Tag Archives: Feminism

Focuses on equality between the genders, with special attention paid to how women and nonbinary folk are often placed second to cisgender men

“You’re Pretty”

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com

Today I was riding to work with my Uber driver. He was an elderly gentlemen with a mild manner and a nice sense of humor. He had joked the day before that it was “destiny” that I was riding in his car again, and somehow I ended up riding in his car today as well. The day before he had asked if I had a boyfriend (Note: he is happily married and was not hitting on me) and I told him no, and he commented that it made sense because I needed to focus on school and work.

Today, though, he brought up the subject again.

Him: “It’s strange that you don’t have a boyfriend.”
Me: “Oh, really?”
Him: “Yes- you’re pretty.”

All I could do was what I usually do, which was laugh and say “thank you” instead of saying how I really felt. Usually, I’m only slightly offended, but today, his words stung, because I think for the first time I saw the hidden implications behind them. The unspoken idea is that if you’re a pretty woman, then you’re desirable, and if you’re desirable, you must be willing to be the object of someone else’s desires. That someone else is almost always assumed to be a man. Men always ask me if I have a boyfriend, and sometimes if I say no, then they do ask if I’m interested in women, or the ever-irritating, “So do you like men?” The implication there is that if I’m not interested in them, it must be because I don’t like men, which is pretty much saying they think they’re the best thing that could ever happen to me (betraying a high level of conceit).

In asking about my sexual preferences either way, they’re showing a pretty marked lack of concern for my privacy. Maybe the fact is that I don’t have a boyfriend could mean that I just don’t want to be involved with anyone, regardless of gender. Or that I’d just rather be alone than be with the wrong person. It is inconceivable to a lot of people- in this world that leans so heavily towards heteroromanticism and amatonormativity- that anyone could simply want to be unattached, but especially a woman. If a man is a bachelor, he’s said to be just “sowing his wild oats” or thought of as unlucky. If a woman- especially one who is considered attractive- is alone then she’s the object of confusion and pity (or she’s thought to be stuck up).

The other implication is that prettiness is valued above other traits- that a woman who is “unattractive” cannot be expected to have a partner. This makes all sorts of assumptions on what is considered beautiful, and the importance of said beauty in the world. It also puts women under obligation to “put out” if they’re thought to be attractive. So it sends two messages: “If you’re not pretty, no one wants you” and “If you are pretty, you should share it with someone”.

Pretty or not, you do not owe anyone anything. You are under no obligation to anyone to be a part of a relationship if that’s not what you truly desire. You also don’t have to do the things that are expected to follow, such as getting married or having children. You can be as involved or uninvolved with other human beings as you like. It’s your life. When strangers probe you about your relationship status, it might seem harmless on the surface, but what they’re really saying is, “You’re not normal. I don’t know you, but here’s what I think you should do to fit in”. Well, I’m here to say that you don’t have to put up with any of it. You do not have to answer questions about your sexuality if you’re not comfortable.

I really didn’t expect to make a post like this, but I’m becoming pretty convinced that asking a woman why she’s not married or doesn’t have a boyfriend should be on a list of “things not to ask women.” It’s even worst if you’re not asking, but you’re actually telling her that she should just magic up a relationship. Even if she does want to be in a relationship for herself, putting pressure on her to do things is not going to help the process. Society at large subtly and overtly sends women the message that we are not our own- that our lives and bodies belong to other people. I’m fighting to take back my autonomy, and not internalizing these mass-marketed, harmful messages is a part of that.

Purpose and Intent

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I wrote a post a few days ago about Iyanla Vanzant’s book, entitled, “The Value in the Valley: A Black Women’s Guide Through Life’s Dilemmas”. I gave a few examples about the types of valleys and the underlying principles discussed in the book. I wrote about how Iyanla emphasized introspection, self-examination, and prayer/meditation. She also taught the respect of the so-called “universal laws” like “the law of cause and effect” or “the law of attraction”. I went over the valleys only briefly, but there’s one that I would like to focus on right now- the “valley of purpose and intent”.

In the chapter on this valley, Iyanla says that purpose and intent should guide all that we do. She describes our purpose as being something we are divinely ordained to do and have a natural propensity for and liking to. When our purpose is clear, we are at peace. Intent describes how we intend to fulfill that purpose- it’s the positive energy that we put forth into the universe to show that we are indeed being serious. Our intent- or intention– could be described as our drive and focus to do the things that lead us toward the ultimate goal and meaning of our lives.

Being in alignment with our purpose does not guarantee that our lives will be free of challenges. As Iyanla put it, the world doesn’t stop spinning so that we can go ahead and pursue our dreams. We have to be extremely intentional in everything that we do and make sure that we give priority to the things that are contributing to our purpose and to set aside the petty things that hold us back. She says that setting goals is a good thing, but that we have to be aware that the goals we set are often made from our very limited perspectives. She emphasized being more open- to just focus on our purpose, and have our minds be intent on moving towards it. Slowly opportunities will open up for us- opportunities that we may have missed if we hadn’t been paying attention.

Reading this chapter helped me to remember the importance of knowing what I really want out of life and consciously pursuing that thing. I know I want to write, and I know I want to compose and perform music, so I’ve prioritized my musical education above everything else. The rewards have been very apparent. Gradually I’ve gotten better grades, faced fears, and increased my knowledge and comfort with the subjects I’ve been studying. I’ve been able to handle a steadily increasing course load and I will soon be able to graduate. I’ve definitely had to make sacrifices- mostly financial ones- but also I’ve had to chase my dreams against the wishes of my father (I think that’s been pretty huge).

My purpose and intent haven’t just worked out with school, either- it’s worked out other aspects of my life, such as changing jobs and moving out on my own. I intended to do those things, but the how and the when I hadn’t figured out yet. It’s funny though, how you do really get the things you want even if you have to be pushed by outside forces to finally make your move. That was Iyanla’s emphasis when she wrote about “the valley of courage”- that life has a way of forcing you to face the very things that you fear the most.

