Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How Smart People Lie

I'm presently researching how the Gospel has changed the world for women, as you may know.  One comes across all kinds of interesting phenomena on such a journey. 

One thing I've noticed is a difference between some Indian scholars, and some American scholars.  Even in an anthology dedicated to a professor, I find that not all of the Indian scholarship would meet American standards.  There are lots of misspellings, poor grammar, and worse yet, the unabashed expression of horror when confronting evil:

"It passes our comprehension how the great Buddha could reconcile himself to the transparent injustice implied by the first regulation."
Door of Hope doll: are we
"white and wholesome," yet?
"To dub women as perpetual minors is the worst form of coercion that man can perpetrate on the womanhood.  That the Buddha with all his solicitousness for women could not help sanctioning this abominable tyranny on them is a sad commentary on his otherwise catholic vision and keen intelligence." Shalini Dixit, Patriarchy and Feminine Spaces: A Study of Women in Early Buddhism
Similarly, in Women of Disadvantaged Groups: Status and Empowerment, the author of a piece on the sexual exploitation of non-Brahman women in South India rages against various bizarre sexual practices and scams inflicted on women. 
Bad form, ladies.  Let your female American colleagues teach you how to be appropriately scholarly -- which means, finding evil in good, and good in evil, and being patronizing and especially suspicious of virtue.  (Except your own, which can be tacitly assumed.)
Here, for instance, from a book entitled Competing Kingdoms: Women, Mission, Nation, and the American Protestant Empire, 1812-1960.  Sue Gronewold writes a chapter in that book about the Door of Hope Mission, a rescue mission run by Anglo-American missionaries in Shanghai, later mostly of the China Inland Mission.  (Hudson Taylor's outfit.)  As Gronewold admits, Taylor was very open-minded when it came to giving women a strong role in his mission.  Indeed, he was known to say his female missionaries were better evangelists than his male missionaries, at least in one region. 
Since 1902, to make money for rescued women, the mission sold China dolls.  These were painstaking objects of art, one of which would take a month of work to produce.  In 1929 these dolls were updated to more modern outfits. 
Here's how Gronewold writes up the story.  Sisters in that part of the world in which sneering still lags in its developmental infancy, please take note:

"CIM views of Chinese women added racism and imperialism to the already complicated patriarchy.  For evangelicals, the main attribute of Chinese women was their supposed heathenness and idolatrous ways.   In their view, women were far more susceptible to and responsible for perpetuating popular religion, for prostrating themselves before the 'gilded Goddess of Mercy.'  CIM literature, like much missionary writing, constantly portrayed Chinese women as downtrodden, dark, and limited in mobility, education, and esteem.  The kingdom of Christ literally lightened and whitened them.  'Woman's work for women' was necessary to reach the women and children of China and 'bring them into the light.  Victimized 'girls' represented more that the CIM's best test case; they represented China itself, a China that had been feminized and infantilized at the Door of Hope, born again, and transformed.  The girls who produced new Chinese women and girl dolls in this period reinforced the image of remade and reborn China and Chinese womanhood." (199)
Notice the dexterity with which Gronewold moves the conversation away from anything in the real world, any facts about how life is lived and what might make it better, any true picture of the state of affairs in early 20th Century China, any virtues or good deeds or kindnesses or sacrifices that her target villains (the missionaries) might achieve, to wholly imaginary and unreal crimes. 
To begin with, one must take care not to ask any questions about objective reality. 
* Are most of the worshippers of Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy, female?  (Answer: of course they are, as anyone who has actually been to a Chinese temple, to this day, knows.) 
* Did women disproportionately prostrate themselves before religious figures?   (Again, the answer is "Of course."  I have photos, I have interviews, and stats are not hard to find.) 
* Were Chinese women "downtrodden," uneducated, and limited in mobility in the 1920s?  (Of course they were.  The bones in girls' feet were broken at about the age of six, which very literally limited their mobility.  Did you ever try walking on broken, bound feet, Ms. Gronewold?  And almost no women were, in fact, educated or literate, until the missionaries arrived.)
* In what sense were the missionaries "racist?"  What does Gronewold mean by that accusation?  What is her evidence?  To what degree, compared with other westerners in the 1920s?  (No answer.)
* How were they implicit in "imperialism?"  What evidence does she have that the women who served at Door of Hope wished their governments to push around China?  (No answer.)
* Did the missionaries in fact change things?  (Well yes they did, in a big way.  Gronewold tells the story of how Door of Hope does this later in the chapter.  It is also a fact that missions in general introduced education for women, and helped launch the war against foot-binding, and in other ways did much to raise the status of women in China.)
* Has Ms. Gronewold ever served in a rescue mission, or tried to help girls forced into prostitution?  How many young women has she "rescued?  (No answer.)
But Gronewold doesn't need to answer such questions: guilt is implicit in the accusation.  If it weren't, it would be proven by the fact that the missionaries saw what everyone else with open eyes recognized -- that Chinese women, not excluding girls sold into prostitution (!), were in a bad way, and could benefit from a helping hand.  What else can one call that, but patronizing?  And thinking of oneself as better off than others -- isn't that the sin of the Good Samaritan?  After all, didn't he view the person who had been mugged and left for dead as "downtrodden, dark (dried blood will do that), and limited in mobility?"
Now it is probably unfair to be too harsh on Ms. Gronewold.  Maybe this paragraph, and other comments like it, are mainly a scholarly affectation.  (She may also have imbibed some Marxism, with all her vague talk about imperialism.)  She does, as I said, detail much of the good that Door of Hope accomplished, later in the chapter:

"The fruits of their labors benefited the Chinese nation as much as or more than they did either Western imperialists or the kingdom of God . . . From the vantage point of poor Chinese women in Shanghai who lived life on the edge and whose possibilities were limited to relatively unskilled factory work, abusive marriages, brothel work, begging, and hunger at home, the mission did indeed offer a 'door of hope.'"
But isn't the need to work to this conclusion by way of so many unsupported insinuations in itself, rather telling?  Because what Gronewold is affecting, is indeed a common and accepted style.  It is a style of lying, lying by insinuation. 
Give me bad spelling and honest emotion, any day. 
(Note: I posted another article yesterday that might just as well be called "How Dumb People Lie," then recalled it.  I don't know how much stupidity my good readers want to put  up with, around the holidays -- or me either, I'm grumpy enough as it is.   So Happy Thanksgiving!) 

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