Common Objects

Deconstructing Vaginagate Reax II: Comments at Patheos/Tony Jones →

I’ve alternated between puzzled and infuriated in reading the responses on Tony Jones’s blog at Patheos regarding the roundtable conversation below. 

I thought maybe it would be appropriate to cull some highlights, but frankly I don’t have the energy for an internet fight about this. You can click on the title of this post for the comments on Dr. Jones’s blog if you like, where the substantive discussion takes place. He has not yet responded to my invitation to share an unedited response here, or to have a more in-depth conversation in this space. He has his own platform, after all, so if you want his perspective you know where to go. 

I’ll also encourage you to read this moving post by Dr. Jones from August of this year about the young woman he and his wife sponsor through World Vision, an organization you can support similarly here. I think this is indicative of the broader concerns that everyone involved in this back and forth shares—quite simply a better world for women and girls. 

I do apologize to the extent our discussion must have seemed like an attack to Dr. Jones, which is what, to my mind, explains his response generally. This is my mistake inasmuch I may have portrayed his intentions (or limericks themselves, or something) as the point of the exercise. The broader theme we tried to explore was just how a complex social dynamic intervenes even on our efforts to do right by one another. It was an analysis of discourse, an examination of culture. It was a conversation about irony.

It thus seems to me like a number of the rejoinders miss the basic point of the discussion, reducing it to limericks good=feminists bad. These feminists, anyway, who are apparently not the fun kind of feminists. This just demonstrates a lack of engagement with what was actually at issue in our roundtable, and I don’t really know how to engage it. So I won’t.

The most interesting point raised in the comment forum by Dr. Jones’s readers was, in my estimation, the question of the limerick contest’s connection to liberative/queering celebration, which was made by one of Mr. Jones’s readers and explored a little in our conversation beforehand. I encourage you to read the exchange between the commenter “That Guy” and Dr. Thweatt-Bates (JTB) on Tony’s blog for that. 

Anyway, it is upsetting to be criticized, and though each of us in the roundtable had a distinct point of view, we were quite critical of Dr. Jones and his contest. So everyone is welcome to get upset and argue forcefully. What I can’t countenance in the responses is the spirit in many that there was nothing to explain in the limerick challenge. The limericks were self-consciously transgressive. It should not be a surprise that someone besides fundamentalists and prudes found aspects of the contest troubling.

We can’t go around second-guessing every joke; that is insufferable, and nearly as inhuman as justifying our belief in the external world every time we take a breath. But sometimes we do have to explain ourselves, even if it is awkward or unpleasant, and even if we do not change our minds. That is the risk of being funny, and of working hard for justice, and having friends.

What I find outrageous is the notion that two accomplished scholars, thoughtful and patient in their engagement with another perspective, willing even to engage anonymous commenters in an internet forum (which I strongly discourage humans from doing generally), would be derided as unserious, asexual, buzzkills—hysterical, in short—and not be challenged by Dr. Jones in the forum he hosts. That is…upsetting. I wouldn’t tolerate that sort of behavior by students in my classroom or participants in a conference. His post about this tumblr has been shared nearly eight hundred times, if I understand the widgets over there, and there has been an astonishing amount of traffic here. So maybe a level of self awareness is too much from the internet (probably, yes). But it shouldn’t be. 

I’ll continue to post here about this if it strikes me as relevant or interesting, and of course I’ll publish or link to whatever else Dr. Thweatt-Bates and Rev. Mavity Maddalena might want to add. You can ask a question of me or the participants in the roundtable here. In the meantime, there is an election to freak out about and some writing to be done. 

Note: This post has been edited to reflect the proper titles for Dr. Jones and Rev. Mavity Maddalena.