Feminist Theologians Don’t Like Our Vagina Limericks

Feminist Theologians Don’t Like Our Vagina Limericks November 3, 2012

I’d be interested in you reading post:

The very tradition of the limerick comes freighted with bawdy sexual references, most often at the expense of women’s sexual agency and subjectivity. Thus, compromising the effort from the outset.

Read the rest here. Please leave me your thoughts.

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  • I stopped reading at “The Republicans are re-asserting their “rights” to control of women’s vaginas”… I have trouble respecting the intellectual arguments of anyone who won’t give their opponents the respect of a fair representation of their positions.

  • You do see the irony in what you are saying, right Bob?

    • I truly doubt he does. After all, he is a male complaining that women aren’t smart enough to know when they’re being dismissed…

  • Evelyn

    This limerick objectifies women and reduces them to vaginas and should be considered offensive by the female theologians. However, they don’t find it offensive because they think the vagina can somehow empower women. The type of power they are talking about is dominating, aggressive, and manipulative and does not convey a message that addresses women’s gifts >besides< their sexuality (the "words carry much weight" line is a little too much of an afterthought to be taken seriously):

    "Lifeway is stupid, let’s get that straight.
    Vaginas are awesome, no room for debate.
    powerful, and scary,
    women are: very.
    And their words carry much weight."

    The view that there is such a thing as "healthy" sexuality seems to be accepted amongst these female theologians as is illustrated in the following: "Again, it plays into this binary that sex and sexuality are either sanitized and virginal or pornographic. Neither addresses the realities and beauties of the human body and its capacity for healthy, God-given sexuality in all its form."

    There is no such thing as "healthy" sexuality as conceived by these female theologians. The only healthy sexuality is one in which sexual attraction is transformed into a knowledge of the Other that humanizes the Other. The sex act in and of itself is a form of objectification and stress-release and it is not spiritually "healthy" to maintain sexual mental images of the opposite sex (whether you are male or female).

    Did anyone notice how the limerick contest about RHD had to do with her vagina but the limerick contest about Peter Rollins had to do with his philosophy? To be more balanced, I think Tony should pose limerick challenges about a man's penis and a woman's philosophy. The female theologians would probably find these to be ethical.

    • Evelyn

      “This limerick” that I’m referring to in the first paragraph is the one I quote after the colon.

    • sofia

      I see your point about the two limerick contests, but Peter Rollins didn’t write a book about male sexuality using the word “penis” that was banned from Lifeway stores.

      I have mixed feelings about the limericks myself, but what I do appreciate is that Tony is forcing necessary conversation and ultimately supporting Rachel’s book.

  • Julie Mavity Maddalena

    I’m glad to see some responses though it’s unfortunate that the highlighted quote does not quite catch the primary focus of our concerns. In fact, two of the participants did feel like a limerick contest could work (hence, the one suggested), with more careful framing (and, actually, I made that initial statement with concerns about cultural baggage and then said it might still be possible).

  • Julie Mavity Maddalena

    I guess I would also say, in regards to framing concerns, I definitely wouldn’t want to presume to represent all feminist theologians and I wish the blog response didn’t have to be titled in way that might get construed as an “us” vs “them” dialogue. I’m very glad someone took the initiative to highlight the inanity of Lifeway (which is clear from all 3 of us in the discussion), and I would hope that in our common cause, we could listen to each other without automatically creating sides.

  • Nathan

    All I know is that your use of “unicorn” during yesterday’s presentation was AWESOME.

  • That guy

    Julie, you seem to be saying that with the right parameters someone might “do the work of some sort of effort to correct, or reclaim, what’s actually going on here and with RHE’s important work.”

    What would that look like? How again did Tony’s project miss the mark?
    I’m the only one who commented at length on my limerick, and I’d say I was aiming for something similar to that.

  • Tony Jones

    So, Julie, you don’t like the excerpt I chose, or the headline? Anything else?

  • JTB

    Hi Tony et al. I’d say it’s pretty clear from our conversation that Julie and I actually liked quite a lot of the limericks (and of course as Evelyn noted I couldn’t resist dashing one off myself, though I was ambivalent about its success in avoiding complicity). The complication we saw as problematic has more to do with the way the invitation to comment on vaginas in a limerick contest still participates in the assumption that women’s bodies are public property–to be limericked about or to be censored. One way or another vagina talk is regulated, and Julie and I–while deeply appreciating the spirit of the contest and the intention to promote RHE’s book–felt like the question of who exactly is doing all the rule-setting for all this vagina talk was an important one. Absolutely, let’s call out Lifeway–but we have to identify this broader problem as well. This is what we mean by talking about a “framing” issue.

    • “The complication we saw as problematic has more to do with the way the invitation to comment on vaginas in a limerick contest still participates in the assumption that women’s bodies are public property–to be limericked about or to be censored”

      This makes zero sense to me.

      How is talking or limericking about vaginas participating in the assumption that women’s body are public property? (this is a real question, I really want to understand how you come to this).

      • JTB

        On the one hand, Lifeway says “can’t say vagina.” On the other, the contest says “bonus points for saying vagina.” In an important sense these things are opposing viewpoints. And again: I appreciate the intent to call out Lifeway and stand by RHE. But the whole thing happens in a context where, as I say in the convo with Chris and Julie, there’s a presumption that men not only can but should hold forth on what women’s bodies mean, how they work, what they can and can’t and should and shouldn’t do, what is and isn’t legal and moral to do with them… The problem isn’t just that Lifeway thinks they have the moral obligation to determine what speech about women’s bodies is permissible. It’s also that the contest can protest their conclusion (censorship) but can’t challenge that basic assumption of the moral obligation to determine what’s permissible, because it’s an invitation to comment on women’s bodies.

