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 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 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?

December 11, 2009

Things I am not good at

Posted in Relationships, religion, school and academics, waiting tagged , , , , at 8:14 am by Eostre

There are a lot of things that I am not good at. I am not a very good cook, I am constitutionally incapable of getting up in the morning without hitting the snooze button at least 4 times, I procrastinate and I never “live up to my potential”, but near the top of this list (if not at the top) is waiting. I am really really bad at waiting.

I hate waiting for even the small things, like long lines at Target, so even more so the big things, the things that matter in life. I know, it’s funny, because procrastination is a kind of waiting, but it is self-imposed. I can end that waiting any time I want to. It’s the things that I have no control over that get me upset.

Right now I am procrastinating from writing two papers. I’ve started, kind of, but I have a long way to go before I am finished. And while that is stressing me out, it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the things I am waiting for that I have no control over.

I am waiting to know, for sure, what I am going to do with my life. I am waiting for a time when I wont have to precariously live from paycheck to paycheck. I am waiting to finish my degree, and see what happens next. I am waiting to see if there is or isn’t a relationship in my future. I am waiting on a lot of things, and I don’t like it.

Being made to wait takes away my control, and that is something that I can’t stand. I want to control when things happen, and, even though I don’t necessarily have the best track record with making awesome life choices, I still want to control what happens. I don’t want to wait. But I don’t have a choice, I have to wait. I can’t rush any of the things I am waiting on, and it is frustrating as hell. So, while I wait, I will hit the snooze button at least 4 times, not start papers until less than a week before they are due, over-season my food and under-achieve. But, all too often lately, I just end up waiting.

November 12, 2009

Jesus loves Orthodox people too?

Posted in Faith Transformations, interfaith experiences at 7:15 am by Eostre

Mary and JesusI hate to harp on the whole “I was naive and sheltered and now I am an aware and savvy grad student” thing, but with this weeks topic it was too good to pass up. When I started college I made friends with a girl who had been raised Eastern Orthodox, and was still (mostly) a part of that denomination. For me, this was an interfaith experience! We stayed up late many many nights talking over the issues of converting from the Orthodox Church to “Christianity”. That’s right, you read that correctly. To my 18-year-old self Orthodox faith with it’s sad eyed Jesus icons and pedo-baptism was alien and thus, well, unorthodox.

We would stay out all night talking very seriously about whether or not she needed to be re-baptized, and if venerating the saints was idolatry. Of course, the answer we came up with was yes on both counts. With the strict formalities (she had to cover her head when she went to church! Oh no!) and strange liturgies, she might as well have been bowing towards Mecca, and we both felt it.

Now I would like to say that this ended with me going to church with her and realizing that hey, the Orthodox (and even Catholics!) are just like me! But it didn’t. We drifted apart, and as far as I know she is still a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church (which for the record I fully recognize as Christian, now) and it wasn’t until a couple years later, when I was a junior in college, that I accepted that Christianity takes many forms, and wearing a head scarf or using wine instead of grape juice doesn’t really matter in the end. If anything, I identify more with liturgical traditions now than I do with Evangelical denominations.

So this wasn’t an interfaith experience in the strictest sense, but it is what imediately came to mind when I started thinking about this weeks topic. Like Gina said, religious literacy is abysmal in America, and I would add to that by saying that it is even worse in the Church. When presented with a tradition that predated mine by thousands of years I had no idea how to react. I hadn’t even heard of Orthodoxy before I met my friend, and I was attending a religious university!  All of my inter-religious knowledge came from a perspective of evangelism and conversion, which is pretty narrow. I can’t help but think that I missed out, and that thousands of kids just like me did too.  I was lucky, was able to break out and interact with people who actually did have a different faith than I did, but it could just have easily gone the other way.

I was lucky. I had professors who pushed me to understand different faiths and different perspectives. I wish everyone could be so lucky. And really, with the world the way it is just now, Jesus has a good reason to have sad eyes, so maybe the Orthodox Church got it right.

