Category: feminism

Which Purity Culture Character Are You?

I love catching up with friends from college.

But every I do, it takes me about a week to remember that I’m 38. I’m married to the man of my dreams. My children are hilarious. My job kicks all the ass.

Just like going home makes you revert to being a kid who bickers with her siblings; being around friends from college makes me revert to a sobbing 20 year old who had completely lost control of her story. But I’m pretty sure the me I see is not the actual me. Unless the actual me was a formless monster, swirling up from the ground in sound and fury with just a yawning mouth in eternal scream. (We’re in a Marvel phase around here, okay?)

I’ve finally, thanks to some independent exercises with Internal Family Systems meditation, come closer to understanding the shapeless monster that haunts me any time I think about college.

I should be clear for those who don’t know: I went to a very conservative evangelical college. The Master’s College, now University. So when you say college you might think intellectual awakening, sexual awakening, misadventures, frolicking, and, if you are my husband or my father, streaking.

That’s not what happens at evangelical colleges.

I tell my friends who did not go to evangelical college: when I say “in college” you need to functionally translate that to “when Bekah was in a cult.”

At evangelical college the only intoxication you risk is an overdose of the purity culture you ingested at youth group in smaller sips. The only debates you have will be theological. The only identities you might explore are the various characters in the patriarchy, and for women, there are two options: Madonna and whore. I didn’t make that up, it’s pretty well documented.

So, with that context, let me tell you more about the sand monster.

If you’ve seen Spider-Man: Far From Home, you’ll remember the various elemental monsters first popping up around the globe, and then following our hero around Europe. They swirled up out of water, fire, or dirt with a vaguely human form. It was impossible to make out detailed features, because the stuff of the form was disintegrated. It was not solid.

That’s what my college monster looks like. She’s a disintegrated storm of memories and contradictions, places where I was fighting for some narratives and against others.


THIS IS THE SPOILER: You ultimately learn about the monsters in Spider-Man are projections from thousands of drones. Each drone is responsible for a piece of the projection, but it’s all part of a grand design. And that makes my analogy even more thorough, but I don’t want to base my analogy on a spoiler, so that’s the last you’ll hear of it. THE SPOILER IS OVER.


I have a lot of issues related to the sin-obsessed, intellectually rigid, hyper critical life I lived in college. But the monster is particularly related to the way purity culture and patriarchy worked together there. Like a Marvel villain in a lab that makes other villains.

I completely spun out in my last semester. So much so that after I graduated in December—three semesters early—I headed off to Europe to wander around for a few months and, as my mom would tell people, “see what condition my condition was in.”

The condition was not good.

Graduating allowed me to move past the bad semester without having to pick up any pieces. Once the first few weddings were over, and I was fully exiled from my friend group (that sucked, by the way. It was not fun at the time), I could go about the business of moving on.

And dear reader I have moved on. If I could go back to November 2004 Bekah, or Bekita as she was called back then, and show her a highlight real of the next 18 years, she’d have left The Master’s College with two middle fingers in the air and a skip in her step. I am telling this story partially as evidence that you can be both wildly happy and satisfied with your life, and still have some embarrassing, painful things you gotta work through from your past. We all do.

Because moving on and healing aren’t always the same. I ultimately had to go back and speak to that pile of girl-pieces (formerly known as Bekita) I left behind in California. A pile that keeps swirling into a monster whenever I think about college.

Here’s what DIDN’T happen in that last semester: I didn’t have sex. I was not assaulted. I was and am straight. If any of those facts were different, this would all be a much more traumatic story. And those stories do exist, and they should be heard. But the fact that I could pass through straight, “pure,” and physically unharmed, but still disintegrated raises a curious point: control over bodies is one part of how purity culture works, but the more insidious aim is to tell us who we are allowed to be. What roles we are allowed to play.

The goal of purity culture is patriarchal: it’s to get us to take our pile of parts to the nearest male authority and ask him to tell us who we are. Who God says we are, because men speak for God.

But I wanted—then and now—to have authority over my own story, and to hear God for myself. I wanted a lot of other things too, including love and a little making out, but I did not want to play my assigned role.

