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Fall, 2009 by Letha Dawson Scanzoni

Welcome to the Fall, 2009 edition of Web Explorations for Christian Feminists. Here you’ll find a totally new list of websites with my descriptions and comments about each one.  As always,  the links I’ve listed call attention to a wide variety of subjects—subjects that I think we, as Christian feminists, along with our sisters and brothers of other faiths, will want to learn more about.  Please remember that the links in Web Explorations take you to sites outside our own website, and thus we in EEWC-Christian Feminism Today can’t be responsible for any content they may display. Nor does the inclusion of a link mean that a particular item necessarily represents our organization’s views. The links simply take you to a number of interesting, informative sites that I’ve discovered since posting the last Web Explorations edition (summer, 2009).  Some topics will no doubt interest you more than others, but take some time to scroll through the entire list.  Skip the one’s that don’t immediately grab your attention, and maybe you’ll decide to come back and click on some of the others at another time.  I hope you will.

Some articles and websites that have grabbed my attention

A Christian Feminism Overview from New Zealand
On this site, you can click on any of  three lectures presented by Nicola Hoggard Creegan for a 2000 seminar at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.  Her topics were “Is Christian Feminism Possible,”   “Feminism and the Bible,” and  “Christian Feminism and the Problem of Self-Sacrifice.”

Connie Schultz: “Wielding Prayer Like a Club Isn’t What God Intended”
Connie Schultz of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland is a syndicated newspaper columnist whose writings are always insightful. In this column, she has some wonderful things about right and wrong ways to think about prayer.  I especially liked her retelling of a Jewish tale about a farmer who realized he would be too late for prayers at the temple service. Since he could not remember the words of a prayer, he simply prayed the alphabet and asked God “to put the letters in the right place.”   (Reading that story made me think of Romans 8:26 in the Christian Scriptures in which we are told that “in certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words.” Scripture quotation is from the CEV [Contemporary English Version]).

Women Pastors Remain Scarce
This article from Her-meneutics, the Christianity Today blog for women, includes the results of a survey showing that only 8 percent of American congregations are led by women.  (If you read some of the online comments with the article, you many understand reasons for the scarcity of female pastors!) 

“Gender, Lay Leadership, and Fancy Rhetorical Footwork,”
by Duke University professor Mark Chaves, who teaches sociology and religion and directed the  National Congregations Study which conducted the survey on women pastors mentioned above.  Have you ever wondered why is it that some churches will allow a woman to give a “talk” but not “preach” in a Sunday worship service?  “Churches have to do some fancy rhetorical footwork when they need women to do work that their own rules prohibit women from doing,” writes Chaves.

Sex and Seminaries: Are Clergy Being Prepared to Deal with Sexuality Issues?
To find the answer, read this report of a survey of 36 theological seminaries (31 Protestant, 1 Catholic, and 4 rabbinical schools) conducted by the Religious Institute.  You can read the entire report or click on and download only specific sections (such as the executive summary or the list of seminaries that were surveyed).  A brief overview of the results of the study may also be found on Religion Link, including which seminaries were commended for their training on sexuality issues.

Courtney Martin’s Church Visit Opens Up Discussion on Feministing
Often religiously-minded feminists don’t realize how much interest in religion can be found on secular feminist sites. When Courtney Martin, a 29-year-old book author and  regular contributor to The American Prospect and Feministing, wrote about visiting her conservative Christian cousin’s church, she found some surprises.  Her writing about the experience elicited a large number of comments about religion, which provides a great opportunity for all of us to listen in on what some of today’s young, third-wave feminists are thinking.  Some earlier discussions on Feministing’s discussion blog, “Feministing Community,” also indicated considerable interest in religion and spirituality.  Here’s one such discussion from May, 2009 and another from July, 2009

Muslim Women Uncover Myths about the Hijab
Based on interviews with Muslim women, CNN correspondent John Blake reported that “Some women say the hijab makes them feel like they’re locked in a cage. But others say it leads to personal freedom.”  How other people treat Muslim girls and women who wear the hijab, particularly in western countries, is sometimes a problem, too.   In another article about wearing of the hijab, two fashion bloggers, Minh-ha Pham and  Mimi Thi Nguyen, show how ideas about religion and politics can go off in contrasting directions when discussions about head coverings take place.  These authors argue that what matters is freedom of choice, pointing out that both forced veiling and forced unveiling are equally troublesome in what they indicate about societal or religious attitudes toward women.

