When I Learned to Whisper-Shout

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when I learned to whisper-shout

to be brave, to use my voice,

to speak truth to first my heart

then yours.

and i’m still getting used to the sound of my voice.

and i wished for all the right answers

but feminism isn’t

how to live for dummies.

reading and crying together,

we opened up a space to be safe

(as safe as we are on the internet)

this is the moment, 

feminism became more real, more tangible.

when we became more aware of our

differences,

sameness,

oppressed hearts,

silenced voices–

this is the moment,

feminism brought us together

we talked and laughed and screamed

but came back to listen and learn.

we haven’t shied away from our insecurities

about who we were, are, will be.

right now,

i still have questions

about how to fully live my feminism,

how to teach my feminism without oppression,

how to be comfortable in my skin but not its privilege.

i don’t know, but continue to learn,

let’s continue this journey together.

 

Wasted Time: My Body, My Voice, and Me

I wasted twenty-five years hating my body.

Before the boys-are-icky stage and damn-he’s-fine, I had my first crush on my next door neighbor. I remember his slightly pudgy middle, taller than I, and delightfully dark bowl cut hair. He was the cutest thing in the second grade. Sitting cross-legged on the brown basement carpet, I told his sister that I thought her brother was cute. I liked him, well, I liked liked him(if you don’t understand the importance of the double like, it translates to crushing or whatever the current vernacular is).

But his sister told me, seven year old me who hadn’t hit her growth spurt yet, I was too fat. Her brother wouldn’t like like me back if I didn’t lose my tummy. And we began jumping jacks and sprints around the basement trying to melt away my baby fat middle. It didn’t work. Next, I snuck Slim-Fast powder and made the meal shakes. Nothing changed. I still had the body of a seven year old girl, but my body had become the enemy.

I spent so many years covering up bulges and skipping meals and crying when boys told my friends: ” isn’t she kinda fat?” When I turned my gaze toward the others girls, single sizes and flat bellies, my body suffered even more. Being the right size became a spiritual issue because my body, my temple was too big. So even God hated my fat body.  It was my fault for having large hips and breasts. Being a woman.

I wasted twenty years hating my voice. 

Photo courtesy of Alejandra Mavroski and Flickr Creative Commons
Photo courtesy of Alejandra Mavroski and Flickr Creative Commons

Now, I don’t mean how my voice sounds. I have a strong speaking voice; I know how to fill a room with sound. But I learned to hate speaking up for myself. I knew how to keep my head down, follow the crowd led by the outspoken males, disagree in the quiet of my bedroom where I wouldn’t be criticized or listen to some ass take my idea as his own. Quiet became my solace.

My voice shriveled with disuse. Perhaps, fear poisoned it. Fear of being too loud and opinionated, potential husbands don’t like that quality in a wife. I shouldn’t speak up in my college classes because it intimidated the boys, and if I turned in better papers or test scores, I should downplay my accomplishments because men have egos to nurse. But I spoke up too many times and earned better grades and wasn’t missionary/pastor’s wife material. Single became my death sentence, and I licked my wounds teaching English in a so-called “Christian” school. Again, my voice silenced so male agency could take center stage.

I wasted too much time hating myself when I should have poured my fear and insecurity into something bigger than me.

Because in the grand scheme of things, my body, my voice, myself are not the enemy. The enemy is a system of power fueled by patriarchy running rampant in the media, in the church, in our places of higher learning. This power represses engaged dialogue, lies to tender-hearted girl, oppresses the poor. Power corrupts, but we have drunken the forbidden wine and are choking on its poison.

What’s even worse, we have become so blind to power’s over-reaching effects.

We allow normative gender roles to influence how we decide custody of children. We praise a system that defines all women as nurturing mothers, and all men as fathers  who just foot the bill acknowledged for their sperm donation. And we say nothing.

We allow the poor to wallow in the in the hope that MAYBE they can do enough to move beyond food stamps and government housing. But the reality? Minimum wage is not the same as a living wage. And we say nothing.

We allow our prison system to overflow with minorities who haven’t had a fair shot at justice. We cross the street to avoid a passing African-American man because society has made us fearful of them. And we say nothing.

We allow rooms full of men to debate if women can have access to birth control and OB/GYN care. Women still are being silenced when they have courage to speak out against their rapists. And we say nothing.

We allow preachers to point the figure at women’s bodies as property, women’s minds only good for the Noah’s Ark themed nursery, women’s voices silenced in discussion. And we say nothing.

