the doubt. We appreciate your desire to hear our voices. We spoke up at your invitation. Some of what we had to say was angry. Some of it was hard to hear. Some of it (maybe) even crossed that fuzzy line into personal. But we offered our voices in a space you yourself intuited wasn't quite welcoming, because you asked. So give us the benefit of the doubt. Because we don't have the benefit of the penis.

112 comments:

Matthew Dowling said...

Absolutely fascinating. Me thinks an evolutionary psychologist would have a field day with your experience...

jamesmccarty said...

Brilliant!

MTR said...

Bravo, Jim

Tarah VDW said...

I have done this before, or better said I have been read as a man before because I gave my first two initials, then my long last name. The reviewer called me a him but also thought I was German so I was never quite certain which of those elements made his review entirely different in tone than others. Now I might have a clue! Thanks for your post! And I love that you gave some data--

Anonymous said...

I have no qualms with your project of unmasking the childeshness--and even the chauvinism--of a bunch of theo-bloggers and intellectual amateurs.

However, since when is it a place of "privilege" to be white, male, and straight in the academy? Not since the pre-1960s era, one could easily argue, with plenty of evidence. The current establishment (AAR) privileges ANYTHING but good old fashioned straight-white-masculinity. Especially when it comes to religion and theology. Not that I want to privilege straight-white-masculinity. But the current political establishment in the *academy* does NOT privilege straight white dudes.

Personally, I don't care whether you're black, white, female, male, gay, or straight. The bottom line isn't your identity; it's your reasoning. If you've got a good argument, then you've got a good argument. If you appeal to your "experience," that does not qualify as an argument except insofar as it provides some anecdotes about your personal life. I wouldn't expect a chemist to accept such anecdotes in a chemistry lab. I don't accept them in the world of philosophy or theology.

I leave this comment *anonymously*, because if I were to reveal my identity, I fear the professional consequences. That in and of itself should demonstrate that being who I am doesn't guarantee a position of "privilege" in an academic context.

JTB said...

Anon,

From my position, the fact that you have a job to fear losing is an indication of the power differential in our respective positions. But hey, that's just my anecdotal experience--not a good rational argument.

I've heard this many times from many of my male colleagues. All I can say is, look at the stats. Who is getting the jobs? Who is getting tenure? What's the balance of male and female, white and other faces in the pictorial faculty directory? I don't begrudge you your job, nor do I think it's wrong to insist that people have reasons for their claims and be willing to share them. Nor do I think it should be a liability to be white and straight and male any more than it should be a liability to not be.

But please. AAR is your example of the marginalization of straight white males? I was there. It was visually shocking to me how lily white the thing is.

What you're interpreting as marginalization of a once-dominant (just to concede this for the sake of argument) point of view is simply the requirement of the academy to consider more than one point of view. That's not marginalization. That's broadening the dialogue. Asking the bearded white dudes to listen to other theological approaches doesn't even begin to up-end the legacy of historic privilege. It is simply entering the room and expecting a seat at the table. Shoving over and making room isn't kicking you out. Maybe you feel crowded, but so be it. Maybe we should get a bigger table.

Anonymous said...

Who said anything about a job? I don't have one to lose. I have one to try to get.

jamesmccarty said...

For Anon,

When White Guys Play the Race Card: https://jamesmccarty.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/when-white-guys-play-the-race-card/

Anonymous said...

And no, AAR isn't my example of marginalization of straight white dudes. I was simply pointing out that it doesn't privilege straight white dudes at the *ideological* level. AAR *IS* an example of the marginalization of non-identity-based discourse.

JTB said...

Ah. That was an interesting interpretive move on my part, then, wasn't it! :)

On another point: I find it very interesting that you invoke experience in opposing ways in your comment. Appeals to "experience" are anecdotal and therefore don't constitute good rational argumentation--but something akin to data in a chem lab does. I would argue that empirical data is a variety of experience. Certainly there are differences in how "experience" is gathered, analyzed, invoked, etc., but these are differences that have more to do with the distinct methodologies of the different disciplines of theology/philosophy and chemistry experimentation. So if your example is at all applicable to theology, it has to be that you're wanting to make a distinction between valid and invalid appeals to experience in theological/philosophical arguments. I'd like to hear more about that distinction, if you've got the time to comment further.

JTB said...

Again, I'd say that asking you guys to shove over and make some space at the table isn't marginalization. I get that it can be uncomfortable. But it isn't marginalization.

JTB said...

Jimmy: THANK YOU.

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with "making room at the table," as in, allowing non-white-male-straights to engage in reasoned argumentation. I don't know what about my remarks has left that impression.

Anonymous said...

Your questions about definitions of experience is entirely reasonable, totally acceptable. I don't have time to go into it here and now, but safe to say that's within bounds of what I'd consider "rational."

JTB said...

Anon, ha! thanks for that. :)

I think what we're diverging on is what counts as marginalization, then. Yes?

Anonymous said...

Maybe. I didn't mean to argue that straight-white-dudes ARE marginalized at AAR. I just wanted to make the point that they are NOT privileged at the ideological level. Getting a bunch of self-loathing straight-white-dudes together in a room doesn't mean those dudes are privileged. It doesn't mean they're marginalized, either.

The bottom line for me--and *perhaps* the location of real divergence--is that the whole discourse of "marginalization," "privilege," "oppressor/oppressed," and other such binaries, is itself debased--an emaciated, under-argued-for form of a school of (pseudo?-Marxist) Identity Philosophy I don't buy into.

Cynthia R. Nielsen said...

Thanks for posting this--I can so relate on so many levels.

jamesmccarty said...

Re: this statement from anon, "AAR *IS* an example of the marginalization of non-identity-based discourse."

Please look over this list of program units at AAR (http://papers.aarweb.org/program_units) and tell me how that statement is verifiable. In my own field - social ethics with a focus on violence and peacebuilding/reconciliation - it is decidedly not the case. This discourse, which is quite popular these days, is dominated by Girard, Bonhoeffer, Juergensmeyer, Appleby, Lederach, Hauerwas, etc.


Or, look at the dominance of Wipf and Stock (with the Yoder/Hauerwas industry they have helped birth) or the Radical Orthodoxy and Political Theology publishing avenues (journals and books) as evidence that this stuff is still quite mainstream. Or, look at the recent rise of Augustinian scholarship and who dominates in these conversations. Or, I think of the impact of recent AAR president Jeffrey Stout's work on the society. None of these "non-identity based" mainstream conversations are even close to marginalized.

I know that the quoted sentiment is common (and increasing) but I haven't seen much evidence to justify this claim.

JTB said...

Mmmm. I don't think "identity politics" is particularly helpful either, so it seems like we could pursue this fruitfully...

I do think that there is a way to talk about these things that invokes a problematic stability of identity and that it's unhelpful. But I don't think that terms like privilege or the exercise of identifying power differentials has to rest on those identity categories to be coherent.

Anonymous said...

All to the good, James and JTB. Thanks. I guess my fears are misplaced. "Identity" doesn't count as argumentation. Good deal. Glad the AAR is moving beyond that phase.

JTB said...

Power to the cyborgs! :)

JTB said...

FTR, that's the only exchange with an anonymous commenter I've ever had that's been wholly enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. And for the record, you didn't need to pretend to be a dude to have it! :)

KenR said...

I am amused by the fact that your blog, JTB, forces me to prove I am not a "robot." I was hoping cyborgs were still allowed, but it also forces me to choose an "identity." ;)

Excellent essay and analysis. Much appreciated.

There are a few women (you mentioned Rachel Held Evans, I am thinking about Sarah Coakley and Kathryn Tanner) who do command a certain level of respect and attention among make theologians. Granted, there are literally only a "few" examples of these, but I am wondering what you think it is about these particular women that has allowed them to have a recognized voice?

JTB said...

Yay!

JTB said...

Robots and cyborgs are different things, Ken!

My guess is that the theologians you mention and others who fit in that category have simply put in the time and put up with crap along the way. (If we can successfully get a certain person to the CSC I would love to ask this question and see what her answer is.)

R-Liz said...

This discourse in the comments reminds me of the article "Coloring Epistemologies" and how what we see as Fact, Truth, and Knowing are really social constructs of the dominant culture (i.e., European males who love modernism) . For instance, how reasoning and argument are valued far and above experience. And how words like data, analyzed, and methodologies are brought in to support the argument. We need to step back and realize the larger context of what we speak, and how the epistemologies, ontologies, and
axiologies of white males are pervasive and assumed in all we see as "valued" and "civilized," thus creating an unintended disconnect in our discourse together.

http://ki-circle.wikispaces.com/file/view/Coloring+Epistemologies.pdf

JTB said...

R-Liz, eloquently stated.

JTB said...

And I'm late in replying but hi Tarah! Always nice to have a new voice on my little blog (not that the rest of you are chopped liver)!

Dianna said...

Hey JTB,

Love the idea, but am uncomfortable with the reductiveness of the title and "But with a penis" line. I would love to share the article, but don't feel I can as those lines reinforce a gender binary that eliminates the identity of trans* men and women. Not everyone who owns a penis identifies as male, and not everyone who identifies as male has a penis.

Biologically reductive language is something that's really hard to break out of and I totally understand the desire to emphasize that cultural conception of masculinity, but to me, it made it impossible to share, though I agree totally with the thesis.