It wasn’t until I realized that the shame and conflict I endured in college was not about sex but about sexuality, not about purity but about playing along, and not about self-control but about agency, did I understand how I became so disintegrated. Purity culture isn’t just about behaviors, it’s about playing a role, and if you don’t play that role, the battle to define who you are in the context of purity culture, to settle which version of the madonna/whore dichotomy you are—good girl, bad girl, man-eater, temptress, victim, wife, rebel, saint, desperate, frigid, dangerous, over-dramatic, the list goes on—will slowly dissect you into pieces, because none of those roles offer wholeness to people of any gender or sexuality whose identity is more than a relationship to men.

In an effort to take back my narrative I wrote down the story of my last three semesters of college. Fall 2003, Spring 2004, and Fall 2004. I wrote it down to give shape the woman inside the monster, to stop this exhausting hunt for “who was I?” and “what happened?”

Can I tell you it was tempting to ask someone from college, someone “objective” to read it and ask them if I got it right? I was still tempted to ask someone, someone with access to the men’s opinions, to sign off on the story I allowed myself to believe.

But I didn’t. It is my story. And if you have a sand monster, you should consider writing it down too, to give it shape. It’s not a legal document, you aren’t going to use it to prosecute anyone. It’s just a narrative to give some shape to the storm.

So I didn’t share it with anyone “objective”…but I am a writer. I’m tempted to share the stories, because that’s what I do. I write in public.

And the writing is good. The stories are relatable, but also a massively cringy. It’s the kind of thing I’d like to share with the world. But there are some secrets in there. There are some things some men did not tell their girlfriends at the time…and those girlfriends are now their wives. And I’m left wondering, is my obligation to keep that secret for them (these are benign secrets anywhere outside purity culture, btw, no one’s getting divorced or fired here, it would be an eyeroll at worst, maybe a “ugh. Why were you like that?”) part of how patriarchy works? Because my conscious is clear, and those stories are mine.

But does telling them make me look petty and juvenile? Maybe that’s what I’m more worried about. I STILL after all these years, don’t want to rile up the patriarchy, and have them call me uncool. They’ve still got me there.

In the end, though, I don’t need to share the stories so that people will “hear my side.” No one is asking. I don’t need anyone to confirm my suspicions about who I was in the context of The Masters College in 2004. Seeing myself through other people’s eyes is how this got so messy in the first place. And until there’s an audience who would benefit from the stories, sharing them would be, most likely, vanity.

So for now, those stories are safely tucked away.

As I wrote the stories—three separate encounters with three asinine Yahoos and dozens of Aunts (a la Handmaid’s Tale) who upheld their narratives—my compassion for Bekita grew, and my power grew with it. My communion with the Spirit grew. A young woman took shape, and I love her as dearly as I love those good friends from college. Laid side by side, the events of that year paint a clear and complex picture, and I don’t need anyone to sign off on it.

I’ve got 9,000 words that may never see the light of day, but they are written, they are real, and they are mine.

Pro-Boob Propaganda

 Though he died when I was only 18, Billy Wilder seemed to have a knack for imprinting things on my brain.

It was he who said that Audrey Hepburn “might single-handedly make bosoms a thing of the past.” 

He was also the one who directed Marilyn Monroe, in Some Like It Hot, to lament that, because of her boobs, “nothing ever hangs right.”

I know exactly why Billy Wilder’s boobisms stick in my brain: I’m wildly insecure about my breasts. By age 14, I wore the same bra size I would wear until I was nursing children, and basically felt like a walking D-cup with no other features. 

The Audrey assessment confirmed everything I had suspected. The hype around boobs was a sham. They were a thing of the past. 

When I heard the Marilyn line, I thought it was nice to have camaraderie, especially with someone who was, I think we can all agree, more attractive than me. “See! Even Marilyn Monroe gets it.” Boobs were nothing but trouble, and the reason all my shirts hung like circus tents.

A girl with less on her chest might have glossed over Billy Wilder’s anti-boob statement. When watching Some Like It Hot, my more streamlined friends might focus on the reaction of the male characters who heard Marilyn’s complaint. The movie makes it obvious that the men see no problem with the way her shirt hangs. 

Whatever you’ve got, it’s going to be the wrong thing. You can be Audrey or you can be Marilyn, but you can’t be happy.

A therapist told me recently that psychologists are starting to believe that it’s not possible for the majority of Americans to have a positive body image. That neutral is the best most of us can hope for. Hating our bodies is as American as the apple pie we ate after everyone went to bed and then purged into the toilet.