We need feminism because too many bodies and voices and selves are being abused, hated, and destroyed. We need to stand the fuck up and say something.

Because women’s bodies aren’t the enemy. Because women’s words and voices and ideas aren’t the enemy. Because the poor and oppressed and the othered aren’t the enemy.

We need feminism because our silence is the enemy. This is what’s at stake for me right now as a feminist to speak against power and repression, to rail and fight against those perpetuating harmful gender stereotyping, to dust off my soapbox and proclaim loudly for human rights.

This is why I need feminism. 

I learned to love my body’s bulges and stretch marks and to feel good in my skin. I  learned to look in the mirror and say kind words to my reflection. I learned to speak up for myself, for my ideas, for what I believe. And lo, there are men who want smart, out-spoken wives, who have no problem thinking for themselves. Hell, I married one.

This is why I need feminism because I don’t want another person to waste so much time hating herself or himself. 

 

When I Say I’m a Feminist

When I say I’m a feminist…

I see the blank, awkward looks. Toes scuffing the dirt; you shuffle your weight and stare at your shoes. Perhaps, you sip your latte/soda/water and wish the awkward pause away. But the F-word hangs in the air like smoke from a Pall Mall cigarette. Neither you nor I can escape it, and I don’t want to. It’s who I have become, who I was, who I’m constructing myself to be. Feminisms Fest Badge

Every time, I label myself with the F-word; I see the gap between us open wide like a moon crater. Maybe, you will change the subject. Something comfortable like the weather or politics or faith. Something to move away from this label because we’ve weighed it down with images of bra burners, men haters, radicals. And I don’t fit that description.

So when I call myself a feminist, you’re never sure what to say or do. The word carries such a burden, but what great “isms” don’t? Somehow, we have this metaphorical dance of awkward pauses and gaps, but what we really need is to sit down and listen to what I mean when I say I’m a feminist.

When I say I’m a feminist…

I want you to see the little girl struggling to unify that Jesus loves everyone equally, but only men can preach and teach. The important church things. Women just take turns in the nursery. There’s a “natural” trajectory for a little girl’s life–grow-up, marriage, babies. The same for all little girls, doesn’t matter if they want to do something else or worse still don’t even want babies or marriage. It becomes hard to reconcile such a Creator who gives us all talents and gifts, but expects the same life plan for half the population. I struggled as a teenager to overcome my body and hide it at the same time. Too much knee, too much neckline, I cause others to sin because I have breasts and hips and a body that refuses to look good in ankle length skirts.

I want you to see college girl who learned early to shut up, be quiet, your voice is worthless. For the first time, an English professor with red curls and ice blue eyes tells me that my voice, my agency matter. She takes me under her wing and allows me to spend hours talking about poetry and novels and writing in her office provided I overlook the piles of ungraded papers. She listens and treats me as an equal. When she labels herself a feminist, I do too. A bit of a bandwagon conversion, but if feminism allows me to speak up for myself, for others, then I want in too.

I want you to see the graduate student. Far removed from her childhood faith,  diving into theory and literature, breathing in the intellectual discourse like oxygen.  Christianity and church fade into Derrida, Foucault, then bell hooks, Elizabeth Flynn, and Adrienne Rich. All of my professors treated my words as important and worth listening to. When I wasn’t treated as an equal outside of academia, I could find solace within its graduate seminars.With each course, I began hearing the cries of my feminist foremothers begging for me to speak, to use my agency, to rail against hegemony. In this time, feminism reconstructed my tarnished and battered view of being a woman, how a woman relates to the domestic and public spheres, how woman lives in the tension of place and purpose. Slowly, as feminism taught me my worth as a human, not just as a woman, I found my way back to the faith that I threw off so haphazardly.

When I say I’m a feminist…

(Maybe, I should have begun with this caveat. This is my practical vision of feminism rooted in the theories of bell hooks, Judith Butler, Elizabeth Flynn, and Gaytari Spivak. I understand that feminism is far from a perfect ideology, but if we can accept the messy and brokeness of the church, I think we can accept feminism’s incongruence as well.)