JTB said...

Dianna--thanks for the critique. I hadn't thought about this language reinforcing those categories (I must confess this is not a post I did any over-thinking about). So...I'm going to re-read with your comment in mind and I'll be right back...

JTB said...

Yes: the throwaway punchline does metonymically equate penis with masculine gender... Thanks for pointing this out. That's really helpful.

It's an interesting mistake to ponder, given that pretty much all my online rhetoric registers as "male," and yet I am a very cisgender female...the complicated intersections of social constructions of gender and biology aren't a surprise.

Maybe an easy fix would be to put "penis" in quotes? ...[continuing to ponder]

Maria-Jose Soerens said...

JTB, what a wonderful exercise you made! I am also taken by anon's AAR Comment and the conversation about diversity in the academia that it brought about. I was at the AAR and it was a "white bald man wearing glasses fest."

KenR, thank you for bringing Sarah Coakley into the conversation. I believe what makes her so powerful is exactly her use of academic rigor to make sophisticated and cogent arguments. Unfortunately, that is something that is not often seen among many feminist or post-colonial [young] theologians. The uncritical disdain for established methodology combined with the push for "experience" as an ultimate court of appeal make for weak scholarship and ultimately defeats the purpose of good advocacy; a purpose many claim.

I believe we are yet to get to a point of true dialogue in which we can, in R. Bernstein's words, move "beyond objectivism and relativism." Anonimous' claim that it is hard for young white men to find a job at the academia these days is not isolated. In the same way, immigrant women of color, such as myself, can--in Coakley's words--have a "grasping attitude" that lacks humility and at times comes across as condescending.

As Tony Jone's "women" controversy and JTB's post have demonstrated, true dialogue leads to better tables. Thank you so much JTB for this post.

Jim Henderson said...

this problem seems to have reared its ugly head among scientists as well. At least its not only the theologically astute who struggle giving power away.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/science/bias-persists-against-women-of-science-a-study-says.html

JTB said...

Maria (Maria-Jose? which do you prefer?), that's an interesting observation about "grasping attitudes"--I'm sure that is true on occasion but I personally would be wary of making too much of that, given how easily motivations and attitudes are misconstrued in contexts where powersharing is not taken for granted. The back and forth on acceptable rhetoric in the discussions on Tony's blog is a good example of the difficulty here, I think.

JTB said...

Jim--absolutely. That's one of the things that's going to make tackling gender/sexuality as a topic in theology&science so interesting and fun! The sciences (I think) are a helpful corrective to Christian theology on gender/sexuality but at the same time, have not been and are not "gender-neutral" in practice. So, no one gets a pass...but a broader conversation means, I think, mutual correction, at least potentially.

Anonymous said...

JTB, I'm confused. How could you call R-Liz's ramblings "eloquent"? I thought we agreed that the assertion of "identity" doesn't constitute "argument." And yet....he or she writes:

"This discourse in the comments reminds me of the article 'Coloring Epistemologies' and how what we see as Fact, Truth, and Knowing are really social constructs of the dominant culture (i.e., European males who love modernism)."

This appears to be a (very poorly phrased) assertion of constructivism--based on a SINGLE (pseudo-) scientific article. If R-Liz wants us to believe that *every* instance of "fact, truth and knowing" is really a "social construct of the dominant culture," he or she is going to have to do more than just say it. Such a position must be argued for. Merely asserting the reigning orthodoxy of constructivism is just that: an assertion. It is not even an argument that constructivism is true, much less a valid argument.

"For instance, how reasoning and argument are valued far and above experience. And how words like data, analyzed, and methodologies are brought in to support the argument. We need to step back and realize the larger context of what we speak, and how the epistemologies, ontologies, and axiologies of white males are pervasive and assumed in all we see as "valued" and "civilized," thus creating an unintended disconnect in our discourse together."

This is hardly "eloquent"; it's not even coherent English. The first two "sentences" are incomplete. What are they supposed to mean? That reason is valued over experience? And?... Why is that problematic? Bearing in mind that it is commonly agreed that it was a straight-white-male (Schleiermacher) who was responsible for lifting experience over "reason" in the Christian theological tradition, it’s hard to see how R-Liz’s implicit epistemology of experience-over-reason isn’t just as “straight-white-male” as someone who prioritizes reason. So much for the following tirade against straight-white-male epistemology, as if that were some uniform creature. In fact, those who want to elevate experience over reason in theological discourse have a straight-white-(German!)-male to thank!! (As a case in point, the linked article refers to a quote of a Hopi Tribal Councilman, who claims that the Hopi people need to pursue "research needs...based on the reality of our [Hopi] existence as we experience it," and *opposes* this view to "the narrow and limited view American universities carried over from the German research tradition," ignoring the fact that it was Schleiermacher himself (among others), the founder of the German research tradition, who played a significant role in making such claims about the significance of "experience" in research possible! The amnesia of such argumentation is nauseating.)

The charge to "step back and realize the larger context of what we speak" is a platitude that borders on nonsense. What is THE "epistemology" of THE white male (see Schleiermacher, Aristotle [non-white; non-straight?], Plato, Kant, et al.)? And what is an "axiology"? Isn't that just jargon for "presupposition"? R-Liz's comment contains mostly gibberish meant to reinforce the outdated establishmentarian view that truth is relative, constructed, and merely an instrument of those who hold power. Such a position may or may not be true, but it is far from obvious. It must be argued for.

JTB said...

Anon, thanks for jumping back in.

I didn't click through to the link, and I was commenting mainly to acknowledge R-Liz's comment (since she's a friend I don't hear from much except for the occasional Facebook stuff).

So, let's dig into this, but first, let's tackle things on merit and not grammatical preference. Rhetorical fragments are, after all, a completely acceptable literary convention, even if you personally don't like them, and this is a blog, not a peer-reviewed journal. In any case, critiques of grammar and typos and such are very thinly veiled ad hominem moves, and I think we can both agree that this is not the kind of discussion we want to have. Yes? So thanks in advance for knocking that off.

I'll let R-Liz argue or clarify as she likes, but I read her comment from my perspective as someone familiar with philosophy of science, and in particular, feminist philosophy of science. It's not nonsense to suggest that we've inherited definitions of "fact" and "truth" that are philosophical artifacts of a history which is dominated by white males. That doesn't mean--as I think you're assuming this implies--that there's no longer any such as a "fact," but it does mean not taking for granted that our definition of fact or truth or whatever is something uncomplicated and self-evident.

Why does lab experience yield "facts" while other types of human experience presumably don't? I think this is the question we raised in our exchange that R-Liz was addressing specifically.

Anonymous said...

First, no: grammatical criticism is not "thinly veiled ad hominem argument." It's criticism of grammar, and grammar matters insofar as it facilitates clarity of expression. Rhetorical fragments are indeed an acceptable literary convention, but not when it comes to making an argument or establishing a position. So yes, your friend's poorly worded phrases are fair game for criticism, yes, even on the grounds of merit, especially given that you already implied such: you praised her words as "eloquent."

"It's not nonsense to suggest that we've inherited definitions of 'fact' and 'truth' that are philosophical artifacts of a history which is dominated by white males."

*That* is not nonsense, but *that* is not what your friend said. Then again, it seems a trivial point, unless you can somehow show that the "history dominated by white males" has contaminated definitions of "fact" and "truth" such that those definitions are unusable. I don't see the one causing the other. A "history of male domination" is a problem. But I don't buy the implicit point that the presence of "a history of male domination" somehow means that whatever definitions of fact and truth emerged during said history are necessarily defunct. Otherwise we might as well stop writing, since English was the invention of a bunch of dead white dudes.

"Why does lab experience yield 'facts' while other types of human experience presumably don't?"

To clarify: "lab" experience and "human" experience (if those can be distinguished) are both appeals to forms of empiricism. I'm not an empiricist. I don't privilege "lab experience" over "experience." I privilege reason over *both* forms of experience, though to the exclusion of neither.

Anonymous said...

One more thing: if it isn't clear from what I said, I do not privilege lab science over other forms of experience or experiential knowledge, because I do not think lab science yields "facts" at the level of certainty commonly (and mistakenly) attributed to lab science. Like all forms of knowledge of the physical world, lab science yields eminently revisable results, facts in a tentative sense, but facts about something that is mutable, unstable, and therefore never certain.

JTB said...

We can disagree about whether or not grammar is fair game for criticism. It's been my experience that people tend to nitpick about spelling and punctuation as a way of proving that their target is an idiot who doesn't deserve to be taken seriously--or, that they're smarter than everyone else.

I read R-Liz's comment as a quick by-the-way blog comment, not an attempt as a dissertation defense packed into a few brief sentences. I think you're expecting too much of the blog commentary medium in this instance.

In any case, there's not room here for meanness. If you want rough and tumble unmoderated blog commentary there are plenty of places for that, but I find it gets in the way of good conversation rather than promoting it. So if you want to engage R-Liz, great. But don't start out by being insulting. I'm pretty sure you don't consider your comment to be insulting, but I do, and this is my blog. Around here we don't talk to each other like that.

I see this as a question of what counts as a fact, and who gets to determine that. If, historically, this has been a pretty exclusive set of people (our DWMs, not to be confused with WMDs) then the consensus emerging from that history about what a fact is/what counts as a fact is going to be reflective of that exclusivity. That doesn't make a definition of fact arising from this history "unusable" but it should merit a warning label--"use with critical attention."