“Not a Victim, but a Hero”
After being kidnapped and gang-raped and beaten for an entire year, followed by rapes by the police she thought would help her, a young woman in Pakistan is speaking out publicly and seeking justice.  Going against local custom (which would have required committing suicide out of shame), she has refused to play the role of a helpless victim whose life is over.  She is fighting back, taking as her role model another woman, Mukhtar Mai, who did the same seven years ago and brought her offenders to justice.  With the compensation she won from the courts, Mukhtar Mai, had started a school. (This report is by Nicholas Kristoff from the New York Times.)

“Saving the World’s Women” – a special issue of the New York Times Magazine
If you missed the excellent August 23, 2009 issue of the New York Times Magazine, which was devoted to showing “how changing the lives of women and girls in the developing world can change everything,” you can read it online.  Included among the articles is an essay adapted from the new book, Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn.

Michelle Goldberg reviews Half the Sky for The American Prospect  
In her review of the Kristoff and WuDunn book,  Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Michelle Goldberg points out that  “the true scope of women’s dehumanization worldwide and the toll it takes on the planet’s prospects haven’t really penetrated most people’s consciousness.”  (The American Prospect, October, 2009 issue)

Jimmy Carter urges religious groups to change attitudes toward girls and women
Former President Jimmy Carter tells why he left the Southern Baptist Church in 2000 and now works with The Elders to change attitudes toward women around the world, beginning with the religious teachings of all faith traditions.  Watch these short related videos by some of The Elders, who express their belief “that the justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a higher authority, is unacceptable.”

Courtney Martin on Palin, Feminism, and Femininity
In an article for The American Prospect, Courtney Martin writes, “When Palin parachuted onto the national scene, she landed smack dab on the fault lines of gender and politics, shaking contemporary feminism to the core.”  Read this thoughtful essay on some lessons we can learn from the Palin phenomenon.

Interesting Article about President Obama’s Mother
In “Dreams from His Mother,” an op-ed piece from the New York Times, Yale professor Michael Dove describes the work of a remarkable woman, President Barack Obama’s mother, Dr. Ann Dunham Soetoro, an anthropologist who cared deeply about intercultural communication and understanding the lives of the economically deprived people among whom she lived and worked in Indonesia.

History of Women’s Exclusion from Baseball
On Women’s eNews, you can read an except from Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don’t Play Baseball, a new book by Jennifer Ring (University of Illinois Press, 2009).

Punctuation as a Feminist Act
Watch this fascinating YouTube video on the Feministing website.  It describes an effort to empower women and promote gender equality in Lebanese society through a simple campaign involving how words are punctuated in Arabic!

Changes in The NIV Translation of the Bible
The New International Version of the Bible has been a favorite, especially among conservative Christian groups, since it was first published in 1978.  It was updated in 1984, but the language was not gender neutral.  In 2001, a gender-neutral version of the New Testament was released, followed in 2005 by the complete Bible with gender neutral language.  This version was called Today’s New International Version or the TNIV.  This version caused great controversy, with some conservative Christians arguing that it was proof of “political correctness out of control.”  or an indication of the“feminist seduction of the evangelical church.”  In September, 2009,  the publishers of the NIV announced they will be updating the original version and that they will no longer publish the gender-neutral TNIV. 