No one definition embraces its full scope. No one woman embodies its full vision. No set of words capture it—no matter how raw, graceful, or elegant. It does not exist in unified form; yet, it serves to unify the silenced, the abused, the First World, the Third World, the lesbian, the housewife, the academic, the high school drop out, the faith-filled, the agnostic. Underneath its wings, women grow stronger, more self-aware. They find voices to speak back to power and hegemonic authority. They find the strength to push against the wall of patriarchy and its abuses. Couched in all of its ideological weight rests Feminism. Loved and shunned. Embraced and rejected—Feminism.

Refusing to be hemmed into a succinct definition, feminism’s history is a piece quilt of the women who embrace it and who shun it. We feminists revel in the glory of suffrage. Our fledging step onto the stage of the public sphere. We take pride in those women who broke through the gender role barrier during the 1960’s. Those women who sought for gender equality give us hope. We celebrate the women who forced academia to consider gender differences in learning, to rewrite the literary canon so women writers could take a seat, to allow more women to showcase their intellectual triumphs.

Yes, these are wonderful depictions of feminism, but they don’t fully show the daily tension that I live within. I’m always already in a place of power and being othered. As a white, heterosexual female, I live with the tension of privilege and power in one hand, but the experience of being silenced in the other. It is not an easy tension to negotiate or to make into some semblance of an ordered theoretical framework. Quite frankly, I feel like my understanding of feminism looks like a patchwork quilt with crazy blue and red and green and purple squares. If you’re hoping that I would definitively explicate the theory of feminism and its truest meaning, then I’m sorry to disappoint you. But this is how I frame my feminism, this is what I want you to hear.

When I say I’m a feminist…

I embrace the experience of being a woman. Not limited to gender roles, but neither excluding those women who choose to stay within society’s prescriptive mandates. A woman has the right to choose her path without fear of scorn for her choice.

I embrace the grand meta-narrative of humanity. Both female and male voices speaking together without clamoring over one another. A beautiful dialogue of harmony, peace, and love.

I embrace the mystery of faith. A faith grounded in love. A faith rooted in the ideology that we speak up for the poor, the widow, the orphan.

I embrace ethical living. My lifestyle should never inflict suffering on others within my immediate community, my home nation, or the world.

Feminisms Fest 2013

Feminism is a loaded word.

When I tell people that I’m a feminist or even when you tell others, we can be subjected to their preconceived definitions of what feminism is. We fall anywhere on the scale of bra-burning male haters to Amazonian champions for women’s rights. Most of the time, there is no middle ground. We fret and argue and debate over pre-imposed ideas–many so far removed from our version of feminism that we may want to give up the whole damn thing. Sometimes, it feels like we feminists are standing on the cliffs of Insanity with  Indigo Matoya and perhaps even mutter the a variation of his line, Feminism:You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Feminism, perhaps, it doesn’t mean what we think, want, hope it to mean.

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Beginning next Tuesday, February 26, we will spend 3 days unpacking this loaded term as part of the Feminisms Fest 2013.  I would love if everyone of you would consider joining us as we write out what feminism means for us, how it has affected our life experiences, and what needs to change.

Prompts and links:
  • {Day 1} Feminism and Me: On Tuesday, February 26, link up at J.R. Goudeau’s blog,loveiswhatyoudo.com, and write about these questions: What is your experience with feminism? What’s a story or a memory or a person that you associate with that word? Why does it have negative or positive connotations for you? How do you define the term, either academically or personally? What writers have you read whose definitions you want to bring out? Or, if you don’t have a definition, what are some big questions you have?
  • {Day 2} Why It Matters: On Wednesday, February 27, link up at Danielle Vermeer’s blog, fromtwotoone.com, and write about these questions: What is at stake in this discussion? Why is feminism important to you? Are you thinking about your children or your sisters or the people that have come before you? Or, why do you not like the term? What are you concerned we’re not focusing on or we’re losing sight of when we talk about feminism? Why do you feel passionately about this topic?
  • {Day 3} What You Learned: On Thursday, February 28, link up at Preston Yancey’s blog,seeprestonblog.com, and write about these questions: What surprised you this week? What did you take away from the discussion? What blog posts did you find particularly helpful? What questions do you still have?

 

Would you add your voice with us? Let’s discuss feminism together!

Image credit: “F” Word Campaign

Girl

girl–   

hands against glass–

against walls– against dirt–

against the slumped over world.

girl–

voice crammed in boxes–

crammed in labels–crammed in roles–

not meant for you.

girl–

speak, speak now, watch

the glass shatter, the walls break–

the world weary listen–

to your mighty whisper.

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My Body is a Battleground

Dear God,

My body is a battleground. 