As a teen it felt like the only pro-boob propaganda out there existed in the trashy cartoon, plastic surgery, and porn worlds—neither where I was, nor where I wanted to be. Boobs could be objects, but they could not be assets; not for a woman like me.  I was more of an arts, culture, and academy kind of girl. Later, when I discovered feminism and leftist politics, I felt like my genetics had sold me out to the patriarchy.

Are there any other body parts that take over so much of your identity?

It wasn’t all in my head. People noticed. 

At a slumber party for my cheerleading squad, my far less developed friends begged me to let them see what kind of fruit would fill out my bra. Cantaloupe is the correct answer. 

Contrary to stereotype, cheerleading was boon to my body image. I am sturdy and strong, and so was able to throw the little pixie-like squad members into the air. I could finally see the purpose of my body being built the way that it was. Most of the time, I was hounded by the arbitrariness of my entire body, especially my breasts. I wanted to point to some evolutionary advantage of my big boobs, but there isn’t one. There isn’t really a purpose to them being this big at all, they just are. Like an appendix or vestigial tail.

In cheerleading, at least they were attached to a powerful, purposeful body. All the jumping and tumbling, however, was an endless source of angst for my mother. 

My mom didn’t know about the specialty market that exists for big-breasted athletes. Later in life I would spend $90 on a bra so tight that came with instructions on how to slowly acclimate your lungs over several days before actually wearing it to work out.

However, the neon pink $30 sports bras of high school were not up to the task of my ample bosom. Even when I layered two of them, there was significant bouncing as we cascaded onto the basketball court to get the crowd going at halftime. My mom’s solution was to buy me a full corset with three-inch-wide straps and about 30 eye-hook fasteners, and cups made of inflexible material that gave my breasts a distinctly Happy Days shape. 

One day before practice I went into our cheerleading squad’s dressing room to find my corset hanging on the wall, with two fully inflated balloons filling it out. My mischievous squad mates again claimed to be jealous, which I didn’t believe. They all bought their prom dresses in the trendy junior section, while I was trying to find a bridesmaid gown that didn’t make me look like someone’s spinster aunt.  

When dealing with insecure teenage girls— who all exist discontentedly along the Audrey-to-Marilyn spectrum— it’s impossible to tell when they knew how mean they were being. 

One friend, from church, also had big boobs, but she was six inches shorter than me, and wore size two jeans. Her boobs were more problematic, she insisted, because they were out of scale with her “tiny body.” I should be glad, she said, that mine were at least proportional. 

A giant body to go with my giant boobs. 

Trying on clothes once during my ultra marathon-running years, another friend said, sounding genuinely surprised, “Wow. You actually have a small waist.” Then she trailed off, as if to herself, but fully audible: “It’s just those boobs…”

Most of the time my breasts made me feel either matronly or raunchy. When I tried to put on a tighter shirt that made me feel less like the evil headmistress of a nineteenth century school for unwed mothers, I would get called out by youth group leaders and Christian school teachers for immodesty. 

Ironically though, as much as my parents, pastor, and Christian school teacher were griping about the loose morals and gay agendas of Hollywood, they found themselves in agreement on women’s responsibility to be thin. 

When I was in middle school, my pastor’s daughter—a stunning, lanky college student—led a girls’ summer Bible study about being the kind of woman that pleases God. I remember nothing except that there was an entire lesson devoted to keeping a trim figure and dressing in a flattering, feminine way. 

My jiggly D-cups, in contrast to all the training bras and countable ribs around me, were anything but trim. When I dressed in a feminine way, my mom told me to go upstairs and change.

Pleasing God, the workbook made clear, was synonymous with pleasing one’s future husband. So having a body that boys liked was really important, like Ten Commandments important. But we were also responsible for their purity—those youthful penises weren’t going to keep themselves flaccid.

Which made the Audrey Hepburn ideal very, very desirable for girls who were trying to be the right kind of desirable. Audrey was a fashion icon. Marilyn was a sex icon. Men go gaga over both women, but stills from Breakfast At Tiffany’s seem less likely to be taped to the underside of a 15-year-old boy’s bunk bed. 