I'm thinking of Donna Haraway's work on the history of primatology, and the way gender categories were active in determining what counted as "facts" about chimp culture in early primatology.

I'm intrigued by your last statement: "I privilege reason over *both* forms of experience, though to the exclusion of neither." What is the relationship of reason to experience, as you see it? Is reason entirely separable from experience?

JTB said...

Just FYI: off to volunteer at my daughter's school and probably won't be back online till after bedtime tonight.

R-Liz said...

JTB did well at summing up my original intent (thank you, JTB). Basically the comments reminded me of an article I had read once, so I tried to state the high points of the article and then posted a link to it.

Anonymous-- I gotta say I'm not jumping at the chance to converse with you. You seem to believe there are certain rules I should subscribe to when commenting on this blog: "Rhetorical fragments are indeed an acceptable literary convention, but not when it comes to making an argument or establishing a position." I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to converse with you in a manner that you will find acceptable ("It must be argued for"). I will say the fact that I don't say things in a way that you find "eloquent" or "coherent English" points back to the article and how modernism underlies so much of how we understand and know, and anything that falls short of that is seen as inferior.

This thread has brought me back to the original question of "Where are all the women?" Geez, Anon, given your response to my comment, any idea why women may NOT want to continue commenting on blogs? I find value in trying to understand others, and sometimes that’s hard for me because I don’t track the same way as someone else, but I still try (which is why that article stood out to me-- I had never stepped back that far). I try to show respect (which I have to admit is sometimes really hard), and not make a bunch of assumptions. So Anon—if you’re not even going to try to engage me in a way that’s respectful, then don’t be surprised if I no longer engage with you.

jamesmccarty said...

Like JTB has pointed out, this is a blog comment section and not a peer-reviewed publication, so I don't want to do too much digging into earlier comments. However, I do believe that there is a history of folks who have (relatively) successfully defended the necessity of various forms of experience alongside/over-against traditional understandings of reason. I'm thinking, for instance, of the various critiques of modern rationality from the aforementioned Schleiermacher to Marxist defenses of knowledge through praxis to Martha Nussbaum's work on the emotions (and the list could continue). Thus, it seems Anon is required to defend his privileging of reason over certain forms of experience as much as anyone who elevates experience must defend that epistemelogical and rhetorical move. In other words, these binaries are inadequate and we all - I believe - recognize the need for both rational discourse/logical argument AND the knowledge that comes from particular experiences. So, let's stop arguing about straw-people that don't actually exist and engage with the ways in which comments are related to the original post or the ways that the post inspired conversation in the comments. In this way, R-Liz seems to be contributing to the theme of women being more quickly dismissed than men in the blogosphere, and she sees this as tied to how people view what "counts" as, and who is "capable" of making, arguments that are deemed reasonable. And, as JTBs experience (along with that of other women in the comments) anecdotally highlights, women are quickly dismissed as unreasonable while men are not. This is a problem with roots that are in the history of philosophical/theological/academic discourse. One which is dominated by you know who.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so analytic discussion is ipso facto "disrespectful." I rest my case. I'm the one who is being "dismissed."

Anonymous said...

"Geez, Anon, given your response to my comment, any idea why women may NOT want to continue commenting on blogs?"

No. Honestly. I thought I was doing you a favor by engaging your arguments in precisely the same way I would engage them if you were not a woman.

But I suppose you want me to tell you you're right, to just pat you on the head and congratulate you for your sentiments. That, in my opinion, but be quite sexist. And that, I did not do.

jamesmccarty said...

Anon,

You are not the martyr here. Your critique of R-Liz's orginal comment included: one parenthetical reference to her writing as being "very poorly phrased," a dismissal of the one peer-reviewed piece of scholarship linked here (by R-Liz) as "psuedo"-science, a description of her writing as being "not even coherent English," and a general dismissal of her argument (and others like hers) as "nauseating." All of this is why she will not engage with you. Not because you used "analytic discussion."

I have seen very little from you, in fact, that resembles careful analysis in anything you have written here. From your lumping of a variety of theorists and schools of thought as "(pseudo?-Marxist) Identity Philosophy" (whatever that might mean), to your misappropriation of evidence from the AAR website that demonstrates the empirical falsity of your claims about the marginalization of "straight white dudes at the 'ideological level'" as evidence that your point was correct re: identity politics (a straw person) as an unacceptable form of discourse, to your your insulting dismissal of someone else's perspective as nauseating, it has been you who has refused to be reasonable.

Anonymous said...

COMPLETELY unreasonable, you're right, Jim. I'm exhausted. Good luck to you all.

Anonymous said...

(and JTB, I think you had some interesting points, but I'm sorry, I cannot continue this discussion. The one between us is interesting, and I'd love to talk with you more in real life, if I felt safe enough to make my identity known, but I don't. Good luck with everything. I'm sure we'll meet eventually, whether you know it or not.)

Chris Dowdy said...

Way to close things out on a vaguely threatening note, Anon.

Anonymous said...

Now I'm making threats?! I wasn't aware, but thanks for the charitable interpretation. I was simply pointing out the tragedy of my not being able to disclose my identity. I'm in position to threaten anyone.

EMag said...

In my life, I have primarily experienced academic theological conversation among other straight, white males. Because of that, I think that I anticipate my theological conversation occurring with other males, unless I know otherwise. (That is not to say that many of my most important and helpful partners in theological dialogue have not been females, JTB and Julie among those.)

I will say, though, that I find it very interesting that I experienced Anon as a white male theological participant on this blog. I have just reread each of Anon's contributions to this thread and, unless I missed it, there are no identifying words or pronouns that reveal Anon's sex or gender.

In light of this conversation, I find that fascinating and important for my thinking about how I end up setting the table for theological conversation and who I expect to show up at the table. I will let you fine folks discuss the implications. Aaaaand GO!

Anonymous said...

This comment implies that I am, in fact, straight-white-male: "That in and of itself should demonstrate that being who I am doesn't guarantee a position of 'privilege' in an academic context."

There was never any doubt about that.

EMag said...

And there you go. I'm not sure how I missed that. Thanks for clarifying! Though, I'm not sure what to make of the "there was never any doubt about that." I assume that you are simply saying that I should never have started my line of inquiry, but I could be reading far too much into that. Is there something more that you were trying to say with that line? Just curious.

Anonymous said...

Nope.

Chris Dowdy said...

Anon, we have no reason to trust you here. I grant there are many very good reasons to stay anonymous online, even in this context. I think that's one reason why JTB has been nothing but gracious and rigorous in responding to everything you've said. And so has Jimmy, for that matter. Yet your tone has been unflinchingly hostile since the first comment. What was the point of engaging here? What was the point of saying you might meet again, but who knows if she'll know? How can you not think that there might be little bit of ominous feeling behind a statement like that?

This is why that last comment was vaguely threatening:

Who could you be? You could be anyone. You could be another one of us grad students slugging it out in adjunct nation, hoping for a call up to the big leagues. You could be in coursework. You could be a student sitting on a committee that one of us has submitted an application to. You could be a junior faculty member taking on a different persona. You could be a senior person who caught wind of some conflict and decided to weigh in for your own inexplicable reasons.

Whereas here we are, using our real names, our real identities, with our real reputations on the line. Not everyone agrees with these ideas JTB is articulating. You are not a voice in the wilderness here, opposing a monolithic academic culture that has it out for you. The picture is much, much more complicated, and I think deep down you know that. I hope, anyway.

Anyway, the upshot is disagreeing with an anonymous person who may be an academic means one of us might be burning bridges with someone who has the ability to hurt us. Why. Should. We. Trust. You.

But in spite of that these people engaged you with clarity and patience in spite of some rather intemperate things you said (nauseating? come on now). And you accused them intellectual dishonesty. So...leave, please?

My name is Chris Dowdy. I am a Ph.D. candidate in Christian Ethics at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. If you see me at a conference or anywhere else, why don't you introduce yourself and tell me who you really are, because there are some actual interesting issues you've raised that would be nice to discuss.

But not like this. Until you play fair, I think you should probably just go away. Whoever you are.

Anonymous said...

Chris Dowdy, don't worry. I'm not important.

JTB said...

No, if I were dismissing you I would say "You are dismissed." I have simply explained my standards for respectful discussion and asked you to comply. It is possible to offer analytic discussion without being a jerk, and (as I've indicated) I believe the conversation goes better that way, and I consider part of my responsibility to intervene when disrespect gets in the way.

And after making standards clear I shifted into engaging the topic, and asked some questions to try to understand your position better. So I fail to see how anything I've said could be construed as dismissive.

You are welcome to stick around, but I'm not relaxing my expectations regarding how people treat each other on my blog. And if you want to f2f at AAR or elsewhere you can always email me. Addy is here on the blog.

Anonymous said...

And...Chris, and JTB, and Jimmy, if I ever do run across you, I will introduce myself. Don't worry.

Anonymous said...

JTB, you did not dismiss me.

Anonymous said...

Just re-read: that *should* have said, earlier, that I'm NOT in a position to threaten anyone.

jamesmccarty said...

I don't want to speak for anon, but I believe he felt dismissed by R-Liz's refusal to engage with him further ...

Jennifer Bayne said...