All round  sirens blare,

Words drop like bombs.

Boots laced, shield ready,

I wait for the next assault–

A war, You never intended.

My body is a battleground.

Shoved into the back room

Painted with animals,

Like a naughty child

Or a POW–silenced.

My body is  a battleground.

 

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Monday Musings

This month, I’m reading Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women.

Despite being written 220 years ago, the sentiments expressed still echo the plight of women and how men treat them. I’m saddened that we have not come so far in the fight for equality. Here are a couple of passages that have had me thinking:

Men, in general, seem to employ their reason to justify prejudices, which they have imbibed, they can scarcely trace how, rather than root them out.(33)

Milton describes our first frail mother; though when he tell us that women are formed for softness and grace, I cannot comprehend his meaning, unless, in true Mahometan strain, he meant to deprive us of souls, and insinuate that we are beings only designed by sweet attractive grace, and docile blind obedience, to gratify the senses of man when he can no longer soar on the wing of contemplation. How grossly do they insult us who thus advise us only to render ourselves gentle, domestic brutes!(44-45)

 

Question: What are your thoughts? 

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Lipstick and Legos

Maybe this is just a feminist’s pipe dream, but I long for a day when being a girl doesn’t become equated with make-up, clothes, and pink.

After Christmas, my Redneck Romeo and I walked into Wal-Mart heading towards the back of the store and the dreaded toy department. But this evening, we were sans children.In the middle of the main walkway, I saw the display of new Lego products marketed for girls. Hot pink and neon purple coated packaging beckoned me to look closer.

“Why couldn’t these have been around BEFORE Christmas?” I complained a bit to my husband. “She would have LOVED them.”

I made a mental note of the pink Girl Legos for our daughter’s birthday, and we continued shopping. Perhaps, my inner feminist was still recovering from the annual engorgement of cookies, turkey, and cranberry sauce because I didn’t notice anything beyond the bright girly colors. In fact, I didn’t awaken from my stupor until a lively Twitter discussion prompted me to re-examine said Girl Legos. Another message veiled message for young girls–being a girl means being pretty, means being fashionable.

This is not the message I want to send to my daughter.

Like some many mothers, I want my daughter to embrace the wild world. I want her to grow up in a society that values women’s input, ideas, thoughts. In this utopia, beauty radiates not from clothes and make-up but from within. The message transmitted to girls wouldn’t be the old rehashed ideals of beauty. Girl could  be curious, could learn, could pursue intellectual endeavors with great fervor–isn’t this what feminism allows us women to do? While I compiled myriads of reasons why my daughter should NEVER play with these Legos, the nagging feeling of guilt began crawling around my head too.

But she would love them. Is this diatribe about “Girl Legos” about you or her?

That thought overpowered all of my self-righteous feminist ire.

Here I am pointing the figure at Lego for its “messages” to girls, but I am not allowing my daughter the right to choose which messages that she hears. Worst still, it is more about me anyways. Too often, we talk about allowing our daughters be “their own person,” but we falter when they choose to embrace society’s message of beauty, make-up, and clothes.

My daughter isn’t me.

For years, I gave all religious diligence to a make-up routine, beauty regime, whatever. Lots of money wasted, now that I think about it. Today, I am perfectly comfortable walking outside, going to work, hanging with friends with minimal make-up. If you don’t like me without make-up, chances are pretty damn good that you won’t like me with make-up. But that’s who I AM. Not who my daughter is.

For her, she dreams of princesses and princes and real fairy tales.If I let her, she would invade my make-up bag and spread all of its contents on her face(and the counter and the floor and the mirror). Her blue eyes light up when she gets to wear a bit of transculent powder and lip gloss. So I know that once she sees those Legos that she will fall in love with them.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I won’t say anything about society’s views of women. But I need to allow her the freedom to explore, to reach her own decisions. What is better if I feed her my ideas or allow her to express herself as herself?

Somehow, I think it is far better if I allow her to be herself.

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Just Another Pretty Face

 

Hello Kitty lip gloss lines the checkout counter. The preschool girls beg and whine and plead mothers to buy the non-toxic, hypoallergenic strawberry scented goo. Hannah Montana hocks a clothing line. Tight leopard print leggings and short denim skirts made for size 4T through 14. America’s Next Top Model reruns flood the cable networks. Girls, barely women, strut down a catwalk or pose legs spread open, giving the camera a sultry “come hither” gaze. Is this the stuff dreams are made of for women?