2010 U.S. Census will report numbers of same-sex couples
Questions and controversy have arisen over what policy changes will result from the census figures; and since same-sex marriage is now legal in Iowa, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire,  Connecticut, and Maine, statisticians and software engineers will be faced with special new challenges in recording and reporting.  (Information is from The Washington Post and USA Today.)

Ohio Court Rules that Breastfeeding Firing Is Not Gender Discrimination.
This article from Salon describes some legal reasoning that will probably leave you scratching your head!  And if that story isn’t enough to show that sexism is alive and well, listen to these words froman Arizona senator who said he didn’t need maternity care in his health insurance so didn’t see why employer-provided insurance policies should have to include it.  Be sure to watch the video and see the quick retort by Michigan senator Debbie Stabenow.

I Took My Wife’s Last Name
In several past editions of Web Explorations, I’ve included articles about whether or not a woman should change her name at marriage, but this item from the Globe and Mail is an interesting twist.  It’s by a devoted husband who dared to change his surname to that of his bride.  And it wasn’t her idea, but his.  “I did it because I love Mona –  because I wanted her to know that I didn’t expect her to become anyone other than herself,” writes Josiah Neufeld (formerly Josiah Theissan) “It mattered to me that we shared a name, so I reasoned I should be the one to offer mine up.”   But many people didn’t understand or were critical of his decision, and the article drew some extremely nasty comments.

Poll Showing Most Americans Think Women Should Take Husband’s Last Name
At the American Sociological Association meetings in August, 2009, researchers from Indiana University and the University of Iowa presented the results of a national survey showing that 71percent of Americans believe that a woman should take her husband’s last name at marriage.

“Why do we call Gallileo by only his first name?”
This article from the online magazine, Slate, helps us understand something of the history of surnames and why governments concluded they were necessary in the first place.

Survivors of Sexual Abuse in missionary schools
Read this article by the Rev. D. Marie Fortune as she comments on the documentary, All God’s Children, in which adult survivors of abuse tell of the abusive treatment they had endured years earlier when they had been students in boarding schools run by the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church for children of missionaries.  You can read more about the documentary and watch excerpts here.

Movies, DVDs, and online audio and video

As regular readers of Web Explorations know, I like to point out films and online audio/video features that are often not the usual ones that get all the publicity but instead are lesser known gems that touch upon various life concerns and social issues.  The stories they present can touch us deeply with their sensitivity and beauty and wake us up (sometimes with a jolt)  to the common humanity we all share – even with people we may have been tempted to lump together as “the other,” people who we may think are “not like us.” Or maybe they concern topics we think are outside our range of interests.  But we might be surprised to see how much we can learn through them.   Here are some films, DVDs, and online audio/video sites you might want to consider.

Audio: NPR Story on the Movie Precious
In the summer issue of Web Explorations, I already talked about the award-winning movie Precious.  But I bring it up again now because a release date has been announced.  It is scheduled to be in theaters this November.  Be sure to read or listen to the NPR story about it, and then watch for the movie to be shown in your area.

Movie:  Food, Inc. (Movie)
Watch this trailer of a disturbing documentary film about the food industry.  You might also want to watch the Online video of a PBS NOW interview about the film.  At this writing, the movie is still showing in theaters and not yet available on DVD.  Along with this movie, Nicholas Kristoff’s essay on family farms might be interest.

British film “Between Two Women”: Available on DVD
Originally shown on British television, this is a tender, sensitively told love story about the development of feelings between two women whose friendship grew to be something more.  It takes place when such a relationship was difficult for even the women themselves to acknowledge and accept, much less know where to find answers to their dilemma.  (If you look for this DVD, be sure to look for the one described in the link, because I believe there have been other films with the same or similar names.)

