An Interview with Tara J. Hannah

By Janene Cates Putman

Janene writes: “In her new book, Pink Sunglasses + Yoga Pants: 31 Reflections on Biblical Feminism, first-time author Tara J. Hannah answers the question ‘Can I be a Christian and a feminist?’ with a resounding ‘YES!’ Using engaging personal stories and a strong understanding of scripture, Ms. Hannah deftly demonstrates the equality inherent in women and men who are created in the image of the Divine. With the 31 essays conveniently portioned to be consumed one at a time, in just minutes a day, Pink Sunglasses + Yoga Pants will fit into the busiest woman’s schedule. Coining terms such as ‘guydolatry’ and ‘princess theology,’ Tara J. Hannah creatively conveys how girls and women can move into being everything God has created them to be.”

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. Janene’s questions are noted by her initials, JCP, and Tara’s answers by her initials, TJH.

Tara J. Hannah
Tara J. Hannah

JCP: Let’s jump right into talking about the book! You’re an occupational therapist by trade; how did you come to write a book about biblical feminism?

TJH: It’s interesting that you should ask that. I think the motivation for the book was personal. I work in the medical field, and I teach yoga. This book was something I felt called to do; actually, I couldn’t sleep if I didn’t do it. I knew I couldn’t get that kind of information and not share it with the world.

Occupational therapists are always looking to determine a person’s occupation and an occupation is what motivates, what empowers, that person. Why do they get up in the morning? What makes them live their life? And when I started looking at how the Bible presents women, it became very clear to me that this was a disempowering presence. The Bible seemed to inhibit my occupations—to funnel me into a pre-scripted occupation: to have babies and to serve man, with no additional occupation outside of that to move in or to affect the greater world. For a while, I believed that, because that’s what the Bible said, I wanted to follow God and the Bible. While I thought it was bad, I also thought maybe God’s smarter than my theory of occupation. And I went along in that kind of blind faith. But as I started looking more, there just became cracks in it. And I went down the rabbit hole and out came Pink Sunglasses + Yoga Pants!

JCP: How long did it take you to write the book?

TJH: Well, if you’re talking about sitting down in front of a computer, that took two years. If you’re talking about the years of research and experience, that adds at least a decade more, and then even beyond that, because I bring in childhood experiences.

Imprisoned by Theological Walls

JCP: Right off the bat in your book, you get to the heart of the issue: “women hunkered inside the thick citadels of religion, reflexively defining feminism as a heretical f-word . . . and the women are completely blind to how their theological walls imprison them.” How so?

TJH: When I started writing this book and was looking for a title, when I used the word feminism, it became a hot button. Everything I was saying about women gaining power, or having power to move the world, that was okay. But once I started using the word feminism, or talking about women having power, especially if that was power over a man, that was not okay. I think the systems and how we see power have a lot to do with those fortresses. People are very afraid of a world where the imagery of power is different. And that comes down to how we see God and God’s power.

JCP: Right. And seeing the feminine parts of God helps us to love God in a different way—a way that’s not just about power or wrath.

TJH: Absolutely. But don’t forget, in scripture, the feminine part of God is one of the fiercest parts of God. And we don’t own that fierce side of God, that feminine side of God that fights – that bear that’s robbed of her cubs. That is the fiercest part of God and one that often gets appropriated. Women need to claim that back. That is our term, women.

JCP: One of my favorite quotes from the book is: “they said I was falling away from God and so I prepared to crash. But instead I was carried up high and taught to soar.” That imagery is absolutely stunning. Let’s talk about that. How did that play out in your journey toward biblical feminism?

TJH: Well, first off, that imagery is scriptural, so I can’t really take credit for that. Applying it to my own life is okay, and what we all should do.

The religious system I was in has their lingo, and that was often “falling away.” If a person was not complying with the status quo of that church, they were said to be falling away from the church and even falling away from God. And it became very clear to me that I was supposed to leave that particular system, but I had no idea where I was going. I had very little understanding of how scripture supported me or validated me; I just knew I was supposed to go.

There were many signs along the way over the years. The straw that broke the camel’s back for me, when I said okay, I’m not playing anymore, is when I was told that my problem was asking these questions. Because of that, it became reflected on me that I was in sin and I had a sinful heart because I had gone to college with the goal to be able to support a family.

I was taught as a daughter in my family to yes, have kids, yes, get married, but don’t you dare do that unless you can support them on your own. That was very clear from both my mom and dad. Yes, you can rely on a husband, but as a responsibility of having children, you need to be able to feed them and support them. And I agree with that. And I was told that that was my problem. That was my sin, because I was supposed to grow up with the goal of being part of a family to serve, not a family to support and protect. I knew that was wrong. I can’t do that; no.

I left relationships that I had for 20 years, even family relationships. I had family that was leading this church. And stepping away from that is not easy; it was tough. But I also knew my script, so to speak, was we have to prune to grow.  I didn’t have a scripture right then, but I knew I had to prune to grow. And what was getting pruned was the church that I was a part of, the people and that system that said I was not a worthy agent of power as a woman.

