Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Random Halloween Observation...

Halloween in a college town = lots of young women dressed in revealing and inappropriate clothes called "a costume". We had “nurse”, “cop” , “witch” and “dominatrix” among others(yes, I had a student who dressed as a dominatrix…whip and all).

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Random Thought # 4 (RT4)

4. I don't think that men are evil, even men who open doors for me.

Not only do I not hate men….I like men. Yes, I do, and I am not speaking in just a romantic sense or because they can open jars and lift heavy stuff.

There are lots of reasons why and these are just a few of them:

I love to be around men because they think so differently than I do and I enjoy hearing different ideas and perspectives because it makes me think.

Men are also great to be around because they seem to have an ability to boil things down to the bottom line and separate fact from emotion. That is a skill I am in need of.

I greatly prefer to have some men in my classes. I teach people how to practice a profession that has been traditionally female so the gender mix in most of my courses is about 10% male and 90% female and sometimes even 100% female. I consistently find that even a few men in a class cuts the estrogen enough to make the group as a whole much more pleasant and easier to deal with (less drama and complaining). The male students will also volunteer to do things for me generally more often than the girls.

Men make me feel safer. If I am frightened or nervous about something and as much as I love and respect my female friends and relatives I’d much rather be around a man. There is something comforting about the presence of a man who you trust.

I like men because they call me out on my crap when lots of women won’t. I really like the ones who even put up with my sometimes emotional initial reaction to that and are willing to go through it all over again the next time.

I like men because lots of them are still willing to take the chance of helping a woman even though she may repay their kindness and concern with rudeness because of some perceived threat to her “power”. A few months ago I was in an auto accident where my little car was squashed by a huge pickup truck when I was stopped in traffic. As soon as the accident happened both the man in the vehicle in front of me and the vehicle behind the truck who hit me stopped. The guy behind the truck immediately called the police whereas I would have been inclined to let it go. It turned out that the guy who hit me had an expired license and the wrong insurance information so it was good for me that the police were called. The man in the vehicle in front of me jumped out of his truck and gave the guy who hit me a “look”, asked me if I was ok, then talked to the man who called the police about which of them was going to stay with me till the police came (and neither asked me if I wanted them to stay, they just assumed they should). When I kept insisting I was fine, even though I wasn’t, the one who stayed with me took my arm and led me to the guard rail, sat me down, and listened to me nervously prattle on without getting visibly annoyed with me for the 30 minutes it took the police to get through traffic. How can you not respect that?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Random Thought # 3

Regarding Random Thought #3 (RT3):

RT3- I don't feel at home among those who think it is righteous for church goers to condemn homosexuality while winking at materialism, vanity, and gossip. No wonder so many unbelievers say we are all hypocrites. I am thinking about this sort of thing alot lately.

I was raised in a religious home (including 12 years of Catholic school) but it wasn’t until I was 20 that I came to an understanding of the real meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection and I began to follow Him. I remember that in the early days of my walk with God that I cried a lot because I was just blown away by the truth of the gospel and the grace and mercy of God. I also remember that I spent a lot of time alone. I was home from college for the summer and away from most of my friends and feeling overwhelmed by all that I was coming to understand so I just wanted to be alone, read the Bible, pray and think. I was stunned. Hopeful. Strangely at peace.

In the Fall I went back to college and my friends. None of my college friends understood because none of them were believers. In fact that summer was the first time any one ever explained the gospel to me and, other than the friend who witnessed to me, I didn’t really know any believers. I began to participate in a college ministry, met some believing friends, and began to read books like C.S Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”.

I developed a very black and white sense of how things should be and a sense that life as a Christian and relationships between believers would be much better than it was as an unbeliever. In short I had the idea that all believers would be holy and sinless and above all nice….perfect (after all we were all following the same perfect God, right?). I suppose that was due to my new believer euphoria, the sense of utopia I initially perceived in my beginning fellowship experiences, and also due to my age at the time. When people first learn new things we tend to want rules, standards, and guidelines for how things should be. It is hard to see the gray areas and become comfortable with what we don’t understand. I see this kind of thought all the time with my students now. They want me to tell them exactly what to do to get an “A” and I want them to learn to think for themselves. Part of this is because people don’t really fully develop the higher level analytic thought that allows us to cope with ambiguity and uncertainty on an intellectual level until our mid to late 20’s because certain parts of our brains are not fully myelinated (think “wired”) until then.