Another valley that I identified with was “the valley of understanding”. You would think that such a valley would be about gaining understanding in an intellectual or academic sense, but it is actually about trusting the “knowing” and intuition that you already have inside. One of Iyanla’s frequently repeated sayings in that chapter was “you know when you know”. We all have a sense when we first meet a person whether they’re trustworthy or not, but we often dismiss those feelings, only to discover later that we should have trusted our first sense. (“Trust your first thought”) We all know when we’re starting a job we’re going to hate, and even after we’ve gritted our teeth through it for a while we know when it’s time to leave. Do we leave? Often times not. We know when a relationship is failing, when we’ve outgrown our city or neighborhood, or when our conscience is afflicting us because we’re biting our tongues when we should really speak. We know these things, but when we don’t act on them, we’re being disobedient.

Even when we do have the understanding, we aren’t going to be able to move until we are ready. That’s something that I’ve observed about myself, too, when I’ve reviewed my life. I have constantly moved through seasons of action and inaction. Sometimes I have been too eager, and made a horrible, destructive mess out of things (while still managing to accomplish nothing as far as personal progress). I’ve hesitated when I should’ve moved forward, but when my time to dawdle was up, life moved me forward whether I was “ready” or not. I could either keep hedging or move with it (I chose to move with it). Other times I’ve been in sync with the flow of life, but I’ve still had periods where things just stayed the same for a long time. That was life’s way of testing me, to see if I could continue to be faithful to what I was doing and have the patience required to fulfill the task at hand.

I’m sure I’ve quoted this before, but there’s a quote from the movie (500) Days of Summer. The narrator says, “Most days do not have any impact on the course of a life.” I have found this to be true. That being said, each day we’re either walking in our purpose or outside of it. Those days add up into weeks, months, and years, and before we know it we’re either looking back at our life in regret or we are looking back with a sense of fulfillment.

So in summary: be courageous, have faith, trust your instincts, and be true to yourself. Don’t let anyone silence your voice. Don’t let anyone undermine your authority or undervalue the gifts you bring into life. Live on purpose and act with intention. Don’t stand down for anyone, and when life seems overwhelming, take a deep breath and keep on going. You have everything you need to face this life and triumph, so don’t turn away.

Run your race to its completion, and claim your crown!

The Value In the Valley

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

This blog post title comes from a book that I recently read by Iyanla Vanzant, titled “The Value in the Valley: A Black Woman’s Guide Through Life’s Dilemmas”. Even though she targets black women in the title, I think Iyanla could be speaking to any woman who is feeling burdened down by the problems of this world. After all, women of all races can be afflicted with the guilt that they’ve come to association with their gender, the oppression of “the patriarchy” and a constant craving for outside approval and validation.

Iyanla starts the book out with a solid introduction, and then quickly moved unto outlining the states of being she would be discussing through a chapter she titled “Anatomy of the Valley”. Here she gives a brief overview of each of the valleys. They all have different names like “The Valley of Light”, the “Valley of Courage” or “The Valley of Love”, for examples. She said that it was possible to be in multiple valleys, and that you will intuitively be able to identify which valley you’re in.

In fact, relying on your inward “intuition” is something that Ms. Vanzant emphasizes in her book. She talks about the importance of relying on your Higher self or your God self, which she also describes as a guiding force simply called “spirit.” She will tell you that spirit knows all that you need to know, that the answers are inside- to stop thinking so intellectually and to intuit and know through the feelings in your heart. She warns that if your gut tells you something is off, and you disobey it, you are bound to reap the consequences. If you are confused about which inward feelings you are receiving, then you should stop and pray and ask for guidance.

To whom or to what you’re praying to is a little vague. Before each chapter where she discusses a specific valley in detail, Iyanla has a few paragraphs of what she called “Meditations with the Mother” in which she addresses the reader from the perspective of a divine Mother speaking to her daughters. She gently chastises and admonitions them to return to Her, to trust in Her love, and to know that She and “Father” created them in Love and for a purpose. With Iyanla’s yoruba background, it’s appropriate to assume that by the Father she means the Creator-God of the faith- but she doesn’t mention Him, or any other gods and goddesses by name in the book. I think that she sought to make her religious expression as inclusive as possible.

Another thing that Iyanla discusses, which I have a little bit of trouble with, are certain “spiritual laws.” She quotes the Biblical expression, “What you sow, you reap”. She often suggests that if someone is having trouble in a particular area of her life, that she examine how she might’ve misbehaved in the past. For example, if she has financial trouble, or people borrow from her and don’t repay, then she should look back and see if she borrowed from anyone and neglected to pay back. Or she should see if maybe by negative thoughts and words- like constantly talking about being broke or worrying about how to make ends meet- that she is encouraging the “spirit of lack” to take root in her life.

This ties in pretty strongly to what I’ve talked about with regards to “hidden agency” in previous blog posts. I think that seeing what our part is in a problem or situation is very important, and choosing to stop contributing to something in a way that causes negative results is crucial. I think the problem enters in when we believe that some unseen power- be that “the universe” or “God” or “the law of cause and effect” is arranging things to suit people who are “good” and doling out punishments to those who are “bad”.

To her credit, Iyanla did admit that the “universal laws” don’t always seem to be exactly tit for tat. Being a thief doesn’t necessarily mean that someone will rob you- but maybe you’ll lose something important in another area of your life. Also, she “Doing the right thing for the wrong reason” is still wrong and has its own consequences. She also argued that the Universal laws cannot be manipulated. You might try to be positive, try to talk a good talk, but if your heart and spirit don’t believe it the Universe will take note.

So my problem is this idea that all of these forces outside your control are all “holding you accountable” in one way or another. I feel that believing this may lead to paranoia and self-blame. Also, it may just be plain old untruth and superstition.