      • Evelyn

        I think the key to the argument is near the beginning of the linked blog:

        1) “Women’s vaginas have been considered public property for far, far too long. They exist to be dominated, exploited, and used for the pleasure, security, and identity of men. White middle, upper-middle, and upper-class women’s vaginas are either a) virginal or b) pornographic/slutty. This has been a very particular narrative both generated by and supported by biblical imagery and theological language and ideas.”

        2) “t]his contest went the other direction in how it framed the matter—any suggestion that RHE’s vagina is somehow public property to be discussed, made light of, joked about—even to castigate the other binary—casts her into the whore binary of having a vagina that is public property.”

        You have to first buy into the “binary” idea that there is a large and troubling group of people who believe that women’s vaginas are public property which are either virginal or slutty. Then, if RHE’s vagina is discussed and joked about, it casts her into the whore component of the binary.

        I don’t buy this argument but I still think that Tony’s limerick challenge can be cast as being disrespectful to women. This is why: I don’t think that vaginas are considered under the binary of “virginal” or “slutty” in the bible. Vaginas only fall under this binary if we are talking about the ethics surrounding “sex for pleasure” which I think is a modern invention (for women anyway but probably not for men for whom it has been considered socially acceptable to take advantage of their wives from time immemorial). Biblically, vaginas and other sexual organs should be considered as the means by which progeny are procured (“sex for procreation”). Men in biblical and pre-industrial times had a desire to control the vagina as a source of progeny (and, secondarily, pleasure) and women in biblical and pre-industrial times probably agreed to this treatment because of their physical needs during pregnancy and child-rearing. In our society, women are no longer merely the baby factories that they generally were in the past. Our modern conveniences make child bearing and rearing less labor-intensive and allow women to have interests outside of the labor necessary to take care of a family and we’ve come to a point socially where men and women are starting to take on equal loads in family responsibilities. However, there is still a desire amongst a large proportion of men to make women primary care-givers of children, to promote perceptions that we are “weaker”, that we should get paid less for twice the productivity, and shouldn’t have easy access to either birth control or abortion.

        For a man to host a conversation about a woman’s private parts means that he holds the key to the gate on the subject of “vagina” and he is joining this latter group of men who want to dominate females. This type of conversation reduces women to a body part and hearkens back to a time when women were primarily used by men for that body part and ignores the gains in perception of women that modern society has afforded to us. In this way it is disrespectful.

    • Craig

      I echo JTB’s assumption that no woman’s vagina is public property. But maybe the word “vagina,” or the concept of vagina is a kind of public property? To adopt an ancient metaphysics, maybe what’s public is the “ideal” vagina of the Platonic realm of forms. We philosophers, as it were, seek to lay hold of Plato’s vagina, exposing it to the public view.

      But I take it that this talk of public property is a metaphor that only muddies the water when taken too seriously. What’s objectionable is rather to be found in this: a group of men sitting around and opining about the significance of the vagina (of the platonic realm or otherwise). It’s objectionable in the way it would be objectionable for a group of heterosexual guys to set out to decide among themselves what it means to identify as gay. Vagina-less heterosexual should rather, first and foremost, take stance of listeners when learning about such things. Is that right?

      • JPL

        I believe that “the ‘ideal’ vagina of the Platonic realm of forms” is just one of the best phrases ever used, honestly.

  • Travis

    Thanks for sharing the link to this post, Tony. I wrote two limericks, mostly because I really, really don’t like Lifeway. And it was fun. And I should have won. I’m still a little bitter.

    But I am seeing, now, that this whole contest, while done in good spirits and intentions, was probably inappropriate. At least it was inappropriate in how it was framed, as Jen pointed out. I appreciate Jen, Julie, and Chris’ conversation. Overcoming sexist, racist and heterosexist language is difficult. So much of our humor, intentional and unintentional, is at the expense of those who suffered under decades (centuries!) of oppression by white men. As a white men, I should be careful, always refining my speech. It’s not that I or Tony or those who participated in this contest are sexist. It’s that we still live in a white, straight male dominated society, and those who believe in the liberating grace of Jesus should always fight against that society and our own participation in that society.

    I want to be a better person, and part of that desire is to become less crass, snarky, and insensitive in what I say (or, in the current medium, type). This conversation helps me with that, and I’m glad they shared publicly their thoughts. We should all listen closely, be slow to defend our actions, and be willing to learn.


  • JRB

    Tony, I have some questions about this.

    Are you sympathetic to RHE’s project and her thesis in the book? I can’t tell. To be fair, I worked back through the limerick posts and find it difficult to discern whether you are interested in this conversation or whether you are exploiting the high profile moment.

    I hope that that you are. Justice for women and girls in our society, the world and the church is the foremost question of our age. I hope that you are promoting RHE’s work to this end.

    I hope this post, drawing attention to these thoughtful people, is to that end, however snarky and ambiguous.

    Why do you set “us” against the “feminist theologians”?

    Why aren’t YOU a feminist theologian?

    I’m happy to continue this conversation in whatever literary form you prefer.