Silent Light (movie):Available on DVD
If you rent this one, don’t give up on it too soon.  It’s an unusual film in many ways.  For one, it is probably the slowest-paced movie I’ve ever seen (some reviewers called the pace glacial), with much of it seeming like time-lapse photography accompanied by spare conversation. The word “silent” in the title is apt in perhaps more ways than intended.  Even the long table grace at the beginning of the film is in total silence until the quiet is broken by the father’s “Amen” and bowed heads are lifted.  This is the story of a large farm family with six darling children ranging from teenagers to a baby. The family is part of a Mennonite settlement in the northern part of Mexico.  The plot centers around an affair the father is having, and his inner conflict between his faith and his desire to be with the other woman.  His father tells him he is being tempted by the devil, but at the same time. the father is compassionate and surprisingly understanding.  The man thinks his love for the other woman is instead a gift from God in spite of his painful struggles.  He insists he also loves his long-suffering wife, whose devotion to him and whose partnership in both parenting and operating the family farm are extraordinary.  I felt my own heart would break as I witnessed the convulsive sobbing of the wife in one scene.  This is not at all a happy film, but it shows very real people who have become enmeshed in in what can be a real situation straight out of life. The actors (who do an outstanding job as totally believable characters) are not professional actors but are actual people from the Mennonite community in the area where the movie was filmed, which adds to the honesty and realism. See Roger Ebert’s review from the Chicago Sun Times, which gave it four stars; and it was awarded the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.  It’s also a visually beautiful the film that at points struck me as though I were looking at a painting or reading poetry, rather than watching a movie.

Judgment: Available on DVD
As this review by Ken Tucker points out, this powerful 1990 film made for HBO would not likely have been able to address its topic so forthrightly on network television.  It shows the impact on a family as they learn their young son was repeatedly sexually molested by their esteemed Roman Catholic priest.  The story takes place around the time the long-hidden and denied Catholic sex scandals had just begun surfacing.  Starring well-known actors Keith Carradine, Blythe Danner, and David Strathairn, with young Michael Faustino giving an excellent performance as the boy, the film is based on a true story of two loving parents, lifelong Roman Catholics, who are shocked and anguished over their young son’s suffering and acting out after the abuse.  They refused the settlement that some other families agreed to and were resolute in demanding nothing less than justice. They were thoroughly appalled by the way the insurance company tried to manipulate the situation and by the church’s practice of hushing up incidents of sexual abuse by simply moving accused priests to other parishes. The film is amazingly candid in how it treats the topic.

Video on Sinead’s Hand in Marriage (online)
Just as in the United States, many justice-oriented people in Ireland are working to make legal marriage available to gay and lesbian couples.  This short film (fewer than 2 minutes long)  comes from MarriagEquality, Ireland, and makes its point in a clever way.  The movement  for marriage equality in that country began through the efforts of two women who had been in a committed 25-year relationship.  They make many of the same points made by Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune in her article, “Our Marriage Was Taken from Us,” , which was written for the Winter, 2009 issue of Christian Feminism Today and which appears on our own website.

Online Video: Wendell Potter Tells Why He Changed His Mind about the Health Insurance Industry
Wendell Potter held a high position in the health insurance industry until he had an experience that put a face on what had been impersonal numbers and helped him see patients – actual human beings – instead of profits.  He decided to leave his job and speak out about common practices among health insurers.  Listen to him talk about in on the PBS program, Bill Moyers’ Journal.

Online Audio: Gloria Steinem at 75 
Gloria Steinem, at age 75, continues her work for social justice and full gender equality in all areas of life.  Hear her interview on Minnesota Public Radio, June 15, 2009..

Online Video: Judy Small’s concert at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage
I know many feminists, including many members of EEWC-Christian Feminism Today, have long been fans of the Australian folksinger Judy Small and have appreciated her vision for peace and justice, her activism, and her music.  You can listen to a live concert online from one of her trips to the United States a few years ago and performed on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center.

Online Audio and Narrated slide show – Nicholas Kristoff on how the education and empowerment of women can change the world.
Listen and watch these stories of what the empowerment of women can mean – for everybody.


That’s all for this edition of “Web Explorations for Christian Feminists.” See you again in January – or maybe even before!

Your Web Explorations Guide
Letha Dawson Scanzoni