That’s how boobs, and the women who have them, are framed in American culture—masturbation fodder. Or as the evangelicals call it: temptation.  We can openly admire eyes, shoulders, legs, and arms, even lips, in an aesthetic, non-sexual way. But breasts are private parts, like the sex organs. Except they’re not. They are visible all the time, at least in silhouette. Imagine if men had to wear thin, stretchy pants all the time… and were always fully erect. Not so private. 

My own disdain for my breasts, and the weird religious messaging surrounding them, somehow twisted around in my brain until I believed that they—as the primary feature of my general appearance—were the reason boys didn’t like me. 

For all the jokes about boobs, and boys who “tripped” in front of me in the hall, I figured, what they really wanted must have been a gamine fashion icon who could wear a Givenchy coat with nary a wrinkle. Boobs were just too brazen, too obvious, too much. A thing of the past.

I was bemoaning my breasts to one of the two culprits who gave them to me: my maternal grandmother, Jo Nell. 

Jo Nell, cigarette in hand, gave a reassuring chuckle and said, with all of the certainty of a gorgeous woman born in 1930, “One day those boobs are going to make somebody real happy.” 

I left her house thinking, wistfully, if not glumly, “Maybe one day I’ll find a guy who likes big boobs.”

(Cue hilarious faces from Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis.)

Boys not liking me occupied a lot of my coming of age mental space. I have a high IQ and a lot of energy, and probably could have applied that to making the world significantly better.  Curing cancer, that sort of thing. Instead, I spent it on relentless self-improvement, or what I thought was improvement. What I was really doing was trying to figure out the science of attraction, solving, of course, for the liability of my oversized breasts.

To help boys overlook my glaring bra size, I reasoned, I would have to cultivate a winning personality.  I was constantly taking notes about how to not be the kind of girl that irritated men. This led to the least feminist season of my life, sandwiched between my evangelical Christian upbringing and my first grad school course in Gender Studies.

Trying to be “not like the other girls,” ironically, was supposed to make me more appealing, romantically. The heroines in most books and movies I liked were plucky tomboy types who stand out from the demure crowds in an appealing way. Laura Ingalls. Jo March. Calamity Jane. And until Elsa of Arendelle changed the paradigm for a new generation, the disinterested heroine always got her man. 

In one useless way, it worked. By the end of college, I had heard the following: 

“Why can’t every girl be like you?” 

“You’ve got me really spoiled thinking all girls are like this.”

“You should, like, teach a class on how girls should act around guys.”

“I wish you could convince my fiancé to read more ‘serious’ literature. Like you.”

None of the boys who said those things wanted to date me. All compliments were given solidly inside the friend-zone by boys who had no idea that I had a massive crush on them. I had kept that fact hidden because girls who like boys, according to the movies, are not the girls boys like. This is a strange mixture of the unattainable babe archetype and the evangelical culture of male pursuit. Again, Hollywood and Evangelicalism have more in common than they like to think when it comes to flattening women (pun intended) into two-dimensional objects.

Be austere Audrey hidden behind your iconic overcoat until he decides it’s time for you to be breathless Marilyn in a negligee. 

You’re too much until you’re not enough. 

It’s all bologna.  

In a world where men had all the power I was trying to impress them into liking me, which, it turns out, is not a recipe for true love, even in patriarchal evangeliland. If serious-literature-lover had left his fiancé and run away with me because I was reading Camus in college, I would be stuck in a lifetime of pretentious drivel. Camus’s and the boy’s. 

Being a woman is a war zone, so grab your friends and hop in the foxhole. Audrey and Marilyn are icons, but they were also real people, and they probably could have used some more girlfriends. Sisterhood isn’t perfect, but it’s necessary. Girls have hurt me, I have hurt other girls, but we’ve done so less when we aren’t letting the boys decide.

Healthy people like people who like them back. People like people who do irritating things. They don’t love the irritating things, but they love the person doing them. People like clean lines and curves, esoteric and funny, brainy and brassy. There are no unlovable people. You are not unlovable, so you might as well be you. 

It’s so tempting to make this all about loving yourself, accepting your body. But I don’t have that shit worked out. I don’t always love me, but I have figured out how to be me. 

When I met Lewis, I did not chill out, I did not try to be the “cool girl.” I texted with too many exclamation marks, I invited him to things after he’d made it painfully obvious he wasn’t as into this as I was. I introduced him to my parents the first time I had the opportunity.  I saw what I wanted, and I went for it. Which is pretty damn plucky.