I'm late to the debate but I glanced through and just want to say one thing. A quick glance seems to suggest that we need to defend both reason and experience/identity or reason vs. experience/identity, but I think you never get one without the other. Who you are as a being determines the question you ask, the theories you want to prove or disprove, the strength you attribute to any argument, the amount of evidence/argumentation you need to be convinced that you are wrong, and what you need to construct a new theory.

For example, a hundred years ago scientists were convinced women were less smart and weaker and so theorized they would have smaller brains than men. Unfortunately for this belief, it was discovered that men had bigger brains because they had bigger bodies, thus cancelling out intellectual advantages. So science moved on - aha! women have smaller frontal lobes and larger parietal lobes than men. That's why they are less smart. But then it was revealed that the parietal lobes might be associated with intellect.

I'm certain the scientists who theorize about these things were considered the most elite and rational of men. But they were flat wrong. Their beliefs, and identity drove their reasoning.

jamesmccarty said...

Anon,

You said this:

"However, since when is it a place of "privilege" to be white, male, and straight in the academy? Not since the pre-1960s era, one could easily argue, with plenty of evidence. The current establishment (AAR) privileges ANYTHING but good old fashioned straight-white-masculinity. Especially when it comes to religion and theology. Not that I want to privilege straight-white-masculinity. But the current political establishment in the *academy* does NOT privilege straight white dudes."

Which you later clarified by adding this:

"And no, AAR isn't my example of marginalization of straight white dudes. I was simply pointing out that it doesn't privilege straight white dudes at the *ideological* level. AAR *IS* an example of the marginalization of non-identity-based discourse."

At which point I added a link to the program units at AAR which demonstrate, as I look over them, that there is no "marginalization of non-identity-based discourse." In addition, I appealed to my primary field of inquiry to debunk this claim in at least one sub-discipline of religious/theological studies (namely, religion and violence stuff.)

I would like to see the evidence you referenced that this was ever the case. (Surely you recognizes the problem with asserting a plethora of evidence without providing even one piece of it.) Otherwise, your whole premise is faulty.

Outside of our primary exchange you had an exchange with JTB in which she responded to your statements with this:

"Mmmm. I don't think "identity politics" is particularly helpful either, so it seems like we could pursue this fruitfully...

I do think that there is a way to talk about these things that invokes a problematic stability of identity and that it's unhelpful. But I don't think that terms like privilege or the exercise of identifying power differentials has to rest on those identity categories to be coherent."

To which you responded:

"All to the good, James and JTB. Thanks. I guess my fears are misplaced. 'Identity' doesn't count as argumentation. Good deal. Glad the AAR is moving beyond that phase."

Now, none of this was my point at all. Appeals to individual and group experiences does count as argumentation (to some extent, in my mind. See Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference), and I don't accept that the AAR ever had such a phase to move past. Again, where's the evidence?

And, as JTB pointed out, "identity politics," is problematic. But phrases like "identity based discourse," pseudo-Marxist Identity Philosophy, etc. aren't helpful categories in this conversation and obscure the actual arguments that thinkers who you might group in these categories have made. In addition, JTB did not necessarily accept your grouping of the language of marginalization or oppression under idenity politics. And she explicitly rejected your grouping of "privilege" under that category. In fact, she went out of her way to say that privilege doesn't rest on "identity politics" and should still be a part of the conversation here.

So, re: my post about your response to R-Liz and your lack of reasonableness, my interpretation of your unreasonableness in this conversation is based on your inability to provide much good evidence for your claims (outside of Schleiermacher, which I made use of), your using of labels for schools of thought that can be interpreted as dismissive at best or derogatory at worst, your appropriation of my arguments and JTB's arguments as agreeing with yours when they do not (at least not fully), and your engagement with R-Liz's comments, of which I pointed out the problems in an earlier comment.

And please do introduce yourself one day. I hope that we do meet.

Anonymous said...

Well smugged, Jim.

Jennifer Bayne said...

"well smugged isn't even in the urban dictionary."

How about a nice counter-argument?

jamesmccarty said...

I was not trying to be smug. I am just holding you to the same standards that you have held those with whom you've disagreed with to here.

I DO feel strongly that the idea of the academy as favoring non-straight/white/males (even ideologically, though I'm not totally clear on what this means) is pure fiction, and push those who think otherwise to defend such a claim. It seems to me to be a prevalent idea among many of my colleagues that simply does not stand up to either my experience or national numbers.

And I am sincere that I hope to meet you.

Anonymous said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/books/review/the-victims-revolution-by-bruce-bawer.html?pagewanted=all

Jennifer Bayne said...

Ok I read the NY Times article. Where are the logical arguments? asserting something doesn't make it true. What percentage of the philistine army are purveying buffoonery? What are the hiring rates of these so-called buffoons compared to the lucky non-buffoons? Whose arguments are accomplishing something good in the world and what is the evidence of that?

KenR said...

Thank you again, Jen, for your willingness to call things like you see them, regardless of how “rude” it may seem or how uncomfortable it might make others feel.

And, by the way, I do know the difference between a robot and a cyborg. I was only poking a little fun! We are good friends in the non-virtual world, so you probably already knew that.

I have been following this conversation with some interest throughout the day, but aside from a short leading question I have chosen not to engage. Not that I didn’t want to; quite the contrary! There were a few times when I had to literally walk away from the technology to collect myself. Fortunately, other people have stepped in to say many of the things I thought needed to be said, and for a few hours at least things have seemed to calm down. Now that my busy day has also calmed down, I thought I would throw in a few cents.

I went back to the blog incidents you referenced, Tony’s vagina limerick thing and his query about missing women, to try to get a better picture of what was/is going on in the background. I think it was Shakespeare who said, “Oh the tangled webs we weave” -- these kinds of discussions do seem to get very messy very quickly, in my experience.

I just invoked my experience, so allow me transparently admit for your readers that I experience the world as a straight, white, Christian, theologically moderate, politically liberal, middle-aged male with a Ph.D. in philosophy and theology. There has obviously been some disagreement in these comments about what these different things might mean, but I will get to that in a moment.

Before going there, however, I want to point out that your original post had little to do with so-called “identity politics.” I saw your experiment as an inverse of the move made by John Howard Griffin in his classic “Black Like Me,” where instead of a white man darkening his skin you were a woman taking on the virtual persona of a man, albeit on a much smaller scale. You momentarily adopted a cloak of privilege and “enjoyed” its benefits, whereas Griffin took a more sustained path toward less privilege. At any rate, you simply recorded how this change in gender persona changed people’s perception of you, as evidenced by how and how frequently you were addressed in an online forum. This is an empirical observation, regardless of how it gets parsed and interpreted after the fact.

The concerns of “Anonymous” and the ensuing discussion illuminated some things that I have noticed before in similar situations, particularly as they concern the specter of “identity politics” vis-à-vis experience vs. reason. I will share two of them.

KenR said...

First, we must be careful to distinguish between how an individual behaves and how a demographic category tends to behave on average. So, just because someone is white, male, straight, etc. does not automatically imply that they will think, act, or respond in a certain way, and to make that assumption about someone whom you don't know is at best unfair. Nobody wants to be judged for the color of their skin or the shape and location of their genitals, and no one wants to believe that their behavior is somehow “determined” by these factors. I will not speak for “Anonymous,” but in my experience when someone resists identity politics they are usually afraid of this kind of blanket determinism.

But (and this is a big but), as a social category white males (and other groups) do tend to behave in certain ways. This is a sociological and empirical fact, confirmed over and over again. Things like racism and sexism are first and foremost systemic patterns realized in social settings. These systemic patterns are powerful, and they exert pressure in all sorts of ways. As individuals we can choose to resist, but no one is completely immune from their power (including me). For me it takes quite a bit of self-reflection to notice and short-circuit these systemic influences, and I am far from perfect in doing so. As an individual I participate in racist and sexist systems that are designed (either explicitly or organically) to benefit people like me. I can try to convince you that I am neither racist nor sexist, and as an individual I hope that I make non-racist and non-sexist choices all the time, but I cannot change the fact that I get carried along the societal wave, which, is still very much both.

Second, discussions of identity politics are frequently hamstrung by inadequate concepts. Why is it that so many people think that the only two options are either (1) my identity/context has no bearing on my free actions, or (2) my actions are completely determined by my identity/context? It admittedly looks silly in such stark terms, but why else do we have such heated debates about this stuff if we weren’t somehow capitulating to such terms? (The reason vs. experience debates, for example.)

This is one reason why I am so appreciative of the hermeneutical tradition of philosophers like Gadamer and Ricoeur, because these thinkers reject this binary. Gadamer, for example, famously argues that our interpretations are necessarily guided by our prejudices, and this is a good thing because without prejudices we would never actually come to know anything! For his part Ricoeur adds that our prejudices do not eliminate the need to objectively explain. There is no bifurcation between experience and reason in this philosophical tradition. Reason informs experience and experience shapes reason. My identity does indeed shape the way I perceive, interpret, reason, and communicate, but this is not a blind deterministic force but instead something that I can self-reflectively confront and attempt to reform. I will always be a white male (etc.), but with practice I may be able to become a white male that consistently rejects and resists systemic racism and sexism. God willing.

Anonymous said...

Ken, thanks for your response. I could agree with a lot of it, given some qualifications, and had we more time to talk.