October 29, 2009

The Kids Shaped Spleen Hole Inside Me

Posted in Family, fertility, kids, Mother, mothering, Parent, sexuality tagged , , , , , at 9:52 am by Eostre

ella and me

Me holding my wonderful niece when she was just over a month old

There are few things in my life that I am absolutely sure of right now. One of them is that I don’t want kids. This is a fairly new thing. For most of my life I thought I wanted kids, not because I really did, but because I didn’t know it was okay to not want them. During this past year, when I finally figured this out, it was a major revelation for me. I think I can look to that discovery as a turning point in my recent life, a shift from the person I was to the person I am becoming. I don’t know why this realization has taken on such importance for me, but in my mind I have tied the me who wanted kids to the me who was stuck trying to fulfill what I thought a Good Christian Girl was supposed to be. Sure, I wanted a career too, but I definitely (even if I didn’t admit it) wanted a husband and family too. It was what I was supposed to want, and it was what I was taught I had to have to be valuable.

Like so many things from my Evangelical past, the idea that I should want kids (and a husband) has been kind of hard to shake. Even now, when I know that that is something I don’t want, I still feel guilt over those feelings. So many people think that not wanting kids is unnatural, somehow, for a woman. I mean, it’s not that I am not maternal, and I do really like kids (at least for a set period of time), and I am, usually, a very loving person who likes to take care of people. I have a 13-year-old nephew and a 7-month-old niece both of whom I love to distraction, but I am content being an aunt and not a mother.

I refuse to be defined by my past and where I come from. Yes, I am still dragging a huge net full of baggage behind me, but I am shedding it, piece by piece. And realizing that I don’t want kids was a huge step. I do not want to live the life that someone else thinks I should, I have tried that and it doesn’t work. I am figuring out who I am and what that means, and realizing that I don’t want kids was like finding a part of myself and fitting it inside me, like a missing spleen; one more piece to fill up the new me after I have emptied out the old. I’m not sure of much right now, but every new thing I figure out is a treasure, and knowing that I don’t want kids puts me one step closer to knowing who I am, and what I do want, and that is invaluable to me.

October 15, 2009

Jesus was not white, and other reflections

Posted in God, Goddess, Jesus, religion, Soul, Spirituality at 4:29 am by Eostre

Growing up in the Evangelical Church, we knew who Jesus was, we had pictures of him! Jesus was white, quasi-attractive, and full of good ol’ Amerijesus playing keep awaycan pride (our Church had an American flag right next to cross, behind the pulpit).  And since, as we all know (and out Sunday School teachers showed us on felt boards every week) Jesus was more than just a man, he was GOD, the implications were clear. Jesus was just like us! And more than that, he might have lived in Ancient Israel, but apart from that small point, he was American!

Unfortunately, this Jesus was created out of whole cloth by the American Church and fed to little minds every week by well meaning (but maliciously misinformed) adults. I don’t know which would be worse, a concerted effort to do away with the Jesus of the Bible and replace him with this permissive, smiling, white man, or blinding ignorance. Either way, irreparable damage has been done to generations of Christian children, who grew up to be Christian adults who then went on to perpetuate the lie.

As I became aware of the glaring inconsistencies in what the Bible actually said and what was presented in Christian media, I was appalled. The lie is so widespread and so ingrained in Christian (and Western) culture, that there seems to be no way to counter it.  Suddenly, White Jesus was everywhere I looked. I couldn’t escape his bland, permissive gaze. Christian bookstore’s send me spiraling into depression.

So what do I do with this? How do I deal with this tangled, snarled knot of misconceptions and angst? I tried declaiming to anyone who would listen that Jesus probably looked more like Osama Bin Laden than Brad Pitt, but I soon discovered that it was a fruitless exercise. The lie was too prevalent, too ingrained in our collective consciousness.