That being said, I think her emphasis on introspection, getting still and meditating, positive purpose and intent, and even prayer are all very valuable. Also, with regards to prayer, she was the first person I heard that said just saying things out loud to yourself may be a good thing to do as well- and it’s something I practice.

i think though, with the way I discovered this book, you’d think that I’d have a little more faith in unseen forces than I do. When I saw it I was at work, and I knew that I just had to take it home with me. I can’t describe how I knew- I just knew. It’s that kind of intuition that Iyanla praises in her book- but we can’t really prove that it’s a divine or spiritual thing. It may one day be explainable through science. For now though- spiritual or not- what I experienced was valid. I did indeed enjoy the book. I read through the whole thing in three days and excitedly shared insights with my friend. Its message of peace, of having faith in yourself, and in looking inward were invaluable to me at that time.

I’ve been focusing a lot on spiritual things lately in my effort to manage my depression. The current theme that’s I’m discovering is that life is a series of rhythms. I started thinking more deeply about it after watching a Youtuber named Brandon Gilbert. Birth and death, hunger and satisfaction, day and night, the changing seasons- all are a testament to the rhythmic nature of life. Like Solomon said, there is a time to all things- a time to mourn, and a time to laugh, a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing. Change is the nature of life. Stagnant water is usually not life-supporting- unless you’re breeding mold or mosquitoes.

There is value in the valley, and there are things to be learned from the heights of joy and peace to the depths of despair. There is a  lesson to be learned in every situation- it’s not so much about outward success as it is about inward spiritual growth. It’s not about how much I have, but it’s about how much light, life, and love am I willing to receive. Do I think that I am worthy of these things, or do I doubt my value as a person?

Back to the “change” bit. Accepting the changeability of life releases me from being overly concerned with outward outcomes. This doesn’t mean that I never strive to improve my position in society, my financial status, etc. It just means that if something happens that trips me up, I rise up and dust myself off, because “that’s life.” A favorite saying of a friend of mine is “this too shall pass.” That includes good things as well as bad.

The Apostle Paul wrote,

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” -1 Corinthians 13:12

Everything is revealed in time. For now, all we have to do is wait, be at peace, and do the next right thing until the answers come to us.

“Hey God, it’s me, ________.”

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

“Hey God, It’s Me, Margaret” was a coming-of-age book written by author Judy Blume. It chronicled the life of a young girl who moved from New York to New Jersey (I think) and was being raised by areligious parents; her mother was raised Catholic and her father was raised Jewish. She had a wonderful relationship with her grandmother on her father’s side, but her mother’s parents had all but disowned their daughter after she decided to marry a Jew.

Margaret doesn’t tell anyone about her fervent prayers to the heavens- her parents want her to wait until she’s older to decide which religion she wants to follow (if any at all). Her prayers are of the typical self-absorbed teenager variety- she prays to “get her period” and for boys to like her and to do well with assignments in school. At one point in the novel she gets upset with God when He doesn’t seem to answer her prayers and refuses to talk with Him anymore.

Well right now, whenever I try to pray, I feel like I’m behaving exactly like little self-absorbed tweenage Margaret- my requests for more strength when I feel overwhelmed seem so pathetic. There are moments when I’m confronted with just how privileged I am and I wish that I could just slap myself.

I know, I know- it’s true that just because I haven’t suffered as much as someone else, it doesn’t make my suffering any less valid. That’s not the point. The point is that if I were to go around preaching the power of a positive attitude to make everything okay- which I don’t, by the way- I would definitely be giving out false platitudes.

Let’s backtrack a little and I’ll talk about what brought this on (besides my feeling pathetic already).

Last night, at around midnight, I couldn’t sleep (due to drinking copious amounts of Coke Zero) and so I fixed myself a bowl of cereal and turned on the radio. BBC World News was on and they were talking about a practice in southern Malawi concerning girls who reach puberty. These girls are given a few sex education courses, then turned over to a “hyena”- a man who is literally paid to have sex with these children- for three days for their “initiation” and “cleansing.” This cleansing is supposed to educate the girls in sex so that they can please their future husbands, and also protect their families and villages from bad fortune.

If you thought that was bad, it gets worst- during this ritual it is required that no protection be used. The “hyena” that BBC interviewed was actually HIV positive and deliberately hid that fact from the parents of the girls he “serviced”. So not only are these girls subjected to rape and possible unwanted pregnancy, they are also exposed to any of the diseases that the “hyena” may be carrying.

I think about things like this a lot when I think about our Westernized “health and wealth” gospel.  Here I am praying to get through the work day (and “claiming blessings” for myself), and a 13-year old somewhere across the world is probably praying to make it through 3 days of sex with a man she doesn’t even know. If she refuses, she is said to be endangering her village- think about that kind of pressure.

I also think about things like that- and the religious/cultural beliefs that are behind them. It’s been proven time and time again that people will do amazingly horrific and harmful things in defense of a tradition. For us here in the Western world, these practices- and others, like female genital mutilation, child marriage, and child slavery- are unthinkable, but for people in these cultures it is simply “the way we do things”.

So now I wonder how many things that are acceptable in Western nations today may be equally as barbaric? (Think conversion therapy, forced sex reassignment of intersex infants, male circumcision, and other unnecessary/ineffective medical procedures by greedy doctors).

I cannot believe that a God who is all-powerful and yet does nothing to help the people who are going through these atrocities. Yet I cannot accept a God who is helpless, either- and that’s where my responsibility comes in.

I am not helpless.

I can use my position of privilege and influence to actually make a difference for someone somewhere in the world. If I am able-bodied and able-minded, then it’s for a purpose. No one should have to go through what these children in Malawi are going through but the stubborn tribal leaders insist on telling the people that these unhealthy practices are actually for the good of all the parties involved. If we by word of mouth raise our voices in dissent of these practices maybe we can put pressure on the people to change. The leadership has to be forced to change their stance on these issues.

So now I think it’s time for me to change the way I pray. I need to expand my vision beyond just the limited perimeter of my neighborhood. I need to get out of the mindset of “barely getting by”. I need to stop hiding.

