March 25, 2010

Oh School House Rock, How You Teach Us Things

Posted in culture, diversions, feminism, feminist journey, music, our histories, Society, Uncategorized, why i am a feminist tagged , , , , , at 2:58 am by Eostre

More comics talk next week, and other things, there is a long post in the works but it’s not done yet…but until then I thought I would post a little something that will never cease to make me very, very happy. I hope you enjoy it. Also, there is a very interesting discussion about Twilight over at NPR’s Art and Culture blog, Monkey See, written by Linda Holmes who is reading Twilight through what is essentially a hermeneutics of suspicion. You all should check it out. Now, on to School House Rock:

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March 4, 2010

Comics, Cleavage, and You (or…well, me)

Posted in Art, Body Image, culture, diversions, Patriarchy, sexuality, Society tagged , , , at 2:06 pm by Eostre

I will state right up front that this is a topic that most people who will read this will only care about in the context of Bigger Things, as a small sign of more widespread cultural attitudes and whatnot. This is perhaps as it should be for those of us in school who spend most of out time thinking about Bigger Things.

But for me, this is something that is close to my nerdy little heart. You see, I love comics. I love reading them, I love monthly issues, I love origin stories and dark reinventions. That’s right, I am coming out of the comic-nerd closet. I don’t just love the Intellectual ones, either. Sure, I am completely up for Persepolis, but I have a gooshy, happy place in my heart for Sandman, The Justice League, and all of their sundry friends. I love the feel of the glossy pages and the bold typeface. 

Being a female comics reader can often be problematic, however. For, although things have vastly improved in the last 20 years or so, women in comics are often, frankly, ridiculous. To start, they are usually drawn with absurd measurements, and their body stats tend to be listed as something like ” 5’10” 102 lbs” (they don’t mention the Double-D boobs and lady-wrestler like muscles, all of which would make her something closer to at least 180, and that’s being generous), and then there are the outfits. This is well-known territory, so I will be brief. Spandex on a man, while still clingy, is nothing like spandex on one of these barbie-zons, with every curve lovingly drawn and accentuated. Yes, comics were for a long time drawn mostly by men for men, and many assume that is still the case. And titillation has long been a staple of comics fare, both within the superhero genre and outside of it.

So the graphic genre has well-earned its reputation for what can at best be called objectification, at worst misogyny (for example, one of the best known female superheroes, Wonder Woman, originated as little more than a thinly veiled BDSM fantasy), and it doesn’t help that many (if not most) women in the genre are attached to some other, stronger, male character (i.e. Batgirl, Hawkgirl, Supergirl, She-Hulk, etc), which, frankly, is one of my main complaints. If I have to look at overly voluptuous women in spandex, they could at least be more autonomous.

Of course, there are exceptions, and they normally come as part of a group (X-Men, for example, have a lovely cast of

She Hulk beating Iron Man at arm-wrestling, the cover for one of the upcoming Girl Comics Issues

 strong female and male characters). And even those who have been attached to other, male superheroes as part of an entourage are getting their own stories and features (I am particularly excited about the upcoming Girl Comics from Marvel).

So, after that not-very-brief-even-though-it-was-meant-to-be introduction, my point. I am willing to put up with some cleavage and porn-face in my comics, because if I weren’t my options for reading them would be nearly non-existent. And hey, feminism is all about making space within patriarchal structures for female voices, using and twisting those structures to make small pockets for women, but in a genre that is becoming more diversified as to who is writing/drawing the stories, the progress is far far too slow. Yes, there are better stories being told about female super-heroes than there were 40 years ago (and a few better heroes joining the canon), but the objectification is still so widespread and pervasive as to be the norm, rather than the exception.

I love the genre (and believe me when I say that super-hero comics are a genre, not a medium) I am too much of a feminist to not cringe at least once an issue, and I wish that weren’t so.

Since this is a topic I am super passionate about, there will be one more post next week addressing the good side of women in super-hero comics, including the ways that existing characters and norms have been used to create space for feminist readings, and the genre/medium distinction. So, as always, STAY TUNED…

February 11, 2010

Giving Birth to Myself

Posted in Academia, birthing, feminism, feminist journey, Patriarchy, school and academics, Self Image tagged , , , , , at 6:36 pm by Gina Messina

As a woman in graduate school I have had very little confidence in my abilities.  Every time I entered a classroom I immediately began to judge myself as the least intelligent person in the room.  I was certainly a victim of the “imposter” syndrome, believing that I just did not belong and that eventually someone would realize they made a mistake in admitting me to the program.  As time went on I noticed that in smaller classes that were largely female I was more open to feeling part of the class and willing to participate in discussions.  However in classes that had large male populations my feelings of inferiority would quickly take me over and it was painful for me to offer any comment whatsoever.  Unfortunately, I was half way through my first year of my doctoral program before I realized that I was allowing myself to be intimidated by men and feel inferior to them as a result of being raised in a patriarchal culture. 