After the initial euphoria of my conversion I began to learn that it wasn’t all going to be perfect and that lots of believers didn’t seem to be any different than many unbelievers I knew. I began to “grow up” and understand that it wasn’t as simple as “christian”=good and ”non-christian”=bad. In fact in the intervening years often times I have experienced lots of “christian”=bad and non-christian=good. (The good news, though, is that I have also experienced that God=good. Not because He only brings good into my life but because who/what He is defines what “good” is.)

I used to think that when believers and nonbelievers disagreed on what the right thing to do was that it was because God’s way doesn’t always make sense to the world. Sometimes that is the reason. But sometimes I think it is because we believers are so busy trying to follow rules that we ignore justice and mercy. Last year I was injured and confined to bed/home for 3-4 weeks and who do you suppose came and sat with me, and brought me groceries, and drove me to the doctor? It was not a believer, it was some non believing friends who came to help me. Who was more Christ like?

We look like hypocrites and the world notices.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Just for Fun

This always makes me laugh.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Beauty: Nature versus Nurture- Part Deux

Today I want to discuss the science and research that Anakin Niceguy (NG) referred to in his blog references in my last entry. Interpreting research can be difficult for the general public who often rely on media sound bites and the ethics of the authors of the study in honestly explaining the outcomes of the research. Unfortunately the public is often exposed to just plain false conclusions by the media and unethical researchers more interested in proving a point than being objective. As a researcher (not of sociology specifically but in a field that examines human behaviors and health) I can tell you that there is no way to carry out research that excludes the effects of the culture that the research subject is a member of. So it is extremely difficult to say what is biological drive and what is culturally determined. We can look at preferences across cultures and see if there are any similarities among all cultures and that may give us a clue about some general trends. However, we cannot scientifically prove anything based on cross cultural studies because especially in the modern technological age the world is becoming smaller so there are fewer cultures that are not influenced by other cultures. AN states that research has proven that biology determines what we find attractive. I can see how he may come to this conclusion based on the ideas circulated in popular culture, and even written by Harvard psychologists, however it is far from scientifically proven because there is no way to remove culture from the equation. At least no way that any institutional review board that governs human subjects research would ever approve. We can, however, examine what evidence we do have from science and history.

For example let’s examine a specific physical quality mentioned in the essay I quoted as well as in the links provided in AN’s response to my comment: body weight. The few large scale studies that cross cultures and study what people find attractive appear to point to several factors that are in common across cultures such as symmetry of facial features or a .70 waist to hip ratio for a woman. Obviously symmetry is not excluded for women (or men for that matter) who are not of the culturally ideal body weight and neither is the .70 waist to hip ratio as this is the ratio between my waist and hip measurements though I am not within the culturally ideal weight range.

We can get other cues by examining historical depictions of beauty or desirability. The current ideal of beauty has not always been the cultural ideal. Look at depictions of beauty and desirability represented in places such as the primitive art forms of fertility idols of both ancient Europe and ancient Africa, the art of Renoir or Rubens, (or Rembrandt, Giorgione, and Jordaens) descriptions of some desirable women by writers of the 19th and 18th centuries such as Charles Dickens, or the more contemporary (20th century) writings of playwright August Wilson which depict or describe women who would be considered as at least overweight if not obese today as attractive.

The idea that a preference for thinner women is a God established preference because men are looking for healthy women is a commonly mentioned theory as well. The idea that health is evident if a woman has an ideal body weight, however, is not entirely proven by science. Sometimes thin = good health and fat= poor health but this is not always true. Now, I know that this idea goes against current cultural ideas about health perpetuated in the media but hang with me while we examine some research on the subject.

While some research has demonstrated that a woman’s excess body weight is associated with higher risk for things such as heart disease, that increased risk of heart disease is actually less than the risk associated with being a man or being an African American. (It should also be noted that correlations and some expressions of risk cannot “prove” anything scientifically because they are statistics that report on studies that are not experimental in nature. I’ll write more on this at another time but know that there is no way to know how two correlated factors actually influence each other or if they actually influence each other at all). While being overweight increases risk factors for some diseases (though not by as much as is generally believed by the population as a whole) and certainly increases stress on joints (that’s just simple physics) being overweight and even obese also actually lowers the risk for some types of cancer and diseases such as osteoporosis.