***

"There is no bifurcation between experience and reason in this philosophical tradition. Reason informs experience and experience shapes reason."

At first you said that Gadamer and Ricoeur "reject this binary," but now the two remain, influencing one another? Which is it? If the latter, then they do what I do, which is to *distinguish* reason and experience, and to get into the mess of how they relate. That's fine. I happen to think the scales tilt slightly in favor of reason when it comes down to it. I'm not an anthropological dualist: reason rules (or should rule) in the soul; it's not a free-for-all. (As a Christian, of course, I think that reason has a particular content specified by revelation, but that is another discussion....)

"I just invoked my experience, so allow me transparently admit for your readers that I experience the world as a straight, white, Christian, theologically moderate, politically liberal, middle-aged male with a Ph.D. in philosophy and theology."

So? How does this actually bear on your claims about Gadamer and Ricoeur? It doesn't! I can prove it. If you were to change this paragraph to read that you are a "gay, black, Muslim, theologically moderate, politically liberal, middle-aged female with a Ph.D. in philosophy," the claims you make about Gadamer and Ricoeur would still have to be held to the same kind of scrutiny. Or would they not?

I look forward to the day when people no longer feel the need to preface everything they say with some pointless mumbo-jumbo about social location. When it comes to philosophy, and mathematics, and history, I don't care about your social location. I care about the quality of your reasoning, your use of numbers, and your engagement with facts. And I care about that because I care about your education. And yes, this is how we ought to teach inner city kids. How's that for "rude truth"?

KenR said...

Anonymous: The "bifurcation" I pointed to was a false choice between one option and another, which is not the same thing as claiming that two things are identical. Reason and experience are indeed different, but we need not feel the need to choose one or the other because they go together. There is no contradiction, as you suggest. So, yes, they relate. You want reason to have the upper hand in this relationship. Fine, perhaps you are right, but there are also good reasons to suspect you are wrong (the social neurosciences, being one of them). And what is "reason" anyways? And where is this "soul" you mention? These are far from self-evident concepts, even in the Christian tradition.

Regarding your question about how my social location bears on my statements about Gadamer and Ricoeur, the answer is that it may or may not have a bearing. I hope not, but I could be wrong. I already admitted that individuals in specific cases can reason against social tendency. Seems to me you are again confusing social phenomena with individual capacity. Your "proof" is therefore misplaced. Of course other kinds of people can possibly agree with me, but that doesn't change the fact that on the whole males, for example, tend to behave in certain ways. Jen's little experiment showed that, in a specific case.

So, go ahead and continue to evaluate philosophy, mathematics, and history according to principles of logic and sound reasoning. Teach others to do the same. Nobody on this thread, I imagine, would want that to stop. We all do the same. But please keep in mind that we are talking about something different, something where social location does in fact matter.

Lisa Powell said...

Great post Jen, and I have enjoyed the dialogue: Jen Bayne's input on bias in science, Ken's input on hermeneutics, and so many others! What a great community to learn from, as each is bringing her/his expertise to the discussion!

JTB said...

Ken, thanks for bringing your expertise in on this (when is your book forthcoming? Seems like some folks in here would be interested...)

Ken's comment opens up an opportunity for me to clarify my own alluded to reservations about certain kinds of identity talk. The kind of deterministic essentialism described by Ken ("I am a women therefore I am _______") is not at all what I have in mind when talking about the relevance of social location, privilege and identities. The point of the cyborg image, which I pick up from Haraway, is that it's a therapeutic intervention to this kind of mistaken essentialism--and is explicitly addressed not just to the falsely presumed universalism of Enlightenment anthropology but at the same time, and equally strongly, to feminist versions of essentialism. "There is nothing about being female that essentially binds all women together" (paraphrase, since Baby Z is nursing while I type this and I can't go check my constantly sleep-deprived compromised memory.) Accordingly, Anon, throughout the conversation here I have not assumed that your identification of yourself as straight-white-male meant that you were therefore bound to be some kind of defender of modernist epistemology (or whatever). I've instead tried to understand your position from what you've said, and invite you to make your own positive case as others have done.

I am simply disappointed at the consistency with which every opportunity to make your own case is deferred ("had we more time") but there are lengthy diatribes and plenty of must-have-the-last word snark.

You have entered into a stranger's space and presumed that you can authoritatively dictate what counts as good argument, what counts as reasonable, what counts as clear communication, what sorts of philosophical traditions are authoritative and what aren't, and you have not offered your own positive case for any of this even though you've been repeatedly invited to. You want to insist on the primacy of reason over forms of experience but you won't unpack how you think we ought to be relating these things in any detail. I'm interested, and I'm not assuming I know ahead of time what you'd say. That's why I keep asking. I wish you would take as much time to answer genuinely curious questions as you do to attack what you think other people think, and the way they express themselves.

At this point I am tempted to conclude that this whole thing has been an elaborate and rather brilliant ironic performance. Otherwise I just can't make sense out of a discussion that so perfectly illustrates the point of the original post. The obvious difference between your response to R-Liz and your response to Ken is just, well, brilliantly ironic. You assume Ken has a point. You assume R-Liz doesn't. You thank Ken for his comment; you insult R-Liz. You claim it's not about identity/social location but only about the "quality of your reasoning" but have failed to take seriously any of the commenters who have challenged you to take into account the question of who has the authority to define "reason," and what social location has to do with that. Instead you've simply presumed that this authority rests with you to the extent that you don't even to explain yourself.

Talking about social location isn't pointless mumbo jumbo. Your performance here demonstrates that very nicely.

Anonymous said...

(I guess we'll leave it at that. Your space, your final word.)

greg said...

That's an interesting definition of "final" you're using there.

Ben said...

Hey Jennifer, I'm just reading through your comments under both names to get a look at the "raw data" if you will. Did you comment as James on any other threads or just under "Benefit of the Doubt"?

Ben said...

Thanks! That helps a lot. Do you think the responses to the first post (the JTB post) were biased by the fact that you were cast as an antagonist in the post? (Much to my personal disappointment when I originally read it.)

Essentially, do you think the way you were addressed could have to do with more than gender regardless of your own tone?

I would be interested to see this in a more expansive forum if anyone has done a similar experiment. I would assume your hypothesis would hold, but it would be interesting nonetheless.

JTB said...

hi Ben,

my reply to your first comment went via email (easier in the middle of wrangling with the kids), so to fill in:

yes, "James" only appeared on the "benefit of the doubt." The gender guesser thingy I linked gets more accurate with increasing verbiage, so the JTB score is the more accurate one.

It's a good point you raise about the contested nature of my first interactions on the limerick thread. I think it's very likely that that has something to do with it. But at the same time, the fact that Julie and I were set up as "antagonists" in that discussion wasn't our choice. We were offering a critique--and an unasked-for one, I'll admit--but I don't think we were antagonistic. Certainly not in intent, anyway, which I tried to repeatedly emphasize in the discussion itself. And, given the actual topic of that discussion, it has been my assumption that women's voices, even critical ones, would be seen as obviously relevant.

I tried very hard in the limerick discussion to actively disregard insulting things and try to address what seemed to me to be the substance of a comment. I honestly don't think there's a discernible difference in tone between JTB and "James" and certainly, I commented as myself in both.

I would be interested in knowing if there is any large-scale data on this sort of thing. Certainly my little project was more a concluding unscientific postscript, so to speak. :)

Tony Jones said...

Jenn, a lot changed on my blog between the limerick contest and the benefit of the doubt post. A lot. So there's a bit of apples and oranges going on. That's not to say that people didn't treat "james" differently than they treated "JTB." It looks like they did. But if you want to find examples of men treating other men like shit, my blog's comment section is rife with that, too.

But, alas, I'm sure that me even engaging your post with anything but a mea culpa is just more defensiveness from me.

Do you know when people go on the defensive? When others are on the offensive.

Russell said...

That was impressively passive/aggressive Tony.

Madison McClendon said...

Tony, I think you'll find that it's the "men treating other men like shit" that a lot of women object to, and one of the reasons why fewer of them comment than you'd appreciate.

Quite simply, I don't like being treated like shit. I don't like treating others like shit. I don't like seeing others treated like shit.

I may be a man, but my experience with women suggests that they tend to dislike, in general, spaces in which it is clear that people treating people like shit is something that is tolerated or routine. Mainly because they tend to be the ones in those sorts of spaces that come in for a specifically worse kind of treatment. If it's tolerated for guys to do it to guys, well then, women are open season.

Just my thoughts. I'm not a regular commenter here or anywhere else. But I've watched this with a sad heart. Our theology should have something to say regarding people treating people like shit. Even if we think they have their theology wrong.

John Totten said...

Actually Tony, speaking as a mental health professional, people get defensive when they sense danger, whether or not it's real.

JTB said...

Hi, Tony.

I want you to know I'm thinking on this as I make dinner, take care of my sick kid and my clingy toddler, and settle my hubby on the couch with a bum knee after a fall at the church today. But it's going to take me a few hours to get to a point where I can sit down at a computer and write a real reply.

tolkienista said...

While I'm here, JTB, I thought I would mention -- as a male with a name that is often read as female, I find that what you raise here is really true. I've often got into Facebook discussions in which people have responded to me exceptionally dismissively -- even to the point of using phrases like "my dear" and "missy" to try to diminish the value of my comments -- only to suddenly change tone when I correct them regarding my gender.