Here’s a quote.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves; Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. -Marianne Williamson

I want to be that light that shines in the world. No more prayers just to make it through the day, or fix that relationship, or what should I do if X invites me to a party and I don’t want to go. That’s small stuff. No more being apologetic just for being, so embarrassed by my own existence that I practically beg to be rescued from it. I won’t be Margaret, and turn my back on God when I don’t appear to get my way- and I also won’t ask God to do for me what he/she/it has already empowered me to do for myself.

It’s time for change.

Guilt

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I think I’ve addressed guilt in a lot of my articles, here, going deep into its roots in gender inequality and religion (with the two roots sometimes intersecting). If you feel that you are inherently sinful, but bought and “saved” from the fires of hell by the bloody death of your Savior, you may feel obligated to do everything you can to pay Him back for His worthy sacrifice. When you fail to achieve perfection- as you inevitably must- you may be wracked with guilt and continue to feel “dirty” no matter how much you try to cleanse your soul with repentance.

Your level of guilt is likely to be higher if you’re a woman- and higher still if you’re a Fundamentally religious woman. Fundamentalist adherents of the world’s three main religions encourage guilt in women in many ways- these are just a few.

Fundamental Christianity: The woman is the “weaker vessel” and must “submit to the authority of the man.” She must be chaste and reverent  (“She who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives”). She must keep her head covered, be silent in the church, and “not exert authority over a man.” It is her duty to “bear children and guide the house”.

Fundamental Islam: It takes the testimony of two women to equal that of a single man. Women are to cover their hair and bodies as not to prove as a temptation for their male counterparts. A woman can inherit only a fraction from a dead relative of what her male siblings/relatives can inherit. Fathers and brothers are mandated with “maintaining the purity” of their daughters/sisters.

Orthodox Judaism: Women who are on their periods are considered “unclean” and have to be housed in separate housing during the “days of their impurity.” Women are also considered as “unclean” following childbirth, and the length of time that they remain unclean is longer if they give birth to a female child than it is for if they give birth to a male child.

Of course, teachings of the world’s three great religions are harsh towards men in many ways as well (think male circumcision), but it’s easy to see how women might feel “less than” as a result of some of the teaching of the more “orthodox” brands of the three main religions. It is also noteworthy that even in areas where people do not adhere to these strict interpretations of the teaching, the effects of these beliefs being held so long still trickle down into modern society.

1) Women are still invalidated/“defeminized” if they cannot- or choose not to- give birth to children

2) Women are taught to marry before a certain age or “be an old maid” or
“spinster” whereas men are taught to pursue their careers and social development

3) The natural process of women’s menstruation is still thought by many to be “disgusting”

4) If a woman is strong-willed she’s considered “bossy” or a “man-eater/hater” whereas men who are strong-willed are seen as “confident” and “commanding”

5) Terms like “feminazi” are still used against women who stand up for gender equality

6) You can be an “old cat lady” but there’s no equivalent term for men

7) We have “purity balls” for daughters and fathers, with no corresponding event for parents and their sons

8) Women are still held responsible if they are sexually assaulted by someone i.e., What were you wearing? Had you been drinking? Did you really tell them no? Is this your partner? Did you lead them on?

9) Promiscuous women are “sluts”, promiscuous men are “players”

I really could go on and on with this list, but I think I’ve made my point. So really, on top of being saddled on with the religious guilt of being a “sinner” I am also saddled with the cultural guilt of being a “woman.”

So when I feel guilty about overeating, oversleeping, overworking, or underworking, some of it has to do with what I have or haven’t done- but more of it has to do with what I am. A huge part of it is thinking that if I make myself feel bad about not doing something, that I can go ahead and not do the thing- as long as I keep on feeling bad. It’s about a fear of letting go- a fear of speaking up and saying “I’m tired, not now” or “I would rather work on something else” or “I would rather not go tonight”. I’ve become so accustomed to being told how I should live, who I should be, and what I should do that I have forgotten there is a key operative word here-

No.

No, I don’t want to. No, I don’t have time. No, and I won’t feel guilty.

I used to think that guilt was a good motivator for doing things. Like, if I could make myself feel just bad enough, I would be able to fit into the mold of what other people wanted me to be. I could finally do something for my dad for once, and have him be impressed and happy with me. I could finally “pay him back” for not living life according to his desires and principles, if I could just compromise with this one thing.

The problem is that it’s never just one thing- if it’s not one thing, it’s another.

Like, right now I’m doing a job for him, and he’s given me neither a time limit or a deadline, but him supporting me financially in order for me to live in the apartment is contingent on this one thing. I had been working on the project faithfully, then I had to take another month off due to summer classes getting really intense. I’ve reached a snag in my working on the project though- for the life of me I cannot figure out how to fix this one issue.

So I started to get frustrated. I started to think about how his financial assistance had helped- the money which is probably so little to him- and made such a difference for me- and previous projects that he had financed and that I had been unable to complete. I started to think about how I had much more time now, and i should be able to figure out this one problem.

I started to feel guilty.

So I had to take some time off, to think and really pray about it. To come to the realization that it wasn’t about the project- I could do it, even if it would take more time- but rather that I was holding myself to some ridiculous standard, a standard that my dad didn’t even hold me to- and a standard I certainly didn’t hold him up to.

Even if he was going to complain about all the times he’d funded me and I’d failed, I would never bring up all the times that he didn’t fund me- when I did what my heart was calling for- and I succeeded. This wasn’t about me failing or not failing. My dad even admitted that really the project was for me, that I would need the skills from this project to succeed when I inevitably failed at my music career. So essentially, this whole project is based on the assumption that I am going to fail at what I’m really passionate about doing. Is there any wonder that my heart isn’t totally in it?

So yes, I feel guilty. Though the more I look at things, the more I see that guilt is counterproductive to motivation. After it’s robbed you of your joy and peace of mind, it also stops you from doing the very thing that you think would bring that joy back- and that’s move you closer towards your goals. Guilt is an emotion that sweeps the rug out from under you, and then blames you for falling.