    • Evelyn

      I haven’t read Rachel’s book but from the comments on Amazon I’ve surmised that her thesis is about reclaiming scripture for women in spite of the fact that they are “treated like livestock” throughout. The reclaiming is done by illustrating how living like a women from biblical times required spiritual strength and understanding. I can see how this is so but it doesn’t erase the fact that the bible is misogynistic by any modern standard. Tony seems to be playing off the fact that the value of women in the bible is centered on the vagina and we all have preconceived notions about that.

  • I’m gonna go out on a limb here . . .

    It’s my view that Tony’s vagina limerick contest was conducted in a similar spirit that compels gay pride parades: bold celebration in liberation. Celebration of our equality, and self-liberation from false perceptions that have empowered others to diminish us socially, culturally and politically.

    If any here have ever been to a gay pride parade (and I as a gay man have been to many), you’ll recognize they are always colorful, often playfully outrageous, and VERY sexually expressive, even sometimes with self-deprecating humor. And you will find gay men AND women openly displaying near-naked bodies with PRIDE. Why? Because for so long we were urged to feel shame because of our perceived “perversion,” which obviously impacted how we felt about our bodies.

    Allow me to put it somewhat metaphorically: if we were walking and talking embodiments of vaginas (and trust me, too many of my gay friends have been called “pussies” much of their lives), we would have been victims of physical censorship from culture and society.

    My point is this: outrage against suppression is often best expressed through the loud and outrageous. Through irreverence. Through an open and bold — and sometimes vulgar — display of that which others seek to hide or bury through fear.

    The outrageous is a powerfully expressive means of saying NO. It uses the taskmaster’s whip to hang the taskmaster.

    I’m writing in real time here, and at a very late hour. I’m hoping my point got across. Ultimately, I fully support Tony’s limerick contest (though I myself did not submit a limerick; call it a gay man’s understandably natural lack of inspiration). As I see it, it used outrageous humor, not to further diminish women, but to do just the opposite. As an indictment against suppression. In celebration of womanhood. With bold, liberating pride.

    • Evelyn

      I’m glad that Tony is so proud of his vagina. When did he announce the sex-change operation?

  • Travis

    R. Jay, I think what your saying is good, and I appreciate it, but I don’t think it is applicable. The Vagina Monologues are, perhaps, analogous to gay pride parades. But myself and others participating in a limerick challenge about vaginas, hosted by someone who lacks one, is certain not bold, liberating pride.

    • I’m not buying it, Travis. Your own submitted limerick was doused in bold, liberating pride. Let me refresh your memory:

      Lifeway has given us Vagina-gate
      And probably would frown if we masturbate
      But what do we care
      Cokesbury’s our fare
      Because the progressives, our bodies they don’t hate

      (by Travis, October 24, 2012 at 4:43 pm … here)

      I won’t get waist-deep in a literary analysis here, but just look at the content of your limerick: it first decries Lifeway’s actions against Rachel Held Evans’ project; and then recognizes a certain conservative objection to self-eroticism by stimulation of the penis (note, sex organ); and here’s where the bold, liberating pride comes in: but what do we care.

      That right there, Travis, is exactly what I was discussing: the full-on rejection of suppressive diminishment. And your limerick was punctuated by an embrace of those who accept (i.e., do not hate) “our bodies,” as you put it. Joining in solidarity with “progressive” supporters and allies.

      Your limerick, ultimately, was a little, itty-bitty pussy pride parade. And I agree that you should have won.

      And I’m not sure where your guilt is coming from, but you were wrong when you wrote that the contest “was probably inappropriate. At least it was inappropriate in how it was framed.” It was not.

      And I applaud you where you write, “I want to be a better person, and part of that desire is to become less crass, snarky, and insensitive in what I say.” Writing a limerick as you did does not make you a less better person. And the contest being one of limericks inherently includes the crass and the snarky; it’s what limericks typically are.

      Nor did your limerick expose you as “insensitive.” Just the opposite, I think it revealed your sensitivity. That you expressed your fun sentiment in a snarky limerick does not detract from that one bit.

      • Evelyn

        R. Jay, If you want to denigrate yourself and gays want to denigrate themselves, go right ahead. Eat poo, get gang-banged (and act like you liked it), shoot up heroine, and die prematurely. Do it all in the name of claiming you aren’t “ashamed”. Unfortunately, these are self-destructive behaviors. If you choose to treat yourself this way, go ahead but don’t act like you are setting a new societal standard of “pride” because you aren’t. Your attitude is like the chauvenistic attitude of a guy who finds a woman who has a good career but has low sexual self-esteem and lets him treat her like shit and then uses that as justification for treating other women like shit: “Look at her, she seems successful AND she puts up with ME.” Just because you’ve found someone to play along in your depravity doesn’t make it appropriate or respectable.

        • Wow Evelyn. The abundant ignorance of your comments is striking. It shows two things: your utter cluelessness about REAL gay issues (which are far less sexual than you might imagine), and your complete lack of understanding of not only who I am as a gay man specifically (especially considering your baseless — and, by the way, false — presumptions about what you think my sexual behavior is), but what gay people are generally.

          You essentially resorted to a type of judgementalism that goes beyond disgusting. In reality, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Ignorant. Fool.

          • Evelyn

            It’s not judgementalism, R. Jay. It’s actually giving a crap about how people treat themselves. If you saw me putting a gun to my head, I hope you’d tell me not to pull the trigger. This is me telling you that what you are doing is disrespectful to yourself. If you want to treat yourself this way, there is nothing I can do about it but don’t act like everyone else in the world should follow suit.

