Eugene Cho

gender conversation that made me think

Quest hosted Lauren Winner – professor, author, and spiritual theologian – at our church tonight [and tomorrow] as part of our annual Learning Conference.  I’m thinking we may rename this to “Learning Conversation.” 

I have no problem with Big Conferences but our philosphy for our “Learning Conversation” is very simple:  no fancy productions, no gifts, no big binders, no fancy bands, no fancy graphics, etc.  Just provide good direct trade coffee, average pastries, a compelling culture engagin’ leader, and let people have good conversations.  That way, we can keep the costs as accessible as possible to folks – as a way to bless both our church community and the larger city.  $15/person and $10/student is a pretty kickarse deal.  Next week, I have to decide if I am going to pay $400 + hotel + airfare for a conference in February.  Geez.

Anyway, I thought I’d share one thought that Lauren shared tonight that I can’t get out of my head.

She briefly touched on the issue of Faith and Gender and the manner in which we treat our bodies.  As she spoke about the practice of going to the gymnasium, people go to get healthy and take care of themselves. Yada yada yada.  But she went on to share that [some] men go to the gym to firm up and get “bigger” but [some] women go to the gym to become slimmer and smaller…in essence, to “disappear.”

Can’t get the image out of my head…

Filed under: religion

16 Responses

  1. Hilary says:

    With all due respect to Lauren, as I am a huge fan of her writings, I must disagree with that statement, at least on a personal level (I am female, just fyi). I go to the gym or workout at home frequently for many reasons, and one of them is not so I can become smaller or “disappear”. It is so that I can become stronger, healthier, have a more successful pregnancy and childbirth (when that happens), and so that I can live a longer and fuller life to carry out my calling. I feel that exercise brings me outer and inner strength as a woman, and builds my confidence in what I can achieve. In no way am I trying to disappear.

    I agree that many women want to get smaller, but it is for the opposite reason- they don’t want to disappear, they want to get noticed! They want people to see them, and they believe that in this society the only way to be noticed is to look a certain way (thin, “beautiful” according to the world’s standards).

    Exercise can, and in most instances in this twisted culture, is practiced for many wrong reasons. But for women of faith who know their identity as a daughter of the King and are confident in that, it is about treating our bodies as a temple, and being good stewards of what God has given us.

  2. eugenecho says:

    @hilary:

    i don’t want to put words in her mouth. she wasn’t saying ALL men and ALL women but that ‘some’ do…

  3. Andrea says:

    I have to agree with Hilary here. I think the motivation is more to get noticed (or become healthy) and less to disappear, though I can value where she is coming from. I actually believe that “letting one’s self go” is more of an effort to disappear, become noticed less. Of course, there are exceptions to everything and everyone is an individual and perhaps there are cultural issues around this as well.

    If she is talking about eating disorders, which would include exercise disorder, she may be right but it doesn’t sound like a global statement like that is about eating disorders.

  4. Sue says:

    Hmm. Clearly, people exercise to be hungry but don’t you agree that for women, there’s clearly a double standard of “losing weight” as a way to be hungry. We don’t clearly say it but the messages we are bombarded with constantly show that we must be THIN to be BEAUTIFUL!

  5. Rebecca says:

    I actually think that if you talked to some of the women with eating disorders or compulsive exercise habits they would agree with Lauren’s statement. Certainly that is not the only reason, but it is one accurate description. So please don’t discount it.

    I think it is easy for us to look at people who focus on being thin and perhaps suppose that they do it to get noticed, and not go beyond that to why they want to get noticed, to the brokenness that is causing them to seek self-worth in their physical appearance. There is a deep need for acceptance and approbation there, deep wounding.

  6. Jenny says:

    I think that Lauren’s comment made sense in the context of the discussion. She was using a fairly common example (albeit very generalized, yet unfortunately too often true in our culture) to describe a difference between men and women.

    Thanks Eugene, and Quest church, for bringing Lauren to Seattle and giving us opportunity to engage in some excellent, thought-provoking discussion this weekend. The conversation will continue long after the conference is over…

  7. deanneliu says:

    I walked away with that same image as well. Although it was generalized, I do understand what she is saying and knowing that in college campuses (which is what she was reflecting on) there is an unhealthy attraction to the gym. There is relevancy to that statement given the context of Student Life.