I may fall, but I’m definitely rising up again. I won’t be ashamed of being tired, I won’t be ashamed for putting something off, I won’t be ashamed for “not being good enough.” The fact that I want to do well and am with all my power working towards that makes me good enough.

I won’t ever allow guilt to permanently derail me from reaching my destiny.

That being said, I don’t think my guilt issues can really be dealt with by logic alone- or even adding to that encouragement from friends. I was able to deal with a lot of my issues in therapy but had to discontinue when I phased up into a different mental health program at the clinic. I think I am prepared to seek out a therapist again- I’m pretty sure there is someone who is covered by my health care.

“All Lives Matter”? Yes, we know.

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

The one time I saw #alllivesmatter used offline was on the back window of a pick-up truck as I was preparing to join the highway. Notably enough, there was also a Confederate Flag sticker almost directly next to it. I really don’t think this should come as a suprise to anyone, and I’m going to tell you why. It’s because saying “all lives matter” as innocuous as it seems to be when taken at face value, has a hideous context when its used as a blanket statement to silence people of the #blacklivesmatter movement- or just anyone who speaks up for black lives in general.

It pretty much goes without saying that “all lives matter”- but #blacklivesmatter was created because it was- and is- a lot less obvious that the lives of people of color are of any value at all. Sure, white people are stilled killed by police more than black people- but percentage-wise, black people are killed by police two and a half times more often than their white counterparts.

It wouldn’t be necessary to make a big fuss about the full moon being in the sky on the expected night- but have that moon turn to blood and people are going to start talking. As it is right now, blood is being shed- particularly that of African American men- and people are not coming up with sufficient answers as to why. Why would a police officer find it justifiable to shoot a man four times, when the man plainly stated that he was reaching for his wallet? Did the color of his skin indicate that he could not be trusted or believed, even with his girlfriend and four year-old daughter looking on? How could police justify restraining an unarmed man and then shooting him- while he was still restrained?

So yes, all lives matter- everyone knows that. We’re just not so sure if you know that black lives are a part of all lives. We don’t criticize your assertion that all lives matter- we criticize your use of #alllivesmatter as a way of undermining the validity of #blacklivesmatter and other related movements.

A parallel for this is feminism as it is defined by its adherents. It is often defined as a movement for equality across the sexes. So some could argue, “Why emphasize females in the title, then?” The reason is quite clear- it’s because it is females overall that are suffering the most from the inequality. It’s called feminism to bring attention to the fact that females are struggling the most with gaining visibility and acceptance, even though the struggle extends to some men as well.

In the same way, saying “black lives matter” doesn’t mean that only black lives matter, it’s only trying to emphasize what seems to be lost to many people in this country- black lives matter, too. It’s interesting to note that #alllivesmatter only popped up after #blacklivesmatter had gained momentum, providing further evidence of the divisive and undermining nature of it.

A female police officer was upset because some people took offense at a picture of her with her daughter, with the caption “her life matters”. Again, it’s important to note that nobody was upset at her message- that she loved her daughter and that her life was valuable- but rather at her choice of words. Affixing “her life matters” to the picture- especially since she was a police officer- was yet another subtle attempt at erasure of the #blacklivesmatter movement. Saying “her life matters” made it seem like saying “black lives matter” was just trite and redundant- of course black lives matter, just like the life of a daughter of a police officer. As I’ve pointed out, however, people in a privileged position like that of the officer’s daughter cannot be fairly compared to people of color who are being jailed in mass quantities and being shot unarmed in the streets. The government system- and in some ways the general public as well- are clearly valuing some lives over others, and that needs to be acknowledged- not just tossed aside by the banal, empty assurances like those given who support #alllivesmatter.

So yes, we know; all lives matter. The only problem is that not everyone seems to know or believe that, and movements like #blacklivesmatter are going to continue to be necessary until we have fully erased inequality and injustice.

Better Boundaries

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I’m feeling a lot more refreshed after returning from my long holiday weekend. I had a great time visiting with my brother, my brother’s wife and their little baby.

I did end up visiting my parents, but I chose to just stay a few hours instead of staying the night. I felt mixed feelings because my younger brothers seemed to be really disappointed that I was leaving so soon. That being said, I knew that I had to do what was right for me.

My dad didn’t really say anything that was overly bothersome. It’s just that every time I talk about having a good time with my nephew my dad will say, “See how much of a blessing children are” and make all sorts of not-so-subtle allusions to why I should have one- and not even just have one, but to actually give birth rather than even adopt or anything like that. I realize though that that’s a lot more about him and my mom wanting to have another grandchild than any sort of genuine concern about me ending up childless and alone.

My dad just said, “I’m just saying that if God decides to give you one, don’t say no” and I said, “Of course I wouldn’t say no” because it isn’t like I would ever have an abortion (but thank God for contraceptives).

Anyway, it wasn’t so much anything about what he said. In fact, I was very surprised and satisfied with how little his comments managed to get under my skin. I was pretty much able to say to myself, “This isn’t about me, this is about him” but I also chose not to stay overnight. I would’ve liked to spend more time with my mom and my siblings, but beforehand I told them that I might not stay the whole day and left myself the opening to be able to return to my older brother’s house.  I’m realizing that these are part of my boundaries and I just need to continue setting limits for myself, without avoiding visiting all together. Family will always be family. I still want to have access to my mom and my siblings so I don’t want to just alienate myself entirely.

On the topic of having kids, though; Children do not exist merely to serve their parents. My dad’s argument for me to have a baby was to point out that my own mother didn’t regret me standing there helping her (I was helping her remove the husks from corn) and “she had to make so many sacrifices”. Really though- that point worked against him. My mom is an amazingly brave and strong woman, and I really don’t know if I’d be able to make the same sacrifices that she did- and I told my dad that. My mom chimed in that a popular newscaster came out and said that if she could’ve told her younger self anyone she would’ve “decided to have a baby at 25” (guess how old I am right now?).

