Monday, November 12, 2007

Cultural Comparison: Curve Magazine with Today's Christian Woman

For school I compared the lesbian magazine Curve with Today’s Christian Woman magazine (TCW). It was intriguing for me to compare magazines that are both by, for and about women yet quite different. They also represent a difference that feels so wide inside me. And I thought you all might find it interesting.

TCW's subhead is “your life, your faith, your world”. It is faith/God centric magazine. Curve is a Lesbian magazine. Its subhead is only that it’s “the best selling lesbian magazine”. I bought it in Whole Foods. After reading them both I tried to step back and see if I could name the words in each magazine that hint at the uniqueness of their culture. Each does seem to have a language that the other does not have at all. This is what I came up with.

Curves special language tends to be more focused on sexual diversity. Words such as butch, dyke, queer, lesbo, fairy, bisexual and trans. TCW language is focused on Christian and religious themes. Some of these included: holiness, faith, honor, morality, obedience, glory, and sacrifice. From reading Curve three descriptive words that came to mind were: sexy, empowered, and authentic. The general emotional tone of the magazine was “free”. Three words I would use to describe TCW would be religious, obedient, and boundried. The general emotional tone of TCW was fearful. I picked this up from the multiple times that this magazine talked about “unbelievers” and people outside the faith or even when one woman was trying to figure out if it was ok if she didn’t go on a vacation with her husband. You got the feeling that she literally thought it was wrong to go on her own vacation!

What they have in common is they are for, by, and about, women. On a very basic level they both talk about vacations, both advertise CD’s and books, and have what looks like testimonials and self help articles. Curves being focused on gender and sexuality and TCW focused on Faith in God and spiritual life and sometimes gender.

Both refer to multi-cultural themes, although Curve tends assume it’s audience gets diversity and embraces it. There was a letter asking if there could be an article about downlow black women since all the press these days is about downlow black men. There are more pictures of other ethnicities in Curve than in TCW. The Curve audience seems to also assume knowledge of gender diversity even amongst women. TCW uses the word multi-cultural in their magazines in terms of educating their audience and telling people about Jesus (pg 54. How to be a multi-cultural Christian). There is some intentionality that’s been showing up since I first read the magazine to include more diverse women.

The most obvious difference is sexuality. TCW is an entirely hetrosexual-centric magazine and Curve is an entirely lesbian-centric magazine. TCW is all about Christian faith. Curve doesn’t cover it much although they had a good mini-feature on a Christian Lesbian I’ve heard of before which was cool. And it looks like from the cover this month they are able to cover the topic. I was impressed that I didn’t pick up any judgments towards Christians in the magazine.

On the other hand TCW had some judgments or misinformed assumptions towards people who are gay. A feature article in this issue of TCW was on how to love non-Christians. The first example is about a Christian woman who was afraid to attend the party of a gay guy because she didn’t want to be immoral or tainted. Although the other people in the interview talked her into why it might be ok for her to go it’s still where she started the conversation. The assumption here is that if you are gay you are not a Christian. There is no such thing as a gay Christian in this conversation. There’s a strong who’s in and who’s out boundary.

The two magazines see gender really differently too. TCW has a very traditional view of gender that is not on a continuum. In one article a doctor was saying anyone who says there is no difference between girls and boys has never worked with children. The article goes on to talk about a woman’s grief that because she had sons, she cannot pass down her recipes. There was no mention of transgender kids. Instead there was an assumption that she couldn’t pass down her recipe’s to her sons and that if she had a girl that she could. Curve on the other hand had a full page picture spread of transgender people and in it (Page 26). In addition, feminism is assumed in curve. Where in one of the other issues of TCW I read there was an article on the husband as leader. TCW takes a more traditional christian approach to gender roles. Where Curve assumes just by two women being together that roles would be negotiated.

Other differences: TCW talks about healing, Curve does not. TCW has pictures of men, Curve hardly does. TCW talks about stay at home moms. I saw no mention of that in Curve. Curve talks about sex. TCW barely hints at it. And TCW talks a lot about faith.