Within my own family, as a girl, I was encouraged to just “pass” my classes and move on because my role in life was to be a wife and a mother.  My grades were not important and finishing high school seemed to be just a formality.  My mom often told me “I hope you find a nice man to marry to take care of you, smarts just isn’t your thing.”  I know, it sounds horrible, and it is, but she meant it in the nicest way possible, especially since she was given the same message her entire life.

That being said, my brother was always encouraged in his academic pursuits, he was a straight “A” student and the family was overjoyed when he was accepted to UCLA.  As a male his role was to achieve great things and his goals were valued.  He was the one that would have an important role in our society.  While there were great expectations for my brother, there was very little expected of me.

It astonishes me that I was in a doctoral program and in my 30’s by the time I made this connection.  It was so embedded in me that I was second rate that even as I was achieving great things in graduate school I could never recognize myself as being on par with my male as well as some of my female classmates.  Once I made this realization, I was able to pay attention to it and work on my overall confidence.

Early on in my graduate career I often thought I would never make a good scholar.  I felt overwhelmed and incapable of achieving anything that would be noteworthy in a world of brilliance.  However, now that I have realized where my confidence issues have come from and that it is not my work that is inferior I have been able to encourage myself if many ways and grow as a person, woman, and academic.  Instead of hiding in the background I have started stepping forward.  I am motivated to demonstrate my true abilities and so I am putting myself out there.  I will be presenting at my first conference in March, submitted an article for publication (which I am still waiting for an answer on), and I have created files of ideas I intend to pursue that I believe will impact the academic and greater community.  It is exciting to finally have confidence and know that I am capable of those things I thought were impossible for so long.

I have stopped allowing myself to feel inadequate and have started encouraging my creative and scholarly abilities.  Making the realization that my confidence issues were imposed and not warranted changed so much for me; I have grown into an entirely different person.  Through my own hard work and dedication to moving past the limits that have been forced upon me all my life, I have given birth to myself, and I love her.

February 7, 2010

My Sermon: Gifts of the Spirit

Posted in Christianity, faith and doubt, Mormonism tagged , , , at 6:18 am by Gaia

Last Sunday I gave a sermon in my Mormon congregation. One of the kind of nice things about Mormonism is that there is no clerical class. Lay people run everything, which means that we all — men and women — take turns giving the sermons. Most Mormons do this once every three years or so.

My topic was gifts of the spirit, and I saw it as a chance to talk progressively about Jesus, the divinity within us all, and diversity leading to unity. I gave this talk to about 350 Mormons, and it was very well received, despite my mentioning of my complex relationship with the Church.

Here are some excerpts:

…{Paul tells the Corinthians that} Just as the body needs various limbs and members, so the church needs people with different spiritual gifts, with each person making her own contribution to the welfare of the whole.

When I read these verses, I see Paul telling us that diversity contributes to unity. We all may have different gifts, some people may be strong and others may be weak, but when one of us suffers, no matter how unimportant that person may seem, the whole body of the Christ suffers. We are to care for one another, no matter our differences.

This idea of diversity contributing to unity is meaningful for me personally. I’m not someone who always feels like I fit easily into standard Mormon molds. I have a somewhat complicated relationship to the church, a relationship characterized by faith and doubt and hope and despair. But despite all my weaknesses and all my quirks, I love the idea that there’s a place for me within the body of Christ. That I have something special, something unique to offer. And that when I suffer, in some way, to some degree, my community suffers as well. Because I’m important. Every single one of us is important, Paul tells us. I find that touching.

And later on in my talk:

My own mother is a person who has a divine ability to care. When my father died when I was a baby, she wanted nothing more than to return back to her home town, so she could be near her parents and sister. But she stayed in Southern California because my brother and I were the only grandchildren on my father’s side. After losing their son, she couldn’t bear to move away and take me and my brother away from my father’s parents. So she stayed. For 25 years she stayed, looking after them in their old age until their death. I’ll never forget when Grandpa was in the hospital nearing the end of his life. The nurse came in and announced my mom, saying, Your daughter-in-law is here!. With tears in his eyes Grandpa said, No. My daughter.  This is my daughter,” as he took her hand. He and Grandma had come a long way. As a Presbyterian family, they had initially been a bit worried about their son marrying a Mormon woman. But by the end of their lives, they certainly could see my mom’s gift for loyalty, and loving and caring, and they adored her for it.