Turns out he’s also that boob-loving unicorn I never thought I’d meet. What are the odds?

To no one’s surprise, least of all my therapist, marriage would not be the end of my body issues. Making someone else happy, which my husband is,  is not the same as making yourself happy.  The boobs survived two children without, as so many mothers complain, flattening to pancakes. Oh they ballooned while I was nursing, sure, but then they went right back to their melon-sized fullness, albeit hanging a little lower on the tree. 

The rest of me is softer and more jiggly as well. And now I have two kids to offer their opinions about all of this.

On the way to a Christmas party one year, my five-year-old daughter said, “Mom has a round belly like Santa.” 

“No she doesn’t,” said my three-year-old son, ever in defense of his beloved mother, “Those are just her breasts.” 

The Fertile Cliff

Aside from the copious amounts of shouting and weird, weird, too weird moment where Schmitt describes his sexual technique to a lesbian gynecologist, last week’s episode of New Girl, “Eggs,” did raise a notable topic:  waning fertility.

Cece and Jess contemplate their fertility.
Cece and Jess contemplate their fertility.

I was dubious at first that the egg-count blood test Jess and Cece took actually existed, but apparently it does. Actual fertility testing can be much more invasive (and I suspect would render sex about as romantic as trying to grow salt crystals on a string in 5th grade), but if all you want are hormone levels and an egg count, the blood test will do the trick.

As my contemporaries and I round the corner and start looking down the barrel of 30, this seems to be coming up more and more. Suddenly, we’re like the carton of milk that hasn’t been opened two days before the expiration date. If I eat cereal for every meal and make some creamy soup will that get me in under the deadline?

  • It was the earnest plights of the friends sharing their real (and doctor-abetted) fears of declining fertility.
  • It was the box of pre-natal vitamins given to me by a nurse, “because it can’t hurt to be ready.” (Funny, how unsolicited reproductive swag switches from condoms when you are 18 to pre-natal vitamins when you are 28).
  • It was Jessica Valenti’s book Why Have Kids?  She critiques the fertility panic induced by the science that demonstrates that women lose the majority of their eggs by age 35.

At some point in your late 20’s the world looks at you, raises their eyebrows and says, “No, but really. It’s time to get serious and make some babies.” Not that some women need the outside pressure. Plenty of friends report that every time they see a pair of tiny little baby booties they feel their uterus burning (I take cranberry pills, so that doesn’t happen).

If external and internal pressures magically align in a financially, relationally secure situation, then you are set. You’ve got all the support in the world to grant your own greatest wish. That only happens, maybe 2-3 times in life, so enjoy it.

However, if you are: 1) single, 2) enjoying your career, or 3) apprehensive about motherhood, then run a hot bath, pour a glass of wine, and put on your favorite “I can do anything!” anthem, because here comes the next great female dilemma.

If you are single…

It’s ironic that Jennifer Aniston’s character Rachel on Friends that brought up issues of 1) dating with babies in mind (The One Where They All Turn Thirty), and 2) having a baby as a single woman (seasons 8-10). Then she made the movies about it, The Object of My Affection and The Switch.  And now, real Jennifer Aniston’s baby-making is long term tabloid fodder to a frenzied, fanatical degree. Her personal and professional identity are inseparable from her womb-status.

(Jennifer Aniston and Eddie Cahill as Rachel and Tag, a romance doomed by family planning, photo from
Jennifer Aniston and Eddie Cahill as Rachel and Tag, a romance doomed by family planning, photo from

When you are in your early 20’s, finding “the one” and having babies is like this sort of epic adventure with trolls and witches and even the precious golden ring.  My friends who are older and single tend to be more pragmatic. It’s really healthy, because they are no longer looking for an NFL quarterback who runs a Sub-Saharan philanthropy in the off season, and has a couple of best-selling records as a little hobby on the side. You know, just his poetry set to music.

But whether your approach is pragmatic or idealistic, most women don’t just get to say, “Alight. I’m going to get married now.” There’s this other person involved. This other person who will be fertile until he dies, and may or may not be in any rush to divert money from his travel/entertainment fund. Not to mention, if mating, not dating is the goal here, you have to consider whose genes you want to pass on. Here’s a hint: they may not be the ones that are most liberally scattered throughout the state.