It's something I've definitely noticed. I tend to get a better hearing from people when they know I'm a man then when they assume I'm a woman.

JTB said...

Okay: kids in bed, asleep at least for the moment, hubby's on couch with ice pack and pistachios, and I've got the laptop and a martini, so, here we go.

First, I want to reiterate that the critique of the limerick contest that Julie, Chris and I offered was not undertaken as some sort of targeting exercise. I tried very hard to explain that in the discussion thread. Our (erroneous?) assumption was that a genuine engagement with an interesting problem in response to your post would be welcome--given that part of the reason we all blog is to get conversations going. Hence our heads-up to you via email about it, and the offer to respond prior to posting and also for equal space on Chris's blog. I want to underscore that we acted in good faith, assuming that critical academic engagement was its own kind of accolade. And personally I am very grateful for the way that this afforded an opportunity to think through a complicated issue.

However, I also get that, unlike the responses on the "where are the women" post, our critique was unasked for and came out of the blue. So I can see that this might put someone on the defensive, at least initially.

But the feedback on "where are the women" was solicited--and I continue to believe, sincerely. And those who commented in response honored your question with their own seriousness and vulnerability. And they've been blocked and labeled "trolls" because of it. I get that there was some hard to take shit in that thread (I mean, 324 comments. Lord have mercy.) But my assumption has been that, given the free-for-all ethos in the commentary threads the preexisted that post, you were able to take it the same way the rest of us do. All the more so because, you asked for that critical feedback.

But here I think it's helpful to return to the observation that one of the things that consistently was pointed out is, yes, there's a lot of treating people like shit that happens there. And there seems to be no respecter-of-gender with regard to that. In fact, the most appalling comments I have seen in the short time I've followed the blog have been by a female directed at a male (who has recently announced he's dropping out of participating in commenting because he's tired of dealing with the homophobia). I bring this up because my only comment on "where are the women" was to underscore that active moderation of the blog commentary was an emerging consensus out of that discussion and a practical step that could make a huge difference in the number of participants and variety of perspectives voiced.

I'm not sure why you would assume that no benefit of the doubt is extended here?

I'm also not sure (being new to the blog, having only entered on the limerick thing) what you mean by things having changed and "apples and oranges." So, if you wouldn't mind elucidating...?

Tony Jones said...

JTB,

Much changed on my blog after the Where Are the Women post. The tone in the comment section changed. I received scores of private messages via various media from people who were leaving my blog, or no longer commenting. So the test that you ran during the Benefit of the Doubt post was in the wake of that. It wasn't a normal week on my blog. Tensions were high. Some of the regular commenters backed away, while some new trolls arrived.

I have been falsely accused here of blocking commenters. Since 2004, I have blocked only 4 commenters. I have blocked one commenter in light of the activity of that week. This person left approximately 50 comments in one day, hijacking nearly every conversation, and many of those comments contained personal attacks and inappropriate language. Activity like that is a sign of obsession or mental illness. I checked with my editor at Patheos, and she said that she was going to block that commenter if I didn't.

50 comments in one day is trolling. You may not like that some people in the comments label other people trolls, but I have yet to see that misapplied. Trolls can be either liberal or conservative, and I have both on my blog.

Long ago, I made ground rules on my blog, and I published them. One was that I rarely engage in the comment section, because I say what I want to say in the post, then I get on with thinking about and writing the next post. Another was that I only lightly moderate the comment section, allowing for just about anything other than personal insults.

Two weeks ago, a bunch of new readers showed up on my blog, ginned up by a Facebook page that has hated me since I spoke out about homeschooling. Many attacked me personally. Others argued that I should moderate the comment section more, having never taken the time to find the groundrules that I wrote years ago.

Interestingly, it seems that most of those readers have already left (or at least they're not leaving comments). Someone told them there was was public execution, they all ran across town to see it, then they left when it was over. I assume that they left because they don't care about the things I write about: church, faith, theology, prayer, spirituality.

My original question for women was directed at women readers. I wanted to know why women who read my blog don't comment. I was not asking women who don't read my blog why they don't read my blog.

Finally, on the limerick contest, I didn't shy away from your criticism. In fact, I linked to the post, encouraging my readers to read your thoughts. I also pushed back, because I think you were off the mark. Is it defensive for me to argue with your criticisms?

Tony Jones said...

Let me ask another question, an honest question: I've got a post linking to about two dozen posts I've written on women's issues in the church. I'm guessing that most of my newer readers have not dug through the archives to find these.

Should I post them, or would that be seen as defensive and/or passive-aggressive?

JTB said...

Thanks for clarifying.

I don't want to re-litigate the limerick discussion. No, of course it's not defensive to argue your own case. I was unsure whether the last sentence of your previous comment was general, or meant to convey that you felt the need to be defensive with regard to me specifically. So I felt that needed to be addressed.

I used the limerick discussion as my base for comparison btw JTB and James because I hadn't substantively commented as JTB anywhere else, save for one comment on "where are the women" which aimed more at summarizing others' points. But if the limerick discussion predates the sea change you note in the blog commentary, then it seems like the comparison is more useful rather than less.

It does seem that people came out of the woodwork to respond to your question, where are the women. I would think that this was an indication both of an interest in the topic and a general appreciation that you would raise it. I get that the more valuable feedback would be from longtime readers--but surely that's a determination to be made as you sift through the feedback and ponder it. Mo feedback mo better.

I do know a specific person who was blocked, so it's not false to say this happened. If that was necessary, so be it. But the label trolls got applied generally by folks on twitter. I know that's common parlance and all but the posthuman theorist in me can't help but note that this is also monstrous language--the ultimate in othering. There was so much genuine and genuinely goodhearted feedback--some of it clearly from longtime readers and not just folks like me who've only been checking in recently. There really is a consensus, from longtime readers and others I think, that a big part of the issue is the rough and often ad hominem commentary. It's fine to refer back to your stated policy of non-moderation but the critique is not ignorant of that policy; it's a critique *of* that policy. You're being asked, essentially, to revisit that decision as a positive step toward welcoming more women's voices in your community. You don't have to, of course, but choosing to stick with the status quo means that the women who came out of the woodwork to respond to your question with that answer will probably never comment again. They have said "this is what you can do to make this space safe" and if you only defend your stated policy in response you can hardly blame them for concluding that your blog will continue to not feel welcoming and safe for them, and that you're not interested enough in their contributions to make it so.

Pushback is fine when it's an academic discussion. But when you ask for help in fixing a problem, like you did in this instance, immediate pushback isn't appropriate.

JTB said...

(just saw your second comment)

Mmm. Honestly, I think the context would make it hard for it not to be received as defensive. You'd have to do some super careful framing on the front end at the very least.

My other thought is, I don't think most folks doubt your good intentions or your sincerity in seeing the need for women's voices in the church and in the blog. So on that level--as a sort of bona fides--it's superfluous.

Tony Jones said...

Thanks for your answer to my second question. I won't post those links.

Well, I am reevaluating my policy on moderating comments. I agree with you that that was one of the helpful things that came out of the comments on Where Are The Women. I don't know that it rose to the level of consensus.

The odd thing is that I am revisiting that policy as much because of the people who came to my blog for that post and how they behaved as I am for the thousands of posts and tens of thousands of comments that preceded it.

What I'm saying is that the regular commentariat on my blog is generally quite civil. When it becomes uncivil, I jump in and remind everyone to mind their p's and q's. On occasion, I send personal emails to commenters, warning them to modulate their tone or their language. I've done this twice with the commenter who insulted R Jay. That person has now returned with a new name, and I am watching to make sure that she does not begin insulting anyone else. Notably, that reader is a woman, and she's been more personally slanderous than any commenter I've ever had.

You don't know any of this because, as you've noted, you have not been a regular reader.

But when my blog becomes a meme, like it did when the Where Are the Women post got targeted by a Facebook page, then all hell breaks loose. Then I'm confronted with the question of how I handle the influx of new readers and the ways that their comments affect the discussion.

As you note, parsing out the valuable commentary from people who value my voice from the one-time readers who came to tell me I'm a douchebag is somewhat difficult. But I have the benefit of seeing emails and IP addresses, so I can tell some things that other readers cannot.

I'm going to write a post on my comment policy later this week. I appreciate you talking it through with me.

KenR said...

It's nice to see a honest and respectful conversation, Jen and Tony. Well done.

JTB said...

That's helpful to know; I'll be looking for the blog post :)

I feel like we're hearing each other pretty well and so I want to risk pushing back a little on something. Granting that my experience is limited to this one discussion--if the limerick discussion, which again, predates the sea change of the where-are-the-women post, is a measure of the civility of the usual commentary, then we probably disagree on what counts as productive and civil exchange. I found it difficult to keep participating without responding in kind to some of the snarkier comments.

I'd also push back on using words like "ludicrous" to describe someone's position. Rather than carrying the benefit of the doubt, I found myself carrying an extra burden of proof to meet.

Again--your blog, your rules. But that's how the discussion felt to me, in my first and only substantive experience there. But I don't believe that's how you want me/others to feel, so it seems worth pointing out.

I really appreciate your coming over here and conversing. That probably felt a little risky, I'm thinking, and I hope the risk has been worth it.

Vixen said...

"My original question for women was directed at women readers. I wanted to know why women who read my blog don't comment. I was not asking women who don't read my blog why they don't read my blog."