That being said, having a child is a huge responsibility. Also, there are no guarantees that they’ll love you in the end, or take care of you when you’re old, or share in your interests, and yet it is your obligation to take care of them. You have to love them without expecting the same in return. So who’s to say even if I had a child, that they would be “taking care of me when I’m old”. In fact, there’s also a possibility that my child would be born with a disability and they would never be able to take care of me- even if they wanted to. My dad is making an assumption that my child would be born healthy- and then if my child wasn’t born healthy you can rest assured that he would blame it on something that my partner and I did.

All of that aside, after hearing of the terrible atrocities happening to children in foster care- including the government seizing money that was rightfully left to them by deceased relatives- I feel more strongly than ever a desire to be an foster parent and at some point adopt a child. I don’t know how/when the opportunity will be presented to me- but as my dad pointed out, if God offers me a child, I’m not turning that kid away. The fact that my dad mocks my aversion to childbirth and prioritizes the needs of hypothetical biological children over kids that are living and breathing right now speaks greatly of how much he is caught up in the ancient mindset. He’s a part of that culture that embraces “God’s” admonition to “multiply and fill the earth” as well as “women should bear children and guide the house” and forgets the verses that say, “children should not lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children”.

I’m not going to say that it’s wrong to have a child simply because you want a child- but I’m definitely going to have to say that it’s not wrong to not have a child simply because you do not want to have a child. This idea that it’s a woman’s “duty” to sacrifice her body as a vessel by which the hypothetical future geniuses and leaders of the world are to come into the world, while undermining the women who decided not to do this but do decide to give themselves over to philanthropy and social justice is frankly absurd. In fact, it’s not even necessary to insist that a woman choose one over the other. You’re not “weak” for wanting to be a more traditional mother, and you aren’t “superior” if you decide not to be. Biological motherhood is not the only way to epitomize being a woman.

I’m not going to apologize for my views in any way. My dad is not the one who would be carrying a baby in the womb for 9 months, so in my opinion he has very little right to dictate what I should decide to do with my body. At this point I have absolutely no desire to be pregnant or give birth to a child, though yes, if something were to happen and I would end up being pregnant I would embrace the moment and go ahead with it. I don’t dislike children, and I love my nephew very much but I am keenly aware of the fact that if I were to be too worn out after taking care of him I have the option to send him back with his parents. Parents don’t have that option. I am very proud of my brother and his wife for doing such a great job with my nephew, and again, I don’t know if I could do the same myself, and I’m proud of myself for being able to very calmly express this to my dad.

It’s not about convincing anyone, it’s about knowing what I want to do and being confident in my own judgment.

There’s Gotta Be More to Life (and I think I’ve found it)

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

All through my teenage years I lamented the daily events of life. I hated waking up- especially late- but I stayed up so late every night that it was almost inevitable. I was homeschooled, but hated that too and could never concentrate on my studies. I was emotionally out of control.

My parents always told me that things wouldn’t stay the same forever. They knew that I felt “trapped in four walls” but they tried to encourage me. I vacillated between having grandiose schemes for things and being wracked with hopelessness. Even when things were going well, i was always waiting for the inevitable return to mediocrity. On my worst days, I would watch the clock tick down and just pray for nightfall. When nightfall finally came and I was in bed, I would toss and turn restlessly, both dreading and wishing for morning. I was dissatisfied in the very truest sense of the word.

Those hormonal, bipolar days are now far behind me. The hopelessness is gone, but a lot of the restlessness remains. I notice how strangely time seems to pass, with the seasons seeming to change overnight and days blurring together like the landscape on a train ride. Sometimes I look around and wonder just how I got here. I know it was through a series of choices, some seemingly insignificant at the time. Applying for financial aid, enrolling in a class, showing up, studying, going to work everyday, a little exercise here and there, maybe cooking today instead of eating fast food. If you take each day of work done and compare it to the whole, it doesn’t seem very significant, but when you add everything together, you have years and years of acquiring knowledge, building relationships, and self-discovery. Every action taken today brings you closer to some point in the future. You may not be at the place where you envisioned- in fact, you may be some place better.

So yes, there’s more to life than “chasing down every temporary high” because those highs that seem temporary could be a part of a greater picture of overall growth. We are told to “never underestimate small beginnings”. As for the lows, those are important too- they force us to look at ourselves, reflect on our actions, and make important changes. We often don’t work on fixing things until they actually break down, and after they break down we learn how to take better care of them so they’ll hold up a little better in the future.

In the end I see that my parents were right. Absolutely nothing is permanent. This also means that nothing is really guaranteed, either. We could do everything we can to maintain our health and security and still be faced with a terrible crisis in the future. Alternatively, we could be in the midst of a terrible crisis and a sudden solution arises. In my experience, things are a little less sudden and a little more gradual than that, but the bottom line is that “change gon’ come”.

So what is the meaning of life? I think it has a lot more to do with “rolling with the punches” than it has to do with arriving at some sort of set plateau of knowledge and understanding. The meaning of life is doing what you love, and sticking to it through the highs and the lows. It’s about being flexible, but not flaky. It’s about having principles and standing by them. It’s about loving other people and being loved in return. It’s about “knowing myself even as I am known.” It’s about discovering so much but always knowing there’s more to be discovered.

I realized that part of the reason that I’ve been so happy lately- despite the exhaustion- is that I am really doing something that I love. Studying music really brings me joy. I couldn’t see the point of all the drills and exercises that we were doing before, but now when I dream I see notes dancing around sometimes. I still can’t quite “hear what I see, see what I hear” but now this musical language is really starting to take hold for me. So no matter how hard it is, no matter how much I may struggle, despite migraines and staying up late with the homework swimming before my eyes, I know I’m doing the right thing. That’s so important. The point isn’t having an easy life, it’s overcoming challenges and feeling like my struggle serves a purpose.