In your 20’s the matrimony mavens tell you not to compromise. In your 30’s it’s like you’re President Obama and the dating pool is Congress (though probably still more likeable) and those kindly mavens become the pundits prattling on about the fiscal cliff. Or rather, the fertile cliff. The Bush Era tax cuts and your ability have children are about to expire.

So why not just hit up the sperm bank and have kids as a single woman? Best I can tell, unless you are a megawatt Hollywood star who can afford a full time nanny, chef, and chauffer, single motherhood is really hard. I can’t say that living childless into your 80s will be easy, but it seems less risky. Just my opinion.

If you like your career…

Here’s the rub, your late 20’s are the same time when you are probably either 1) settling into a new career( one that you actually like), or 2) finally making some headway in your career of choice.  Your most biologically fertile years are also your most professionally fertile. And nothing says, “thanks for the health insurance,” like getting pregnant.

In a country without mandatory paid maternity leave where very few companies offer child care or nursing flexibility, women bear the brunt of the professional sacrifice of having children. Not every time, but most of the time. It’s a mammary gland thing.

So the career that you love will enter a tenuous balance in which you are at the mercy of your employer to be able to tend to sick kiddoes, nursing infants, and doctor appointments without suffering professional repercussions. Legally, I don’t think they can fire you. But they don’t have to promote you.

Maybe you have a loving, pro-family, progressive work place. Maybe you don’t. Only one way to find out (convince the girl on the second floor to have a baby first and get her to tell you how it goes). My opinion: it is bat shit crazy that we do not have federally-mandated maternity leave and breast-feeding allowances.

On the other hand, if a woman wants to stay home, and her circumstances allow for that, I think she should. Nothing makes the office more thankless and dreary than comparing it to something else you’d rather be doing.

Women who are raised as equal achievers to men and then choose to stay home are incredibly industrious. They were raised to dream big, and that energy gets diverted into the business of home. They tend to do creative stuff with their kids, home, and food, and often venture off into other pursuits that are enhanced by home life. Hence most good Etsy merchandise, the plethora of part-time professional photographers, realistic cookbooks, and half the content of the internet.

Inevitably, both sides— those who choose to stay home with their kids, and those who go back to work— will feel like the world is against them. Our insecure ears have a special sensitivity to the insecure rants of the opposition. If you stay home, you’ll feel judged by feminazis. If you work, you’ll feel judged by the mommy blogs. Welcome to the world, new mom. You’ll never get it right.

Which leads me to my last Fertile Cliff crisis point.

Those who fear motherhood…

You are married to a successful, supportive, loyal man. Your job is very child-friendly. Or maybe you are just ready to be done with the corporate grind. So why are you not taking your temperature and keeping a fertility calendar?

Because the very assumption that if you are a normal female then you should want kids (badly) tells you there’s something very very loaded here. Your relationship to reproduction and the things you reproduce is going to define you more than you might want it to.

If your kids consume you, you’re getting it wrong. “You’ve got to have a life, or you’ll have nothing to give!”

If your kids don’t consume you, you’re getting it wrong. “You are the only mother your children will ever have.”

If you go to work, you’re getting it wrong. “Letting someone else raise your child.”

If you don’t go back to work, you’re getting it wrong. “Letting down the women of tomorrow.”

If you never complain, other moms resent you. If you complain too much, no one wants to be around you.

You cut your energy level in half for the next few years due to less sleep, more illness, and frequent trips to the doctor. Yet you’re expected to perform at the level of someone who had not recently been inhabited by another nutrient-sucking life form and then kept up all night being gnawed on by the same person.

They keep telling you it’s worth it…but then they say something about how they just want to pee without interruption. And the childless woman has no frame of reference for the “worth it” part, but she does know what it’s like to have sleepless nights and interrupted poops.

Women who fear motherhood are frequently cast as selfish, too. As though 1) their eggs are suffering psychological damage from neglect, and 2)  having your identity subsumed by a relationship is something trivial. A professor of mine, told this story:

“I had this student and she was brilliant. But she got married and had kids. And all I can think is that those kids are going to have no idea how talented their mother is.”

It’s true. Your mom could have been the first female President of the United States. You still woke her up in the middle of the night so she could feed you. You would not have loved her any less if she had been a washerwoman, as long as she hugged you and fed you. While that is immensely comforting, it’s also a little unsettling. It means that it will be incredibly hard to explain to my kids that there is something more important for me to do than to fix them a snack or read them a book sometimes. I thought my mom was awesome…”now drive me to soccer practice.”