I just want to point out that a number of the women that commented there, that don't usually, do read your blog. They may not be devoted followers, but are regular readers. Just because they didn't praise you to the skies that does not mean that they don't read your blog.

Also, re: "I assume that they left because they don't care about the things I write about: church, faith, theology, prayer, spirituality." Just because someone doesn't stick around for YOUR posts about church, faith, theology, prayer, spirituality", that doesn't mean that those who left aren't interested in those things. Patheos is pretty popular among the group that you reference. Many theology blog post links fly amongst the members. Your assumption that people didn't stay because of the topic is like Mark Driscoll complaining that people who don't read his blog don't like MMA. Or Calvinism. In many cases it's true, but it's not something that can be assumed.

Tony Jones said...

Jen, fair enough about the word "ludicrous" and other inflammatory language. But that's my style. That's how I write and that's how I think and that's what's attracted what little audience I do have. As Carla wrote in a comment on my blog, the fact that I use the same overhyped rhetoric with women as I do with men shows that I actually (attempt to) treat everyone equally. If women don't like that kind of rhetoric (or limericks), then I have my answer.

Vixen, that's also a fair comment. I suppose it's possible that there's a host of women who read my blog but rarely or never comment. But there were also a fair number who left comments to the effect of, "I've never been here before, and I've never heard of Tony, but he's an asshole!" Some even admitted that they left the church and faith altogether years ago, but they came to my blog because they were directed to leave a message. As you might guess, I'm not super interested in how I've let them down if they've never heard of me. But, yes, to those who read and somehow value what I write, I have been keen to hear their criticisms.

JTB said...

I see two things here. First, "it's my style" makes things personal--which may explain why some the critique felt so personal, if this is the way it's framed. Second, your "style" shouldn't be a way to resist observations from people of both genders that sometimes the blog commentary is a hostile place. If it is in fact a fair point about words like ludicrous, etc., then don't deflect with "it's my style."

Anticipating objection re authenticity: I get that. But an online persona is a kind of performance. And that performance can be and I think should be responsive to the audience and the purpose for which it exists. I don't think moderating your "style" would be unauthentic. It might be more so--given that many seem to find it a stumbling block to conversation.

Chris Dowdy said...

This is a very interesting exchange between Jen and Tony, and I'm glad to see it happen.

I've explained on my own blog my disappointment in the tone and structure of the commenting on Theoblogy, and I think Jen has captured that very well. But I can well appreciate your basic approach to moderating comments, Tony, and the realistic constraints on time and energy that inform it (I just decided early not have comments on my little blog for similar reasons). I am also grateful that you are seriously considering revisiting the policy and the way commenting is framed.

However, I am a little confused by your last comment here--the piece about not apologizing for overhyped rhetoric, inflammatory language, and so on. I think there is something deeply confused still lurking about. I'll just address it on the two levels that seem most obvious to me.

The first has to do with your…deportment, I guess? What you describe as your provocative style. In principle probably there is nothing wrong with this--we can construe it as something like snark befitting blogging the way wit befits games (I am shooting from the hip on Aquinas here, so…eh, let' s move on quickly). The question of style, voice, tone, etc., is important, but subordinate to a bigger issue, and that issue is power. Maybe it sounds a little grandiose to invoke something like ideology critique to analyze all these blogs banging into each other? Still, I think it explains why you and some of your critics are talking past one other over the gender stuff, and it will perhaps thus be helpful.

What I think is upsetting to people who do not otherwise mind a good fight is that many who have followed these exchanges fail to see an active commitment on your part to relate your own privilege to the topic at hand. I can't find a way to say this that doesn't sound like a personal attack, and I'm sorry for it, I am. I think your intentions are pretty good, honestly. But intentions frankly don't matter that much here. It's not a personal problem; it's a social problem. So however tenacious or bombastic or curt you are used to being in articulating your positions, when you stumble into territory of historic subjugation, people need to see clearly that you do not expect their deference. Otherwise you just replicate the broader, damaging social and religious dynamic. It's communication that counts, not what a basically decent guy you are.

Here's what I mean. Look back through your own selective engagements with your shifting commentariat over the course of the past few weeks of gender discussions. My unscientific impression, having read through a few of these posts, is that the interventions are typically with the harshest commenters, and they are almost always intensely combative. I am not wrong on this, I think. At one level this is totally understandable, but it's not doing you any favors. Ferocious tenacity is one thing when you are arguing about Schleiermacher, it is another thing when you are inviting contributions from women who feel otherwise unwelcome at a site of theological discourse. They might be mad…and impolite…because they are mad. At a horrible abusive world in which all of us are implicated. By all means protect yourself and your commenters from really damaging interactions. But it's not inauthentic to modulate your tone when you shift to speaking to the victims of historical subordination; and that is the context you shift to when you--or I--as an educated white man start conversations about representation with women (and people of color, and impoverished people, and…you get the picture). Always. Even if they are rude.

Chris Dowdy said...

[continued! 2/2]

A sensitivity to the victims of history and your own enmeshment in systemic subordination seem like things front and center in your understanding of atonement, especially given your work on Moltmann. So that is the first and most obvious thing I am at a loss on: where is your consistent analysis of your own power viz. your social position? How does this ongoing self-critique inform your engagements with women, people of color, exploited workers globally…the list goes on. How does that self-critique redound on your intellectual virtues? How does it modulate your tenacity, your enthusiasm, your framing of discussion-oriented posts? Where in all this is your willingness, your openness, to let others seriously critique your power? Is all that openness sacrificed to the voice you've cultivated? If so…is that voice really serving your ministry?

Given your theological commitments, I think you have to answer these questions repeatedly. And that brings me to the second point, which is a simpler and more direct one having to do with the theological dimensions of the underlying issue. I wonder in what sense you are willing, in your public persona, to treat critique of your work, even of your blogging persona, as a possible call to repentance?

What I am suggesting is that other kinds of intellectual labor ought to pack in virtues of openness to evidence and revision, and so on; those are the excellencies relevant to philosophical and scientific inquiry. But surely theological inquiry, not to mention commitment to Christian discipleship, brings with it implications of other kinds of virtue. (Inquiry and discipleship even embrace the possible confrontation with the Holy Spirit, convicting us of sin! Uncomfortable.) Most disarmingly, theological inquiry requires of us the virtue of humility, which asks us to hold even our most treasured claims about God, the world, and of course ourselves not too tightly. A baby might be the incarnate word; the dead may walk; be ready to be wrong. You get the picture.

The point is that sometimes--not all the time, but sometimes--it needs to be made clear that you are part of a reality bigger than your intentions, and that you are learning from the angry people that will not let you off the hook for assumptions, practices, and ideas they find corrosive and demeaning. Jesus' command is after all to leave your sacrifice at the altar if you think someone has something against you--not the other way around. Some people just can't be reasoned with, and it's probably hard to tell who's who when it's chiefly screens connecting all of us. But, uh…many of these are people deserve to be reckoned with.

I really do think it's commendable you came over here to chat with Jen; in fact I think your earlier posts hint at a more irenic approach than your last comment suggets. Overall what I'm saying is that there are intellectual and theological reasons for you to maybe modulate this whole "no apology for the way I write" thing. I mean…just, given your vocation, you have a pastoral obligation to open yourself up to the anger of the dispossessed, to make yourself vulnerable to your own failure to understand.

I probably sound condescending, which is irritating to everyone involved. So, sorry if that is the case. But I honestly think it would be helpful to examine these twin issues of social location and openness to repentance. Concisely put, think of it this way, in Ignatian, self-examining fashion. Ask yourself: "In my tenacious and forceful response, do I appear as if I am expecting this person's deference?" And, "In my convictions, am I cognizant of the selfishness and sin that are irreducibly a part even of my best intentions, my wisdom, my kindness?" (not very pithy but you get the point). I don't know if those interrogations will help you write so as to cultivate your audience, as you describe it. But I am not sure how it fits into Christian discipleship otherwise.

Tony Jones said...

Jen,

"It's my style" is not a deferral. It's an honest statement in the midst of a conundrum. I have been writing books since 2001 and blogging since 2004. I take my vocation as a writer very seriously. Not only can I modulate my tone, I often do. My books, for example, have a different tone than my blog posts. Academic papers have yet another tone. But in all, I attempt to maintain a consistent voice.

You misapprehended an "authenticity" objection. You won't hear that from me. We are all wearing masks -- be it "JTB" or "James" -- we are acting, under the watchful eye of the panopticon. That's not to say that "Where Are the Women?" wasn't an honest question. It was. It's just to say that, like an actor performing an autobiographical one-women show, I sometimes shout on the blog where I'd whisper if we were in Starbucks. The medium of blogging shapes discourse in distinct ways from other media. I am acutely aware of that, and I think you are too.

Tony Jones said...

Chris, I hear you. And I've heard you. And heard you. As you guessed, your insertion into this conversation sounds arrogant. One might even say that you coming here to drop another 1200 (!) words telling me to examine my power is a move of power itself. Does my refusal to answer you with less than a 1000-word response display my my submission to being overwhelmed by your onslaught of words? Or is it yet another power-move, in which I defeat your condescension with a condescending silence?