            I’ll admit that I’m clueless about REAL gay issues if you’ll admit that your clueless about REAL feminist issues. I didn’t start a limerick contest about your body parts (I’m not going to specify the ones that you use to express your sexuality) and I didn’t pretend that they are something to be made fun of. Just because gays don’t respect themselves doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t as well.

            I’m not going to comment on your name-calling.

          • Evelyn

            BTW R. Jay, I think the major difference between feminism and gay issues is that we aren’t mainly interested in the right to have sex as we please but our major interest is in the recognition of the value of our contributions to society that are other than those related to having sex.

          • Evelyn: it wasn’t name-calling. It was identification. And this latest comment of yours only reinforces that identification, which now includes bigot.

            Being “disrespectful” to myself? Again, you have no idea what you’re talking about. You presume a knowledge of my sexual life that you in fact do not have. And your twisted presumptions are obviously based upon sick prejudices whereby you categorize gay men — including me — as sexual perverts.

            So yes, Evelyn. It is judgment that you’re engaging in. Sick, twisted judgment, made without any knowledge of me, and made by embracing a false and disgusting stereotype.

            And it is this type of outrageous judgment by ignorant fools and bigots such as yourself that we in the gay community — human beings made in the image of God — continue to be confronted with, and must continue to reject and fight against. Openly, and boldly.

          • And that is the last I shall respond to you. You are not disposed to reason. And I am not disposed to “casting my pearls before swine.”

          • Evelyn

            R. Jay, I’m not presuming a knowledge of your sexual life. Any examples that I gave of practices were actual things that a man named Harris Glenn Milstead who called himself “Divine” actually did. I think the whole “Divine” phenomenon was the perfect example of “flamboyant defiance” taken to the extreme and is an illustration of how it is ultimately self-defeating. While Divine was gay, promiscuous, and ate dog poo on stage, I don’t think that means that all gays eat dog poo or are particularly promiscuous. However FLAMBOYANT DEFIANCE is how I would define Divine’s attitude toward life. If you want to claim that FLAMBOYANT DEFIANCE is the general attitude of gays and should be the general attitude of all people, that is your problem.

            I posted something about Divine in another comment section on this blog and that is what I was referring to. I’m sorry things fell into the wrong context.

            While we’re insulting one another, I think you should take note of the fact that you’ve hijacked this conversation and made it a gay issue instead of a feminist issue. I think that is rather self-centered of you. You might want to stop assuming that the “gay card” is your “ace in the hole” every time.

          • Evelyn

            And, while we’re on the topic of FLAMBOYANT DEFIANCE, I think the woman named Courtney in this clip from VH1s “Couples Therapy” illustrates the concept in a heterosexual female context:


            If you can give me some examples of how FLAMBOYANT DEFIANCE is good for society or WOMEN, please do so. At this point, I will have to forgo any “pearlish” generalizations you care to offer.

  • Tony Jones

    R Jay gets it right. That was my intention: to flamboyantly defy Lifeway, Al Mohler, et al. I was among those to publicly led the protest about the exclusion of “vagina,” and RHE has personally thanked me for that action.

    Yes, I am a feminist. And I find it ludicrous that a feminist tells me that I cannot talk about vaginas on my blog because I don’t have one. I cannot imagine telling a feminist that she cannot write — even joke! — about penises.

    Anyone who reads the limericks with a modicum of common sense can see that in every one, the vagina is treated with respect, even deference. Vaginas are never mocked or demeaned. The vagina is the star of the show, as it should be.

    Thus, I stand by the limerick contest.

    May the conversation continue…

    • Evelyn

      This is the face of “flamboyant defiance”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_%28performer%29

      Get the picture?

      I mean, many people find someone like “Divine” to be offensive and he was ultimately self-destructive regardless of how funny some might have found him.

    • I’d just like to chime in here and say that while I didn’t participate in the limerick contest, I did read all the submissions. And laughed my ass off.

      As the possessor of a vagina, I felt no exploitation, objectification, or violation by the limericks. I saw it as, to quote R Jay, who seems to have put it best, “bold celebration in liberation.” And a giant FU to LifeWay. Both thrilled my cynical, skeptical, feminist heart.

      • Evelyn

        “bold celebration in liberation” in the context of flamboyant defiance by gay males is actually a type of catharsis and showing of internal solidarity after having suffered much prejudice. It is an actual “taking on” of the prejudice in a self-deprecating way. Everyone is entitled to practice self-deprecating humor and so are you but when your job is on the line, no one will listen to you or give you any type of respect, or you are not being compensated for your work or are not able to rise past a certain point in your career simply because you are a woman, self-deprecation may be a defense mechanism and the only way to maintain your sanity but it is neither dignified nor does it do anything to achieve equity between the sexes in the spheres where equity would liberate women from relative enslavement.

      • Lisa . . .

        Right-on to the “FU to LifeWay.” It’s what the limerick contest was saying, in effect, but also in so doing it was cheering on Rachel Held Evans. As an author. And as a woman.

        In the context of modern socio-cultural discussion, the term “vagina” is now a symbol of strong womanhood, liberated women. At least that’s how I see it both as a writer and as a mindful and active participant in modern American society. What LifeWay did (again, this is just my view) by trying to put “vagina” back in the symbolic iron maiden and hide it beneath the proverbial ankle-length dress, was to diminish the strength and liberation of women and womanhood.