 

A few weeks ago, I wrote post discussing that I look “damn hot.” Briefly, I detailed my journey from insecure girl to insecure teenager to insecure woman, and finally, I end with a newly emerged self-aware, self-confident version. But my life journey is not the norm. In fact, it is rare.

 

But why? We Americans pride ourselves in our vast array of life choices, careers, and pursuits of happiness. We publicly proclaim to our children: “you can be anything you want to be.” But secretly, we whisper to half of the population: “unless, you’re pretty and sexy, your options will be severely limited.” We talk about the ideology behind the American dream. But we whisper to half the population: “unless you’re born white, heterosexual, and male, then don’t get to attached to the American Dream.” The best you can do is the American nightmare—low paying job, glass ceiling, working harder for less.

 

Too often, women’s narratives are truncated by silence. The disease of silence creeps in at the beginning of a girl’s life. Media whether it is television or toys or movies whispers to our youngest generation of girls: “better to be pretty than smart or powerful or ambitious.” The media teaches girls that men only want just another pretty face. Men wield power, and this power cycle is through the media’s perverted view of women and their value.

 

How do we stand up to the “just another pretty face” message?

 

I wish I had an answer. I am angry that powerful women are easy targets for the media. Who gives a damn if the Secretary of State Hilary Clinton looks like shit if she is doing her job effectively? Would I be happier if she spent more time applying make-up and getting botoxed and botched a diplomatic meeting with foreign leaders? Oh, wait, we wouldn’t blame her political fiasco on her primping and preening just “that time of the month.” Perhaps, the hegemonic powers are already preparing her resignation speech.

 

What’s worse, I wish the church would be actively combatting the media’s onslaught of violence against women, the over-sexualization of the female body, but the church preaches the same exclusionary message to women. Wait, a women wants to be a pastor? Nope, her vagina disqualifies her. She would be too easily swayed by “that time of the month” to lead effectively. So, the church remains a man’s only club. Worse still, would-be pastors focus on finding the “pretty face” wife, the pastor’s wife who sings, wears the right clothes, looks the right way. Again, the church’s message for women reinforces the media’s message—women only have value when we are pretty and quiet.

 

And I refuse to let this continue.

 

Because…..

 

I’m not just a body, I have a voice.

 

I’m not just a potential incubator for another human life, I am a human life.

 

I’m not the secondary character, I’m the leading lady in my story.

 

I’m not just a pretty face, I’m a woman.

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Celebrating Women: Looking To the Future

Feminism, VDay 2007 and Mephoto © 2010 Julie Jordan Scott | more info (via: Wylio)

 

Where do we go from here?

 

As women, as mothers, as daughters, as sisters… how do we move toward a better future for women? As this Women’s History Month ends, we have chronicled our personal journeys through feminism, shared our struggles as feminist parents, reminisced about women writer’s we adore. Part of me is a bit sad to see this wonderful time of sharing stories—women’s stories, lives, and celebrating the wide diversity inherent in our gender. This month, we celebrated the silenced, the oppressed, the too often trivialized voices of women. We thank each of you participated, wrote, supported us championing this Celebration of Women.

 

But we must move on….

 

We cannot stay here, revel in our past glories of feminism, or continue to rehash our past life journeys. We must move forward. So, where do we go from here? What is the one thing we can do today to improve the lives of women—for us, our daughters, mothers, sisters? While I pondered this one thing, I kept hoping that some great epiphany would descend from heaven, ignite the fire of mind, and reinvigorate my muse. But I must apologize that I have no such epiphany. There it was. The one thing, we women can do.

 

We must stop apologizing for being women.

 

We must stop explaining, apologizing, making excuses for being a woman. Why should we denounce our gender’s unique qualities? We apologize for that special time of the month. We apologize for our overly emotional needs. We apologize for maternity leave. We apologize for our choices of career, family, breast feeding vs. formula. We apologize for championing women’s causes. We apologize for being strong women. We apologize for being submissive women. We spend more breathes apologizing for how nature made us. Why?

 

For too long, we have divorced our identity from its source—our gender’s uniqueness. We feel that we must differentiate between women’s causes, women’s rights and human rights or human causes. Women’s rights are human rights not a bifurcation based upon gender. But we women continue apologizing for wanting more rights for women, for equal pay, for equal humanitarian aide.

 

Today, we stop apologizing for being women.