So I gave up. Not completely, of course, I’ll still pull out the soap-box given the opportunity, but I can’t let it consume me anymore. I can’t fight the White Jesus, but he has ruined God personifications for me. I can’t try to imagine a human God without spiraling back down into the angst, so I have had to find a different way of imagining God. It wasn’t easy, and it still isn’t well defined, but now, when I care to, I imagine God as a sort of amorphous cloud that can envelope me in warmth, like laying on the grass in the sunshine when it’s not too hot, but just right, and you can see the patterns of the shadows of the leaves on your eyelids when you close your eyes. And all I want to do is curl up and rest. God, for me, now, is a feeling. God is safety and comfort and warmth, all encompassing and incorporeal, no gender, no race, God is both the sunlight that warms my face, the grass that cushions me, and the clean scent of rain that lulls me to rest. Simple? Yes. Uncomplicated? No.

October 1, 2009

Hi, My Name is Kate, and I Have Body Image Issues

Posted in Body Image, Relationships, sexuality tagged , , at 4:37 am by Eostre

me at ginas            There should be a group like AA for people who have serious body image issues; it could be called BHA, or Body Haters Anonymous. As someone who would have been a lifelong member, I am just now realizing how much of a disease it is.

            I am 24, 5’11”, and weigh in at over 200lbs. That shouldn’t have been hard to say, but it was. I was one of those girls who developed early, was wearing a B Cup by the 5thgrade, and had full curves by the time I was 13. As such I was always larger, and more developed, than my peers. I was dealing with my period and underwire bras at a time in life when most girls are still secretly playing with their My Little Ponies, and kids are cruel about stuff like that.

            So from a very young age I have had some serious issues with my body. We are ingrained so young with the socially constructed ideals of feminine beauty, that I never had a chance.

             I dated a little in high school (way too serious way too young) and much less in the beginning of college, but it wasn’t too long before I took myself out of the running, so to speak. You see, the Evangelical Church has a male to female ratio problem, and there were always far more girls than boys in the social circles in which it was acceptable to date (it being completely out of the question to date a non-Christian) and at my Private Evangelical University there were about 3 girls to every 1 guy. In a climate like that most guys weren’t interested in the smart, sarcastic, chubby girl.

            So when familial stresses offered me an out, I took it, and recused myself from the dating competition. It was easier to say that I wasn’t interested than face the near constant dashed hopes that had characterized my youth.

            All of that to say that it has been some time since I have been on a date, and I don’t know if I even know how to go about this whole dating thing anymore. I have gotten used to thinking of myself as off the market, that I have internalized those attitudes and conceptions.

            Over the last year I have had so many new experiences, I have found a wonderful group of friends, I have been in challenging and humbling classes and my life has stretched and changed in ways that I had never thought possible. I now regularly go to the beach and wear a bathing-suit in public, something I almost never did before. In fact I have worn things that previously I would never have even considered (pink tube top and borrowed black concert dress, I am looking at you!).

            So while I have, in some ways, gotten more comfortable with my body, I still have a hard time seeing it as attractive or desirable. I have internalized the Beauty Myth.  I know in my head that it is a false construct, I haven’t been able to shake it. I still have a really difficult time posting pictures that show my body on sites like facebook (or here, for that matter), and that is just one off-shoot of the internalized problem.

          Coming from any of my friends I would decry this blog, and it is true that I am surrounded by beautiful (and not even remotely similar) women, but a lifetime of negative reinforcement is blocking my way, and I can’t view myself through the same lens that I view the rest of the world. 

            I have been happy, this past year (and I continue to be very happy), and I can’t say that I have felt the lack of romance in my life. But part of me has to wonder, is that because I truly don’t miss it, or because I have given up on looking for it? Perhaps a little (or a lot) of both, I’m not sure.

            My name is Kate, and I have body image issues. I first realized I had a problem a week or so ago, and I am trying to make a change.