        Using the limerick contest as an example, the bold and unrestrained use of the word “vagina” — even in the more brash moments of irreverent humor — is to proclaim that women are not dirty, women are not beneath men, women are not weak, women will not have their roles defined by men, women’s value is not determined by either men’s fears or their perverted belief that women’s bodies are objects of control.

        And what greater sting to uber-conservative, chauvinistic religious thinking than when a woman freely uses the term “vagina” to celebrate womanhood rather than bow in subservience to manhood and its self-serving schemes.

        So to outrageously display “vagina” as symbol is to boldly defy efforts to diminish women and their real value.

        I need not be a woman with a vagina to support women’s value/equality, any more than someone must be gay to support gay rights, poor to support the destitute, or starving to support the hungry.

    • Dana

      No one asserted that you’re not allowed to talk about vaginas because you don’t have one. No one said anything remotely like that, and asserting that THAT’s what they’re saying is incredibly uncharitable and dismissive.

      Why the defensiveness? Is insisting that that there couldn’t possibly be anything the least bit wrong or problematic or un-ideal about something you did really more important to you than not treating a whole bunch of very nice women like crap (suggesting they lack “even a modicum of common sense” and putting words into their mouth that they never said so you can write them off as obviously irrational) merely for expressing a concern?

      What’s worse is on the part of the women with concerns, I’ve never seen such a series of polite, kind, carefully-reasoned explanations of why this makes them feel uncomfortable and they’re not sure it’s a helpful approach to the issue, all of them assuming that you had the best of intentions and trying as hard as they can not to make you feel hurt or attacked. It’s a damn parade in here of charity and kindness (until I showed up, I guess). It’d be nice if you would try to return the favour.

  • JTB

    Tony, we’re not being hostile here. The conversation happened because a (male) friend linked to your post and commented something like, hey a bunch of dudes are talking about vaginas. Intentions notwithstanding (which I have BTW consistently acknowledged appreciatively), that’s the way the contest framing comes across to at least some people. Maybe we lack the necessary modicum of common sense or just the prerequisite insider knowledge to gloss over all this by deferring to your well-known public standing as ally. Very simply, Julie and I both expressed ambivalence in our first reactions to the contest and it seemed like a fruitful thing to explore. It would be ludicrous indeed to think that we want to set ourselves up as the rightful regulators of vagina talk when that is the very thing we are trying to pinpoint as the problem that complicates what I’m sure we all wish was a simple and uncomplicated bit of fun! Nowhere have we said you can’t talk about vaginas because you don’t have one. What we have said is that the contest doesn’t, and can’t–as an invitation to comment on them–challenge the problematic presumption that women’s bodies are objects for public consumption.

    • Evelyn

      In other words, you intuitively know the contest was wrong but you just can’t figure out why.

  • JTB, you wrote: What we have said is that the contest doesn’t, and can’t–as an invitation to comment on them–challenge the problematic presumption that women’s bodies are objects for public consumption.

    It was never the contest’s objective to challenge the presumption you mentioned, overtly or otherwise. The contest was about solidarity with an author whose anal-retentive publisher nixed a project because of the single use of the word “vagina” in a book about Biblical womanhood.

    And I think I need to say that if the limerick contest were a party, it just got a big buzzkill. It’s like some guests came in saying, “We love this party, but let’s talk about what it isn’t.”

    Buzz. Kill. (And talk about anal retentive. Or should I say vaginal-retentive? Sorry, too soon?)

  • Patrick

    So, there once was a group of feminists
    Whose panties got all up in a twist.
    They’re WAY over-thinking
    the limerick’s meaning.
    The humor, me thinks they have missed.

    Come on, Tony. That’s GOT to get me a free book!

  • jduckbaker

    I’m not a theologian.
    I am interested in reading RHE’s book because my faith has radically changed and the people in my community don’t recognize women as equal partners in life.

    I am concerned that the whole thing comes down to one word- vagina. And that whether it is celebrated or scorned, that the contest and other reviews and blogs put the focus on the word vagina. Because it makes me feel that it all boils down to the fact that I am a woman = I have a vagina.

    Maybe by focusing on this I am a big saddo and create some buzz kills. Sorry about that. I am just hoping to be recognized as a human whether I have a vagina or not.

    Lifeway issues and contests aside, promotion of the book and generation of good dialog is important.
    I hope we all buy her book.

  • I find it frustrating when people cannot actually engage in conversations and simply summarily dismiss things with statements like “anyone wih a modicum of common sense” would see things my way. Obviously, to anyone who read Chris’ blog Julie and JTB have much more than just a modicum of common sense. The truth of any situation is you have to be willing to listen to criticism. If two homosexual men tell me something I did was offensive to gays, I as a straight man had better take the time to listen. If two African Americans come up to me independently and point out thinking I am engaging in which they find to be racist, I better damn well listen. And, if two highly educated, articulate women say that my actions are sexist then I had better take the time to open my ears and seriously consider what they are saying. Being dismissive of them and saying they lack a “modicum of common sense” is not the way to go.

    • Really good point Brent.

    • Simon

      Evelyn, thanks for so many thoughtful posts. As a limerick participant, I feel deeply sorry to have given offense to JTB, JMM, you and surely others. I thought Brent made a really good point when he said, “If two homosexual men tell me something I did was offensive to gays, I as a straight man had better take the time to listen. If two African Americans come up to me independently and point out thinking I am engaging in which they find to be racist, I better damn well listen.”