And the very end:

I’ve always loved that Hindu greeting Namaste, which means “The divine in me honors the divine in you.” It cuts to the chase. It goes to the heart of who we are – divine children of Heavenly Parents, working together in this constant process of becoming holy. 

February 4, 2010

Turning My Black Thumb Green

Posted in Art, diversions, Soul, waiting tagged , , , , at 5:19 am by Eostre

Flowers in water color pencils, done on a rainy day in winter

 My friend Becky once told me about this idea she had, where she thought of her life as a compass with the needle constantly spinning. She said that in her life her interests periodically shift. Sometimes she is intensely interested in poetry, sometimes art or fiction or music. Without knowing why, her internal compass will shift, sometimes pointing at one, sometimes at another.

This analogy has stuck with me, because I feel the same way. I have periods of intensely prolific artistic output, but what I am doing, and what I am interested in, is constantly shifting. The usual suspects are painting, writing, making jewelry, knitting, sewing, and crocheting. Over the past 10 years or so I have shifted between these things, spending a month or so painting canvas after canvas, or crocheting a whole menagerie of stuffed animals for my niece. Then just as quickly as I started I stop and pick up something else, and I am writing short stories or building up inventory for a craft fair. I

one of my necklaces

have no control over the shifts, they are subject to some higher authority, and they don’t consult me (this is the case in other aspects of my life as well). I think perhaps it is a combination of restless energy and boredom, most of the time.

I have been sewing a lot lately, but now that has shifted, and I have taken up gardening. This is a new thing for me, because every plant I have ever owned has died a sad, lingering death. I get them verdant and perky, and all too soon they droop and wither, and I never know why. But this time is going to be different, I tell you! I have the right soil and I am planting the seeds, I water carefully and according to the directions on the seed packet, I am determined to make something grow. I want to watch creation that I help along, but don’t control, unlike all of my other cycles. I think this is a step forward.

At least until I shift again.

The first growth in my new garden

January 29, 2010

I’d Rather be Smoking and Skinny

Posted in Body Image, Dieting, feminism, Health, Self Esteem tagged , , , , , at 5:20 am by Gina Messina

In the last seven years my weight has become a major issue for me.  Before this I was a heavy smoker and weighed 115lbs.  I loved to shop, I loved my clothes, and I loved to go to the beach.  I always took care of myself, never wore tennis shoes unless heading to the gym and never left the house without wearing makeup.  And then came the day when I decided that I must quit smoking.   I had been diagnosed with a chronic illness and my doctor was clear that I had to break off my relationship with my best friend…Marlboro Lights.  It was the most challenging thing I had ever done.  I quit cold turkey and admittedly was very difficult to be around for a good thirty days.  But it got easier a little at a time.  I still have smoking dreams and I still miss cigarettes as my constant companion, but for my health it was the best thing I could do.

All that being said, once I did quit smoking, my body reacted.  I had smoked since I was a teenager, for more than half my life, a total of 16 years.  The lack of that constant stimulant in my body was traumatic and I started to gain weight.  It seemed like overnight I went from a size 2 to a size 10 and then I just kept climbing steadily until my current size…dare I say…a 16.  Now I usually wear sweats, I almost never wear makeup and I am always embarrassed of my appearance.  Shopping feels like a total waste of time because nothing looks good on my rotund figure.  I feel so unattractive that I think no matter what I do…clothing, makeup, hairdo…it won’t really make a difference. 

While I had used to live off of caffeine and nicotine, after quitting smoking and ending my love affair with coffee, I didn’t know how to suppress my appetite…and still do not.  While I am healthier for not smoking, I am unhealthy because of my weight.  My chronic illness has kept me from exercising on a regular basis and a grad student schedule and budget has kept me from eating a healthy diet (at least that is my excuse for now).   I wonder if I should just try to accept myself as different from what I used to be or if I should continue to berate myself over my unattractive appearance.  I have failed with diet after diet.  I have claimed that I am simply fighting a losing battle and going to just accept myself as “fat,” I have written myself horribly malicious letters and posted them around the house as a way to encourage me to quit eating, I have hung my size 2 clothing around as an incentive to lose weight, I have told myself that I have a sacred within that I am abusing by continuing my unhealthy lifestyle, and still that number on my scale continues to climb. 

