I didn't expect to make it in to the office today, but lo and behold, I did.
I've got to say, there's something slightly galling about being lectured to about sacrificing bodily autonomy by someone who is extraordinarily invested in controlling his own body. Hugo's relationship to his own body doesn't seem to be defined by sacrifice: this is someone who has invested massive resources in improving his marathon time and who goes to great lengths to make his body the shape that he finds attractive. It's not just that Hugo can't imagine pregnancy. I don't think he can really imagine the experience of having a body that isn't subject to his control. And honestly, until Hugo has had the experience of sacrificing, either willingly or unwillingly, some bodily autonomy, I don't want to hear it. Given what Hugo has told us about himself, the whole "as a Christian, I believe my body does not belong to me alone," thing rings a bit false. How exactly does that manifest itself?
I read that comment an hour ago, and have (while working on various other projects) reflected on it since. I don't think Sally's being mean; in fact, I think she's on to something.
It's almost axiomatic in the gender studies world (and plenty of other places) that you can't easily separate the message from the messenger. In other words, when we who teach or lead hold forth on a subject like feminism, or faith, or sacrifice, our listeners and readers will look to see how well our language matches the reality of our lives. And Sally points out that when I write from a pro-life Christian feminist perspective, and call for sacrifice, it doesn't seem as if I've been doing much sacrificing. Indeed, as she notes, I've written off about my own deep concern with my body and its athletic endeavors.
Like many endurance athletes, I tend to be fond of the language of sacrifice! Runners talk a lot about self-discipline, self-control,and the capacity to suffer. We talk about pushing our bodies beyond our limits; we talk about commitment and dedication and self-denial. It's romantic language, of course! Ask anyone involved in the endurance running (or cycling, or triathlete) community. Whatever the mundanities of our day-to-day lives, we construct heroic narratives for ourselves as we run up and down mountains, shave minutes off our race times, and lower our body fat percentage.
But of course, what infuriates Sally is that none of this is real sacrifice in the sense that I wrote about yesterday. Running ultra-marathons may involve a great deal of pain, but it is a chosen pain. It's also a pain that generates relatively little good for the world. The fact that I run and lift weights doesn't make the world a more peaceful, loving place -- though I can say with authority that burning off all that excess anxiety helps make individual athletes into more peaceful and loving people! Still, there's no question that all of these endeavors are about maintaining and extending control, not surrendering it.
So, bottom line, I'm a bit of hypocrite. My contradictions pile on top of each other, and some times, I read what I've written and say "Damn, Hugo, can you really write that with a straight face? Have you no shame?" But here's the point: does the fact that I haven't managed to really live out what I'm preaching completely undercut my arguments? Must the truth of the message hinge on the integrity of the messenger? Would an argument about sacrifice and surrendering autonomy have more authority if it came from a working-class woman of color than from me? Perhaps so -- in which case I'd be delighted to provide links to the writings of those whose ideals match my own, but whose life experience is also more congruent with what it is that they preach.
Do you know why I love blogging? Because in the blogosphere, the lines between the public and the private become blurred. Because this is my blog, and I'm the only one paying for it ($8.95 a month with Typepad), I am free to include an extraordinary number of self-absorbed musings! In the classroom, my job is to keep myself from becoming a distraction. It's vital that my students focus on the material, not on the teacher. But I have no such compunctions here on this blog. Yes, I keep some things private even here (for the sake of my family and fiancee), but I'm not going to be afraid to reveal the depths of my own sinful self-involvement!
To return to the point of the post, it's true that I call myself a Christian feminist. It might be more accurate to say that "Christian" and "feminist" represent my aspirations rather than my day-to-day reality. And it's true that I am enchanted with the idea of living sacrificially, of pouring myself out for the sake of others. Whether I like that idea so much because it's what God really wants, or because it's a flatteringly romantic image, I don't know! And it's also true that I lead a very comfortable middle-class, childless existence. Yes, I tithe to charity, as of now, a full ten percent -- but I also am quite happy writing those donations off on my taxes. Even in my giving, I'm quite aware of what I'm getting.
All of this navel-gazing is a luxury. It's one I'm especially prone to in the summer, when I'm not teaching seven classes a week and spending many hours as a volunteer youth leader. Come a month from now, and I'll be surrounded by young people who will force me to give of myself, force me to think less of my own body and my own wants, and compel me to give a great deal of my time and my attention and my energy to their needs. That's going to be very healthy for me.
In the meantime, folks, I'm afraid that the self-absorption level -- and the concomitant hypocrisy -- is going to be pretty high 'round these parts.