      Point taken, I am listening. But, as the writer of the “winning” limerick (Thanks Tony), I feel compelled to point out that my limerick and a number of others are portraying a feminist or at least a female-friendly perspective, and not exploitative of women or their bodies.

      I certainly didn’t take Tony’s challenge as an invitation to write about Ms. Held Evans’ body. Because the book hadn’t been released, I presume none of us knew the context of the body part reference.

      The winning limerick (which is arguably in poor taste in a lot of ways) focuses on Ms. Held Evans ideas (not her body) and how she persuasively fights ridiculous misogyny masquerading as biblicism. To the extent, I function in a system that perpetuates misogyny I am very sorry, and I want to fight that system. I thought I was doing that with my limerick (Looks like I missed the mark).

      For the record, the only specific reference to a body part is a subtle nod to Mark Driscoll’s presumably male genitalia. http://bit.ly/UtWuIp

      • Evelyn

        Simon, I wasn’t >THATthis< conversation. While I applaud Tony for opening himself up to feminist criticism, I don't applaud some of the male comments that dismiss women or tell them that they should consider their issues to be the same as those of gay men because they aren't.

        • Evelyn

          Correction to the above post:
          Simon, I wasn’t THAT offended by the limerick contest. When it happened, I thought it was kind of funny and also “par for the course” in this blogspace (my impression of which is male-dominated and not particularly female-friendly).

          On the other hand, I must say that I’ve been offended by THIS conversation. While I applaud Tony for opening himself up to feminist criticism, I don’t applaud some of the male comments that dismiss women or tell them that they should consider their issues to be the same as those of gay men because they aren’t.

          • Simon


            I think I am agreeing with you again about some of the comments, but to be fair, I am offended by some of the comments in a lot of internet conversations.

            However, what I appreciate about your comments and those of several other female voices is the potent reminder that guys can easily objectify women, and trivialize their voice (even/especially in unintentional ways). Again, if I did that, please explain to me why. I was aiming for the exact opposite proposition.

            Regardless of whether I crossed the line, I was not particularly aware of nor sensitive to it. So I am grateful for the clarifying contribution from you and others.

          • Evelyn

            Simon, I was commenting on the fact that you said you feel “deeply sorry” and I’m not out to make you feel that way – especially towards me because you did nothing to me for which you should feel sorry.

            I’m hoping that not many women have had the same life experiences that I’ve had. At one point in my life I was trying to pursue a scientific career, had recently landed an academic position, and found that even though I had done my PhD work independently, attended and excelled within the top academic institutions, and had published what I considered to be important scientific findings, the men in the male-dominated environment in which I was employed seemed to have absolutely NO RESPECT for my accomplishments. Perhaps they considered me too young, too female, or simply someone they felt they could take advantage of – I still don’t know why. Anyway, near the beginning of this time, I was put on an email list that included several of the men in my research group and their wives. A couple of emails went around that had some bawdy sexual jokes in them. Surprisingly, since I had previously felt myself to be rather easygoing and relatively open about sexuality, I found myself extremely offended by these jokes and asked to be taken off of the email list. The upshot is that I think female responses to bawdy jokes like the entries to the limerick contest are a barometer of how the responding woman views her relationships with men and how seriously she feels that she needs to be respected within her environment when she is exposed to the jokes. In my case, I felt that the success of my career (and means of supporting myself) depended on respect and acknowledgement of my accomplishments and the bawdy email jokes added insult to the injurious way that I felt I was being treated at work BECAUSE of my femaleness. Just like the case where you can’t appreciate God’s grace until you’ve experience it’s absence, you don’t know how very important respect and dignity are until you have experienced their absence as well. It is my hope that no other women have to experience the absence of respect and dignity but I know that there are some women out there who do and I feel the need to speak up for them.

            Limerick away but please don’t brush off any woman who is offended and tell them how they should feel – some of us don’t have the luxury of a supportive environment.

          • Simon

            Consider yourself not brushed off. Thanks.

          • Evelyn

            You’re welcome and thank you too.

      • JTB

        Just to clarify (again), I’m not “offended.” Many of the limericks were enjoyable and I can’t think of a single one whose intent to support RHE was unclear. Our critique was aimed at exploring the dynamics of the contest as the chosen strategy of solidarity, which as an invitation to comment on women’s bodies seemed in the end limited in its potential by participating rather than subverting an important part of the problem it intended to address. And I’m glad you won a copy of the book. I’ll be buying one. 🙂

  • JTB

    Well, let me untwist my buzz kill panties here.

    If the problem were that Lifeway objected to all explicit references to sexual body parts in some sort of Victorian prudery, then clearly, bawdy limericks about all for all and by all would be an excellent way to challenge that. But that isn’t, as I understand it, the problem. The problem is not prudery but the refusal to grant a woman’s authority to refer to her own anatomy. (Once.) How is the assumption that a woman shouldn’t refer to her own vagina on her own terms challenged by inviting a bunch of other people to write poetry about her vagina? Really guys. It’s not that we are ugly women with no sense of humor, or easily offended, or that we didn’t enjoy some of the very fine limericks offered. It’s the implicit imbalance in offering up someone’s body for public commentary as a gesture of solidarity. I’m glad everyone involved wants to support Rachel and promote the book. I think the contest is certainly a success in terms of promoting the book. Again, Julie and I were trying to explore exactly what it was that caused our initial ambivalence–rather than just shrugging our shoulders and walking away.