I did feel like I was falling. My husband would take the kids to church, and I would sit on my deck and cry. I didn’t know where I was going. But yeah, I did get lifted up and I’m in a much better place now.

Resolving a Conflict

JCP: That reminds me of another quote in the chapter “The Mother of All Commandments.” You talk about women’s work and the conflict you faced around that. And you said, “What I was taught seemed to conflict with my spirit.” What were you taught and how did you resolve the conflict?

TJH: I don’t know that that’s completely resolved. At this point in my life, I am opening a woman’s rehabilitation clinic, a private [occupational therapy] practice. Women’s health issues are a very underserved area. Understanding this whole health issue in my own community, in every community is important.

We’ve got stores and shelves of women’s Depends and adult diapers, and women don’t know that that’s fixable and practitioners aren’t stepping up to fix it. And I realized, this is my job to do that and it’s important. Somebody else can do my laundry. But [during that time of my life when I was in conflict], I was doing laundry, cleaning floors, changing diapers, and doing all those things you need to do in life with little kids. And I’m thinking, I’m smart; I’ve got skills. I can make just as much if not more money than my husband. Why am I doing this work? I don’t even know if I was helping my kids totally, because I wasn’t very happy. And you know, if mommy’s not happy the kids aren’t that happy either. And I did my best. Some women love to stay home, and they want to do that. I don’t believe it was my calling.

JCP: A big part of feminism is giving women the ability to choose; some women want to stay home, and that is what they feel is their calling in life. I completely support that when it is a woman’s choice and not the woman’s church or her husband or family saying it’s her only option. I think that’s where a lot of our conflict within the church comes in. In these times we live in, there are very few women who have the luxury to be a stay-at-home mom.

Pink Sunglasses and Yoga Pants Book CoverTJH: We need to change how we look at it. I have not met a stay-at-home mom who does not want to earn some money. We make it an either/or choice. Part of what we need to be looking at is how we are going to make this work for mothers. We have to stop the environment where [the only choices are] being home with your kids OR making money. We have to make a world where both are discussed. That’s one of the major issues we have as women and something we do need to come together around.

JCP: You’re right. We set it up as an either/or, and it can be both/and. I think the church, and the women of the church in particular, must do a better job in supporting one another, whether the choice is to be a mostly-at-home mother with the children or to be a mostly-working-outside-the-home mother when you have children.

Let’s talk about the three sections of Pink Sunglasses and Yoga Pants. You have “Power to Her,” “Body Language,” and “Do the Bright Thing.” What does each have to say about the embodiment of women in relating to God and others?

TJH: “Power to Her” was written basically to explain how God created us with power and to wield power. I spent many years wondering why God was so sexist and why God would create a world where women have such a difficult time. “Power to Her” explains that God did not create the world that way; it was man who made the world this way, men and women who agreed to these terms. So that is kind of a “getting God off the hook” section; there’s not a reason to be mad at God or to think God is sexist or to think God’s a misogynist.

“Body Language.” Now, that’s my sweet spot, because I spend my days dealing with women’s bodies. And so that’s what I know and how I think. As women, we don’t take enough credit or own the power in our flesh. We are the deliverers of life. We break our bodies, we shed our blood for the renewal of life. And even if women do not have children, they’re still shedding blood every month with menstruation. And as we go through and graduate to menopause, these are holy and sacred things. That’s how women embody the work of God. Women are who deliver LIFE!

“Do the Bright Thing” contains our action items. I wanted to make this a book where each reader could take their own spot in the world and do something. It’s not the one big thing that this woman did this or that this man did for women. It’s each of us together in our own environments, in our own communities, making the small differences that add up to really big change. We see this pretty clearly with the #metoo movement. This section of the book has ways to inspire change in the church or in your community.

JCP: In the chapter “Promise or Property?” you talk about patriarchal marriage, in terms of the requirement of women to surrender power. How does Jesus change that?

TJH: Two becoming one is not the wife becoming her husband. So much of how we see marriage is women getting folded into the husband’s identity. We lose our name and, especially in how the church often teaches marriage, the husband is in charge, and he’s the power figure and the woman is kind of a sidekick to help build him up. That’s not exactly becoming one; that’s two being folded into one.

I think of marriage like ingredients in a recipe; you have two separate ingredients, you put them together and make something new. You become something greater together, with God’s help. But when women give up themselves or submit their power in marriage, that’s not becoming one; that’s becoming invisible.

Guydolatry and Princess Theology

JCP: In your new book, Tara, you coined the term guydolatry. Just looking at the word, I knew exactly what it meant! Will you please explain that to us?

TJH: [Coming up with that term] took a while. I knew what I was looking for and I needed a term to name this. When I started doing the research, it just became very evident to me that how men and the masculine are elevated to godlike status, where God is only recognized as masculine and masculinity is the only recognized power, it became very clear to me how this is idolatry.