Every night I go to bed thinking about how much I hate my body and every morning I wake up thinking about how much I hate my body.  I constantly look at other women and compare myself to them and wonder what others think when they look at me.  I have had so many blessings in my life and I notice so much tragedy in the world around me, and yet this is what I obsess about. 

Although I thought quitting smoking was the worst thing I had ever gone through, this battle with my weight, self confidence, and body image far exceeds it.    I struggle with myself daily making excuses about my appearance and trying to convince myself that my woes are shallow and unfeminist and then I remind myself that I am just making another excuse for my inability to be self disciplined and my disappointing appearance.  It truly is a never ending battle.  I really would rather be smoking and skinny.

January 28, 2010

Thoughts on being a Non-Initiate

Posted in Christianity, faith and doubt, God, interfaith experiences, Mormonism, Relationships, religion, school and academics, Spirituality tagged , , , , , at 6:09 am by Eostre

I am taking a class this semester on the Literature of Mormon Women. It is a great topic, and I am really excited about it. There is one thing that has me a little apprehensive, though. I am the only non-Mormon in the class. I know, this shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is really a strange situation, for multiple reasons.

First, the obvious, it is weird being the only one in the class who isn’t an initiate. I don’t know the lingo, I don’t recognize most of the names, and I didn’t know before last week that the Temple and the Tabernacle were two different buildings. I am on the outside looking in. I have studied Mormonism, but that is very different from actually being a Mormon. Sure, I can name the four canonical texts, but I don’t use them for my devotions. All the knowledge in the world isn’t enough to bridge that gap.

The second, and less obvious reason, is that I have not been in a really religious environment for almost two years. My faith since coming to Claremont has been largely a private thing, I haven’t participated in any faith-based communion for a while, mostly on purpose. Going to this class I have been struck by how far I have gone from when I was comfortable in an insular religious environment. It doesn’t matter that this doesn’t happen to be my religion, the attitudes are strikingly similar even though the trappings aren’t. There is a certain way that religious people speak, think, and act, that I have been away from for a long time. If you are (or have been) religious in America I am sure you know what I mean. There is an insularity, an us and them mentality, that I had forgotten about.

This is challenging me in completely unexpected ways. I expected the discomfort of being the only non-Mormon in a class, but I did not expect the vertigo that I experience when I walk through that door and into a world that I don’t think I belong in any more. That religious life and mindset just doesn’t fit comfortably anymore. It’s like trying to jam my feet into shoes I outgrew a year ago.

The semester has only just started, but I can tell that this is going to be a huge personal challenge. Can I re-enter that world? Do I want to?

January 14, 2010

Pat Robertson Strikes Again

Posted in Anti-Christian Message, Christianity, God, Jesus, religion, Suffering, Theodicy, Victim Blaming tagged , , , at 11:11 pm by Gina Messina

Like the rest of the world, I have been stunned and deeply saddened by this incredible tragedy that has struck Haiti.  In the wake of such devastation, I have wondered why such awful tragedies occur, why so many had to lose their lives in such a tragic manner.  That being said, I refuse to think that God had any role in creating such suffering.  Why is it that when such terrible things occur some feel it necessary to justify the devastation by blaming the victim?  This is exactly what Pat Robertson has done.  In wake of such tragedy, he felt it necessary to go on national television and claim that the people of Haiti are “cursed,” made a “pact to the devil,” and that they must “make a great turning towards God.”   What he succeeded in doing with such hateful statements is further perpetuate intolerance and the myth of superiority while slandering the Christian message.

Pat Robertson calls himself a Christian.  He preaches to millions and many hang on his every word with the belief that Robertson will lead them directly to a life of eternity with their Lord.  However, Robertson’s message of hate clearly demonstrates that what he preaches is not a Christian message.  In fact, Pat Robertson has completely missed the boat and is teaching a message that utterly conflicts with that of Jesus. 

Robertson is not calling for his parishioners to love their neighbors.  Instead he focuses on labeling those he finds fault with and claims them responsible for tragedy in the world.  He warned his 700 Club viewers that “Many of those people involved with Adolf Hitler were Satanists. Many of them were homosexuals. The two seem to go together.”[1]  Robertson also called for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, stated that 9/11 occurred as a punishment from God because of legalized abortion in America, and that Hurricane Katrina was a direct result of New Orleans being a sinful city.  Now with his message about the earthquake in Haiti, Robertson has linked every Haitian to devil worship and deserving of their suffering.  How is this a Christian message?