    I have been mulling over the gay pride analogy. I think the difference is, while I might happily march in a gay pride parade, I would have to do so as me–a straight ally. That doesn’t mean I can’t march but it does affect how I march alongside. I couldn’t participate in celebrating my sexuality in the same way that the LGBTQ folk around me would be–not because I shouldn’t celebrate my body or sexuality but because as a straight person, my sexuality is located on the wrong side of the contextual power dynamic. In that context there’s no way to celebrate straightness without it being a slap in the face–and how I celebrate gayness has to be from the other side of the fence.

    Just FYI, I have to take off now to go teach some 3rd graders at Sunday School. So, prolonged silence from me for awhile.

    • Evelyn

      “It’s the implicit imbalance in offering up someone’s body for public commentary as a gesture of solidarity.”


  • Tony Jones

    JTB, among the mistaken assumptions in your original post:

    – Lifeway refused to stock the book because of the word “vagina.” They were asked by the publisher if that was why, and they said it was not.

    – The limerickisists on my blog were primarily men. You have no way of knowing that, and neither do I. Assuming the gender of a commenter based on the name, initials, or avatar that someone enters is perilous.

    Let me ask you: Why did it take a man to convene and moderate your conversation on Tumblr? Why are you having that conversation on a man’s blog, in a man’s space?

    Of course, I’m being rhetorical here.

    Regarding your criticisms of the medium of limericks as inherently crass and disrespecting of women’s bodies, I reject it. You could say the same about video, since its the primary medium of pornography. If anything, the ur-limerick (“There once was a man from Nantucket”) is objectifying of the >male< sex organ.

    To others: If you think that my responses to this criticism belie the fact that I'm not listening to criticism, you do not understand blogging very well, nor do you know me very well.

    Evelyn, while I don't have a vagina, I am an unabashed lover of the vagina. 🙂

    • Evelyn

      Tony, I think you’re a little delusional here. You can’t REALLY enter into RHE’s vagina the way God entered into Christ to show solidarity. It just doesn’t work that way.

  • JTB

    On your point regarding Chris’s moderation/hosting: this same thought occurred to me, so I’ve thought it through. First, an informal conversation happened on Facebook around the original post, with many more people involved in commenting and not “hosted” by anyone in particular. There was a diversity of opinion, with some people participating in the limerick writing and others, among them Julie and me, who expressed ambivalence. The evolution of that conversation prompted Chris to ask if Julie and I would be interested in putting something more public out there, and he did the work of initiating that and organizing it and gave his own public space for our voices. So, what Chris did was listen to what we had to say and hand us the mic, basically. That’s worlds away from requiring a male authorization for us to speak. It’s an interesting and helpful thing to point out, though, as unpacking it gives a little more background to the origin of the critical conversation.

    I have to admit, I’m now even more confused about why there were specific directions to rhyme with vagina. Are you saying that this is not why Lifeway refused to stock the book? If you take them at their word on this , why are you redirecting the limerick submission to “vagina” and “vaginagate?”

    You’re right, I have no way of knowing the gender of the authors, except for those I know personally.

    Regarding the suggestion that limericks are a compromised form, a closer read of our conversation will show that this initial suggestion is discussed and evolves considerably. We in fact prefer limericks to sonnets. I believe Chris wants an epitaph out of it.

    I think it’s fair to note that I don’t in fact know you very well (one seminar together, years ago!). It can be difficult to correctly discern the attitudes behind the words, especially in the absence of a fuller offline relationship. So please do accept my affirmation that our critique was meant to be constructive, and an invitation for everyone to consider some of the broader dynamics at work. Consider it our show of solidarity.

  • Evelyn

    In case anyone is wondering, Courtney (on VH1’s Couples Therapy) is proud:


    I think this is the kind of pride that is being promoted here.

  • Dave Burkum

    At least one winner of the limerick contest didn’t even use the word vagina. And now he feels a little smug about it. 🙂

    • Evelyn

      In a feminist context, the limerick contest was offensive so in that context you have right to feel smug. I can’t speak for all women, but I don’t think this means that women don’t like Tony Jones. Most of us don’t spend much time in feminist space because, if we did, it would just make us frustrated and angry as hell. Speaking for myself, I spend most of my time trying to balance the forces in my life to achieve peace rather than nitpicking at all the chauvenistic male behavior that occurs and makes a women’s lives an exercise in “shoveling shit against the tide”. Disregarding feminist concerns, I thought Tony’s limerick contest was humorous and cute in a “boys will be boys” kind of way but never considered it particularly respectable.

      • That guy

        Sorry, not you Evelyn.

    • That guy

      I know how you feel.

  • Ayin

    Tony, there is so much that I want to say that I scarcely even know where to begin.

    First of all, I was deeply troubled by this quote from Julie Mavity Maddalena: “You asked about what if women had either participated or come up with the idea—I honestly don’t think women (most often) would feel entitled to do such a thing. We aren’t socialized to think that way. ” JMM offers a commentary that is dangerously generalized. If she wishes to speak about how she was socialized, more power to her, but I’d rather she didn’t include all women everywhere in her appraisal. I was socialized differently, and I can and have made any number of jokes about genitalia (both male and female). I am no less a woman for that. Please, don’t make it sound like I don’t really belong in my own gender, as though a *real* woman wouldn’t have my sense of humor.