How they relate to my culture
I appreciate the faith-based framework of TCW and that culture but find it’s too strict and stern. The boundaries of who is in and who is out, and the assumptions about gender and sexual identity, are painful for me to read. I think more in terms of marriage, but it is not a marriage that I would ever see in TCW because it would be to a woman. I feel hesitant to use either magazine cultures language sometimes. I like the bravery and bravado that comes across in Curve. Where TCW displays women who are fearful of talking to someone outside their framework, or fear being judged for being a Christian, Curve knows lesbians are often judged whether in life or “coming out to parents”. And Curve seems to take this on as more of a proud challenge.


Zuzu said...

Okay... this if going to seem really off topic and I apologize for that. This post reminded me, for reasons unknown, of this comment in a previous post of your (I think it was titled, "what am I centered on?"):

"For years I've heard friends of mine bemoan not having a man or not being in a relationship. Now this wasn't exactly what I was talking about but the analogy works. I would always think: You don't need a man. A man doesn't make you special or good. A man doesn't complete you! Seriously, people! No matter the man, he is not your center. So it caused me to pause a long time when she used this as an analogy. I realized perhaps I am unaware of where I am centering myself."

I do understand that feeling when someone is pining after a man or woman to complete them, but I've come to believe, over the years, that relationships really are quite important tools to help us complete ourselves. We see ourselves, through the looking glass, darkly, when we're in them - in ways we can't or don't often otherwise.

I don't think there's anything wrong with a man or woman being part of your center - seriously. Not the whole thing, but maybe right there near your heart, sure.

I've never read Curve or TCW - aren't they both kind of about relationships - one about a relationship with women, the other about a relationship with God/religion? I would expect TCW to feel more boundaried - because isn't that part of what religion is, a set a rules to boundary/conscript/explain the world? That's not what lesbianism is, however and I think you described it well in your description.. "free."

I think when people find themselves outside the circle of accepted norms (as you aptly described re: gender roles in TCW), with no way back inside the circle on the very basis of who she is (eg. a lesbian or transgendered woman, etc.) there's something both very frightening and liberating about that.

Wasn't it Moses that was allowed to lead his people to the promise land but not allowed, himself, to enter after all that wandering? Don't you ever wonder what it would feel like to stand outside the gates of the promise land, look in, but never be allowed entrance? Would you spend your life pining away at something untouchable or unattainable - or would there come a time when you liberated yourself from the desire to enter where you'd never be welcome and started building your own promised land out there on the fringe?

So I guess the connection for me between these two posts is this question... "what are you centered on?" Because sometimes the center isn't where you think it is.

As Doctor Evil said to Mini Me in the Austin Power's movie... "you complete me." I think it's okay to find a sense of self completion in the context of a relationship - be that a relationship with a man or a woman or a relationship with a deity - Christ, God, Allah, Buddah, etc. And while the communities surrounded those relationship may feel more or less open or closed, more or less free or conscripted, the relationships, invariably, do have rules and are a negotiation, it seems to me, between who we each are and our highest ideals of who we should or want to be.

I don't know if I'm making any sense.. heh. I enjoyed the comparison!


Ally said...

i enjoyed it, too! whenever i bump into cultural artifacts like these that would seem to show two cultures to be completely incompatible, i love to do the synthesis thing--in other words, i ask myself, "what would a christian lesbian magazine look like?" i'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

just me - titration said...

aly - Hi there. Thanks for your visit! So you ask "what would a christian lesbian magazine look like?" Hmmm. It would have a bit more of the feel of Curve than TCW. It would probably cover a lot of topics that I cover here on my blog. And it would be smart and talk about hard topic and fun ones! Perhaps have fun topics about stuff like techno geek toys and rock climbing or whatever.... It would be unafraid of covering topics of faith and sex both. Since those are the two topics that seem to converge when it comes to gay christians. :) If you create one let me know. I'd totally read it.

zuzu - I love all your comments on any topic. And I like having voices in my life that say varied things. That's through the looking glass darkly is so useful eh! Um. I think I shall bring this on the plane to Belgium to think about...I think your comment exactly identifies where my current wrestling is located. It's not located on the center. The center is new, different....