Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, (eds.) Erin S. Lane and Enuma C. Okoro (White Cloud Press, 2013) $16.95
Lane and Okoro’s intent with this collection of essays was to show the diversity of Christian women’s voices around the perennial issues of sex, embodiment, and faith. While the novitiate reader will be enthused to see their (likely) represented in the diversity of 41 essayists, there is little here that has not already been addressed more directly elsewhere.
Patience Perry in the essay, “Crafting Bonds of Blood” for instance focuses on how menstruation unifies women but is also a social concern. “In the case of tampons, we directly expose the vaginal tissue to these toxic chemicals, fragrances, and synthetic fibers where… [then] upon removal, feminine products linger indefinitely in a landfill or oceanic gyre (floating pollution which has accumulated in each of the five oceans) along with their plastic wrappers, strings, and applicators, since they are not biodegradable.” An important issues, to be sure, but in an essay asking for transparency and forthright language in religious and cultural communities so as to celebrate the feminine presence, it is curiously ironic that Perry goes on to describe her menstruation “as my Moon Time. That way, I acknowledge the cycles of life and death.” As an educated white male, I’m sure whether to celebrate her call to social responsibility while also shaming women for using feminine products, or note how she prioritizes of the “natural” female spirit which “operates in accordance with nature. AWESOME” as women “intuitively and hormonally respond to each other. It’s like we’re wolves. COOL” or whether I should become part of the patriarchal system that reminds these idealists that there are alternatives to completely charting a new course for women- be they Christian or otherwise (59).
Specifically, one of the recurring issues with this book is the way that the essayists, like Perry, seek to “take back” male-dominated language, and with it theological and social space. As someone who works in cultural dialogue, I find these conversations at times rewarding, exciting, inventive, and parochial if not frequently confusing. Both men and women forget, at times, the sociological function of language. Words have meaning and though languages can be shaped and reformed over time, a sudden decisive break (even a shift to or borrowing from a competing social narrative) is more problematic than the cunning linguist might allow. Put another way, the language games of these authors who seek to “speak for ourselves” are, in many ways, a problem for patriarchal religion as much as their intended audience. We might envisage a feminine Jesus, but two millennia of tradition – including the four commonly accepted primary gospels – specify that Jesus was born and died a male. But as “Joiner essayist Alena Amato Ruggerio writes, “Joining makes you an equal” (131). Simply speaking or writing validates your work with scholars. In many ways, the collective conscious of these essays says that tradition, heritage, and scholarship do not matter. Indeed, none of the essays with their generous headshots and blank pages exceeds 8 pages of work. Though they intend to subvert scholars and overhaul an entire global faith system with diverse cultures, they do not commit themselves to any kind of scholarship or sensitivity. By “joining” they exhibit that signature trait of postmodern America – the belief that to have an opinion warrants accolade. In the shadow of Betty Friedan, N.T. Wright, Maryann Meye-Thompson, Harold Blount, or Gustavo Gutierrez, these essays seem like nothing more than random blog posts.
Still, the essays here find traction with the neophyte to Christian Feminism and raise many important concerns for American Christian women. If you have a high-schooler who is considering a more serious role in religious life, this would be an excellent gift or book to suggest for them to read. K.D. Byers writes that “the church fails to teach her daughters how to ask good questions” and that women can only become “the disciples and prophets God seeks to raise up when we move beyond the answers of our youth and embrace the questions” that these essays raise (103). What is most appreciable about Talking Taboo is that it is raises awareness on many of the concerns American women have each time they approach their local church – Will they be allowed to share the details of their lives in an honest way? Will their sexuality be valued? Are they alone, or are there similar-minded women? Will the leadership of the church welcome their contributions and honor their time? It will surely provide new concepts and new language to help those involved in religious dialogue to better understand one another’s perspective.
Randall Frederick is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He has just finished his second M.A. at Fuller Theological Seminary, writes for The Huffington Post, and does religious consulting.