There’s a video on the Youtube channel “Vsauce” about boredom. The host goes into talking about how when boredom often coincides with moments of great creativity. It requires us to think deeply about things and innovate to alleviate the boredom. Also, he showed evidence from a scientific experiment that people whose brains were deprived of stimulation (sight, smell, taste, sound) began to display hallucinations to make up for the lack of stimulation. We weren’t meant to do the same lifeless, boring stuff over and over again.

There’s a proverb in the Bible that’s as follows;

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but when the desire comes it is a tree of life.” -Proverbs 13:12

I think my heart was “sick” for many years and now I’m starting to come into my own life: my own religion, my own career, my own education, my own friendships.

I used to wonder for the longest time if some of my bad habits were from an addictive personality. Now, as I look back, I can see that each habit serves as a crutch for aid with one problem or another.

For example, at one point I was very “addicted” to caffeine. I would drink coffee in the morning and then have sodas in the afternoon to stay functional. Then I wouldn’t be able to sleep well because of drinking caffeine so late, and the cycle would repeat over again. When I finally got put on the right sleeping medication, I slept like a baby and started to forego even my morning caffeine. Problem = solved.

Before, I spent so much time on the internet as a teenager that I fell behind in school. I’m in college and concentrating just fine now, and that all happened when I began to get treatment for my mental illness. Problem = solved.

Now I guess my main thing is overeating, which I’m pretty sure is a combination of hormones, the side effects of sleep medication, and stress. If I can somehow regulate those things, I’m pretty sure that that problem will too go away. Also if I feel better, I’ll incorporate exercise into my day better. In the mean time, my “self control quota” is being fully utilized in just my day to day existence as an employee and a student. Does this make me a bad person? No. It just means that I only have so many spoons and they’re otherwise occupied.

So what have these things taught me? For one, I need to experiment with positive reinforcement. Shaming and guilting myself for my shortcomings has never resulted in my improvement. Maybe saying things like, “I deserve to feed my body healthy things” or “Let me exercise and get my blood flowing” and things like that work better than, “You pig” or “You’re eating so fast, you slob” and other things. Maybe I need to work on the issue itself and think of the “bad behavior” as more of a symptom. Once I get my anxiety under control, I’m sure I’ll be healthier overall.

Thinking like this, is just another of the ways that I feel like I’ve improved. I used to use caustic, critical self-talk at all times. Somehow, now, due to medication and to lifestyle changes my brain is calm enough to where I can actually reason with myself- my quality of life has improved. Life is about turning “oh no, it’s ruined!” into “how can we fix this?”

Trust me, life gets better- it really does.

it’s really cheesy, but whenever I get overwhelmed I think of these lines from Paramore’s “Careful”;

You can’t be too careful anymore / When all that is waiting for you / Won’t come any closer / You’ve got to reach out a little more

Just keep reaching.

Born This Way

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I attended church this morning. I just felt like going for some reason, even though I knew that it would be a Mother’s Day celebration and my own mother was miles away. I felt a little sad not to have had her there. Honestly, since I had Saturday off I could’ve traveled up there, but exhaustion and other circumstances kind of caused things to fall apart a little bit.

The service consisted of worship as usual, a series of baby dedications and gifts for the newest and oldest mothers. The sermon was about the woman at the well. The pastor admitted that the woman at the well might not have actually been a mother, but she was a good representation of a woman who was ostracized, suffered from broken relationships, and yet still cared about God and wanted to be seen as something other than her circumstances. Jesus reached out to her on her level, and that’s pretty significant.

Of course, though, a sermon about Mother’s Day wouldn’t be complete without some kind of contrast being drawn between women and men as caretakers and separate members of society. The pastor made reference to the biblical myth of Adam and Eve. God is said to have created everything and called it all “good”, including man, but then he observes “that it is not good for man to be alone. We must create a helper for him”. He puts Adam to sleep, and takes a rib out of his body and out of that rib forms Eve.

The pastor of course put in a disclaimer about this story. He knew that women would be groaning and thinking, “So I’m just created to help a man” and so he says that that same word “help” was used by King David to describe divine help from God. He called God his “help” so according to the pastor we as women are being honored by this divine distinction. We are God’s expression of divine assistance to all people (nice save, Pastor).

Surprisingly, this wasn’t the only seemingly sexist verse/story that he would convert into something more euphemistic. He quoted from 1 Peter 3, the passage about women needing to be submissive to their husbands, and not to treasure outward beauty over the inner beauty of a “quiet, peaceable spirit”. He placed emphasis on the part of the passage that tells women that their unbelieving/stubborn husbands can be won “without a word” by the gentle reverence of their wives. The pastor joked that “men don’t respond to words, they respond to beauty”, only, it was part serious as well, because it was a reference to that “inner beauty” that Peter was talking quite seriously about.

Finally, he quoted the verse that says that men/husbands should “give honor to the wife, [she] being the weaker vessel” so that “their prayers would not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). This verse, while seeming to be positive (in that it ostentatiously encourages men to take care of their wives) also has some negative connotations, the chief one being that this enforces stereotypes that women are “fragile” or “weak” as compared to their male counterparts. The pastor tried to save this from its negative implications by stating that God had actually designed us [women] to be more “vulnerable” or “weak” because “his strength is made perfect in our weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). He said that when we as women try to be “strong” and “macho” then we are actually acting adversely and contrary to our design, and we cannot experience the presence of God as deeply because we are refusing to be vulnerable and just open ourselves to him.

I’ll say this before I go on. I really admire my pastor. I think he actually did a pretty great job, considering the material he has to work with. That being said, I know some things now that I didn’t before, namely about intersex people and non-gender-conforming individuals, who are totally erased and ignored by these gender stereotypes.

If God really just made them “male” and “female”, and he is the all-powerful, all-encompassing God that he is constantly made out to be, then what about people who are born into bodies that don’t fit fully into either biological box?

Now I don’t know about all of the science behind how/why people are born intersex, but I will discuss one phenomenon here. It is that of the “chimera”, which is a word for some person or animal that is a conglomeration of other types.