The assumption that thin=healthy also is not reflected in mortality statistics. If one examines epidemiological research that explores the relationship between the body weight of women and mortality (as in the famous longitudinal nurses’ health study) it has been demonstrated that the group with the best mortality (least chance of dying) are those with a BMI of 25-30, also known as “overweight”. Interestingly enough once factors such as smoking, weight loss due to illness, and activity level are accounted for, mortality for “morbidly obese” women (BMI over 35) who are not sedentary is better than the mortality of women with BMIs under 20, otherwise known as your average Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, who are sedentary. Mortality is equal when both groups have the same activity level. Research demonstrates that activity level is actually a much better predictor of health than body weight is and it is not always apparent from looking at someone how active they are. For example at my gym I would estimate that at least half of the women that I see there regularly are overweight or obese yet there they are being physically active 3-4 times a week.

Does this mean men should prefer overweight women to all other women and morbidly obese women to super models when given a choice because they have better mortality stats? Nah, I’m not saying that at all. LOL I am not saying you should or should not be attracted to anyone. I am just pointing out that it would be more intellectually honest for men to stand behind their preferences as simply their preferences (or the current cultural paradigm of beauty) and not as some divine mandate, especially since it is not a Biblical mandate, historical fact or scientific certainty. I think so many of the issues being discussed are so very important and I don’t want women who need to understand this stuff to get hung up on other assertions which are based on weaker assumptions.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Beauty: Nature versus Nurture

I recently commented on the Scripturally Single blog regarding standards of beauty and want to write some on the subject here as well so that I don’t post an excessively long comment there. The author of the blog who has taken the pseudonym of Anakin Niceguy (I’ll use AN for short) has put forth the idea that what men find attractive is innate and has claimed that the basis for this is both scientific and scriptural. I find this idea problematic and more importantly I think it may create unnecessary controversy which I explained in a comment there.

I do want to make clear, however, exactly what I am NOT saying. I in no way believe that any man owes it to any woman (me included) to find her attractive (and vice versa). I also understand that men may feel insulted by church leaders who lecture them regarding these issues. I don’t think anyone should tell you who you should be attracted to. I have always said that people have a right to their preferences regarding who they are attracted to and I still believe that is true. I also think all believers should be open to what God has to say to them as an individual about their preferences, myself included (at some point I am going to write about how I have erred in this area myself ).

Back to the point: While I do agree that we know from research that men tend to be stimulated far more than women by what they see. It isn’t the fact that men are visually stimulated and that God made them that way that I would disagree with. It is the idea that what a man finds visually stimulating is biologically innate and God ordained rather than culturally defined that I disagree with. My contention is that generally speaking standards of beauty differ from culture to culture and over the course of time. So the subject of this blog entry as well as the next one will be to address this question: Are the current beauty ideals and standards biologically driven and God ordained or are they culturally determined?

I recommend you read what AN wrote on the subject both in the post I commented on and in the linked entries (1, 2 and 3) in his response to me to understand his perspective. I don’t disagree with some of what he has said, and I confess as well that I may not have quite understood all of what he said so I am open to having my mind changed in the presence of appropriate evidence. AN gives various reasons for holding the views he has about attractiveness and beauty including scripture and science so in this post I am going to discuss why I believe these reasons are weak, or at least that adequate “proof” has not been provided. First I will discuss some of the scriptures AN refers to.

AN refers to the Song of Solomon as proof that visual stimuli is important in attraction for many people and I believe that this is true. The Song of Solomon does express attraction based on how the beloved and the lover look, or as AN refers to it: their “body parts”. However, there are no specifics about what kinds of body parts are being found attractive or acceptable. For example the woman’s waist is referred to as “a mound of wheat encircled by lilies”….um, ok, that does not really tell me what body type is preferable though the term “mound” leads me to conjecture that her stomach wasn’t exactly flat and that, however it was, her lover liked it that way. The woman’s skin is also referred to as dark and lovely though it is clear that dark skin is not the cultural standard of beauty at the time as the passage refers to her being scorned because she is dark from working in the vineyard. So does scripture back up the idea that visual stimuli important? Yes, but it does not define what is beautiful in terms of appearance.

AN also argues that attractiveness is referred to in the Bible with certain persons being referred to as attractive or not and this is true. However the passages he refers to give no specifics about what makes a person attractive or not. Leah and Rachel are mentioned and the Bible does tell us that Leah was considered less attractive than her sister Rachel because she had “weak eyes” whatever that may mean. Interestingly Jacob’s marriage to both sisters produced no end of trouble for him and in the end it was Leah, the less attractive sister, who bore the child (Judah) whose descendants included King David and Jesus. What that means, I don’t know, but what I do know from this is that the Bible does not specify what features (blue, green or brown eyes?), shapes of body parts, or other physical features should be viewed as the ideal of beauty. If anyone knows of any please share that information.

I will address some of the science and research issues in my next entry.