It all adds up to the reality that motherhood is, yes, a very noble calling. But it’s a big one, and understanding that makes things a little…nervous.

For women facing the fertile cliff, every option seems perilous. Either have kids before she’s ready or maybe never get to have them at all. Or risk the expensive possibility of having to bring the medical industry into your bedroom. Whatever our choice,  there’s a Grover Norquist and a Timothy Geithner of fertility out there ready to tell you that if you’d just do what they say, you’ll avert disaster.

GY 4?? Feminism in Current Pop Debate

Occasionally I like to construct an alternate course of events that my life could have taken. In today’s fantasy, I have become achingly famous and been asked to teach a class on contemporary women’s issues. Yes, that’s right. In my fantasy world (today) I’m a professor. What about it?

My class will be about feminist issues in contemporary discourse (media, mostly). Which means mostly mommy wars, body issues, and women in the workplace…if you even consider those to be separate issues.

I will not assign all of the books I found to be helpful. I remember grad school. I didn’t read whole books. I read articles and excerpts amounting to the length of War and Peace. I didn’t read whole books, however concise and helpful. Graduate school is like a scavenger hunt for research paper sources, and once a book has been cited, it’s use to the researcher diminishes by about 94%, and no one ever read a book they considered to be 6% useful. Enjoyability is not really a factor, I don’t think.

Instead of a small library of course texts, I will instead assign a course pack. I discovered coursepacks in gradschool and I think they are marvelous. For 50 quid ($100) I got the 800 pages we would actually be discussing in class, saving myself so much time mining journals and hauling books to and from the library. I still have the coursepacks too, because I actually think I may need to brush up on Postcolonial theory one day.

For my fictional class on contemporary gender issues, I would thus create a coursepack including the bits from contemporary non-fiction and feminist works that have had a particular impact on my thinking, or have simply made me say, “YES! That’s IT!”

Note: obviously this would be an elective in the Women’s Studies department and everyone in my class would have read the basic works of feminist writing. It will be one of those places where Steinem, Levy, and Greer are thrown about like they wrote something as practical and necessary as the OED and Cooks Illustrated, because in some ways they did.

In addition to all of this, my students are going to have to read some blogs and follow tabloids, news, etc. People are going to love my class, because much like my own media studies graduate degree, it’s basically a licence to do what I would be doing anyway, but to call it “research.”

This is what will be in the coursepack for my class, GY4?? Feminism in Current Pop Debate (I chose GY because that was the prefix for gender studies at LSE, where I went to school. Much of the fantasy school where I teach looks like LSE.).

  • Valenti, J. Why Have Kids? Houghton Mifflen, New York. 2012; Chapter 5: “The Hardest Job in the World”
  • Moran, C. How to be a Woman Harper Perennial, New York. 2011; Chapter 2: I Become Furry!; Chapter 4: I am a Feminist!; Chapter 5: I Need a Bra!; Chapter 7: I Encounter Some Sexism!; Chapter 11: I Get into Fashion!; Chapter 12: Why You Should Have Children; Chapter 13: Why You Shouldn’t Have Children; Chapter 14: Role Models and What We Do with Them; Chapter 16: Intervention.
  • Martin, C. Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters The Berkley Publishing Group, New York. 2007; Chapter 2: From Good to Perfect: Feminism’s Unintended Legacy; Chapter 3: The Male Mirror: Her Father’s Eyes; Chapter 5: Sex as a Cookie: Growing up Hungry; Chapter 6: The Revolution Still Will Not be Televised: Pop, Hip-Hop, Race and the Media; Chapter 11: The Real World Ain’t No MTV: How the Body Become the Punching Bag for Post-College Disappointment; Chapter 12: Spiritual Hunger.
  • Sessions-Stepp, L. Unhooked Riverhead Books, New York. 2007; Section 3: How We Got There; Section 4: Hooking-Up: Why It Matters.
  • Barger, L. Callas Eve’s Revenge Brazos Press Grand Rapids. 2003; Chapter 2: The Body is My Alter

I will also include one non-contemporary text, available as a complete book, though it is a collection of essays:

  • Sayers, D. Are Women Human? Wm. B. Eerdmens, Grand Rapids, 1971

Clearly, some days I just miss being in school.