I’m wallowing in shameless self-pity right now. These wallowing moments happen every so often, my mind pushed off the rocks into the swampy, sticky slough of almost-despair. Not quite despair, more ultra-introspective navel-gazing, the type that makes a protagonist of a literary novel look as action-oriented as the villain in a cheap thriller.
This slough really stinks, too. Boggy. Nasty. And there might be frogs and mosquitoes and who-knows-what beneath the surface. I’m going to reek.
I’m already reeking. Cynicism and self-pity stink, but here it is:
If you want respect in church, don’t bother being female.
And especially don’t bother with being female
majoring in something all the powers-that-be think is stupid.
There. I said it. I’ve certainly felt it before, most acutely when I was twenty-one, the only college student in our church singles’ group. My husband and I weren’t dating yet—I barely knew him—and I had no friends. The ex who had harassed me several months before was in this group.
I was still recovering from mono.
And the eating disorders.
And my first breakdown.
And the second breakdown, with the depressive episode that had left me lying on the floor, face in the carpet, unable to move.
(Did I mention that self-pity stinks? Can you smell it on your side of the screen?)
This was the spring that I took contemporary art. As I’ve written before, that was a tough class for me. Certain ideas were so disturbing and confusing, that I wanted to talk to someone about them and discuss how to think about them as both an art-lover and a Christian. But I knew of no Christians who would’ve known anything about these artistic philosophies. None.
It was the same in my literature classes. Even the Christians I knew who were or had been English majors were less interested in the literature than in getting the degree. For them, the literature was a means to an end. For me, it was the end. The art and books were the point. As topics of study, they were worthwhile pursuits, even if it didn’t result in a paycheck.
The other singles didn’t agree. I can’t tell you how many times I was picked on for my English degree, usually by older males with degrees in engineering or physics or computer science.
What’s more, it left me feeling more isolated than ever. At other points in my life, I might’ve shrugged off the teasing. But at that particular point, I couldn’t. I felt vulnerable and sick, sad and lonely, with no end in sight. The heaviness had worn me down until I didn’t have the strength for a quick retort that might put the male in his place. The teasing seemed designed to belittle me as a person.
Perhaps it wasn’t intended the way I perceived it. But the perception felt real, and the feeling of being disrespected certainly was.
It was worse coming from males, all of whom were older than I. I was a young female in a male-dominated church. They had the power and clout and influence. I had nothing. They had the ability to crush me with their words, and I was crushed.
Even if they didn’t intend to reinforce my lower social position . . .
Even if they didn’t realize that I inhabited that position . . .
Even if they didn’t know that there was a social class structure at church . . .
they still did.
Ironically, though I couldn’t garner respect at church, I won the respect of my professors. Not Christian professors, I’ll add. Unreligious, unchurched, but frequently familiar with Christian theology (from academic studies) and Christian subculture (from Bible Belters’ proselytizing efforts).
True story: I once overheard a student complaining how much he “hated” literature within hearing distance of the English professor. Then he tried to “witness” to her. She dismissed him with a short “I used to be a Christian but I’m not anymore” and walked off. Clue into reality, buddy: don’t insult someone’s academic specialty and then attempt to persuade her of the veracity of scripture. Not a smart move.
Yet that was essentially the same attitude these single men had. I heard the same tired joke about “What do English majors say to engineers?” (“Would you like fries with that order?”) and “Eww, I hate English” multiple times. If I mentioned authors or artists, I received blank stares.
Once, I was talking to another student, a Christian who was a well-read, respectful guy. I said that I was working on an essay about Andy Warhol.
He looked at me. “Who’s Andy Warhol?”
(This is life in a city with too many technologically-focused people. It’s imbalanced.)
Eventually, after trying to speak in many different groups at that church, I stopped trying to talk about literature. I went silent.
It feels silly to whine about this now. But sometimes I still feel like that twenty-one-year old, struggling to understand difficult, disturbing texts, and wishing there was someone knowledgeable in my real world who understood them. Or was willing to wrestle through the issues until we understood. Or was willing to wrangle with the ideas for a long time, even if we never found the truth.
If you’ve made it this far, bless you, and hear my final plea:
If someone thinks differently than you do, please don’t belittle his or her thoughts.
Please don’t ridicule someone else’s passion, field of study, or interests.
Please remember that strength can to do two things: push down or pull up.
Please be the one to pull others up.
(Photo credit: seriousfun, morgueFile.com)