Random Thought #7

Regarding random thought #7 (RT7)

"7. I am confused by the fact that non Christian men seem to be far more interested in me as a person, attracted to me, and less critical of my body than my brothers in Christ. I am even more confused by all of the apparent "men vs. women" discussion about and among Christian singles online."

I have been reading a lot about the feminization of the church and of society the last 7 months or so. I have found much of what I have read to be very enlightening and at the same time very depressing because it has caused me to wonder if there is any way out of the mess.

What does this have to do with RT7 you ask? Well I have had a hard time with some of the stuff I was reading and hearing, especially at first, because it was so different from much of what I have been exposed to. I am very thankful, though, for the man who first started me thinking about a lot of this stuff even though I argued with him about some of it because I didn't understand...I'll have to write about that at another time.

My point (and I do have one) is that I am eager for my sisters in Christ to understand about what has happened in our culture, the relationships between men and women, and in the church, to see what feminism has wrought. We need to grasp this ladies! For our own good, for the good of the body of Christ, for the good of society. I am convinced that this. Because I am so eager for this understanding to happen sometimes I get frustrated with some (actually very few) of the points made by those blogging about these issues. Some of the stuff that gets discussed I think is a roadblock to the ability of some women to understand. One of those issues is the concept of beauty or desirability. This seems to get discussed a good bit by those exploring the issues. Some of what is said led me in part to RT7.

Back to RT7. Today I have been thinking that RT7 may in part be a numbers thing...I mean there seem to be lots more men outside the church than in the church. If only a certain percentage of men find me attractive, lets say 10% to make the math simpler, and I have met 100 Christian men and 700 non believing men of course that would mean that there would be more non-believing men who find me attractive to the tune of 10 vs 70 (hmm.......that probably means the actual percentage is lower than

I suppose I could do as some men who participate in the online discussions I have been reading do and choose to engage in romantic relationships with unbelievers. And in truth I have actually tried that in the past. Didn't work for me. Besides being unable to relate to each other about what is very important to me, faith in Christ (you know the results of the often mentioned unequal yoking), there was always pressure for premarital sex (don't get me wrong....I don't think sex is wrong or dirty at all, just that God means sex to be within marriage.....marital sex, that's the ticket!). Sex appears to be an expected part of most contemporary dating relationships. The few non believing men I was involved with lost patience with my desire to wait for marriage and did so pretty quickly. So for me this is not an option.

I hope that one day I will meet one of the minority of Christian men that are attracted to me and that I will be able to enjoy being some one's wife. I acknowledge that the likelihood that I will marry is not great, but I still have hope ;)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

In the beginning...

I am new to the world of blogs, well, not exactly new... I have read other's blogs for a few years and tried to start my own once. That did not go so I was far from consistent.

So, why try again? Well, I am going through a period of reflection, questioning and growth of late and I want someplace to give my thoughts a voice.

What have I been reflecting on? Here is a random sample:

1. Sometimes I feel like I just don't fit in anywhere. I am a fairly conservative Christian who works in higher education. I am surrounded by people and ideas that clash with each other.

2. I don't feel at home among those who think Al Gore is brilliant and ignore the majority of climate scientists for the sake of a political agenda.

3. I don't feel at home among those who think it is righteous for church goers to condemn homosexuality while winking at materialism, vanity, and gossip. No wonder so many unbelievers say we are all hypocrites. I am thinking about this sort of thing alot lately.

4. I don't think that men are evil, even men who open doors for me.

5. I think feminism has screwed up far more than it ever resolved and even worse, that I have no idea of exactly how much it has screwed up.

6. I don't think having a PhD makes you smarter or better than anyone else (in fact I am certain working on mine has resulted in the loss of at least 10-15 IQ points).

7. I am confused by the fact that non Christian men seem to be far more interested in me as a person, attracted to me, and less critical of my body than my brothers in Christ. I am even more confused by all of the apparent "men vs. women" discussion about and among Christian singles online.

8. I think science can be amazing and enlightening but that often the media exposes the public to sound bites of research outcomes that are so agenda driven that they bear little resemblance to the raw data published in the study (like some epidemiological correlational studies about nutrition).

9. Even more depressing than #8, is that scientists themselves who are not objective, but rather collect raw data and write articles whose conclusions have no basis in that data to push an agenda.

10. As a single woman over 35 I am growing more and more tired of feeling out of place in the American Christian church where the family is the focus and single people are marginalized, pitied, and seen as threats to others' marriages.

That seems like a good place to stop, besides all that thinking is bumming me out.