Written By: Kristin Houdyshell
Over the past two years at the University of South Florida, I have been approached– on several occasions– by a sea of men advocating for the Christian faith and trying to “share the word or God.” At first, I thought it was pleasant to see the seemingly happy people trying to spread their Christian faith and took comfort in the presence of the religious group. Although I do not identify with the religion, my mom is Christian and has a strong connection with her faith— so seeing people in the Christian community was somewhat comforting during my first semester (Fall 2015) at USF. However, after several encounters with the sea of men, I started to feel a bit uncomfortable by their persistence.
To set the scene: About twenty men in a dress shirt, dress pants, and tie, are scattered around campus on any given day, passing out booklets of The New Testament. They skillfully position themselves in front of the Marshall Student Center, near parking garages and student dorms, and near the USF bookstore– so as to target as many people as possible. Whenever someone walks by, a man would pass out a copy of The New Testament, saying “Spread the word of God” (or something to that effect). When a student (such as I have done on many occasions) says “No Thank you,” the men would nod or say “Ok” and try to target the next person in line. However, the men seem to position themselves so close together that even if that same student (me) turns the first set of guys down, their friends (only a few steps away) would offer The New Testament again!
One day, when the sea of white men were outside giving out The New Testament, I actually took a copy to be polite and said “Thank you. Have a good day.” When I continued to walk to class, the next group of men (again, positioned oddly close to their friends) offered me another copy of the same book! Although they saw me take a copy just a few seconds prior, the men still insisted that I take another copy of The New Testament.
Now, when I see the men, I try to avoid eye contact and pretend I’m in a hurry (which I usually am). I feel bad that I’m ignoring these people because of how much I respect my mom and her devotion to the Christian faith. However, I feel as though these men are being a bit inconsiderate of how they might be making other students feel. Although I understand part of being a Christian is to spread the word or God, these men seem to take it a bit too extreme.
Although the men may have good intentions, I feel as though they might not realize that not only are they pushing conformity onto others who are not Christian, but also imposing their binary lifestyles– in a seemingly judgmental way.
In Toward a Queer Ecofeminism, by Greta Gaard, she notes that the rhetoric of Christianity, in the Western United States, paired with the imperialist views of the US, impose the ideology of divine domination. The hierarchical and oppressive approach of Christianity have positioned nature as female and framed the development of science and the power of men as something/someone that can rationally control the natural world. More so, the oppressive nature of this view frames women as irrational, erotic, and therefore evil– who further need to be ‘controlled’ (or, resultantly, oppressed) by the ‘rational’ man. Such hierarchal systems, imposed primarily by the Christian faith, as Gaard points out, have resulted in historical instances of oppression– such as persecuting women with witch burnings, degrading nature through science, or ‘controlling’ indigenous people through colonization.
In Toward a Queer Ecofeminism, Gaard emphasizes the origin of oppression, in the Western United States, as correlating with the hierarchical, mystifying, and patriarchal views of Christianity (such as by the seemingly happy and mystical welcoming of the men on campus). It is then these patriarchal views that perceive nature as female and science as a rational masculine control of the natural world.
Notably, in Greta Gaard’s article, Toward a Queer Ecofeminism, she stresses that the perspective and characterizations of ecofeminism and queer theory are interconnected in the same way that all binary relationships are connected– and therefore, all instances of historical oppression. With this view, Gaard stresses the need for ecofeminism and queer theory to become interconnected– rather simply acknowledge the perspectives of each theory– and approach their studies with a sense of a queer ecofeminism.
By adopting Gaard’s perspective of a queer ecofeminism, it becomes more apparent that the many binary systems (heterosexual vs. homosexual, white vs. black, men vs. women, science vs. nature) are the foundations for the differing forms of oppression (racism, sexism, ableism). Therefore, Gaard seeks to build a common liberation between queer theory and ecofeminism to approach the two theories’ parallel forms of oppression, in the Western United States, with reinforced ideologies and (hopefully) a common ground for Western conceptions; by “reconceptualizing humans as equal participants in culture and in nature, able to explore the eroticism or reason and the unique rationality of the erotic.”
However, I wonder if me feeling uncomfortable by seeing the sea of men persistently handing out copies of The New Testament, is due to my own prejudices towards Christian advocates. Maybe if I was more accepting of the men and took the time to listen to what they have to say, then I might not feel as though them being on campus is weird or unsettling. However, I still find it a bit odd that only (seemingly happy) men are handing out the books and that they continue to push The New Testament on passers by– even though they already said “No” the first time. This approach does not seem to be effective.
I sometimes want to question the men about whether or not they too find it weird that they continue to push The New Testament on students who have clearly said “No” the first time, and that they are all men. The imposition of the men seem to create the same form of hierarchy and power dynamic (rooted in binary views) that has possibly resulted, as noted by Gaard, in oppression in the Western United States. Hopefully the men will recognize how uncomfortable they are making some students feel by pushing their binary lifestyles and power dynamics (as ‘stated’ in The New Testament) on the students at USF.
Gaard, G. (1997). Toward a Queer Ecofeminism. Hypatia. 12(1). 114-137. Published by: Wiley.