Most people think of idols like little statues, or sometimes we’ll talk about money being an idol. It became very obvious to me of how we see the masculine and power and how we assign those things—that is an idolatry. Idolatry isn’t always something separate from God; it can be adoring only one quality of God or only seeing one side of God. Guydolatry is when we cannot see God beyond the masculine or when we uphold the masculine as a god. I hope that term gets used because we need to see it that way to repent of our sins.

JCP: I completely agree. In your chapter “Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall,” you use the phrase princess theology. What does that have to do with Queen Esther’s story in the Bible?

TJH: We were having Bible talk at my house, and the leader was sharing the story of Esther and he started comparing Queen Esther and Queen Vashti like it was a beauty pageant. He was shaming Queen Vashti because she hadn’t listened to her husband and refused to prance in front of his drunk friends with her royal beauty. This leader was making the drunk guys God’s verdict over Queen Vashti. Then we treat Queen Esther like a princess. We kind of “princess” her, not realizing this was a woman who broke the law and risked her life to save her people. We frost it over and made her beautiful. I don’t even know whether she wanted to go through all those beauty treatments that they made her do; we have no idea about that. We uphold Esther and Vashti like princesses: Who’s the fairest of them all? I call that princess theology. And that’s often how women are portrayed: Who is the most serving? Who’s the most pleasing? Who is the fairest of them all? We don’t hold women with the King David standard of who swiped him up and kicked some butt and won? Who was the fiercest of them all?

Sexpectations

JCP: There are some provocative portions of your book, but in particular, you talk about, and I’m quoting now, “harmful sexpectations for women.” How do you deal with those?

TJH: What I’m realizing in my private practice is the first thing for women is to understand our bodies; we have a right to do that. At a very basic level of humanity, we are sensory beings. Understanding our bodies and how they feel is more than looking good or being able to do something. Those sexpectations as women—we wear makeup, we shave, we do all those things—it becomes work. And the female sexuality is a little bit messier than male sexuality. We have menstruation issues to deal with and even post-coital messes. Our sexuality can turn into work in maintaining ourselves instead of understanding what our experience is. I think at a very basic level, we need to understand our bodies and how they feel and to understand what is normal.

In my practice so many women think it’s normal after age 50 to leak urine, or after having a baby, if they sneeze and leak a little bit. That is not normal. It’s because we haven’t rehabilitated the muscles to work properly and function. They were injured, and we need to rehabilitate those.

Understanding our bodies, I think, is the first thing. Women’s health, the science of it, is new. Most women don’t even know that their clitoris has wings; it gets larger. We know that is swells and that’s important to sexual gratification and all of that. But it has WINGS; it FLIES! Nobody says that. We’re told we’re just a piece of plumbing.

JCP: Wives are often told that being available to our husbands is our primary enjoyment of sex.

TJH: That’s why I wanted to deal with the Shulamite woman who has some great sex without her husband. The Bible is talking about this Shulamite woman and her hand dripping with myrrh; perhaps we need to make our own hands understand our bodies that way, and have our own hands dripping with myrrh and understanding how we function. Her lover sees her as a power and that’s so important. We need to see ourselves that way.

Comprehensive sex education is a battle we have to win. We have to win that one because when we do not understand our bodies and how they function, we’re not going to be able to use them. We’re going to get shut down.

JCP: I love the way you talk about the embodiment of female power and the fleshing out of female power. You connect the spirit and soul of a woman to her flesh and to her body.

TJH: Because it is connected. That’s how she’s created.

JCP: Thank you for doing that. It’s brilliant.

Raising Powerful Women

JCP: In the last chapter, you call us to action. You say, “So what if we groomed our girls to feel worthy of power? How different would our world be if girls believe power was their God-given right?” That’s amazing. What are your suggestions for us to do that? How can we bring along the next generation of powerful women?

TJH: Every mother, every daughter, has this. Try sitting with your mom and her not talking about your hair or your clothing or your weight. Mothers are the greatest influence of power to their daughters. How we groom each other in the mother-daughter relationship is often with the hair, the clothing, and the weight. And those are important things; I’m getting my hair done this afternoon. But what if there were just as many resources to find that our power is not just our appearance, with the hair and the clothing or even how we project to each other? What if we talk with our daughters about empowering them, saying, “Hey, look at this problem. How can you fix this? How are we going to fix this? What are we going to do about this?”

JCP: I love that. We can empower our girls to change the world.

TJH: We have to, and we do that by modeling it ourselves because they follow us. You know, my daughter imitates her dad more than me; she’s definitely made more of his fabric there, the engineer type. And that’s great. She’ll find her power in that. But as mothers, we need to step in so that our daughters do feel entitled to that power to change these issues that affect women and men.

JCP: Congratulations! Thank you for giving us this book. I think every woman should get it and should share the information with her daughters and her granddaughters.

 

More Information

Read articles by Tara J. Hannah on Christian Feminism Today.

Read more information about the book on Tara’s website. 

Join Tara’s Facebook group (and share a couple great memes!) 

 

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