    Her statement, did ring true for me. I go to the gym in hopes of slimming down – I should be thinking first about my health and how it would affect my mental health, but in reality- I want to disappear a little bit so I can re-appear in cuter clothes and get better noticed.

  8. jHong says:

    um, i want to call attention to the REAL problem with this blog entry: “no fancy bands”??? c’mon now… i think we were pretty darn fancy. if the EB woulda approved the pyro/confetti budget i requested we would’ve been EVEN fancier.

  9. chad m says:

    was actualy hoping to attend the conference but couldn’t make it…glad to hear it went well. Winner is an excellent speaker and brilliant person…

    when i go to the gym once a month i notice exactly what she’s talking about…i think the trend of bigger for dudes and smaller for the ladies was more noticable when i was in college…

  10. Like others I agree with her observation, but not the reasons she ascribes. Yes, there is pressure on women to slim down to be beautiful. But I’ve never heard of women doing so to disappear. As andrea mentioned the “letting oneself go” (which usually means gaining weight) is more associated with disappearing. Did Lauren go further with this example, what was the bigger point of the discussion?

  11. eugenecho says:

    @julie: it really wasn’t big point. more of a side comment to introduce the differences of how gender is viewed differently by some. i think. podcast should be up in a day or two.

    @jHong: the music was incredible. you, cheeseholm. mello cello, mel.chin, and lone tomato were all amazing. job well done.

  12. Hilary says:

    @ eugene: thanks for clarifying- it definitely makes sense in the larger context for some women. I’m excited to hear the entire discussion.

  13. Laura Turner says:

    This is not the first time that I have heard someone make this point and, while it may not ring true for all female readers, I think that if you look at broader cultural trends, women are praised for being petite, delicate, and “ladylike”, while men are praised for being strong and large, “manly”. Again, you may be bucking the cultural trend and that is laudable, but the cultural messages still posit that women ought be thin. I believe it translates in a broader sense to encompass not only the physical but the social as well, women are expected to not take up much space, and even begin editing themselves out of spaces.

  14. janowen says:

    in the same way that women – especially Christian women – are praised for being quiet, gentle, followers, etc. physical femininity is also equated with small bone structure and a small dress size…….It’s a cultural norm that cannot be ignored and informs us from our earliest moments of life. Women live in fear of growing taller and being “larger” and men live in fear of not being big and tall enough.

  15. janowen says:

    Also, I will say that as a woman in ministry I have been told many times that the “godly” thing to do is to avoid controversy. Don’t speak too loudly, don’t make a fuss, make sure I am speaking basically through a man – my husband or pastor, and don’t be assertive. I received the message time and time again that if my participation in ministry caused a stir, I should back down to avoid problems. I’ve never heard a man be told to do these things – to be quiet about their calling and hope it didn’t upset anyone. I felt for many years that if I just did my job quietly the issue would disappear. It has not. I have felt for almost 14 years that if I did too good of a job or was overly spiritual or spoke up and led with confidence it made people uncomfortable. In other words, if i lived “large” I was frowned upon. I was actually told once (I am the worship leader) “You usurp the pastor’s authority because you are more spiritual than he is.” (not sure it’s true but go along with me) Sooooo….I should be less spiritual to make him look good OR go work for someone who is more spiritual??? As Christian women we can receive the message – intentional or not – that we must defer at all times to the nearest male. We must be “less than”. So, I believe it is definitely true.

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In our culture, we can be so obsessed with the "spectacular" or "glamorous." The Church often engagws in thia language and paradigm...but what if God has called many of us to small, ordinary things?

Will we still be faithful?
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I recently came across this picture taken by @mattylew, one of our church staff...and I started tearing up: This is my mother; in her 70s; with realities of some disabilities that make it difficult for her to stand up and sit down...but here she is on her knees and prostate in prayer. She doesn't have any social media accounts, barely knows how to use her smartphone, doesn't have a platform, hasn't written a book, doesn't have any titles in our church, isn't listed as a leader or an expert or a consultant or a guru. But she simply seeks to do her best - by God's grace - to be faithful to God. She prays for hours every day inteceding for our family, our church, and the larger world.

Even if we're not noticed or celebrated or elevated...let's be faithful. Our greatest calling as followers of Christ is to be faithful. Not spectacular. Not glamorous. Not popular. Not relevant. And not even successful in the eyes of the world.

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The death toll rises to over 400 and over 7,000 injured in multiple cities and hundreds of villages along the Western border with Iraq.

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