    Second, I disliked the way in which these feminists resorted to FB to hold a conversation about what they think you’ve done wrong on your own blog. Couldn’t they have at least invited you to tell your side of the story? They way they approached their project seems rude to me.

    Third, there is this quote from Jen Thweatt-Bates: “There used to be a commercial spot on MSNBC for the Ed Shultz show that is the perfect example of what not to do. Ed claims in the commercial that working class folks have no voice and says, “I’m going to be that voice.” No, stupid. If you’re worried about folks not having a voice, hand over your damn microphone.” While agree with JTB’s argument completely, I cannot help but find it a trifle hypocritical given the context. She was, after all, participating in a discussion about the controversy surrounding Rachel Held Evans: that denying her right to use the word vagina to refer to her own anatomy demeans her, that Tony’s contest, while well intentioned didn’t help, that Rachel Held Evans’ vagina is not a matter for public spectacle. At no point did that discussion include participation from Rachel Held Evans. I am left wondering what *she* thinks of Tony’s contest. Has anyone contacted her about this? Shouldn’t someone hand over the microphone?

    • Ayin, on point three, all I know is that RHE tweeted about the limerick contest to her followers. That may be a tacit approval. I don’t know.

      • JTB

        I think that’s helpful to know.

    • Evelyn

      Most men that I know would be really put off if a woman were to start a limerick contest about penises in a female-dominated context. The men just wouldn’t to go near the contest or the women involved. If they did go near it they would do so because they thought they could “get some” from these bawdy ladies. For these reasons, most women that I know wouldn’t think to start such a contest given our habits of respectable conformity to our social environment.

      • Ayin

        Two things, Evelyn:

        First: “Most men that I know would be really put off if a woman were to start a limerick contest about penises in a female-dominated context.” Ok. If that has been your experience about the men you’ve met, then I totally respect where you’re coming from. But, most of the men I know wouldn’t be bothered.

        Second: “If they did go near it they would do so because they thought they could “get some” from these bawdy ladies.” Oh wow. Now I get it! Let me explain something. I spend most of my time in Athens, Ohio which is totally dominated by the campus of Ohio University. Living in a college town for pretty much my whole life has probably given me a completely different understanding of the interplay of the male and female genders. Around here, the women are allowed to be freer with their self-expression. We don’t worry overly much about any naughty joke or similar being taken as evidence that we are slutty. And, the men are pretty well used to us. In fact, they often join in with a few jokes of their own. It’s just all in good fun for us.

        When I made my first post, I was coming from a rather limited perspective, and I didn’t even realize that. I just assumed that everyone else sees the world, sex, and gender in pretty much the same way I do. Thanks for showing me a different perspective, Evelyn.

    • JTB

      I don’t want to speak for Julie (how ironic that would be!) but I can say on the strength of personal acquaintance that both she and I enjoy exercising our ability to turn almost any innocent phrase into bawdy euphemism. I don’t hear the generalization in her comment as intended as a universalization–which I agree would indeed be a problem.

      I appreciate your point about handing the mic to RHE very much. I would love to know her thoughts about it and have tried very hard to represent *my* critique as mine without sliding over into the assumption that I’m somehow speaking up on her behalf. Unfortunately I don’t know her and only have a couple of mutual friends. So maybe someone else can ask if she cares about any of this.

      As far as the discourtesy of having a convo about this on FB, the contest post was a public one. I also know that our moderator contacted Tony via email before putting up the moderated conversation up on the blog, so there was no ambush. In any case, it wasn’t meant to be a conversation about “what Tony did wrong” as an exploration of how difficult it is to negotiate the complexity of standing as allies in contexts where the dynamics at play can sometimes compromise our best efforts. I wouldn’t in any case want to say this was somehow a failed effort or a fatally flawed gesture of solidarity–in many ways, it is clearly hugely successful! We just found the whole thing interesting enough to talk about for awhile, and Chris found that interesting enough to want to take it public.

      • JTB

        sorry: editing blooper. “it wasn’t meant to be a conversation about “what Tony did wrong” but an exploration of how difficult it is to negotiate the complexity of standing as allies in contexts where the dynamics at play can sometimes compromise our best efforts.”

    • JTB


      just wanted to let you know I’ve linked to your comment above with some further reflections there. thanks much for sharing your thoughts! very helpful for thinking further.

  • Craig

    Enjoy your laughs now. In the resurrection some of you straight guys will find yourselves damned to be the bitches of some powerful sodomite overlord in hell. He will call you his anus. He will publicly opine about your butt hole. His friends will write drinking songs about your rectum. They’ll swap limericks.

    • Evelyn

      Maybe I was a man in a former life. 🙂

    • Thank you Craig that was beautiful. Brought a tear to my eye LOL.

  • JTB

    Also, you can read Chris’s thoughts and leave comments if you like here:


  • I read through this last night and was like, “really? we’re discussing vagina limericks now?”


  • Evelyn

    So, while this conversation has left us all with a bad taste in our mouths, I was writing some election/erection limericks and I remembered something that bears mention: In the game of sex it is often women who are viewed as manipulators who hold the power over men. It is usually men who want it more than women and a woman may deny sex in order to get something that she values more. In this way, a woman can be seen as a sexual tyrant whose sex organs can then be justifiably belittled by men. Of course, a woman “manipulator” could turn around and say that they are righteous because sex has little value to them and is viewed as immoral but to the man who values sex, the behavior is actually oppressive. Anyway, it’s just a thought …

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