Although Robertson represents himself as a Christian he apparently is unfamiliar with Jesus’ message of love your neighbor.  Evidently he has not read Jesus’ call to not judge others.  It seems that the Beatitudes are unknown to him, yet Pat Robertson has made himself the face of Christianity in America.  What I wonder is why is anyone standing for this? Why do so many listen to his non-Christian message?  Why do we continue to allow him to preach, air his television show, and act as commentator? At what point will Pat Robertson be held accountable for spreading such hate?

See video of Robertson on Haiti as well as the Haitian ambassador’s response at the following link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/13/pat-robertson-haiti-curse_n_422099.html


[1] Bob Moser. Anti-gay religious crusaders claim homosexuals helped mastermind the Holocaust.”

January 5, 2010

Mary Daly: Radical Elemental Feminist and Sinner

Posted in Christianity, feminist theology, Patriarchy, Women in Religion tagged , , , , at 11:16 pm by Gina Messina

I was greatly saddened Sunday evening, January 3, 2010 when I received an email stating that Feminist Theologian Mary Daly had passed away that morning at the age of 81.  As a doctoral student in Women Studies in Religion, I have been greatly influenced by the work of Daly.  I can still remember the first time I read a piece of her work.  It was during my undergraduate career at Cleveland State University in a course entitled Women and Religion.  I was immediately impacted and wanted to know more about this bold, strong and courageous woman.  Shortly thereafter I applied to a graduate program in Religious Studies and became better acquainted with Daly’s work. 

While I must admit that I am troubled by some of Daly’s claims and disagree with some of her contentions, I have also been significantly influenced by her foundational work in feminist theology, her demand for women’s liberation and Spinning of new tales and new ideas.  Daly called for women to have the courage to be, to experience a new fall out of patriarchal systems and into a new being that allows women to discover their capabilities, the dynamic power women possess within themselves. 

According to Mary E. Hunt, co-founder and co-director of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER), “Her contributions to feminist theology, philosophy, and theory were many, unique, and if I may say so, world-changing. She created intellectual space; she set the bar high. Even those who disagreed with her are in her debt for the challenges she offered…She always advised women to throw our lives as far as they would go. I can say without fear of exaggeration that she lived that way herself.”[1]

While I never had the opportunity to meet Mary Daly, I have no doubt been inspired by her brilliance, courage, wit, and spirit.  My feminist and theological views have been shaped through her influence. I have been able to spiral into freedom and rename and reclaim my own experiences; I have found my own creative power.  Thank you for having the courage to sin big Mary Daly. 

“There are and will be those who think I have gone overboard. Let them rest assured that this assessment is correct, probably beyond their wildest imagination, and that I will continue to do so.” – Mary Daly

 


[1] Feminist Studies in Religion Bulletin January 3, 2010.

December 19, 2009

Female Language and Imagery of the Divine

Posted in feminist theology, God, God Language, Goddess, images of God, images of the Goddess, Mother God, names of God, Thealogy tagged , , , at 4:20 am by Gina Messina

According to Carol Christ, “If we do not mean that God is male when we use masculine pronouns and imagery, then why should there be any objections to using female imagery and pronouns as well?” What an important question. I was raised using only male language when talking about God and spent my childhood through my early college years (which I am embarrassed to admit!) believing that God was a man. As studying religion and theology has shaped my life, I decided that gender neutral language when talking about God was the right way to approach this issue. For quite some time I used the term“divine” to talk about God. It made sense to me. But then I began reading Carol Christ and some of her work has greatly affected my views. In particular, she argues that we must use female language to talk about the divine in order to have positive female imagery of the divine. Right now we are inundated with male language, we must balance that out. And so I decided that I must use female language to talk about the divine. To be honest, I feel comforted by talking about the divine as woman, as mother. In order to further develop my own imagery of the divine as woman I wrote a prayer that I wanted to share. It was a great exercise for me to describe the qualities I feel the divine possesses and it allowed me to feel a closer connection to Goddess Mother.

Prayer to Goddess Mother

Great Goddess Mother
Who is Immanent in All Things
Spiraling Life into Being
And Communicating through Nature
She Who is Compassionate and Merciful
Nurturing our Spirit
Her Benevolence felt Strongly
And Encountered through Humanity
She Who is Guardian
Cradling us with Affection
Her Protection Sensed
And Her Love a Source of Haven
She Who is Sustainer
Nourishing our Lives
She Who is Vivifier
Cultivating our Hearts
Great Goddess Mother
Guide Me to Have Faith in Your Wisdom
To Share Your Gentle Compassion
And to be Sincere in Spirit and Heart

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