Most people are aware about the differences between identical and fraternal twins. With identical twins, the twins were actually at one point a single embryo that split into two. Therefore, these twins have the same DNA. In the case of fraternal twins, each of the eggs that originated them was fertilized separately, and for some reason each off these fertilized eggs was implanted in the womb. These embryos each have different DNA and will display different physical characteristics.

A “chimera” is formed, when two separate human embryos- or fraternal twins- are fused together into one single embryo. These individuals will have two different sets of DNA that manifest in different ways.

Sometimes, the original embryos are either both male or both female. In these cases, changes to genitalia might not be present. However, one thing that can happen is that certain parts of the person’s body have one DNA, and the other parts of the bodies have others. In the case of one woman, her ovaries actually had the DNA of her “lost” twin, making it appear that her own biological children did not share her DNA at all. This nearly resulted in her children being taken away, under the presumption that she had stolen them from someone else.

Finally, if the two embryos were different genders- one biologically male and one biologically female- it is very likely that the person will have physical characteristics of both of them, such as someone having both ovaries and testes, etc.

Now, the church can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that people are “born for a purpose” and then just totally ignore a whole subset of people who are born. Though, that is why it maybe wouldn’t surprise me if the majority of doctors who do “corrective surgery” on intersex patients, many times under false pretenses, were somehow motivated by a religious conviction (though I cannot prove this at all). The idea of “fixing” a person so they fit neatly into the gender binary smacks of bigotry in all the “right” ways.

Finally, lets assume that it’s true that God did create people “male” and “female”. The idea that man was created first kind of goes against some new scientific discoveries, and here is why.

There are numerous scientists that have come to the conclusion that all fetuses actually start of as-

Wait for it-

FEMALE.

Apparently, as a fetus is developing in the womb, during the early stages it is biologically female, and only begins to develop the characteristics that are indicated by the “Y” chromosome- male characteristics- later on. This was considered the reason why males also have nipples, and also a possible reason for gender dysphoria in men, which ultimately leads many of them to transition to a female identity (we still don’t know a lot about what causes female gender dysphoria or even about female sexuality).

Actually, I balked at the idea of fetuses starting out female, but then I realized that the very nature of how the chromosomes work tends to lend itself to that conclusion. Women are XX. Men are XY. Why isn’t it the other way around, with men being YY and women being XY?

(See what I did right there?)

Anyway, the Bible isn’t really the first one with crazy creation myths, and I think as long as we realize that these are myths, then we can stop basing our entire lives and identities around them. I don’t believe that women were made out of the first man’s rib anymore than I believe that the Goddess Athena burst out of Zeus’s head, fully developed and fully armored. Even so, because I’ve just been inundated with these ideas and concepts for so long, it’s difficult to imagine anything else. I am so grateful however for NPR, the Discovery Channel (when they’re not showing nonsense) and the Internet because I can actually be exposed to real scientific research that shows that we’ve just been spoon-fed these illogical stories from birth and have been brainwashed to believe in them.

Also, there are a number of studies showing that male and female brains might not be as dissimilar as everyone is saying. I started reading a book that I got from Half Price Books called “Gender: Psychological Perspectives” by Linda Brannon and it seems to support the notion that gender is partially a social construct. How much of a construct it is is open to interpretation.

As feminists we get to talk a lot about “fighting the patriarchy” because that’s what our society is, a patriarchy. However, as Betty Friedman pointed out in her most popular book, some societies are matriarchal. If male dominance was an absolute thing, totally immutable, then we wouldn’t have those matriarchal cultures. In those cultures women rule, and men actually cut their genitals because of “menstruation envy”. If the patriarchy was totally “natural”, we wouldn’t have some cultures where goddesses are central.

So yes, “God doesn’t make mistakes”. If he “forms the bones in the womb of her who is with child” then he must’ve been aware of that when he/she/it created intersex people. Or LGBT/non-gender-conforming individuals, who are also influenced by factors in the womb beyond their control. We are “born this way”. I didn’t used to believe it, but now I’m willing to argue with anyone who says otherwise.

I’ve changed a lot since even 2 years ago. To be honest I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of gender identity though. I am cisgender, but I remember when I was first exposed to a transperson (it was Chaz, Cher’s son) on TV I asked my mom if God was okay with people doing gender reassignment surgery. She said, “No. He doesn’t even want you wearing the other gender’s clothes, much less changing your body” and she also indicated that if some people changed genders and then dated people of their former gender (FTM dating F) then they were homosexuals and that wasn’t allowed either.

Now I realize that that’s not how that works- transgender women are women, transgender men are men. If a transgender man dates only women, he’s straight. If he dates only men- even if his biological gender was female- then he’s gay. Same (but reverse) with transwomen. Also, not everyone fully “transitions” but that doesn’t make them any less a member of the gender that they identify as.

I know it sounds really stupid but watching all the LGBT-ers on YouTube helps a ton with perspective as well. My pastor rightfully pointed out that “the ultimate hope of each person is to be fully known, and fully loved”. I know that my church has a lot of love in it, but we can’t just totally erase a group of people to avoid either having to accept them or to avoid throwing them out. Christianity at its core is not a religion that supports different sexualities and gender diversity.

Sometimes, it feels like you have to choose between being Christian and being LGBT and I think that’s really sad for people who really want to hold on to their faith. I don’t think that the road forward is going to be easy for anybody. Personally I think I  am starting to see Christianity as more of a guideline and not an absolute instruction for my whole life. I can take the parts that I agree with, and then discard the parts that aren’t relevant to me in society today.

I know that sounds a lot like “buffet religion” but then who are you to judge me? Who are you to tell me in what way I can worship and in what way I can practice my faith? Even Paul said that each person “to his own master stands and falls” (Romans 14:4). If there is a God of judgment, then He will judge me at the end but in the end I know I can’t turn my back on people that just need a friend, because they don’t fit into the gender binary, or they are married to someone of the same sex, or they have piercings or tattoos or anything else superficial.