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ISSUE 118 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/18/2005

Celebrating Gender meaningfully

By Carolyn Albert
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 18, 2005

It seems to me that St. Olaf has been talking a lot about sex these days.

Well … perhaps I should clarify.

Gender seems to be a hot-button issue on the Hill recently. As the echoes of V-Week and “The Vagina Monologues” fade, Women’s History Month kicks off, Mustache Appreciation Week’s stubble disappears and this year’s Lenten Chapel Series with its theme “The Body” draws to a close, I am greatly encouraged by this community’s ability to discuss and celebrate the uniqueness of gender in so many different ways.

The affirmation and empowerment of women that result from “The Vagina Monologues” and the events of V-Week are tremendously important, as are the complex discussions and emotional reactions that such a week provokes.

Hearing from women who are community leaders and often work in very male-dominated sectors of our society is another heartening opportunity that we have as Women’s History Month begins.

We shouldn’t overlook the boys, though; who could forget them with all that outrageous facial hair we’ve seen lately? Mustache Appreciation Week is a fabulous, funny way for men to be proud of something unique to their gender, without being accused of sexism or being told that they don’t need a week or month to celebrate their history (since they have dominated history for centuries).

Men need to celebrate who they are, too, and I whole-heartedly approve (though I admit I might approve slightly less if the men in my life were responsible for the more noticeable recent fashion statements).

Finally, we’ve had a bold statement made by our church in its willingness to address “The Body” in relationship to lives of faith and reflection upon the Lenten season.

Professor of History Jim Farrell gave a chapel talk March 9 about “good sex,” which boldly assessed the meaning of truly healthy sexual relationships well beyond both the confines of our popular culture’s expectations and the more common and over-simplified admonishments of the church.

Farrell thoughtfully commented on the unhealthy approach we often have towards sex, and the misguided questions we ask ourselves and each other. He said that the sex manuals you can pick up off bookstore shelves show us this misguided focus: “These advice manuals are too often about know-how instead of know-why. They’re designed to make us competent, but not to make us wise.”

In the context of these events, it is very easy to criticize, to point out flaws or faulty approaches to exploring the complicated questions of gender and gender relations.

We do it in our casual conversations and we read it in op-ed pieces in our national and local newspapers.

Maybe we think mustaches look dirty. Maybe we think that women wearing certain clothing confine themselves to objectification rather than expressing their own choices or celebrating what they think of their own bodies, rather than what other people think of them.

Maybe we disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade or the politics of certain women leaders. Perhaps we are also suspicious of the church’s willingness to talk about sex in more ambiguous ways than it has in the past.

In any case, all this sex talk means one thing: Everyone has a chance to speak about the issues and to celebrate and explore something central to his or her identity. And that, my friends – despite any differences we may have – is a fabulous opportunity.

Staff writer Carolyn Albert is a senior from Roscoe, Ill. She majors in religion and integrative studies.

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