September 17, 2009

Bonhoeffer is a Secret Feminist

Posted in Faith Transformations, feminist theology tagged , , , at 7:27 am by Eostre

It’s true. Or at least, I believe he is, though he probably wouldn’t agree. And he was my first exposure to ecofeminism. Unlikely, I know, but true. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who was executed on April 9, 1945 in a German concentration camp, and I have a hard time deciding how I feel about him. I absolutely love most of his writings and his theology. He foresaw the post-Christian era, and he wrote a lot about the importance of community and pacifism and lots of other things that I really like and agree with. However…he also participated in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. This is where the problem comes in. I am a firm pacifist, but I have a really hard time condemning him, he felt that he was saving lives, and if it meant sinning to do it, he valued the lives (and souls) of others above his own. I can’t ever fully condone or condemn him. But that is beside the point.

The point is that he is a very interesting historical figure and theologian, but he definitely had his biases, and would hardly have considered himself a feminist. But I do. You see, I was reading his book Creation and Fall for a theology class in undergrad, and, even though I was enjoying it, I didn’t really expect the spiritual awakening that it brought on.

It is really a stunning book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. But I was reading and making notes, preparing for an argument I had to present on it, when I came across this passage (please forgive the gender exclusive language, it’s his, not mine):

Man’s origin is in a piece of earth. His bond with the earth belongs to his essential being. The ‘earth is his mother’; he comes out of her womb…from it he has his body. His body belongs to his essential being. Man’s body is not his prison, his shell, his exterior, but man himself. Man does not ‘have’ a body; he does not ‘have’ a soul; rather, he ‘is’ body and soul. Man in the beginning is really his body. He is one, he is his body…the man who renounces his body renounces his existence before God the Creator. The essential point of human existence is its bond with mother earth, its being as a body…He does not come to the earthly world from above, driven and enslaved by a cruel fate. He is…in himself a piece of earth, but earth called into human being by God.

When I read that I felt like my eyes had been opened, that something my soul had been yearning to express was suddenly on the page in front of me. he says it so plainly, we are inextricably tied to the earth, She is in us. The beauty of his language carried me away and I began to type furiously. I suddenly had new passageways open to my mind, and I felt alive and excited in the way that only comes when you read something and say “Yes, that is it, that is what I feel, but didn’t know how to say”, when you connect with an author on a level so intimate that it feels like falling in love. I could never fall in love with Bonhoeffer, of course, he was far too stuffy for me in real life, but his writing is another matter entirely. He had awoken me.

The next day (for I am the constant procrastinator, and had been working on my argument the night before it was due) I walked into class and felt that everyone surely must see the difference. I felt like a goddess, with vines twined in my hair and a gown of leaves and petals. And this is what I presented (abridged, this is just the intro and the conclusion, but it gives you the basic idea):

Introduction: It is essential to humanities created being that we are  creatures of both spirit and Earth. This is a counter to Platonic thought, which would have man’s spirit to be disconnected with his flesh. Common Christian doctrine has taught of the evil of flesh, following Platonic lines of thinking that make the spirit the ultimate thing, which is in some way punished by being linked to a body. The creation story of Genesis does not in any way reflect that. In the Creation myth of Genesis, spirit and flesh do not exist independently, but instead are co-dependent. No where in the creation story, even after the fall, does God elevate the spirit into a position of superiority to the body. Both are essential for the human, made together and for each other.

Conclusion: It is dangerous to try and separate God’s creation. We are tied indelibly to the Earth, and we must conclude that we are meant to be a part of the Earth. This has great implications for how we view our “flesh”, and how we view the world in which we live. If we are truly a part of the Earth than we have a certain responsibility to it. Bonhoeffer aptly states that we are a creation of both Father God and Mother Earth.

I can read it now and see the earnestness and naivete that colored every aspect of my life then, and even now I can remember the triumphant feeling I had, that I had used their own language and arguments against them. But the lasting implications are very different. Bonhoeffer opened my mind to a million possibilities and responsibilities, and it was like plunging head first into the ocean. He gave me the first push, and I am still swimming.

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