I can assure you that a white male does not get a PhD from Princeton Seminary in this day and age without being confronted with his position of privilege. It's a major part of the discourse in academia. It cannot be avoided You can surely question how I have responded to that confrontation (though I'd say that based on my blogging alone, that'd be a one-dimensional assessment by you), you cannot reasonably believe that I've never been lectured like you just lectured me. I suppose you might think that I've been deaf to such lectures before, and you'll succeed where others have failed. Fair enough.

But I will say this, at the risk of condemnation by others: I've read enough Foucault to know that power is a tricky, nuanced thing. It's a lot more subtle than your epistle admits. And it's not something that I -- as a privileged white male -- have the freedom to openly question in fora such as this.

JTB said...

Having the advantage of knowing Chris personally, I can affirm that he was being absolutely sincere in proactively apologizing for the possibility of so much verbiage coming across as arrogant. Why not instead take the fact that someone spent so much time and effort in communicating as a gesture of respect and good will?

After all he could have just shrugged and written this whole thing off and spent that time with that adorable little baby he's got, or for that matter caught up on the sleep he's undoubtedly short of.

I don't hear Chris challenging your knowledge of these things, at all. Rather the question, which cannot help but be a pointed one, is how is that head knowledge translating into practice in this particular instance of blogging persona and comment moderation? Which is truly a return to the original question.

Chris Dowdy said...

I don't really have the time or inclination to try and overwhelm you, Tony. I probably need an editor, but I was just being earnest and as forthright as possible. I know you are familiar with the approaches and understandings I gestured to above. My whole argument was built on the notion that some people worth listening to are not seeing you take self-critical approaches seriously--and that this is exemplified in the refusal to apologize for the voice you've established in blogging (leaving books and other contexts out of it completely, which I have not read but have heard good things about). In any case, I just owe it to someone I disagree with so publicly to try and be as clear as possible.

I'm not pure of course. There are probably weird power dynamics at work here too--I have a lot to prove as a fledgling academic, and maybe I am picking fights with you to get attention or make myself look smart. That feels sort of smarmy to even say, but at some horrible subterranean level I am sure there is some wicked part of me that is taking those measurements. I reject that and I'm sorry for whatever aspects of this appear self-serving, or unbalanced or something.

Though I'm curious about some of the points you've raised, I am getting the impression it's hard for us to trust each other. That's very disappointing, but given the constraints of the medium and time perhaps not so surprising. So I'll just say thanks for engaging in the conversations about this all over at some risk to yourself; I fully appreciate it has been very difficult. And especially thank you for how you've engaged with Jen here.

Chris Dowdy said...

Also my baby really is adorable.

Tony Jones said...

Jen,

Interesting that you defer to "knowing Chris personally" in defending him. I do wish that you had given me the same benefit of the doubt in your original criticisms of the limerick contest. While you did mention that you knew me in your interview on Chris's blog, you immediately left that context in the dust for a more forensic examination of my message and motivations (overt and covert).

Indeed, that's what caught me so off-guard about your criticisms. I kept saying to myself (and others), "But I know her. We sat in a class together. We shared study space. She knows me in a context beyond this blog post. I thought we were friends."

Now, of course, if I was not kind to you when we were at PTS, then that would color your impression of me, too. Maybe I was an ass, personally. Maybe I didn't earn the benefit of the doubt based on my behavior.

But it seems to me that you're saying: I will give Chris the benefit of the doubt because I know him personally, beyond these typed words on a screen.

Yet you did not afford the same benefit of the doubt. I wonder why that is.

Tony Jones said...

Jen,

Interesting that you defer to "knowing Chris personally" in defending him. I do wish that you had given me the same benefit of the doubt in your original criticisms of the limerick contest. While you did mention that you knew me in your interview on Chris's blog, you immediately left that context in the dust for a more forensic examination of my message and motivations (overt and covert).

Indeed, that's what caught me so off-guard about your criticisms. I kept saying to myself (and others), "But I know her. We sat in a class together. We shared study space. She knows me in a context beyond this blog post. I thought we were friends."

Now, of course, if I was not kind to you when we were at PTS, then that would color your impression of me, too. Maybe I was an ass, personally. Maybe I didn't earn the benefit of the doubt based on my behavior.

But it seems to me that you're saying: I will give Chris the benefit of the doubt because I know him personally, beyond these typed words on a screen.

Yet you did not afford the same benefit of the doubt. I wonder why that is.

Tony Jones said...

Sorry for the double post. You can delete one.

Chris, I appreciate your reply. We do all have darker motives, myself included.

My kids are also beautiful

Grace Church in Newark said...

Tony,

I'm really surprised by this. Perhaps we did an inadequate job framing our critique of the limerick contest (though I just reviewed it, and it is consistently aimed at ideas and not your person). It was--always--intended to be a critique of the contest and not a personal one. In the discussion on your blog, I said this repeatedly. It was our intent to present an informal but academic critique of an interesting example of a persistent and complicated problem, and moreover, a problem that's often hard to see, even by the best of allies. We never questioned intentions or motivations, but rather repeatedly expressed appreciation for them.

I'm happy to know that you remember sharing that seminar so fondly--it was Wentzel's, if I remember correctly, and so naturally one of my favorites. I wasn't going to make the mistake of presuming too much in that regard, as that was a long time ago and early on in our programs. My memory of you as a colleague in the classroom is one of a confident thinker who enjoys the back and forth of academic discussion, and my assumption was that you would receive our critique in this vein.

As I said to you in a different venue, however, I did not feel that our acquaintance as classmates was acknowledged in the framing of your blog post inviting responses to our critique, and the only acknowledgment of our previous acquaintance came from me in a comment, where I was once again trying to recognize that perhaps not knowing each other extremely well, you might have been taken aback by our critique.

Our point has always been that it's a difficult thing and a risky thing in many ways to stand with each other against the structures and systems and pervasive ideologies that dominate and oppress, and that part of the risk is getting our hands dirty in the process because we ourselves do not stand outside the problematic context of those unjust things.

I don't see how any of this withholds benefit of the doubt. We thought, perhaps naively, that taking seriously the implications of your contest would be an interesting and helpful exercise that recognized, implicitly, the importance of such action, and as such, be welcomed, even if we disagreed with certain aspects of it.

I'm sorry to say that my own beautiful but today highly needy children are actively conspiring against any further commenting. I'm literally nursing one and typing one handed and managing the other's tamtrum, and everyone is hungry, and there's a tree to decorate. And tonight I'm celebrating my anniversary, and won't be online. So this will be my last word, I think.

I hope this clarifies some things, and in any case, I remain grateful for both your action and intention to publicly stand with RHE as an ally as well as the exercise of thinking through that action and the opportunity to sharpen my thoughts on these things.

Grace Church in Newark said...

damn it. google thinks I'm Grace Church! Yet another internet alias for JTB albeit unintentional.

Julie Mavity Maddalena said...

I am the third participant in the original response to the contest. I have been largely silent the past few weeks, and I don't know whether you are interested in why, but I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you might be interested to know. After initially engaging the conversation, it seemed to me that we wouldn't be able to communicate meaningfully with one another and so I didn't say much else (lessons from Wittgenstein). That inability to communicate meaningfully could have stemmed from a number of factors, and the very fact that we would interpret the disconnect differently proves my initial sense. For what it's worth--I did give you the benefit of the doubt of wanting to expose troubling incidents of powerful entities shutting down the voices of women. I also gave you the benefit of the doubt of being interested if that might have been done in a way that perpetuated some of the harm that continues to be done. I also gave you the benefit of the doubt for having familiarity with critical feminist theory/theology that explores the complexities of all this. That's the one area that I'm just not sure of--from that exchange as well as all the others (yes, I read the other blog posts and appreciated the intent). What I experienced in the immediate response to what we said and what I've seen continually are many of the classic ways that persons in power and privilege shut down, silence, and marginalize women (and others). Using words (your commenters as well as yourself) that indicated that we didn't have common sense or humor and then positioning yourself as the victim when people expressed anger and hurt in response to the other invitations to feedback (and experiencing persons as "trolls" when I think the intent was solidarity for those experiencing anger and hurt) effectively dismissed the criticism, in my case at least. Dismissal seems like less of a benefit of the doubt than anger, which is actually taking what someone says seriously. I teach courses on Women's and Gender Studies at SMU, and my comments were coming straight from a respectable amount of engagement with feminist discourse--theological and theoretical. The tone and content of the comments I heard in response (and from later posts) also came straight from examples of folks with privilege who don't want to hear where there's still room for growth *despite* good intentions and good work in the past. So I stopped engaging because I felt like it wasn't going to be constructive. I don't know if you are open to hearing from me now where it's a safer space for me and I'm less likely to be called names--I am both thin-skinned and confident that we all deserve a little more respect. But, as you said, your style is your style so if I experience it as painful, privileged, and unconstructive, then I am wise to seek conversations elsewhere that are mutually life-giving and constructive. For what it's worth.

stephy said...

Julie, yes. And it's so interesting that you just stated what the women commented on Tony's original "Where Are The Women?" post. No room for discussion. Consistent dismissal, denial of engagement, logic trumping love, rampant hubris. It is a pattern and it is tragic. And it's made even more disgusting because it is done under the guise of Christianity. Because it is tragic we must continue to call it out.

Lee said...

Funny how it's not "identity-based discourse" when it's all straight white men participating, isn't it? This is a classic example of the "unmarked state" in action.